Results tagged ‘ Buster Olney ’

The Nightmare Of Perpetual Inter-League Play

Buster Olney of ESPN.Com has just posted a very good piece about a story I first heard a week ago, one that could shatter the concepts of the American and National Leagues as we know them.

As I heard it, the Bud Selig-driven committee investigating realignment was spending most of its time discussing moving one team from the National League into the American League to create two 15-team leagues. The obvious implication of those odd numbers is that from the first day of the season to the last, there would always be at least one inter-league game being played, every day – from the first celebratory week, to the final climactic days of the pennant race.

What a bunch of crap.

Olney’s sources apparently divined this scheme after the Commissioner’s group began preliminary discussions about it with the union. I had merely heard about it during its owners-only stage. His additional details include the suggestion that the 16th NL team switching to the AL might be the Astros (to give them an all-Texas rivalry with the Rangers; in fact the Marlins and Rays could probably better use this benefit), the  possibility that divisions would be eliminated altogether and each league’s 15 teams would simply vie for five playoff spots (hey, great, more crap – your opportunity to buy tickets to see a 13th-place team, or, if you’re really lucky – a battle between both 13th-place teams!).

The divisional system introduced in 1969 is troublesome enough – it broke the tradition that the pennant race really determined the best team, because each team played every other team the same number of times. But it became necessary once the leagues got beyond 10 teams, for the reasons hinted at above. In the 1890’s, when the National League stomped out both the upstart Players’ League, and then its former rival the American Association, major league baseball became one league of 12 teams. Hope dies early in a 12-team league. On this date in 1899 – June 11 – ten of the twelve teams were 8-and-a-half games out or more. Last place Cleveland was already 26 games out of first place and would end the year a whopping 84 games behind the pennant winner.

The divisions are a necessary evil, but inter-league play is an unnecessary one, and making it a virtually daily part of the menu would make a joke out of the pennant races. As it is now, how you do in inter-league pretty much determines whether or not you’ll win anything. And how you do in inter-league pretty much depends on who you play in inter-league. And who you play in inter-league pretty much is determined by which match-up will draw the most fans or the most tv viewers.

When Selig rammed inter-league play through in 1997, it still wore a fig-leaf that at least within divisions, each team would have the same inter-league opponents. The A.L. East would play the N.L. East one year, then the N.L. Central the next, then the N.L. West the third. This was abandoned as soon as the fervor swelled around Mets-Yankees, Giants-A’s, White Sox-Cubs, Dodgers-Angels, etc.

Right now inter-league opponents are selected for marketing reasons, and give some teams decided advantages over rivals in their own divisions. This new proposed system could make that disparity even greater. Unless there is some intention to reduce or scatter the current twice-yearly Festivuses of inter-league (and when has baseball ever reduced anything?) in a roughly 26-week schedule with approximately 52 “series” a year, each team in a 15-team league would probably go from playing six inter-league series a year to as many as eight or nine. By definition, some teams would get an easier schedule than others. By definition, the likelihood that the World Series teams would’ve met during the regular season increases – further flattening the bubbles in that champagne.

Inter-league has been interesting and novel in some cases (Yankees-Mets was thrilling, then interesting, and is now routine) but it has adversely affected what the pennant races mean, and it has been a nightmare for National League teams used to defending against eight-man batting orders. Just as it’s time for the concept to be discontinued or reduced, MLB is – naturally – looking to increase it.

Why not just give the teams with the top national tv ratings a first-round playoff bye?

Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul
ball.

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my
mother.

3.
And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

ATLANTA is
the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

4.
Alejandro Pena, 1991-92

5. Jeff
Reardon, 1992

6. Mike
Stanton, 1993

7. Greg
McMichael, 1994-95

8. Brad
Clontz, 1995

9. Mark
Wohlers, 1995-98

10. Kerry
Ligtenberg, 1998

11. John
Rocker, 1999

12.
Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

13.
Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

19.
Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

25.
Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

27.
Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

If FLORIDA
could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing -
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

DIVISION PREDICTIONS:
I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.

Tillman1967.jpg

LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….

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