Tagged: 2015 All Star Game

Maybe if Pete Rose went back to Montreal…

Rob Manfred marked his first All Star Game as MLB’s Commissioner by holding a “state of the union” type press conference prior to the big game. A few thoughts on the main topics he touched on, with my suggestions, Mr. Commish. Feel free to make them your own!

The game was held in the home of the oldest professional franchise, the Cincinnati Reds, 146 years young. It was great for the fans to see their hometown third-baseman star, Todd Frazier blast his way to the Home Run Derby championship on Monday, but the real buzz was all about their third-baseman star from four decades back- Pete Rose. Rose received a hero’s welcome when he took the field (in the stadium located on Pete Rose Way) as one of Cinci’s “Franchise Four”- their alltime four greats, as chosen by fans. It was a rare chance for baseball fans to see Rose in a Major League event given his total ban from baseball imposed by Bart Giametti back in ’89 and rigidly enforced by his successor, Bud Selig. The bending of the rules to allow Rose to show up for his fans at the Mid Summer Classic seems to suggest a softening of the position, something hinted at by Manfred. “Mr. Rose deserves an opportunity to tell me in whatever format he feels most comfortable, whatever he wants me to know about the issues.” (The issues being his gambling problem when he was a manager.)

Sounds reasonable. Few people condone betting by people involved in the game and not many people who have known him suggest that “Charlie Hustle” is a wonderful, magnanimous fellow. However, the same could be said of many of the game’s alltime greats (Ty Cobb, anybody?) Rose should be allowed back into the game, with a few reservations. First he must admit that his gambling was wrong and bad for the game. Second, there must be some sort of limitations on what role he can play in the sport. Having him be a PR person for Cincinnati or a color commentator on Fox is fine; having him be a manager is not. Perception is as good as reality, and the perception of Rose is one of a gambler; the sport can’t risk having him look like he’s in position to throw games. One can imagine the twitterverse and headlines the day after a team he was running blew a five run lead in a Game 7 whether or not Pete had actually bet even a dollar on either team.

Those criteria met, Pete Rose should have a chance to be honored in Cooperstown. It’s crazy that the all-time hits leader, a player who epitomized hard work on the field and played at a high level for over two full decades isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He should be on the ballot. The writers could then decide if his misdemeanors were forgivable just as they will have to do with Steroid-era stars like Clemens and Bonds.

If Pete Rose excited Cincinnati this week, many Canadians were excited by another comment of Manfred’s. He left the door open to baseball returning to Montreal down the road, complimenting the city, it’s ball history and noting the large crowds in the past couple of years for Blue Jays exhibition games held there. He did throw a bit of cold water on it as well, explaining that crowds of 45 000 or so for an exhibition don’t necessarily equate to a good attendance for a full season and that the city lacks a suitable MLB facility.

My thoughts on expansion (which he hinted at) and a new team in la Belle Province. MLB is enjoying good attendance, good TV ratings and could possibly expand again. Two new teams could mean two 16-team leagues, which would make for a problem with divisional reallignment but would allow for reduced interleague play, which almost no one likes. Sure, a weekend where the Mets go crosstown to Yankee Stadium or a series between the two Missouri teams is fun for fans, but few get ramped up to see Arizona roll into the Rogers Centre or the Mets go cross-country to play in Oakland. What’s more, with more and more Asian stars coming to MLB and Cuban-American relations warming (which one would imagine would make it easier for more Cespedes’ and Puigs to cross the gulf) it could be done without watering down the talent pool too much.

So, if the game decided to expand, it’s time to dust off your Expos caps, n’est pas? Not so fast. Let’s remember, baseball was tried and eventually failed in Montreal. True enough that it might have succeeded if the club was run better and the star power was allowed to stick around and develop, but still it ultimately failed. Other cities would be quick to jump at the chance and probably be better options. Charlotte and Las Vegas come to mind, so too does the idea of a third team in Texas. With 24 million people and a substantial proportion of the MLB roster, the Lone Star State could support more than two franchises. San Antonio, or maybe Austin, could be there, as could Sacremento, California.

Consider that the Charlotte area, in a baseball-loving state, has grown by over 7% this decade to about 2.4 million people. That makes it bigger than Pittsburgh, and it’s AAA team leads the International League in attendance, at about 9500 per game. It has a stadium that has Major League-ready facilities, other than a too small seating capacity of just over 10 000. However, the 72 500 seat Bank of America football stadium could probably be adapted to baseball, if only for a year or two while the Knights Stadium (AAA baseball) had new grandstands and boxes added.

Likewise, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Sacremento have all grown to over 2 million people recently, comparable to Cleveland or Kansas City, and have strong baseball fan bases. Which do you think ESPN or Fox Sports would prefer to have added in – a city in California, Texas or a “foreign” country?

The Blue Jays have enough trouble attracting free agent stars or veterans on the trading block. (This year Cole Hamels has reportedly vetoed any trade to Toronto, although to be fair, he also quashed a trade to Houston according to numerous reports.) If the Jays have trouble getting players to go north of the border to a city that’s New York-lite, how much difficulty would the “new Expos” have getting a good ol’ boy pitcher from Alabama signing on to play in a city where they speak another language?

