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"Troubling Off-Season Trend Continues As Cubs Snag Yu Darvish At Reduced Rate"

I’m not the first person to note that in America 2018 the line between real headlines and satirical “Onion” headlines is very small. The headline in today’s post actually appeared this past weekend on Sports Illustrated’s si.com website.

Yu Darvish, the talented righthander from Japan who is partly of Iranian descent, has reportedly signed a 6-year $126 million contract with the Cubs. SI considers this amount a “reduced rate” for a pitcher with a history of injury who bombed out not once but twice in the World Series that the Dodgers lost last season to the Astros.

There are reports that three other big-name free agents - outfielder J.D.Martinez, pitcher Jake Arrieta, and first baseman Eric Hosmer all represented by super-agent Scott Boras - are thinking of sitting out some of the regular season - unless they get the years and the dollars they want, especially the years.

Hosmer, the defensively-solid line-drive hitting first sacker, is the youngest of the three at 28. San Diego reportedly wants him very badly, and reigning first baseman Will Myers is willing to move to left field to accommodate him. But Hosmer reportedly wants eight years instead of seven and a total amount of more than $160 million.

Boras, an avowed admirer of Marvin Miller (ignoring that Miller loathed agents that stressed the individual over the union), thinks there will always be an owner who will break down and want that "moose on the wall" and pay anything for it. He might yet be right.

How much is too much remains a good question. It is clear that the MLB Players Association has been outwitted by management in the five-year collective bargaining pact that still has three more years to run.

But it is just silly and petulant for some agents and players to threaten to boycott spring training. Maybe the eloquent but inexperienced Tony Clark needs more legal help at the MLBPA offices. But bad deals happen all the time in business and you live with it, fellas. Even at the "reduced rate" of tens of millions.

The key to building consistent contending teams remains a good organization that is constantly replenishing the system with high ceiling talent under control for at least a few years. A lot easier said, I know, than done.

BEFORE I LEAVE TODAY HERE’S A REPORT FROM THE THEATER:
Michael A. Jones’s play “The Black Babe Ruth” about Negro league legendary slugger Josh Gibson (played by Dave Roberts) is well worth a trip to the Theater for the New City in east Greenwich Village - 1st Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets.

Gibson's relationship with Satchel Paige (Daniel Danielson) is well conveyed. Kudos to the guitar and vocal work of Perci Prince that provides the glue connecting the scenes.

You have eight more chances to see this well-acted and crafted play through Sun Feb 25. Th-Sa at 8p, Su at 3p.

I was thrilled to be part of a panel after the Sun Feb 11 matinee that discussed the Negro leagues and baseball integration. With fellow SABR members Ralph Carhart and Phil Ross and playwright Jones, we covered a wide range of topics about baseball in segregated times.

I was glad to give homage to the pre-Jackie Robinson pioneers, among them Moses Fleetwood Walker, who briefly broke the color line in 1887, and Rube Foster organizer of first Negro league after World War I. Thanks to good work by moderator Janelle Lester, the producer of "The Black Babe Ruth," we got great contributions from the audience.

On the big topic of why there are fewer AfAms playing baseball today, the consensus was football and basketball, esp. the rise of Michael Jordan, has eclipsed baseball among the young people. Actress Daphne Danielle lamented that in her home state of Alabama there are many well-maintained baseball fields that are barely used.

I cross fingers that the increasing awareness of football’s physical dangers might provide an inroad for baseball. But it needs the kind of leadership that baseball scout John Tumminia has shown with his "Baseball Miracles" project bringing clinics to the underprivileged at home and overseas.

Check out baseballmiracles.org More on that remarkable development next time.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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"The Ball Always Finds The Weakest Defender": Reflections on the Mets' World Series Loss

I attended Game 4 of the World Series on Halloween night. It was the second of three must-win home games in a row, and in all of them the Mets held the lead for much of the action. However, this year's surprise entry in the World Series could win only the Friday matchup.

