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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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"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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