Tag Archives: New York Yankees

Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager.  But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

MLB Gives the Miami Marlins Some Time Off as the Grand Social Experiment of Playing Baseball in the Midst of COVID-19 Rolls On

This week the Major League Baseball (MLB) social experiment season reinforced the fact that we are in a season like no other in the middles of a global COVID-19 pandemic.

After over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, the Miami Marlins had a week’s worth of games postponed. As a result of the Marlins outbreak, the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies also had games postponed based on their proximity to either the Marlins, or the clubhouse in Philadelphia used by the Marlins.

In a statement announcing the move to basically quarantine an entire team, MLB noted, “that it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their Baseball Operations for a resumption early next week.”

The fact that a team would have an outbreak of COVID-19 in and of itself is not surprise. In fact, each team as a pool of 30 “break glass in case of emergency” players to handle just such an event. Of course, I am sure most teams thought they would be able to get further into the season without having to deal with an outbreak.

The Marlins were shut down while the other teams either continued to play, or rearranged their schedules to avoid games against the Marlins later in the week. One has to wonder whether the entire MLB season would have been called if one of the more popular teams with higher payrolls became infected.

The Miami Marlins are in quarantine in Philadelphia after over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Games in Philadelphia were cancelled after other teams voiced concerns about using the same clubhouse that the Marlins had just left. The Phillie Phanatic could not be reached for comment.
Photo R. Anderson

That is nothing against the Marlins, I like the Marlins. In fact, I still have a program, shirt and hat from their first season in 1993.

Also, Don Mattingly, the current manager of the Marlins, was one of my favorite baseball players growing up.

But there is certainly a difference in parking a team that likely was not going to make the 16-team cutoff for the playoffs, versus parking a team like the Yankees or Dodgers that many people consider World Series bound.

The Marlins will spend their week off trying to find enough players to field a competitive team but there is a chance they may not be able to continue the season. Before the series was cancelled, the Washington Nationals voted unanimously to not travel to Miami for games since it is one of the hottest of hot spots for COVID-19. So, even if the Marlins do resume the season, it is possible they may find that no one wants to play them at Marlins Park.

That calls to mind the biggest flaw of the MLB season. While most leagues that are resuming competition are doing so in a bubble environment to mitigate virus spread, MLB owners basically demanded that games be played in their home ballparks even if those Ballparks were located in the middle of a COVID-19 hot spot.

As mentioned previously, the Toronto Blue Jays, will play the season as a team without a country after the Canadian government nixed their plan of letting ballplayers cross the U.S. and Canadian border freely. So, with the exception of the “Buffalo” Blue Jays wandering the East Coast like a hiker on the Appalachian Trail, the remaining team owners are recouping some revenue by using their home Ballparks versus sharing a bubble, while counting on players to police themselves and stay in the hotel on road trips instead of hitting the town.

While the source of the Marlins outbreak has not been traced the Associated Press reported that at least one Miami player left the team hotel when the team was in Atlanta and could have been exposed there.

The actions of the Marlins players to decide via a group text that they would still take the field even after some players tested positive show that COVID-19 is not going to be corralled under MLB’s plan since it relies too much on the players for enforcement.

With the Marlins outbreak, it becomes more and more likely that the 2020 MLB social experiment will be cut short due to forces outside the control of the owners; allowing them to play the victim card instead of showing real upfront leadership.

If MLB is bound and determined to crown a 2020 World Series Champion, just cancel the season and give the title to the team that ends up with the fewest COVID-19 infections on their roster.

The season never should have started. MLB could have been a beacon of responsibility by saying that baseball is not an essential business, and it is too risky to players and employees to try to crisscross the country creating made for television games. Airing Public Service Announcements with players wearing masks and encouraging social distancing would have been so much more responsible than a few hours of baseball a night.

It is time for the adults in the room to shut the MLB season down and try again next year. Of course, those adults are the same people who insisted on playing in their home ballparks with advertising covered tarpaulins over many of the empty seats. I doubt owners will do much in the way of canceling the season despite the growing evidence that players are going to be sick and ignore the safety protocols since it would cause them to admit they were wrong.

The 2020 MLB season will continue to roll along, and players will continue to get sick. Teams will be placed in timeout, and the schedule will continue to get reworked to ensure that teams are able to get those precious 60-games in, so that 16-teams can earn some of that sweet playoff television revenue.

The Baltimore Orioles traveled to Miami for a series against the Marlins. The only problem being the Marlins were in quarantine in Philadelphia after over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the Orioles to turn around and fly back home. The Marlins are still stuck in Philadelphia after MLB cancelled a week’s worth of their games.
Photo R. Anderson

The optics MLB is projecting come across as “player health be damned, there’s baseball to be played.”

That approach sounds an awful lot like a guy in Washington D.C. who is ignoring the science since he wants the economy and schools to reopen, and for people to act like there is nothing to see here; since it would benefit him in November.

With blinders on, and the distraction of watching baseball, it is easy for some people to ignore the over 150,000 Americans who have died due to the lack of a centralized plan to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Those 150,000 and counting Americans are not just numbers. They were fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sons, daughters, grandparents, husbands, wives, coworkers and friends. Some of them were baseball fans, and some of them probably even voted for that guy in Washington D.C. who listens to the “Demon sperm” doctor who claims she cured COVID-19, instead of listening to real science.

