Archive for April 2013

A Young NPB Up-and-Comer

April 30, 2013

Want to impress your friends with your in-depth knowledge of Japanese professional baseball?  Probably not, but if you did, you would want to drop the name Kensuke Kondo on them.

Kondo is a 19 year old catcher playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters’ minor league team (NPB teams have only one minor league team each).  Despite being only a 4th round draft pick out of high school in 2011, Kondo played briefly for the Ham Fighters’ ichi-gun (major league) team last season (20 games, 30 plate appearances)  and was even included on the team’s post-season roster, getting a single pinch hit appearance in the final game of the Japan Series against the Yomiuri Giants.  For what it’s worth, Kondo hit .279/.367/.355 last year in the NPB minors.

This year back on the Ham Fighters’ minor league squad, Kondo is leading all Japanese minor league hitters by very wide margins with a .460 batting average and a 1.289 OPS.  Granted, Kondo has only played 20 games so far this year, but for a player this young his numbers are eye-popping.

Because NPB teams have only one minor league club each, the level of play is high, probably the equivalent of an MLB team’s AA team, at least in terms of the difference between the ichi-gun team and the minor league team.  The upshot is that the top hitters in the Japanese minors are usually much older.

In Japan, colleges and industrial leagues serve as the equivalent of the MLB low minors.  NPB teams only draft about seven to 12 players each year, and team rosters are huge, so each minor league team has a mix of older and younger players.

Meanwhile, the Ham Fighters have a couple of what appear to be good-field-no-hit catchers in Shinya Tsuruoka and Shota Ono this year, so you’d have to think the parent club would be eager to bring up a catcher who can really hit.  I have no idea what Kondo’s defense is like — at his age his defense could be terrible — but professional teams everywhere usually find a roster spot for young catchers who hit like Kondo.

The fact that Kondo was only a fourth round draft pick suggests that the NPB draft is as hit-and-miss as the MLB draft.  I couldn’t help but notice that Cincinnati Reds’ rookie hurler Tony Cingrani struck out eleven Nationals in six innings of work yesterday.

Cingrani, a tall left-hander, was a 3rd round draft pick (114th overall) out of Rice University in 2011.  He shot like a rocket through the minor leagues, reaching the majors in a year and a half, posting a career minor league ERA of 1.62 with a pitching line of 211.2 IP, 136 hits, ten HRs, 60 walks and 278 Ks.  How could more than a hundred players have been selected before him in the 2011 Draft?

Cingrani started his college career at a JC, and didn’t pitch well at Rice until his final college season when he was an old 21.  He was incredibly effective that year with a 1.74 ERA and more strike outs than innings pitched or hits and walks combined, but he pitched mostly in relief.  The upshot is that you don’t really know how a player will play in the pros until he actually plays in the pros, and there were guys with more impressive college records at the time MLB teams had to do the choosing.

At any rate, keep an eye on Kondo.  If he stays healthy, which is always tough for a catcher, he’s on a pace to become a true free agent at a young enough age to make MLB teams highly interested in his services.  If Kensuke Kondo makes it to MLB one day, you heard it here first.

Wladimir Balentien Slugging ‘Em Deep in Japan

April 30, 2013

A player who didn’t get mentioned in yesterday’s run-down of hot Nippon Professional Baseball (“NPB”) hitters because he’s missed about a dozen games this year, former Cincinnati Red and Seattle Mariner Wladimir Balentien reportedly hit three home runs today for the Yakult Swallows in a game against the Yokohama Bay Stars.  The first two blasts left the stadium, and security guards warned passersby to watch out for low-flying objects when Wladimir came up to bat in the 8th inning.

This is the fourth time in his two-plus year NPB career that Balentien has hit three HRs in a game, which puts him in a seven-way tie for third most three-homer games in NPB history.  Only Ralph Bryant (8 times) and Sadaharu Oh (5 times) have done it more. [You’ll have to scroll down the link to find Bryant’s NPB stats.]  Balentien also joins Cecil Fielder on August 13, 1989 and Leo Gomez on May 17, 2000 as the only players to have hit two balls entirely out of the stadium in one NPB game.

