Ban the infield shift in Major League baseball, it says here.
And stop the reliance on analytics and statistics.
Numbers can be cool but if they are changing the way the game is played, completely, on both sides of the field, because of how those digits are crunched, they become very uncool. And, disconcerting to a thinking man’s view of the sport.
The good news is, baseball has decided to implement this upcoming season in Double A minor league games a bevy of experimental new rules designed to take the emphasis off of analytics and the push-button style of baseball the dependence on statistical analysis has created. Teams will now be required to “have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.” MLB also noted that, based on first-half of this season’s data, it may require teams to position two infielders on either side of second base over the course of the second half of the season.
A lot of the motivation for these experiments are based on the changes in offensive production in the game, at the major league level. League-wide batting averages in 2000 were .260, today, it is .245 with gigantic increases in strike outs. The main reason for the trend towards less hits and baserunners has been analytics. Line drives that used to fall for hits are being caught by defensive players who usually play third base but for certain batters with tendencies to pull pitches to the right of second base, find themselves in right center field or short right field. These shifts have changed the approach of hitters, who are now trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark rather than lay down a bunt down the third base line or hit and easy ground ball to the un-defended shortstop area. They are swinging harder and faster so there may be more home runs but there are many more strikeouts, too.
“Shading” a left-handed pull hitter towards the right side of the field is a much better alternative than moving the entire infield to the right of second base because some analytics-oriented managers discovered certain batters pull curve balls 72% of the time. That kind of push-button managing of the game is making everything more predictable and boring.
We don’t want baseball, a slow game to begin with (but a wonderfully thoughtful game) to be completely predictable. We prefer managers like Billy Martin, who ran each game on instinct and on what his eyes told him on given days. We want players like Willie Mays, who played the game on instinct and on split-second decision-making. Willie liked to shade certain hitters towards left center field or right centerfield, based on who was pitching, how he was throwing on that particular day, how the hitter happened to be swinging the bat, what the weather conditions were, and which umpire was calling balls and strikes that day. If you’re a baseball fan, those are all things to pay attention to, and not to an index card in player’s back pockets. Smart players have been taught how to play the game and don’t need to take out that index card to tell them where to play each hitter or what a certain pitcher will throw on a 3-2 count with a runner on second, from the sixth inning on. Smart fans understand the same things, and that’s precisely what makes the game so interesting, pitch after pitch after pitch.
Take it from this decidedly mediocre math student. Analytics and statistical reliance sucks, but not as badly as geometry and trigonometry sucked, back in the day. Some of us do not want the game of baseball to remind us of our past mediocrity with numbers and shapes. Let’s hope the Lords of Baseball keep the baseball diamond shape intact and don’t turn it into some crazy isosceles triangle.
Baseball fans like their national pastime complicated. Tear up those index cards and keep it a thinking person’s game.
New York Jets fans are pathetic. They are crying in their split pea soup today because their team won a game yesterday, beating the Los Angeles Rams on the road. It was the Jets first win of what has been a pathetic season to bring their record to 1-13. In doing so, the Jets probably lost any chance at the first pick in the NFL draft to the equally pathetic Jacksonville Jaguars, who will turn around and choose Trevor Lawrence, purportedly the next generational quarterback from Clemson.
Listen, Jets fans. Shut up, for just a second, and pay attention.
Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round and he has six championships. Drew Brees was a second round pick. Aaron Rodgers was a second round pick. Patrick Mahomes was the 10th pick in the draft, not the first or even, the ninth. He’s the best player in the sport today.
The very best quarterbacks of the past 25 years did not even get a sniff from NFL teams in the first 35 picks of their draft, other than Mahomes.