For some people, it is easier to play the victim than the hero. Even if one wants to blame someone on the other side of the world for allowing COVID-19 to come to our majestic shores, and spread from sea to shining sea, the fact is the virus is here. It is going to continue to rage against the machine of indifference and spin. COVID-19 does not care if someone is playing the blame game, or wondering out loud why they aren’t as popular as other people.

But by all means, play ball and tout drugs that the legitimate scientists say don’t really help with COVID-19, like a fiddle playing Roman emperor, instead of standing up and actually trying to be part of the solution by leading with a national strategy.

I don’t know how we got here as a country. America used to be looked at with a level of respect by the majority of the world. Now, those same countries are likely either pitying us, or shaking their heads in disbelief. It is time for people to wake up and take COVID-19 seriously.

Baseball can always come back next year. If we do not get a handle on COVID-19, there will be a lot fewer fans around to watch it. You know, because they will be dead from that virus people got tired of and decided to try to ignore. Those are facts and not self-serving conspiracy theory laced spin.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol showed old Ebenezer that he had the power to change his ways to ensure that Tiny Tim’s chair was not empty the following year. However, it seems that many people are content to decrease what they view to be the surplus population by ignoring COVID-19, and saying “bah humbug,” while they engage in self-serving activities and worry about filling their money vaults.

Now if you’ll excuse me, that’s enough Dickens for one day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Lightning on MLB Opening Day Reminds us That We are Still in the Middle of a Storm

After months of negotiations, Major League Baseball (MLB) started the 2020 season that they were bound and determined to have despite cases of COVID-19 surging from coast to coast, and more specifically surging within several cities that have MLB teams.

While I was watching the Opening Day game Thursday night, between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, an eerie sight of potential foretelling took place to remind us all that this is not a season like the others.

No, I am not talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “just a bit outside” first pitch. I can only hope that I am in as good of shape as he is when I turn 79. While, Dr. Fauci is not the best at throwing pitches, thank goodness for all of us that he is adapt at not sugar-coating things and giving us the facts we need in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.

The eerie moment occurred during an on-air interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred when the Washington D.C. skyline was filled with lightning. Manfred was unaware of the light show since it happened behind him, but he became aware of it when the thunder reached his ears.

Lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.
Photo R. Anderson

The lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.

By the time I was watching the Los Angeles Dodgers game, I had forgotten about the lightning. Instead, I was making preparations to write about the wayward Toronto Blue Jays finally finding safe harbor after being told that they could not play in Toronto or Pittsburgh due to concerns related to COVID-19 spread.

While the Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a Triple A Ballpark within the Blue Jays organization in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season; despite the players noting their desire to only play in an MLB Ballpark.

With my sights set on chronicling the plight of the Blue Jays in mind, I sat down at my computer in the Gigaplex and was ready to let the words fly from my fingers onto the screen. That was until the giant thunder clap briefly knocked out the power, and took out the Wi-Fi and cable connections.

The storm lasted all of 60 seconds, and included only that single bolt of lightning and related thunder. As quickly as the sky turned dark as night, the sun returned. It was as if the storm had never even been there aside from the lack of Wi-Fi and cable to remind me.

As I was resetting all of the Gigaplex clocks, suddenly the lightning in Washington, D.C. the night before was back in my mind. I realized that the lightning was a metaphor for the season of baseball in the middle of COVID-19. Much like Commissioner Rob Manfred, I did not see the lightning because my back was turned, but I heard the thunder.

The Texas Gulf Coast was under a Tropical Storm watch for much of the day, but when the storm track shifted south of me it became an out of sight out of mind event. I went about my day as if there was not a storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico with the possibility of rain bands stretching to my side of Texas.

So, when that lone lightning bolt did arrive, and leave as quickly as it popped up, there was no one more surprised than me. I have lived through many storms, and as far as I can recall I have never seen a storm of a single lightning bolt but as my mother said, “it only takes one.”

COVID-19 is a lot like lightning. We can try to turn our backs on it and play baseball, or go out to eat, or do whatever else we used to do when the world was open, but even if we have our backs turned and ignore it, the thunder will remind us of its presence.

While we cannot fully control the strength and ferocity of lightning, there are some pretty easy steps that we can take to starve the COVID-19 virus of the fuel it needs to spread. Thinking of these mitigation steps as medical lightning rods if you will.

Wearing masks, washing hands, socially distancing, and avoiding large gatherings are such simple steps to stop the spread. Sadly, despite the simplicity of these things, there are still people who feel they are immune to the CVOID-19 virus, or that they would rather die free than be forced to wear a freedom stealing mask.

I have said it before, and it bears saying again, you know what steals a person’s freedom? Being dead from the COVID-19 virus because they refused to wear a mask, and just had to go to that house party, or whatever other gathering was deemed so important.

The Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ultimately, a Triple A Ballpark in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season Time will tell whether the Blue Jays, and the other 29-MLB teams, are able to get through a season played in the middle of a global health crisis.
Photo R. Anderson

There are a growing number of stories of younger people infecting their grandparents, and in some cases leading to the death of their loved ones.

That is certainly something you would not want to put in the annual Christmas letter, “Hello friends, this year I was selfish and went to a house party in the middle of a pandemic, and as a result Grandpa is dead.”

