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Bad Defense, Bad Call and Bad Behavior: Braves Fall to Cardinals after Bad Infield Fly Call

Plop… the Infield Fly that Wasn’t (Getty Images-TBS Screencap)

“The best umpired game is the game in which the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it.” Bill Klem

The Atlanta Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 6-3 in the National League Wild Card “Play in Game.” It was a game marked by incredibly bad defense on the part of the Braves, an extremely bad “Infield Fly Rule” call by Left Field Line Umpire Sam Holbrook and a 19 minute trash throwing delay by fans that I never thought possible in Atlanta. I thought I that a bunch of Philadelphia Eagles or Flyers fans had been transported to Atlanta for the game.

Braves starter Kris Medlen took the loss giving up just three hits but 5 runs, only 2 of which were earned. The Braves, including legendary Third Baseman Chipper Jones committed 3 errors which contributed to the loss.

In a normal situation this wouldn’t sound like a controversial. However the Braves, trailing 6-3 with runners on first and second with one out Braves Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was called out on a shallow fly ball to left field which fell between Cardinals’ shortstop Pete Kozma and Left Fielder Matt Halliday. It looked like the Braves had the bases loaded with only the one out when Left Field Line Umpire Holbrook made a late call for a “Infield Fly Rule” which caused Simmons to be out. The Braves fans went crazy forcing the players off the field as cans and bottles were thrown with wild abandon.

Turner Field ground Crew picks up the trash in the 8th inning (US Presswire) 

After the delay the Cardinals brought in closer Jason Motte who was able to work his way out of the inning. Motte then put the Braves down in the 9th despite giving up a broken bat infield single to Chipper Jones in his last at career at-bat and a ground rule double to Freddy Freeman to get the save.

The infield fly rule is designed to protect the offense from a fielder that intentionally drops or misses a pop fly in order to get a double play. On the play it is to be called early enough for runners to be able to have the opportunity to advance at their own risk. Likewise the fielder must be reasonably be in a position to make the play without undue effort. That certainly was nit the case. The call came as the ball was almost on the ground when the call was made and it certainly was not in any sense of the word a routine pop fly.  The MLB Rule Book reads:

An infield fly is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare Infield Fly for the benefit of the runners.

Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez put the game under protest but his protest was denied.

With the win the Cardinals move on to face the Washington Nationals in the NLDS on Sunday. The Braves and their future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones are now done for the season.

Tough Night for Chipper (Kevin C Cox Getty Images)

The game was not decided on the bad call alone. Jones committed a key error on a double play ball that allowed the Cardinals to rally and take the lead. Likewise the Braves managed to load the bases in the bottom of the 8th after the call but could not plate a runner, nor did they score in the 9th. The Braves had 12 hits to the Cardinals 6 and left 12 men on base. Teams do not commit that many errors or leave that many men on base without paying for it.

The behavior of the Braves fans was something that I never expected out of them. The reaction to the call was shameful and I think unfitting to honor Chipper Jones.

Appropriate credit has to be given to the Cardinals under rookie Manager Mike Matheny who despite the retirement of Manager Tony LaRussa and the loss of Albert Pujols to free agency fought hard to gain the final National League Wild Card berth.

I am a fan of having the Wild Card playoff but I wonder if a one and out format is the best. Maybe a three game series is better.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5766041

I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15759689&topic_id=20156278

I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5570299

But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978231&source=MLB

Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Down to the Wire: MLB’s Epic Wild Card September Continues to Amaze

B.J Upton and Evan Longoria greet Johnny Damon after a home run against the Blue Jays

What seemed like an impossible season finale less than a month ago is now reality. Four teams, two playoff spots and two games left.  The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox have spent the month of September in a free fall.  Boston is 5 and 17 this month and the Braves are 9-16 their worst September since 1989.  This helped breathe life into the Wild Card races.  As the Braves and Red Sox collapsed the insurgent St. Louis Cardinals having been written off by everyone have pulled within a game of the Braves and would be in a tie if not for an extra inning loss to the woebegone Houston Astros last night. While the Braves collapse is bad the Red Sox collapse is bordering on epic.  The Tampa Bay Rays who were 9 games out at the beginning of the month moved even with the Sox last night when they defeated the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles continued their September dominance of a team that has over the past decade made their life a living hell.