Balentien has now hit eight HRs in 15 games this season, but still trails Tony Blanco, who hit his 14th HR of the young season in the same game (Blanco’s 27th game of the season), for the Central League lead.  This is the reason why NPB teams pay the big bucks to bring in foreign hitters — to slug the long ball.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in Japan’s NPB

April 29, 2013

We are now approximately 25 games into the 2013 Nippon Professional Baseball Season, and I thought it would be fun to do a who’s-hot-who’s-not piece regarding players you might/should have heard of.  Here goes:

In Japan’s Central league, hot hitters include Hector Luna (.387 batting average, 1.048 OPS), Tony Blanco (.354, 1.245, 13 HRs in 26 games), Matt Murton (.340 BA, but only .821 OPS), Jose Lopez (.313, .926) and Shinnosuke Abe (.284, .986).   Meanwhile, cold, cold, cold are Lastings Milledge (.240, .669), Alex Ramirez (.208, .503) and Kosuke Fukudome (.160, .550).

Among the Central League’s pitchers, former MLB number one overall draft pick Brian Bullington (1.45 ERA) is hot, but Tony Barnette (7.50 ERA) is not.  Randy Messenger has a 4.80 ERA, worst among the 18 Central League qualifiers, but he’s also 3-0 and has good ratios, so he’s not in any immediate likelihood of losing his job.

The Central League’s best pitcher over the last few years and possible future major leaguer Kenta Maeda is 2-0 with an 0.39 ERA after three starts but he missed his last two starts with inflammation in his triceps brachii muscle (back of his pitching arm) but could pitch again as soon as May 1st.

In the Pacific League, sweetly swinging the stick are Casey McGehee (.400, 1.098), Dae Ho “Big Boy” Lee (.380, 1.013), Esteban German (.361, .874, including .476 OBP), Aarom Baldiris (.321, ..876), Tad Iguchi (.309, .886), Michel Abreu (.302, 1.008) and Brian Lahair (.298, .929).  Struggling mightily is Wily Mo Pena (.203, .534).

Among the Pacific League’s pitchers, top future MLB prospect Masahiro Tanaka is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA.  However, is ERA is currently only 7th or 8th best in the six-team league (it’s tough for hitters in NPB).  Randy Williams (0.00 ERA), Dennis Sarfate (0.00 ERA) and Brian Falkenborg (0.90 ERA) have been extremely effective in relief.  Brandon Duckworth (1-3 record, 4.71 ERA) has been getting hit hard.

Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Giants and the Seibu Lions have early 3.5 game leads over all challengers in their respective leagues.  You can get more NPB stats and information here.

Contemporary Minor League Stars, Part II

April 29, 2013

Continuing on with my list of contemporary minor league stars, who I define as players with at least 4,000 plate appearances in the high minors (AA and AAA) on the theory that they had to be pretty good ballplayers to last that long.  Part I of this series can be found here.

3.  Scott McClain (5,160 AAA plate appearances, 800 AA and 88 MLB).  Before wrapping up his professional career at age 37 at the end of the 2009 season, McClain played a whopping 20 seasons of pro ball.  His 5,160 plate appearances at the AAA level was the most of any contemporary player I could find.

McClain hit 292 home runs in the minor leagues and another 89 in Japan’s NPB.  However, he only hit two HRs in the major leagues during cups of the coffee with the Rays in 1998, the Cubs in 2005 and the Giants in 2oo7 and 2008.

McClain played mostly 1B and 3B and didn’t become a great AAA hitter until he was age 26.  He was at least able to make some money in his professional career by playing five season in Japan’s NPB, where American players generally earn at least the major league minimum.

4.  Andy Tracy (4,519 AAA, 1,247 AA, 314 MLB).  Another great minor league thumper, Tracy has hit 296 minor league home runs but only 13 in the show.

Tracy wasn’t highly regarded as a prospect out of college (Bowling Green in Ohio) and thus played four years in college before signing with a major league franchise.  He had a huge year in the Eastern League at age 25, which got him substantial playing time the next year for the 2000 Montreal Expos.  He got into 83 games that year and hit .260 with 11 HRs and an .824 OPS, excellent for a rookie.

However, Tracy got off to a dreadful start in 2001, hitting only .109 with a .427 OPS in 38 games before being sent down the minors, except for the briefest cups of coffee in 2004, 2008 and 2009 (a total of only 33 plate appearances), for good.  Like McClain, Tracy played mostly 1B and 3B, and was a great AAA hitter for years.

Tracy’s last season was 2011, when he hit .288 with a .987 OPS in 85 games for the Reno Aces of the AAA Pacific Coast League.  Reno is a great place to hit, but Tracy’s numbers are so impressive that I have to think that it was accumulated injuries (Tracy was 37 that year) that ended his professional career.  For what it’s worth, I saw Tracy take Carlos Marmol deep in a game in New Orleans between the Zephyrs and the Iowa Cubs in May 2000.