Personally, I do not want to risk the guilt of thinking that my actions of needing to socialize led to someone else’s death. But if someone feels that they absolutely have to go out, I hope they remember how thunder and lightning work. By the time you hear the thunder, the damage has already been done by the lightning.

The MLB season was greeted by lightning on Opening Night. Time will tell whether the pandemic’s lightning of cases among the players, or hot spots where games are to be played, allow for the full season to take place.

MLB really wants to be able to unfurl the proverbial “Mission Accomplished” banner after crowning a 2020 World Series Champion.

I just hope when the dust settles it was all worth it, and they aren’t having to write about anyone dying as a result of being hellbent on playing baseball in a time of COVID-19. From where I am sitting right now, the risks of trying to crisscross the country far outweigh any benefits.

That is not to say all is doom and gloom. The COVID-19 storm will pass and there can be joy in Mudville once again. One of the best things about a thunder storm, is the double rainbow that is left behind to remind us that storms are temporary and there are better days ahead.

Of course, those better days will only come if we all do our part. So just wear a mask, and practice social distancing. Laying off an off speed pitch is hard, wearing a mask is easy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder why there are so many songs about rainbows.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Houston Astros are Potential Biggest Winners in Shortened MLB Season

Well, it is finally official, after three months of tense negotiations, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will take place as a 60-game sprint, instead of a 162-game marathon.

Players are expected to resume Spring Training activities at their home Ballparks by July 1, with Opening Day of the truncated season of teams playing a mostly geographical schedule  occurring on July 24.

Baseball purists, players, owners, broadcasters, and all other interested stakeholders, are likely to debate the merits of playing the shortest season in MLB history in the middle of a global pandemic that is exploding like an uncontrolled wildfire in an oxygen rich environment.

While those debates occur, the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour where they were set to feel the brunt of angry fans, and fellow ballplayers on 29 other teams in response to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.

With the delayed 2020 MLB season set to launch in July Jose Altuve, and the rest of the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour tied to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.
Photo R. Anderson

Heck, the Astros don’t even have to worry about fans in the stands heckling them since the 2020 MLB season will be played in empty Ballparks.

Additionally, the players on the other 29 teams, who would have likely made it extra difficult for the Astros by enforcing a whole slew of unwritten rules of baseball between the foul poles, are likely going to have other things on their minds, like not catching a virus that has no cure and has killed over 121,000 Americans.

It is doubtful that anyone is going to want to have a bench clearing brawl in the middle of a pandemic. Although a socially distanced mound charge could make for good television as the batter tries to voice his displeasure at the pitcher from six feet away.

For those who may not be aware, or have forgotten about the Astros high crimes and misdemeanors against baseball, the MLB commissioner’s office completed an investigation at the end of the 2019 season into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros by a former player and whistleblower, related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.

According to the report, the Astros used a video monitor of a camera feed from center field, and a trash can in the dugout to relay signals to batters about what pitch was coming in order to give the Astros hitters an advantage at the plate.

As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “advanced knowledge creates epic launch angle, and equals the ball traveling many feet.”

The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017. In 2019, it was revealed that some players on the team cheated that year which taints the first Championship in team history. Using a trash can to tip off the batter to what pitch is coming is less obvious than the two bats and a glove technique demonstrated by Jose Altuve during Spring Training in 2016.
Photo R. Anderson

As one might expect, the players on teams who lost to the Astros in 2017, in particular, the Dodgers and Yankees, feel cheated, because as it turns out they were cheated.

Every victory by the Astros in 2017, including the World Series title, has a stigma attached to it despite all of the protestations by Astros players that they only used the trash can banging system in the regular season, in order to win enough games to get to the playoffs, and then played fair and square after that once they were in the playoffs.

The world will never know whether the claims of postseason innocence are true or not. What is known, is that through a system of cheating that lasted for a portion of the 2017 MLB season, all members of the 2017 Astros, whether they benefited from the trash can signals or not, are forever tainted in the eyes of fans and other players.

Although the Astros are likely to face less retaliation due to the current climate where people have real things to worry about like COVID-19, and seeking social justice reform, I am not going to let them off so easily.

I will no longer root for the Houston Astros, since I do not respect the organization, nor do I feel it is worth my time, or money to support them based on the actions of players who cheated the system, and the actions of other players who remained quiet about the cheating.

In the big picture, I am sure that the $500 or so I used to spend a season on the Astros is a drop in the bucket to the team. But, if enough people like me take the same action, the team will realize that actions have consequences. That is how quickly the actions of members of an organization can affect the overall bottom line. That is why it is so critical that sports organizations instill an ethical culture and swiftly address any employees found acting unethically.

It takes years to build a reputation, and mere seconds to tarnish it. Just ask all of the MLB players who were linked to the steroids era and are on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I have always respected Dusty Baker, who at the age of 71 years old, has the herculean task of trying to rebuild the reputation of the Astros as the new team skipper. I hope he succeeds, but it will still be a few seasons before I can think about supporting the Astros again. Also, there is no guarantee that I ever will decide that the Astros are worthy of my time and money. As Robert DeNiro once told Ben Stiller, “The circle of trust is broken, Greg.”