Sam Bradford was the first pick in 2010. Hello? Mitchell Trubisky was the second pick in 2017. Nice knowing him? Marcus Mariota was the second pick in 2015. Really? Jameis Winston was the first pick in 2015. ‘N’uff said. Carson Wentz was the second pick in 2016. He was benched two weeks ago because he can’t play. Baker Mayfield, who beat the Giants last night was the first pick in 2018. Mayfield could not play until they surrounded him with this little thing called talent. All of a sudden he’s the quarterback of a 10 and 4 team.
Matthew Stafford was the first pick in 2009 of the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford has not won any Super Bowls, the last I looked. Jared Goff was the first pick of the 2016 draft for the Los Angeles Rams. Jared Goff couldn’t beat the Jets yesterday.
These quarterbacks are more than just under-achievers. Most of them stink. With or without talent around them. Quarterback scouting is not an exact science, as Josh Rosen fans would tell you.
Sam Darnold, it says here, if surrounded by NFL talent, is a much more than competent quarterback. He might even be a star, with an offensive line that could give him time in the pocket the way they did yesterday.
The Jets will be firing their current incompetent head coach, Adam “Gaze” Gase. When they replace him with a tough, no-nonsense coach with NFL gravitas, they should draft a bookend offensive tackle from Oregon to anchor the other side, across from mammoth rookie Mekhi Becton, the best left tackle in the game. Or, perhaps a stud wide receiver from LSU. Throw in a bunch of SEC defensive backs and an edge rusher. And, Jets general manager, Joe Douglas should use all of that cap space the Jets now have to fill important holes with free agents.
And then Jets fans, you pathetic jerks, sit down, open your can of Ballantine beer or whatever the hell you drink in your sububan den or basement, and watch your team play on Sundays. And shut up.
Three of the four sports Commissioners align themselves with the Democratic party, at least when it comes to political donations, according to NewsMeat. David Stern, Gary Bettman and Bud Selig give more than 90 percent of their political donations to the Democratic party. Roger Goodell of the NFL donates 23 percent to Democrats and 77 percent to the GOP.
Other sports media notables:
From the left
Chris Berman, ESPN: 100 percent of his donations go to Democrats.
Lee Corso, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats (which surprised me for some reason).
Dick Ebersol, NBC: 75 percent to Democrats.
Bob Griese, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
Tom Hammond, NBC: 100 percent to Democrats.
Michael Jordan: 72 percent to Democrats.
Armen Keteyian, CBS: 100 percent to Democrats (remember that when you see him on CBS News).
Jim Lampley, HBO: 71 percent to Democrats (he also writes for the liberal-friendly Huffington Post).
John McEnroe, NBC, CBS: 80 percent to Democrats.
Jon Miller, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
Dikembe Mutombo: despite sitting next to Laura Bush at the State of the Union, he only gives 33 percent to the GOP.
Digger Phelps, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
Joe Theissman, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
Isiah Thomas: 100 percent to Democrats.
Brian Urlacher: toughest Democrat ever? 100 percent to Democrats.
In the middle
George Bodenheimer, ESPN: 61 percent goes to special interests; 20 and 19 percent go to Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner: 72 percent to special interests; 14 percent to Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
George Steinbrenner, N.Y. Yankees: 51 percent to Democrats, 27 percent to the GOP.
Paul Tagliabue: 41 percent to the GOP, 34 percent to Democrats.
From the right
Jack Buck (D): donated 100 percent of his donations to the GOP.
Cris Collinsworth, NBC: 100 percent to the GOP.
Don Criqui, CBS: 100 percent to the GOP.
Dan Dierdorf, CBS: 100 percent to the GOP.
Mike Ditka, ESPN: 98 percent to the GOP.
Brian France, NASCAR: 83 percent to the GOP.
Mike Francesca, YES: 100 percent to the GOP.
Curt Gowdy (D): 78 percent to the GOP.
Keith Hernandez: 92 percent to the GOP.
Hootie Johnson: amazingly, 33 percent to the Democrats (60 percent to the GOP).
Mario Lemieux: 100 percent to the GOP?
Peyton Manning: 100 percent to the GOP.
