Red Sox Redux

November 23, 2013

It is a cold wintry day in south Texas, perfect for reflecting on the 2013 MLB season and dreaming of Spring Training, 2014.  It has been three weeks since the Red Sox proved that no team is so far down that it can’t make an immediate and triumphant turnaround.  In the process they made me look like a sage.  I wrote this observation in March, 2012:

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’s optimism (“an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events to anticipate the best possible outcome” – Webster’s 9th)….

The Red Sox certainly embraced collective amnesia by burying the memory of the 93-loss debacle that was 2012 (as well as the historic collapse of September, 2011), right from Opening Day, 2013.  An 8-2 rout of arch-rival NYY in Yankee Stadium (Lester outpitching Sabathia) put the Red Sox on top of the division where they stayed most of the year.  They finished April with an MLB-best 18-8 record and led the division at the end of every month.  It was the kind of dominatingly steady performance you associate with a perennial World Series contender, which BOS had been until the calendar turned to September, 2011.

Whatever happened in those fried-chicken-eating, beer-drinking, Bobby Valentine-in-the-clubhouse-days, there was no hang-over or even indigestion come Spring Training 2013.  Credit Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino for having the courage to “throw the bums out” – players and manager alike (Beckett, Crawford, Valentine), and even being willing to part with a non-bum like Adrian Gonzalez who for whatever reason seemed to be neither bum nor beast. (Voters, are you paying attention as election-year 2014 comes around?)  http://www.wnd.com/2013/10/poll-60-say-throw-the-bums-out/

And of course John Farrell has to be credited in some way.  He obviously renewed belief in his old Red Sox players that they were an elite team, but he also integrated six questionable free agents that most baseball observers viewed as a Red Sox Plan B folly.  Instead of blowing $270 million like they did in 2011 on two top free agent signings,  in 2012 BOS would give away only $100 million on 6 mediocre players.  Since only one B.A.B.E.S. member picked BOS to make the post-season, we obviously weren’t impressed with Victorino, Napoli, Drew, Gomes, Dempster or Uehara.  But somehow, those retreads proved to be worth that $100 million and much, much more.  Perhaps it was Farrell; perhaps it was the Beards; perhaps it was the inspiring effect of Boston Strong, but most likely it was the understanding that 2013 was a new year and everyone got a new start – including the chance to bring back the championship persona that was BOS.

That’s what “redux” means – resurgent, or “to bring back.”  The entire BOS organization did just that – returning to their top form.  John Henry, Lucchino, Cherington, Farrell, Ortiz, Pedroia, Lester, Bucholz, Lackey, and those 6 free agents.  Add in sterling rookie performances  first by Jose Iglesias and then Xander Bogaerts and solid work by several relievers and it all added up to another Red Sox World Championship.  That’s 3 in 10 years (during which time NYY has only one), and the prospect for another BOS title in 2014 is bright (at least brighter than NYY’s).  I’m guessing that more than one of us will put BOS in the post-season when our picks are completed on March 30, 2014.  Of course, several other teams will take inspiration from BOS and we should be thinking about them.

At the end of “Moneyball” John Henry tells Billy Beane that “any team that is not tearing down its roster right now and rebuilding it your way is a dinosaur.”  The same could be said this off-season for the Red Sox way. It is a good time to be a middle-of-the-pack free agent as teams go bargain-hunting, or at least thrift-shopping in the MLB economy ($42 million for Jason Vargas? $26 million for Carlos Ruiz? $16 million for Marlon Byrd?)  The Royals and the Phillies seem to think less can be more.  As do the Yankees, who for now are insisting that they will not pay a record sum to retain Robinson Cano.  Of course, TEX isn’t buying into that – not with the willingness to take on $138 million remaining on Prince Fielder’s seven-year contract amid rumors they are also going to pursue Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury or David Price.   The Hot Stove got fired up early this year, even if it may be maintained at a medium temperature for most teams.

But all of that will be reviewed in January and February.  For now, we need to congratulate the Red Sox, and every team should thank them for bringing back hope.  Of course, it never really went away.  Consider these words also from my review of 2012’s season:

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).

(read the rest of that post here – I promise not to quote myself any more):

http://babesbaseball.com/2012/11/05/the-only-real-game-in-the-world-i-think-is-baseball-babe-ruth/)

So the past continues to be prologue.  Will BOS repeat?  Will SFO continue its alternating-year titles?  Can Mike Matheny get the job finished in his 3rd year in STL?  Or will Brad Ausmus win it all in his first year in DET after taking over from Jim Leyland?  Or will something really new happen like TEX finally winning the Series?  And then there is always CHI – the 106th year could be the charm.  So much to dream about.

And dreams, of course, are our best form of amnesia.

Yankees in the Post-Season!

October 2, 2013

Big off-season free-agent signee Russell Martin opened the 2013 post-season last night with two home runs, sparking a 6-2 win and setting the stage for teammate A.J. Burnett to continue the winning ways as Friday’s starter.  If Burnett falters, veterans Jeff Karstans and Kyle Farnsworth will be available out of the bullpen.  Also in the ballpark will be another veteran righthander, Randy Choate.

But prior to that game we’ll see notable pinstripe sluggers Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi swing into post-season action on a 10-game winning streak.  And Austin Jackson and Phil Coke will be seeking redemption from last’s year’s World Series failure.  Even Freddy Garcia, about to earn the nickname “the Ageless One,” will be in on the action.  This is a pitcher who won 17 games in the last millennium! (1999).  Clearly NYY is continuing its domination that has resulted in 27 World Series titles in its history, as well as a run of post-season appearances in 17 of the last 19 years.

But wait, strangely enough none of those players still plays for NYY.  They are all FORMER Yankees and they are now in the post-season playing for PIT, CLE, DET, ATL and STL!   And for only the second time in the last 19 years there won’t be any games played in Yankee Stadium(s) in October.  That lets me write my annual post-mortem on NYY even before any of the actual post-season series begin (a one-game wildcard match-up is not a series).  I think this early post-mortem may become a habit (and by early I may mean by the All-Star Break) and I don’t say that out of my long-held dislike for NYY. It’s just true.

Think about it, NYY has been to the post-season 17 times since the last time PIT had a winning season.  But would PIT GM Neil Huntington trade his roster for NYY’s? (And remember, the Pirates roster includes Kyle Farnsworth.)  In fact, would any MLB GM trade his roster for NYY’s?  Even Jeff Luhnow, HOU’s GM, believes he is assembling young talent, and he knows most of who will be on his roster next year. But there isn’t much young talent in pinstripes and no one knows who is going to be on NYY’s roster in 2014.