Dusty Baker, pictured with A.J. Hinch, the man he replaced as Astros skipper, has a tall order in front of him as he looks to try to rebuild the reputation of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

From the time I moved to Houston, I embraced the Astros and supported them through some very lean seasons.

In fact, some of my best memories of going to games at Minute Maid Park occurred during the seasons where the Astros had some of the worst records. I knew the players were trying their best, and I was there to support them win or lose.

I do not care if a team I support wins every game. If I did, I would have given up on my beloved Baltimore Orioles years ago. I mean, think about it, only one team wins the World Series each year. That doesn’t make the other 29 teams total losers, it just means one team played better than the rest, or had a few more lucky breaks fall their way. And no, a trash can dugout drum is not a lucky break, that is just cheating no matter how you try to bang it.

I want the teams I support to play hard and to play fair. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. Teams will now have 60 games to earn a spot in the playoffs and try to unseat the Washington Nationals as World Series Champions.

The Washington Nationals will start their defense of their World Series title next month.
Photo R. Anderson

I stand firm in my opinion that the 2020 season should not be played under the current cloud of COVID-19. I do not see a scenario where I will waver from that position.

But, now that a season seems inevitable, I will hope and pray that the number of people involved in putting on the made for TV season that become infected with COVID-19 is low, and that those who do catch the virus make a full recovery.

I am especially concerned for some of the older managers, like Baker, and Joe Maddon, who fall within the high-risk category, based on their ages, for needing to be extra careful about not catching the disease.

When the dust settles, and this season that everyone was so gung ho to have played is over, I really hope people will say it was worth all of the risks to player health and the overall health of baseball in general, instead of saying, why in the world did we do that?

One of the great constants in the world is that hindsight is always 20/20. So far, the year 2020 has been one for the ages, and sadly there are still six more months to go before we can put a fork in this year. There will be plenty of time for hindsight when the year is over, but the time to make good decisions to look back on is now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to order some more face masks since the COVID-19 cases in Texas are rising faster than a 95 mile per hour brushback pitch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Baseball is Still Trying to Save Season as Other Sports Hit Cruise Control

As Major League Baseball’s owners and players continue to haggle over the parameters of what a 2020 season would look like in terms of number of games played and percentage of compensation, NASCAR and IndyCar are up and running, and the NBA is about to be up and running.

NASCAR which became the first major professional sports league to return to action last month, is set to hit another milestone on June 14 when it allows some fans into the track to see the action in person. Welcoming of fans into the facility comes with restrictions, and is also occurring during a time when nearly half of the states in the United States are seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 go up. It is also occurring as other states are being questioned about whether they are providing an accurate count of the total number of COVID-19 cases within their communities.

Make no mistake, these are truly uncharted waters, and the entire process is just one big wave away from capsizing faster than the ship in The Poseidon Adventure. Still, for many it is full steam ahead, into the great wide open.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26. While the main issues preventing the MLB from playing ball seem to be mostly financial, not all of the players are being affected the same way.

Established MLB players, and recently drafted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players, can easily sit out the season if it comes down to it since for the most part their jobs are safe.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26.
Photo R. Anderson

For other players, a lost season could cost them their last chance to make it onto a Big-League roster and leave the long bus rides of MiLB behind.

I have been thinking a lot about those players in both affiliated and independent baseball lately. As I have noted several times before, I cut my Ballpark teeth by mostly watching Southern League baseball when I was growing up. In recent years, despite being located closer to an MLB Ballpark, than an Independent League Ballpark, I have found myself driving the extra 20 minutes and spending more time watching the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPA) than the Houston Astros.

Nothing says Ballpark fun quite like a mascot adjacent box seat near the dugout. Isn’t that right Swatson?
Photo R. Anderson

For me, Minor League Baseball is a purer form of the game and allows me to be closer to the field for the same price as a nosebleed ticket at an MLB Ballpark. With Minor League Ballparks being about a third of the size of their Major League counterparts, one can really get up close and personal to the action.

Unfortunately, those Minor League players that I enjoy watching the most are the ones who are finding uncertain futures, as well as uneasy presents. To their credit many MLB teams and players have offered to pay the salaries of the players in their farm systems. However, with efforts to reduce the number of MiLB teams, as well as reducing the number of players drafted, in the coming years, there will be far fewer people who will get to chase their dreams of making it to the Show.

Of course, less affiliated Minor League baseball should mean an uptick in players wanting to play Independent League baseball which may lead to the rise of new leagues and teams to fill the void left behind following any contraction of affiliated baseball.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year, it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

My friend was a southpaw pitcher, which was then, and continues to be a hot commodity sought after by many MLB clubs. My friend ended up signing with the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB June Amateur Draft right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field, as well as off the field, led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues like a fan trying to reach first base in a dizzy bat race.  My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball. Over 10 seasons he had a career .513 winning percentage, and a career 4.32 earned run average (ERA). After 10 years of chasing the dream my friend finally called it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball proving that not every dream of playing MLB ball comes true.
Photo R. Anderson

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big-league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short. While the answer varies depending on who you ask, most people can agree that only about 10 to 20 percent of the people drafted by MLB teams will ever make it to the Majors.

