Tag:designated hitter rule
Posted on: March 29, 2013 1:25 am
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MLB Family Feud '13

Wherever people cluster there are bound to be skirmishes.

At the dinner table, school, the workplace, your barber shop, …any place people come together. It’s human nature: different brain-matter, different opinions and then the verbal wrangling ensues.

Sometimes the tension runs like an undercurrent, out of public view. The conflicts that spring up can be as measured as a bow-shot at sea or as lengthy as the Thirty Years’ War (1618), as acrimonious as the ugliest divorce or low-key as a game of croquet.

And baseball’s no exception.

While MLB’s fiscal state is robust ($5B ‘12) and is set to raise the curtain on 2013 Sunday night (3-31 / ESPN) as the Rangers mosey on down to Houston to take on intra-state rival and new Junior Circuit member, the Astros, things are not all hot dogs & cerveza in America’s national pastime.

There are sore-spots that fester, some with a history, some just starting to take shape. Not likely any of these hot button topics triggers a clubhouse fisticuff but try broaching any of ’em with players & coaches and you’re likely to get an ear full.

WBC (World Baseball Classic)

Classic case of wishful thinking, as in, ‘We (MLB) wish the international format, so successful in the World Cup, can work for baseball too.’ Wish upon all the stars your “heart(s) desire” fellas, but even Jiminy Cricket won’t underwrite that dream.

Baseball’s global popularity explains why the WBC has met with worldwide applause since its debut in 2005. But state-side, the tournament barely makes a ripple in the sea of US sport news as fans are indifferent and players not exactly lining-up to participate.

Maybe if MLB went all in, making the WBC a real world series where each nation’s league champion team (‘12 Giants (MLB), Leones (LIDOM), Giants (NPB), etc.) was a participant, rather than a compilation of native players (WC), it might be better received by the American public. One thing is certain, its intrusion upon our beloved spring training traditions in Florida and Arizona, as minimal as it is, does not help the sell.

Sabermetrics (or Billy Beane baseball)

The dogfight between saber-heads & traditionalists flies under the radar but constitutes baseball’s war of philosophy.

Stats have always been a big deal in rounders, nothing new or contentious there. Just check the backs of older Topps cards: NFL versions are numeral-poor while MLBs are jam-packed with figures. Numbers were big in 1880 and they’re still big today.

But saber-heads kneel at the alter of the Holy Digit, spouting the ‘numbers never lie’ mantra while intolerant of other sporting faiths. They view baseball through the eyes of an accountant, dissing the subtle strategy, the history and humanity of the game, always favoring quantity over quality, numbers over nuance. If that reads a little harsh, go a few rounds with one of ‘em and see if it isn’t a pretty accurate assessment of the type.

Who’s winning the war? The battle of ideologies flares up whenever Cooperstown is the subject. By that measure (vote results), I’d say we’re in trench warfare.

PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)

Confused on MLB’s drug testing policy? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, if no, clue me in because I’m kinda’ lost. Thought I had it down last year when they were supposedly drawing blood from every player in spring. Then this winter they announced a new testing twist, a plan to start taking “random” samples during (?) the 2013 season.

Bottom-line: While baseball’s testing policy seems half-measured and a bit of a shell-game (See; MLBPA), they remain the one major US sport who is taking action and making progress. They’re catching some of the slugs, likely deterring others and may someday arrive at a clear, consistent and complete PED prevention policy.

The antagonists: users, pushers, enablers and faux-sport fans vs. everybody else.

Who’s winning this war? Given the persistence of drug peddlers, a cheater’s mentality that’s in vogue and a public that grows more & more dispassionate about anything that’s not TV, gizmos, food or drink, I’d say the crusaders have a long fight ahead. But they’ve drawn a line in the sand and they’re not giving up this time.

Some crusades will end. Saladin and Richard the Lionheart were warriors but also brave visionaries. They knew when to make peace (1192), even if others failed to heed their wisdom (4th Crusade). But if you really love baseball and care about the health, the well-being of children who will someday fill its ranks, this is one crusade we can’t quit on.

The DH Rule

After a period of dormancy, the designated hitter debate is heating up again. That can only mean one thing: someone’s got dollar signs ($$) in their eyes and has deployed an advance force (media) to help prepare the way.

I dislike the DH but have come to accept, even appreciate, its status as a distinguishing trait (vs DH-free National) and fixture of the American League.

Some believe an NL-DH is “inevitable” (3-5 / Jaffe / “True Grit” / SI). I’d say it’s as “inevitable” as abandonment of day-game World Series (’87), football gear in the batter’s box, dangerous maple bats and the AL-DH (’73). In a sport that used to respect its traditions and League distinctions, we fans asked for none of these changes (inter-league) supposedly needed for good of the game. Hogwash.

What fans and the game need, want, and what they get are all very different animals.

Tradition giving way to common-sense change (bat-helmets) and even some profiteering, if it also profits fans (NCAA field: 32 to 68), is a standard all of us can accept.

