Jeffrey Loria deserves some love – and respect.

November 20, 2012

[B.A.B.E.S. member Marc Whyte challenged me to defend the Marlins’ blockbuster trade with TOR this week.  I am happy to oblige.  I welcome your Comments grading my persuasiveness.]

The headline this morning on ESPN.com was “Marlins salary-dump trade is finalized.”  This was  accomplished only after Commissioner Selig reviewed the deal under the “best interests of baseball” clause.  Anytime you see that analysis, you know that most people smell a rat.  Indeed, from the fans’ reaction in Florida and the commentators’ opinions still spewing forth nationwide nearly a week after the deal was first announced, we all know who they view as the rat:  Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

The words used to describe the Loria-directed trade include “deplorable” (Parting Shot’s Jemele Hill), “betrayal” (Miami Herald beat writer) and “the ultimate con” (ESPN’s Buster Olney). I would like to know more about Olney’s “con” theory, but since ESPN charges money to read his column, I only know what is in the teaser (talk about a con job!) Grantland’s Jonah Keri did call Loria a “genius,” but it was not expressed in the best sense of the word.

Once again I find myself in opposition to most of the baseball media “professionals” who somehow view this trade as a crime against humanity – or at least against the good people of South Florida.  They could not be more wrong, and even Bud Selig knows it.  Here is his official statement issued in connection with approval of the trade:

This transaction, involving established major leaguers and highly regarded young players and prospects, represents the exercise of plausible baseball judgment on the part of both clubs (and) does not violate any express rule of Major League Baseball and does not otherwise warrant the exercise of any of my powers to prevent its completion….”

As a lawyer, I appreciate the “plausible baseball judgment” standard Selig applies (the “business judgment rule” is a beautiful thing).  But in my view, this trade is based on much more than plausibly good sports judgment, or whatever lowest-acceptable-standard you want to apply.  I won’t go into a detailed analysis of the players involved, but viewed solely in the context of the 2012 performance there is nothing to suggest that the players traded away (and the salary dumped) will result in the Miami Marlins winning fewer games in 2013.  Remember, these essential players that were just shipped off to TOR contributed to a grand total of 69 wins this season, tied for 25th out of 30 teams (but they were 7th in payroll).

Personally, I admire Loria’s blunt assessment of the deal: “We finished in last place!”  What did they expect him to do beyond firing Ozzie Guillen?  As one of the all-time great tennis players preached: “Never change a winning game. ALWAYS change a losing game.”  And this team composed mostly of 2d choice free agents (Reyes excluded) was way over-valued by most observers (including me).  It took only half the season to reveal that there was no chemistry between the players or with the manager – and of course the only chemistry Ozzie knows is chain-reaction-explosion. The team was not likely to be better in 2013 with the remaining nucleus and with WAS, ATL and PHI to compete with in the NL East.  Why not save $150 million and look for some better chemistry?  It’s not like it has never been done before, like about 3 months ago in BOS.

And why does Loria get vilified while John Henry and Ben Cherington get free passes?  The fact is that Miami’s trade is exactly the kind of reboot that BOS did with the Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford trade with LAD.  Almost no one criticized that deal (at least not from BOS’ point of view) or called for John Henry to be expelled from the ownership ranks.  One blogger argues that the Red Sox’s Henry has “credibility” and Loria does not.  What?  Henry may have one more title than Loria, but he also presided over a monumental disaster since BOS’s last win in 2007.  He and Theo Epstein signed several bad-fit free agents, hired the wrong manager and finished in last place, just like the Marlins.  Why should they be allowed to dump their stars in a rebuilding effort, but the Marlins not?

There is clear a double standard at play here, and it is founded upon the constant and clearly erroneous belief that money buys championships.  BOS gets a pass on the deal with the Dodgers because everyone assumes that the Red Sox will replace these high-priced players with other high-priced players.  Cherington even issued a press release last week stating: “I know that we’ll have a very strong payroll, a large payroll. I know that we’re going to add to it this winter. I’m confident in saying that we’ll be amongst the larger payrolls in the game.”  The Marlins, however, all the experts assume, will sit on their hoards of money generated by the new stadium that Loria swindled out of the South Florida tax payers.

