The Sliding Scales of Baseball Justice

If you follow baseball, you know what happened, but just in case, here’s a quick recap. During Saturday night’s game between the Mets and Dodgers, Chase Utley was the runner at first when there was a ground ball up the middle. If the Mets turned a double play, the Dodgers were out of the inning, so Utley had only one goal, to break up the double play. Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that. Utley wasn’t trying to make it to second safely, he was trying to break up the double play. He slid very late, like when he was on the bag late. He succeeded in breaking up the double play, but Ruben Tejada, the Mets’ shortstop, broke his leg on the play.
It was announced today that Utley will be suspended for the next two games. That strikes me as completely ridiculous. Yes, it was a late slide, but the injury was an unfortunate accident. Utley wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. And, frankly, if Tejada had been in the proper position, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Utley has slid like that dozens of times and never gotten suspended for it before. And Utley is a second baseman. He’s had people slide into him like that dozens of times before, and they never got suspended. It was an unfortunate accident, that’s it. There’s no need for a suspension or a rule change. Let’s just go back to watching baseball, and hope Tejada fully recovers in time for next year.

The 2015 MLB Playoffs

The 2015 MLB playoffs start today.  It’s mostly a good group of teams and looks to be a fun few weeks.  Here is each team along with the reasons why you should root for them.

Houston Astros 86-76 Second AL Wildcard:

Houston is a perpetually snake-bitten franchise and no one expected them to contend this year, so they have the whole underdog thing going for them.  Jose Altuve is awesome.  They have the best baseball names of any team in a long time.  Look at their 25 man roster:

C Max Stassi R / R
C Hank Conger B / R
C Jason Castro L / R
DH Evan Gattis R / R
IF Jonathan Villar B / R
IF Luis Valbuena L / R
IF Jon Singleton L / L
IF Jed Lowrie B / R
IF Marwin Gonzalez B / R
IF Matt Duffy R / R
IF Carlos Correa R / R
IF Chris Carter R / R
IF Jose Altuve R / R
OF Preston Tucker L / L
OF George Springer R / R
OF Colby Rasmus L / L
OF Jake Marisnick R / R
OF Carlos Gomez R / R
P Vincent Velasquez B / R
P Joe Thatcher L / L
P Dan Straily R / R
P Tony Sipp L / L
P Chad Qualls R / R
P Oliver Perez L / L
P Pat Neshek B / R
P Collin McHugh R / R
P Lance McCullers L / R
P Dallas Keuchel L / L
P Scott Kazmir L / L
P Will Harris R / R
P Luke Gregerson L / R
P Mike Fiers R / R
P Josh Fields R / R
P Michael Feliz R / R

I haven’t seen baseball names like that since I was a kid rooting for Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Jim Rice, Jack Morris and Fernando Valenzuela.  If I were writing a book about a baseball team, these are the names I would pick.  Oh, and Jose Altuve is awesome.

New York Yankees 87-75 First AL Wildcard:

I’m sorry, but there is no reason why anyone should be rooting for the Yankees.  That goes generally, but especially this year.  They are completely unlikeable and they aren’t even a good team.  Let’s all just hope they lose to Houston so we can enjoy the rest of the playoffs.

Texas Rangers 88-74 American League West Champions:

Sort of like Houston, Texas has defied expectations, which is nice.  They rescued Josh Hamilton from Anaheim, which is also nice.  And Mike Napoli is one of the most likeable players in all of baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays 93-69 American League East Champions:

Toronto hasn’t won since 1993.  A title drought always makes for a good team to root for.  Plus, they have actually been a pretty good team for a while now, but they have had the unfortunate luck of playing in the AL East.  I swear there was a ten year stretch where they came in third every year and would have been first in any other division.  And they have a knuckleballer in their starting rotation.

Kansas City Royals 95-67 American League Central Champions:

There are just so many reasons to root for KC.  Salvador Perez is amazing.  Lorenzo Cain catches everything.  That bullpen is fantastic.  And they are just an all around fun team.