Just as I won’t oppose progressiveness solely on basis of tradition, I just as surely won’t ditch a tradition merely for sake of change and making change ($) for the greedy few.

In a sport where the home run derby is its biggest event and bunny-hop celebrations make most viewers cringe, the on-going debate over the designated hitter rule actually pumps life into the game, giving it a visceral edge, in opposite of what agents-of-change would have you believe when mocking what they’d call a behind-the-times National, a League who’s been easily dispatching their DH devoted AL rival in recent Series play.

If proponents get their way and force the rule on the Senior Circuit they can kiss goodbye the ‘national pastime’ moniker for that arrogant act will signify the last nail in the coffin that buries what semblance of League distinction remained, along with a good part of history with it.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: December 11, 2012 12:10 am
 

MLB 2013 Wish List

Dear Santa,

I know December’s a crazy time for you, especially with new super-shops in Costa Rica, Estonia and Dandong (China) churning out the goodies at record pace, but it won’t take a minute to read my list. Besides, these wishes are for the good of the game, so do what you can, Santa my man.

Old Time Baseball

Wish # 1: More Mike Trouts

In the aftermath of one of the most hotly debated MVP races in recent memory, some in the Mike Trout Fan Club staggered into the absurd by claiming their man lost the vote because Miguel Cabrera voters had wrongly applied an old-school standard: the triple crown.

But old-school, throwback, traditional, take your pick, all are pretty fair description of the manner in which Trout conducted his rookie season. The guy knows fundamentals. His round-tripper total (30) would be Ruthian in dead-ball days but near everything else he does would’ve made him one of the guys in 1920, sans stirrups & tobacco juice.

Fielding his position like it mattered (4E / 347-CH / .988), crafting a nifty bat average (.326 / 139G), always aware that an extra-base could be had for free (39-SB) and a run-production that’d make Billy Hamilton (1888-01) nod in approval (129), all showed a player who understood the nuances of baseball. And fans ate it up with a spoon.

Mike’s not the only well-rounded ball-player in the game today, he’s just the first in a long time to make it cool again. That represents a big change in baseball, a sport still dominated by the dinger and whose biggest event is sadly, not its championship series, but a corporate kiddie show and vestige of the PED era, the home run derby. Ugh.

The 2012 AL-ROY has got some work to do in the contact department (139 SO). But if he can avoid the sophomore slump and stay healthy, his zestful play might inspire enough young ball-players to where baseball could be embarking on a whole new era.

Just Say Yes, MLBPA

Wish # 2: Mid-season blood draw

While most were focusing on the wheeling & non-dealing at MLB’s winter meeting in Nashville last week, I was thinking about the 10,000 lbs elephant lumbering down the Convention Center hallways. He’s the PED pachyderm and represents baseball’s half-measured attempt to rid the national pastime of banned substances.

With test samples still coming back queer, I’m guessing many players don’t think too much of us fans. When recent toppers (Braun / B. Colon) and a 2012 league-leading batsman (Melky) are testing dirty, you’ve still got trouble. The good news, spring blood-draws are spotting cheaters; the bad news, by caving to MLBPA’s refusal to a mid-season blood test a window of opportunity has been left wide open for cheaters to crawl through un-deterred.

A drug-free game? I wouldn’t waste the wish. It’s like a kid asking Santa for a Corvette. Not gonna happen. Sadly, the sport-druggie is here to stay. The pro-game has always had a seamy-side or at least a competitive crudeness, but the muscle-bound PED user speaks to kids in a persuasive voice that the game-fixer and sign-stealer never could.

It‘s safe to say, “Just Say No” didn’t percolate too deep into young minds, but then the PED plague and its cheater-mentality never has been confined within USA borders.

What I do wish, Santa, is that players finally face the inevitable and ‘just say yes’ to a sincere, full-testing program, closing the window that keeps inviting in the bad guys.

Outgrowing Your Toys

Wish # 3: Ditch the DH, Inter-League, pie-in-the-face and bunny-hop celebration

April 6, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s adoption of the American League designated hitter. Yankees’ Ron Blomberg did the honors, drawing a walk from the Red Sox’ Luis Tiant (Wikipedia). And inter-league, that started in ‘97.

Fans of both would call me a purist. I never saw it like that. I just don’t like gimmicks that fans didn’t ask for and that change my game and the game of my ancestors, purely for profit ($). It was AL founder Ban Johnson (1901) who first permitted fans in the stands to keep foul-balls. Look how that’s turned out. Now the chuckleheads think they have some kind of entitlement and disrupt the action to claim their believed booty.

I don’t expect the DH to get the heave-ho, ever. It’s become part of the AL fabric, a distinguishing trait of the Junior Circuit. And that’s okay in today‘s monopolized, over-homogenized America. Just keep it out of our National.