My guess- the Expos cap will remain a cool archive and reminder of days of yore. By 2020, there could be 32 teams in baseball, but the newbies will be in North Carolina and Texas. The only way Canada might gain a new team would be for Tampa to move to Charlotte ( a good idea), Oakland moving inland to Sacremento and a new franchise going to San Antonio and Vegas not building a new stadium in the meantime.

If all those things came to pass, the Blue Jays might have to give up their sole possession of the Canadian market. To a new team in Vancouver. BC’s big city would make more sense than Montreal, with its fast growth, large number of pro players from the area and proximity to Seattle which would make for a good rivalry.

So, sorry Montreal. Guess you’ll have to keep looking for the next Stanley Cup… and cheer on the Jays in October!

Mid-summer Classic

Watching the start of the Home Run Derby as we enter into the Mid-summer Classic break, thinking baseball does the All Star Game right. More than any other major sport, it creates a game that’s both fun to watch and has some meaning – more so now that it determines World Series home advantage.

That said, there are still ways it could be improved upon. Watching the Home Run Derby shows how the teams should look, with the teams looking like a teeam in the American League and National jerseys and black caps with their team logos. The actual game would look better and be easier for casual fans to follow if teammates looked like teammates- and MLB could boost sell some merchandise to boot. I know if I had extra expendable cash, I’d buy an AL jersey with the Jays logo on the sleeve to add to the Toronto wardrobe.

Moreover, am I the only one who’s not entirely enthralled by the Home Run Derby? It’s not totally without appeal or interest (especially in years like this when Toronto has a representative), by the time we get to the last rounds, two or three hours in, dinger dreariness has set in. Then again, one of the few stats that doesn’t impress me much in baseball is the length of a blast. A ball just scraping over the rightfield porch in Yankee Stadium is every bit as much a homer as a ball bouncing off the B&O Warehouse in Baltimore or splashing down in the ocean off San Francisco. Heck, all three might pale in comparison to a ball bouncing around the left field corner at Rogers Centre being turned into an inside-the-park homer by a speedy runner. Still, it won’t stop me standing up to cheer if Josh or Prince end up knocking one into the Ohio River!

As a real baseball fan, I’d prefer to spend the pre-ASG game watching the Prospects game, (this year, only one Toronto organization rep, a pitcher named Jairo Lambourt) to see the players that will be the All-stars of 2020 or 2025. Imagine seeing that game circa 2010 and watching young Mike Trout running down fly balls off the bat of Manny Machado. But the less-than-diehard fans who tune in to see Albert Pujols hit one 500 feet would be flipping to Two Broke Girls if confronted with a game featuring the likes of Tyler Beede pitching to Renato Nunez, so we’ll say that baseball gets that right, too.

Josh Donaldson accredited himself well in the first round of the HR Derby. Let’s hope he left at least one big fly in his bat for tomorrow. The AL will likely need it, given the pitching they’re going to face. I like the American League’s starting position players better than the National’s but am picking the NL to win the game, alas. It’s said good pitching stops good hitting and if so, the AL is doomed. Nothing against Dallas Keuchel, their starting pitcher , but he’s not in the same category as the NL’s Zack Greinke. Greinke starts the game with the lowest ERA -1.39 -of any pitcher this deep into the season since 1968 and riding a 35 2/3 inning streak of shutout innings. In Keuchel’s last seven games, he’s had three losses and a 3.20 ERA. Greinke, in his last 7 has allowed only 30 hits and has a miniscule 0.61 ERA. Not to mention that he is one of the rarities who’s been pitching better on the road than at home. It won’t get much easier when the NL can go to the likes of Gerritt Cole, Madison Bumgarner and AJ Burnett (having his career year) from the bullpen, whereas the best pitcher the AL will have not starting probably won’t pitch. Sonny Gray lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.04 with a complete game shutout on Sunday, thereby rendering him all but incapable of throwing a pitch on Tuesday. My guess: National 9, American 2.

I’ll be watching the game, cheering on the American League, hoping Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin can make some special moments and that Jose Bautista’s shoulder gets better with his four-day break. Mostly though, here’s hoping Alex Anthopoulos’ phone doesn’t take a four-day break and when the schedule resumes on Friday, the Blue Jays will have some new pitching to be excited about.

“Show Me” a villain…

Things are not always as they seem. The beginning is the end, as the Smashing Pumpkins once sang. One can’t know good without knowing bad. And so on. This week has given the baseball philosopher a lot to think about !

First, to the Show Me State where the “fans” are showing the rest of baseball how to support their players in the All Star Game. I spoke of the Kansas City ballot-box stuffing last time here, since that time the Royal Tide has only gained momentum. Sure enough, over-the-hill, no-hitting, no-fielding Omar Infante has overtaken Jose Altuve for the lead among second baseman and wunderkind Mike Trout was the only non-Royal looking to be voted into the Mid-summer Classic. MLB responded by discarding 60 Million votes they deemed suspicious, in light of rumors of people’s e-mail accounts being hacked to vote KC and so on, all the while saying that was nothing out of the ordinary. Even without the 60 mil votes, the AL team looks like it will take the field wearing little but “royal” blue. Eric Hosmer, one of the Royals legit candidates is embarrassed and has told fans that Miguel Cabrera deserves the start at first; other less-talented KC players are just smiling smugly.