We know Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will not be.  Robinson Cano may not be (quick, name the current second baseman for LAD….)  Hiroki Kuroda reportedly will be in the Japanese League next year.  Alex Rodriguez probably won’t be available – at least not for a large portion of the 2014 season. Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Mark Texieira and Brett Gardner may be ready for the start of the season, but does anyone think they will play a full season without getting re-injured? Phil Hughes and David Robertson aren’t injury prone, but their pitching performances in 2014 made every Yankee fan wish they would go on the 60-day DL.

Not only do we not know who will be in the Yankees’ line-up, we don’t even know who will be making out the Yankees’ line-up next year.  Joe Girardi’s contract expires October 31 and several reports place Joe either in the ESPN broadcast booth or the Chicago Cubs’ dugout come Opening Day 2014.  Can anyone comprehend a manager choosing to leave the Yankees to coach a team that hasn’t won the World Series in 105 years?  What in the name of George Steinbrenner is going on here?

Well, I really shouldn’t act surprised.  I raised almost as many questions about NYY after they were swept by DET in the 2012 ALCS.   http://babesbaseball.com/2012/10/22/leaves-of-grass/.  And as I remarked at the All-Star break this year, the bigger surprise was that NYY was actually still in the race for the post-season.  They stayed there until losing 5 out of 6 games against BOS and TOR in mid-September, but, seriously, this team was going nowhere this year and by any reasonable analysis will be going nowhere anytime in the near future.

The changing free agent market (impacted by revenue sharing as I discussed last winter – http://babesbaseball.com/2012/12/13/love-your-enemies-part-2-marvin-miller-and-bud-selig/).  If you doubt my argument, consider that we just watched a post-season game in PIT and tonight we will watch one in CLE – against TBR.  If teams like TBR, OAK and KCR, with the league’s worst attendance in small markets can afford to pay top salaries, that makes it much harder for NYY to sign the top stars as The Boss always did, even if the sons of The Boss decide they are willing to spend the money to do so.  Besides, NYY reportedly made Russell Martin a competitive offer and he still chose to sign with PIT in the off-season.  Obviously, he knew who had the better chance of making the 2013 post-season:  the team that had just finished its 21st consecutive losing season.

Of course, I’m not going to predict that NYY will go 21 years without a winning season, or even that long without making it back to the post-season, but I must admit I like the idea of the picture of A-Rod sitting alone and looking bewildered in the NYY dugout in the 2012 ALCS being the last image of a Yankee post-season for the next 21 years.  It’s more satisfying than the shot of Andy Van Slyke sitting alone, crying in centerfield in old Three Rivers Stadium.  The latter was drama or even melodrama, but the former is a dark (navy) comedy, a Broadway morality play and a labor/management triumph all rolled into one.

(JSR) © 2013

“September Song”

“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December,

But the days grow short when you reach September,

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame,

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

Major League Baseball promotes the final games of its regular season as the “Hunt for October,” and the television networks have been running player promotions all year with the tagline: “I play for October.”  But as we all know, games in September usually decide which teams play in MLB’s post-season. So as my introduction to MLB’s 2013 pennant race I chose a Maxwell Anderson lyric from a classic tune composed by Kurt Weill for the 1938 Broadway musical “Knickerbocker Holiday” (more about that Show later).

Depending on the artist’s interpretation, “September Song” is either about finding love or losing love.  Either interpretation is appropriate for MLB’s pennant race – think of it as a contemplative version of “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!”  For the older ones among us, remember when ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” was the only sports show on TV the entire week?  Check out this link for a bit of nostalgia. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=wide+world+of+sports+intro+video&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=FA3163AAD0AB8A454587FA3163AAD0AB8A454587

I think “September Song” would make a perfect soundtrack for a lead-in to a late September game broadcast. (Coming soon to ESPN, Fox or MLB Network?) There are dozens of recordings of “September Song,” but my two favorites are by Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson.  These legends’ contrasting choral styles are as diverse as the personalities of DiMaggio and Williams, and although I love Sinatra, I actually prefer Willie’s version of this tune because it is so mellow (finding love/thrill of victory), where Sinatra’s is melancholy (losing love/agony of defeat).  Here are the links if you want to listen for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9nSgMwtkK0  (Nelson)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjiVbaA1-sc (Sinatra)

If you don’t know Nelson’s 1978 album “Stardust,” which includes this tune and other classics from the American songbook, you’ve missed some of the best stress-relief medicine available. As we head into the MLB stretch-run perhaps all of the managers could benefit from downloading “Stardust” on their iPods, or at least the following managers should: STL, CIN, TBR, OAK, BAL, NYY, CLE, KCR, ARI, each of whose teams is within 6.5 games of the second wild card position.  Perhaps several of us B.A.B.E.S. members should engage in a little music therapy, too, as this brief review of our predictions will reveal the need for some stress relief.

It has been a strange year so far, one where the experts appear to have been greatly mistaken as to the dominant teams.  Sixteen of us predicted either WAS, LAA or TOR would win the World Series.  That’s not just stressful, it’s shameful.  Those teams are a combined 21 games under .500, and they wouldn’t be that good if not for WAS finally showing signs of life by winning 7 of its last 10 games. and LAA winning 3 games in a row over the Braun-less Brewers.

Due to their dismal performance all year, even WAS’s recent modest improvement still leaves them 7.5 games behind CIN for the second NL wild-card.  If you are one of the 9 of us that picked WAS to win the Series, there is at least a glimmer of hope, but not much.  For the other 7 of you who picked TOR or LAA, forget it.  As for the four of you who picked LAA and WAS to be in the World Series, well, “expert” is a relative term.

For those of you who picked ATL, DET, LAD or TEX to win it all, you can look forward to some anxious moments for all the right reasons.  On September 1, each of those three teams is be a good bet for a Series win. http://linemakers.sportingnews.com/mlb/2013-08-26/world-series-odds-2013-las-vegas-cardinals-reds-pirates-dodgers-yankees-tigers

The failures of LAA, TOR, SFO and likely WAS, as well as the surprising success of BOS and PIT, have damaged nearly everyone’s potential first round point totals.  Jeff Hamilton, Kara Rose, Walter Stone, Eric Hoffman and Dan Nerdahl appear most likely to total a respectable 12-15 of the possible 30 points from the regular season final standings.  Thereafter, only Kara (CIN, TEX), and Hudson Stone (ATL, TBR) are likely to have both pennant winners even make the post-season.

Consequently, as in year’s past, I don’t believe anyone will win the Rocky without at least one correct individual selection, and that is where a few of you may strike gold (or faux bronze, which is what the Rocky is made of). Jeff and Kara (obviously much smarter than her dad) both picked Miguel Cabrera to win the AL batting title AND the AL MVP.  That appears to be a certain 10 points and a likely 20, unless Cabrera is really hurt and the voters then decide to go with Mike Trout this year.  In that event, Walter (2013 WBC champ) and Tom Marchiando (2010 B.A.B.E.S. champion), would be in great position, having picked Trout as MVP and Cabrera as batting champ.