I only get emotionally involved with the Orioles, my passion for over 40 years, but I feel for those who lived and breathed and died with the Mets. The old saying in baseball, "The ball always finds the weakest defender," proved true in the final games of the Mets season.

The Mets seemed in control of the Halloween game once standout rookie left fielder Michael Conforto hit the second of his two solo homers to give the Mets a 3-1 lead after 5 innings. Rookie southpaw Steven Matz, from nearby Stony Brook, showed great poise in
his first Series start (incidentally the only one by a left-hander).

However, the Royals narrowed the deficit to 3-2 entering the 8th inning. Inconsistent Tyler Clippard walked two Royals with one out. Jeurys Familia was called upon for a five-out save. In moments a defining moment of the Series arose.

The ball found the weakest defender as Eric Hosmer hit a spinning grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. It went under his glove for an error that tied the game.

It felt almost inevitable when singles by Mike Moustaka and Salvador Perez gave the Royals a 5-3 lead that shutdown closer Wade Davis cemented with a two-inning save.

Yet there was more pain ahead for the Mets. It seemed unnecessarily cruel when the baseball gods determined that the game would end with Yoenis Cespedes doubled off first base on a weak liner by Lucas Duda to third baseman Moustakas.

A cardinal rule of baseball is: Never be doubled off first base on a ball hit in front of you. Of course, Cuban defector Cespedes listens to the sound of his own drummer. And that gaffe was yet another sharp blow to the Mets' chances.

In Game 5, the Mets held the lead even longer than in Game 4. Curtis Granderson, the Mets' most consistent player all season including the playoffs, gave Matt Harvey a 1-0 lead with a leadoff-home run in the bottom of the first inning.

You can never overestimate the importance of grabbing the lead in any game, especially a season-saving game.

Harvey protected the lead for eight shutout innings and the Mets' disappearing offense did scratch out a second run in the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Yet as we look back in hindsight, the Royals had the Mets where they wanted them. This year's deserving Kansas City champions broke all kinds of records for scoring runs in the late innings.

And sure enough after Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the 9th inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a full count walk. Collins left Harvey in and Eric Hosmer followed with a run-scoring opposite field double.

It was now 2-1 with the tying run on second with no one out. Hosmer was pumped because his error had contributed to the Mets' second run.

Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia. He did get ground balls from the three batters he faced. But with Hosmer on third and one out, the final defining moment of this Series came.

Catcher Salvador Perez, the unanimous MVP for his solid hitting and handling of the pitching staff, hit a grounder between third and short. Either David Wright or shortstop Wilmer Flores could have handled the tricky hop.

Wright fielded it cleanly but turned his back on Hosmer, no speed merchant but a clever baserunner. Wright threw out Perez at first base, but Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda's throw was way off the mark. The game was now tied 2-2.

After leading since the first inning, it was a tremendous blow to the Mets. You could almost see the body language sag, maybe most in team captain Wright.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. The memory of Halloween night's loss had to be fresh.

They were two outs from victory in Game 1 in Kansas City when Alex Gordon homered off Familia. The pattern was becoming very apparent. Great teams have great mental toughness as well as great talent and the Mets were exposed as having neither.

Once the Royals tied Sunday night's game it seemed inevitable that they would win. And sure enough, they pushed 5 runs across in the 12th. The lead-gaining single was a pinch-hit by reserve infielder Christian Colon who hadn't swung a bat in a game for over 40 days.

Redemption came to the Royals and it was richly earned. They left the tying run on third base in Game 7 last year against Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. They dedicated this year to changing the Series outcome and they sure fulfilled their dream.

Now winter has come for those of us who dearly baseball. The Mets provided many great thrills for their fans. Their great young starting pitchers all performed well under the brightest lights. That should augur very well for their future.

But the Mets obviously need better defense and more consistent offense. Murphy and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes were thoroughly held in check by the Royals. Both may leave as free agents.

Much too early to handicap next season. Every year is always different.

For 2015 let us hail the Kansas City Royals who richly deserved their title.

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