The Cycle: Interleague Play, Graduation, Selig Going Donald Trump, and the Injury Bug In Perspective

Posted: May 26, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , , , , ,

A late Cycle can be explained by preparation for Qualifying Exams.  The good thing is that anyone would take a Cycle at any point in their career so get over it or die.  Pujols out of his slump and I am hitting my stride.  Four stories that caught my eye over the last week in Major League Baseball

Single: Interleague Play: The End of an Era.

Not exactly. Interleague play in bloc format will be ending after a proud sixteen year tradition that brought compelling rivalries to the forefront: Yankees/Mets, Cubs/White Sox, Mariners/Padres (?), and Tigers/Pirates (?).  The natural rivalries versus the “what do we do with the other teams” issue will be addressed by expanding interleague play to at least one game per night with up to two week (or weekends) of specific interleague play.  I find these changes to be  quite refreshing given the dominance of the American League, the imbalance of scheduling games against the same number of quality opponents (i.e. Jason Stark’s point that “the Braves have to play the Yankees six times. But how many times will the Marlins and Phillies play the Yankees? Zero, of course.”), and outdated league formats.

In 2013, the American and National League will have equal numbers of teams in divisions and throughout the league creating more balanced play between both leagues.  The American League will most certainly continue to dominate interleague play because, like basketball, good offense still outperforms good defense.  The designated hitter – an impediment for eliminating leagues all together for year round unbiased baseball – shifts the balance to hitting even in the pitching revival post-Steroids era.  Sports Illustrated writers Cliff Corcoran’s “Five Cuts” column lists the best and worst teams since the inceptions of interleague play in 1997:

Rank Team Intra WPct. Inter WPct. Diff
1 Tigers .451 .532 .081
2 White Sox .511 .580 .069
3 Twins .496 .561 .065
4 Marlins .477 .536 .059
5 Mariners .492 .545 .053
26 Diamondbacks .502 .455 -.048
27 Padres .490 .438 -.052
28 Astros .518 .465 -.053
29 Phillies .530 .460 -.070
30 Dodgers .531 .456 -.075

We should take pleasure in the rivalries and chance to see pitchers embarrass themselves at the plate.  Interleague play is fun and this positive first step to correcting a long-term flaw in baseball scheduling should be applauded.  Let the old system die and the return of AL managers butchering the double-switch begin.

Double: Walking Across the Stage

Discussions of graduation rates and sports usually focus on baseball and football, America’s most popular collegiate and professional sports.  Without fail these thematic conversations come with a racialized lens as sports becomes an outlet for urban males to succeed while simultaneously disproportionately ignoring their academic enrichment.  Baseball, a sport incredibly diverse despite its low percentage of black players, also lacks high college graduation rates but it doesn’t seem to get the same attention.  Yahoo Sports’ Ben Maller exposed the startling statistics: 39 total players (of the 917 that appeared in games this season) have four-year college degrees.  4.3%.  To be fair, may Major League players do come from other countries or are drafted from high school to a major league team/farm system for development which suppresses numbers but 39 total players is still shocking.

For better or worse, however, this does not bother me at all because I thought baseball – at the expense of more money – has the best amateur to professional pathway in major American sports.  The creation and legitimacy of the minor league system provides a clear lifestyle for development into a baseball player, pegging players to leagues based on talent and outside the delusions of grandeur in the “student-athlete” dichotomy of NCAA sports.  This does not mean that success in the big leagues cannot be acquired through college as several players do attend and get to the pros.  It does mean that if you want to play baseball, you can commit all of your time and energy into that game without fear of external repercussion.   Anytime your sport is a long term endeavor (more than 16 regular season games) fan interest will wane because the perception of significance is reduced.  Without the tournament, college basketball is niche audiences and not moving the meter.  Minor league baseball is the same way with scouts following players and players maturing both physically and mentally before reaching the top.  Most professional athletes emerged by deciding to enter the minor leagues and reach the top and saved college spots for players who are good at baseball but will also get an education.  What is there not to like about explicitly defining the terms?