But what would truly be remarkable if it occurs, and would almost certainly result in a new B.A.B.E.S. point record, would be Jeff Hamilton’s prediction of Cabrera as AL MVP and batting champ and Clayton Kershaw as NL Cy Young and MVP.  That would be the first double double in B.A.B.E.S. history!

I personally do not think Kershaw (or any pitcher) deserves the MVP award, but many commentators are advocating for him and, of course, it was only two years ago that Verlander won the AL MVP.   Clearly it could happen again and would likely ensure that Jeff wins this year’s competition in his first try. If so, I would be tempted to invoke my “best interest of B.A.B.E.S.” powers to deny him his Rocky since he picked TOR to win the Series.  But he wasn’t the only one who made that mistake, and I don’t want to be seen as a “dictator” like Kennesaw Mountain Landis, which brings me back to “Knickerbocker Holiday.”

If you’re really interested, a link to the entire plot line is below, but in a nutshell the show is based on the life of Peter Stuyvesant, an autocratic governor of the former Dutch settlement now known as New York City.  (Could this be where the Boss learned his style?) In his effort to impose his fascist-like policies, Stuyvesant loses not only his office, but also the girl he dreams of. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knickerbocker_Holiday#Plot.

If it doesn’t sound like a great idea for a musical, it wasn’t.  The original run lasted for fewer than six months and despite revivals and movies loosely based on the play, it is mostly known today for one song – “September Song,” of course.  And if you are still with me, I can’t resist carrying this association one step further.

I think the final lines of this song would serve as an appropriate elegy for Alex Rodriquez’s time with NYY.  The Yankees are making a modest run, moving to only 3.5 games out of the second wild card with a win on August 31.  Rodriguez has made a contribution to the surge since his return to the line-up pending resolution of his appeal of the 211 game suspension from baseball.  The appeal is not expected to be heard by an arbiter before November, so he should be with the team till NYY is eliminated or he suffers another injury.

I find it ironic, however, that Rodriguez’ appeal is likely only delaying his service of at least a 50 game suspension and perhaps the full 211.  Either way, delaying the start of the suspension only delays his return date, which could be after he turns 40!  Therefore, I get the feeling that we are seeing the final days of Rodriguez’s career, which reminds me of September Song’s closing lines:

“Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few.

September, November.

And these few precious days, I’ll spend with you.

These precious days, I’ll spend with you.

Stay tuned all through September to see if these precious days include a post-season spot for NYY and Rodriguez.  The thrill of victory?  Or the agony of defeat?  You all know which one I’m rooting for.

Coming Clean, Or Not

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3, ESV).

You probably think I quoted this biblical text as a pretext for throwing stones at the 14 MLB players now suspended as a result of the investigation into the Biogenesis Anti-aging Clinic.  Well, that is only partly true. I intend to use it against myself first. In a variation on another biblical principle – that “only he who is without sin can cast the first stone” – I will throw the first stone at myself and only then fling a few at others.  I hope I will come out better for the comparison, but that’s for you to decide.

I introduced my last post with a somewhat condescending review of the evolution of written commentary, which could be called “devolution,” or the “decline and fall of prose.”  Not that I am ever above condescension, but I have an admission to make concerning my actual motivation for the derision I expressed in http://babesbaseball.com/2013/07/16/mlb-all-star-breakpoints/.  You may have noticed my specific  mention of “Bleacher Report” as the pinnacle (or nadir) of the movement away from prose reporting.  I know some of you view that website often.  Indeed, it is one of the leading sports webpages today and draws millions of viewers (I can’t bring myself to use the word “readers”), as well as more than a few critics.  (Don’t just take my word for it: http://www.sfweekly.com/2012-10-03/news/bleacher-report-sports-journalism-internet-espn-news-technology/full/.)

Clearly there is room for a healthy debate about the journalistic or literary quality of any writing, not just BR’s content, but I am writing now to admit that the real reason that BR was an object of my criticism is that the editors rejected my application to be a contributing writer.  Despite the enthusiastic encouragement of BR’s columns editor (who actually likes my posts), the reporting editors who must first approve a BR writer found that my style did not meet the “high standard BR expects of its contributors.”  OUCH!  That hurts.  And I thought I could improve BR’s content.

Of course, we all have our personal tastes and I know many acclaimed writers were rejected repeatedly before finally getting published and gaining approbation.  I have the good fortune of being able to publish my own work here, and I appreciate the comments I get from my few followers when you occasionally find something I say note-worthy.  It is not my intent here to seek additional approval.  Rather, I simply wanted to admit, even without the public revelation of my true motivation for criticizing BR, that I am a thin-skinned and egotistical pseudo-writer (“pseudo” being defined by dictionary.com as “almost, approaching or trying to be“).

I believe this confession is a true example of “coming clean” –  personally admitting the stain on my character before it is publicly revealed by others.  This is significantly different from a pseudo-acknowledgment of a blot here or there on one’s character only after an authoritative judge has publicly announced your charges, conviction and punishment.  Compare Ryan Braun’s:  “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect….”  http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130722&content_id=54364032&c_id=mlb.  (Ok. That was the first outwardly-flung stone.)

As an attorney, I see so many ways to attack Braun’s non-confession that it is hard to decide where to begin.  Here are a few possibilities:

“What does perfection have to do with this discussion? And even if being perfect is relevant, when exactly did you acknowledge that you are not?”  http://nesn.com/2013/07/ryan-brauns-2012-news-conference-denying-ped-use-even-more-ridiculous-after-suspension-video/. Or…

“Are you lying now or were you lying previously when you repeatedly denied using PED’s?”   Or…

“Wouldn’t you still be lying if not for MLB’s smart lawyers who brilliantly mined the Biogenesis case for dispositive evidence against you?”

I could actually enjoy that cross-examination if it weren’t for the fact that proving the case is really of no consequence.  Braun has clearly profited from his deception, as have many other players.  It remains to be seen whether the consequences of his “admission” will become as complicated as it has for other “non-perfect” fallen sports heroes like Lance Armstrong, but at the moment Braun appears to have suffered only a $3 million reduction in his over $100 million salary.  That seems like a reasonable business risk to me, and it is hard to argue with Braun’s decision to take a deal when it was offered, no matter how dishonorable he appears in the process.  (I have expressed my views on integrity previously:  http://babesbaseball.com/2013/01/21/the-content-of-our-character/.)  Every other suspended MLB player but one made the same business decision – accept the punishment without further process and begin serving the time immediately.   The one exception, of course, is Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez arguably had no choice but to appeal his suspension – and no downside to doing so.  Who would expect him to agree to a suspension that will cost him over $30 million and which could effectively end his career, especially when the arbitrator can only affirm or reduce his suspension, not increase it?  That said, it is telling that his principal defense is that the evidence MLB has against him, if accepted, should only be considered his first strike under the drug program and therefore he should only be suspended for 50 games.  Recall that he has previously admitted using PED’s but claims that this was during his time with the Texas Rangers when substances were not prohibited.  He denies using since-banned drugs at any time while a member of NYY.  So one could argue that Rodriguez has not come clean in any sense that could actually subject him to any consequences.

