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Oh For The Days When Spring Training Wasn't Filled With Anger + Thoughts on Columbia Women's & Wisconsin Men's Basketball

I'm trying to keep an even keel about all the anger from MLB players directed against the Houston Astros for their now-revealed high-technology methods and Keystone Kop execution that probably aided their World Series triumph of 2017. 

 
This is February, the slowest month of the sports year now that the Super Bowl is over. The build-up to college basketball's March Madness has not shifted into high gear. And the NBA basketball and NHL hockey playoffs are still a ways off.

 

So reporters are desperately looking for stories. Angry players are providing plenty of copy from Florida and Arizona.

 

It says here the protests won't amount to much because it will be impossible to prove exactly how much the signals affected game outcomes. The anger has almost made lament the pre-free agency days of baseball.

 

In the years when the reserve clause ruled baseball (through the 1976 season), spring training stories were usually about holdouts of players not satisfied with contract offers. 

 

In the vast majority of cases, they were one-year contract offers. Usually the pot was sweetened a little bit by management, and on went the regular season without interruption. 

 

The old system was obviously unfair to the players economically but it provided stability for the owners and for the fans could deeply identify with their favorite players. 

 

It was interesting if somewhat bizarre to watch Red Sox co-owner John Henry's press conference the other day trying to explain why Boston had traded star outfielder and recent AL MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

 

He spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Stan Musial, his favorite player growing up in St. Louis.  He waxed rhapsodic about how Red Sox fans felt the same attachment towards Ted Williams.

 

Both stayed with their original team forever. John Henry even noted that Musial turned down in 1946 a huge salary increase by spurning an offer from the short-lived Mexican League. 

 

Henry professed his approval of Betts' wanting to get "market value" for his services.  Yet neither finance mogul Henry nor his partner TV mogul Tom Werner (a former San Diego Padres owner who I remember most as the man who hired Roseanne Barr to sing a disastrous National Anthem) addressed in any great detail the real reason why Betts was traded. 

 

They didn't want to pay any more "luxury tax" into MLB coffers that a long-term contract to Betts would have required. They insisted that they didn't think a draft pick at the end of this season would be sufficient.

 

Yet the return for Betts seems questionable.  Two minor leaguers and a young outfielder Alex Verdugo may have a high ceiling but who will start season on the disabled list. 

 

To add to Red Sox questionable decisions, they selected as Cora's replacement Ron Roenicke (brother of former Oriole left fielder Gary Roenicke). Ron enjoyed only moderate success in prior MLB managerial jobs with the Brewers and Angels.

 

The Red Sox will face more bad news when beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred announces the results of his investigation into Red Sox malfeasance during Alex Cora's reign as manager, especially their 2018 championship season. 

 

With too many stories in baseball resembling the troubling wider political world these days, you can see, dear reader, why I try to find solace in the college basketball seasons of my alma maters. 

 

The Wisconsin Badgersmen and Columbia Lions women have given me considerable pleasure. Picked for sixth in the 14-team "Big Ten", the Badgers have a chance at a top three finish and another trip to March Madness. 

 

They are maddeningly inconsistent to be sure. One center with the combined talents of Nate Reuvers' sweet touch and Micah Potter's toughness might be an All-American.  But last I looked cloning players has not been approved yet by the NCAA.  

 

With just eight players getting regular playing time, the Badgers have overcome great adversity to keep hope alive. First, there was the pre-season loss of  assistant coach Howard Moore whose wife and daughter were killed in a horrific auto crash - Moore himself is recovering slowly from his serious injuries and a subsequent heart attack.

 

Then last month, the streaky but talented swing man Kobe King abruptly left the team. The Lacrosse, Wisconsin native's reasons were sketchy at best.  Not being appreciated beyond a basketball player was one of them.  

 

Under coach Greg Gard's firm and steady hand, the Badgers have regrouped and are on their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.  That's a modest number of course, but the flashes of offensive production from the likes of juniors Brad Davison and Aleem Ford and consistently tough defense have me pulling my chair up close to the TV these days.

 

I thought the Columbia women would be worth watching in 2019-20 and I have not been disappointed.  Under youthful coach Megan Griffith, Columbia class of 2007 grad and former assistant at league powerhouse Princeton, the Lions last weekend swept two Ivy League opponents for the first time since 2011, Dartmouth and Harvard.

 

There is now a four-team tournament in the Ivy League and Columbia has a chance to make it if they continue to grow and play hard and smart and well. 

 

Last year's rookie of the year, forward Sienna Durr from Grinnell, Iowa has stepped up her all-around game. 

 

Guard Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida is a strong candidate for this year's rookie award.  The only senior on the squad, feisty guard Janniya Clemmons from Accoceek, Maryland outside DC, is another solid presence.

 

Both point guards sophomore Mikayla Markham from Manasquan on the Jersey shore and first-year Carly Rivera from Arlington, Virginia are getting plenty of playing time. They are sparkplugs for a frequently-employed full-court defense.

 

Tigers on the boards and adding a lot of energy to the team are first-year Caitlyn Davis from Norwalk, Ct. and sophomores Lilian Kennedy from Buford, Ga. and Hannah Pratt from Boca Raton, Fla. 