Tim McCarver, FOX: 100 percent to the GOP.
Al Michaels, NBC: 100 percent to the GOP.
Jim Nantz, CBS: apparent golfing buddy of Bush 41; donates 60 percent to the GOP.
Vin Scully, L.A. Dodgers: 100 percent to the GOP.
Pat Summerall, FOX: 100 percent to the GOP.
Lynn Swann: despite running for Governor of Pennsylvania as a Republican last year, he donates 19 percent to the Democrats.
The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website, was introduced in 2016 with an interesting business model – an ad-free environment providing national and local coverage in 47 North American cities as well as the United Kingdom.
It’s ambitious plan included the recruiting of some of the best-known, highest-paid sports journalists in the country, those who already had large followings on either a national or local level. The Athletic reportedly paid exorbitantly high salaries to these reporters, many of whom had already been laid off by their local newspapers as part of an industry-wide crash that has been evolving over the past two decades, as the internet became the main source of information for consumers of news and sports.
The Athletic’s roll-out, beginning in 2016, has been impressive. Starting with one market, Chicago, in which all of that city’s sports teams were thoroughly covered, it has rolled into every major market in the United States. With nationally-known reporters such as Ken Rosenthal, Jason Stark, and Peter Gammons on the baseball beat; David Aldridge, Shams Charania, and Zach Harper on the NBA, Michael Lombardi on the NFL, and Steward Mandel on NCAA sports, along with top local writers, The Athletic has certainly gone for quality journalism. And, it has raised over $139 million dollars from a variety of investors over the past four years. All very impressive.
But, there are possible chinks in the armor beginning to appear for the four-year old publication. The Athletic is now offering deeply discounted subscriptions at the ridiculously low price of $1 per month. When The Athletic began publishing, the subscription rate was $9.99 per month, more commensurate with other online publications with well-known brand names like Sports Illustrated, Fortune, New York Times, and others.
As their advertisement on social media like Facebook, below, indicates, they are changing their subscription pricing, drastically.
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“The Athletic has become a force in sports journalism”
Either The Athletic is trying to beef up its overall readership numbers or possibly, gain more casual sports fans who don’t want to invest deeply to satisfy their sports mojo. Or, The Athletic is in deep trouble with its main source of revenue, its subscription base, through faltering renewals of existing subscriptions or an inability to attract new subscribers.
Of course, one cannot underestimate the role of a the global pandemic on the sports business, which includes publications which cover those games and teams. But, as we have seen over the past couple of decades, publications such as The Sporting News, Sport Magazine, and a painfully thinning Sports Illustrated are disappearing from the newsstands and mailboxes of sports fans.
The owners of The Athletic, now essentially a consortium of investors, are probably hoping for a million or more fresh one dollar subscriptions, as well, for the revenue jolt a million bucks would provide them. The clock is ticking on The National, which was a very good idea in 2016.
Today, for Mets fans, begins what they hope and believe will be viewed someday, as the golden age of the New York Mets Baseball Club. With the transfer of ownership of the team from the Wilpon/Katz families to one Steve Cohen, a financial whiz on Wall Street with a net worth of $14 billion, Mets fans are rejoicing as if Cohen had just defeated Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States.
In a wide-ranging Zoom press conference this afternoon, Cohen laid out his plans for the franchise. If his words and goals are true, the Mets, struggling for decades as an undercapitalized professional sports team in the city of New York, will no longer be limited by the silly question, “So, how much will that cost us?”
Cohen is now the richest owner in the sport, possibly the wealthiest individual owner of a sports franchise in the world. If Cohen wants to sign a free agent because he believes that player is the difference between winning a championship or not, he will not get out-bid.
“If I don’t win a World Series in the next three to five years — I’d like to make it sooner — but if I don’t do that, I would consider that slightly disappointing,” Cohen said. “We are a major market team” that “should have a budget commensurate with that.”
“I’m essentially doing this for the fans,” Cohen said. “When I really thought about this, I can make millions of people happy. What an incredible opportunity that is. That’s how I’m thinking about this. I’m not trying to make money here … it’s really about building something great, building something for the fans, winning and I just find this an amazing opportunity and I’m so excited for it.”
70% of NFL players are black. 81% of NBA players are black. I am very happy these two leagues are using THEIR unique and powerful platforms, before and after the games they play.
When I hear certain print and broadcast commentators either use dog whistles or blatant racism to criticize these players, using rationale which speaks to the “ruining” of the sport and the dwindling “ratings” on television because fans are shutting them off, that’s when I, myself, decide to shut off the commentators.
Thom Brennaman, a long-time play by play broadcaster for Fox Sports and the Cincinnati Reds, was recently fired for comments he made into a “hot” microphone he didn’t realize was still on.
Tom Seaver could be arrogant as a 22-year old rookie righthanded pitcher with the New York Mets in 1967. He could be curmudgeonly as a 40-year old at the end of his career with the Boston Red Sox. Tom Seaver did not suffer fools from the inquiring media or even, his own teammates.
But, Tom Seaver could pitch.
He did it so well, he was elected into the baseball Hall of Fame with 98.7% of the vote, the highest vote tabulation of all time, up to that point in 1990.
But, the most important thing Tom Seaver accomplished in his baseball career was carrying an entire franchise, the forever moribund New York Mets on his shoulders towards more than respectability. Seaver carried them always the worst team in baseball since its inception in 1962, to the championship of the world in 1969, defeating the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Fifty-one years later, it might still be the greatest baseball story ever told. The Miracle Mets of 1969, never having finished above .500, going from ninth place in 1968 to the World Series title. The hapless, bumbling, laughingstock New York Mets, most famous for the time Marv Throneberry hit an apparent game-winning triple only to have missed first base, with the Mets instead losing the game. Those luckless, atrocious Mets, whom Casey Stengel explained had selected a certain catcher in the expansion draft because they needed somebody to prevent the ball from rolling to the backstop.
That’s how the Mets were born and, boy, were they bad. They lost 120 games that first season in 1962 and followed up with seasons of 111, 109 and 112 losses. In 1966, they climbed out of last place for the first time — all the way up from 10th place to ninth. The fans in Queens loved them nonetheless. Even though the Mets lost 95 games that year, they finished second in the major leagues in attendance.ADVERTISEMENT
The transformation from lovable losers to champions began in 1967. It began with Tom Seaver.
The story of how Seaver landed with the Mets is a little miracle in itself. The Atlanta Braves had drafted the Southern California right-hander in the secondary phase of the January draft in 1966, a part of the draft that no longer exists and was reserved for players previously drafted who didn’t sign. The Los Angeles Dodgers had drafted Seaver in the 10th round in 1965, but a Dodgers scout named Tommy Lasorda refused to meet Seaver’s $70,000 asking price. Seaver returned to school.
Seaver and the Braves reached a deal in late February for a $40,000 bonus. USC’s spring season had already started, however, and under baseball’s rules, a team couldn’t sign a player if his college season had begun. Commissioner Spike Eckert nullified the contract. Seaver then tried to return to school, but the NCAA declared him ineligible, even though he had yet to accept any money.
It was a classic Catch-22 situation. Seaver’s dad threatened a lawsuit. Eckert, in an unprecedented move, set up a special lottery. Any team willing to match Atlanta’s $40,000 bonus could participate, but the Braves were banned from signing Seaver for three years. Only three teams chose to get involved in the Seaver sweepstakes: the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and Mets. The Mets won the lottery.
Eckert explained his decision was “for the interest of the boy and the public. The youngster previously signed a contract with another club in good faith only to learn he had been improperly contracted,” Eckert said. “It was not his fault that the contract was invalidated.”
Did the Mets know what they were getting? It’s perhaps noteworthy that only three teams thought he was worth that $40,000 bonus, though that was a sizable bonus for the time, more than most of the first-round picks would receive that June. Seaver had been lightly scouted in high school in Fresno, California, but he was just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds as a senior in 1962. He spent the next year working in a packing plant and joined the Marine Corps Reserve. After a year at Fresno City College, he transferred to USC.
When Seaver initially agreed to the deal with the Braves, the Fresno Bee interviewed Braves scout Johnny Moore, the team’s West Coast supervisor.
“We’re very high on Tom’s potential,” Moore said. “We have watched him since he was a small lad in Fresno, and we especially kept our eye on him as he developed at Fresno City College and Southern Cal. As far as I’m concerned, there has been only one better deal since the free-agent draft setup [came] in effect last June. That was the signing of Rick Monday by Kansas City.”
Monday had been the first pick in the first draft in 1965.
So while Seaver was only the 20th pick in the January phase, it was apparent he was an excellent prospect. The Fresno paper called him a “fireballing right-hander.” It’s possible that Seaver’s bonus demands scared some teams away. His dad also thought Seaver’s military commitment might have been an issue. “The Braves were the only club to go after him,” Charley Seaver said, “possibly because of his military status.”
But it’s also possible some teams hadn’t seen Seaver and that even though he had gone 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA for USC, his fastball didn’t impress. Years later, Baseball America quoted a veteran scout from the area who said of Seaver: “Some clubs wouldn’t give him more than $4,000 because he had a below-average fastball. But he pitched against a team called the Crosby All-Stars just before the draft and was facing active major leaguers. He struck out 12 in five innings.”
The Fresno Bee didn’t mention that game, but it did mention one outing for USC early in 1966 when Seaver threw five perfect innings against the San Diego Marines. The paper also said the Dodgers had reportedly offered Seaver $50,000 to sign in 1965.
Seaver was an immediate star in New York. He spent 1966 in the minors and reached the Mets in 1967, when he went 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA and won National League Rookie of the Year honors. He went 16-12 with a 2.20 ERA in 1968 as the Mets climbed out of the cellar. Still, after going 73-89, they weren’t expected to do much in 1969, the first year the leagues were split into divisions.
Featuring a young rotation with the 24-year-old Seaver, 26-year-old Jerry Koosman, 22-year-old Gary Gentry, 25-year-old Jim McAndrew and 22-year-old part-time starter Nolan Ryan, the Mets allowed the second-fewest runs in the league. Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA, winning the first of his three Cy Young Awards.
The Mets were seven games behind the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 21 but went 32-10 the rest of the way to win the division by eight games. Seaver started eight games in that stretch — and went 8-0 with eight complete games and a 1.00 ERA. In Game 4 of the World Series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, Seaver tossed a 10-inning complete game to win 2-1. Koosman wrapped it up the next day.
Seaver became known as Tom Terrific and rightly so. Since World War II, the only pitcher with a higher career WAR is Roger Clemens. Seaver was ahead of his time in more than his bonus demands. A 1972 profile by Pat Jordan in Sports Illustrated dug into Seaver’s dedication to his craft and to lifting weights, an exercise that most players of his era avoided.
“He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher’s fastball,” Jordan wrote. Indeed, in one of his autobiographies, Ryan mentioned seeing the “doughy” bodies of his fellow Mets pitchers and he too became an early proponent of lifting weights.
“Pitching is what makes me happy,” Seaver told Jordan. “I’ve devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend my life when I’m not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies, but I won’t ever eat them.”
The suggestion was that Seaver wasn’t a natural-born talent. He made himself into an all-time great. “Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential,” Jordan wrote. “For Seaver, a man’s talent is not just a part of the man. It is the whole man, or at the very least a mirror of the whole man.”
Of course, Seaver wasn’t without talent. I remember once talking to former ESPN baseball analyst Dave Campbell, who was in the lineup for the San Diego Padres the day Seaver fanned a record 10 batters in a row.
“He was so dominant that day, he could have told us what pitch was coming and we still wouldn’t have hit it,” Campbell said.
Now we mourn Seaver’s death at age 75, with 1969 a distant, graying memory. I scroll through Facebook and see all the tributes from those who just lost their childhood hero.
“Thank you for being such a great role model,” wrote my brother-in-law, Jeff Russo.
Geoff Reiss, the man who hired me so many years ago to work for ESPN’s website, wrote: “This is so incredibly sad. He was my Mantle, Kobe, MJ.” He posted a photo of his autographed Seaver jersey.
The legendary baseball writer John Thorn simply wrote: “Tom Seaver … hail and farewell.”
Many Mets fans say the saddest day of their youth was the day New York traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. It’s time to shed another tear.
From the “where did this come from” file, I recently listened to a Ron Gardenhire post-game presser. Gardy, a former Met, is a baseball lifer who is transforming the Tigers into a professional baseball team, again.
It reminds me of why guys like him, his buddy, Wally Backman, Bob Brenley, Jim Leyland and the rest of the “old” managers should always have a place in baseball, running a team. Players don’t care how old a manager is. The special ones, no matter their ages, relate to all players and are great at running the games.
Today’s general managers, many in their 30s or 40s, think hiring a young guy who can “relate” better to today’s player, is an advantage. As I watch the new Mets manager, 16-year old Luis Rojas, I keep thinking about Wally Backman in that dugout, winning games instead of losing games, the way the Mets are doing, now. (Rojas is really 38).
Yoenis Cespedes has decided to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. The news comes hours after the Mets released a statement they were unable to get in contact with him after he failed to show up for the Sunday afternoon game in Atlanta.
“It’s disappointing,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “This is a disappointing end at least to his four-year agreement with the Mets.”
Van Wagenen maintained the team had no knowledge of Cespedes’ plan to opt out before sending their statement out before game time on Sunday. The Mets G.M. also did not know whether the slugger was safe and healthy before releasing an initial statement. He explained his statement was made in an effort to be transparent and keep the public informed, “in real time,” the GM said later.
“As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today,” Van Wagenen’s statement read. “He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.”
The announcement of the lineup was also delayed, but when Rojas was asked directly if the team was waiting on any players to arrive, the manager chalked it up to the quick turnaround of Saturday night’s game to Sunday afternoon’s early arrival.
”Nothing in particular,” Rojas said on the delay of the lineup announcement. “We’re just arriving from the night-day game.”
Cespedes is in the final year of his contract with the Mets, which was restructured in January following his 2019 accident with a wild boar. He rehabbed from multiple surgeries on his heels and ankle and returned to play Opening Day in his first-big league game since July 2018.
The slugger is batting .161 (5-for-31) with two home runs, four RBI, two walks, three runs scored and 15 strikeouts from the designated-hitter spot across the first nine games of the season.
One suspects there is more to this story than meets the immediate eye. Stay tuned.
NASCAR released a photo of the garage pull-down rope fashioned as a noose that was found hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
A Richard Petty Motorsports crewman noticed the noose and informed crew chief Jerry Baxter, who notified security. A photo was taken of the noose before it was cut down, and NASCAR contacted the FBI, who also viewed the picture.
The Associated Press’s Jenna Fryer reports, “every single entity that viewed evidence—no other pull in any other stall had one like that—and ALL believed it was a noose.”
The Cup garage at Talladega Superspeedway was built in 2019 and had not been used again until Sunday. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said NASCAR has swept all 20 tracks, 1,648 garage stalls and found 11 total ropes that had a pull-down rope tied in a knot. Out of those 11, only one was a noose—the one found in Wallace’s garage stall.
The act of unity that Wallace alludes to came Monday afternoon, ahead of the Geico 500. NASCAR drivers rallied around Wallace before the race, as they pushed his No. 43 car down the track to the front of the field in support.