Posted in Baseball, Odds & ends

Monday roundup: summer, Magic & baseball broadcasts

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Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Someone should tell Mother Nature, because it’s still 81 degrees as I write this — a half hour before midnight — and we’re looking at highs in the 90s for much of the week.

Looking back, I feel like this was the summer that wasn’t. If I wasn’t working, it was either too hot or too rainy to do a lot of the things that I would’ve liked to do. And then there were the days that it was a challenge to make myself do anything. Here’s hoping that your summer was better than mine, and that fall will be better to us all.

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My local grocery store has a vending machine near the entrance with various sports cards, Pokemon cards and Yu-gi-oh cards in it. Today it had some envelopes of 10 assorted Magic: The Gathering cards for $1. I bought a couple.

I played Magic a bit in the mid-1990s. It’s a fun collectible card game that puts you in the role of a wizard dueling another wizard. You each build a deck of cards, with lands that you can tap for mana to summon creatures and cast spells, creatures that can battle your opponent or her forces, and spells that you can cast that have a variety of effects.

1536024617096-dd5e8ba9-cfe7-440b-9b68-2170d76f7063_ Obviously, I wasn’t going to find anything especially rare or valuable in a repack package from a vending machine. But there were some “new” old cards that have some cool art, and they inspired some nostalgia. I’d like to start playing Magic again, though I’ve gotta admit that I’m a bit intimidated by the thousands of cards that have come out since I last played. And it’s not helping that I don’t know anyone who still plays.

But hey, participating locations will be holding open house events to promote the new Guilds of Ravnica during the weekend of Sept. 21-23. Amazing Heroes in Union is listed to run an open house on Saturday, Sept. 22… if I’m not working, maybe I’ll be able to go and check it out.

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Over the weekend, I read an article by Richard Dyer calling for a revolution in baseball broadcasting. While his modest proposal isn’t entirely practical, he’s not wrong. Baseball’s traditional broadcast formula, which pairs an ex-player analyst with play-by-play man and a sideline reporter, has worked for a number of years and still works for part of MLB’s audience. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

For each baseball broadcast, create a menu of commentary choices for fans. Have just one visual presentation, but allow fans to pick the style of broadcast they want to hear.

Watch your game, but pick from these broadcast menu choices:
1. Traditional play-by-play guy/color guy broadcast.

2. Sabermetric broadcast (which has already been done several times by Brian Kenny on the MLB Network). Brian Kenny, SABR President Vince Gennaro, or ESPN’s Keith Law, to name a few.

3. Comedian and humorist broadcast. Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, Hank Azaria (“Brockmire”), Paul Rudd, or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (Robert Smigel). Let’s have some real laughs for once.

Dyer suggests five other menu choices which is at least five more than would be feasible. But really, why couldn’t you offer some different options for different fans? You might just manage to build baseball’s audience.

 

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Snowed out

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Only one playin today is this dude!

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The New York Mets were indeed snowed out on Monday, so the New York debut of Gabe Kapler’s Bullpen Follies has to wait until tonight.

Instead, I watched the Houston Astros beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-1 in their home opener. Before the game, the Astros unveiled their 2017 World Series Championship banner (with the help of a leafblower.)

I found it interesting that while the Astros have won seven division championships and three wild card berths, it looked like they only have two banners on display – their 2005 National League pennant and the 2017 World Series one. I think I like the “keeping to essentials” approach.

The Astros are a fun team to watch. Charlie Morton may be the best number five starter in baseball, but as good as their pitching is their hitters are better. At this stage, everyone knows about Jose Altuve… but George Springer is every bit as exciting. Alex Bregman impressed me with his hitting and defense and Marwin Gonzalez impressed with his versatility.

I could easily see the Astros successfully defending their World Series title.

Other odds & ends:

Posted in Baseball

Enjoy baseball marathon memories while you can…

On the second day of the 2018 baseball season, I got to watch the last couple of innings of the New York Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and just enough of the San Francisco Giants’ 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers to see Chris Taylor end Johnny Cueto’s perfect game bid.