Chicago Cubs 97-65 Second NL Wildcard:

First of all, they’re the Cubs.  Saying you don’t like the Cubs is like saying you don’t like puppies.  They could win ten years in a row and they’d still feel like underdogs.  Arrieta is a legitimate ace.  Bill Murray would be thrilled if they won.  And they have ivy on their wall.

Pittsburgh Pirates 98-64 First NL Wildcard:

Talk about a fun team.  Andrew McCutchen is probably the most fun player in all of baseball.  He should be the most famous, too.  They are stuck with the Cardinals in their division, so no one seems to notice just how good they are.  Their ballpark is beautiful.  Even on TV, it’s nice to look at.  Plus, they won 98 games and they are stuck playing a wildcard game.  If there were any justice, they would win.

New York Mets 90-72 National League East Champions:

It’s been a while for Met fans.  They have a fantastic rotation.  And it would be great for the Mets to get the spotlight for a while.  They are so much better than that other New York team.

Los Angeles Dodgers 92-70 National League West Champions:

Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw  are the two best pitchers on the planet.  The more we get to see them pitch, the better.  When he’s healthy, Puig is the most exciting player in baseball.  They are full of tradition and play in another beautiful ballpark.  They haven’t won in more than 25 years.

St. Louis Cardinals 100-62 National League Central Champions:

This is a tough one.  They did have the best record in baseball, so I guess they deserve to be in the playoffs.  And they aren’t the Yankees, so there’s that.

So, there you have it.  This year’s MLB playoffs and reasons to root for each team.  Sorry about the Cardinals and the Yankees.  It’s not my fault there aren’t any good reasons to root for them.

The All Star Break

Here we are at the All Star Break for the 2015 Major League Baseball season. I hate the All Star Break. It basically means three or four days without baseball. Sure there’s the All Star Game itself, but it’s not a real game. I might have wanted to watch this year if eight Royals had made the team just because it would be something different. But, alas, that didn’t happen, so it will be the same old same old. A bunch of guys going through the motions. And then there’s the Home Run Derby. That stopped being fun halfway through the first round of the first time it was on TV. When will they learn that home runs aren’t very exciting on their own. If they don’t change the score of a game, we’re just watching people practice.

I wish MLB would get creative and try something different. I would watch a skills competition like the NHL. They could race like we did when we were kids, start and end at home, but run in different directions around the bases. The could have throwing competitions, for distance and accuracy. That would be something to watch. Instead I’ll just catch up on my reading and my DVR and look forward to the real games coming this weekend.

Why I Love Baseball – June 5th Edition

I got to watch the major league debut of Pat Venditte tonight.  He is a 29 year old pitcher for the Oakland A’s.  He pitched two innings against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and pitched well.  He retired 6 of the 7 batters he faced with one strikeout and no walks or runs allowed.  The fact that he pitched well isn’t what made it fun, though.  And neither is the fact that he is 29, which is old to be making a major league debut.  The thing that made it so cool is that he is an ambidextrous pitcher.

Venditte was in the Yankees minor league system for the past seven years.  I had heard and read stories about him, but I never saw him pitch.  He always pitched well in the minors, but the Yankees aren’t really the kind of team to take a shot on an unproven anything, let alone a switch pitcher, so he toiled away in the minors and never got a shot (God do I hate the Yankees).  This spring, he signed a minor league deal with the Athletics and pitched well for them.  So, today, since the A’s are the type of team to take a shot on all kinds of unproven things, he got his first chance at the major league level.

It was so weird and fun to see him pitch from both sides.  He threw right handed against righties and left handed against lefties.  And I even got to see the Venditte rule in action (it is quite cool that he has a rule named after him).  Blake Swihart is a switch hitter.  When a switch hitter is facing a switch pitcher, the pitcher must declare which arm he will throw with and then the batter can choose which side to hit from.  Once they have made their decisions, they must stay that way throughout the plate appearance.  While it looked like Venditte and Swihart knew what was happening, the announcers and umpires all seemed confused.

So, congratulations to Pat Venditte.  Thank you for letting me see something new.  I hope you have a long and successful career.

