The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Bud Selig”

Baseball Predictions for 2014

Watching the first spring training games on the MLB Network always lifts my spirits.  Some people believe that the new year begins on January 1st.  The rest of us know that it begins on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

Although each spring makes fans of all 30 teams optimistic for the new season, there are some things that can be safely predicted in advance.  I’ve jotted down a few of them here for your approval.

1)  Somewhere in New England, a Red Sox fan will complain that the Yankees have an unfair financial advantage, though the Red Sox payroll in 2014 is estimated at 148 million dollars, about 42 million more than the average franchise.

2)  Somewhere in the Tri-State area, a Yankees fan will complain about the new austerity that the current regime has imposed on this storied franchise.  Yet, like a drunk for whom every drink is going to be his last, the Yankees payroll in 2014 will be around 194 million dollars, about 45% more than the average MLB payroll.

3)  Somewhere on the North American continent, a player will consider the odds of getting caught using steroids, will rationally think through the consequences of getting caught, and will still decide that it is in his best financial interests to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at a higher level of play.

4)  Somewhere on that same continent, a late middle-aged man will consider the odds of enjoying a successful sexual encounter with his wife or girlfriend, will realize that his chances are remote without a supplement such as Cialis, and will, therefore, ingest this drug to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at all.  Odds are, this man will rip the baseball “cheaters” who he believes to be steroid users, the very next day.

5)  The Mets will, once again, win between 70 and 80 games.  Manager Terry Collins will do his best to make you believe no finer 74-win team has ever existed on the face of the Earth, and millionaire team owner Jeff Wilpon will somehow continue to enjoy the support of some Mets fans who, for some strange reason, see it as their duty to try to find ways to help him save money.

6)  Perhaps even as I type this, a highly touted pitching prospect will go down needing Tommy John surgery.  No one will be surprised.  Yet somehow, someone will blame the “unusually high pitch count” that the pitcher endured during a spring training game.

7)  A-Rod, noticing he has been off the front pages for a while, will make a statement that is at once offensive, guileless, self-serving and naive.  Baseball’s  Twitterati  will explode in predictably humorless, self-righteous, and self-serving indignation (you know who you are.)

8)  Just for fun, Miguel Cabrera will pull down another Triple-Crown, simply because he can.

9)  The Braves will finally come to their senses and realize that second baseman Dan Uggla is no longer an actual baseball player, nor even a reasonable facsimile of one.

10)  Brewers center-fielder extraordinaire Carlos Gomez will rob no fewer than ten hitters of home runs this year, and will save every Brewers’ pitcher an average of 0.45 on their ERA.  Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman is already plotting several moves ahead, figuring out the circumstances under which he might bring Gomez to the Big Apple.  Meanwhile, Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson is having toast and tea, with his favorite strawberry preserves, watching reruns of the old Bob Newhart Show.

11)  At some point, apropos to nothing, a rabid Pete Rose fan will remind us all, once again, why PETE ROSE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!!  (They always type all in caps.)

12)  At the All Star break, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will have hit 30 homers, with 85 RBI and a .309 batting average.  But due to a second-half injury, he will finish the season with 37 homers, 102 RBI and a .289 batting average, and will finish third in voting for the N.L. MVP award.

13)  Commissioner Bud Selig, in his final season at the helm of MLB, will dream of a deep, profound speech he will give at a black-tie dinner in his honor.  But when he wakes up, he will fart loudly, scratch his ass, and realize the only part of the speech he remembers from his dream is, “You’re all probably wondering why I came here to speak to you tonight.”

14)  In a factory in Turrealba, Costa Rica, a women, not yet old, but getting old before her time, will dream of a better life someday for her family as she sits stitching baseball’s together for the Rawlings Corporation for $1.60 per hour, ten hours a day.  If she can stitch above her weekly quota, she will earn an extra 56 cents per baseball she produces.  Meanwhile, each baseball retails for $14.99 in the U.S.A.  Rawlings annual revenue is around $213 million dollars per year.

15)  The noise level at ballparks will finally reach the decibel level first achieved by The Who back in 1978.  No one will have any idea of what’s going on down on the field, but there will be plenty of giveaways, the youngsters will be able to run around on the grass in the picnic area, and the twenty-somethings will occupy themselves taking selfies with their I-Phones and posting Facebook status updates throughout the entire game.  Clearly, this isn’t your great-grandfather’s baseball experience.  But then again, baseball will continue to evolve and survive, just as it has always done.