How many times do I have to say this to these “experts”:  A BIG PAYROLL DOES NOT GUARANTY WINS!  Supposedly John Henry knew this in 2002 when he tried to hire Billy Beane. If so, he clearly forgot it as he let his payroll balloon and his team ultimately swoon.  Ditto for the Yankees and the Angels and so many other teams I have mentioned here in years past, and again this year.  Just as I predicted in September, only 5 of the top 15 payrolls made the post-season in 2012.  (“Billy Beane for President” – 9/5/12).  SFO was #8, but their payroll was still only 55% of NYY’s.  The evidence is simply too compelling that you can’t buy a pennant or a World Series banner.

Loria may have felt obligated last winter to sign big names to appease the masses that were paying for his stadium, but that was PR not baseball smarts. He can’t be accused of conning the fans and taxpayers when these contracts were only signed after the stadium was built and the funds spent.  I haven’t read the bonds issued by Dade County, but I’m fairly certain they do not require a minimum Marlins’ payroll.  Only the MLB Basic Agreement requires that, thanks to our civic-minded MLB players association.   This is the same players association that is said to be incensed that Loria would trade these stars even though he expressly refused to give them a no-trade clause. No one seems to recall that the players agreed to take his money without the contract provision.

That he refuses to give players, even top free-agents, a no-trade clause is another reason to admire Loria, in my opinion.  Any organization must have its principles, and most should be built on maintaining control of its destiny.  Preserving the right to trade unproductive or cost-effective players is a foundational principle of the Miami Marlins, and I respect that.

So, I’ll close with a simple declaration that I admire Loria for his courage to admit that the front office made several mistakes and for taking aggressive action to change a losing game.  The power to make this trade was retained by the shrewd adherence certain principles such as rejecting no-trade clauses.   As you know, I believe the most admirable championship team is one that was constructed not with a checkbook but with research and determination and even courage to admit that you made some dumb free-agent signings and are happy to find someone willing to bail you out of them.

I am now officially a Miami Marlin fan again and am pulling mightily for them to be the surprise success story of 2013.   If it can happen in Oakland, it can happen in Little Havana.

(JSR) © 2012

Living Up to Our Name And Fulfilling Our Mission

November 16, 2012

When we included the adjective “Best” in the name of our society a certain amount of skepticism must have arisen outside the membership and perhaps even within our ranks.  Personally, I never doubted the truthfulness of this title as I have listened attentively to and studied critically the work of sports journalism professionals for many years (even before this became publicly popular under the banner of firejoemorgan.com).  To quote Billy Beane, as portrayed by Brad Pitt:  “Don’t tell me you know, because you just don’t. You don’t!”  Of course, he was talking about a scout’s ability to predict accurately whether a prospect will succeed in the major leagues, but the sentiment is also applicable to most of the commentators attempting to predict the results of an upcoming MLB season.    The just don’t know who will win – and most of them don’t know much else either, if you really listen to what they say.  I’ve often wanted to hire a court reporter to transcribe some of this “expert analysis” so that it could be critiqued in black and white, just like a witness’s testimony or an attorney’s argument.  Incomprehensible!

Anyway, even an accurate title does not mean there isn’t pressure to perform when our group’s mission statement boldly declares the intent to prove ourselves better than those who earn their living by doing what we chose to do as a hobby.  Fortunately, another year has shown that we should doubt not and fear not, for we are the best at what we do (or at least one of us is most years now that Nate Silver gave up following baseball to study political elections).

The winner of the 2012 James L. Walker Award (the “Rocky”) is B.A.B.E.S. co-founder Steve Jacobs, with a total score of 45 points, the second highest point total in B.A.B.E.S. history and the largest ever margin of victory (15 points). More importantly,  I have researched the predictions of over 20 professionals from ESPN, SI, Fox, MLB.com, Sporting News and CBS Sports, as well as many independent bloggers, and not one of them scored higher than Steve.  Perhaps there was a better MLB prognosticator out there in 2012, but I have not found him (or her).  Correctly selecting 5 postseason teams, both league champions, a batting champ and an MVP is truly an expert performance.

So the Best American Baseball Experts Society proudly congratulates Steve for making us what we say we are – the home of the best MLB experts in America.  Congratulations are also due to Marc Whyte who finished in 2d for the 3rd time in the past 4 years.  Well done, Marc, we know your time to win the Rocky is coming.  The order of finish for all members is below.

