Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Case For The Black Sox

Well, the season is over but that doesn’t mean life stops for Spurious Baseball and with the ChiSox winning their first title since 1917 I thought I’d open the off-season with the seminal debate over what happened two years after that and the infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal.

For the most part people will try to make the case that certain players were involved in the fix whilst certain others didn’t do anything to hurt their team but while a guy like Buck Weaver (a player Ty Cobb regarded as the best third baseman of his era) posted a good average and played good D, the reason the eight men were banned from the sport was as much about collusion and failure to inform anyone about the fix as much as the fix itself. So while the likes of Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg might have instigated the whole thing and tried the least and guys like Eddie Ciccotte (a certain Hall of Famer if not for his involvement) and Lefty Williams were the key figures in making the fix work, guys like Fred McMullen (a utility guy who was only in because he was Risberg’s friend), Happy Felsch, Weaver, and Joe Jackson knew about it and were therefore banned. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the way people seem to focus on Joe Jackson and, more importantly, the viewing of his performance through rose tinted glasses and the romanticised depiction he received by D.B. Sweeney in the movie Eight Men Out. Most of the reports you hear from people who actually were there report that while he did have a statistically good series, he was very lackadaisical in his approach in the field and actually had most of his hits in at bats that didn’t really matter (his homerun came in the last game when it was already lost) so in essence this simple man from Carolina who was not smart enough to know better actually did a better job of faking it than anyone else.

Of course the problem most of us have is that there are few people still alive who actually saw those games and most of what we have left is hearsay, conjecture and what was etched into the box score so its hard to really make a qualitative argument to refute what has already been decided. While some people want to claim certain players were wrongfully drawn into the hall of shame, the fact of the matter is that they were all guilty of something so deal with it. What we can and maybe should be debating is how long we leave these guys in the doghouse?

Now a guy like Chick Gandil should be kept on the list of baseball’s big bastards and was never really good enough to even bother the Veterans Committee so we shouldn’t dwell. A guy like Buck Weaver however was certainly good enough to have garnered Hall of Fame consideration and who’s involvement in throwing the Series was often questioned. Ty Cobb was one of the most fearless competitors to ever step on a diamond and would never even hesitate to drop a bunt up the third base line for a base hit…except when Buck Weaver was down there (of course he would still challenge Weaver to make a play but he’d at least think about it first).

Weaver was a switch hitter with speed and a great glove with a reputation for his competitive edge and gamer mentality. He always wanted to make a case for himself rather than being convicted as part of the group but was never given the opportunity. I say we should at least give him the opportunity to be allowed into the hall.

My biggest issue with the way these guys have been treated comes with the idea of a ‘lifetime ban’ and I ask how long is that? Who’s lifetime are we measuring? The lives of Weaver and Jackson ended quite a while ago so does that mean their bans are up? The fact of the matter is that Jackson’s life was basically over after ‘21 when the ban actually came into effect. Its one of the most tragic stories I’ve ever heard the way Ty Cobb once walked into Joe Jackson’s liquor store and when Cobb asked Jackson if he recognised him Jackson responded by saying, “I didn’t think anyone up there wanted to know me anymore.” Being banned from baseball totally broke Jackson and that is one of the main reasons why I loathe Pete Rose in his almost celebratory ban where he revels in the notoriety his gambling gave him. Jackson’s transgression destroyed him and he suffered mightily for it. If ever there was a man who had served his time, its Joe Jackson. If we accept that he has served his punishment and rather than focussing on that one series in 1919 and looked instead at the rest of his career, then we might remember that Joe Jackson was one of the true great talents to ever play (I had him at fifth on my all time list a few years back).

The guy who really typified the 1919 ChiSox was probably Eddie Ciccotte. He was one of the best pitchers of his generation and would have won 30 games in 1919 if he weren’t forced to sit out half a dozen starts by team owner Charlie Comiskey who basically didn’t want to pay Ciccotte the $10,000 bonus for winning 30 games.

There were few owners who were more parsimonious than Comiskey who was a classic example of why the ‘Reserve Clause’ was so unfair to the players. The ChiSox had assembled a team filled with some of the best players in the league but few were earning what they were worth. They always said that only Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins earned anywhere near what he was worth so it was unsurprising that he was one of the few so called ‘clean Sox’.

For a bonus for making the World Series Comiskey notoriously supplied the team he referred to as the best there ever was, with celebratory champagne that was flat. That’s how much he valued his players. So this was like tying a dog up in the yard for it to be taunted, starved and goaded for days and generally antagonised and then being surprised that it attacked you after being let off its leash. We almost shouldn’t have been surprised that the Series was thrown but we should have been surprised it hadn’t happened before (and who‘s to say it never did?).