But inter-league play, that’s a different matter. A curiosity in the beginning, that wore-off quick as we all knew it would. Now it’s become hackneyed, a deviation from regular scheduling, disruptive to intra-league competition and is best returned to its original and rare World Series state. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, you could say Mr. Selig.

And the post-game shave-cream-in-the-face routine? The only people laughing are the pie-pushers and assorted ESPN anchors. As for MLB’s embarrassing walk-off bunny-hop celebrations: thank god for the New York Yankees.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: April 30, 2012 2:27 pm
Edited on: May 1, 2012 12:11 am
 

When In Rome, Mr. Pujols

Change is good, so they say.

And ya’ know who likes change? Marketing people like change, so do wet babies, unhappy workers, anyone living near a skateboarder, panhandlers and free agents.  That's about it.

When Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols made the big change this off-season it wasn’t because they were unhappy campers. Quite the contrary. Both were much loved and rather cozy in their respective cities of Milwaukee and St. Louis. Big baseball towns.

They opted for change because they wanted some big change, as in moolah. They got it, bushel-baskets full of it, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers and Anaheim Angels, respectively.

Like that employee moving-on to greener pastures, Prince and Albert arrived at their new surroundings with high hopes and long ‘to-do’ lists.

Moving is never easy. First there's finding a new home, then things like utilities, drivers license, schools for kids, satellite hook-up and on and on and on.  And while you're still fretting over all that there's the new job.  That starts with finding the best route to the stadium, securing a parking spot, meeting & sizing-up new co-workers, setting-up your locker and schmoozing the local press.

One more task that's too often left off the ball-player's moving list but can prove as important as any other: learning the new League. In this case, the American.

It’s one thing to dabble on the other side (interleague, World Series, Home Run Derby & Family Fun Show all-star game), it’s another to live there, day in, day out.

And don’t be fooled by interleague play.

Ever since MLB broke with a near 100-year old tradition (1997) and expanded League competition to a two-week period in the regular-season, the casual fan discerns no big difference between the rival confederations.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each League retains a distinct style of play and strategy. Nuances remain in how runs are manufactured, navigating the base paths, use of pitchers and even fielder placement.

Then there's the designated-hitter rule, by itself enough to make each League unique.

Never a fan of the DH, I’ve nonetheless come to accept it as a trademark of the Junior Circuit, just as much as its absence is a defining trait for the National. To the degree that interleague play has homogenized baseball, the competing DH policies remain a hallmark of the Major League game which shouldn’t be lost. And the only ones who seem to feign frustration at the current state are a handful of writers and $-interested parties.

And there are the players themselves.

Succeeding in a new League requires homework: learning new pitchers, hitters, managers and even umpires, scorers and grounds-keepers to which you’d be wise to get accustomed.

It’s all more than enough to keep the multi-millionaire ball-player busy in the off-season.

But in listening to Al Pujols in spring training I got the feeling that the former Redbird and World Series hero didn’t do his studies. When asked what he was doing differently to prepare for the big change his answer was essentially…nothing. Bad answer.

It’s good to be confident but a little practicality, humility never hurt anyone and goes a long way in helping transition and insure $200 million investments.

Here’s how things stand between the two titans as of this posting (4/30):

Fielder: 22 GS / 13 R / 25 H / 2 2B / 3 HR / 11 RBI / .444 SLG / .309 BA.
Pujols: 22 GS / 7 R / 19 H / 7 2B / 0 HR / 4 RBI / .295 SLG / .216 BA.

Fielder has two distinct advantages over Albert in the transition game: 1) father and former American slugging star Cecil Fielder, and 2) teammate Miguel Cabrera.

While a rift had developed between Prince and his father, recent word is that both are now on speaking terms (Detroit Free Press / “Cecil” / Schrader / 1-24). Though Dad downplays the significance of League difference (“If you’re a good hitter, you’re a good hitter” / DFP), I can’t imagine Cecil has not imparted some helpful & pointed words of advice.

And with a game-changer like Cabrera in the line-up, how nervous can you be? Miguel’s numbers: 22 GS / 15 R / 25 H / 7 HR / 20 RBI / .571 SLG / .298 BA. By contrast, in LA it’s Mark Trumbo who's surprisingly the current pace-setter for the struggling Halos (3 HR / 8 RBI / .304 BA).

But not to worry, Angels’ fans. Pujols’ bread & butter with the bat has always been two-baggers and in that department he’s doing just fine (7). It’s something to build on.

One name Pujols might keep in mind: Adam Dunn. Dunn was an RBI machine in the Senior Circuit for ten years (Reds / AZ / Nats). In his American League debut last season with Chicago he bottomed-out (11 HR / 42 RBI / .159 BA). He’s finding his mojo again in 2012 (22 GS / 11 R / 5 HR / 16 RBI) but exhibited the same nonchalance about League disparity.

Dunn cost the White Sox a pretty penny but Pujols cost a king’s ransom. Angels’ brass and fandom have little patience for a long learning-curve.

In the game of baseball, knowledge is power.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com