A better way to select Hall of Famers

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Baseball Lives by Mike Bryan was a wonderful book that I read while attending college.

Each of the book’s 55 chapters was devoted to first-person accounts of men and women who make a living working in professional baseball. The spectrum was immense and their perspectives were diverse. Bryan provided a forum for an owner, a general manager, a coach, a scout, and players who fulfilled various roles on a team. He spoke with a sportswriter, a broadcaster, and a public address announcer. He also talked to a bus driver, a team doctor, a seat vendor, and a groundskeeper.

All of Bryan’s subjects were thoughtful and intelligent and some were quite opinionated.

The book made me aware that the wide world of baseball extends far past the field. These diverse groups of people stitched together are what make up the game of baseball. Each group has its own perspective and its own biases.

So how silly is it that the writers, specifically active members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a tiny sliver of the baseball universe, are the sole arbiters of who gains membership in sports’ ultimate club?

The system is flawed. Too many people who are part of the process are not qualified and too many people shut out of the process are highly qualified .

Some of the balloting rules are nonsensical.

The BBWAA tightened its voting eligibility rules in 2007, But still, 440 ballots were cast last year and that’s way too many. Membership in the BBWAA is reserved for those who have covered baseball for at least 10 or more consecutive years and who have been active within the last decade. Membership is extended to sports editors and general sports columnists.

Some are well informed and take their votes very seriously. Others don’t.

Some solutions?

The current versions of the veterans committee – there are three that represent different eras of the game’s history and consider players who may have been overlooked on the writers’ ballot – should be done away with. There should only be one way into the Hall. The 75 percent election requirement should be retained, but other ballot rules should be scrapped.

There shouldn’t be a five-year waiting period. Players should be eligible upon retirement. There shouldn’t be a minimum annual vote requirement to remain on the ballot nor a maximum of 10 years on the ballot. Anybody who has played in the majors or contributed to baseball in a significant way should beopen to consideration.

I like the idea of a committee participating in the voting and the processes the the Hall of Fame board of directors uses to select individuals to participate in the voting could be emulated on a greater scale.

The super committee should be a better cross section of baseball than is represented by the BBWAA.

The writers should be represented on the committee but so should former players, managers and coaches, executives, scouts, umpires, broadcasters, and historians.

This would open up the process to former players who have a passionand appreciation for the game’s history like Ryne Sandberg, Lou Piniella, and Tim McCarver. Some of the game’s brightest minds like former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre would have input. Umpires like Doug Harvey and Bruce Froemming, men who have witnessed so much of the game’s history first-hand, would get to weigh in. Vin Scully, who was announcing games long before most readers of this post were born, would be involved. Scully and fellow broadcaters like Bob Uecker and Marty Brennaman have witnessed many more games than most of the writers who voted this year. And it would be great to get input from knowledgable historian/scholars of the game like Bill James, John Thorn, Ken Burns, and even George Will.

That’s eight groups. Twelve individuals should be selected to each group. That’s enough to fit into a big conference room. The voting process could begin with each subcommittee meeting to discuss the merits of prospective Hall of Famers. Then the committees could come together, presentations to the entire group could be made, there could be time for more discussion and debate, and the voting could commence. Seventy-five percent of the vote would still be required for election.

The writers would still have their biases. So would the players (the pompous Joe Morgan comes to mind). And so would every group. But the different factions would work as a check-and-balance system and give everybody a more fair shake

Far too many of the BBWAA act as if their vote is a birth right. Under my proposal, it would become more of an honor. Individuals would be eligible to serve on the Hall of Fame voting committee only once every four years. A fresh perspective would be brought to the process on an annual basis.

It would be a more just way of determining Hall of Fame worthiness.
I also have many ideas of how to reform and improve the American political system. But I’ll save those ideas for another place and another time.

DiPoto’s audacity offers Mariners fans more than hope

In his book, The Power of Negative Thinking, Bob Knight expressed his disdain for the word, “hope.”

“Positive results don’t happen simply because we believe they’re going to happen,” Knight wrote. “Hope may spring eternal, but it’s a lot better to work and plan for something than just to hope for it.”