In summary then, everyone who was banned was guilty of something (and some of those who weren’t banned too) but none of them have ever been looked at as individuals with certain roles within the make up of the fix. Is it fair that Buck Weaver, who merely knew about the fix but hardly played badly throughout the Series, should be treated the same way as Chick Gandil who instigated the fix and did all he could to make the fix work?

Someone needs to dig their head out of the sand and re-evaluate how baseball history wants to view these guys and ask themselves if the punishment they have served is worth their crime? I personally feel that Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver and possibly Eddie Ciccotte should be in the Hall of Fame but if someone were to look into their cases and be able to point at specific evidence for each individual that marks what exact rationale there is for them not to be in, then I would certainly listen and maybe re-evaluate my own views but for as long as we blame the forest for the actions of a few trees then people will constantly question how just MLB has been in the handling of this tragic unit and they will be that black mark on the history of baseball instead of just one of the games tragic and unfortunate tales. Is what they did worse than what all those owners and commissioners did to keep the likes of Josh Gibson and ‘Cool Papa’ Bell out of baseball? Some of them ARE in the Hall of Fame.

Another Year, Another Curse

Well, that’s it. The season is over and Chicago made us all wonder how on Earth did Houston get passed St Louis? In what was billed as a battle of two vaunted pitching staffs ended up being a lesson in what makes a champion and its not pitching, its not defence and its not offence. Its having the right blend of all of those things and Chicago had great pitching, played excellent D (maybe people will start echoing my championing of Joe Crede as the premier defensive third baseman in the AL and possibly all of MLB) and had the ability to create runs in several ways…and it also didn’t hurt that their manager seems to have instilled a sense of invincibility in the club house. Whenever Houston actually conjured up a run or two, the White Sox answered straight back and then some.

So last year it was Boston doing away with the apparent ghost of some George Herman Ruth guy (I think he was in The Munsters) and this year a skid dating back to 1917 has been bounced so what does that mean? Will the Cubs win it all next year? Wouldn’t that be thoroughly ludicrous, unlikely and strangely poetic. Cleveland seems like a more likely candidate having torn up most of the AL in the second half of this season before being felled by Ozzie’s boys in the last few days of the regular season (if their bats had been awake in the first month and a half then we would likely have a different champion now) but that would be too obvious a choice to maintain the trend.

Its been a funny start to the 21st century with a different champion every year. It will be interesting to see if Chicago can buck the trend by repeating, and if they can re-sign Paul Konerko there is no reason they can’t, but it would be great to have yet another team crop up and surprise us all by denying Boston and New York their expected end of year parade (you know everyone will be saying how one of the two will be the class of the field next season). So let me be the first to say that the 2006 season will end with Milwaukee winning in six against Tampa…wouldn’t that be something?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Mazzone an Oriole

Can I just start by saying, "Oh my God!" The worst run franchise in baseball have just landed possibly the greatest coaching asset in baseball and I just can't believe that its happened.

Leo Mazzone has been responsible for the development and redevlopment of so many great pitchers in Atlanta from the likes of Steve Avery and Tom Glavine to Mike Hampton and John Thomson and you have to wonder how this move will effect Atlanta? I'm sure Schuerholtz has a plan (he always seems to) but how do you replace a guy like Rocking Leo?

For the Orioles this could be the start of a move to actually address their complete lack of pitching depth (hard to believe I know). One thing that limits the effect of this addition is the barren Baltimore farm system which limits the number of clay pieces that Leo can mould to, basically, Hayden Penn. If Angelos stops interfering with the GM and allows the team to actually go after talented prospects in the draft, who knows how quickly this team can actually get back to competing for the pennant? Either way Mazzone seems to be looking forward to working with long time friend, Sam Perlozzo and Baltimore can only improve themselves with Leo rocking away in the dugout and time can only tell what Atlanta pull out of the hat.

Could this be the end of the dynasty?