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Selig Imposes Ban On All of Major League Baseball

At an unexpected news conference this morning, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced he was imposing a ban on all of Major League Baseball for the foreseeable future.  Selig, clearly tired of all the steroid issues that have plagued baseball for most of this century, stated, “It’s in the best interests of baseball for baseball to simply cease to exist as a spectator sport for a while.  The National Pastime needs a timeout!”

Selig, sweating profusely in a sweater lent to him by former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, urged people to “watch some other shows on T.V. for a while, perhaps some old Cheers reruns, or that dancing stars show that young people seem to like.”

When asked if his decision would be challenged by the Player’s Union, he thundered, “By God, everyone knows the players would be just as happy to sit home and collect unemployment compensation, like all the other low-lifes out there.”  His comments were met with thunderous applause from the thunderous applause machine his entourage had installed in time for the press conference.

Clearly encouraged by the positive response he’d artificially generated, he put his note cards aside and began to speak off the cuff, proclaiming that starting today, he’d begun a “To Hell With Baseball” campaign, insisting that to save baseball, he would first need to burn it down, seed the ground of every Major League Stadium with salt, and sell those who toiled in the low minor leagues into slavery.

“If you can’t enslave those who would someday embarrass the sport with PED use, then, from where I stand, the Commissioner’s Office isn’t worth a bucket of that warm beer they sell at Fenway for $18.00 bucks a pop.”

When reminded that without the revenue generated by ticket and merchandise sales, and cable T.V. contracts, some teams might not last long if this ban should continue indefinitely, Selig scoffed, “Do you really believe that a bunch of teams owned by millionaires and billionaires gives a rats ass about that stuff?  That’s all just funny Monopoly money to them.  Besides, if the Economic Crash of ’08 is precedent, then all Steinbrenner, Jr. and the rest of those guys will have to do is go up to Capitol Hill with their gloved hands out, cry poverty, and someone up there will bail them out.  I’m surprised you guys hadn’t thought of that.  That’s how we think all the time.”

As Selig was completing his remarks, Alex Rodriguez, who had been walking down the hall from his penthouse suite above the conference center where Selig was delivering his speech, happened to drift into the large, velvet-encased room.  Selig beamed as he called A-Rod up to the stage, then lifted A-Rod’s hand up into the air proclaiming, “And I couldn’t have done any of this without my good friend and future business partner, Alex Rodriguez.”

Rodriguez, looking both sheepish and cheap in his Gatsby-inspired attire, responded, “All I have to say is I learned from the best, Mr. Selig.  No one can take a great game like baseball and piss it down the drain like you can.”  Selig, obviously moved by A-Rod’s calculated attempt to ingratiate himself with an older white guy nearly as rich as himself, punched A-Rod lightly in the arm and declared, “My friend, we are just beginning.  By the time we’re finished, absolutely no one in his right mind will ever switch on a baseball game again.”

Rodriguez, distracted by his own reflection in a floor-to-ceiling mirror across the room, winked at himself and responded mechanically,  “I’m just happy to be a part of all this.”

Selig then turned serious to the T.V. cameras that were now overheating his smoldering toupee and concluded, “At least no one not watching any longer will be able to say that baseball is a dirty game, because a game not played at all is as clean as a game can get.”

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 25 – The Milwaukee Brewers

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The Milwaukee Brewers:  The Team That Selig Built.

Question:  How does a used car salesman from Milwaukee get to buy his very own pet Major League baseball team?

Answer:  When apparently no one else in North America has the capital to put up front for the purchase.

Some background:  When the Kansas City A’s unceremoniously vacated K.C. for Oakland (it seemed like a good idea at the time) in 1968, a U.S. Senator from Missouri (Stuart Symington) decided to hold hostage baseball’s antitrust exemption, unless Kansas City was  awarded a brand new expansion team, to begin play immediately in the 1969 baseball season.

Thus baseball brought forth four new expansion teams for the ’69 season:  Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Seattle Pilots, and Kansas City Royals.

The Seattle Pilots were the sorriest team of the lot, finishing their one and only campaign as a major league franchise (in Seattle) last in their division with a 64-98 record.  If you’ve read Jim Bouton’s classic book, “Ball Four,” you know what a pathetic excuse for a team the Pilot’s were.

Milwaukee, however, had already established itself as a baseball town.  The Braves called Milwaukee home for thirteen seasons (1953-65) during which they never played less than .500 baseball in any single season.  In fact, in the Milwaukee Braves inaugural season, they set a then-baseball attendance record of 1.8 million fans.

(On a side note, Selig, a minority Braves stockholder, had sued the Braves to try to force them to stay in Milwaukee, claiming that a baseball team owes it to their city and to their fans to stay put.  The Braves finally got their wish and moved to Atlanta where they believed attendance would be better.)