So, the thinking goes that by reducing the number of teams and the rounds in the draft MLB is forcing people who wouldn’t have made it to the MLB anyway to start their post baseball playing days earlier.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a steadier form of work. These players are the real Crash Davis types, in honor of the character Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Whenever baseball does resume it will be different on so many fronts. COVID-19 exposed a crack in the professional sports diversion that people have counted on to get them through so many other trying times in the past. Now that people know that sports are not the recession proof, tragedy proof, and pandemic proof light in a time of darkness that they thought they were, people will need to decide whether they will still put their trust in sports to distract and comfort them, or if they will find other ways to deal with whatever life throws at them.

In many ways, we are all Minor League players trying to hang on to the dream for one more season, while knowing in the back of our heads that at some point we will need to put our cleats away and face life head on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Bull Durham.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Social Experiment on Value of Social Distancing to Face Biggest Test as Sports World Watches

Throughout the worldwide timeout brought about by the COVID-19 virus, there have been two main schools of thought related to the value of people social distancing to avoid spreading the virus.

One school of thought, let’s call them science, maintains that the best way to mitigate the spread of a virus, that has no cure, and no proven treatment, is to stay six feet apart, wear masks when around other people, wash hands constantly, and avoid touching the mouth and nose area.

The other school of thought, let’s call them Sweden, believes that the virus that has killed over 109,000 Americans, and over 330,000 people worldwide, will go away on its own, and that people should just roll the dice and go about their lives as if a huge global pandemic was not hanging over their heads in an effort to establish herd immunity equipped with the knowledge that one has to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

There are of course nuggets of truth to each side’s position, since no one really knows for sure how this brand-new virus will finally ramp down. Team science is right in saying that smaller gatherings of people mean less opportunities to spread the virus. At the same time, team Sweden is also right in saying that one cannot stay isolated forever.

While the two camps differ on the value of social distancing as a whole, one thing that both sides should be able to agree on, is that minority populations, elderly populations, and populations with underlying health conditions should take extra precautions related to how they respond to the threat of COVID-19.

To a certain degree, each and every one of us is free to decide which camp we want to belong to, sort of like the people of Los Angeles have the choice between rooting for the Angels, or the Dodgers. One team wins a lot, has a storied history, and has their own unique hot dog. The other team is the Angels.

To a certain degree, each and every one of us is free to decide which camp we want to belong to when it comes to social distancing, or not social distancing during the time of COVID-19, just like the people of Los Angeles have the choice between rooting for the Angels, or the Dodgers. One team wins a lot, has a storied history, and has their own unique hot dog. The other team is the Angels.
Photo R. Anderson

Starting today, the two COVID-19 camps are likely to see which approach to social distancing was the right call. The data points come courtesy of 14 days of coast to coast protests acting as a major case study in what happens when thousands of people occupy the same space for extended periods of time in the midst of a pandemic.

Although many people have been seen wearing masks during television coverage of the protests, there are also many people who are not wearing masks. Additionally, with additional law enforcement and media members on the street in close proximity many cities are facing the equivalent of filling several Ballparks multiple times each day.

The widely agreed upon incubation period for COVID-19 is around two weeks. So, with today marking the 14th day since the protests began, any wide-spread outbreaks of the virus should start to materialize any day now, and will last for up to two weeks after the last protest. There are very few historical data points for what happens when one protests during a global pandemic, so a lot of new ground is being plowed on both the social justice front as well as on a medical front.

This is where the world of sports will be sure to take notice as they try to determine when, and how to reintroduce players onto the field, and fans into the stands. If team science is right, the numbers of infections will spike as a result of the proximity of protesters, and a lack of adherence to social distancing guidelines. This would show to the sports leagues around the world that the risk of bringing fans into the stands is still very high.

If team Sweden is right, cases will not spike and calls to open everything up the way they were before the middle of March 2020 will grow louder. Of course, the wrinkle to solely relying on visible symptoms of COVID-19 in determining a path forward is that many of the cases of COVID-19 do not lend themselves to outward signs of symptoms. So, even if there is a widespread outbreak, it would likely not be revealed unless people partaking in the protests were tested for the virus.

With several professional and collegiate sports teams reporting COVID-19 cases after players have started returning to practice, it becomes clear that there is risk even without fans in the stands.

Scott Dixon, shown following the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston, won the first race of the delayed 2020 IndyCar season at Texas Motor Speedway. Although fans were not at the race in Texas, series officials have said that fans will be in attendance when the crown jewel Indy 500 is run even if that means delaying the race beyond the current August time frame.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire of professional sports leagues to pack as many fans into the stands as quickly as possible is both a financial need, as well as a psychological need.

Although the Indy Car Series returned to action for the first time in 2020 this past weekend with a fan free race at Texas Motor Speedway, series officials went on record as saying that the Indianapolis 500, which has been moved from May to August, would be delayed again in the event that fans cannot attend an August race.

The message being sent is loud and clear, the Indy 500 will not happen without butts in the seats, even if that means there is no Indy 500 this year.

While the Indy 500 is a significant race, allowing some races to be held without fans in order to generate revenue, but saying that the INDY 500 is too important of a race to run without fans seems like an insult to the other races on the schedule.

That would be like Major League Baseball saying that the Yankees are too important to the history of the game to play in an empty Ballpark, so fans can pile into Yankee Stadium, but the other 29 Ballparks need to remain empty.