45 points –

Steve J. – CIN (3) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) Cabrera (10) DET (6) SFO (6) Cabrera (10)

30 points –

Marc W. – CIN (3) ATL (1) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) SFO (6) Price (10)

29 points –

Tim T. – SFO (3) ATL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Cabrera (10) DET (6)

Carl R. – CIN (3) ATL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) DET (6) Cabrera (10)

27 points –

Gus P. – SFO (3) STL (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) SFO (6) Cabrera (10)

25 points –

Eric H. – SFO (3) CIN (3) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) Price (10)

23 points –

Matt B. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) DET (6) Cabrera (10)

21 points –

Tony L. – CIN (3) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Cabrera (10)

19 points –

Bruce R. – SFO (3) STL (1) ATL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) SFO (6) –

Pete H. – STL (1) SFO(1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Posey (10)

18 points –

Thomas F. – SFO (3) CIN (3) ATL (3) STL (3) DET (3) TEX (3)

14 points –

Leo G. – SFO (3) STL (1) WAS (3)  TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3)

11 points –

Jed M. – SFO (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1)

10 points –

Rob C. – SFO (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3)

Tom M.- SFO (3) STL (1) DET (3) NYY (3)

9 points –

Bill C. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3)

8 points –

Rip L. – STL (1) ATL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1)

Scott R. – STL (1) DET (3) NYY (1) TEX (3)

4 points –

Jennifer R. – ATL (3) TEX (1)

And now to close the book on the 2012 MLB season and open the 2013 Hot Stove Season, I must repeat something I wrote in my July 10 post at the All-Star break. I should have quoted myself in the “Leaves of Grass” post-mortem I wrote about the Yankees on October 22, but frankly I forgot to review my prior thoughts. I wish I had because, although I finished near the bottom of the B.A.B.E.S. standings as usual, I nailed this analysis of NYY, right down to the prediction that Ibanez would pinch-hit for A-Rod 3 months before it happened:

5. Speaking of A-Rod, or rather, please note the weird fact that no one seems to be doing that. I guess it is because the Yankees are leading their division and have the best record in baseball – which is also weird since I personally think NYY is a weak team, which brings me back to A-Rod. Although he’s spent no time on the DL, A-Rod is on a pace for about 25 homers and 75 rbi’s (with a not-so-studly .793 OPS).  He couldn’t man-up for both games of a double-header this past weekend in Boston and Girardi used Raul Ibanez instead of A-Rod to pinch hit in the 9th with the game on the line.  Next thing we hear, Ibanez will be pinch hitting for A-Rod.  As Arte Moreno is learning, $25 million/year in salary doesn’t necessarily get you all you need or want from a player.  The only weird thing about that is that Arte hadn’t learned this previously from Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner.

Although I joined many of you in selecting NYY for the play-offs and they do have the best record at the Break, I’m quite comfortable in asserting that the Evil Empire will not win title #28 this year, and it won’t be due to the injury to Mariano Rivera (NYY’s success without Rivera supports my belief that the closer’s role is overrated).

So, let the Hot Stove warm up fast.  When has there ever been an off-season where NYY needed 3 starting pitchers, a catcher, a leftfielder, a rightfielder and a DH?  And, truthfully, don’t they also wish they had a new 3rd baseman and maybe even a different shortstop, even if their current one gets healthy?  Oh, and about that 43 year-old closer coming off knee-surgery….  And now it looks like TOR will be totally revamped with several cast-offs from MIA, so the AL East just got tougher.  Does anyone see 95 wins for this team in 2013?  Not likely to be a very comfortable off-season for Brian Cashman or Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, which should make for very Happy Holidays for some of us.

(JSR) © 2012

“The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball.” Babe Ruth

November 5, 2012

Can only 10 days have passed since the last out of the 2012 World Series?  Already I feel an emptiness inside caused by the lack of anticipation for the day’s slate of games.  This is how I know that I am a baseball fanatic (“a person with extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal” – dictionary.com):  when I pine away for even a meaningless afternoon baseball game (Cubs v. Astros?), when meaningful other events are available to occupy my time and to which attention should be paid.

It is, after all, a quadrennial election year, and the past 10 days may prove to have been an important time in American political history.  Also, there are people hurting in the Northeast following Hurricane Sandy and  there are people in need every day here in my own city of San Antonio.  There are many chores to be done around the house and about a dozen good books sitting on my desk in my study that I know I should read (and I am 30 days behind on my daily Bible study thanks to the MLB post-season). My kids need help with their homework (if I could only remember how to solve Calculus problems or recall the primary cause of the War of 1812).  Other sports are either in full swing (NFL and college football) or fresh from season openers (NBA),  but yet my first and foremost, virtually exclusive, inclination is to want MORE BASEBALL.  So here I am, sitting around thinking about baseball, even to the point of writing about thinking about baseball.

