Let’s liven up the All-Star game with a fantasy sports feature

After its 2002 All-Star Game ended in a disappointing 7-7 tie, Major League Baseball decided to add more drama to the midsummer classic by awarding the winning league home field advantage in the World Series.

In theory, the move should have resulted in more exciting games by giving players an added incentive to win. In practice, I’m not certain the change has made much of an impact.

For starters, other than a few notable exceptions, the concept of home field advantage is overstated. And those few exceptions generally do not occur on a baseball diamond. Continue reading

Should Major League Baseball allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame? No, Says Sam Smith.

Part 2 of a series.

How can we honor athletes for cheating and then talk to our children about honesty and integrity with a straight face?

Matt Record’s post yesterday arguing that Major League Baseball should admit steroid users to the Hall of Fame gets a lot of things right. For instance: Ty Cobb? Sub-human PoS, no doubt about it. And Matt could have devoted volumes to the abject malpractice of the sports “journalism” industry during Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s pursuit of Roger Maris’s single season homerun record; they chose to ignore what was obviously happening under their noses because the steroid era was good for business, and the less pontificating we hear from them now the better.

And what about the ways in which MLB’s apartheid system kept some of the greatest stars of their time out of the league for decades? If anything, Matt doesn’t stomp hard enough here. Babe Ruth was a legendary hitter, but he never had to stand in against Satchel Paige, whom DiMaggio called the best pitcher he ever faced after playing against him in a 1936 exhibition.

Lefty Grove and Dizzy Dean were two of the premier pitchers of the 1930s, but neither had to deal with Josh Gibson.

The Baseball Hall of Fame maintains he hit “almost 800” homers in his 17-year career against Negro league and independent baseball opposition. His lifetime batting average, according to the Hall’s official data, was .359. It was reported that he won nine home run titles and four batting championships playing for the Crawfords and the Grays. It is also believed that Gibson hit a home run in a Negro league game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet (180 m) from home plate. Although it has never been conclusively proven, Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall said Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of Yankee Stadium. Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith once said that Gibson hit more home runs into Griffith Stadium’s distant left field bleachers than the entire American League.

What would these men, and so many others, have accomplished had they had the sense to be born white? We’ll never know, of course, but it’s safe to say that The Bambino stroked a few taters off pitchers who, if not for the color barrier, would have been in the minor leagues. The same goes for MLB pitching icons, who certainly benefited from hundreds, if not thousands, of at-bats against minor league hitters instead of the likes of Gibson.

Matt gets these things right. So right, in fact, that it’s tempting to swallow his whole argument. That, however, would be a mistake.

The problem is that his case for throwing open the doors of Cooperstown to cheaters is a misdirection that asks us to look away from the real issue. In short, we are being asked to accept that since a group of people perhaps doesn’t belong in the Hall, that we should simply abandon our standards.

First off, all those white players who never faced a black or Latino weren’t cheating. As bad as the system was, DiMaggio and Ruth and Gehrig and Shoeless Joe didn’t break any rules that others were adhering to. The fault was on the owners, not the players.

Matt’s point is a valid one in another argument, but it’s irrelevant and misleading in this one.

Second, even if we accepted his reasoning, there’s still something profoundly disturbing with the idea that since one group of people got away with something, everyone should. If we wanted to push this principle to its logical extreme, we might find ourselves concluding that we should legalize murder because people have gotten away with it in the past.

I’d argue the precise opposite. Instead of using historical crimes to justify present crimes, I’d be more comfortable using what we know now to go back and purge past miscreants. Of all the major sports halls in the US, baseball is the only one that has an integrity component. If you want to launch a move to kick Ty Cobb out of the place, call me.

The Steroid Generation was a special case, wasn’t it? Each day, every day, a generation of cynical athletes woke up every morning, wiped the sleep from their eyes, and pondered, with deliberation and malice aforethought, how they were going to break the rules that day. It was premeditated, it was first degree, and it was arguably as bad for the game as gambling. When you roid up, you are attempting to alter the outcome of a contest. You are actively intending to fix the game.

I’m not going to go into a rant about the virtues of team sports and how they can mold character. But I am going to assert that character matters. Honesty matters. The integrity of the result of a sporting contest matters.

And at the risk of marking myself as some kind of archaic geezer yelling at the kids to get off my damned lawn, I’m going to say this: sportsmanship matters. It is important that we as individuals and as a society have values, and if you don’t believe that our sporting culture is an integral component of our society – as both cause and effect – you’re not paying attention.

Matt is a smart, thoughtful guy, and I wouldn’t attribute to him for even a second anything but the most honorable intentions. Truth is, there are a lot of people whom I admire that agree with him on this.