Simply relying on hope without taking proactive steps toward a goal places destiny into fate’s hands. It’s possible that had Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto (left) stood pat, the Mariners could match or exceed last year’s success. But it’s just as likely that the team could regress. By taking bold action toward addressing some of his team’s most glaring weaknesses, DiPoto is taking the bull by the horns. For better or for worse, he is taking control of his team’s destiny.

The Mariners were among the most exciting teams in the major leagues last season, winning 86 games – including 15 in their final at-bat. They won nine games in extra innings, claimed eight walkoff victories, and smashed six walkoff home runs. Their 223 home runs ranked second behind Baltimore in the American League. They remained in playoff contention until the eve of the regular season finale.

Seattle features plenty of star power with the likes of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez on its roster. But this talented core has a rapidly approaching shelf life.

Cano is 34 and Cruz will turn 37 on July 1. Hernandez (11-8, 3.82 ERA), who will turn 31 on April 8, is still an ace caliber pitcher but at 33 is on the downside of his career and no longer the doninant presence he once was. At 29, Seager is in his prime but will be on the down side by the time the sun sets on the careers of Cano, Cruz, and Hernandez.

By standing pat, the Mariners would have been hard pressed to equal last year’s success – especially because they reside in a loaded division. The Texas Rangers have claimed the AL West crown in each of the last two years. The Houston Astros took a step back last year after reaching the divisional playoff round in 2015. But with their dynamic group of young players, a bounce back is a distinct possibility. And the Angels, with Mike Trout, can’t be counted out.

The time is now for the Mariners, and with that in mind, DiPoto made his first bold move on Nov. 23 when he sent 23-year-old shortstop Ketel Marte and 24-year-old starting pitcher Taijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a six-player trade that netted him former All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger.

Segura will be 27 on March 17 but already has five years of experience under his belt. Segura played primarily at second base last year but in three years as the starting shortstop in Milwaukee, he averaged 16.67 errors and 646 chances. Marte committed an alarming 21 errors in 476 chances last year.

On Friday, DiPoto completed two trades. He sent another young pitcher, Nate Karns, to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Jarrod Dyson, and a short time later, shipped veteran outfielder Seth Smith to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for veteran starter Yovani Gallardo.

With the additions of Haniger and Dyson, DiPoto has upgraded the athleticism of his outfield. Haniger, Dyson, and the team’s other projected starting outfielder, Leonys Martin are quick and versatile. Each is capable of plying center field.

Dyson, Seattle’s projected leadoff man, had a .340 on-base percentage last year and has swiped 156 bases in a part-time role with Kansas City the last five years. The spacious dimensions of Arizona’s Chase Field are comparable to Safeco Field and last year, Segura – who is projected to bat second – turned in his best offensive season with a .319 average, 203 hits, 41 doubles, and 20 home runs.

Dyson and Segura should provide plenty of RBI opportunities for the middle-of-the-order sluggers – Cano, Cruz , and Seager.

There’s no debate that the Mariners’ lineup is better, but the jury is out on whether Gallardo will be a productive back of the rotation option to Walker or Karns.

Unlike Walker and Karns, the soon to be 31-year-old Gallardo has a track record with 108 career wins under his belt. But there is no sugar coating his poor performance in 2016. The right-hander walked a career-high 11.6 percent of the batters he faced and had a career high 5.42 ERA. He allowed 16 home runs in just 118 innings.

But Gallardo has won 10 or more games six times and his penchant for serving up home runs should be offset by moving from Camden Yards to the more spacious Safeco.

He’ll be worth a look.

Manny signs with Japanese team

Manny Ramirez, who last played in the major leagues in 2011, signed with the Kochi Fighting Dogs of Japan’s independent Shikoku Island League. In 19 major league seasons, Ramirez hit .312 with 555 home runs and 1,831 RBI.

Statland

Gallardo hasn’t played in the National League since 2014, but during his eight seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, he proved himself to be a force with the bat. He has 85 career hits – 33 for extra bases including 12 home runs.

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“Lee Smith has a Hall of Fame resume, but the timing of his career may keep him out” by Matt Snyder

Moving forward, with resolve

BY CHRIS REWERS
Editor

“So what? Next pitch.”