5.  Mike Cervenak.  (3,785 AAA, 2,091 AA, 13 MLB).  One of my favorite contemporary minor league stars, I’ve written about Cervenak before here and here.  He’s playing in Taiwan this year, most likely finishing out his pro career at 36.  He’s hit 192 minor league home runs.

6.  Cody Ransom (4,455 AAA, 554 AA, 687+ MLB).  Another one of my favorite contemporary minor league stars, almost certainly because, like Cervenak, Ransom’s a former Giants prospect.  However, unlike Cervenak, who never really got a fair shot with the Gints, Ransom was once a highly regarded prospect even though he was a 9th round draft pick.  The Giants like toolsy prospects, and Cody had tools.

As I’ve written before a number of times, Cody is one of those rare players who developed significantly as a professional hitter after age 27, and he got his first significant major league playing time last year at the ripe old age of 37 (282 plate appearances for the Brewers and Diamondbacks after never getting more than 86 in any of his nine prior major league part-seasons).

Cody, or “Babe” as I like to call him, started the 2013 campaign with the San Diego Padres, but they designated him for assignment after he started the year 0-for-11.  The Cubs claimed him off waivers and in three games he’s off to a 4-for-9 start with home run, two doubles and a walk.  Given his red hot start as a Cubbie, and the fact that Wrigley Field is a great place for a guy with power like Ransom, there’s a good chance he’ll stick around in Chicago for a while.  It doesn’t hurt that the 2013 Cubs look to be a bad team in need of players who can hit a little.

7.  Kevin Barker (5,140 AAA, 1,320 AA, 323 MLB).  Another minor league bomber, Barker hit 271 minor league home runs (but only six in the Show), finishing his professional career in 2011 for the Oaxaco Guerreros (“Warriors”) of the Mexican League.

Barker got into 78 games for the Brewers in 1999 and 2000 at ages 23 and 24, but he didn’t hit the second year, and got only a few cups of coffee after that.  His best minor league season was probably 2009 when he hit 22 HRs and had a .927 OPS in 101 games for the AAA Louisville Bats.

8.  Michael Restovich (3,503 AAA, 565 AA, 297 MLB).  A former Twins prospect, Restovich hit 214 minor league home runs, but only six in the majors.  He was a fine minor league hitter who just didn’t hit in the limited major league opportunities he got.  His professional career ended in 2011.

9.  Chris Richard (3,192 AAA, 1,065 AA, 1,006).  Originally drafted by the Cardinals, at age 27 Richard played 136 games for the 2001 Orioles in which he hit .265 with 15 HRs and a .770 OPS, while playing RF, CF, 1B and DH (a very unusual combination).  He didn’t hit well in 2002, however, and that was the end of his major league career except for cups of coffee with the 2003 Rockies and the 2009 Rays.  Richard slugged 198 minor league HRs in addition to his 34 major league jacks.  His professional career ended in 2010.

10.  Jeff Bailey (2,995 AAA, 1,826 AA, 159 MLB).  Yet another minor league slugger, he hit 191 minor league dingers but only six in the Show.  Bailey spent parts of six seasons with the Pawtucket Red Sox from 2004 through 2009 and got three cups of coffee from the true Red Sox the last three of those seasons.  He finished his professional career with the Rochester Red Wings in 2011.

11.  Tike Redman (3,549 AAA, 724 AA, 1,461 MLB).  Just in case you were thinking all contemporary minor league stars were sluggers, Redman was a center fielder who just wasn’t quite good enough on either side of the ball to have a long major league career.  However, the Pirates certainly gave him opportunities, as his 1,461 career major league plate appearances attest.

12.  Luis Figueroa (4,682 AAA, 1,602 AA, 16 MLB).  A shortstop who apparently hit just well enough to be a AAA starter for years and whose glove, I presume, wasn’t quite good enough to make him a major league late inning defensive replacement, Figueroa’s North American career appears to have ended last year with the Oaxaca Guerreros.  He got three major league cups of coffee in 2001, 2006, 2007, but appeared in a total of only 18 major league games.

13-16.  Joe Thurston (4,868 AAA, 633 AA, 384 MLB), Esteban German (3,720, 511, 1,170), Ray Olmedo (3,381, 734, 484) and Bobby Scales (3,342, 708, 158).  A quartet of middle infielders/jacks-of-all-trades.