Television Replays by Matthew Astbury

You may or may not have heard that I'm having trouble updating this site as regularly as I'd like so I've been looking for help and Matt has answered the call. So enjoy this little ditty from someone who I hope will chirp up with plenty more input even if it goes against my own personal views (hey, even I can be humble sometimes)

It’s the bottom of the ninth inning, score tied at 1-1, two outs, and a two strike count, the game looking to go into extra’s to the dismay of half the crowd, yet the relief of the other. The pitcher (in this case Kelvim Escobar) winds up, and lets loose a superb slider in which the White Sox catcher A.J Pierzynski took a huge swing and miss, and Angels catcher Josh Paul catches. The home side begin to walk off and prepare for extras. However, home plate umpire Doug Eddings is looking bemused, as he has sent Pierzynski down to first base. The question is, did Paul catch the slider BEFORE the ball struck the ground? Well according to the home plate ump, no, and to Paul, yes. All this in turn leads us back to the question, should television replays be allowed in the majors? (as we all know the Chi Sox went on to win the game with the following at bat, and as I write this have taken a 3-1 series lead)

There are many advantages and disadvantages to having television replays, which have all been discussed before, however I personally think that the Majors could benefit from TV replays. I mean, if the Chi Sox now get to the World Series at the expense of the LAA, in my opinion it is all down to that dubious call made by Eddings. The Angels had the moment with being at home and were playing good baseball, and I believe that they would have gone on to win that game, and take a 2-0 lead in the series. But now we may have a team in the October classic which (based on the ALCS) shouldn’t be there.

Don’t get me wrong the Chi Sox have had an AMAZING season, and overall do deserve to go to the WS, but not from the ALCS.

Television replays could benefit the game from many different view points. They could help decide on weather a homerun was or was not, as in if the ball cleared the yellow line (in game 4 of the NLDS between Astros and Braves, the ninth inning homerun was a difficult call), if the catch behind the plate or in the outfield was infact a catch. Whether a baserunner was thrown out, hit by pitch, foul ball or not, fan interference. All these decisions could have a massive impact on the turnout of the game, weather it be in regular season play, or post season play, all these decisions need to made correctly, and I believe that the best way for that is to have television replays. This means that the decision can be made correctly, and inevitably, quickly, so it will not interfere with the game. It just makes sense. I mean, take cricket for example. They have now introduced the rule where the on-field umpires can refer any decision to the 4th official (television replay, basically), which means that they can now make game altering decisions within seconds, and get them done correctly! It is so logical that I just cant believe that baseball hasn’t followed suit. No hassle, no stress needed, just a quick simple sign to the television umpire, and bob’s your uncle you get a correct, and possible game altering decision made in seconds.

I do see the other side of the argument as well, in theory it will all run soundly, no mistakes, no long delays, and all the correct decisions, however in reality we all know that this is not true. On such a hard call, like the one mentioned in the opening paragraph, it could and most likely will take a few minutes to make a judgment, it will inevitably ruin the course of the game, as it will cause a hold up. Yes, I'll admit it, the umpires on the television replays do sometimes get the calls wrong, but this is by no means any reason to just so quickly and forcefully go against this idea because in the end the umpire will have had ample time to study the numerous angles available to them, which in turn allows them to make a quality and educated call, which 9 times out of 10 will be correct.

So I am all for the television replay system being introduced to the wonderful game that is baseball as, by and large, we all want the best team to win every game, even if it means we have to send a few calls to the replay to make sure that ultimately the best team does in fact, win.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

10 Minor Leaguers Waiting in the Wings

10 1B Kendry Morales - AA Arkansas (Angels)
.306 Avg, .349 OBP, .530 SLG, 47 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI
Well it took a while for the paper work to be filed and contracts to be signed but as soon as this Cuban defector got to play he started hitting. Morales is fundamentally sound from both sides of the plate with good power potential and had drawn strong comparisons in his homeland to Omar Linares prior to his defection (Omar Linares could well have been the best third baseman since Mike Schmidt if not for the Cuban embargo) so we can but wait to see how true that is.
Defensively he has already impressed many with his soft hands and ability to haul in errant throws (not that he should have to do that much with the array of infield talent Anaheim has assembled).

9 SS Erick Aybar - AA Arkansas (Angels)
.303 Avg, .350 OBP, .445 SLG, 101 R, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 49 SB
There aren’t enough Erick Aybar’s in the world. A flashy shortstop with speed and athleticism, Aybar makes things happen both in the field and at the top of the order and really harkens back to the really traditional view of everything you would want from shortstop before the likes of A-Rod, Nomar and Tejada made everyone think that defence up the middle should be sacrificed for another bat and the sad thing is that with Orlando Cabrera locked up for the next few years with the big club and Brandon Wood ripping the seams off the ball Aybar could end up being the odd man out.
There aren’t enough Erick Aybar’s in the world.