 

Unfortunately, the Columbia men have fallen into the Ivy League basement. It's a familiar story - close losses and no conistent scoring except from senior guard Mike Smith who hasn't had a lot of help and winds up taking too many shots.

 

After a good start to the season, the Wisconsin women have fallen near the bottom of a tough Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both teams end the season with good efforts and confidence-building results to give hope for better days ahead for both teams. 

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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First 2019 YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Blog

“I can imagine a world without baseball, but can’t imagine wanting to live in one.”
The late great sportswriter Leonard Koppett expressed that spot-on feeling in 2002 a year before he died. (Quoted by his son David in the posthumous edition of “Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball," p478.)

In less than a month the greatest words in the English language will ring true again: “The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training.” Yet I must admit as an Orioles fan I am not too excited. It’s unlikely that a team that lost 115 games in 2018 and has no recognizable strength at any position will improve significantly.

Yes, there is new management that is drenched in the analytic “advanced metric” side of the game. And I have never dismissed out of hand new information about our wonderfully confounding and complicated yet sweet and simple game of baseball.

But I also adamantly believe that you must never lose sight of character issues and aspects of the game that cannot be quantified. So I'll wait and see what happens with the new breed of "decision science" brainiacs led by new gm Mike Elias, a former Yale pitcher, and his right-hand man Sig Megdal (pronounced May-dell), a former NASA specialist who worked on, among other things, models to enhance astronaut sleeping habits.

As I write in mid-January, there are still no new teams for the marquee free agents in this year’s class, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, both only 26. Many in the establishment sports media are wailing about the broken free agency system.

In fact, I think the issue rests more in a player agent rivalry as much as in a broken system. Dan Lozano represents Machado, the same agent that conned Angels owner Arte Moreno into a 10-year deal with now-fading Albert Pujols.

Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated 10 years ago as a 16-year-old and his ego has soared since, is in the stable of Scott Boras. Boras' professed hero is Marvin Miller, the Players Association leader who was always confident some owner would break down and give what the player(s) wanted.

In 2019, however, it is light years from the heyday of Miller and his unheralded chief counsel Dick Moss who shepherded players through legal thickets to free agency.
Players now are far richer and perhaps sated, and managements are getting smarter.

After seeing Machado and Harper play for six years with their former teams (the Orioles and Dodgers for Manny, the Nationals for Bryce), it is clear that while both are great numbers producers, they are not the kind of leaders that make everyone on the team better.

If owners and managements are getting more careful about committing multi-million dollars in long term contracts, I am not complaining. As always, though, it is hard to side with the fat cat owners against players whose skills are extremely perishable.

So with well over a hundred serviceable veterans still unsigned, I hope it isn’t like last year when the Players Association had to hastily put together a spring training base in Florida for those still without contracts.

Turning to another big off-field subject, the Hall of Fame will announce next week the results of the regular voting for the Cooperstown class of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be virtually a unanimous choice.

Three other candidates have strong cases. Former stellar Oriole and Yankee RHP Mike Mussina compiled a 270-153 record with a 3.68 ERA. His walk-strikeout ratio was a superb mere 785 BBs and 2813 K's. His WHIP (combining walks and hits per inning) was an outstanding 1.192.

Even better stats were accumulated by the late outstanding RHP Roy Halladay who lost his life in his private plane accident in 2017. With the Blue Jays and Phillies, Halladay went 203-105, 3.38 ERA, WHIP 1.178, and an impressive BB/K ratio of 592/2117.

The case for the outstanding Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez is also strong but perhaps not as strong because his injuries confined him to a DH role for most of his career. He hit .312 for a career, very impressive in the age of multiple relievers. Slugging average of .309 with 2247 hits, 309 HRs and 2161. Also over his career he drew more walks 1283 than strikeouts 1202.

His stats to me are more favorable than Harold Baines were and Baines was elected
to the shrine last month in a vote by a special Veterans Committee. The former White Sox-Ranger-Oriole hit .289, slugged .465 with 384 HRs and 1628 in a 20-year career, much of it like Edgar M. limited to the DH role because of injury. He also had a negative BB/SO ratio of 1062/1441.

When eligible in the regular vote of the writers, Baines didn't receive even ten per cent of any vote. With his former White Sox manager Tony LaRussa on the veterans committee, it is hard not to see favoritism in his selection. (Longtime closer Lee Smith was also voted in last month, a less controversial choice but not one that I would have chosen.)

Baines' election brought back memories of decades ago when the affable genuine Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch openly and successfully lobbied for several of his former Giant and Cardinal teammates to get selected to Cooperstown.

A Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not the merely good or very good. But since selections almost always are turned into a popularity contest, there is not much that I can do about that.

Before I close, I am distressed to report that my alma mater college basketball teams, Columbia and Wisconsin, have hit hard times. The Badgers looked very good in the pre-Big Ten season, but they have lost their winning touch in league play.
Likely All-American fifth-year senior Ethan Happ can only do so much, especially since he has great trouble at the foul line and never shoots outside the paint.

Columbia lost its best player, gifted if erratic point guard Mike Smith, to a season-ending injury. Unlike the resurgent football team under coach Al Bagnoli that produced a winning season despite multiple injuries, basketball has not yet learned how to win.

Yet the cage season is not even half-over so I try to believe in change for the better, and, of course, I always root, root, root for my team.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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