That’s great. But I want to be there someday when they have to explain to their children that it’s okay to cheat if others do it. It’s okay to break the rules if there’s money involved.

I understand how good people can be driven to such a position in a society as corrupt as ours, where the dirtier you are the better you do and where moral and ethical fiber is for punks. Trust me, I get that. I work in goddamn marketing, okay? I’ve had talks with myself where I confronted the ways in which my integrity was putting me at a competitive disadvantage. If I were willing to play the corporate game the way Barry Bonds played baseball odds are my life would be very different.

There are days where I want to cheat so badly I can barely stand it. But when all is said and done, I have to hold myself accountable to the values I think matter in life.

I can’t divorce athletics from society in general. And as such, I can’t accept that its okay to accept, let alone honor, our sporting heroes when they do things we’d punish our children for doing.

Should Major League Baseball allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame? Yes, says Matt Record.

Part 1 of a series.

by Matt Record

Baseball has been marked by cheating forever. It’s hypocritical to draw a line now.

These are – in my opinion – the top 15 best position players in the history of baseball:

  • Babe Ruth
  • Barry Bonds
  • Willie Mays
  • Ted Williams
  • Ty Cobb
  • Hank Aaron
  • Tris Speaker
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Honus Wagner
  • Stan Musial
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Rogers Hornsby
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Eddie Collins
  • Mickey Mantle

The fact that two of the top 15 best hitters may never make the hall of fame is a  shame and a frustratingly meaningless shame at that. Continue reading

Should Yasiel Puig be in the All-Star Game?: here’s the definitive answer

Let’s play trivia.

Q: Who are George Scott, Mitchell Page, Van Kelly, Rocco Baldelli, Mike White, Hector Rodriguez, Warren Newson, Ron Jones, Ken Harvey, Gail Harris, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Giles, Bobby Darwin, Joe Cunningham, Thad Bosley, Oscar Azocar, Gus Zernial, Dan Walters, Taylor Teagarden, Dick Stuart, Shane Spencer, Dwight Smith, Bob Smith, Ryan Shealy, Kevin Roberson, Will Rhymes, Irv Noren, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Kevin Mench, Martin Maldonado, Al Luplow, Joe Keough, Ricky Jordan, Tracy Jones, Dalton Jones, Sam Jethroe, Akinori Iwamura, Jim Hickman, Elian Herrera, Fran Healy, Paul Goldschmidt, Brent Gates, Joe Foy, Tom Donohue, Terry Crowley, Jose Constanza, Doug Camilli, Larry Burright, Barry Bonnell, Kevin Barker, Gabe Alvarez and Glenn Adams?

Answer in a minute.

In the coming days it seems almost certain that Major League Baseball fans will vote Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig into the All-Star Game. The whole idea is rather controversial since Puig has been in the show for barely a month. Some pundits love the idea, saying that the game is for the fans and they should get to choose. Others, expressing a position more sensitive to the game’s history and tradition, are vehemently opposed to a player with so little track record being admitted into the greatest all-star competition in US club sports. Some insider estimates say that 80% of current MLB players are against his inclusion.

There’s no question that Puig has been from hell since he was called up from Chattanooga on June 2. As of this writing, his line looks like this:

 

GP

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

2013 Regular Season

32

127

25

52

8

1

8

19

5

31

5

3

.409

.437

.677

1.114

That’s incredible, especially the average, on-base percentage and OPS, which are just ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing bad you can say about Puig to this point in his career.

But back to that opening question: who are those other guys?

The answer is that they’re all current and former Major League Baseball players who, according to the Win Probability Added (WPA) Sabermetrics stat, were as good as or better than Yasiel Puig over the first month of their careers.

Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral — they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others. While wOBA rates all home runs as equal, we know intuitively that a home run in the third inning of a blowout is less important to that win than a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a close game. Win Probability Added (WPA) captures this difference by measuring how individual players affect their team’s win expectancy on a per-play basis.

For example, say the Rays have a 45% chance of winning before Ben Zobrist comes to the plate. During his at-bat, Zobrist hits a home run, pushing the Rays’ win expectancy jumps to 75%. That difference in win expectancy (in decimal form, +.30) from the beginning of the play to the end is Ben Zobrist’s WPA for that play. If Zobrist strikes out during his next at bat and lowers his team’s win expectancy by 5%, his overall WPA for the game so far would be +.30 – .05 = +.25, as WPA is a counting statistic and is additive.

Arjun Jaikumar, another of my data-savvy friends, also points this out:

I’ll say this, though; *this* season, in the AL, there is another player who has virtually the same WAR as Puig in more or less the same playing time. He is hitting .403/.455/.517 at the moment, and is a marvelous defender – one of the best at his position even though he’s playing out of position.