Justin Pedroia after Monday’s loss in Baltimore

The Red Sox look like a defeated team; their words and body language only reinforce the image of defeat.  The Rays on the other hand appear confident and ready to win under the relaxed leadership of Manager Joe Maddon.  Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria reflected that confidence after the Rays defeated the Yankees Monday night saying “We’re in the driver’s seat in our opinion. It’s our job just to go out there and win.”  To get in the playoffs Boston must win both of its final two games and pray that their arch rivals, the New York Yankees beat the Rays.  Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said “We’ve backed ourselves about as far as we can go,” after last night’s loss to the Orioles.   That loss was devastating as their best pitcher Josh Beckett lost and now the Red Sox must depend on the struggling Erik Bedard 5-9 3.50 ERA who lost his last outing against the Orioles tonight and possibly John Lester pitching on three days rest Wednesday. Lester 15-9 3.49 ERA has embodied the collapse of the Sox going just 1-5 with a 5.71 ERA in September.

Chris Carpenter and Darth Vader: Will the Cardinal Empire Strike Back? 

The Braves are up by one game but still face a daunting task.  They must win against the Philadelphia Phillies and hope that the Astros can defeat the Cardinals at least once in the next two games.  The Braves task is made harder because they face Phillies starter Roy Oswalt who is 1-0 in four starts with a 1.71 ERA against the Braves this season. Meanwhile the decimated starting rotation of the Braves must pitch the slumping Derek Lowe who has a 4.59 ERA and has lost 6 of his last 8 starts against the Phillies.  Lowe has had a miserable September has lost his last four starts and has an 8.24 ERA.  The Braves hitting has also failed them of late and to beat the Phillies their pitching staff and hitters must perform better than they have in September.  Braves legend Chipper Jones simply said “We have nobody to blame but ourselves for being in this present situation.”

Chipper Jones at the end of the 6th inning against the Phillies Monday Night

This certainly will be interesting to watch. As someone that follows the game and looks at statistics, records and history the month of September appears to be an epic month with not just one but possibly two teams losing what appeared to be insurmountable leads.  As a baseball fan I like to see the improbable happen. As an Orioles fan just hope that the Birds continue to beat the Sox.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cheating in Baseball: The Case of Barry Bonds and it’s Relationship to Modern America

Barry Bonds was convicted of one count of Obstruction of Justice in his trial on perjury charges. The obstruction count came as a result of Bonds’ 2003 Grand Jury testimony.  The three perjury charges were deadlocked and the judge has the option of retrying them.  Bonds’ defense team asked for the verdict to be set aside and the judge did not immediately rule on the request.  The Bonds legal saga is not over as a decision to retry the deadlocked perjury charges, the judge acting on the defense motion to set aside the guilty verdict and the outcome sentencing and any appeals are still to come.

Meanwhile the steroids era just will not go away as Roger Clemons is soon to stand trial for lying to Congress about his alleged steroid use and Manny Ramirez ended his already tarnished career with yet another positive steroid sample.  Ramirez should have known better. He was on the list of 103 players that tested positive in 2003 and he was suspended for 50 games last year for a positive test while playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The fact that he was caught once again suggests that he was either incredibly arrogant or stupid or possibly both.

Unfortunately they are not alone. In fact 6 of the top 14 home run leaders (in italics) of all time are tainted by steroids only one of whom is still active.  Jim Thome who is also active has not been implicated in the steroids scandals but will still likely be scrutinized simply because he hit a lot of home runs during the era.  The sad thing is that the use of steroids according to some was so prevalent that almost anyone who set records during the era tainted or not will be viewed with suspicion.  As for Bonds people made up their minds about him years ago and there is little middle ground when it comes to him. The only thing now is how baseball will deal with the records of Bonds and the other players of the steroid era and admit him or any of them into the Hall of Fame.