It seems like a bad thing for baseball. One expects that when one buys a 2016 Oxford Dictionary and looks up “travesty” one will simply see a picture of the 2015 American League All Star starting lineup. Yet, as I postulated here, it might not be all bad.

First, it is showing that baseball really has achieved parity. The small market clubs like Kansas City now really can challenge the mega-market Yankees and Dodgers on the field and in fan support as well. That’s a good thing.

Second, it should act as a wakeup call for those of us in the other 29 fan bases to get to our computers and vote for our team’s players, or at least for the best players. Sorry Omar Infante, you may be a nice decent man; you were once a good player but your right to be on the field as the starting second baseman is barely any greater than mine. The Blue Jays Devon Travis, sidelined for the last two months with injuries , is a much more legit candidate, not to mention Altuve, Cano, Kipnis and about ten others.

Third, it gives baseball a chance to tweak the system again if need be. If the current system doesn’t work, this gives ample reason to change it. I like having the fans getting some say in the lineup, since it is after all, primarily a spectacle for the fans, but MLB has changed the way the “bench” has been chosen over the years, giving some votes to the other players and less power to the manager; perhaps it’s time to change again. Maybe in 2016 fans will vote but the starting lineup can have no more than four players from one team, for example. Or give fans a choice to vote for starting pitcher but not for starting position players. A total farce of the process is a good excuse to improve it.

Fourth, as some bloggers have noted, baseball has benefitted from the exposure. Sure people are mad (outside of western Missouri and adjacent Kansas) at the AL voting, but it’s got them talking. In a week that both hockey’s Stanley Cup and the NBA championship were awarded, many sports fans were talking instead about an exhibition baseball game a month away and debating the likes of Lorenzo Cain vs. Jose Bautista. Black Hawks? Warriors? Who cares– what about “Moose” being the all star third baseman?

Likewise, the other big story in baseball has also taken place in Missouri and also involves potential computer hacking. The story has leaked that no less than the FBI are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for allegedly hacking the computers of the Houston Astros to steal scouting reports and notes for upcoming drafts. Stories about movie stars being pissed off or Alex Trebek storming off the Jeopardy set are mere tabloid fodder for the supermarket checkout until Chinese hackers steal them from Sony computers; likewise having a baseball GM know what an opponent thinks about pitching to Yadier Molina or whether a 16 year old high school outfielder in Georgia has a career ahead in the bigs is mundane stuff … until it seems that info was stolen through computer hacking. Then words like “espionage” get bandied about and federal law agencies become interested.

It’s difficult to understand what the Cards might truly gain by “stealing” info from Houston. Not to mention, why Houston?? This alleged hacking took place before this year, when the Astros were baseball’s doormat; a truly lousy team with little upside. (This year they are playing surprisingly well and leading the AL West, but only two years back Houston was among the worst teams in baseball history.) If they were going to try to get insider info anywhere, why Houston? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to try to access the computers of a competitive team in their own division, like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati?

Once again, although it rather gives baseball another unneeded black eye, it may be a boon in the end.

Every good story needs a villain. Batman is not that interesting unless he’s got a Joker to match wits with. Baseball is a good story. For years the New York Yankees have been its “villain.” The most successful franchise for decades, until recently the most egregiously over-spending franchise. If you are from the Big Apple, you love ’em. Elsewhere, you probably hate them. But either way, they are known and they inspire passion. Us Toronto fans are happy if the Jays beat the Astros or Mariners, but feel little passion about it. But the Yanks… little wonder attendance spikes around the league when the pinstripers come to town. A game against the Rays or A’s might be something to look in on, on TV, or read about tomorrow morning in the paper, but a game against those Damn Yankees – that’s worth a trip to the ballpark and a ticket to scream and cheer when A-Rod strikes out or big CC throws four straight balls. The Yankees sell tickets and merchandise in every city. But the NL hasn’t really had that.

Until now. Already annoyingly successful, already the NL franchise with the most World Series, the Cards may just transcend the ordinary state of being disliked out of town and hit Yankees-like passionate hate-inducing fervor. And that, ultimately is good for baseball. If an extra 15 000 people a night turn out in Milwaukee and Atlanta every time the Cards come to town, just to boo and jeer Wainwright and Molina, that’s extra money for those teams to play with, and extra stories about baseball to share around the water cooler the next day.

The Cardinals might be idiots if they truly did commit crimes to get inside information about the thoughts of the Houston Astros on other players. Idiots… or perhaps “jokers”?

So, dear readers, go vote for your favorite players tonight and tomorrow, check back here because I’ll try to explain why the close game last night and today’s Jays loss might actually gain the team more than it will cost them in the standings…