Monday, April 16, 2007

This blog has been postponed due to weather

First I want to clarify my comments on the Number 42 situation. I want to make clear my appreciation for those wishing to honor Jackie Robinson and those, in and out of baseball, who wish to continue his legacy in a practical way, i.e. for promoting the game in the African-American community. I'm sure that MLB means well with its RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) program, but it's hardly sufficient.
For a while now I've been very encouraged by the actions taken by current African-American major leaguers such as C.C. Sabathia, Torii Hunter, and many others who have taken a personal interest in the issue. This can be accomplished by simply providing a strong presence and role model as an African-American representing baseball, but it's also accomplished by working in African-American communities (often their old neighborhoods) to make a real difference. There was an interesting article in this week's ESPN The Magazine interviewing Sabathia, Carl Crawford, and Jimmy Rollins about the issue, its causes, and possible solutions.
I'm saying this because I didn't want my only comments about Jackie Robinson Day to be negative. I'm very passionate about baseball and very passionate about social justice, and here's where the two come together.

Other thoughts about the first two weeks of baseball action:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Number 42

It was announced recently that, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut, a number of major leaguers would be wearing his number 42 on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day. The number was officially retired by all major league teams in 1997, but Commissioner Bud Selig approved this "celebration" of Robinson, and freed the number to any major league player.
This may have been a bit much. At first, it was Ken Griffey, Jr. and Torii Hunter who wanted to wear the number. But it has mushroomed, and now over 150 players will be wearing number 42 on April 15.
Cleveland pitcher C.C. Sabathia was not pleased. "It kind of waters it down," he told USA Today. It's easy to see his frustration. The list of players wearing the number includes almost every African-American player in the majors, including some coaches (Harold Baines) and managers (Willie Randolph). As if that weren't enough, five entire teams -- the Dodgers, Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies, and Astros -- will wear the number. (Astute readers have pointed out that the Cardinals and Phillies were the two most vocally anti-Robinson teams when he entered the majors.)
My personal opinion is that it's a noble idea to take Jackie's number, but that this has gone too far. Now it seems as if it's become a quest for good PR, with some teams (the Pirates?!) signing up their players en masse. It's as if baseball thinks it can redeem itself from any taint of racism by wearing a different uniform (rumors that a contrite Don Imus will be wearing number 42 are so far unsubstantiated).
From the player's point of view, it's hard to say no. It sounded a l0t better when the list was limited to prominent African-Americans such as Griffey and Hunter, but then it's not exactly fair to say that only the stars can honor Jackie's legacy. But it also doesn't seem appropriate for it to be a free-for-all.

My solution, to prevent this problem from reoccuring in the future, would be to impose a limit of just one (or two) players from each team to wear the number each year on April 15. This would obviously limit the over-exposure that was so problematic this year. The person could be selected by a team-wide vote, so that it wouldn't just go to the most vocal player or the biggest star (c0aches and managers would be included). It would be on a voluntary basis; teams shouldn't feel like they have to produce a standard-bearer if no one is really worthy of the honor. This would further reduce the over-exposure.

Or, better yet, baseball could go back to enforcing the retiring of Robinson's jersey for good. Because if we can't decide who should and shouldn't be able to wear it, we should just go back to the way it was: no one can wear it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reflections on the opener

Opening Day is here, I'm watching three baseball games, and all is right with the world.
  • The MLB season opened last night with the Mets beating the Cardinals 6-1. Chris Carpenter struggled but didn't seem to be too off. Tom Glavine wasn't perfect, but pitched through his problems and survived to take home career win #291. 9 more wins and he will become the fifth left-hander in history to win 300 games.
  • Tigers starter Kenny Rogers had surgery to remove a blood clot from his left shoulder and will be out until the All-Star Break at least. This isn't the worst of news for Detroit; you can't be surprised when a 42-year-old pitcher goes down with injury. And the Tigers more than most teams can compensate for his loss. Their 1-3 of Bonderman-Verlander-Robertson is still arguably the best in the division. #4 Mark Maroth may not be any kind of sure thing, but the Tigers have several promising guys who can adequately fill the #5 hole. Chad Durbin will get first crack at the job, with uber-prospect Andrew Miller waiting in the wings.
  • A lot has been made of the fact that the superpower Yankees are starting free-agent bust Carl Pavano on opening day. It's not the end of the world, but it does illustrate that the Yankees' starting rotation isn't as strong as they'd like. There are questions surrounding every starter on the staff, not just Pavano. But the Yanks should be able to cobble together a decent bunch out of Wang-Mussina-Pettite-Igawa, and when Phillip Hughes arrives, they should be plenty good enough to win with their lineup.
  • The Tigers removed one of the top names from next year's free agent market by signing shortstop Carlos Guillen to a four-year, $48 million deal. The deal is utterly reasonable, even if Guillen is forced to move to first base. Guillen as a shortstop is worth far more than $12 mil. per year, which should make up for the fact that he may be slightly overpaid as a first baseman. Guillen is especially valuable to the Tigers, who don't have anyone else on the team with his well-rounded offensive skills. Well, except for Gary Sheffield, who's not exactly the rock to build a team around. Good move here.
  • The succession plan for the New York Yankees was called into question recently. With an aging George Steinbrenner nearing the day when he must step away from baseball operations, his successor was supposed to be his son-in-law, Steve Swindal. But recently, Steinbrenner's daughter filed for divorce from Swindal, effectively scrapping that plan. There's no immediate crisis at hand; Steinbrenner is delegating power more than ever to team president Randy Levine and GM Brian Cashman. But as with any big business, a plan of succession is important to ensure future stability. We'll have to stay tuned and see who emerges as the new favorite to succeed the Boss.
  • In an utterly surprising move, the Colorado Rockies gave 2-year contract extensions to both GM Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle. Both O'Dowd and Hurdle were considered by many to be on the hot seat to some degree this year, with their jobs very much on the line if the team failed to improve. This move is hard to fathom, as it gives a vote of confidence to two men who honestly haven't earned any such confidence.
  • In a move that no one expected coming into the spring, Mark Prior failed to make the Cubs' roster out of Spring Training. Prior will start the season in Triple-A. Needless to say, he was less than pleased at the news, not even stopping to talk to reporters after the game.
  • With Spring Training over, teams have finalized their roster and made their share of bizarre selections. Every year, teams will make rash decisions based on Spring Training and overestimate the importance of a player's March stats. The prize-winner this year for craziest roster move goes to the Florida Marlins, who selected 22-year-old Alejandro de Aza as their starting center fielder. The Marlins have thus assured themselves that they will be getting the worst production from center field of any NL team yet again. de Aza has only 69 career games above class A in his minor league career. That was last year, when he hit 278/346/374 with Double-A Carolina. Players like this successfully jump to the majors about once every millennium.
    Even worse for the Marlins though, is that de Aza's only competition was Eric Reed and Alex Sanchez. The team's refusal to trade for a real center fielder just goes to show that ownership really doesn't give a damn.
  • This year unfortunately marks the last year of Braves baseball on TBS. From now on, TBS will join FOX and ESPN in airing national games, ending their exclusive relationship with the Braves that's existed since the network became a superstation. It will be hard not to mourn, as the season goes on, the end of an era of great baseball broadcasts that I've enjoyed since I was a kid. One can only hope that TBS will keep the same announcers when they move to a multi-team schedule in 2008.
  • A short list of notable players beginning the season on the DL: Rafael Furcal, (LAD); Eric Gagne, TEX; Freddy Garcia, PHI; Dan Johnson, OAK; Nick Johnson, WSH; Corey Koskie, MIL; Mark Kotsay, OAK; Cliff Lee, CLE; Jon Lieber, PHI; Esteban Loaiza, OAK; Juan Rivera, LAA; Duaner Sanchez, NYM; Freddy Sanchez, PIT; Mike Timlin, BOS; Chien-Ming Wang, NYY

More baseball to come, thank goodness.