(Addendum: It also helps that baseball offers the best retirement packages and least damage to the body.  This avoids narratives of players wasting their millions earned because of ignorance and “the game” using the disadvantaged to their physical detriment.  It all matters because when those conversations are not taking place, people do not think of educational shortcomings, and the 43.3% of MLB teams without a college graduate on their roster is a non-story).

Triple: You’re Fired.

13 year Major League Baseball arbitrator Shyam Das was fired nearly two weeks ago by Major League Baseball’s upper echelon.  It should be stated that the Collective Bargaining Agreement states that either MLB or the Players Association can at any point dismiss the arbitrator for – it appears – any reason it likes.  Obviously this creates a very interesting political balance on two fronts.  First, the arbitrator is only as useful as his/her objectivity.  The person must be unbiased to please both sides because occupying the role results in some level of balance.  Secondly, the MLB and players association in the event of firing can be incredibly powerful in selecting the next arbitrator.  If the MLB fires the person, the players association can make it incredibly taxing on management to pick another fair or “fair” replacement.

Without extensive knowledge of the firing, it DOES appear that Das’ ruling on the Ryan Braun case sealed his fate from league offices.  This firing should not be sold as simply a consequence of ruling against MLB like the firings of Peter Seitz and Tom Roberts after their separate rulings against baseball.  Das controversially reduced suspensions of John Rocker (for his loving words) and Kenny Rogers’ skirmish with cameramen.  This firing is because Das ruled against a system built to solve baseball’s biggest problem, steroids.  Das was the longest arbitrator in league history mostly because stability in rulings is invaluable knowledge when leveling penalties.  You know how far you can go and whether to push the envelope on some issues versus others.  MLB is clear about steroids: no room to negotiate.  Their system came under fire and an attempt to take down someone who tested positively in the face of science vanished.  Das ruled properly and firmly on the biggest issue and it cost him his job.

Aside: He is also the arbitrator for the New Orleans Saints bounty case.  What is he doing in two leagues?  Are there really no other arbitrators good enough to handle things individually?

Home Run: Injury Bug – Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Good: Carlos Beltran

Beltran has returned to form since returning to health at 35 years old.  He is playing supremely and can be argued to be the best player in the National League.  Tim Kurkjian’s ESPN The Magazine piece is quality reading on a player dismissed and marginalized for the Mets, now revitalized on the Cardinals.

Bad: Kerry Wood

Wood retired during the crosstown classic ending what was certainly meant to be the next Nolan Ryan.  The 1998 Rookie of the Year’s 20 strike out game is his most memorable moment, joining Randy Johnson and Roger Clemons as the only people to get 20 Ks in a 9 inning performance.  Wood reached 1000 strikeouts in fewer games (134) and fewer innings (853) than any player in baseball.  A series of injuries destroyed his career, ruining the greatest talent of 1990s.  Amazing to think of what could’ve been and how a Tommy John Surgery in 1999 really signaled the end.

Ugly: Joe Mauer

Despite being healthy, the man formally known for “Mauer-Power” continues to toil to the high expectations he established in 2009.  While healthy this season, Mauer has only two home runs and a slugging percentage that still draws the ire of Twins fans.  The ugly involves the Minnesota Twins fans who have lost all patience for their $23 million catcher.  Unlike the big city mentality of Yankees fans who are patient with Mark Teixeira and his annual poor starts and poor finishes, Twins fans still embody the small market mentality.  Paying Mauer all the money for little production will not be tolerated regardless of how tough the catcher’s position in baseball is on the body.  I doubt Mauer will regain the necessarily lower body strength to match his incredibly calm and fast hands through the hitting zone.  This accounts for the incredibly high ground ball rate for Mauer, a career high at nearly 60%.  (Courtesy of Twins Daily blogger Nick Nelson).   All of those features remain secondary to the astronomical rise and fall of Mauer with fans.  Every time a Head and Shoulders advertisement appears in Minnesota it will only remind them that one amazing year cost the team millions while Mauer profits in popularity and contractual obligations.  Mauer isn’t a bad guy but home runs will silence the boos from the home crowd, an ugly display for a tragic figure whose body is failing him when it matters most.

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