That affirmation, popularized by sports psychologists like Ken Ravizza and Brian Cain, was scribbled on the Chicago Cubs’ locker white board at Jacobs Field as they prepared to play the Cleveland Indians in the historic seventh game of the World Series last fall.

It’s wise advice for anyone who plays a game that soaks in a marinade of failure. Did you screw up on the last pitch? So what? The next pitch offers a chance for redemption.

Nothing happened last year to change my opinion that baseball is the most challenging sport to play and the most fun to follow. No two games are quite the same and each has planted in it the seeds of greatness. Sure, most likely a player will fail. And sure, your team will almost assuredly break your heart. But all of that built-in heartache is worth enduring for those moments of success. Whether it’s as simple as a batter delivering in the clutch or as mind-boggling as a team winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years, the heartache baseball can bring is worth enduring because of its joys.

“If it was easy, anybody would do it,” Jimmy Dugan told Dottie Hinson in “A League of Their Own.” “It’s the hard that makes it good.”

Just as each pitch offers a chance for redemption, on a larger scale, do does each new year.

So as 2017 begins, it’s time for baseball fans, its players, its executives, and its media to take stock in itself. Here are some resolutions that can and should be made:

Do the Hustle

There is very little within a baseball game that a player can control. Much is left to fate. A perfect pitch can be hit over the fence. A batter can hit the cover off the ball but hit it right at someone, or worse, get victimized by a premier play. Sometimes the weather, as anyone who has watched many games at Wrigley Field can attest, is the determining factor. The wind can giveth or it can taketh away. Sometimes an umpire – who is only human – will blow a call. Sometimes a manager plays the percentages when he should go with his gut. And sometimes, the opposing player is simply better.

Life isn’t fair, and neither is baseball.

One thing, though, that a player has complete control over is his effort. And it’s high time we see better from those who play the game.

Lack of hustle and Cadillacing are scourges on the game, and are just plain stupid. Last year, on any given night, whether you were watching a big league game on your living room TV or had taken a stroll over to watch a game on a nearby Little League diamond, chances are you would witness some form of laziness or showboating. And it isn’t limited to the regular season. Dumb play was exhibited throughout the postseason.

In the majors, we are told by far too many TV broadcasters not to believe what our eyes so clearly see.

And it doesn’t help that ESPN showcases stupid play in their highlight packages, Fox and ESPN promos use them in promos, and telecasts show stupidity in slow motion at the end of a half inning as they head to a commercial. To wit:

  • Batters who hit routine infield grounders and run to first at half speed or worse. Sometimes, a batter can’t even be bothered to complete the 90-foot route first base. Instead, he’ll make a detour towards his dugout halfway down the line.
  • Batters who stand in the batter’s box to admire a long fly ball that they assume will be a home run (but sometimes isn’t) or who assume a pop fly will land foul or be caught. Far too often a batter will be at first when he should be standing on second or standing on second when he should be standing on third.
  • Outfielders who catch with one hand.

Shame on the players who dog it and on the managers who tolerate it. Shame on the pundits for excusing it. The game, we are told, has changed. Or worse, those who champion playing the right way are labeled as bigots. Playing the “right” way, some say, is code for playing the “white” way. My response to that is that stupid play is color blind. There were instances where Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo were as guilty of it as any black or Latino player. Dogging it starts at the top and filters is way all the way down to the Little League diamonds. All summer long, I watched teams walk on and off the field, stationary fielders not backing up plays, batters standing in the batter’s box assuming pop ups were going to land foul. Far too often, such displays proceeded without comment from a team’s coaching staff. Those coaches are guilty of malpractice.

Pick up the pace

It doesn’t take long for anyone who has watched the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Pedro Baez pitch that he works much too slowly.

But Baez is the most obvious symptom of a malady that took hold of baseball a generation ago and continues to get worse.

The game is played at a ridiculously deliberate pace.

Watch a game from the 1950s, 60s, and even the 70s on YouTube and you watch a game that was played at a much crisper pace. Pitchers stayed on the rubber and didn’t mess around. Hitters would approach the batter’s box, reach down and rub some dirt between their hands, and dig in. And they would remain in the box prepared to hit.

The first game of the 1976 World Series was played in a tad over two hours. Forty years later, it took three and half hours for the Indians to defeat the Cubs 1-0 in Game 3 of the Fall Classic.

There were no exaggerated deep breaths, no adjusting batting gloves or batting helmets, no extended gazes at the barrel of the bat.

Catchers making frequent trips to the mound and constant pitching changes don’t help.

Nor does the ridiculous seven minutes or the whopping nine minutes that are allotted for commercials.

But the primary culprits of this malady can be laid at the feet of the sports psychology industry. Harvey Dorfman was a pioneer in the psychology of baseball in the 1960s and many of his theories were expanded upon most notably by Ravizza in the 1990s. Today, Cain is a leading advocate of mental conditioning and he works as a paid consultant for many of the nation’s premier college baseball programs.

“Every pitch counts,” the psychologists preach.

That much is true. Focus and concentration are essential to doing any task well and I stress the mental game to my Little Leaguers.

And it is understandable that every team and every player is looking for a competitive edge.

Might it be possible, however, that players might be trained to react more and think less?
Save the mental imagery for before the game when no one is watching.

Commissioner Rob Manfred made speeding up the game one of his priorities when he took office in 2015. His directive, which resulted in among other things a time limit for coaching visits to the mound, made initial progress. But the average time of game spiked steadily after last year’s All-Star break.

Limit replays

Another cause of longer games has been MLB’s use of instant replays to review on-field umpiring decisions which has been in place for the past two seasons.

The quest to “get it right,” it turns out, has had unintended consequences.

The replay procedures were put in place to correct egregious errors like when Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by a blown call at first with two outs in the ninth of a 2009 game or when Don Dekinger’s obvious incorrect call at first in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series cost the St. Louis Cardinals a world championship.

But replay is being used in ways that were never intended. Every bang-bang play at first gets reviewed as does every tag play. The use of replay has actually made the way the game is played change in some ways. Notice how a fielder always leaves a tag on a baserunner in exaggerated fashion.

And on plays where the correct call is obvious, the review process takes far too long, leading fans to wonder, “What are they looking at?”

MLB doesn’t need to abolish replay review but the current system in which managers are granted challenges should be scrapped. Instead there should be one full-time umpire assigned to replay review for each game. He alone would have the power to overrule a call on the field just like when a third-base or first-base ump can overrule the home-plate arbiter on appeals of check swings.

Remember the kids

Through its “Play Ball” initiative, MLB frequently reminds fans how important kids are to the game. Conventional wisdom says that children who get hooked on playing and watching baseball will carry their passion for the game into adulthood.

But it seems MLB and its TV partners do everything possible to make sure that young fans miss plenty of action – especially the sports’s biggest moments.

The New York Mets did not play any Saturday afternoon home games in 2016. That doesn’t seem very kid friendly to me.

The advent of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” in 1990 encroached on what was once considered sacred family time.

I recall a wonderful cover story Sports Illustrated produced in the summer of 1987 about a Sunday afternoon around the majors. All of the games, as was illustrated by the cover photo of Wrigley Field’s iconic center-field scoreboard, were played in the afternoon.
Now the only time this happens is on the final day of the regular season when all games begin at 3:05 p.m. Eastern. This is a practice that should be expanded to other Sundays throughout the regular season.

The “flex” schedule that ESPN now implements during the second half of the season allows the cable network to select its Sunday night game three weeks in advance. All tickets include the fine print that game times are “subject to change,” but the switching a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night on short notice is anything but family friendly.

Many teams market Sunday games as “family days” and often times kids are allowed to run the bases shortly after the final out is recorded. With Sunday night games staring in the Eastern time zone at 8:05 and average contests taking over three hours to play, what parents in their right minds are going to allow their kids to hang around the ballpark so late.

The problem of late start time extends into the postseason. Many of the game’s most dramatic moments occur long after kids have been tucked into their beds.

Tweak the schedule

From 1969-92, the National League included 12 teams split into two divisions. Each club played the other five teams in its division 18 times each and went up against the six teams in the opposite division 12 times each.

It was a wonderfully symmetrical 162-game schedule in which all the teams competing against each other for a division championship played against the same teams the same number of times. That symmetry was destroyed when the NL, with the admittance of Florida and Colorado, expanded to 14 teams in 1993. The advent of interleague play in 1997 and another round of expansion in 1998 further complicated matters.