Thurston got into 124 games for the 2009 Cardinals but didn’t hit.  German was a briefly hot prospect who played semi-regularly for the Royals from 2006 through 2008 but hit worse each successive year — he’s now playing in Japan.  Olmedo looks like a classic glove-tree shortstop who didn’t hit much even at AAA, but stuck around because of his defensive acrobatics.

Bobby Scales was a fine minor league hitter who played a lot of different positions but probably not well enough at 2B or 3B to keep him in the majors.  He had a .373 on-base percentage last year for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, but the team didn’t bring him back in 2013, probably because he didn’t hit for power and his defense wasn’t very good.

I strongly suspect there are other contemporary minor league stars I have failed to identify, and I invite you to send in comments identifying them.  However, I think I’ve made a point: there are still a large number of minor league stars in today’s game playing great ball at the AAA level, who either through bad luck, late development or by virtue of being just a hair below the talent level of major leaguers have spent most of their long professional careers in the minor leagues.

Contemporary Minor League Stars, Part I

April 27, 2013

Before roughly 1955, it was possible for a fine baseball player to have a long and successful professional career even without ever playing in the major leagues or playing in the Show only very briefly.  The main reasons for this were that minor league teams had a lot more independence and thus were able to maintain loyal fan bases and hold onto star players and also the fact that the number of major league teams (16 and all east of the Mississippi River) compared to the total number of minor league teams was tiny.

In those days there were three of what we would now call AAA leagues (the Pacific Coast League (“PCL”), the American Association and the International League) and four of what we would now call AA leagues (the Texas League, the Southern League, the Eastern League and the Western League), compared to two and three such leagues today. There were also far more lower minor leagues and teams than now, with teams playing in cities with populations as small as 10,000 or 20,000.

Because the number of minor league teams relative to the number of major league teams was so much greater than today, you had to be both great and lucky to have a long-term major league career.  (You also had to be white, since black players were excluded from “organized baseball” until 1946 and instead played in their own segregated leagues).

As a result, many excellent ballplayers became minor league stars.  As a general rule, the greatest minor league stars of that era fall into these categories:

(1) spitball pitchers who weren’t in the majors in 1920 and thus were not allowed to throw one of their best pitches at the major league level (Frank “Shelly” Shellenback, Rube Robinson, Paul Wachtel and Buzz Arlett are examples — they could continue to throw the spitter in the high minor leagues in which they pitched during the 1920 season thanks to grandfathering, but could not throw it in the majors);

(2) players who hit like major leaguers but didn’t play major league defense (Ike Boone and Smead Jolley are examples — Bill James once wrote that these players had their defensive failures overstated by sportswriters of the era as a way to explain why they weren’t major league stars; however, there is enough objective evidence/stats to suggest their defense was pretty bad);

(3) players who fielded like major leagues but didn’t hit enough or hit with enough power for their positions (Joe Riggert, and Jigger Statz are examples — in fairness to Statz, his most valuable skill, on base percentage, was not as highly valued in his day as it is now; however, while Statz was fast, he was not an effective base stealer at the major league level);

(4) players who were good all-around players but a shade below major league regulars — particularly in the Pacific Coast League, these players had more value to their minor league teams playing in major league-size cities than they did to major league teams (examples are Dick Gyselman, Truck Hannah and Billy Raimondi);

(5) players who had major injuries at the wrong time in their careers (Joe Hauser and Ray Perry are great examples);

(6) players who didn’t take advantage of their major league opportunities, which were fewer than today’s minor league stars get (examples are Bunny Brief (birth name Anthony Grzeszkowski), a fantastic minor league slugger who didn’t hit in any of his three significant major league trials, Nick “Tomato Face” Cullop and Spence Harris);

(7) players who developed late, i.e., after age 27 (Ollie Carnegie and Ox Eckhardt are great examples of a common type of minor league star); and

(8) players whose careers were interrupted by World War II.

In fact, a majority of the great minor league stars of this era and most of those listed above fit into more than one of the categories I’ve identified above, along with others not mentioned.  Perhaps the one all-encompassing factor for minor league stars was simply bad luck.

For example, Buzz Arlett, probably the quintessential minor league star of this era, started his career as a pitcher whose best pitch was a spitball.  He was still establishing himself as a PCL ace in 1920, the only league in which he could throw his best pitch after that season.  He converted to a full-time hitter in 1923 at age 24, and by the time he had established his bona fides as a top PCL slugger, he was no longer young.