No one (with the possible exception of Rodriguez himself) really believes that he hasn’t used PED’s while playing for NYY.  But in the reversed system of due process under the MLB drug program and Basic Agreement, Rodriguez already knows his sentence, knows there is no harm in losing the appeal, and knows that he gets to play during the appeal process.  Why, I would like to know, should he not be subject to a greater punishment if the arbitrator finds against him?  Or why should the Commissioner not be able to charge him under both the Joint Drug Program and the Basic Agreement which contains the famous “best interests of baseball” clause that supported the lifetime ban of Pete Rose?  Violation of two statutes carries two different penalties, and can be charged separately.  It is a strategy lawyers use all the time. not to mention the state and federal systems which often permit a second set of charges for the same facts.  http://news.yahoo.com/african-american-group-seeks-federal-charges-trayvon-case-232114133.html

Despite now knowing what some MLB players have done in the dark – figuratively at least, but perhaps literally – and despite having these acts “revealed in the light” to MLB and “proclaimed on the housetops” to all of us, the system seems to have failed to deter the illegal conduct in the first place or properly punish it in the last place.  A player may use PED’s expecting to get caught, but still see the benefit of cheating.  And a player may continue to lie about his conduct and yet still retain the spoils even if he is convicted.  Something is still not right with that system, despite Bud Selig’s claim that it is the best drug program in professional sports.   http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130805&content_id=55963810&vkey=pr_mlb&c_id=mlb.

Reportedly the MLBPA will agree to changes in the penalty provisions of the Joint Drug Program this coming off-season.  It is too bad that the MLBPA does not start the process now by refusing to defend Rodriguez.  Unfortunately, the union announced today its intent to vigorously fight the punishment given to Rodriguez, asserting that  “the Commissioner has not acted appropriately under the Basic Agreement.”   We don’t know how sincere that expression is, given the indications lately that many players are in support of tougher penalties.  Rodriguez, at his own press conference, suggested that he’s in this by himself:   “I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”

Well, Alex, I would like to think that I would take a different approach to your situation if you would truly come clean.  Well, maybe.  That implicates another dilemma of biblical proportions:  “How many times must I forgive my brother?” (70×7).  Let me get back to you on that.

© JSR 2012

MLB All-Star Breakpoints

July 16, 2013

MLB All-Star Breakpoints,

I love to read and write prose.  My posts here average about 1500 words, which don’t seem like a lot considering I just finished reading Dickens’ Hard Times (one of his shorter novels at only 448 pages).  I recommend it highly, as the man wrote beautiful sentences  that created interesting characters and vividly depicted the lives of several classes of people in 19th century England.  If that is not a triple crown performance, it is at least the equivalent of hitting for the cycle.  That’s exactly what I strive to accomplish when I write about 21st century baseball.

But I don’t write this with the expectation that you will be shopping at amazon.com for classic literature, or even reading all of my posts.  Rather, I use this as a preface to introduce this particular post as a series of bullet-points, not well-crafted prose. (I use Breakpoint as an homage to an admired commentator, and baseball fan, Eric Metaxas, http://www.breakpoint.org/equip/bibliotheca/19622-review-of-metaxas-qseven-men-and-the-secret-of-their-greatness).  Despite my own personal tastes, I am aware that most 21st century readers, and certainly readers of sporting news, prefer shorter pieces.  The condensing that began with Reader’s Digest was followed by People Magazine and was then perfected by David Letterman and has now been adopted by Bleacher Report as the sports standard.  Give the readers a list  (in pictures, preferably) and as little commentary as possible (except, of course, on talk radio and ESPN, where there is way too much commentary).  Ok, I will bow to the written genre’s requirement of a list, but with only  a few picture or external links and with the preservation of my right to extend the commentary as long as I need to for melodramatic effect, even if it is presented in bullet-point fashion. Here you have them,

My 10 most burning questions from the first-half of MLB’s 2013 season:

10.  How did NYY win 51 games with THAT line-up?  If they stay on this pace and finish with almost 90 wins, Girardi and Cashman should win awards even if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.  Let’s all hope that A-Rod does not make it back to the field to distract everyone from the really fine job these guys have done without him.  Addition by subtraction has always been the mathematical principle that makes the most sense in sports.

9.    Considering addition and subtraction, is John Farrell really that good as a manager or was Bobby Valentine really that bad?  The Red Sox have the most wins in MLB (58) and have been consistently good all year, just months after having been almost historically bad (only 69 wins all last year).  I still maintain that it was the fault of the players that now wear Dodger Blue more than it was Valentine’s, but it now appears that performance was lacking both on the field and in the dugout.  Not so far this year.

8.    Speaking of Dodger Blue, who could have guessed that the most important move LAD made last season was signing a Cuban defector?  The entire team is showing signs of climbing out of the pits, but does anyone think this would have happened without the emergence of Yasiel Puig?  Don Mattingly should be really thankful.  Even if Puig doesn’t get them to the play-offs, he probably saved Mattingly’s job for one more year – something Kemp, Kershaw, et al., could not do.

7.    And while we are in SoCal, can anyone remember a time when three teams in the same city (sorry Anaheim,  “Los Angeles” appears first in the Angels’ team name) started their respective seasons with so much hype and stumbled so badly?  The Dodgers, Angels and Lakers all made major roster additions and none has succeeded.  Of these 3, LAA is the biggest disappointment for the second year in a row.  How can that line-up be 5 games under .500 and 11 games out in their own division?  The answer is obvious, actually.  LAA is 6th in runs scored but 27th in ERA.  I said before the season started that I was sure LAA would rather have kept Greinke than sign Hamilton.  Good pitching still beats good hitting.  But even Greinke’s and Kershaw’s pitching has propelled LAD to only 3 more wins than LAA.  And now Dwight Howard has chosen the Rockets over the Lakers!  Just what is going on in LA?

6.   But back to speaking of good pitching, can you believe who has the best staff ERA in MLB?  PIT!  That’s right, the franchise with 20 consecutive losing seasons.   The Bucs are 19 games over .500 with 69 games to go.  That means they only need 26 more wins from that stellar pitching staff to break the longest seasonal losing streak in the history of all sports.  We thought this would happen last year, but a 2d half collapse ensued.  For the sake of PIT, and baseball’s best uniforms and most beautiful park (in my humble opinion – SFO is a close 2d), let’s all cheer for the Pirates.

5.   Good pitching is critical, for sure, but when are people going to learn that pitchers are needed for the entire season and not just one game?  I’m down on these guys who throw no-hitters and then get bombed in the next 10 starts, or the rest of their careers.  Homer Bailey threw MLB’s last no-hitter in 2012 and the first in 2103, while sporting a cumulative ERA of over 4.0 in between.  Tim Lincecum is still in danger of being sent to the bullpen even though he found his former magic for a 147 pitch no-hitter. We’ll see if that cooks his career the way it did for Johan Santana (if the Freak’s career wasn’t already cooked).  Are the Mets happy now that they can finally say they have a franchise no-hitter? Or would they prefer to see Santana still pitching every 5th day?   If I was a manager, I would tell these guys this is a team game and we have 162 to play this year.  “Forget your individual accomplishments and get in the dugout!”

4.  Speaking of handling of pitchers, was shutting down Stephen Strasburg for the post-season last year a good idea?  In hindsight, it appears to have back-fired on WAS.  He’s not pitching that well and the team may not even get back to the post-season unless they catch fire in the second-half.  The team that appeared to have no holes at the start of the season has had no spark for the season so far.   One game over .500 and out of any post-season spot is not what many expected.  Bryce Harper’s second place finish in the Home Run Derby last night might be telling – some talent, no big results.

3.  Speaking of big results, what if after going over 45 years without a Triple Crown Winner in MLB, we have one in consecutive seasons? And what if he’s the same guy?  Wouldn’t that be one of the sport’s all-time greatest achievements?  That’s 3 questions, I know, but they all refer to Miguel Cabrera, who has already completed a superlative season, .365, 30 homers, 95 RBI, and it’s just the All-Star break.  He trails the new Superman, Chris Davis, in HR’s by 7, but that’s not insurmountable.  I usually put the team over the individual, see point 5 above, but Cabrera’s performance is truly amazing.  And perhaps, just perhaps, he will be able to carry DET over the hump this year.  I still can see him frozen at the plate that rainy October night in SF when he took a called strike 3 from Sergio Romo and made the last out in the 2012 World Series.  That tends to dampen one’s memory of a historic season…..

2.  And speaking of historic seasons and dampened memories, can Chris Davis actually erase the taint of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa and establish a new, de facto, MLB single season HR record? Davis is on a pace for 62 home runs.  Assuming he is not doping, (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-07-11/sports/bal-chris-davis-denies-ever-using-steroids-or-performance-enhancing-drugs-20130711_1_steroids-orioles-tests ,  wouldn’t it be interesting to see fans get caught up in a legitimate effort to overtake Maris’ previous record of 61?   And could there be a new asterisk in the MLB record book marking Davis’ number and stating that “most fans believe this to be the real home run record”?  Wouldn’t that provide the perfect cover for MLB to issue new punishments for the Biogenesis crowd (including lifetime bans) and state once and for all that MLB is coming clean?  I watched the movie Eight Men Out again last week, about the Chicago Black Sox.  It is compelling in it’s message that baseball must be purged of any doubt about the players’ performances.  Isn’t that what we all want, to believe in baseball again without reservation?  As Branch Rickey said to Jackie Robinson, “you let me love baseball again.”  Davis’ quest is not commensurate with that of Jack Robinson’s, but his could be a very important one in the modern history of the game we love.

 

 

 

1.  And speaking of love, my most burning question from the first half of the 2013 season is whether that most romantic of all baseball fans, Billy Beane, can finally fulfill his life’s passion of winning the last game of the World Series?  (I also watched Moneyball again last week. I love it when Brad Pitt says “it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”)  The A’s are a solid team and do not have the question marks of last year’s surprise success.  They have been streaky so far but have the second best record in the AL and are in 1st place in the West.  As I said in earlier posts, I am a Rangers fan again and would like to see them win the Series, but I also would be pleased to see a ALCS between OAk and TEX, or, perhaps even better, the rejuvenated Red Sox.  If OAK won, John Henry might still try to hire Billy Beane.

There is no Hollywood-scripted World Series opponent for OAK that I can think of, so why not have them play a team from Hollywood, LAD?  The team with the $220 million payroll from the gorgeous Chavez Ravine pitted against the team from the sewage-filled O.co Coliseum with a $68 million payroll.  Magic Johnson’s electric smile juxtaposed against Billy Beane’s winsome smirk.  The memories of Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Joe Rudi and Gene Tenace, against Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Steve Garvey and Bill Russell, now erased by Yoenis Cespedes (HR Derby champ) against Yasiel Puig (NL Rookie of the Year and MVP).  It would be the complete reverse of the 1988 Series when OAK was the favorite and the underdog Dodgers pulled off a miracle upset, thanks largely to Kirk Gibson’s impersonation of Roy Hobbs.  http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=kurt+gibson+home+run&mid=2F67D9856FF699695EC12F67D9856FF699695EC1&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1

Perhaps there is a Hollywood script here, after all:  Major League Baseball accomplishes in one October Series what presidents and the CIA and Communist dictators haven’t been able to do in over 50 years:  restore relations between the USA and Cuba.

It would be very hard indeed not to feel romantic about that.  I’m pulling for you, Billy.

 

 

 

 

 

© (JSR – 2013)

“Of course you can!”

 

 

“You can’t steal first base.”  old baseball adage

I went to see “42 – the Jackie Robinson Story” recently with my 3 kids.  We all liked it.  In fact, I liked it so much that I went to see it again with my father, brother and step-mother.  They liked it, too, even though they aren’t big baseball fans.  Any movie that deals directly with extreme racial prejudice – probably the ugliest scar in our nation’s history – but yet still appeals to all ages (we ranged in age from 11-80) must be well done. For me, of course, it certainly helped that the context for this particular study of racism was baseball.

There are several memorable lines of dialogue in the movie, some of which were historically accurate quotes (I verified that by consulting the volume of  Dickson’s “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations” in my library).  One particular line that struck me was when Branch Rickey explained to Robinson why he was willing to risk bringing a black man into white baseball:  “There was something rotten at the core of the game I loved,” an apologetic Rickey confessed.  Then he looks admiringly at Robinson and declares: “You let me love baseball again.” It is a beautiful moment, made so by Rickey’s sincerity, wonderfully conveyed by Harrison Ford’s superb acting.

Personally, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love baseball.  Racial integration of baseball was complete by the mid-60’s when the game first grabbed my attention.  The influx of Latin players was just beginning, but that clearly was not the same cultural struggle that integrating blacks had been, again largely due to Robinson’s efforts (or, as the movie depicts in painful detail, his “guts not to fight back”).  The repeated labor strife that caused strikes and lock-outs in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were certainly aggravating, but I never let my feelings toward management or labor affect my love of the game.  Clearly most other fans didn’t either as the game has always returned stronger than ever after its seemingly fatal self-inflicted wounds.

While waiting to see “42”, I was twice shown the trailer for the latest remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”  The last scene previewed is one where Nick Caraway (Tobey McGuire) tries to convince Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) that he can’t relive the past.  Gatsby smirks and replies emphatically, “Of course you can!”   His tone and look clearly express his glee at such a prospect and his intention to enjoy the experience again and again.

I found myself wondering whether that is the lure of baseball – that you can relive the past every single time you walk into a park or listen to a game on the radio.   I heard clearly in my head the voice of James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann in “Field of Dreams,” telling Ray Kinsella that “America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers… and baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that was once good, and could be again.”  http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+james+earl+jones+field+of+dreams&mid=246BF89D5393D24FF624246BF89D5393D24FF624&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1

I doubt that Gatsby had baseball in mind when he was so anxious to relive the past, but we each have our weaknesses.  Sadly, most people believe that we should avoid reliving history.  (In my opinion, they erroneously apply Santayana’s assertion that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”)   There are events in history worth repeating, and certainly many of them have taken place on the baseball diamond.  Occasionally one will occur that amazes you in the first place and then shocks you to learn that it is, in fact, a repeat of history.  That happened just last week when the Brewers’ rookie Jean Segura stole first base.  That’s right, he stole first base, and he wasn’t the first MLB player to do so.

I won’t write the 500 words or so necessary to explain how it happened. The short clip linked below shows the entire scene. http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/jean-segura-steals-second-then-steals-first-bizarre-103642855–mlb.html  I will report that I knew such an astounding event was not the first in MLB history.

Also in my library of baseball books is one entitled “The Man Who Stole First Base.”  It is a series of baseball vignettes compiled by Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel and published in 1989.  It starts with the title story recounting how Herman “Germany” Schaefer went from first base to second, back to first and then back to second again.  Unlike Segura, however, all of Schaefer’s movements were intentional. Re-reading Nadel’s book this week I realized that I am reliving part of my own past.  In 1989 when I bought the book, I was living in Dallas and was a rabid Rangers fan.  I either attended in person or listened on radio to virtually every game of the season.  My wife came to hate the sound of Eric Nadel’s voice, along with that of his then play-by-play partner, Mark Holtz.  I am reminded of this by the inscription on the first page of the book just above Eric Nadel’s signature:  “Jennifer, thanks for putting up with us for 162 nights a year! Your pal, Eric.”

I don’t remember when I got Nadel to sign the book or how he knew to try to ameliorate the tension between my marriage and my love of baseball. (Notice that I didn’t mention her above in the list of family members attending the movie “42.”) Even 24 years later that tension is not gone.   I recently acquired an iphone (and also kept my Blackberry!) and then bought the MLB “At Bat” app.  I can now listen to the radio broadcast of every single MLB game – either the home or away announcers.  I have sampled almost all the teams’ broadcasts and none are better than the Rangers.  Welcome back into my marriage, Eric Nadel.   Of course, I have also found my way back to the Rangers as my favorite team now that the Astros are “reconstructing” and Lance Berkman has moved from HOU to NYY to STL to TEX.  Favorite player + old Favorite Team = Reliving History.  The only question now is whether at age 54 I can resist the temptation to listen to every game any better than I did at age 30?

Of course I can’t.  It’s the game I love.

Is April the cruelest month?

So says T. S. Eliot in his famous poem “The Waste Land” (famous, at least, to English majors).  The Waste Land was hailed as a masterpiece of modern realism for exposing as fraudulent the promise of Spring, which soon dies in the searing heat of summer and inevitable return of winter.  The cycle leads to decay and destruction not only in nature but also in society.  You can read the entire poem here:

http://www.everypoet.com/archive/poetry/t_s_eliot/t_s_eliot_the_waste_land.htm, and read more about Eliot’s Nobel Prize-winning career here:  http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/18. (Hey, I was an English major.)

But how does Eliot’s law apply to baseball, you non-English majors may ask?  Well, in at least two ways, I think.  First, in the aforementioned false promise of Spring’s rebirth and renewal, but also in the sometimes crushing recognition that there really isn’t going to be a Spring at all.

We are only one week into the month of April and one week into the MLB season. Yet, the plight of several teams clearly reflects one application of Eliot’s law or the other – or both.

Cruel Spring?

MIN (4-2) –  Perhaps no team has looked better to start this season compared to last than the Twins.  Winning a series at home against DET and on the road against BAL is impressive.  Could this proud franchise return quickly to its solid, over-achieving ways?  And how great would it be for them to get into the post-season and not have to face NYY?  New B.A.B.E.S. member Dan Nerdahl can dream about such a happy prospect, but he’s likely to be awakened by Eliot’s law in action.

BOS (4-2) – Speaking of returning to stability, look at the Red Sox. Winning two opening series on the road (@NYY and @TOR) makes their start almost as impressive as MIN. Was it simply a matter of replacing Bobby V. with John Farrell to enable BOS to regain their championship form?  I don’t think so.   The Red Sox may actually compete for the division title, but I don’t see the turn-around surviving all season.  (See 1st start-injury to pitcher John Lackey).  Eliot’s law likely to be confirmed.

COL (5-1) – The Rockies lost 98 games in 2012 and no one picked them to improve significantly this year.  They still have Troy Tulowitski, but a series win over MIL and sweep of SDO does not establish them as the surprise team of 2013.  Eliot’s law certain to be confirmed.

CSW (4-2) – Last year’s surprising run lasted all the way to Autumn before expiring in the final week of the season when the White Sox gave way to the expected Central Division champion DET.  One week into 2013 they seem intent on making another run at an unlikely division title like OAK won in 2012.  I think it is still unlikely.  Eliot’s law could be confirmed.

ARI (5-1) – One year removed from 94 wins and an NL West Division title, the D-Backs unloaded some talent in the off-season in order to improve chemistry.  So long Chris Young (to OAK) and Justin Upton (to ATL). Hello Martin Prado.  Hello again, post-season, for Kurt Gibson’s club?  I picked them, so that can only mean “yes!”  Eliot’s law should be refuted.

ATL (5-1) –  Many of us picked the Braves to make the post-season even though the MLB’s consensus best team WAS is in its division.  Therefore, a fast start is not surprising but a 15 run differential in only 6 games is impressive.  The Upton brothers made a quick impact with each hitting a home run to win a game in the 9th against the Cubs.  5 wins against the Phillies and Cubs can be deceiving, but I see continued success ahead for ATL.  Eliot’s law will be refuted.

Perpetual Winter!

HOU (1-5) – Should the Astros have even gone to Spring Training?  Many numbers predict the certain disaster that is coming in their first year in the AL, but I’ll limit myself to two.  1) 23 MLB players have a higher salary for 2013 than the entire Astros Opening Day roster.  Even I, who preach that payroll doesn’t guarantee wins, understand that this paltry amount forms an exception to my rule.  2) In their first 6 games the Astros stuck out a MLB record 74 times.  GM Jeff Luknow says he constructing, not rebuilding.  He better be a master engineer.  Eliot’s law confirmed already and everyone knows it.

MIA (1-5) I wrote two posts defending the Marlins’ off-season moves, and I still believe they were correct, but I didn’t say that they would win a lot of games. I just don’t think they will be much worse than they were in 2012 when they won only 69 games. But since they only scored one run in their first 3 games this year, I could be wrong about that.  Eliot’s law confirmed already and no once cares in Miami.

PHI (2-4)  – Cole Hamels has given up 13 earned runs in two starts and Roy Halliday gave up 5 in only 3 innings.  This is one of the best rotations of all time?  They have never won a play-off series and are almost certain to miss the play-offs for the second straight year with strong WAS and ATL teams in their division.  Charlie Manuel says he won’t talk to his players about panicking, but I’m sure the Phillie fans will take care of that for him. Eliot’s law confirmed, if not already, then very soon.

TOR (2-4)Many experts (and B.A.B.E.S. members) jumped on the Blue Jays’ band-wagon after the big trade with MIA.  So maybe they belong in the False Spring category, but I never thought they would win. Those guys were lousy for the Marlins and I expect them to be lousy for TOR.  And as much as I like R.A. Dickey, I wouldn’t build my pennant hopes on his knuckleball, and he’s off to a terrible start. (0-2, 8.44 ERA).  Losing back-to-back series at home to CLE and BOS?   Eliot’s law alert!

NYY (2-4) – Last and least likely to be so, but there is just no avoiding the fact that this will not be the year for title #28.  They started by losing 2 of 3 at home to BOS and then lost 2 of 3 at DET.  That shows that these Yankees won’t make it in New York, New York, or anywhere else.  Talk about inevitable decay and destruction – and the ultimate confirmation of Eliot’s law.  This will be the cruelest April, and entire year, in the Bronx in a very long time, or at least it will be after the NBA season ends.  (When was the last time the Knicks were winning 12 games in a row while the Yankees were in last place?)

I am still entering picks, but please view the MLB Competition page at this link to confirm that your picks are correct:  http://babesbaseball.com/competition-mlb-2013/

(JSR) © 2013

 

Part of the Game

“Baseball teams go south every spring to cripple their players.  In the old days they only stayed a couple of weeks, and they couldn’t get many of them hurt in that time, but nowadays they stay until they get them all hurt.”  Will Rogers

MLB teams are making their final roster cuts this week as they prepare to break camp and head north for the start of the 2013 season.  Some “can’t miss” prospects are being told their road to Cooperstown includes stops in a few more minor league cities (see Jurickson Profar – TEX; Wil Myers – TBR).  Many aging veterans are being asked to swallow their pride and accept minor league assignments, and they agree just to preserve one more opportunity to return to the Show (see Matsuzaka, CLE; Nady, KCR).  Their impatience and indignation may not be suffered long, however.  History has shown that the #1 opportunity-maker for both prospects and hangers-on are injuries to those filling out the major league roster, and many have already occurred.

The trials of NYY have been well-documented, with A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and Hughes all opening the season on the DL.  Several other teams also have been hit with injuries that could impact their season’s performance.   STL starts without Carpenter, Furcal, Freese, Motte and perhaps Carlos Beltran.   LAD starts without Crawford and Hanley Ramirez.  ATL starts without Mike McCann and Johnny Venters.  ARI lost Adam Eaton for at least six weeks.  This latest list goes on and on, and can be viewed here:  http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/fantasy/injuries/.  Most of these injuries can be explained by the horrendous wear and tear an athlete’s body suffers during the time it takes him to make it to the highest level of play.  Some, however, are caused by less noble circumstances.  See Jayson Stark’s report here:  http://espn.go.com/blog/spring-training/post/_/id/1135/strangest-injuries-of-the-spring.

Whatever the cause, injuries are a part of the game and in making our 2013 predictions we must take into consideration those we know about – new and old.  Recall that the injury with the most impact on the 2012 season occurred in 2011!  Stephen Strasburg’s limited recovery from Tommy John surgery kept him from pitching in the 2012 post-season and likely kept the Nationals out of the World Series.

Like the uncertainty of a MLB disabled list, there are many questions to be answered among our illustrious group:  After rebounding from near the bottom of the 2011 standings to win the 2012 title,  can Steve Jacobs stand the pressure to repeat?  Will Marc Whyte break through for his first B.A.B.E.S. title after 2 second place finishes?  Will Tony Liccione regain his top form?  Will Tom Marchiando’s daughter’s softball schedule even permit him time to submit an entry?  Can Bill Cupelo overcome the psychological trauma that is MLB in the Northeast and think clearly enough to pick winners?  Will Robert Carington and Tim Turek decide not to pick the Cubs and then watch them break the 105 year curse?  Will Carl Rose bleed Dodger Blue until he finds himself in the ER, not the post-season?  Will I finish first in my own family, let alone among all the B.A.B.E.S?

Should be a fun year.  Best of luck to all of you in this year’s race for the Rocky.

And, finally, speaking of a year and the Rocky (and the ultimate part of the game), I am reminded that March 18 was the first anniversary of Rocky Walker’s death.  I miss him. http://babesbaseball.com/2012/03/20/remembering-rocky/.

The Babe’s Baseball Wisdom

“Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.”  Babe Ruth

He was one of the greatest hitters in MLB history.  He remains the iconic sports figure of the first half of the 20th Century, and his name and likeness are instantly recognizable more than 60 years after his death and nearly 75 years after his playing career ended.  Indeed, his ebullient personality was as evident off the field as was his immense talent on it, and that made him all the more famous.

While you probably already know him in this context, you may not know him as a baseball sage.   Babe’s quotes do not reflect the enigmatic genius of Yogi Berra, but his simple and sincere declarations about the world’s greatest sport – like the one quoted above – speak directly to my heart.  You can read more of his wisdom at this website:  www.baberuth.com (and also learn interesting notes about his career including how he got his famous nickname). Personally, I love this particular observation of the Babe’s, which not only supports what I have been saying in this space for years but which also strikes me as a public relations masterpiece tailor-made for Hank Steinbrenner:

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

Some viewpoints take a long time to be acknowledged, but the world is finally coming around to the truth that the Babe (and the B.A.B.E.S.) knew all along:  this great game is a team game.