1              Barry Bonds           762

2              Hank Aaron            755

3              Babe Ruth               714

4              Willie Mays             660

5              Ken Griffey, Jr.      630

6              Alex Rodriguez      617

7              Sammy Sosa          609

8              Jim Thome              590

9              Frank Robinson     586

10           Mark McGwire      583

11           Harmon Killebrew 573

12           Rafael Palmeiro                    569

13           Reggie Jackson      563

14           Manny Ramírez                    555

Now some like Palmeiro went and shook their fingers at Congress and then popped positive, not smart but so many others could very well have done steroids that have not been caught that we will never know.  There are numerous reports which implicate others most of whom will never be prosecuted or banned from baseball.  But thanks to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitsky who transferred to the FDA to pursue elite athletes Bonds, Clemons and other legends of various sports have been singled out for prosecution in what amounts to a witch hunt designed to bring down the biggest names in sports.  In the case of Bonds this has cost the taxpayer over 50 million dollars.  In an era of massive deficits is this a good way to spend our money to get a guilty verdict on just one charge after almost 8 years of work?  To me it seems that Novitsky and his team have made a special effort including violating court prescribed limitations of search and seizure at the BALCO labs and to ensure that the case was tried in the media before Bonds ever went to court.  Do the math: 1 player, 8 years, 50 million dollars and 1 guilty verdict on one count of 5 that went to trial and 4 that went to the jury.

That being said I believe that Bonds knowingly took steroids as did so many of the players of his era and though Bonds has not admitted anything I imagine that he started to take steroids because of the wild success of those that were taking such as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa neither of who had all of the natural talent and ability of Bonds who was on course to be a Hall of Famer before he started using.  I wish that he had admitted that he did back in 2003 it probably would have done much to help end the era as well as put others on notice and it is likely that instead of being ever in our face the Steroid era would be in the past.  The conviction even on the one count of obstruction says much in how he is perceived in court and in public. While Bonds has many supporters he also has many detractors.

I think as does Bob Costas that Bonds should be elected to the Hall of Fame, not on the first ballot for sure because unlike McGuire and Sosa he was heading to hall of fame well before his numbers became inflated after the 1997 season.  Despite the fact that steroids undoubtedly had some impact there were many others that took steroids and still couldn’t hit, many that couldn’t get out of the minor leagues. To quote Minnesota Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart who was interviewed by Minneapolis Star Tribune sports writer Paul Reusse:

“The truth is, there were so many guys taking steroids for a few years, and they couldn’t hit like Barry Bonds. In my opinion, a guy hitting with a corked bat is taking a bigger advantage than someone who was on steroids….If Bonds was doing all of this … you still have to hit the ball. He still was going to hit 40 or 50 (each season), with or without steroids.”

Zach Moore compiled an interesting and enlightening portrait of Bonds’ performance before he began allegedly using steroids in 1998. I post it here with the link because with or without steroids Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame based on his pre-1998 statistics.  True he may not have topped Aaron or Ruth in Home Runs but the numbers and the company they put him in are impressive.

“Bonds’ stats prior to the 1998 season include a .288 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. He had 1,750 hits, which included 321 doubles, 56 triples, and 374 round trippers. He drove in 1,094 runs, while crossing the plate 1,244 times himself.

He did all that while also walking 1,227 times. Bonds was not only a threat at the plate, but once he got on base, he stole 417 times. He did all this while only striking out 958 times.

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was written just before the 2001 season during which Bonds hit 73 home runs, he calls Bonds “the most un-appreciated superstar of his lifetime.” That is one reason for Bonds’ desire to use steroids, according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows.

In the section of the Abstract where James ranks his 100 best players at each position of all time, James ranks Bonds the third best left fielder ever, only behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

James also calls Bonds “probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder. Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player.”

The astounding part about this is that James wrote this before Ken Griffey Jr. started getting hurt, so he could still vividly remember Griffey gliding around centerfield, robbing home runs, stealing bases, and that beautiful swing.

On the next page, James then went on to list his 10 best players of the 1990s; Bonds leads that list, with Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros coming in second, the 10th player on that list is Greg Maddux. I say this because James goes on to say, “the No. 2 man, Biggio, is closer in value to the No. 10 man than he is to Bonds.”

We tend to forget how good Bonds was, even before he went on this steroid-aided home run tear of recent years sometimes.

I can’t compare his 12-year career statistics with any one player because his ability to do everything does not allow that. Instead, I’ll use a few different Hall of Famers to nail home the point.

His .288 average is higher than both Rickey Henderson’s .282 and Carl Yastrzemski’s .285.

He hit 101 fewer home runs then Stan Musial in about eight less seasons and also hit 13 more home runs than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

His on-base percentage was one point lower then Manny Ramirez’s current .409 career mark, and it tied Jackie Robinson’s career OBP.

