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Padre Steve Loves the MLB Winter Meetings now More than Ever, Ron Santo Elected to Hall of Fame and Happy “Repeal Day!”

The Big Prizes at the Winter Meetings: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder (Photo Jeff Curry/US Presswire)

“You win pennants in the off season when you build your teams with trades and free agents.” Earl Weaver

Yes my friends it is the time of year that the great Earl Weaver said was the most important to building championship teams.  The off season, particularly the winter meetings which are taking place this week in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  It is only Monday but things are heating up with discussions surrounding some of the league’s biggest stars and just who might sign them to big time contracts.

Every team has needs and during the winter meetings the goal is to find ways of meeting those needs from sources outside your system with the goal of producing a winning team.  At least that is what one hopes but things don’t always work out as planned.

Now the Miami Marlins are spending money like a drunken sailor and eying the biggest “fish” in the Sea of Free Agency.  So far they have spent 26 million on closer Heath Bell and 102 million for 6 years on Jose Reyes and are heavily engaged in courting Albert Pujols. Other teams are working hard to sign other major Free Agents and make deals and for me this is so much more exciting because I have finally gotten on Twitter and I am getting to hear the trade rumors, speculation and deals as they happen. This is cool.  Of course it is so much information that I cannot process it all at once and it will give me grist for later posts about how I see things stacking up for the various teams.  Big stories other than Pujols and Fielder include C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehle and even speculation about the possible return of Manny Ramirez.

As for my hopes…I hope that the Giants get some solid hitting this week, I would love to see Fielder or Pujols in San Francisco or for that matter Baltimore but that probably will not happen. I hope that the Giants get hitting and that the Orioles get some pitching and maybe another big bat.  Of course bad deal for the Dodgers is always welcome and a meltdown of the rest of the AL East greatly appreciated.  Hey I can dream can’t I?

The Ron Santo that I remember

One great thing to happen today was the vote to induct the late Ron Santo into the Hall of Fame. Santo received 15 of 16 votes from the Golden Age Committee composed of 16-member Golden Era Committee comprised of Hank Aaron, Pat Gillick, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Tommy Lasorda, Juan Marichal,Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams, Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael, Al Rosen, Dick Kaegel, Jack O’Connell, and Dave Van Dyck voted Ron Santo into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Santo played as a Third Baseman for 14 years for the Chicago Cubs and one year for the White Sox and was an outstanding player.  Santo was a 9 time All Star who hit 342 Home Runs and 2254 hits, a .277 Batting Average and had 1331 RBI and was excellent defensively winning 5 Gold Glove awards.  But the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Santo also had 1108 walks a .362 OBP, .464 SLG and .826 OPS.  Santo played the majority of his career battling Type I Diabetes and concealed it until 1971 fearing that he would be forced to retire. He began a broadcasting career with the Cubs in 1990. He had his legs amputated in 2001 and 2002 and died December 10th 2010 of complications from bladder cancer and diabetes. Some may contest his election but I always thought that he should be in the Hall of Fame.

But on a more serious Constitutional issue I wish all of my readers a Happy Repeal Day. Yes this is the anniversary of when Congress righted a gross wrong by passing the 21st Amendment to the Constitution which repealed the 18th Amendment and restored balance to the universe.

You see back in July of 1919 following the Great War a large group of “values voters” got together and decided that it was the consumption of alcoholic beverages that was leading the nation to ruin. The fact that we had been on the winning side, or God’s side in what was not the “Mediocre War” but the “Great War” and were moving into economic dominance was of little matter.  Pharisees like to make their own rules as they go along.  So the Congress passed the 18th Amendment which banned the production, consumption or transportation of said alcoholic beverage in the country.  One of the promoters of this was a man named Welch who coincidently marketed Grape juice.  If you go to a church that uses grape juice for communion this is where it bean as churches used wine before that time because it was accepted as Biblical.

Of course when organized and for that mater disorganized crime took over what had been the previously legal activity of producing alcoholic drink the prohibitionists decided that tougher law enforcement was the answer. Of course that didn’t work and the problems that had been previously associated with the consumption of alcohol in its legal form got worse everyone knew that a great fraud had been perpetrated on the American people.  When that failed as it was bound to do groups of people, decided to disobey the law, including my grandfather Ernie and great uncle Johnny who ran “stills” in Wayne County West Virginia while others who lobbied to repeal the dreadful act.  Finally on December 5th 1933 with great irony the vastly prohibitionist and Mormon legislature of the great state of Utah ratified the 21st Amendment to end the fraud that religious hucksters masquerading as promoters of family values perpetrated in 1919. Let’s hope that that we don’t have top go down this road again. After all we in the Navy are still suffering from the decision of prohibitionist Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ended the use of alcohol in moderation on Navy ships in 1914 making us one of the few non-Islamic in the world navies to be “dry.”

So I wish everyone a Happy Repeal Day and God bless America!

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

The Big Prizes at the Winter Meetings: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder Jeff Curry/US Presswire

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The BCS (Bogus Championship Series) Sham, Tebow the Heretic wins Again, and Moolah over Miami…

It is amazing to see how the Bowl Championship series works. I think we should rename it the Bogus Championship Series.  I am old fashioned it just seems to me that we have an SEC West rematch as the national title game. Sorry, LSU won that Alabama should not be considered for the National Championship. Yes they are a solid team, one of the best in the country but it would have been far more “national championshippy” to have two teams out of the same division playing for the “national championship” if that is what it pretends to be. Even in sports that have “wild card” berths such as Major League Baseball and the NFL never can a wild card team play for the World Series or Super Bowl against a team from its own division. Same goes for the NHL and the NBA. The fact is that we should have LSU playing Oklahoma State for the Title or another team that actually won its Conference Championship.

The fact is that in most sports in fact all but the BCS there are times that an excellent team doesn’t get to play for the championship simply because someone in their conference, division or league had a better record.  If an entity wants to call its title a “national” title it should include two teams that represent different conferences.  What a sham, the real national title game will not be played just to replay the SEC West championship. When you look at the other BCS games it is clear that the BCS process has failed again. Since we are never going to get a playoff system in Division One NCAA College Football or a tournament like in NCAA Basketball we would be just as well off to go back to the old bowl system and let everyone argue about what team is number one.  We end up doing that now anyway most of the time so let’s end the BCS farce.  Actually you could probably have a real playoff system but there is far too much money in the current system for anyone, the NCAA, the Universities and the Bowl Game sponsors themselves to want to change it no matter how bad of system it is.

From real failures we go to the man that so many want to fail, Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow.  Now I am not a Tebow fan or promoter by far and certainly am not a Broncos fan unless they are playing the Cowboys or Steelers. However, despite the fact that he is not the kind of quarterback that has dominated the sport for decades.  Since the day he was drafted he has been treated with distain by most of the sports media and former players that serve as commentators.

Now I agree that Tebow doesn’t fit the template that the NFL uses now but he leads and inspires his team to win.  The way that he does it isn’t pretty and he will never be John Elway or Steve Young.  He is to use religious parlance a “heretic.” But who says that he needs to be? What if he is the kid that defies the rules wins games and inspires his team. Isn’t that what it is really about or is it about maintaining an illusion that there is only one way to lead teams and win games?  Tebow for all of his technical limitations finds ways to win and inspires his teammates.  He rapidly becoming a successful NFL heretic. I like heretics and despite it all I hope that he continues to win just to make “experts” look foolish shut his critics up.

Finally the Miami Marlins have spent more money on one player than they did for their entire payroll.  This is actually nothing new Jeff Loria buys a team, wins a world series and discards the team the next year.  However money talks and Loria has a lot to throw around. He signed closer Heath Bell for 27 million and Jose Reyes for a cool 102 million on a six year deal that includes no “no trade” clause.  It looks like they are also serious about spending big money on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder and possibly Tiger starting pitcher Mark Buerhle. If they keep spending money like this and the Security Exchange Commission keeps investigating this could end up more like an episode of Miami Vice rather than last years CSI Miami season which ended with the Marlins dead on the slab.   Regardless the National League East will be radically different in 2012 with Ozzie Guillen at the helm and what looks like unlimited money to spend.  I can only say I wish the same would happen for the Orioles despite the fact that our uniforms are going to be way cooler than the Marlins new duds even if we lose over 90 games again.

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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