The Indy 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world, and with room for over 400,000 spectators, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often recognized as the largest sports venue in the world. It is hard to imagine any scenario where 400,000 people are going to be allowed to congregate anywhere, anytime soon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even at 25 percent capacity, an Indy 500 with 100,000 people seems like a bit of a stretch and would be something that would certainly make team science cringe. On the other hand, team Sweden would likely say, “och förarna startar dina motorer,” or roughly translated as “drivers start your engines.”

That is why the infection rates coming out of the weeks of protest will be so crucial in planning the next front in the battle against the COVID-19 virus.

Sports and science are both driven by statistics. The near-term future of professional and collegiate sports is very likely to be determined by what the rate of infection looks like over the coming weeks. It is a case study that no one could have envisioned at the start of the pandemic when the world of sports shut down one league at a time. Now that it has happened, the numbers cannot be ignored, just as the issues behind what led to the protests will also need to be addressed in the sports world, as well as the world as a whole.

COVID-19, as well as the protests for social justice that are occurring in the middle of a pandemic will both shape the direction of the world both in the short-term, as well as the long-term. There is no question that history is being written. Time will tell what those history books end up saying when all is said and done.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about team Sweden has me wanting to build an armoire using a tiny wrench that can also double as a meatball skewer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Derek Jeter Walks off into Sunset at Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, Derek Jeter, long time shortstop for the New York Yankees, played in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium is the second to last stop in the farewell tour that began at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros in April to honor the career of a man who played two decades in pinstripes.

At each stop along the way teams have paid their respects to Jeter by bestowing gifts upon him, and making donations to his charity.

The final stop on the tour will be Fenway Park this weekend and it will be interesting to see what kind of tribute Red Sox Nation has for the Captain.

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions,  lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium. Photo R. Anderson
Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions, lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans throughout baseball have saluted Jeter all season long, yesterday was about saying goodbye to the hometown fans at Yankee Stadium.

Even unfavorable weather forecasts that threatened to move the game to Monday, or cancel it altogether,  could not dampen the spirits of fans who paid well above face value on tickets to be able to say that they were there when Jeter said farewell to Yankees Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.

In the end the rain stayed away, and the Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 thanks to the retiring bat of Derek Jeter.

While Derek Jeter’s career was certainly full of big moments, one could argue that securing a victory in his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk off single was one of the biggest, if not one that he will remember the most.

There are those fans of conspiracies and hats made out of tin foil who are sure to claim that the fix was in to allow Jeter to hit that game-winning walk off single since a) baseball loves happy endings and b) Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s first manager with the Yankees.

Could the fact that Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium be called just a little too convenient? Sure.

But as Peter Parker’s uncle Joe would say “With great power comes great responsibility” and for Jeter that responsibility is helping his team win when placed in positions to do so.

It also helped that the Yankees bunted a runner into scoring position ahead of Jeter’s at bat to avoid risk of him hitting into a double play.

While the ending was certainly worthy of a Hollywood sparks falling on the field from the lights kind of thing, to those tin foil loving conspiracy fans I say that there is no way that the game was fixed to allow Jeter to win it.

One need only look at what happened to Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, to see what baseball thinks about game fixing.

For those too young to remember, Rose received a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games he managed since it was believed that he could somehow manipulate the results in a manner favorable to his wagers.

Another example of what Major League Baseball thinks about throwing games, further back than Rose, is the Black Sox scandal where several players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for fixing the World Series.

Beyond the threat of being banned for life for throwing a game, another issue that shoots holes in the “they let him win” argument from the tin foil hat society is the fact that, while Buck Showalter may have managed Jeter for 15 games 20 years ago, his current team, the Baltimore Orioles, are trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter's first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter's Orioles did not let Jeter's Yankees win despite what some might think. Photo R. Anderson
Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter’s first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter’s Orioles did not let Jeter’s Yankees win despite what some might think.
Photo R. Anderson

A team looking for home field advantage in the playoffs does not intentionally lose games, even if it makes for good Hollywood stories.

So to be 100 percent clear the fix was not in last night to allow Derek Jeter to score the winning run of the game.

It just worked out that way and gave Derek Jeter another lasting Yankee Stadium memory.

Much like Mariano Rivera did during his farewell tour last year, Jeter has said that he wants his final on-field memories to be from Yankee Stadium despite the team still having three games left in the season.

Jeter will be available as a designated hitter during the series against the Boston Red Sox, but fans expecting to see him standing at the shortstop position at Fenway Park will be greatly disappointed much like the fans at Minute Maid Park were last year when Rivera decided to stay in the bullpen and not make a curtain call appearance against the Astros.

While Derek Jeter’s career will end with a few plate appearances in the designated hitter’s role against the Boston Red Sox, instead of in another World Series as many had hoped at the start of the season, few other players in the history of baseball have had as much success or had the type of fan base as number 2 had.

While Derek Jeter’s career is ending the debate regarding whether he will be the first unanimously chosen member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years is just beginning.

Between now and the time the Hall of Fame voters fill out their ballots in 2019, Derek Jeter will try to become a normal person and do the things that he put off during a 20-year career in pinstripes. Only Derek Jeter knows what that next chapter will be.