Listen carefully to this next statistic, with his 12-year all-natural career, Bonds’ career slugging percentage of .551 would be eight points lower than Musial’s, six points lower than his godfather Willie Mays’, five points lower than Mickey Mantle’s, and only three points lower than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s.

Bonds had 15 less career runs scored than HOF centerfielder Duke Snider.

He finished with 29 less hits than HOF infielder Lou Boudreau.

Kirby Puckett’s 1,085 RBIs were nine less than Bonds’ sum. His 321 doubles tied Yogi Berra’s.

Bonds’ 1,227 base on balls are still more than future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez’s current totals. He even had more than walk machine Jason Giambi, and he did it in only 12 seasons.

Bonds’ 417 stolen bases put him in the top 65 all-time.

Another testament to his incredible combination of speed and power is that he is one of only four players in the 40/40 Club (home runs and steals). He actually did it during 1996 when he was clean.

The other three members of that club are fellow abuser Jose Canseco who did it in 1988, Alex Rodriguez who did it in 1998 when he was still with the Mariners, and Alfonso Soriano who did it in 2006.

After only 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, Barry Bonds was unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/40505-were-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-hall-of-famers-before-steroids

Additionally Bonds before 1998 was a 7 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time MVP and 6 time Silver Slugger Award winner. For a complete list of Bonds accolades see the Baseball Almanac page at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/awards.php?p=bondsba01  Even after he was alleged to use steroids he won the 2004 Hank Aaron Award, the 2004 Most Valuable Player Award, 2004 Players Choice Outstanding Player of the Year Award, 2004 Players Choice Player of the Year Award, 2004 National League Silver Slugger Award and 2004 Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award.  In a sense despite a widespread suspicion that he was using steroids the players and media recognized him as the best in the game. Then they didn’t seem very concerned about the possibility that he might have cheated. Now many in the media who made their money promoting Bonds condemn him as do many fans that have since abandoned him.  To me it is hypocritical.  Yes I think that he cheated but that takes little away from his pre-steroid accomplishments.

Because of the alleged steroid use and the subsequent investigation, trial and conviction he will be remembered as a cheater. However morally he is no different than all the players of the Steroid eras who abused PEDs but who were nowhere close to his skills and performance.  Bonds was certainly was an amazing player. His overall numbers would very well be lower without steroids especially the home runs, but he very well may have been the greatest overall player since his Godfather Willie Mays even without them.  Not many players can say that.

Bonds biggest problem was that he displayed a sense of arrogance toward the game and the law, the same arrogance that made him such a fearsome hitter even before steroids. The same is true with Roger Clemons, quite probably the greatest pitcher of the modern era. Like Bonds before him Clemons’ refusal to deal with the issue of his alleged steroid use forthrightly before Congress; will likely end in some kind of criminal conviction and Clemons in his first 14 seasons was certainly a Hall of Famer. I won’t go into his statistics here but they are also covered in Zack Moore’s article.

Are there men that cheated in the Hall of Fame? Yes one of the most flagrant being Gaylord Perry who admitted after his retirement and before his election to the Hall of Fame that he threw the “spit ball” which was illegal his entire career.  Players who “corked” bats were common but most were never caught because unlike today their bats were never inspected.  Pitchers used the spit ball, emery boards, diamond rings and sandpaper to alter the baseball to give it extra movement.  Since all ballplayers are human beings I have no doubt that had the technology to produce PEDs been available between the end of the Dead Ball era in 1919 and the late 1980s when they arrived on the scene that players would have abused them in order to increase their performance, win games and extend their careers.  Likewise they would have been cheered as much as the home run leaders of the 1990s were until they were exposed.  All one has to do is take a look at those who are known to have cheated as documented in this ESPN article http://espn.go.com/page2/s/list/cheaters/ballplayers.html  a number of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

My contention in this article is not that Bonds did not cheat the evidence certainly looks like he used steroids which were banned when he allegedly started using. Instead I would say that Bonds has been unfairly singled out by people in the government, the media and even in the game that would rather tear down a man than to place his actions in the broader context of the game, the era, human nature and history.  This will happens to Clemons too but not many others.