Further, his team, the Oakland Oaks, rightfully recognized Arlett as their franchise player and wouldn’t sell him to a major league team for less than $100,000, too high a price for a hitter his age.  When the Oaks’ price finally came down, Arlett was past 30 and had put on weight, which negatively impacted his outfield defense.  Despite a great year at the plate for the 1931 Phillies in his only major league season at age 32, this Phillies team sucked eggs, and Arlett spent almost all of his remaining professional career in Baltimore and Minneapolis, big cities with major league caliber fan bases and ballparks taylor-made for left-handed sluggers like Arlett.

Since about 1978, the Society for Advanced Baseball Research (“SABR”) has done a great job of educating today’s baseball fandom of the great minor league stars who played in this bygone era.  The purpose of this article, notwithstanding my long introduction, is to identify the minor league stars, if any, playing today.

I decided that in order to qualify as a contemporary minor league star, a player had to have at least 4,000 career minor league plate appearances in AA and AAA ball, based on the premise that you can’t have been a minor league star unless you spent a long time playing in the high minors.  Bear in mind, that given the shorter playing schedules of even the top minor league teams today, it takes nearly eight full seasons at the AA and AAA levels to meet this requirement.

[A couple of notes here: organized baseball (and thus treat the Mexican summer league as a AAA league (the quality of play is probably closer to AA ball) but do not consider Japan’s NPB (a true 4-A league) and South Korea’s KBO (probably between AAA and AA in terms of level of play) as AA or AAA leagues.  I have followed the OB/baseball-reference definition since I’m interested in identifying American minor league stars, neither NPB or KBO is really a “minor league” regardless of the level of play (the countries’ top players play in these leagues and are not readily available to MLB the way the best Mexican League players are), and it makes it much simpler to calculate who qualifies.]

At first, I thought that there would not be a lot of players meeting this requirement, because a number of the most well-known 4-A players since 2000 don’t qualify — specifically, Dan Johnson, Dallas McPherson, Tag Bozied, Brad Eldred and Joe Borchard don’t have enough plate appearances to qualify.  I also figured that there wouldn’t be a lot of player in today’s professional game who could play for years and years at a high level without substantial major league careers cutting into their high-minors playing time.

Turns out I was wrong.  There are a great number of contemporary players who qualify as minor league stars under my definition.  In no particular order, the following are the contemporary minor league stars I was able to find.

1.  Jack Cust (3758 AAA plate appearances, 568 AA, and 2581 MLB).  Cust is clearly the best of the contemporary minor league stars, and he has had a significant major league career.  Even so, he spent years and years in the high minors before the money-ball Oakland A’s decided his OPS was too high to ignore, no matter how low his batting average or how many times he struck out, and he’s now back in the high minors since his major league run ended in 2011. Cust’s career minor league OPS of .936 and major league OPS of .813 are far and away the best of any contemporary minor league batting star.

The player Cust reminds me most of in baseball history is Ripper Collins.  Collins was a slugging 1Bman for great Cardinals and Cubs teams from 1931 through 1938, playing for three pennant winners and two World Champions and leading the NL with 35 HRs and 128 RBIs in 1934.  Ripper was a great minor league star before and after his long major league career.

Collins slugged 135 HRs in the Show and 193 HRs in the minors.  Cust has hit 105 in the Show and 225 in the minors.  Collins hit for a much higher average, but Cust has a slightly higher on-base percentage at the major league level.

This type of player was much more common in the pre-1955 era than today, in part because major league careers were more precarious than today (one bad year and the team often decided to give someone else a shot, sending the veteran back to the minors for good) and also because it was easier to accumulate plate appearances in the high minors which had schedules as long or longer than the major league schedule.  See Dale Alexander, Smead Jolley, Jack Bentley and Joe Hauser as examples.

2.  Mike Hessman (4530 and counting AAA plate appearances, 1008 AA, 250 MLB).  Mike Hessman is a great minor league slugger who has been identified as the real life “Crash” Davis because he is the active minor league home run leader by a wide margin.  Hessman has hit 369 minor league home runs (plus six in Japan and 14 in the Show) in his professional career, which likely places him in the bottom of the top ten all-time (I haven’t been able to find any information on the top Mexican League sluggers other than Hector Espino, who at 484 career HRs, is the all-time minor league HR leader).

However, Hessman has also struck out a whopping 2,168 times in his professional career.  His chronic inability to make contact has limited him to a career minor league batting average and OPS of .230 and .773 (.188 and .694 in the Show).  His ability to slug the long ball has kept him around in the high minors for years, but he’s clearly not a major league player unless a bunch of guys on the parent club get hurt.

Stay tuned for part two of this series.

Tampa Bay Rays Need a New Stadium

April 24, 2013

I read an interesting post on today about the Rays’ attendance woes.  Apparently, the Rays are contractually locked in to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg through 2027, but there is doubt whether the team will actually remain there that long given the way the park is killing their attendance.

Despite 90 or more win seasons the last two years, making the playoffs in 2011 and just missing last year, the Rays were 29th and 30th in per game attendance.  Since becoming a consistent winner starting with the 2008 season, the Rays’ average attendance rose to 26th, then 23rd and 22nd, before falling back to the bottom despite continuing to win.

The Rays’ drawing problem clearly has nothing to do with the market.  Wikipedia lists Tampa Bay as the 18th largest metropolitan area in the country, and the team’s TV ratings last year were right in the middle of the MLB pack.  Given that some MLB teams play in very small markets like Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Cincinnati, not to mention the Rays’ recent run of success, the team should be drawing at least in the top 15, if not higher.

The problem is obviously the ball park, not only because it is non-retractable dome but also because its location within the Tampa Bay region is not ideal.

Tropicana Field was completed in 1990, before the first of the modern (yet retro-styled) ballparks was built (the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards opened in 1992), and it seemingly has more in common with the deservedly maligned Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodrome in Minneapolis than any of the next/current generation of baseball parks despite being a baseball-only stadium.  Perhaps a bigger problem is that the team should be playing closer to Tampa, the center of population for the region.

My guess is that the Rays will remain trapped in Tropicana Field well into the 2020’s, if not all the way until the lease runs in 2027.  Aside from the fact it would take time to build a new stadium, there is the age-old question regarding who would pay for it.

I can’t see the State of Florida or either the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg paying for a new, baseball only stadium, not when there is an existing stadium in place less than 40 years old.  The Rays had a plan for a new stadium elsewhere in St. Petersburg but that was abandoned as a result of substantial opposition in 2009.

The City of St. Petersburg says it intends to hold the Rays to their lease and will only consider allowing the Rays out of their lease in favor of another ball park built inside the city, but, of course, St. Pete and its residents aren’t likely to want to pay for a new ballpark.  If the Rays are going to have to contribute to the cost of a new stadium, they are going to want a park north of the city closer to where the population is.

Dodgers Hurting

April 23, 2013

It was announced today that Los Angeles Dodger starter Chad Billingsley will have Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow causing him to miss the rest of the 2013 season.  It sure didn’t take long (less than a month) for the Dodgers’ immense surplus of starting pitchers at the end of Spring Training to turn into a deficit.

As you well know, Zack Greinke is out for at least six more weeks after breaking his collarbone fighting with Carlos Quentin, and Dodgers dumped Aaron Harang and $4.25 million towards his remaining contract to the Rockies for catcher Ramon Hernandez, who turns 37 next month and appears to have very little left in the tank.

Meanwhile, Chris Capuano is also on the DL with a strained calf, although that at least sounds like an injury Capuano will come back from quickly.

As a result of all this rash of injuries, the Dodger rotation suddenly looks suspect, with Ted Lilly set to rejoin the rotation after pitching in only three minor league starts (and poor ones at that) since late May of 2012.  Rounding out the rotation is Stephen Fife, a 26 year old rookie who doesn’t look like he’ll have a significant major league career unless he gets really lucky.

It just goes to show you how quickly things can change in baseball.  A couple of key injuries and a major strength suddenly becomes, if not a major weakness (the Dodgers still have Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett), at least a major cause for concern.

I bet the Dodgers now wish they’d held on to Aaron Harang just a little bit longer, when all they got in return was an over-the-hill back-up catcher and a little bit of salary relief.

Karma Catching Up to Frank McCourt and Other Notes

April 20, 2013

The never ending saga of the Frank/Jamie McCourt divorce has entered a new phase.  Jamie is seeking to re-open the former couple’s marital property settlement agreement and obtain an additional $770 million on top of the $131 million she received previously.  All I can say is that it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving ex-husband.

Frank McCourt is a sack.  According to wikipedia, McCourt financed his 2004 purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers mostly with debt which he repaid in part by raising ticket and concession prices every year he owned the team.  He paid himself and his now ex-wife enormous salaries out of the Dodgers’ enormous revenue streams, but largely avoided paying taxes by structuring these payments as “loans.”

During his tenure, McCourt effectively ran the team into the ground, so much so that the team filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, despite being one of the top three or four teams in MLB in terms of revenue streams.  MLB was able to force McCourt to sell the team, but McCourt then sold the team for $2 billion, more than 4.5 times what he had paid for the team only eight years before.

Frank McCourt is an insatiably greedy scumbag who married a woman after his own heart.  When the marriage failed (surprise, surprise!), she went after his ill-gotten gains with the determination of a hungry lion after an old and sickly wildebeest.  In my book, that’s karma.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I normally wouldn’t shed a lot of tears over terrible things happening to the Dodgers.  As a baseball fan, however, it bothered me to see a storied franchise being raped by an “entrepeneur” who wasn’t content to take the typically obscene profits major league owners make in the course of buying and selling top franchises, but had to milk the situation for still more.

I’d rather see the Dodgers fail the old fashioned way: poor baseball decisions like bad trades and overpaying already expensive free agents who don’t end up performing as the team hoped.

Meanwhile, in today’s baseball action, I see that Andy Pettitte won again and is now 3-0.  If he is really and truly off Vitamin S for good, it’s great to see a soon-to-be 41 year old continuing to flummox major league hitters.

It will be interesting to see how Hall of Fame voters treat Pettitte however many years from now.  On the one hand, his numbers are clearly Hall of Fame worthy: he’s almost certain to finish with more than 250 career wins, a terrific winning percentage and an excellent post-season record for numerous World Champions.  On the other hand, he’s an admitted steroids/PEDs abuser.

However, he copped to his PED use a lot faster than most of his fellow cheats, told a pretty good story about why he did it (trying to recover quickly from an injury to help his team, blah, blah, blah), and even fingered another reputed and more significant steroids cheat, all-time great Roger Clemens.  That might buy Pettitte some sympathy from Hall of Fame voters — Americans, as a group, love to see the mighty cut down to size, but we’re awfully forgiving when said mighties abjectly admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness — it has a lot to do with our Puritan (read broadly) heritage.

Meanwhile, Roy Halladay and the Phillies beat the Cardinals today 8-2 in a game called on account of rain after six and half innings.  I wonder if umpires are more likely to shorten games on account of rain when the game is a blow out?

My guess is yes, umpires do.  They are human, and I can’t imagine that they don’t take into account the score and the inning when deciding if it’s rained long enough to call the game.  If the game was 3-2 after six and a half, I suspect the umpires would have waited longer to try to get more of the game into the record books.

Has anyone done any research on this question?  If not, it would make an interesting research topic for the SABRly minded.

Meanwhile, I have no idea whether the Pirates will contend this year, but at least they’re trying.  Right now, the Bucs’ decisions to take on A. J. Burnett’s (albeit at a steep discount) and Wandy Rodriguez’s salaries last year looks brilliant.  Today Rodriguez completely shut down the Braves, the hottest team in baseball; and Burnett has a 2.63 ERA and leads the NL in strikeouts.

The Latest on the Biogenesis PEDs Scandal

April 13, 2013

The New York Times and others report today that the player alleged to have purchased documents from Biogenesis America in order to destroy them and thus hide his performance enhancing drug use is Alex Rodriguez.  No surprise there.

Needless to say, Rodriguez’s spokesperson (not the man himself) immediately denied the allegations completely.

The story as reported reads like a future episode of TV’s Law and Order (you heard it here first).  Michael Porter Fischer, Biogenesis’s former marketing director, had invested $20,000 in the company.  He later had a falling-out with Biogenesis founder and front man Tony Bosch.  Fischer demanded his money back, plus a $4,000 profit.

Bosch reportedly repaid the $20,000 investment only.  Sources say that it was Fischer who leaked documents to the Miami New Times, who originally broke the scandal story back in January.

The claim is that ARod, through a middle man (perhaps AFraud’s favorite cousin and bagman Yuri Surcat?) gave Bosch $4,000 for Bosch to give to Fischer to shut his mouth and turn over documents.  Sources say several burly goons located Fischer, threatened him, gave him the $4,000 and took away some documents.  [Note to organized crime wannabees: combining death threats with a modest, but not insignificant, bribe seems like a good way to get a potential witness’ “cooperation” so long as you convince said potential witness that you can get to him or his family if he goes to the cops or otherwise spills the beans.]

Anyway, sources say that MLB’s representatives spoke with Fischer, but that Fischer didn’t give them much information.  According to, reporters have gone to the home in Coral Gables Fischer once shared with is mother and sister.  His sister, a former high school classmate of Tony Bosch, said that Fischer abandoned the home last fall, telling the sister, “Whatever you do, don’t answer the door or nothing!”  Thoughtfully, Fischer left behind his two rottweilers and 300 pounds of dog food when he fled the home.

I’m telling you — throw in a murder, and you’ve got a semi-true crime TV episode!  Unless, of course, it’s all too comical and ridiculous for a believable crime drama.

Baseball Brawls

April 13, 2013

Because of the big brawl yesterday between the Padres and the Dodgers in which Zack Greinke broke his collar bone, apparently when he and Carlos Quentin traded shoulder blocks, Sports Illustrated is running an on-line article it advertizes as “the most notorious brawls in baseball history”.  It then lists 13 relatively recent brawls, only three of which occurred before 1993 and none before 1965.

At least the article included Juan Marichal hitting catcher John Roseboro over the head with his bat after Marichal claimed that Roseboro buzzed his head with a throw back to pitcher Sandy Koufax, because Koufax wouldn’t throw at Marichal after Marichal had plunked at least one Dodger (Koufax reputedly refused to throw at hitters because he was afraid his 98 mph fast ball, the fastest of his day, might kill someone).

You see, before 1965 baseball was a game of peace and love where no one ever mixed it up.

What a load of BS.  Baseball was a rough, rough game in its early professional days and has gotten more and more tame as players have become better paid and MLB has worked to make the games family entertainment.

In the 1880’s and 1890’s the game was hard fought in a literal sense.  Umpires were routinely threatened by players and fans, and it was not uncommon for both to back up their tough talk with physical violence.  The best teams of the era, the St. Louis Browns of the 1880’s American Association and the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890’s National League regularly abused umpires and opposing players forcing/inspiring other teams to follow suit.

During this era, there was generally only one umpire monitoring the action, and when his eyes were following the ball, fielders tried to impede base runners by getting in the way, tripping them, throwing knees or elbows and even body blocks, or grabbing their belts.  Baserunners responded in kind, and one base runner famously defeated the belt-grabbing strategy by unhooking his belt so that when an opposing fielder grabbed it, the fielder was left holding the belt as the runner continued round the bases.

Fans threw glass bottles and rotten eggs at opposing players and umpires, and on-field fist fights were common.  Most professional baseball players came from poor or working class backgrounds, life was hard for working class men in the late 19th century when the national economy was notoriously boom or bust, and a major league ball player’s salary was something worth fighting for.

The game got so rough that baseball and ballplayers got unsavory reputations, which kept many potential fans away from the ballparks.  This only changed when the American League announced itself as a major league before the 1901 season and quickly began moving teams into the biggest cities.

The AL’s driving force and strong man Ban Johnson felt the “rowdyism” of the 1890’s was bad for the game, and he wouldn’t allow it in his league.  The NL eventually followed suit.

Further, as major league revenues and salaries, more former college players entered the game and brought with them the ethics of elite and more upper class amateurism.  Most notable of these players was New York Giants ace Christy Mathewson, probably the player most mythologized during his own day of any player in baseball history.  [Matthewson had attended Bucknell University, was exceptionally handsome and was far and away the best player on the dominant club of his day — there is a certain irony in the fact this All-American icon died prematurely as a long-term result of being gassed by his own government in a training exercise during World War I.]

However, the cleaning up of major league baseball wasn’t something that happened over night.  It was a long and slow process, and with the exception of the famous Marichal/Roseboro bat incident, the game has gotten more and more tame as high salaries and professionalism have reduced the incentives for violence.

Here is a post from which at least goes back beyond 1965 in referencing famous baseball brawls/fights.  I particularly like the quote from Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Bill Dickey after he famously broke Washington Senators’ outfielder Carl Reynolds’ jaw with a single punch following a home plate collision on July 4. 1932: “It was hot, and the games had been close, and I had been banged around for days,” Dickey said. “When Reynolds came at me high, I just had to hit somebody.”  [Dickey received a month-long suspension and was fined $1,000, probably a sixth of his 1932 salary.]

Even if Sports Illustrated’s memory doesn’t extend back any further than incidents for which it can provide pretty pictures, don’t for a minute think that human nature has changed much since the American pastime turned pro in the late 1860’s.