There were many reasons to oppose the shift of the Astros from the NL to the AL after the 2012 season, especially the disregard it showed for the 50 years of NL tradition that had been developed in Houston.

But a reason to support Houston’s change of league affiliation was that it gave the two leagues six equal five-team divisions. It presented MLB with an opportunity to return to a balanced, symmetrical schedule. However, Commissioner Bud Selig and his successor Manfred have so far failed to deliver such a schedule.

Instead MLB has maintained a schedule that pits “natural” rivals against each other four times every year. Since 2002, MLB has rotated divisions in setting up its interleague matchups with the exception of “natural” rivalries.

So, for example, the teams for the NL Central will be matched up against the teams from the AL East. But the Cubs will still play the AL Central’s White Sox – their “natural” rival – four times. Other “natural” matchups will pit the Cardinals against the Royals, the Brewers against the Twins, the Reds against the Indians, and the Pirates against the Tigers. It’s not fair that the Brewers will get to play a doormat like the Twins four times while the Reds are paired with the AL champion Indians.

It’s likely an owner like Jerry Reinsdorf favors the idea of “natural” rivalries because it guarantees that his team will have two annual home games against the wildly popular Cubs. With the exception of Opening Day, they are the only guaranteed home sellouts for the Sox.

MLB should take a cue from the NFL where intercity rivals like the Jets and Giants meet every four years instead on an annual basis.

The ideal, symmetrical, and easy to put together schedule would consist of 18 games against the other four divisional teams (72 games), six games against the other 10 intraleague teams (60 games), and 30 interleague games against all the teams from the same division on a three-year rotational basis. All interleague matchups would include a pair of home-and-home three-game series.

It would create competitive balance, put an end to the oversaturation of some “natural” rivalries like Cubs vs. Sox, end “natural” rivalries that make no sense like Padres vs. Mariners, and put an end to any need to play the two- and four-game series that the Players Association has voiced displeasure about.

Take it easy with the stats

Just because something can be measured, doesn’t make it relevant.

Baseball telecast are packed with useless info and statistical nonsense with no context.

For example, a fact like, “The Cubs are 59-1 when entering the ninth with a lead.” Most teams with a lead entering the ninth go on to win. Even the 102-loss Minnesota Twins had an impressive record under such circumstances.

Countless times last October, a crawl on ESPN or Fox Sports 1 would alert viewers that a player on the Indians was accomplishing something in the postseason for the franchise for the first time since 2007. Omitted from such factoids was that the Indians had played just one postseason game since 2007.

Enough already!

 

BEST OF 2016

Photo of José AltuveIt was a disappointing year for the Astros, but Houston fans were treated to a banner year by Jose Altuve. The 5-foot-6 second baseman won his second American League batting title in three years, hitting .338 with career highs in homers (24) and RBI (96). He also swiped 30 bases, and smashed 42 doubles. Altuve, who earns a relatively modest salary of $550,000 annually, led the AL in hits for the third straight year and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

 

WORST of 2016

Photo of Alexei RamírezSigned last offseason to an ill-advised 1-year, $3 million by the San Diego Padres, shortstop Alexei Ramirez disgraced himself as the worst everyday player in the majors. The Padres, at last, after Ramirez had started 109 games, pulled the plug on the washed-up 35-year-old former All-Star when they granted him his unconditional release and installed minor-league journeyman Luis Sardinas as their starting shortstop. Ramirez caught on with Tampa Bay for the season’s final three weeks and finished 2016 with a soft .241 average, just six homers and 48 RBI. He was caught stealing nine times in 17 attempts and unlike another soft-hitting infielder, Philadelphia’s Freddy Galvis, was also a liability in the field. Ramirez committed 14 errors in 2016 and his 148 career errors rank 12th among active players.

“He didn’t have the range at shortstop anymore that we need,” San Diego manager Andy Green said.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Good is not good when better is expected.”
– Vin Scully

 

PHOTO OF THE DAY

 

Dreams came true in 2016!

 

STAT OF THE DAY

Over the last four seasons, Houston’s Jose Altuve has 818 hits – 67 more than anyone else in the majors.

 

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