Why I Love Baseball – May 3rd Edition

I was watching the Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks game on MLB last night. During the game, there was a score update showing the Angels lost their game when a batted ball hit the runner for the last out of the game. I only see an out caused by the runner being hit by a batted ball maybe once a year and I’ve never seen it be the last out of the game, so I thought it was really cool. A little while later, the Dodgers won their game when a Diamondbacks player was hit by a batted ball for the last out of the game. Baseball is awesome.

Manager Interviews

If you follow baseball, you’ve probably heard about Bryan Price’s obscenity filled rant during his pregame interview yesterday.  I wouldn’t normally comment on this, but I’m bothered by the way it’s being covered.  It was absolutely fantastic.  Unfortunately, the press was on the receiving end of the tirade, so they don’t see it the same way.

I’m not a big fan of cursing, but I love everything about this.  Bryan Price is my new favorite manager.  I wish more players and managers would actually speak their minds to the press because the press is awful.  A lot of the commentary has been about the fact that the reporter who sparked it was just doing his job.  And then the comparisons go to, “Should a white house reporter go easy on the President?”  The thing is, this is baseball.  The only point to any of it is to entertain the fans and this was highly entertaining.  And Price was right.  Why should he have to sit there and take stupid questions about things that he obviously doesn’t want to talk about?  I’m not a Patriots’ fan, but Bill Belichick is my favorite football coach for the same reason.  He actually calls the press out or refuses to answer their stupid questions.

So, thank you Coach Price.  Keep it up.  I hope other players and managers learn from your example.

Opening Day

Today is opening day of the 2015 Major League Baseball season.  I know there was a game last night, but today is the real opening day.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year.  Baseball is back and that makes everything better.  There are so many things to like about opening day, that it’s hard to know where to start.

Most people talk about the promise and hope at the beginning of the baseball season.  Everyone is tied for first place and everyone has a real shot.  I tend to think this gets overplayed.  I’ve been a Red Sox fan my whole life.  I remember years where they had no shot and I knew that on opening day.  That didn’t make the day less special.  I think baseball writers are too worried about winning and losing.  Of course it is better when your team is winning, but there are so many other reasons to watch.

One thing I love about the beginning of the season is the small sample size statistics.  Right now, Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez are on pace to each hit 324 home runs this year.  That would be the first time teammates have combined for 648 home runs in a season.  I know it’s unlikely, but it’s still fun to think about.  And I like seeing guys are hitting .750 and .125 in the same lineup.

Another thing I love is getting to know the new teams.  I always root for the Sox, but the team is never the same from year to year.  Even when I knew players while they were on other teams, I still get to know them more intimately when they join my team and that’s a fun experience.

I also love the fact that baseball is the only one of the big American sports where the players try their best every game.  It doesn’t matter if it is April or October, if the team is in first place or last place, there is a chance of seeing something special.  In football, there are always games where they are resting players.  In basketball and hockey, so many teams make the playoffs that they don’t seem to care during the regular season (and let’s not even get into tanking to get a better draft spot).  Not baseball, though.  You could see a no hitter or a cycle in any game on any day.  You can see an amazing play at any time.  You can’t watch on opening day and think, “this game doesn’t matter,” because it certainly matters to the players and will matter in the standings in six months.

Then there’s the fact that baseball lends its rhythm to life in general.  There’s the box scores in the morning, the games in the evening and the highlights before bed.  It’s comforting as well as entertaining.

Finally, there are the broadcasts themselves.  For me, Don, Jerry, Joe and Dave are like old friends.  Even though I haven’t heard them in six months, it feels like we picked back up right where we left off.  It doesn’t matter if my team is winning or losing as long as my friends are there.  It actually makes me a little sad that not all fans get the pleasure of listening to good announcers.  I suppose there are only so many Vin Scully’s to go around, but can you imagine being a New York fan?  Aside from the black pit where your soul is supposed to be, you’re stuck listening to Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling every night.  I’m just glad I watch a good team with good announcers and we have all summer to chat about baseball.

This was a good opening day.  My only complaint is the games started while I was still at work.  But, I got to watch baseball, so all is right with the world.