That’s probably a lot more baseball than I will find time to watch today, but it’s a lot less than fans who were attending the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves (11 innings), the Pittsburgh Pirates 13-10 win over the Detroit Tigers (13 innings) or the Miami Marlins’ 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs (17 innings.)

In the not-too-distant future, games like those will probably be unimaginable. Minor League Baseball is already testing a rule change that puts a runner on second base at the start of each extra inning.

Friday’s marathons are sparking more discussion about making a rule change at the Major League level. It’s coming and I hate it.

One of my favorite baseball memories is a game that didn’t want to end between the Miami Marlins and New York Mets. On June 7, 2013, young stars-to-be Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey matched up and left with a 1-1 tie. By inning 13, journeymen Kevin Slowey and Shaun Marcum were pitching for the two clubs, respectively. They’d been scheduled to start a game that had been rained out the night before, and they took the game to the 20th. It was awesome – the only part I would’ve changed was the end result (the Mets lost.) If tinkering with the rules brought the game to an end in 11 or 12 innings, I guarantee you I wouldn’t remember it five years later.

Sports reporters and baseball managers hate extra innings, because it makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs. I think most fans like them – sure, there’s a point where you have to leave the game or turn off the tv. But that could happen anyway – the deciding game of last year’s World Series lasted over five hours and only took nine innings to play. But if you get to stay for a marathon, you get to see something special and I hate to see that get tossed away in some misguided pace-of-play initiative.

So here’s my compromise proposal: save the extra runners for the All-Star Game, and start inning 10 with the bases loaded. Regular season games that remain tied after 12 innings go in the books as a tie. Playoff games are played to their conclusion without any gimmickry.

It still sucks & fundamentally changes the way baseball is played, but it does so in a way that I can live with.

Other odds & ends:

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Baseball is back, and that is awesome

Baseball is back.

I got to watch the Opening Day introductions of the Mets players live on SNY before it was time to start work, so I saw the new Mets trainer get cheered for not being Ray Ramirez. Jacob deGrom earned applause even without his trademarked long locks. Wilmer Flores, man of the people, got one of the biggest ovations. So did David Wright, though it was sad to realize that the cheers were for what he’d already done and not what he might still accomplish on a baseball field.

Philip Evans looked like he was trying to run Brandon Nimmo competition for having the biggest smile on Opening Day. After a too-long winter, it was great.

I had to wait for the SNY Encore to watch the game, which the Mets won 9-4.

Noah Syndergaard was impressive, striking out 10 while walking none. But I agree with him that there’s room for improvement… forget about Yadier Molina’s fluke home run, because Molina hit a pretty good pitch and it barely stayed fair. But Jose Martinez (who the hell is Jose Martinez, anyway?) looked way too comfortable.

Amed Rosario had one of the biggest hits in the game. Brandon Nimmo was on base just about every time he came up. Yoenis Cespedes was Yoenis Cespedes (in a good way.) Nobody could touch Robert Gsellman when he came in in relief.

It was awesome. The cherry on top is that Michael Conforto might be back next week, almost a month ahead of schedule. (Adrian Gonzalez, you should probably consider yourself on notice.)

I got to see a few minutes of the Yankees’ opener, though not any of the exciting bits. Giancarlo Stanton lived up to the hype — at least on Day 1. A homer in his first official Yankee at bat gave John Sterling the chance to debut his awful home run call. (Dude, you had all winter and this is what you came up with?)

The other big star of the winter, Shohei Otani, singled in his first Major League at bat and drove in a run. He went 1-for-5 as the DH in the Los Angeles Angels’ Opening Day loss. Otani is set to make his MLB pitching debut on Easter Sunday.

Thanks to Easter and all the daytime baseball scheduled during the season’s opening week, it will be a little while before I can settle into a rhythm of watching games… but it’s nice to know that baseball and the Mets will be there for the next six months, at least.

Posted in Baseball

Congress saves baseball’s billionaires

Yesterday, President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 billion omnibus spending bill into law to avoid a government shutdown. Of course, Washington being Washington, there was a bunch of unrelated stuff in the bill, including the rather perversely named “Save America’s Pastime Act.”