Meanwhile the government bails out financial institutions and industries that have defrauded the American public and helped impoverish the nation. We excuse the illegal and unethical lives of politicians and Presidential Candidates so long as they our on our side of the politic spectrum or failing that against the party that we oppose and we give churches and clergy who harm innocents a pass and say that the accusers are persecuting the Church. We worship celebrity and idolize people with talent or looks but not much else but we will do our best to destroy athletes who break the rules of their game.  Isn’t that somewhat hypocritical.

To put things in context I am 51 years old and coming up on 30 years in the military between the Army and Navy. In order to get the highest category of score on my Physical Fitness Test I have to perform at almost the same level as I did as a young Army enlisted man, ROTC Cadet and Officer. Likewise I have to meet almost identical height, weight and body fat standards.  On the physical side I can still outperform many young men 20-30 years younger than me. I deal with nagging injuries to my knees, shoulders and have a very fragile ankle that I have sprained or broken so many times that it is not even funny.  I suffer chronic pain. If someone had a way other than Icy Hot and 800mg Motrin to ease the pain and help my performance I cannot say that I wouldn’t take it, I probably wouldn’t break the law if it was illegal to use but if it wasn’t illegal but merely questionable I might use it.  I have another 5-7 years left before I expect to retire and like Mickey Mantle said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Baseball is Back….Thank God!

Norfolk’s Harbor Park

Night baseball isn’t an aberration. What’s an aberration is a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They tend to think of themselves as a little Williamsburg, a cute little replica of a major league franchise. Give me the Oakland A’s, thank you very much. People who do it right.” George Will on the Chicago Cubs

Baseball is back and I am very happy as spring returns and winter fades away as I can again watch baseball again live or tape delay.  Sure it is pre-season and the teams are still sorting out rosters but Spring Training is something that I look forward to every year.  I was actually hoping to get to Florida this year to take in a bit of the Orioles camp in Sarasota but thanks to a nasty Kidney stone I was pretty much knocked out of it.  Work will be too busy and Holy Week is coming so I will have to wait until opening day at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Joey Gathright bunts for a hit against Atlanta’s Gwinnett Braves in 2009

There is something about Spring Training as you watch the teams, study the roster reports and look at potential line ups pitching rotations and relief pitching staffs.  It is also the time that we begin to see how the personnel changes, signings, departures and prospects look up close.  It is a time when teams and players get to know each other again. I follow the Giants, Orioles and A’s very closely as well as looking most of the other teams as I look trough team sites, ESPN, Yahoo Baseball and sports blogs.

The statement of George Will the political columnist and avid Cubs fan speaks a lot of truth. The Cubs for years have either been penny pinchers or spent money like a drunken sailor with little to show for it. Since Jesus will come when they win the World’s Series next I think it likely that they will continue to be just what Will said they are “a cute little replica of a major league franchise.  Some teams spend their money be it large amounts or small wisely and know how to win.  Others spend money with no return throwing good money after bad on horrible deals every season and reaming losers.

What really interests me in baseball is not just the Major League teams but their Minor League affiliates.  Of course I have a close up view of the Orioles AAA International League affiliate the Norfolk Tides from my pew in Section 102, Row B Seat 1 and 2 a Harbor Park.  One of the things that I follow closely are the prospects as well as former Major League players as they move between the Majors and Minors as well as how they figure in trades.

A lot of people simply follow the big name players on contending teams and I admit that there is nothing wrong with that.  However, my view is that you have to take a look at a team’s farm system in relationship to the Major League team that it supports and feeds.  The depth and talent found in a teams’ Minor League system is vitally important to a team’s success or failure. Let me follow this with a few examples.

Mariano Rivera- Raised in the Yankee System

Let’s begin with the New York Yankees.  They are often portrayed as a team filled with “hired gun” type free agents who the pay an ungodly amount of money to obtain. Yes the Yankees are committed to winning and they will pay top dollar to get the best in baseball. Teams that want to win make the commitment to doing it.  Those that are content to be in the middle of the pack or lower don’t.  It is that simple. Like him or not George Steinbrenner knew what he was doing. However this is only part of their formula for success.  They also have also chosen to invest a lot in an excellent farm system.  Many of their top players came out of that system including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.  Their current middle relief staff, which had for many years been a weakness, is now stocked with solid pitchers who came out of the Yankee system.  The depth of their system also allows them to use it to sweeten up trade deals with other teams.  If you want to win consistently you have to have the depth in the Minor League system in case you need it.