What is known is that for 20 seasons, in one of the most intense environments around, by all accounts Derek Jeter played the game of baseball in a way that he can be proud of and in a manner that many would be wise to duplicate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the last weekend of the regular season.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Gehrig’s Speech is Still Powerful 75 Years Later

There are certain moments in baseball that are timeless and manage to span the generations.

Whether it is a classic call from a broadcaster who has long ago passed away, or the visuals of Hank Aaron rounding third after setting the record for home runs, the visuals and sounds of baseball stick in the memories of fans even if they were not alive when the actual events occurred.

Such is the case with Lou Gehrig’s famous “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech which was given before a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators 75 years ago on July 4, 1939.

In the speech Gehrig listed all of the positives of his life despite being diagnosed with a death sentence in the form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

ALS, now known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. There is no cure for ALS. While advancements in treatment have prolonged patient life, the disease is still considered a fatal diagnosis.

Growing up I had heard the speech as it was part of a greatest moments in baseball VHS tape that I owned. While I had heard the speech for me, as a Cal Ripken, Jr., fan Lou Gehrig was just the final man to pass in the consecutive games streak. I did not really appreciate the full impact of what made the speech so perfect at the time.

Before getting into the speech it is important to look at the man who gave it.

Lou Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row for the New York Yankees until he was physically unable to play anymore. Lou Gehrig was also the first Major League Baseball player to have his number retired.

Lou Gehrig stepped to a Yankee Stadium microphone on July 4, 1939, and told fans he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” despite the fact that he was dying from the inside out.

Throughout the speech, and through eyes welled up with tears, Gehrig thanked teammates, fans, and his family for all of the experiences they had shared together.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Nearly two years to the day after giving that speech Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. His death came almost 16 years to the day after he started his consecutive games streak on June 1, 1925.

It would have been easy for someone like Lou Gehrig to be bitter for being cut down in the prime of his career by such an invasive and painful disease but there is no bitterness in the speech. Many fans at the time probably felt that it was not fair that they were losing their first baseman to an illness that many had likely never heard of.

But instead of being bitter in his circumstances Lou Gehrig found the courage to be at peace with the hand he was dealt and to make the most of the time he had left.

I often wonder how many people when faced with the same circumstances would in the words of Monty Python, “always look on the bright side of life?”

In my own case, I would like to think that I would be able to muster the same positive response as Lou Gehrig but in reality I would likely fall well short of that level of peace in my circumstances.

As for Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, it was finally broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998. Photo R. Anderson
Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.
Photo R. Anderson

It is likely that it is a record that will never be broken.

One the night that Ripken broke the streak he showed that Lou Gehrig was very much there in spirit to share it with him.

“Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig,” Ripken said at the time. “I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.”

While Gehrig’s career was cut short it is still a career that reaches through the generations as doctors and others work to find a cure for the disease that bears his name.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a speech to listen to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Baseball’s Beasts of the East

This week the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays faced off in an American League East battle.

Before that it was the New York Yankees and the Rays facing off.

After all of the inter division dust settled the margin between the first place Orioles and the last place Rays was a mere three and a half games.

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place.
Photo R. Anderson

The order of teams in the division is likely to change many times between now and the end of the regular season with the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays each having a legitimate shot to win the division when all is said and done.

The same can be said in the National League East where only three games separate the tied for first place Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals from the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

As is the case in the American League East, each of the five National League East teams, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, and Mets should feel pretty good about their postseason chances at this point in the season.

While the beasts in the east are all within striking distance of each other things get a little more spread out for teams west of the Mighty Mississippi.

The American League Central has a 6.5 game spread between the first place Detroit Tigers and fifth place Minnesota Twins. In fact the Tigers have a 4.5 game cushion over the second place Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings.
Photo R. Anderson

Out in the American League West the margin stretches to nine games from the first place Oakland Athletics to the fifth place Houston Astros.

In the National League, both the Central and West Divisions have a 9.5 game margin between first and fifth place.

This snapshot of the standings shows once again how the most competitive divisions in baseball reside along the Atlantic coast. But the question remains what is it about those 10 teams that makes them so good year after year?

One could make the argument that much of baseball started with the east coast teams and the fact that they are still competitive could be in direct result of their longevity as franchises.

While it is true that the bulk of the teams in the East Divisions have long histories that does not account for the three World Series appearances by the relatively young Florida based teams.

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins. Photo R. Anderson
Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have one World Series appearance ending in a loss and the Marlins won their two trips to the October Classic proving that age is not the only driving factor when it comes to success in the east.

With length of franchise existence ruled out as the driving factor behind the success in the East one might be tempted to say payroll is the key to what makes baseball on the East coast so much more competitive than the western counterparts.

While it is certainly true that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are not shy about spending money to sign players, the current teams atop the National League East and American League East, the Marlins and Orioles respectively, have some of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Additionally the Tampa Bay Rays have shown year after year that they can be competitive despite a payroll that is a fraction of the size of some of the big spenders in the division.

So one cannot use history or finances to point to as reasons behind the competitive balance in the Eastern Divisions of Major League Baseball.

A third possible reason behind the success of the Eastern Division franchises that could be pointed to by some is the proximity of the teams to each other that leads to heated rivalries.

While it is true that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have proximity as well as a heated rivalry that has spanned over a century there are rivalries in all divisions in Major League Baseball so the Eastern Division teams cannot claim a monopoly on that reason either.