The law allows Minor League Baseball clubs to avoid paying players for overtime wages, requiring instead that they pay the minimum wage for a 40-hour work week during the baseball season.

Players are typically required to arrive at the ballpark around 1 p.m for a 7 p.m. game, and are there at least a half hour after they leave the field, so you can see that they’re working more than eight hours on a typical day. It’s also unlikely that they’ll have a five-day workweek. And the one day off they might get is probably spent on a bus to the next city.

Glamorous, the minor leagues are not. Deadspin has collected some accounts from players that are downright nauseating. Here’s one:

But minor league baseball players all get big signing bonuses, right?

Yeah, not so much. Sure David Peterson got almost $3 million from the New York Mets after being drafted in the first round last year. But those bonus amounts drop off fast. Connor O’Neil got $10,000 from the Mets in round seven. And it’s not uncommon to see players get $1,000 or less to sign. (Bonus info from Spotrac)

But they’ll make the big bucks once they reach the Major Leagues, right?

Sure, if they’re among the handful who do reach the Major Leagues and stick around.  See, every organization has somewhere between five and nine minor league affiliates, ranging from the almost-but-not-quite Major League level Triple-A teams to developmental teams filled with Latin American teens. So figure that each organization has around 200 minor league players under contract, all hoping to win one of 25 Major League roster spots someday. Most of them won’t get there, and many who do will stay for less than one season.

Major League Baseball is a $10 billion business, and they are the ones paying player salaries at the minor league level. Yet they spent $1.3 million to lobby politicians last year… and we see that it worked. It’s not clear which lawmakers got this measure included in the spending bill, but the Washington Post reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supported it and that Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were willing to “entertain” the measure.

So “America’s Pastime” didn’t exactly need saving, at least at the Major League or the affiliated Minor League levels. The Minor League players did, and this act doesn’t help them at all.

On the other hand, Baseball America reports that it will hurt most of the independent baseball leagues around the country. These leagues give players who weren’t drafted a second chance to play baseball. A handful will find their way into the affiliated Minor Leagues. Occasionally, somebody will come from independent league baseball and make it to the Major Leagues, but mostly when that happens it’s a guy who already had some Major League experience.

See, most of the independent leagues don’t even pay their players the equivalent of minimum wage for a 40-hour work week.

The Frontier League has a $75,000 salary cap per team , which is an average of $725 per player, per month. The American Association and Can-Am Leagues have similar salary caps, although their caps stretch into the low six figures. Leagues like the United States Professional Baseball League, Pacific Association and Pecos League have significantly lower salary limits.

These teams don’t have Major League Baseball’s billions behind them… but I can’t think of a reason that they should continue to exist if they are only profitable because they exploit their players by paying sub-poverty level wages.

Yeah, I’m not too excited about professional baseball this spring…

Posted in Baseball, Baseball Cards, New York Mets

Baseball’s broken economic system & other thoughts

In less than a week, pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training…and there are still around 100 free agents who are looking for a team. Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas — some of the biggest names to hit the market this winter — are among the players still unsigned. The union is actually going to run a spring training camp for all of the players who are still looking for jobs.

It got to the point where some players are openly talking about the possibility of going on strike and others reportedly considered waiting until Feb. 24th’s mandatory reporting date to show up in spring training camps in a show of solidarity with the unsigned players.

While this off-season’s free agent market has worked out pretty well for the Mets, it’s clear that the the current system is broken. It’s pretty clear that no one is going to give J.D. Martinez the seven-year, $210 million contract he was reportedly looking for back in November. But it’s equally ridiculous that Martinez has only received two offers this winter, and that one of them was for a one-year deal to come back and try again on the free agent market next off-season.

I don’t think we’re looking at collusion, but we are looking at 30 front offices who are tired of getting burned by free agent contracts that make them look bad. Thirty front offices that are increasingly obsessed with young, controllable players to the point where they manipulate player service time to delay free agency and arbitration eligibility. A select group of owners who do not care about winning, at least in the short term.

And that means that even though MLB enjoyed record revenue last year, it’s not translating into more money for the players that we are paying to watch.