8 LHP Chuck James - AAA Richmond (Braves)
13-7, 2.12 ERA, 193 K, 36 BB, 161 IP, .179 avg
Chuck James might not have five A’s in his name or be a good hitting catcher but he is a dominating leftie who played at three different levels in the Braves system this year and across the three he was the toughest pitcher to hit in minor league baseball. His fastball isn’t overpowering but he mixes it well with his off speed stuff and locates in the style that has become typical of Braves pitching over the last decade. All in all not a bad year from a guy who managed to injure both his arms jumping from a roof before being drafted (apparently his ability to aim himself at swimming pools isn’t as good as his ability to aim his pitches).

7 SS Marcus Sanders - Low A Augusta (Giants)
.300 Avg .407 OBP .400 SLG 86 R, 5 HR, 40 RBI, 57 SB
His shoulder is still bothering him which might mean a move to second is likely, the Giants are hopeful it won’t continue to hamper his power. As it stands right now he is stupid quick with great hands and feet in the field and a disciplined hitter capable of getting on and making life hell for pitchers. If the power comes then the Rickey comparisons will continue.

6 2B Howie Kendrick - AA Arkansas (Angels)
.367 Avg, .406 OBP, .614 SLG, 104 R, 19 HR, 89 RBI, 25 SB
Possibly the best pure hitter in the minors, his manager has compared his smooth swing to that of Tony Gwynn which is quite something to say about a guy in AA. He allows to ball to get deep on him and finds a way to get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball and drive it. It doesn’t look likely that he’ll develop much power but if continues to be among the leaders for average in every league he plays I don’t think anyone will mind.

5 RF Carlos Quentin - AAA Tucson (Diamondbacks)
.301 Avg, .422 OBP, .520 SLG, 98 R, 21 HR, 89 RBI
This is the sort of guy that would have Billy Beane drowning in his own drool. Quentin has a great natural power swing and makes the most of it with great plate discipline and on top of that he’s a solid right fielder who has spent some time at centre. Not bad eh?

4 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia -High A Myrtle Beach (Braves)
.314 Avg, .394 OBP, .519 SLG, 70 R, 19 HR, 81 RBI
There are a three things that really are hard for teams to find that every team wishes they could have. These include hard throwing lefties, players with five A’s in there name and power hitting catchers with at least an average glove and Saltalamacchia is two of those.
Likened to Jason Varitek, Saltalamacchia is a switch hitter with power from both sides who has worked hard on his receiving skills and footwork. He only managed to throw out 26% of would be base stealers but with his work ethic that could also improve.

3 RHP Joel Zumaya - AAA Toledo (Tigers)
9-5, 2.74 ERA, 199 K, 76 BB, 151 IP, .189 Avg
This guy is nasty. Only Francisco Liriano struck out more hitters in minor league ball than Liriano.
Zumaya comes at you with a fastball that can get into triple digits and he complements that with a decent curve. He’s starting now but is expected to make a switch to the bullpen at some time (heck, one of those flamethrowers Detroit are churning out these days has to go there) so think a right handed Billy Wagner.

2 SS Brandon Wood - AAA Salt Lake (Angels)
.321 Avg, .379 OBP, .667 SLG, 110 R, 43 HR, 116 R
Little can be said about the year Brandon Wood has had in ‘05. Drafted as a glove man, Wood erupted with an almighty display of power for Rancho Cucamonga in The Cali with 101 extra base hits (next best in the minors was Andy Green with 78). The unparalleled depth the Angels have in the middle infield throughout the system means there are a few questions as to how they’ll handle guys like Wood but you know he’ll be given a good look next year and should be with the big league team at some point next season.

1 RF Delmon Young - AAA Durham (Devil Rays)
.285 Avg, .303 OBP, .447 SLG, 33 R, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 7 SB
Gave the Southern League a good whooping for most of the year before being moved up to Durham. Tampa haven’t endeared themselves to him by not calling him up in September but with the big shake up in the front office you can expect Mr Young to be a major front runner for Rookie of the Year in ‘06.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Time For The Playoffs

Well, that’s it. Season over. At least the preamble that is the regular season for now we head off into the real stuff as the post-season looms large over us.

Of course the Yankees and BoSox might think that the playoffs started about a month ago and have finally found a way to shake off those pesky Indians who finally fell foul of that terrible start they had all the way back in April (remember that far back?). If Cleveland could have found it within themselves to beat the ChiSox a couple of times in that last series I would now be saying how great a chance they had to win it all but that hasn’t happened and now it really would take a miracle (hey, they found an extra RBI for Hack Wilson a few years back so maybe they’ll find a missing win for the Indians).

Once again, as predicted, the Yankees and Red Sox have made the playoffs but unlike in pre-season predictions by many experts, I can’t see either team winning a World Series with their respective pitching staffs.

Randy Johnson came on strong down the stretch and is a truly clutch performer but Chien-Ming Wang is the only guy who has been even remotely consistent in that rotation all year and while I don’t doubt his big game temperament I do have questions as to the endurance of that young arm. Of course the rest of the potential starters for the Yanks have it within themselves to be productive in the post-season, the likes of Pavano, Mussina and Wright all look past their prime or maybe just unable to deal with being a Yankee.

I’m not even sure about their pen’s ability to get to Rivera and while I doubt Torre will have a problem sending Mo out for two innings for the save, I doubt he’ll ask him to go three.
The Red Sox aren’t much better and they might even be worse. I never bet against Curt Schilling but he went through so much last year (just another chapter in the legacy of one of baseballs all time great competitors) that it has left him playing catch up for most of the year. Matt Clement has been as awful as his beard since the All Star break and then you’re looking to rely on a knuckleballer to provide you with consistent starts.

The Boston pen has been [insert expletive] all year.

Of course what both teams have is a lot of players who have been there before and whilst New York have lost most of their energy players, they still have Derek Jeter who should once again show why he is the leader of this team and why A-Rod is just a slugging third baseman.

The Red Sox have a plethora of guys who give the team energy and Big Papi has been clutch all year. You can never doubt that Boston will fight to the end and will never be beaten and someone will have to take their hands off the trophy because they won’t just give it up.

Elsewhere in the AL you have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who have looked as perplexing as their ridiculous moniker all year. Their line-up is stacked with speed and power with depth on the bench and that man Vlad, yet they had to fight off an offensively challenged A’s team late into the year to win the division. The only question going into the year was the pitching and Lackey and Colon have been one of the AL’s best one-two punches all year so how they managed not to win their division by June and end up with over 100 wins is beyond me. They still have all of that going for them (except maybe Colon showing a bit of wear and tear after being a horse all year) so they could still storm through and kick some serious ass but they won’t be as intimidating as they should have been.

The way I see it is that the ChiSox just swept the best team in baseball since the All Star break going into the post-season, they have their pitching set how they want it going into the first round and that pitching from starter to closer is probably the best of any of this years playoff teams in either league. Add to that they have a scrappy batting order with speed at the top and some pop in the middle (not a lot but some) and play great D. This has to be the team to beat in the AL and maybe the talk of a team from Chicago ending a long stretch without a title was directed at the wrong side of town.

The National League is a curious place this year. Much has been made of San Diego and the way they managed to win out west with a .500 record but when they have Jake Peavy on the mound and Hoffman in the pen they will have a chance to win games against anyone. Admittedly on the days they don’t have Peavy going they look a very average side but the playoffs are a freaky time of year when the team with the best record rarely seems to win it all.

The Astros will see most of their games decided when they try to get the ball from the starter to Lidge because they will not score enough runs to put teams away and their middle relief is not great. That basically means that Oswalt and Pettitte should make things tough for the opposition but Clemens will struggle to get decisions if he continues to pass up the game in the sixth and seventh to protect his numbers.

In theory, the Astros should look a tough team in post-season play due to their rotation but every gut feeling I have says they won’t make it.

Atlanta have managed to win yet another division crown and this time with a pieced together team of reclamation projects and a tonne of farmhands. With their rotation mostly back together and sporting one of the best post-season pitchers of all time (John Smoltz) it should take pressure off the young hitters but the question remains as to how much gas those young guys have left in their tanks and how long Andruw can keep up this incredible run of form?

The class of the NL should remain the reigning NL champs in St Louis who will have the benefit of having their key pitchers healthy this time around (I’m still amazed Carpenter hasn’t injured himself yet) and with Pujols in the line-up you never have to worry about production.

The Cardinal line-up has been banged up all year but the guys they’ve brought in have done a great job filling gaps and David Eckstein has looked more than good enough to justify his All Star status this season at the top of the order.

So who’s going to win it all this year? Before the year started I pegged the Braves to lose to the Angels and that’s still on so I should probably should stick with that (hell, if it happens how cool would that make me look?) but right now the odds are on the ChiSox and Cards and I have no idea who would win that.

One thing I am sure about is that this one of the most wide open playoffs I have seen in a long time and I can’t remember the last time we had a year when a favourite wasn’t obvious. What we have is a lot of flawed teams with big time performers who might play the game in different ways but all are capable of coming up big and carrying their team all the way to the promised land.