Speaking of which, the World Baseball Classic begins this weekend with nearly half the teams competing without any players from a MLB roster.  Yet, the absence of individual stars does not mean that Japan, Korea, Cuba or even China can’t make a serious run at the 2013 title.  Japan, of course, has its own major league to draw from and won the first two WBC titles by selecting disciplined players who play smart baseball – good pitching, solid defense and timely hitting.  Sounds like the 2012 SFO Giants, doesn’t it?

So history has already proven the Babe correct.  It is the best team that wins, not the best collection of players.  Keep that in mind when making your B.A.B.E.S. predictions. (WBC picks are due by March 1!).  I hope the owners and general managers of NYY, LAD, BOS and LAA will be watching and, perhaps, finally learning the lesson they could have learned from the Babe a long time ago.

(JSR) © 2013

Triple Play – Marlins Park, the 13th Amendment and the Future of Capitalism

(What do a Forbes article, a BleacherReport post and an Oscar-nominated movie have in common?  They came together in my mind this week.)

Legislating in a democratic society can be a very messy business, regardless of the level of the legislative body in action or the nobility of the cause before it. If you have seen Steven Spielberg’s compelling depiction of this process in the movie “Lincoln,”  you know exactly what I mean.  Even in support of what is now universally recognized as a fundamentally just cause, the greatest president in our history had to resort to every means available within the law, and perhaps a few arguably outside the law, to accomplish what he believed was right for the country – abolishing slavery.  Others below the President in governmental rank faced the same challenge and were forced to compromise long-held principles or alter previously unequivocal public denouncement of slavery in order gain the votes required to pass the 13th Amendment.

Where would our country be today if President Lincoln and these other government officials had not done all that was necessary to obtain Congressional approval of the amendment before Lincoln was assassinated?  No tolerable answer presents itself.  It is a question that compels us to acknowledge that – at least to a certain extent – Machiavelli was correct when he advocated that “the ends justify the means” in government.

On that 16th century political premise, I turn to a 21st century example of the messy business of legislating at the local level – the financing of the Marlins Park in Miami.  We all know that Miami and Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria are easy targets for criticism, most recently skewered by BleacherReport lead writer Zachary Rymer (“Marlins Park Perfect Example of How Not to Build a Publicly Funded Stadium” – January 28).  Frankly, I was surprised when I read his article because I thought Marlins and Loria-bashing was no longer trending, but there are apparently new questions about the structure of bonds issued to finance the park’s construction and, of course, fiscal responsibility is the topic of conversation everywhere in the country as the current congress and president deal with federal debt and budget dilemmas.

I believe I can refute each of the points raised by Mr. Rymer in his article (email me if you really want to know), but for now I will simply say that his analysis fails to address the most important question.  Just as did President Lincoln and the legislators when they considered the 13th Amendment, the commissioners who approved the construction of Marlins Park had to decide the importance of the ends to determine the extent of the means. Did they believe in good faith that the existence of Marlins Park would be good for the Miami community?  Of course it might have been financed more economically, or placed in another location with better parking, or even tied contractually to on-field success by the Marlins. However, if none of these negotiating points was obtainable at the time, was it still in the best interests of the community to accept the available terms in order to get the park built and retain the major league franchise in south Florida ?  That is the question at the heart of the debate.

You can be certain that other communities were quite ready to make the necessary financial arrangements to take the Marlins out of Florida if the Miami officials delayed any further.  My home town, San Antonio, through its county commissioners, faxed in an unsolicited offer to advance $300 million if the team would move here.  Therefore, so long as no laws were broken the Dade County commissioners acted clearly within their capacity and responsibilities as elected officials in making the decision to approve the financing package and retain a civic asset.   The citizens were thereafter free to pass judgment by refusing to re-elect them or, as happened to the Miami mayor, organize a recall election, if they disagreed with the result.  Thankfully, none of them was assassinated.

That is all part of the messy business of legislating that occurs daily in the cities and counties of America concerning all manner of topics.  Most are found on the front pages of newspapers (print or electronic) and deal with tangible public services – new roads, water systems, public schools, law enforcement.  Professional sports teams, however, fall outside most citizens’ definition of tangible public services, even where positive economic impact is well-documented.  It is precisely for this reason that each community must rely on its elected officials to oversee the process, make their decisions in good faith and live with the consequences, the nature of which may not be known for decades.  No one truly knows whether the deferred financial terms of the bonds issued by Dade County will prove to be harmful to the community 15-30 years from now.  What we know is that a majority of the elected officials believed that keeping the Marlins in town was worth that risk.

I can’t help but feel that the current outcry is so great principally because of the incendiary presence of Mr. Loria – exacerbated certainly by the team’s abysmal performance in the park’s first season.  For whatever reason, Jeffrey Loria appears to be the unfortunate face of capitalism before an angry mob of public prosecutors, including even Forbes magazine (“Miami Marlins Have Become Baseball’s Most Expensive Stadium Disaster,” 1/27/13).  Loria’s crime according to Forbes’ writer Michael Ozanian? “During the five years through the 2011 season the Marlins posted a staggering $153 million in aggregate operating income. But then Loria decided to switch to a different sort of welfare: taxpayers.”  I assume Ozanian refers to “net” operating income and that he is offended that Mr. Loria had the audacity to conduct his business so as to make an operating profit and still use his negotiating leverage to obtain a favorable arrangement for his team at the new baseball park.  But isn’t that the kind of operating performance and corporate management acumen usually applauded by Forbes?

For some reason, Mr. Loria engenders criticism no matter what he does with the Marlins, on the field or off.  (See my post: Jeffrey Loria Deserves Some Love,” 11/20/12).  In his BleacherReport post, Mr. Rymer stated that “The Marlins may have a new ballpark, but it’s clear that they’re going to be the same old Marlins as long as Loria is in charge. There’s just no changing some people.”  Well, those “same old Marlins” are not only successful financially they also have won a World Championship in each of the past two decades – one on Mr. Loria’s watch.  I assume the fans in Chicago or Cleveland or about 20 other MLB cities would issue some expensive public bonds in exchange for a World Series banner or two.

So, the hatred simply must come from the sense that Loria unfairly gamed the system.  Personally, I just don’t see it.  He named his price for keeping the team in the community and the community leaders accepted it.  Hasn’t Forbes magazine and many others – as well as perhaps every president since FDR – applauded these types of public/private partnerships that provide communities with products or services they want without nationalizing every industry? You can search the web for “Obama public private partnership” and find numerous recent examples even from an administration known for the expansion of government.

If we are to remain a capitalistic society operating within a democratic form of government we must accept these public/private arrangements that permit private profit in exchange for public benefit.  We must also permit the duly elected public officials to make good faith determinations about such opportunities.  If we continue to vilify capitalists attempting to work within this system we may discover an answer to the question of what the country would look like without the 13th Amendment, and that would not be profitable for anyone.

(JSR) © 2013