Now Martinez should not expect to earn $30 million when he is 37, but Jacob deGrom should be able to expect more than the $7.4 million he will earn this year. And even though he’s one of the most marketable players in baseball, the Yankees could get away with paying Aaron Judge the major league minimum salary.

Brandon Moss is right that players gave away too much in recent bargaining sessions with owners. Here’s hoping that the MLBPA and MLB owners figure out a way to get more of the game’s profits to the game’s younger players without totally turning off fans in the process. Because the current system is broken and is not good for players, fans or even owners in the long run.

Todd Frazier signs with the Mets

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A signed Todd Frazier baseball card from my collection

The New York Mets continued their bargain shopping this week, signing third baseman Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. I think that Frazier strikes out too much and doesn’t get on base enough, but he’s a definite upgrade over Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes at the plate and a much better defender. So it’s definitely a win – this hasn’t been a bad offseason for Sandy Alderson’s crew at all.

If they could find a way to add a starting pitcher, I’d feel pretty good about the Mets’ chances to compete for a Wild Card spot. And if they could somehow land Yu Darvish, I’d start dreaming about them challenging the Washington Nationals for a division title.

Bartolo Colon is still playing

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Bartolo Colon

The Texas Rangers signed 44-year-old Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract this week. I’d been hoping for a reunion with the Mets, but as long as gets a major league shot sometime this season I’ve got another year before I have to deal with a reality where all the players are younger than me.

So thank you, Bartolo… I will be rooting for you.

First 2018 Baseball Cards

I bought my first pack of 2018 Topps Series 1 baseball cards this week. Fittingly, a member of the World Series Champion Houston Astros was the top card in the pack. Michael Conforto was my first Met (yay!) while Aaron Judge was my first Yankee (boo!)

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I like this year’s design, but I think I will try to avoid buying more packs and just pick up a Mets team set from eBay.

Minor League Promo of the Week

Thirty years ago this June, my favorite Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America made its theatrical debut. The Fresno Grizzlies will celebrate its anniversary by playing as the Zamunda Lions for one night.

Posted in Baseball

Ch-ch-ch-changes…

Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen warms up before an exhibition game between the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark in 2010 (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)
Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen warms up before an exhibition game between the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark in 2010 (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

The fans in Pittsburgh watched Andrew McCutchen play his last game as a Pirate on tv Oct. 1. He went one-for-three, hitting a double off of Gio Gonzelez and left the game for a pinch-runner. The Pirates went on to win 11-8 over the playoff-bound Washington Nationals, notching their 75th and final victory of 2017.

Last night, the Pirates traded McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Kyle Crick and minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds.

The Giants, very much in win-now mode, will be interesting to watch. In addition to McCutchen, they added longtime Tampa Bay Rays star third baseman Evan Longoria this offseason. I don’t remember the last time a team acquired two players who were so strongly identified with a different franchise in one winter. Neither is the star that they once were, but magical things seem to happen in San Francisco.

The Pirates are clearly hoping to build for the future. Crick gives them a potentially interesting reliever who’s ready to help at the big league level and Reynolds gives them a lottery ticket for 2020 or so. Given the lackluster return Pittsburgh got for two years of Gerrit Cole, this isn’t an awful package for one year McCutchen.

But it’s the end of an era that once showed such promise in Pittsburgh, and it’s sad that the team wasn’t able to do more when they had McCutchen than go to the playoffs three times and only advance to the Divisional Series once.

And more bad news for Pirates fans… team owner Bob Nutting says this cycle is going to keep happening until there’s a “fundamental redesign of the economics of baseball; that’s not what we’re going to have.”

But as frustrating as it’s gotta be, at least the Pirates have a plan and an owner willing to take some responsibility for the team’s moves. You can argue that Nutting should be willing to risk more of his own money or sell the team to someone who is, but he’s out there sharing his point of view with the media and the fans. (Contrast that with Mets ownership, where everyone is content to let GM Sandy Alderson take all the fallout from unpopular moves even though it’s unclear what financial resources he’s got to work with.)

In other news of interest: