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

Giants! Killers!

October 28, 2012

They are named the Giants, but they don’t carry the reputation of bullies.  Indeed, in this very space last week I called them David to the Tigers’ Goliath.  But in the 21st and perhaps most unlikely sweep in World Series history, the San Francisco Giants lived up to their franchise nickname and towered over favored Detroit.  With a team personality that exudes joi de vivre and the age of innocence (see Sergio Romo), they can hardly be considered cold-blooded assassins.  Yet, there is no doubt that they embody the traditionally lethal baseball combination of dominant pitching, excellent defense and timely (but only occasionally, power) hitting.  This trio of baseball weapons slayed the Tigers with remarkable ease.  No need to talk of destiny or Divine intervention in this Series.

From the record-tying 3 home-runs in Game 1 by Pablo Sandoval to the title-clinching single by Marco Scutaro (who else could it be?) in the top of the 10th in Game 4, the Giants were in total command of this Series.  With back-to-back shut-outs by a National League club for the first time since 1919 (and does that even count since it was against the Black Sox?), the Giants trailed after only 3 of 37 innings!  The Tigers got only 12 hits and scored only 3 runs over the last 3 games (only 6 runs in the entire Series).  The final out was a classic Goliath moment, with Triple Crown-winner (and likely MVP) Miguel Cabrera frozen at the plate by an apparently unexpected fastball that was called Strike 3.  Was that a baseball glove Sergio Romo was wearing, or a sling-shot?  The cameras turned immediately to the Giants’ second celebratory scrum on the pitcher’s mound in the past 3 years, but had they remained focused on home plate I’m sure we would have seen Cabrera topple over, cold and dead, just like Goliath.

I know I perennially finish near the bottom in our B.A.B.E.S.’ standings, but as I said last Wednesday, I know enough theology to always go with David over Goliath, even when David is dressed in a uniform that reads “GIANTS.”

The Giants’ victory resulted in no change in the B.A.B.E.S. standings.  It all comes down to the voting for AL MVP and Cy Young to decide whether Steve or Tim is the B.A.B.E.S. champion this year.  We’ll know in a few weeks and I will be back to say more about the 2012 season.

Manifest Destiny and the 2012 World Series

October 24, 2012

(Commissioner’s note to Society Members:  This is a long post simply because there is just so much to talk about from the NLCS, and of course, I love to talk.  I appreciate getting to express my views here and I hope you will read this post (and others) at your leisure, but I understand if you prefer to skip down to the current standings reported at the bottom of the post. FYI, it’s now a two-man race, just like in the World Series and presidential election.)

I wrote at length in my post last week about 3 teams of apparent destiny in this year’s MLB post-season; yet I did not mention the St Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants.  Clearly my focus on the A’s, O’s and Nats was a mistake, as none of those teams even made it to their league championship series.  I should have paid more attention to the past two MLB World Champions, each of which had earned a return trip to the post-season and had shown signs that one fulfilled destiny does not preclude the possibility of another, and might even indicate it.

However, I felt, and I am sure you feel, that I have pondered too much about the role of Divine intervention and pre-destination in the outcome of sporting events (although, as one B.A.B.E.S. member reminded me this week, the Texas Rangers are still “the team that can’t win”). But just when I was ready to leave behind this sports theology obsession along came one of the weirdest plays in MLB history that cemented one of the unlikeliest comebacks in a post-season series (or series of series), and which compels me to conclude, once again, that larger forces are at play in the outcome of MLB’s post-season.

The Cardinals were “the team that wouldn’t lose” in 2011 and appeared intent on retaining that mantle in 2012.  Despite being buried by CIN in the NL Central division, they held off LAD and MIL for the first ever second wild card position, and then defeated ATL in the first post-season play-in game (with the help of the deepest in-field fly in MLB history).  Most impressive of all, the Cardinals “refused to lose” even when down 6-0 to the Nats in an elimination game that included a 9th inning rally reminiscent of their performance in Game 6 in the 2011 World Series. The 6-run deficit was the largest ever overcome in a post-season elimination game. Therefore, these Birds, though not Angry, appeared determined and destined not to lose again.

At the same time, the Giants were also doing something that had never been done: dropping the first two games of a 5 game series at home and then winning 3 straight on the road at CIN.  Was SFO about to recapture its own magic of 2010 even without baseball’s thickest, blackest and, frankly, creepiest beard? (Am I the only one who thinks Brian Wilson is really Steve Carell with a ridiculous fake beard?  Google pictures of both characters and decide for yourself.)

So, which is it?  The sheer power of the players’ refusal to lose, or a Divine decree that pre-ordains the outcome? I pondered anew.  And then, suddenly, I was given a revelation that it could be – and really must be – both.  I came upon this while helping my daughter with her 11th grade American History assignment on westward expansion.  I was looking at the textbook and there was the proof, right there in black and white letters and color pictures.  The strength of our great nation was its overwhelming sense of entitlement to this land by Divine decree.

In the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of Americans and soon-to-be Americans left St. Louis (don’t you love the arch cut into the outfield at Busch Stadium?) heading west to claim the Pacific Ocean as our western border.  No geological mountain was too high and no hostile indigenous population or European nation was too fierce to stop the westward march of these United States.  As God had led the Pilgrims to the shores of the Atlantic, so He would lead our citizens to the shores of the Pacific.  It was Manifest Destiny, the ultimate collaboration between God and Man.  See what studying history while watching a baseball game can do for you?

Therefore, to me it was only fitting that the victorious St. Louis Cardinals would then travel from our Nation’s capital, not to their home in the Gateway City, but all the way to San Francisco’s Golden Gate for the NLCS.  There they would face the indomitable Giants – a sports franchise that succumbed to the allure of western expansion even 100 years after California was admitted as the 31st member of the United States. Although Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley rightfully gets credit for taking MLB to the West Coast in 1957 (and blame for destroying the hearts of Brooklyn fans), he could not have done it without the agreement of the NY Giants’ ownership to move their team west at the same time.

Interestingly, this NLCS would be the first time the winners of the two previous World Series had met in the post-season, and together these successive champions hold 17 World Series titles. In addition to this collective proud history and the shared momentum of stirring comebacks, it would also be a classic match-up of great pitching (SFO) against great hitting (STL).  We all know who usually wins those contests, but STL quickly jumped ahead 3 games to 1 and still looked like the team that wouldn’t lose.  But then the mantle was loosened, and the Series forced back to the City, by a stellar pitching performance from Barry Zito (of all people!).  Who could possibly have predicted (or caused) that except an omniscient, omnipotent being?

Before the baseball-bashing Cardinals knew it, they had scored only one run in 18 innings and found themselves in another Game 7. But not to worry, they had won 6 consecutive elimination games dating back to last post-season and had won 11 Game 7’s in franchise history – the most by any MLB team.  Sure, the Giants had won 5 consecutive elimination games this post-season, but in their franchise’s rich history there had NEVER been a Game 7 victory (5 losses in 5 tries).   Let’s see, 11 Game 7 victories for STL, zero for SFO.  Advantage STL, right?

Well, streaks are made to be broken, and inevitably all are.  But has ever one been broken with a broken bat?  Or by a broken bat double or triple-hit base-clearing double, or was it a triple?  (Has a sentence ever been written that used the words “double” and “triple” 4 times, and as both adjectives and nouns?)  And could such a weird play have come off the bat of anyone but Hunter Pence, whose ugly playing style and quirky personality actually resemble the flight of his hit – in the hole at short, no – up the middle, in front of the centerfielder, no – under his glove!  Does “Angels in the Outfield” come to mind? (And speaking of resemblances, also Google pictures of Hunter Pence and Woody Harrelson….)

In all probability, SFO was on its way to winning this game even without the presence of a baseball Holy Spirit.  As it had done in sweeping three games against CIN, SFO’s pitching continued to dominate the Cards, who scored the most runs during the season and had done the same in the post-season until scoring only ONE run in the last 27 innings of the NLCS.  Also, the Giants bats came alive, even those that didn’t shatter, and a classic unlikely post-season hero appeared in the form of Marco Scutaro.  (Do you think he pronounces his name with the accent on the first syllable to be associated with Phil Rizutto – the Scooter?)  Clearly these Giants were capable of helping themselves to the NL Pennant, but a little Divine intervention was welcome when it came.

So, there it is – the mystery of the ages has been revealed.  There is a God and He loves baseball.  He gifts certain players with abilities that appear so natural that we view them as gods.  He also creates David-like characters who prevail in the unlikeliest fashion against the tallest of odds.  Remember these truths Wednesday night when you are watching god-like Justin Verlander pitch to David-like Marco Scutaro, and think about Manifest Destiny.    Personally, I’m going with SFO’s Golden Gate David over DET’s back-East Goliath. But then I’ve already shown that I have no direct communication with the Great Commissioner.  Just look at the scoring below.

THE FINALISTS FOR THE JAMES L. WALKER AWARD (“THE ROCKY”)

35 points

Steve J. – CIN (3) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) Cabrera (10) DET (6) SFO (6)  correctly picking the two league champions is a brilliant performance, worthy of the name “expert.”  If DET wins the Series and Cabrera wins the  AL MVP, Steve will not only win The Rocky, he’ll set a new points record.

29 points –

Tim T. –   SFO (3) ATL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Cabrera (10) DET (6)  In order to best Steve, Tim must now must pull for SFO to win the Series even though he picked DET.  If a Cubs fan wins the B.A.B.E.S. title in his first try, what does that portend for the Cubbies in ’13?

POSSIBLE ALL-STAR TEAM SELECTIONS:

23 points

Matt B. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) Cabrera (10) DET (6) Matt can do no better than 3rd due to matching picks with Steve and Tim (DET as WS champ and Verlander as AL Cy Young), but an impressive B.A.B.E.S. debut.

20 points

Marc W. – CIN (3) ATL (1) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) SFO (6) – could move up with Price as AL Cy Young.  A good showing by perennial B.A.B.E.S. contender.

19 points

Carl R. –   CIN (3) ATL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) DET (6) – possible 32 points still on the  board with DET in WS, Cabrera as AL MVP and Verlander as AL Cy Young.  51 would be a B.A.B.E.S  points record  but would still fall to the better new record that would be established by Steve, who has 2 of the same 3 picks.

Bruce R. – SFO (3) STL (1) ATL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) SFO (6) – nice SFO pick but scoring is done for his inaugural season

Leo G. – SFO (3) STL (3) WAS (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – we won’t have our first repeat  B.A.B.E.S. champ this year.

Pete H. – STL (1) SFO(1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Posey (10)  – only Verlander with a chance among his player picks

18 points

Thomas F. – SFO (3) CIN (3) ATL (3) STL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) – only possible player pick is Verlander.

17 points

Gus P. – SFO (3) STL (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) SFO (6) – likely to score with Cabrera and perhaps Verlander, but not enough.

15 points

Eric H. – SFO (3) CIN (3) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) – Could still move up with  Price as AL Cy Young.

Tony L. – CIN (3) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – this perennial contender needs to score with Cabrera as AL MVP and Weaver as AL Cy Young in order to avoid the conclusion that he is an aging star past his prime, just like all of his beloved Yankees.

Jed M. – SFO (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1), Needs Verlander to repeat as Cy Young to finish in the middle of the pack.

READY FOR OFF-SEASON WORK-OUTS AND HOPING FOR THE COMEBACK AWARD IN ‘13

10 points

Rob C. – SFO (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) –  Weaver as Al Cy Young could improve his finish, but still waiting till next year!

Tom M.- SFO (3) STL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – Verlander as AL Cy Young could make his showing respectable, despite that NYY World Series pick;

9 points

Bill C. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) –  no reward for his faithfulness to NYY

8 points

Rip L. – STL (1) ATL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) – only Verlander as AL Cy Young can improve his standing

Scott R. – STL (1) DET (3) NYY (1) TEX (3) – I thought I might gain a measure of respectability with STL making the Series.  Alas, God is striving mightily to keep me humble, and He can do it.

4 points

Jennifer R. – ATL (3) TEX (1) – No offense to the babest of the B.A.B.E.S., but aren’t the rest of us thankful that she finished last?

© JSR 2012