O Captain! O Commissioner!

September 25, 2014

With apologies to Rob Manfred, the MLB Commissioner-elect, there is only person who should succeed Bud Selig when he retires next January.  This Sunday Derek Jeter will retire after twenty seasons as a MLB player.  He has stated publicly that he does not want to become an on-field manager or even a general manager.  He has stated privately that he would like to be an owner of a MLB franchise.  However, assuming that the Steinbrenner family will not sell the Yankees, I commented back in March how odd it would be to see the Mets or the Rays owned by Jeter competing against NYY.  It just wouldn’t feel right to him and, frankly, it wouldn’t seem right to the fans.  Yankee fans couldn’t abide such a sacrilege and even NYY-haters like me would think it unnatural.

No, there is only one place in baseball going forward that suits Derek Jeter – other than Cooperstown, of course.  If the Commissioner is supposed to be the one person who has the respect of each owner, each general manager, each player and every fan – the one person who approaches being bigger than the game itself –  Jeter should be the unanimous selection.  (And speaking of Cooperstown and unanimous selections, would any member of the BBWAA have the courage not to vote for Jeter in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame if he had already served as MLB Commissioner for five years?)

Again, no disrespect to Rob Manfred, but shouldn’t the Commissioner of MLB at least be recognizable when he walks into every ball park in the league?  Jeter would not only meet that test as the most recognizable figure in baseball, he is among the most recognizable sports figures in the world.  Even more importantly, he obtained that notoriety only for his actions on the field – successful actions.  Can anyone think of a big moment in his career in which Jeter failed? Even tonight, in a game that was meaningless other than having the distinction of (1) being the only game at Yankee Stadium (old or new) in which Jeter played after the Yankees had been eliminated from the post-season eligibility and (2) being Jeter’s last game at home, Jeter made the utmost out of the moment.

A first inning RBI double and a 7th-inning go-ahead RBI fielder’s choice would be suitable enough for a Hallmark movie on Jeter’s career.  But Jeter’s sporting life has always been featured on the biggest stage with story-lines even the nation’s greatest sportswriters could not conceive.  No one could have scripted the meltdown by NYY closer David Robertson that would allow BAL to tie the game in the top of the 9th and require the Yankees to bat again (unless, of course, you think the bartenders at Buffalo Wild Wings really can control games in order to prolong them for fans).

The two gopher balls from Robertson set the stage for Jeter to come to bat in the bottom of the 9th where he would promptly line the first pitch between first and second base – where else would he hit it? When Antoine Richardson dived headfirst toward home plate and his hand hit white, Jeter was rounding first and looking back toward home, anticipating his first walk-off hit in over 7 years.  Rather than continue to second he shot both arms above his head and leaped into the air celebrating his last Yankee Stadium win just as we had seen him celebrate a World Championship.  The fact that this game was not for a World Championship, but was only the 82nd win of the season, did not matter.  It was a win, and that is what Jeter says he only cares about – winning.

We all know that this is only half of what he cares about.  The other half is winning the right way.  Whatever you may think of the Jeter mystique, there is no denying that he has lived in fishbowl for over 20 years and shown no evidence of having bodily functions.  Watching the game tonight on MLB Network and then the post-game coverage on ESPN, I was struck by the contrast of the Gatorade commercial showing a relaxed, humble Jeter being adored by fans in the Bronx and the new Nike commercial about Richard Sherman trying act humble by stopping people from asking if he is really the best cornerback of all time.  Jeter did not have to go on a self-worshipping rant after a World Series win in order to gain respect.  In fact, he did just the opposite – garnering attention by seeking to avoid it.

Jeter is not only the anti-Sherman, he is the anti-Steinbrenner.  The Boss needed to be the center of attention and worked hard to be just as Sherman has.  Jeter, on the other hand has avoided individual attention and was successful at it while the Yankees still had several icons to soak up the press (could Derek has actually missed A-Rod this year? Probably not.)  He built all of his reputation on the field of competition and tried as best as he could to deflect the worship that has come to him in this final season.  In a society that loves to elevate its heroes to positions above what they deserve or can ever sustain, this is one chance to give a true hero a true position that he truly deserves and at which he will truly excel.

Say goodbye to The Captain.  Say hello to The Commissioner.