David Wright: One of the Few Bright Spots for the Mets

So now we go to the other end of the spectrum.  The New York Mets also spent a huge amount of money on big name free agents.  However, because the Mets invest almost nothing in their Minor League system it has been consistently the worst in baseball for years.  Likewise the mid to end of season implosions show just how bad the Mets system is.  For example the Mets treated their farms teams so badly since the arrival of Omar Minaya that their flagship affiliate, the Norfolk Tides ended their relationship with the Mets at the end of the 2006 season to become part of the Baltimore Orioles system.  The Mets system has few prospects and at the upper levels is stocked with older Minor Leaguers and worn out Major leaguers looking for one last year in the sun.  The Mets initially had to move the team to New Orleans for two years and then were able to market themselves to Buffalo when Cleveland moved their AAA affiliate to Columbus Ohio.  The team was the worst in the International League last year and Buffalo fans that for years enjoyed high caliber ball players and young prospects became angry.  Little good is being said about the Mets in Buffalo even now and since the Mets have depleted what they can spend, and few Minor League prospects they have little bargaining power to reach out and deal for the top tier free agents.

Brian McCann, one of the  18 “Baby Braves” who took the Braves to the 2005 NLCS

We move to another team that does things right with regard to this is the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves have been consistently good for many years winning 14 Division titles and a World Series. In that amazing run where they won more than 90 and sometimes over 100 games a season almost every year they often dominated to National League.  The team is stocked with home grown talent.  I have seen the Braves minor league teams at the AAA and AA level and am well acquainted with their system.  They too are usually really good, very good. That minor league system has produced great players including Chipper Jones.  Do not forget 2005 when the Braves beset by injuries called up a large number of Minor league players from Richmond and Mississippi including All Star catcher Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Ande Marte, Kelly Johnson and 14 other rookies and the “Baby Braves” as they were known helped take the Braves to the playoffs.  The system had to recover from that and it has now because the Braves invest in it and those players are beginning to make an impact in the Majors.

Billy Beane the GM of the Oakland Athletics

Another team that knows how to use a farm system is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s after being very competitive using very little money for years fell on hard times last year, but one of the keys to their success was their reliance on top prospects in their Minor League System.  Over the years that system has produced some great players and more than likely will do so again.  The A’s system is built on the principle of Saber metrics which looks at numbers crunched by statistics geeks and has for the most part served them well.  The A’s General Manager Billy Beane has revolutionized the game for small market teams that want quality on a limited budget. Many former A’s cut loose when they would become too expensive now star on other Major League teams. The system is discussed in the book Moneyball.

The new “Baby Birds” Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold along with Luke Scott great Oscar Salazar after a Home Run

A few years back the Orioles realizing that they could not compete dollar for dollar against ht Red Sox and Yankees began at the single A level to build a premier farm system.  Each year the best have moved up into the system to AA and AAA levels.  Last year the Norfolk Tides started out on fire and when the Orioles ran into major injury problems they called up a lot of minor league players including Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergeson and Chris Tillman.   The Orioles have built their system in stages and that building process went through the 2009 season.  Many of those called up were not quite ready for the majors but many are looked upon as future All Stars, especially their deep well of pitching talent that most teams could only dream about having.

Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard who I have seen play as a Reading Philly and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons before he went to the Majors

When I look at teams I always look at their minor league system and their prospects because that system and those prospects are the future of the team.  Teams that are consistently bad typically have bad minor league systems.  I have been watching minor league ball in person regularly for almost ten years.  As such I have seen many of today’s biggest stars including players like Ryan Howard, Felix Hernandez, Jason Verlander, Heath Bell, Grady Sizmore, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jhonny Peralta, Brian McCann, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Jonathan Papelbon, many of the current Baltimore Orioles as well as countless others.

The relationship of the Major League team to its farm system is of paramount importance. If a team does not invest in their minor league affiliates and make good draft choices and trades they will seldom do well even if they have a decent team at the beginning of the season. Without quality prospects in the minor league system they will not have personnel readily available for call up on short notice in case of injury, not will they have depth to trade for quality players if the need them.

This is one of the things that make the game of baseball so different than other sports with the possible exception of NHL Hockey and its farm system.  The relationship and the development of players at the minor league level have a direct impact on the Major League club.  This is part of why I am so passionate about this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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