Yet no one is promoting Jose Iglesias for the All-Star game (with good reason; I wouldn’t either).

In a perfect world I’d be able to extract from the sport’s massive historical database the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) scores for the first month of the career of everyone that ever played the game, but my data savant guy, Adam Bonin (major props, by the way – this analysis wouldn’t have been possible without him), hasn’t figured out how to do that yet. Still, WPA is a pretty useful stat in that it evaluates how important a player is to his team’s chances of winning.

If you’re looking at that list of names at the top and thinking you never heard of any of them, don’t feel bad. Very few of the fans casting their ballots for Puig this week have, either.

If you’re thinking instead that, hey, it’s unfair to compare an obvious future Hall of Famer like Puig to that pack of pikers because you don’t have enough of a sample size yet, congratulations. That’s. The. Point. A great month doesn’t make you an All-Star.

I admit that Puig looks like the real deal. And he may be a future HoFer. Seems like a great kid and here’s hoping he turns out to be everything his overenthusiastic fans think he is and more.

But we have this tendency in the US, fueled by a barking gongbat 24/7 sports punditry cycle, to begin cranking out the hyperbole as soon as we hear a guy’s name. If Stephen A Smith says something stupid – and he will if there’s a microphone in the room – the only thing you can know for sure is that Skip Bayless is a’fixin’ to say something even stupiderer.

You know what? It’s okay to wait and see. Getting it right is better than getting it first. You’re not cheating anyone if you wait a year to see if it’s sustainable or if it’s just a hot streak. It’s okay to make a guy work his way around the league a second and third time to see if opposing pitchers figure him out. It’s not an insult to say damn, kid, you’re on fire. Keep it up and you’ll be an All-Star next year.

But hey, this is America, and we have to let the fans vote on everything, no matter how dumb they are.

Is it too late to get Tim Tebow on the ballot?

Castro and Miami's Cuban community and what the hell was Ozzie Guillen thinking?

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen recently lost his freakin’ mind. He told Time that

I love Fidel Castro…I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [SOB] is still there.

Predictably, the world then stopped spinning on its axis.

Out at home!

by Chip Ainsworth

Good morning! Or should it be good mourning?

To the fans still hung over from Boston’s sudden demise at the witching hour on Wednesday, get over it. The Red Sox stopped being a Cinderella team a long time ago. They have the third-highest payroll in baseball and were beaten for the final wild card spot by a Tampa team with the second lowest payroll. Admit it, Evan Longoria ($2.5 million), James Shields ($4.25 million) and Jeremy Hellickson ($418,000) would look better in a Red Sox uniform than their former teammate Carl Crawford ($14.8 million). The team that rebounds from trailing 7-0 to win in extra innings is more fun to root for than the team that blows a nine-game lead in September. Continue reading

#EPICFAIL: the return of the 86ers

For 86 years the Boston sports fan’s image was defined by the Curse of the Bambino and its periodic avatars, like Bucky Fucking Dent. And Aaron Fucking Boone. And Bill Buckner, who later tried to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of a bus, only to have the bus go between his legs (rim shot). The Boston brand was futility, the yearly ritual of hope and its eventual collapse into despair. Continue reading

Nota Bene #115: RIP No. 32

“If you’re really pro-life, do me a favor—don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #112: GOOOLLLLLLLL

“Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #101: Your Pal, Mike S.

“The guys who are shooting films now are technically brilliant, but there’s no content in their films. I marvel at what I see and wish I could have done a shot like that. But shots are secondary for my films, and with some of these films, it’s all about the shots. What’s the point? I’m not sure people know what points to make.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #100: Il Planetario di Figaro

Wow, 100 issues of Nota Bene! Props to Russ for helping me for a while with this nifty little S&R feature. Never mind all that now, let’s get on with this issue. “What splendid buildings our architects would be able to execute if only they could finally be less obedient to gravity!” Who said it? Continue reading

"Outta here!"—Baseball loses one of its finest voices

kalasHarry Kalas, the long-time broadcast announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies and the voice of NFL Films, passed away today. Kalas died in the booth prior to today’s game between the Phillies and the Nationals. The cause of death was not immediately known.

“We lost our voice today,” said Phillies team president David Montgomery.

In fact, baseball and football fans alike were struck dumb by the news. Continue reading

Rogues, scandals and the Church of Baseball: S&R honors Babe Ruth

Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” You could look it up. – Annie Savoy

I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun. – Babe Ruth

Today is Opening Day for America’s Pastime, and to mark the occasion S&R honors our newest Scrogue, George Herman Ruth. The Bambino. The Sultan of Swat.

The Babe. Continue reading