(JSR) © 2014

Laboring Day 2014

September 1, 2014

Today we have the rare coincidence of our National Labor Day holiday (which marks the unofficial end of summer) falling on September 1, which traditionally marks the beginning of MLB’s stretch run to the post-season.  So, I trust you will enjoy the National Pastime on this national holiday even more than usually.  There are many important match-ups among the 13 games scheduled, 11 of them during the day as is often the case on holidays.  PIT@STL; DET@CLE and WAS@LAD are just three of the games with serious post-season implications.

Of course, with most teams having at least 25 games remaining, it is still too early to draw any post-season conclusions except that my prediction for the AL pennant winner (TBR) was clearly wrong.  Other than that disappointment, I am optimistic about my picks.  I am sure you are keeping track of your own body of work, just as are the 30 general managers who continue to make trades in a furious (some might say desperate) attempt to reach the post-season and extend their hopes of a world championship.  Since we don’t yet know how those attempts will work out, we can at least pause for a moment and contemplate the process itself, which in many ways is a triumph of labor/management cooperation.

Yesterday I posted a few thoughts on “Homeplate,” http://www.babesbaseball.com, about the importance of Labor Day to all of us – regardless of whether we are members of labor or management.  As you know, I treat baseball as the window through which all life should be viewed, and the current picture MLB provides us of labor/management cooperation is a strong argument in favor of my opinion.  I won’t repeat those thoughts here, other than to say that the success required communication, cooperation and compromise from both sides.  Clearly the business of baseball, from both the owners’ and players’ perspective, has benefitted from this approach.

The complex negotiations of baseball’s Basic Agreement, see this link for the actual agreement, http://mlb.mlb.com/pa/info/cba.jsp, resulted in a player movement scheme that creates several pressure points during the season.  The most dramatic occurs on July 31, the non-waiver trading deadline.  As I observed that day on Homeplate, several general managers made bold moves trading established stars and important everyday players in direct deals that could not be blocked by other teams.  Moves by OAK’s Billy Beane and DET’s Dave Dombrowsky were hailed by most experts, but also questioned somewhat by yours truly.  (Take a look at what has happened to OAK and DET since those trades:

http://espn.go.com/mlb/standings/_/date/20140731;

http://espn.go.com/mlb/standings/_/date/20140901.

After July 31, any player proposed to be traded must clear waivers, meaning that any team can claim a player by simply agreeing to assume the balance of his contract.  If a team makes a waiver claim (either because they want the player or because they don’t want a rival to obtain him), the team offering the player then has 48 hours to a) agree to a trade with the claiming team, b) remove the player from the waiver wire or c) allow the claiming team to acquire the player simply by assuming his contract.  If no one claims a player on waivers, he is free to be traded to any team without interference, unless of course the player has a “no-trade” clause in his contract (which at one time was not allowed) or is a “10-5” player, meaning that he has 10 years of  MLB service and five years with his current team.  Each of these factors makes trades in August a rare commodity.   The fact that OAK got Adam Dunn through this process yesterday says much about how poorly he has performed for CWS and how badly OAK misses Yoenes Cespedes who was traded to BOS on July 31.

Trades in September are even more rare because in order to be eligible to appear in the post-season a player must be on that team’s roster on September 1.  It is very unusual for a team to trade for a player who will only be available to them for the stretch run.  Also complicating the September personnel decisions is the ability to add up to 16 additional players to the MLB roster (increased from 24 to 40 players).  Most teams use this right to give promising minor leaguers a chance to experience big league action in a non-pressure atmosphere.  However, with ten teams now qualifying for the post-season many more teams remain in the post-season race. Today TWENTY teams are within 7.5 games of a post-season birth!  So does a manager risk playing a rookie under such circumstances? Does a general manager seek a late-season trade for an established player at the expense of another MLB player or a prospect, or does he seek to rely on his existing players and prospects?

These are difficult questions and the ultimate answers are not within the powers of management. Certainly, a GM can make a trade, and that move may be universally praised at the time. However, the player may then fail to perform up to expectations.  The regular season is not yet finished, but did you see the results of the last start by David Price and Jon Lester, respectively?  Dombrowsky and Beane must not be very comfortable on this Labor Day, reminding us once again that a skilled labor force performing at the peak of their abilities is an essential part of successful management.  As Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson observed:

“(managers) are just a necessary evil. I don’t believe a manager ever won a pennant. Casey Stengel won all those pennants with the Yankees.  How many did he win with the Mets? I have never seen a team win a pennant without players.”

Think about that on this Labor Day, 2014, as you are sitting on your couch and the best players of the game we all love are hard at work.

(JSR) © 2014