What rational reason can there be that I (and we) love baseball so much?  One possibility, I’m sure, is that we long for the success of our favorite team or player, which will in some equally irrational and inexplicable way gratify and validate us personally. But that feeling is available from any sporting contest, whether it is a team or individual sport.  We all have our favorites and some are based on geography while others are inherited from our parents or even adopted as an act of rebellion against them.  So loyalty and disloyalty alone do not explain why over 70,000,000 tickets are sold each year to MLB games.  Indeed, the second highest attendance for any professional sport in 2011 was also baseball, the Japanese major league which drew over 21 million fans.  By contrast, the NFL and NBA barely topped 17 million each, behind even the NHL! (As Casey Stengel would say, “you could look it up!”)

No, something else is at play in our feelings about baseball, something that could justify Babe Ruth’s belief that it is “the only real game in the world.”  Careful B.A.B.E.S. readers may recall that I struggled to articulate my own love of the game in a remembrance of Rocky Walker posted during Spring Training.  But since there probably aren’t any careful B.A.B.E.S. readers, I will repeat part of what I wrote back in March:

Baseball players have been immortalized as the “Boys of Summer” ever since 1972 when Roger Kahn took the phrase from a Dylan Thomas poem and used it as the title of a book about his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.  Indeed, the thought of the Boys of Summer playing America’s Pastime arouses in us all memories of lazy summer days and nights at the ballpark where time seemed to stand still to the most wonderful effect.

Yet, for me baseball is much more evocative of Spring, a time when bright colors return to the Earth and we all long to be outdoors to experience the same rebirth. Isn’t that what happens each Spring in FL and AZ when the MLB teams clothed in Spring colors all play baseball outdoors on natural grass? Doesn’t each player contract Spring-fever amnesia and believe that his team can win the World Series this year no matter how badly they performed the previous year – or the previous 104 years? That optimism (“an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events to anticipate the best possible outcome” – Webster’s 9th), translates from the span of an entire season down to each individual pitch. In a baseball instant, the 1.4 seconds it takes most big-league pitchers to deliver a pitch to the plate, a player’s life can change forever. (See David Freese as the most recent example). A true baseball fan always believes that such a life-changing instant can occur on any pitch, and probably will on the very next one. With the coming of Spring, we all anticipate that catharsis in a positive expectation of success and victory, not in negative fear of failure or defeat.” 

(entire post can be reviewed in the March, 2012, archives….)

Now that another season has passed, I can update these thoughts to substitute Pablo Sandoval for David Freese and refer to the 4.2 seconds constituting the aggregate pitch delivery time for his 3 home runs in World Series Game 1.  I can point to the Giants as a case of successful amnesia, or selective memory, having forgotten the failures of 2011 and repeated the triumph of 2010 (which not one of us predicted, by the way). I can also add one more year to the eternally optimistic Cubs’ fans’ wait till next year – now 105 years and still counting. And speaking of the Cubs, I can use them as an example of how just one baseball pitch can even change the life of a fan forever (more about that in a future post).

But do these thoughts really distinguish baseball from other sports?  Aren’t there epic moments of success or failure in every sport, even those that have occurred in an instant?  And don’t other sports’ seasons span the earth’s seasons, too? (Baseball may start in Spring and end in Fall, but football starts in Summer and ends in Winter, which strikes me as stronger distinction.) Of course, there is the repetition of the baseball season, where during its six-month run a baseball team may have fewer than 3 days/month without a game.  In that way, baseball is unique, but isn’t that the very fact cited as turning fans away rather than drawing them into a deeper appreciation of the sport? (I know that is true for my wife.)

So, I am still searching for the uniqueness of baseball and the precise reason why I love it so much.  If he were still with us, I’d ask the Babe to explain his views, which also included this apparently subsequent thought to the one quoted above: “Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.”  Perhaps he realized that it couldn’t objectively be called the “only real game in the world,” but could subjectively be called the “best” – especially by one of the best players in its history.

Do you get this picture, no matter how poorly I have captured it? If so, is it perhaps a view more like a mirror in which you see not the Babe or me, but yourself?  If so, I welcome your effort to try to describe that reflection.  Exactly why is baseball the “best game in the world” to you?

The comments section is wide open, and Spring Training doesn’t start for another 100 days.  Do you really want to leave that much time for me to ponder this alone?

(JSR) © 2012