Bud Selig got his team, though, and, after just five seasons without a Major League franchise, Milwaukee would once again host a team of its own, beginning in 1970.

It wasn’t pretty.  The 1970 Brewers, née Pilots, finished 65-97, just one game better than their one year in Seattle.

Yet virtually every bad team has at least one bright spot.  And the bright spot on the 1970 Milwaukee Brewers burned surprisingly bright, indeed.

His name was Tommy Harper.

Now, I have to confess that when I started researching this blog-post, I thought I would end up profiling someone like Ben Oglivie in 1980:  41 homers, 118 RBI’s, 333 total bases, Silver Slugger winner, .925 OPS.

Or Sixto Lezcano in 1979:  28 homers, 101 RBI’s, .321 batting average, .987 OPS, Gold Glove.

Or Larry Hisle: Excellent overall campaign in ’78.  Well over 100 RBI’s.  Made the All-Star team.  Finished 3rd in A.L. MVP voting.

Or Cecil Cooper: At least four excellent seasons.  One hell of an underrated ballplayer.  If he had stayed in Boston, he might have been able to have produced Hall of Fame numbers.

But settling on Tommy Harper was a no-brainer.  Here’s why.

Most of the fine Brewers hitters that many of us remember played sometime in the late ’70’s or ’80’s.  I didn’t expect to be able to go so far back in team history and stumble across a player who had one season that overshadowed all the other players.

1970 was Tommy Harper’s Best Forgotten Season:

The previous year, toiling away with the Pilots at age 28, Harper had led the A.L. with 73 stolen bases.  But he had produced a pathetic 21 extra base hits in 537 at bats, including nine homers and just ten doubles!  His .235 batting average and 78 runs scored were also unimpressive.

He did, however, draw 95 walks, and his versatility (he could play 2nd, 3rd or OF) along with his base-stealing abilities, provided some value.

Then something strange happened in his first season in Milwaukee.  Tommy Harper must have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in some working-class Milwaukee neighborhood, because overnight and without warning, he became an extremely dangerous hitter.

His final numbers for 1970:

Games: 154

At Bats:  604

Hits:  179

Doubles:  35

Home Runs:  31 (!)

RBI’s:  82

Runs Scored:  104

Batting Average: .296

On-Base Percentage:  .377

Slugging Percentage:  .522 (an increase of .211 points from ’69.)

OPS:  .899 (6th best in league)

OPS+:  146 (6th best in league)

Total Bases:  315 (3rd highest)

Extra Base Hits:  70  (First Place!)

Stolen Bases:  38 (2nd place)

WAR:   7.7 (2nd best in team history)

Power-Speed #:  34.1 (First Place)

In short, in one season he had morphed from Omar Moreno to Bobby Bonds.

Tommy Harper finished sixth in the 1970 MVP voting, and he is still the only 30-30-30 man (doubles, homers, steals) in Brewers history.  In fact, Tommy Harper was the first 30-30 man in American League history.

The 31 home runs Harper hit in 1970 were more than he had hit in the previous four seasons combined.  In fact, they represented 21 percent of all the home runs he would hit in his 15-year career.

But Tommy Harper wasn’t finished playing ball after 1970.  After playing just one more year in Milwaukee, Harper enjoyed three productive years with the Red Sox, scoring over 90 runs twice, and leading the league in stolen bases in 1973 (at age 32,) with 54, breaking the 61-year old Red Sox record of 52 stolen bases previously set by Tris Speaker in 1912.  (Harper’s record has since been broken by Jacoby Ellsbury.)

Tommy Harper finally retired in 1976 at the age of 35.

Why some players suddenly produce one explosive season in an otherwise solid career has always been something of a mystery.  I’m reasonably sure even Tommy Harper didn’t see it coming.

But this is one of the reasons why we love baseball; you can always expect the unexpected.




Selig’s Monument

When Sir Christopher Wren (architect, astronomer, mathematician) died in 1723, his epitaph read as follows:  “If you seek his monument, look around you.”

Wren had designed St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as over fifty other churches and public buildings in and around London.

His legacy was his work; therefore, a statue honoring him would have been redundant.

A man’s life is revealed primarily in his work.  It is what we do, and how well we do it, that defines who we are, and how we are remembered.

In addition to their work, some are also honored and immortalized in great works of literature, song, poem, or sculpture.  A blind poet, Homer, has kept Odysseus’s memory alive long after his body has perished, in The Odyssey.  The faces of four American presidents:  Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt may survive the next Ice Age gazing at the horizon from atop Mt. Rushmore.

Even here in Greenville, South Carolina, a bronze statue of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson serves as a cautionary tale of Man’s weakness in the face of temptation.  Jackson’s legacy was his life’s work, overshadowed by scandal.

This August, Bud Selig, Commissioner of Baseball for the past 17 years, will be honored outside of Miller Stadium in Milwaukee, with a seven foot statue of his own.  At such a moment, it is useful and proper to examine a man’s legacy.

Generally, statues and monuments are erected posthumously, allowing a person’s legacy to be weighed and measured over time.  In some cases, heroes of one era fade quickly and become irrelevant to the next.  In other cases, one’s reputation grows into something far more substantial than anyone who was a contemporary of that individual ever could have foreseen.

Therefore, it is sensible, in most cases, to wait several years, or even decades, after a person passes away before something as permanent as a statue should be unveiled.

Not all statues remain permanent, however, even while the subject of the monument is still alive.  The people of Iraq, for example, toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein, denying him immortality even as he was about to be deposed and eventually executed.

Happily, most monuments and statues do not follow behind such a malignant legacy, like a shadow behind a crypt.  Instead, they tend to be of the innocuous variety, a bland businessman with no apparent overriding moral compass.

They tend to be more like a statue to Bud Selig.

Selig’s work, then, is his legacy, even as his statue awaits its grand exhibition to an upper mid-western public.

And what, exactly is Selig’s life’s work?  There is the bureaucrat, and there is the leader.  One has to assume that whoever decided to commission this statue views Selig as an important leader, at least to the local Milwaukee community.  After all, bureaucrats are seldom immortalized.

Nevertheless, Selig has been overwhelmingly a bureaucrat.  Now, we need bureaucrats to get things done, and Selig has done that.

Financially speaking, baseball has consistently prospered under his reign, even if some teams claim to be losing money.  Selig’s introduction of the Wild Card system has significantly changed the playoff dynamic, ensuring greater competition and, therefore, more fan interest during the month of September than ever before.

Even interleague play, as difficult as it may be to justify in a serious, competitive sense, has, measured by attendance figures, brought more fans into the parks.  And the players, of course, are richer than ever.

If baseball was in dire economic straights, it would not be populated by hundreds of millionaire athletes anxious to shoot drugs into their systems to ensure future access to ever larger sums of money.

And this is precisely where the other half of Selig’s legacy, that of the amoral enabler, comes in.

Now, one might argue that it is not the job of a businessman, even a CEO, to act as mother-superior to the broader community.  What matters is the bottom-line; morality is irrelevant here.

And yet recent history, including this morning’s headlines regarding Toyota, remind us of the true cost levied on an organization that believes business and morality make strange, uncomfortable bedfellows.

Toyota is currently enveloped in a scandal not all that unlike baseball’s own steroid scandal of the past decade or so.  Corners are cut; Secrets are kept; Denials are made; Eventually, a semblance of truth and contrition are offered.  The pattern has become all to familiar in recent years, affecting Presidents, athletes, and businessmen.

Therefore, Selig’s monument is, inadvertently, an appropriate national symbol reflecting the excesses and selfishness of our contemporary society.

But is his statue an appropriate symbol in the classical sense of honoring a hero?

Commissioner Selig is plainly guilty of allowing, even encouraging, a performance-enhancing drug scandal to develop and virtually overtake our National Pastime on his watch.

His refusal to even acknowledge that a serious problem existed until Congress became involved reveals a depth of denial regarding not only the problem itself, but also his own responsibility in the matter, that can only be judged as gross negligence.

Obviously, Selig the Businessman was quite satisfied with the state of the game throughout the ’90’s  and on up to the early years of this century.  Therefore, what need was there for a Moral Leader to get involved who might only muck things up?

In my very first blog post, I stated that there are two essential questions important to both American history and to baseball history:

1.  Who deserves to be remembered?

2.  How do they deserve to be remembered?

The answers to these questions, I stated further, comprise the collective historical mythology that we pass down through the generations, from father to son.  Because baseball is, after all, a shared experience that evolves away from the realm of history to that of mythology as the decades turn to dust.

Question #1 has apparently already been answered:  A fellow bureaucrat in Milwaukee has a decided that Commissioner Selig deserves to be honored and remembered.

Question #2, therefore, becomes more specifically:  How does Bug Selig deserve to be remembered?

Images of used needles, Congressional Committees, contrite apologies by players, and home run records rendered meaningless  dot the landscape of Selig’s Realm.

Clearly, then, if you seek Selig’s monument, look around you.

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