In the final analysis one cannot really point to why the 10 Eastern Division teams seem so much more evenly matched than the other 20 teams in baseball.

Sometimes there are not simple answers for things.

One does not need to know how exactly it is that the Earth spins down to the molecular level to appreciate that it prevents people from floating off into outer space any more than one needs to know the complete formula for the success the teams in the Eastern Divisions.

Sometimes in life it is just best to enjoy the resulting sausage without having to see how it was made, and right now there is some very tasty sausage being made in the American and National League East Divisions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some bratwurst for some reason.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Jeter Farewell Tour Hits a Slump

As the Derek Jeter Farewell tour rolls into its second month the namesake of the tour finds himself in a bit of a hitting slump.

Of course slumps in baseball are part of the game. So the fact that Derek Jeter is in one, on the surface, is no cause for concern.

Below the surface however trouble is lurking in the form of how to handle an extended slump.

While benching players in a slump is commonplace, how does one bench a player in the middle of a Farewell Tour without ruffling the feathers of the fans who have paid their money for one last look at the Captain of the Yankees?

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns. Photo R. Anderson
The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns.
Photo R. Anderson

In recent days the manager of the Yankees, Joe Girardi, (who also was a teammate of Jeter’s) has been asked by various media outlets about the possibility of benching Jeter or moving him down to the bottom of the batting order if his production at the plate does not improve.

While Girardi responded by saying that every option remains on the table, to date Jeter is still in the lineup most days trying to hit his way out of the slump while the Yankees have dropped a couple of games to division opponents.

Benching Jeter is certainly within the purview of a manager to do but will added pressure be brought to ensure that Derek Jeter plays in each of the cities on the tour?

Last year during the Mariano Rivera Farewell tour Rivera decided to not play during a visit to play the Houston Astros since he wanted his last memories of the mound to be when Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to take him out of his last game at Yankee Stadium.

While many in attendance at Minute Maid Park were certainly disappointed to not have the opportunity to see Mariano play, as the chorus of boos rocking the rafters when each pitcher not named Mariano Rivera came out of the Yankees’ bullpen demonstrated, in hindsight one can certainly respect Rivera’s wishes.

Of course Rivera only had to be on for one to two innings a game so he faced less pressure than the expectation for Jeter to be on the field for nine innings a game.

There will be people in each of the remaining cites on the farewell tour that will have purchased their tickets with the sole purpose of seeing Jeter play one last time.

While the time may come this season when benching a slumping Jeter is in the best interests of the Yankees as a whole there will likely be more Ballparks filled with booing fans in the event that Jeter does not take the field during his final visits to each city.

Derek Jeter is certainly not the first athlete to falter down the stretch during their careers.

In fact, comparisons to Jeter’s current slump and that of a former NASCAR driver on his “victory tour” can certainly be made.

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career. Photo R. Anderson
NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2000 Darrell Waltrip entered what was to be his final year as a race car driver in a season dubbed his “Victory Tour.”

With full sponsorship from a “big box” retailer and a marketing campaign to boot, the Victory Tour begin with all of the brashness and pomp that one had come to expect from the driver nicknamed “Jaws.”

While few drivers could compete with Waltrip during his prime, the fact remained that the 2000 season was far from DW’s prime as a driver.

In fact, by the time Waltrip’s Victory Tour rolled around it had been eight years since the three-time series champion had been to victory lane.

Waltrip had to use a Champion’s Provisional to qualify for most of the races and when those dried up there were many races that he failed to qualify for.

When Darrell Waltrip's car looked like this he won the Daytona 500. Photo R. Anderson
When Darrell Waltrip’s car looked like this, he won the 1989 Daytona 500.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course even in the races where Waltrip did qualify he was often many laps down or out of the race by the time the checkered flag waved.

While Derek Jeter still seems to have more in the tank than Darrell Waltrip did at the end of his career the fact remains that both men likely held on a little too long making their farewell tours seem a little sad for fans who remember the way they were in their prime.

Despite the lackluster “Victory Tour” Darrell Waltrip was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for is many career accomplishments. There is little doubt that regardless of how his farewell tour goes that Derek Jeter will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame so few can argue that both men weren’t champions for the bulk of their careers.

By the time his "Victory Tour" rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title. Photo R. Anderson
By the time his “Victory Tour” rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title and does not just have him running laps as was the case with Waltrip’s last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course there will still be moments where the Derek Jeter of old shows through this year but fans need to temper their expectations and realize that more times than not there will be strikeouts and hitless nights.

There will also likely be nights coming up where Derek Jeter is not even in the lineup.

In a perfect world Jeter would want the farewell tour to end with a sixth World Series title for his career which still could happen despite any potential benchings or extended slumps.

Unlike Darrell Waltrip, who was left to mainly fend for himself on the track, there are eight other players on the field with Jeter at any given time to help pick up the slack as the team moves towards October.

But even if the Yankees do give Jeter the final World Series title the whispers of him hanging on too long will still continue just as they do for every athlete who finds themselves staying around while the mind is still willing but the body is weak.

For every Ray Lewis who retires with a Super Bowl title in his prime there are countless other athletes who just don’t know when to say when.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in the words of Darrell Waltrip it is time to boggitty, boggitty, boggitty.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson