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Baseball

Take transit to the game

If you can, you should.

HoustonMetro

The transformation of downtown from a work place that empties after dark to a true community is finally underway in earnest, with residents, retail shops, and restaurants that remain open long after the lunch rush. The building boom is everywhere, and that includes the area around Minute Maid, which had been the domain of abandoned warehouses and repeating squares of blacktop.

As new development gradually alters the timeworn tableau of skyscrapers, hotels and parking lots, the matter of where to put all the cars that flood into the area – be it for work in the day, governmental dealings, or nighttime entertainment – becomes a bit less obvious. Nowhere is that more true than in downtown’s eastern precinct, home to the Astros, Rockets, Dynamo, George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green.

For the sold-out baseball games, competition for the close-in surface lots will become increasingly fierce. The Astros control about 3,000 parking spaces in their own lots east of the stadium, but high-demand games see most of those spaces sold when tickets are purchased. Parking in their lots is reserved for ticket buyers, though a small number last-minute cash sales typically are offered for lower-demand games.

Another 4,000 to 5,000 parking spaces can still be found in surface lots mostly north of the stadium. The pricing for many of them is dynamic, fluctuating game to game, or sometimes hour to hour, depending on attendance. Some parking management companies offer advance online purchase, some don’t. An Astros spokesman said that a range of $10-20 is likely for lots within a two to three-block radius.

When those lots are filled, drivers will have to look toward the garages to be found to the west and south. Costs will vary according to distance from the stadium. Fans willing to walk a half-mile can get a good deal, well below $10, though the sweaty summer months make for a challenging trade-off.

One option, which may become more common in future years, is for drivers to park on the west side of downtown in or near the theater district and take the Metro rail purple line across town. It has a stop just two blocks north of Minute Maid. A drop-off lane also is available in front of the stadium on Texas Street.

The Downtown Houston Management District says that 26 construction projects with an estimated cost of $2.2 billion currently are underway. Another $2 billion worth of projects are on the drawing board, it says. There will be a day, perhaps sooner than once thought, when a majority of the remaining surface lots will give way to new development.

[…]

Because Houston’s central business district is large, plenty of parking remains available and will continue to be. It’s just not so close anymore. Or as cheap. For high-demand games, the available lots near the stadium will go early, with the choicest locations fetching $50 or more for the most desirable games.

The eventual thinning out of the visually unappealing and space-hogging surface lots will please urban designers and downtown advocates, but no doubt will annoy some baseball fans. As [Marcel Braithwaite, the Astros’ senior vice president of business operations] points out, Houstonians love the freedom that comes with their cars and the easier ingress and egress that these lots offer. Some may fondly recall the old days at the Astrodome, which was surrounded by acres of parking and nothing else.

But in a broader sense, the replacement of blacktop by new homes and businesses means that the decades-old dream of a lively city center is taking form. When it comes to taking in a ball game, a new way of thinking will be required.

“It’s neat to see this resurgence,” Braithwaite said of the residential development as well as new clubs and restaurants. “The city is getting life back into it. I’m excited about the urban redevelopment, but that means change. There is no getting around that.”

As was the case for lots of people with the Final Four and the rodeo, taking transit to the game is going to be cheaper and in many cases more convenient than driving. Just the prospect of paying $20 to park, never mind $40 or $50, should make most people at least consider this. It’s also in the Astros’ best interests to get people to not drive to the game if it’s feasible for them. It’s like I’ve said about bike parking in places like Montrose and on White Oak where parking is scarce: It’s in everyone’s interests for the people for whom it is reasonably convenient to take transit to be encouraged and enabled to do so. Note that you don’t have to actually live near a bus or train stop to do this. Drive to a station that has adjacent parking, like the Quitman stop (which has a small Metro-owned free parking lot) or the Ensemble/HCC stop (where there’s a parking garage), and go from there. Again, those of you that have no choice but to drive and park really ought to want everyone for whom this is a decent option to choose it, for they each represent one fewer car competing with you for a parking space and clogging up the roads after the game. Are there any park and ride buses that run to and from the games like they do for the Rodeo? If not, maybe the Astros should inquire with Metro about that. Everyone wins with this.

Are we finally headed towards a universal DH?

Maybe.

Those in favor of the designated hitter becoming universal in Major League Baseball were given new reason for hope on Saturday.

Speaking at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warmup event on Saturday, general manager John Mozeliak says there’s increased momentum building among general managers and owners to bring the DH to the National League. According to Derrck Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak further noted the topic of the DH in the NL used to be a “non-starter” with officials, but now it’s become more of a topic, which perhaps indicates actual movement within those ranks.

Mozeliak, of course, is privy to such conversations, so this isn’t just hearsay. It’s likely he has an increased interest in this topic now considering what happened to his ace, Adam Wainwright, last season.

During a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee in April, Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles after taking an awkward step out of the batter’s box. Obviously, there’s an injury risk that comes with every pitch and every play, especially for pitchers, but for such an injury to happen while a pitcher is batting makes it a little more difficult to swallow. That’s especially true when the other league isn’t exposed to such risks on a regular basis because of the DH.

[…]

If the universal DH is truly gaining momentum, then it’s something [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred will have to take on head-on at some point during his tenure. At this point though, it seems like we’re still a good distance away from it gaining enough momentum to motivate change. If there’s a silver lining for DH backers though, it’s that it’s also difficult to see the tide ever shifting back in the other direction, meaning the universal DH is an inevitability at some point in baseball’s future.

As the story notes, Manfred has previously said that he wasn’t considering expanding the DH to both leagues, but if the owners want it – and the MLB Players Association will likely be on board as well, given that DH jobs pay better than bench or bullpen jobs – it’s going to happen eventually, maybe even in the next round of labor talks. With the virtual elimination of league presidents and the full-time interleague schedule, the “differences between the leagues” argument is getting thinner. Obviously, this is a religious issue for a lot of people, and as such I don’t expect it to go quietly, nor with too much haste. But it does appear that we are headed that way, however trudgingly. Craig Calcaterra and FanGraphs have more.

Astros-hacker pleads out

One chapter closes in of one of the stranger sagas I’ve seen in sports.

The former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to hacking into the player database and email system of the Houston Astros in an unusual case of high-tech cheating involving two Major League Baseball clubs.

Chris Correa pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer from 2013 to at least 2014, the same year he was promoted to director of baseball development in St. Louis. Correa, 35, was fired last summer and faces up to five years in prison on each charge when he is sentenced April 11.

“I accept responsibility in this case,” Correa told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes. “I trespassed repeatedly.”

“So you broke in their house?” Hughes asked Correa, referring to the Astros.

“It was stupid,” replied Correa, who is free on $20,000 bond.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said the hacking cost the Astros about $1.7 million, taking into account how Correa used the Astros’ data to draft players.

“It has to do with the talent that was on the record that they were able to have access to, that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” he told reporters. “They were watching what the Astros were doing.”

MLB could discipline the Cardinals, possibly with a fine or a loss of draft picks, but said only that it looked forward to getting details on the case from federal authorities. The Cardinals, whose chairman, Bill DeWitt Jr., had blamed the incident on “roguish behavior,” declined comment.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given that he pleaded out, I don’t expect Correa to get jail time, though perhaps a suspended sentence might be in the works. He’ll never work in baseball again, that’s for sure.

There’s still a lot more to this, however. As Craig Calcaterra notes, Correa claimed to have found Cards information on the Astros’ system when he was traipsing around in there.

That may not raise to a criminal level — there is no allegation Astros people hacked into the Cardinals’ system — but it could be relevant to Major League Baseball in a larger team-to-team information security matter. All of that depends on what Correa is saying he saw, which we do not know yet.

That aside, the level and the amount of information Correa got from the Astros is extraordinary. The defense some have offered — that he was merely checking to see if the Astros stole something — seems like a tiny part of this compared to what he accessed. And the argument I have heard from some people that, “hey, Correa was just walking in an unlocked door, so it’s not a big deal,” is not really true. He walked in, the Astros locked it, so then he broke into Jeff Luhnow’s office, as it were, and stole the keys so he could walk back in again. That is not just idle perusing. That is a concerted effort to carry out corporate espionage.

All of which is to say that this is far from over, especially from a baseball perspective. Correa performed his duties as Cardinals scouting director for over two years while in possession of extensive amounts of Astros’ confidential information. That benefitted him personally and, by extension, benefitted the Cardinals via the acts he took on their behalf with that information in his head. And that’s the case even if he was the sole person involved. If anyone else accessed Ground Control or was made privy to the information Correa obtained, it makes the Cardinals’ collective informational advantage all the greater.

Major League Baseball needs to find out what, if anything the Astros have of the Cardinals, as Correa claims. They need to learn — as they may still learn given that the investigation and the case is not over — what law enforcement knows about anyone else’s involvement. There is still a long way to go. However, based on what is known at the moment, the data breach here was extensive and extraordinary and the Cardinals will likely be facing some stiff, stiff penalties as a result. Maybe financial penalties. Maybe draft pick penalties. Maybe some combination.

Either way, this case is way bigger than people thought it to be yesterday.

We’ll see what MLB does once they have all the information that the prosecutors gathered. Hair Balls and the Chron have more.

Griffey and Piazza reach the Hall, Bagwell and Raines come close

Congratulations to the new inductees.

Ken Griffey Jr., the sixth-leading home run hitter in history and one of the most complete players of his generation, and power-hitting catcher Mike Piazza were elected Wednesday to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Griffey set a record for highest vote percentage, as he was named on 437 of 440 ballots for 99.32%, breaking the record of 98.84% set by Tom Seaver in 1992. Piazza received 83% of the 75% of votes required for election.

In some ways they will enter the shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y., together as polar opposites. Griffey was baseball royalty all along, the son of a three-time All-Star who played 19 seasons in the majors, the last two alongside him. Junior was the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, reached the big leagues two years later and always seemed destined for greatness without the need of chemical enhancement.

Piazza was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft as a favor to his father’s friend, manager Tommy Lasorda, converted from first baseman to catcher and was dogged by steroid rumors for parts of his career. Nobody drafted that late ever made it to the Hall before.

The official announcement is here and the voting results are here. Jeff Bagwell got 315 votes for 71.6%, and Tim Raines received 307 for 69.8%. Both should be in good shape for next year, though in Raines’ case that will be his last chance. Both may have benefited from a reduction in the number of voters, as 90 former BBWAA members who hadn’t covered the sport in the past 10 years were dropped from the rolls. Mike Mussina, who had a big jump in support may have also done better as a result of that. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds ticked up a bit, but not that much, while Mark McGwire went nowhere in his last year on the ballot. First timer Trevor Hoffman got 67.3% and feels like a favorite to get in next year as well. I’d have liked to see a bigger class, but at least there’s nothing this year to make me throw a fit, and that’s about all I can reasonably ask for. David Schoenfield and Craig Calcaterra have more.

Pete Rose remains banned from baseball

No argument from me.

Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, has decided not to lift the permanent ban imposed on Pete Rose more than a quarter-century ago, meaning the player with more hits than anyone else in the sport’s history will continue to be kept out of the Hall of Fame.

The decision by Mr. Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner last January, was announced on Monday after The New York Times reported that the ban would be kept intact.

Mr. Manfred’s decision comes less than three months after he met with Mr. Rose, 74, at Major League Baseball’s headquarters on Park Avenue in Manhattan to discuss the ban, which was first imposed in 1989, when baseball concluded that Rose had bet on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds and that some of the bets had been placed on his own team.

In the report, which was released on Monday and accompanied his decision to uphold the ban, Mr. Manfred said Mr. Rose informed him at the September meeting that he continues to bet on baseball, which he can legally do in Las Vegas, where he lives.

That disclosure clearly concerned Mr. Manfred, as did what he described as Mr. Rose’s inability, at the meeting, to admit that he not only bet on games as a manager but also as a player.

“In short,’’ Mr. Manfred concluded in the report, “Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing … or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the cirucmstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989.”

Yeah, Pete Rose, who was banned for life for violating the very clear and simple rule not to bet on baseball, still bets on baseball, and lied about betting on baseball while he was still a player. Any questions?

I’ll say what I said before, that I’d be okay with the idea of Rose being posthumously elected to the Hall. In terms of his on-field accomplishments, he’s a no-brainer. Put Shoeless Joe in with him – it’ll surely have been a century since the Black Sox scandal by the time this would be relevant. Along those same lines, I’d love to see everyone knock off the stupid arguments about PEDs and just evaluate everyone’s cases on their statistical merits. Until then, Rose can continue to not learn from his mistakes. Joe Posnanski, Craig Calcaterra, and Jayson Stark have more.

2016 Hall of Fame ballot

The other election of importance going on right now.

Under new voting rules established this summer by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot was released Monday on the earliest date in recent history.

Ken Griffey Jr. and his 630 homers and Trevor Hoffman and his National League-record 601 saves are the top candidates among a bevy of first-time qualifiers for the Class of 2016. Billy Wagner, who had 422 saves in 16 seasons for five teams, is another significant new name on the ballot.
Mike Piazza (69.9 percent of the vote last year), Jeff Bagwell (55.7 percent) and Tim Raines (55 percent) are the returnees with the best chances of being elected this time around.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

[…]

The BBWAA ballot announcement commences the Hall of Fame voting season that includes elections by the 16-member Pre-Integration Committee and nominees for the Ford C. Frick Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, all slated to be unveiled at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 7-10.

This year’s version of the Veterans Committee will vote on six players, three executives and an organizer who were all active in baseball prior to Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The Frick Award voters will pick a baseball announcer who was a pioneer during that same period. The BBWAA honors a writer with the Spink Award for meritorious contributions to the baseball writing profession.

The new rules for the BBWAA ballot winnowed the rolls by about 125 voters, a Hall official said. While 625 ballots were sent out last year, about 475 were put in the mail on Monday. The ballots historically had been mailed just prior to Thanksgiving and had to be returned by New Year’s Day. Voters will now have until Dec. 24 to mail their ballots.

The results are to be revealed on MLB Network on Jan. 6, with a news conference involving any of the electees to be held the following day.

In the past, all members of the BBWAA with more than 10 consecutive years of membership received a ballot. Under the new rules passed in July by the Hall’s board of directors, members who have not actively been a member of the BBWAA for 10 years must apply every year for their ballot. The Hall then determines by the number of games an applicant covered in the previous season whether to issue a ballot.

As you know, I’ve had my issues with the way the BBWAA has done its thing in recent years. Perhaps this winnowing will make the process a bit better by eliminating some of the writers who haven’t actually watched a game since the Carter administration. I’m not nearly naive enough to think that this will absolutely be a change for the better, but it’s hard to see how things could get worse.

The full ballot, with the choices I would make highlighted:

Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Luis Castillo, Roger Clemens, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Glaus, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Jeff Kent, Mike Lowell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Randy Winn.

I think Trevor Hoffman is a Hall of Famer, but Alan Trammell is running out of time, and as voters are limited to ten selections and there’s still a backlog that needs to be worked through. I’d give more consideration to Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Billy Wagner in a different year, but these are the conditions, so make the best of it as you can. Given the plethora of qualified candidates and the lack of space on the ballot, anyone who votes for the likes of Luis Castillo or Mark Grudzielanek, even as a joke or to pay off a bet, needs to have their privileges forcefully revoked. We’ll know shortly after the new year just what fresh hell the HoF voters have unleashed on us this time. Who would be on your ballot?

Cardinals identify a fall guy

The latest Hacked-Stros news.

The St. Louis Cardinals have terminated the contract of their scouting director, Chris Correa, as investigations continue into alleged hacking of a Houston Astros database.

A Cardinals’ lawyer, James G. Martin, confirmed the move Thursday, saying Correa already had been on an “imposed leave of absence.” Martin declined to comment on the reason. And he would not say whether any employee has admitted hacking the Astros, citing ongoing investigations by the club, Major League Baseball and the FBI.

Correa declined to comment.

In a prepared statement, Correa’s lawyer, Nicholas Williams, wrote: “Mr. Correa denies any illegal conduct. The relevant inquiry should be what information did former St. Louis Cardinals employees steal from the St. Louis Cardinals organization prior to joining the Houston Astros, and who in the Houston Astros organization authorized, consented to, or benefited from that roguish behavior?”

Giles Kibbe, the attorney for the Astros, reaffirmed an earlier denial that neither the Houston organization nor any previous Cardinals employees now with the Astros had taken anything proprietary from the Cardinals.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who as head of the Cardinals’ analytics department had helped build the database used here to evaluate players, has said that everything he and others did in Houston was accomplished “from scratch.”

“We stand by all of our previous comments,” Kibbe said. “We’re looking forward to the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation. I stand by all that Jeff has said on this matter.”

Correa has admitted hacking into a Houston database but only to determine whether the Astros had stolen proprietary data, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Correa did not leak any Astros data and is not responsible for additional hacks that the FBI has alleged occurred, said the source.

[…]

The source said that Correa’s involvement in the hacking began in 2013, in an attempt to determine whether Luhnow or any other former Cardinals employees took proprietary data to the Astros.

Correa’s suspicions were aroused in part by a résumé in which a job seeker claimed expertise that Correa believed could have come only from working with Cardinals data, the source said.

He used an old password from a former Cardinals employee working for the Astros to access the Houston database “a few” times but did not download data, the source said. The source claims Correa located some data on the website, but did not report it to his bosses because the information was outdated and unreliable without being redone.

The source said that others must have accessed Houston’s database if federal investigators’ claims about the number of hacking attempts are correct.

See here and here for the background. The counter-charges are interesting and I suppose could be a potential line of defense in the event this ever goes to a courtroom in some fashion. Whether it might mitigate any future punishment by MLB is another matter. The Chron story adds a bit more detail.

Giles Kibbe, the Astros’ general counsel, said in an e-mail, “We stand by all of our previous comments. We look forward to the FBI concluding their investigation.”

Major League Baseball, similarly, plans to await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, a person familiar with the league’s thinking said. A league spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

The FBI has not commented on details of its investigation but repeated a previously issued statement: “The FBI aggressively investigates all potential threats to public and private sector systems. Once our investigations are complete, we pursue all appropriate avenues to hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”

[…]

Washington D.C.-based attorney Peter Toren, who handles cases involving intellectual property and commercial litigation, said that were a civil case to be filed, the Cardinals might be able to allege as a counterclaim against the Astros that Astros personnel improperly used information obtained in their time as employees for the Cardinals that could be classified as a trade secret.

Major League Baseball forbids clubs from suing each other, instead directing disputes to the commissioner as arbitrator. He can then award the Astros damages.

Luhnow and director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal worked with the Cardinals before joining the Astros, for whom they launched a database called “Ground Control.” The Cardinals had their own database, called “Red Bird Dog.”

“Ground Control” includes statistics, player evaluations and, at least up until last spring, logs of trade negotiations. Those logs were posted online and widely viewed at the website Deadspin last June, prompting an FBI investigation.

As first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by the Chronicle, the Cardinals had a master list of passwords, and at least one of the Astros’ departed executives did not alter his password well enough upon departure.

While Astros amateur scouting director Mike Elias also worked with the Cardinals in St. Louis and came over to the Astros with Luhnow, a person familiar with the investigation said Elias’ log-in credentials were not at issue. It’s unclear if the log-in information of both of Luhnow and Mejdal or just one of the two was in some way utilized in accessing Astros information.

Luhnow told Sports Illustrated he knows “about password hygiene and best practices” but did not directly address whether both he and his employees followed those practices to the necessary extent. Luhnow has turned down repeated requests for comment.

“I’m very aware of intellectual property and the agreements I signed,” Luhnow told Sports Illustrated. “I didn’t take anything, any proprietary information. Nor have we ever received any inquiries from anybody that even suggested that we had.”

Regarding the use of information obtained while working for another employer, Toren said, “That scenario is probably the most common type of trade secret case. One employee moves jobs and takes information with him to a new job for his use. The question then is: Is the employee generally allowed to take with him general knowledge?”

Toren said courts have ruled that employees can use general knowledge and skills gained on one job when they move to their next employer. However, he said lines can become blurry over “the type of information that really belongs to the employer that goes beyond … and really is specific knowledge.”

I still say having a master list of passwords is a terrible idea, whether Luhnow and the others who jumped from the Cards to the Stros practiced good password hygiene or not. I can’t wait to see the FBI report. Craig Calcaterra, who is not impressed by Correa’s attorney’s claims, has more.

The latest Pete Rose revelations

He bet on Reds games while he was still a player, despite his loud assertions to the contrary.

For 26 years, Pete Rose has kept to one story: He never bet on baseball while he was a player.

Yes, he admitted in 2004, after almost 15 years of denials, he had placed bets on baseball, but he insisted it was only as a manager.

But new documents obtained by Outside the Lines indicate Rose bet extensively on baseball — and on the Cincinnati Reds — as he racked up the last hits of a record-smashing career in 1986. The documents go beyond the evidence presented in the 1989 Dowd report that led to Rose’s banishment and provide the first written record that Rose bet while he was still on the field.

“This does it. This closes the door,” said John Dowd, the former federal prosecutor who led MLB’s investigation.

The documents are copies of pages from a notebook seized from the home of former Rose associate Michael Bertolini during a raid by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in October 1989, nearly two months after Rose was declared permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball. Their authenticity has been verified by two people who took part in the raid, which was part of a mail fraud investigation and unrelated to gambling. For 26 years, the notebook has remained under court-ordered seal and is currently stored in the National Archives’ New York office, where officials have declined requests to release it publicly.

[…]

Dowd, who reviewed the documents at Outside the Lines’ request, said his investigators had tried but failed to obtain Bertolini’s records, believing they would be the final piece in their case that Rose was betting with mob-connected bookmakers in New York. Dowd and his team had sworn testimony from bookie Ron Peters that Rose bet on the Reds from 1984 through 1986, but not written documentation. Dowd also had testimony and a recorded phone conversation between Bertolini and another Rose associate, Paul Janszen, that established that Bertolini had placed bets for Rose. But Dowd never had the kind of documents that could cement that part of his case, especially in the eyes of fans who wanted to see Rose returned to Major League Baseball.

“We knew that [Bertolini] recorded the bets, and that he bet himself, but we never had his records. We tried to get them. He refused to give them to us,” Dowd said. “This is the final piece of the puzzle on a New York betting operation with organized crime. And, of course, [Rose] betting while he was a player.”

See here for the documents in question, and be sure to read the whole story. The main moral here is that one should never believe a word Pete Rose says.

I recommend you read Craig Calcaterra’s Q&A about what this all means. Remember that Rose has asked Commissioner Rob Manfred to review his case and reconsider the lifetime ban against him. I’ll qute from the last bit of Calcaterra’s discussion:

Q: Does this affect his Hall of Fame case? Should it?

A: He has no Hall of Fame case now, because people who are banned are not allowed to be on the ballot. If and when he is reinstated, he will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny any player is when considered for the Hall. Part of that scrutiny is the so-called character clause. As it was, some voters were probably going to hold Rose’s gambling history against him and make his Hall case, if he ever gets one, tougher than it should be. With new evidence that Rose’s lying didn’t end years ago when he finally copped to betting on baseball, it may turn a few more minds against him.

Personally speaking, I think the character clause is dumb and I’d put Rose in the Hall immediately. There are a lot of liars and cheats in there. None of them is the all-time hits leader.

Q: Got anything else, smart guy?

A: Just one observation: Pete Rose politics are dumb. There is no reason why people who think he should be back in the game or in the Hall of Fame have to believe he’s a great guy or that he’s a truth-teller. Those are not mutually-exclusive categories. Yet for years, including the past ten minutes, I have heard people believe that it is. That if you think Rose is a liar, you MUST be against him for all purposes, or that if you think Rose should be reinstated and enshrined in Cooperstown that you MUST believe everyone is out to get him and that he’s a choir boy.

That’s silly, of course. Rose is a liar. That’s pretty clear. He got a punishment he richly deserved and, because of the nature of that punishment (i.e. it’s permanent) — Major League Baseball is doing him a gigantic favor by even reviewing his case again. If they told him to pound sand, there wouldn’t be a great argument for him or any of his partisans to lodge in his favor. But you can also, like I do, think that Rose is a liar who should be in the Hall of Fame. And one that, at this point in his life, could be reinstated without much harm happening. It would make a lot of people happy to boot.

This new news — or this new corroboration of old news and the bad P.R. that attends it — could be bad for that reinstatement case. There’s no getting around that unless and until MLB says it doesn’t care.

As you know, I’ve long been in the anti-Rose camp, mostly because 1) baseball’s rules about gambling are simple and clear; 2) Rose agreed to the punishment he now serves; and 3) he’s been lying about it for a quarter of a century. I mean, if he’d ever shown any sign that he at least understood what he did was wrong and why, I’d have been less of a hardass about it. Be that as it may, I can see where Calcaterra is coming from, and I’d be willing to go along with it on two conditions. One, that any consideration for Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame happens posthumously, and two, that every self-appointed moralist with Hall of Fame voting privileges agrees to get over the whole ridiculous PED thing already. Put in everyone whose as-is numbers say they deserve it, and tell the unvarnished truth about them on their plaques. Then we can move on to less controversial things, like the DH and improving the pace of the game. Who’s with me on this?

“Roguish behavior”

The Saint Louis Cardinals admit they hacked the Astros’ proprietary database.

Thursday’s tacit admission by St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. that someone in his organization was involved in hacking the Astros continued a saga that holds the potential for more tawdriness once the FBI has completed its investigation and all the details are released.

The Chronicle on Thursday learned that the Cardinals had unauthorized access to Astros information as early as 2012, a year earlier than was previously known. DeWitt, meanwhile, acknowledged for the first time that his organization played a role in accessing proprietary information belonging to the Astros, blaming “roguish behavior.”

Meeting with reporters in St. Louis on Thursday along with Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, DeWitt said his organization’s own investigation was still ongoing. He did not specify which employees were responsible, but he told club workers “we’ve all been tainted.”

“Those responsible will be held accountable,” DeWitt said, “and we will continue what we feel is a great franchise.”

The extent of the Cardinals’ reach inside the Astros’ organization isn’t fully known. But it was not limited to one or two occasions, a person familiar with the details of the investigation said. The source asked for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. The Chronicle has previously confirmed two breaches into the Astros’ system – one in 2013 and one in March 2014. The FBI began its investigation after the 2014 breach.

[…]

DeWitt expressed confusion over the intrusions, which he said were limited to a handful of people. The Chronicle learned this week the list of suspects was down to four or five.

“We’re committed to getting this resolved, we hope sooner rather than later,” DeWitt said. “We’re a little bit at the government’s pace. We’re not in a position of pushing them, as you might imagine.”

DeWitt said he was shocked to learn of the scandal.

“I still don’t know the reason for it,” he said of the hacking. “I can’t come up with a reason for it. It goes against everything we stand for. We don’t know who did what here.”

See here for the background. The story suggests that the Astros could have a claim for compensation for their data loss. Let’s see how the FBI investigation goes first, and what if any action Commissioner Rob Manfred takes. I suspect we’re a long way from any resolution just yet.

In the meantime, I love the use of the word “roguish” to describe the actions by whoever did this. It reminds me of a song.

I hereby declare that the official theme song of this scandal, for its use of the word “roguish”. Hair Balls has more.

The Hacked-Stros

WTF?

The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors are investigating whether front-office officials for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past two decades, hacked into internal networks of a rival team to steal closely guarded information about player personnel.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

The attack represents the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team has hacked the network of another team. Illegal intrusions into companies’ networks have become commonplace, but it is generally conducted by hackers operating in foreign countries, like Russia and China, who steal large tranches of data or trade secrets for military equipment and electronics.

Major League Baseball “has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database,” a spokesman for baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, said in a written statement.

[…]

Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

[…]

The intrusion did not appear to be sophisticated, the law enforcement officials said. When Mr. Luhnow was with the Cardinals, the organization built a computer network, called Redbird, to house all of their baseball operations information — including scouting reports and player personnel information. After leaving to join the Astros, and bringing some front-office personnel with him from the Cardinals, Houston created a similar program known as Ground Control.

Ground Control contained the Astros’ “collective baseball knowledge,” according to a Bloomberg Business article published last year. The program took a series of variables and “weights them according to the values determined by the team’s statisticians, physicist, doctors, scouts and coaches,” the article said.

Investigators believe Cardinals officials, concerned that Mr. Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information to the Astros, examined a master list of passwords used by Mr. Luhnow and the other officials who had joined the Astros when they worked for the Cardinals. The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

Emphasis mine. Allow me to put my IT security hat on for a moment: There should never be a “master list of passwords”, because writing passwords down is poor security practice. Keep passwords in your head or in a password-keeper app. Two-factor authentication is a fine idea, too. And for goodness’ sake, don’t reuse old passwords, especially if you know that someone else knows what those old passwords are. The weakest link in any enterprise system is always an end user with bad security habits. Thus endeth the lesson. I can’t wait to see what Commissioner Manfred makes of this “Spygate” allegation. Hair Balls and ThinkProgress, from whom I got the embedded image, have more.

RIP, Tal’s Hill

One of the more distinctive features of Minute Maid Park is going away.

In the relatively short, rapidly changing history of Major League Baseball in Houston, nothing in recent years has represented the Astros’ brand of baseball more distinctively than Tal’s Hill, the idiosyncratic incline in Minute Maid Park’s center field that has confounded outfielders and entertained fans since the park opened in 2000.

With the 2016 season, that landmark will be no more.

Tal’s Hill, named for former Astros executive Tal Smith and designed to replicate the quirks of 20th-century ballparks for the enjoyment of 21st-century fans, will give way to a $15 million redesign that includes a center-field observation tower, a field-level club section, and gathering spots for groups, season-ticket holders and fans who want to enjoy baseball from multiple angles rather than a single seat.

The Astros, who will pay for the alterations to the publicly funded ballpark, announced plans for the redesign Thursday afternoon. The ballclub will solicit bids next week for the project, which required approval from MLB and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

Tal’s Hill lasted 16 years as a defining characteristic of Minute Maid Park, drawing praise from some for its throwback elements but criticism from others as a nuisance, an eyesore and even a danger zone, even though no one was ever injured flagging down a well-hit ball.

[…]

Eliminating Tal’s Hill will allow the Astros to move the center-field fence in from 436 feet, the deepest in Major League Baseball, to 409 feet, at roughly the outer edge of the current warning track.

Seating capacity will be reduced by about a hundred seats, but eliminating Tal’s Hill, with its 30-degree incline, will create more space for the Astros to entertain fans at, potentially, premium prices.

[…]

Elements of the redesign include:

A field-level club in center field with about 50 seats, located behind a 10-foot-high outfield fence.

A new section of seats atop the field-level boxes, on the right-field side of the batter’s eye backdrop in center field.

Moving the Budweiser-sponsored patio section from behind Tal’s Hill to atop the batter’s eye along the Home Run Alley concourse section.

A 92-foot tower with a winding staircase, enclosing an elevator between the main concourse and mezzanine equipped with LED lights and, at the top, the Astros’ name and logo.

A smaller, self-contained section of mezzanine seats in center field, replacing three sections of current seats that will be removed as part of the redesign, and about 35 feet of ribbon boards that will display team statistics, plus an icehouse-style bar and concessions area.

Additional retail stores, bar areas and concession stands on the main concourse and space that could house, among other things, a public set for Root Sports Southwest pre- and postgame broadcasts.

This related Chron story mentions the Hill’s homage to Crosley Field, the old home of the Cincinnati Reds, which had a notorious incline in its outfield. I once read a story about Babe Herman, a colorful outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920s and 30s who was much better with a bat than with a glove. His manager, Wilbert Robinson, a/k/a “Uncle Robbie”, once had a friend and former Reds outfielder give Herman some tips on how to navigate the hill at Crosley Field. At the game that night, a batter hit a fly ball to deep right with runners on first and second. Herman expertly ran back to catch the ball, then fell flat on his face as he tried to throw it back into the infield. The runners rounded the bases as the ball rolled away from him during his pratfall. After the inning, Robbie accosted Herman in the dugout. “What happened? I thought he showed you how to go up that hill!” he yelled. “Yeah, but he didn’t show me how to come back down,” Herman replied.

I have no idea if that’s a true story, but really, does it matter? I kind of liked Tal’s Hill, but it was far enough out there that it was easy to ignore most of the time. I hadn’t given it much thought since the stadium formerly known as Enron Field first debuted, with Tal’s Hill the subject of much fanfare and derision. The main effect of this change will likely be to make Minute Maid even more homerun-friendly than it is now, though probably not by much. What do you think? Hair Balls, Sean Pendergast – both of whom are happy to see Tal’s Hill go – and Swamplot have more.

Losing our sports history

This is sad.

The original championship banners for the Rockets and the WNBA’s defunct Comets remain on display at Toyota Center, as do banners saluting both teams’ representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After that, Houston’s legacy of pro sports banners gets a little fuzzy.

The latest collection of banners to depart the city left in 2013 with the Aeros. The minor hockey team was moved by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to Des Moines, Iowa, when the team could not reach agreement on a new Toyota Center lease with the Rockets.

Team officials said the Aeros’ 2011 banner for winning the American Hockey League’s Western Division title is on display at the Wild’s training center in Des Moines.

As for the other Aeros banners, they are presumed to be in storage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although team officials could not provide details on their location. A team spokesman, in fact, was not familiar with any banners that existed other than the 2011 flag.

Regardless, Toyota Center once was home to banners commemorating the 2003 Calder Cup title, the 1999 International Hockey League Turner Cup title, the 1974 and 1975 Avco Cup titles won by the World Hockey Association team, and the retired No. 9 jersey worn by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who played for the WHA Aeros.

[…]

NRG Park spokeswoman Nina Jackson, asked this week about the location of the Astros memorabilia, said, “Nobody knows anything about any banners.”

There was no indication whether the banners were sold during the Astrodome “garage sale” in 2013 and, if not, whether they still are stored somewhere within the building.

Similar questions surround the Oilers’ championship banners and retired number banners. The Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season for Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesman for the Tennessee Titans said the Oilers banners have not been seen in storage in Nashville.

So thanks to two relocated (and renamed) franchises plus one that changed its home stadium, a lot of tangible pieces of Houston’s sports history are at best in unknown locations. The obvious solution to this would seem to be a local sports museum, whose first task would be to try and track down these things that no one will admit to having at this time. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for someone with the money and the inclination to pursue that. Until then, at least we still have people who remember that these things did once happen.

Hall calls for Biggio

Third time’s the charm.

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday, the first time since 1955 writers selected four players in one year.

Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz earned induction on their first tries, and Biggio made it on the third attempt after falling two votes shy last year.

Steroids-tainted stars Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa remained far from election.

Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner with 303 victories and 4,875 strikeouts, was selected on 534 of 549 ballots by veteran members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. His 97.3 percentage was the eighth-highest in the history of voting.

Martinez, a three-time Cy Young winner, appeared on 500 ballots (91.1 percent). Martinez was 219-100, struck out 3,154, led the major leagues in ERA five times and in 2004 helped the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years.

Smoltz was picked on 455 ballots (82.9 percent) and will join former Atlanta teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who were inducted last summer along with Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. Smoltz, the 1996 NL Cy Young winner, was 213-155 with 154 saves, the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves. He went 15-4 in the postseason.

Biggio appeared on 454 ballots, 42 more than the 75 percent needed and up from 68.2 percent in his first appearance and 74.8 percent last year. He had 3,060 hits in 20 big league seasons, all with the Houston Astros.

The quartet will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 26. The BBWAA had not voted in four players in a single year since selecting Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance 60 years earlier.

I’m guessing you could win yourself a few beers at your favorite sports bar with the trivia question “Who was inducted to the Hall of Fame the same year as Joe DiMaggio?” (In case you’re wondering, Gabby Hartnett was a catcher in the 20s and 30s for the Cubs, Ted Lyons pitched for 20 years with the White Sox – check out the season he had in 1942, when he was 41, it’s the sort of stat line you’d never see anyone have today – and Dazzy Vance was Sandy Koufax 40 years before Sandy Koufax was Sandy Koufax.)

I have to say, other than my usual spittle-flecked rant about steroid hysteria, I have few complaints about this year’s voting results, which if you’ve followed this blog for awhile is saying something. The three top non-qualifiers – Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines – all improved their standing over last year, and ought to be in decent shape for 2016. I’d have voted for those guys and a few others over Smoltz, but he’s deserving and would only have been left off my ballot this year because I’d have been limited to ten selections. Biggio, Johnson, and Pedro were all no-brainers. In addition to his prowess at the game, Craig Biggio was also the inspiration for the greatest sports-related blog of all time. He was Hall-worthy just for that, to be honest. I don’t expect to say this again any time soon, but well done, writers. Now get over your steroid idiocy and get to work electing everyone else that belongs. The official HOF announcement is here, the MLB.com story is here, and Hair Balls, Pinstripe Alley, Charlie Pierce, and Ultimate Astros have more.

I’ll see you in C-U-B-A

Among the many likely winners of the new US policy towards Cuba will be the city of Houston.

As an established travel gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean, Houston is positioned to benefit from any potential easing of tourism restrictions in Cuba.

“There’s a lot of fascination with Cuba,” said Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Houston.”It’s human nature to want to explore that final frontier. … If Cuba opens for American tourism, it’s going to be great for Houston.”

Much is already in place to capitalize on any travel changes that might follow President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that put the U.S. a step closer to re-establishing ties with the island nation. In 2011, for example, Bush Intercontinental was designated as one of the airports that could legally charter flights to Cuba. The first one took off in February 2012 with 80 passengers.

Several charters have taken off from the airport since, but none have flown on a regular basis, Houston Airport System spokesman Bill Begley said Wednesday. He said the airport welcomes the latest changes in the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

“Houston currently is enjoying an unprecedented increase in the number of passengers flying aboard international flights and the possibility of adding yet another global destination to the route map is always appealing,” Begley said in a email.

While most Cuban travel activity is based in Florida, three travel agencies in Houston are authorized to arrange trips for Americans. Observers say the new initiative could lead to regular flights between Houston and Cuba as there is a pent-up demand for leisure and business activity.

“It means daily flights from Houston to Havana,” predicted Philip Howard, an associate professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at the University of Houston. The potential change has him thinking he’ll be able to “take some grad students and maybe undergraduates to Cuba.”

[…]

The Houston Airport System has already been working to broaden the Bayou City’s reach to Latin America, citing demand from business and leisure travelers. Several new nonstop flights have been announced in the last year, including to Mexico City, Monterrey and Cancún in Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Santiago, Chile. Southwest Airlines, which is building a new international terminal at Hobby Airport, also recently applied for federal approval to fly from Houston to destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize and Aruba.

“We are very spoiled in Houston. We can have a weekend trip to Mexico and now we have so many other new flights,” Weller said. “Cuba is so close. … It’s something exotic and people will want to try something different.”

I have no doubt there will be daily flights from IAH to Havana, probably within a year of the formalities being worked out. It’s a no-brainer. Energy companies will be right there to do business as well. I know that Texas Republicans are currently goin berserk over this. Gotta say, I think they’re letting their Obama hatred get the best of them again.

Who else will benefit from this? Major League Baseball, for sure.

Major League Baseball said in a statement that it is monitoring the president’s announcement.

“While there are not sufficient details to make a realistic evaluation, we will continue to track this significant issue, and we will keep our clubs informed if this different direction may impact the manner in which they conduct business on issues related to Cuba,” the statement read.

The players’ association released its own statement: “We will watch this situation closely as it continues to unfold and we remain hopeful that today’s announcement will lead to further positive developments.”

Jaime Torres, who has been the agent for numerous major leaguers who have defected from Cuba, told “Outside the Lines” that “this is the beginning of something big, and I was hoping for it shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008. It’s finally on the way.”

However, Torres, who is based in Miami, said that “it’s too early to jump up and be excited” about the potential effects on Major League Baseball.

“I’ve seen what MLB and the MLBPA said, but now we have to see how they proceed and what is done,” he said.

More here, here, here, and here for more. Existing Cuban teams will do well, as any system MLB and Cuba come up with will pay them well for signing their players. The players themselves will do well for the simple reason that they won’t have to defect and make often very perilous journeys to the US to play.

And finally, you will benefit from hearing this classic Irving Berlin tune:

The Austin Lounge Lizards have a great version of this song, but I couldn’t find a video of it. I’m glad I came across this one.

The frontlogged Hall of Fame ballot

Here are all of the eligible candidates for the MLB Hall of Fame class of 2015:

Here are the first-time eligible players, in alphabetical order:

Rich Aurillia
Aaron Boone
Tony Clark
Carlos Delgado
Jermaine Dye
Darin Erstad
Cliff Floyd
Nomar Garciaparra
Brian Giles
Tom Gordon
Eddie Guardado
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Troy Percival
Jason Schmidt
Gary Sheffield
John Smoltz

Now, here are the holdovers, listed in order of the percentage of the vote they received last year.

Craig Biggio, 74.8 percent
Mike Piazza, 62.2
Jeff Bagwell, 54.3
Tim Raines, 46.1
Roger Clemens, 35.4
Barry Bonds, 34.7
Lee Smith, 29.9
Curt Schilling, 29.2
Edgar Martinez, 25.2
Alan Trammell, 20.8
Mike Mussina, 20.3
Jeff Kent, 15.2
Fred McGriff, 11.7
Mark McGwire, 11
Larry Walker, 10.2
Don Mattingly, 8.2
Sammy Sosa, 7.2

The ones in bold are ones that I would vote for right now if I could. The ones in italics are ones I would seriously consider in a year where there weren’t so insanely many qualified candidates. Note that I would have to not vote for a couple of the candidates that I absolutely believe deserve enshrinement because there are more than ten of them. This is nuts, and it’s entirely because of the voters and their head-up-the-butt approach to this over the past few years.

Joe Sheehan calls this “The Ballot Frontlog”:

In 2013, this — not some ballot limitation — is what broke the system. With Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa joining the ballot, more than one in three Hall of Fame votes was used on players who have no chance to be elected by this group of voters, not because they’re unqualified — my god, we’re discussing Jack Morris seriously while dismissing Palmeiro and Sosa? — but because a significant subset of the voting pool rejects them out of hand.

That’s why we have a logjam. In a rational system, five to seven players on this year’s ballot wouldn’t be on it. McGwire would have been elected on his third or fourth try. Bagwell would have been in on his second or third. That would have cleared 435 votes on last year’s ballots to be used on downballot candidates like Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Curt Schilling, or better still, to elect three inner-circle Hall of Famers in Bonds, Clemens and Piazza and a fourth mid-tier Hall of Famer in Craig Biggio. (In this parallel universe, Jack Morris probably gets elected in 2012 or 2013 as well.) You would certainly have a deep ballot, perhaps edging towards those seven-votes-per-ballot averages from the 1970s, but nothing the Hall hasn’t handled in the past.

That’s the problem. It’s not that there are 17 players on this ballot with pretty good cases for the Hall. It’s that there are at least six players on this ballot who have no business still being under consideration for the Hall of Fame. This isn’t a talent-depth issue, a ballot-size issue or anything else. It’s a steroids issue. It’s not a backlog, it’s a frontlog. The seven marked players returning from last year’s ballot are again going to eat up 1250-1350 ballot slots, 30-35% of the total. Then they’re going to do it again next year, and the year after that, and for years to come, making it impossible for qualified Hall of Famers who aren’t inner-circle types to gain ground in the voting. There probably won’t be another shutout for a while — you have Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and others coming down the pike — but it will be impossible for anyone in the middle of the current ballot to advance, and the 5% rule (which I called for modifying last winter) is going to lop some fully-qualified candidates off the ballot along the way. Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa, just to name three, are going to struggle to stay on the ballot for 2015.

Expanding the ballot, everyone’s favorite solution, doesn’t come close to addressing that problem. It’s the Hall — to be clear, the BBWAA doesn’t get to make that change on its own — passing the buck as it has now for the better part of a decade. The ten-man ballot works because it gives value to a place on the ballot relative to the number of names under consideration, and changing it to avoid taking a stand on the so-called “Steroid Era” would cheapen the process for political expediency. The Hall, and the Hall alone, is responsible for this, by not issuing clear instructions about how the voters should handle players from the last 20 years. By outsourcing this one to the writers, the Hall has broken the voting system. This is an issue on which the voters want leadership and guidance, and the Hall, deathly afraid of taking a position that will alienate anyone, has walked away from them — and by extension, baseball fans.

The only way to address this is for the Hall to issue clear directions to the voters…and it’s clear what those directions need to be. See, whether your dad likes it or not, some day Barry Bonds is going to be on that wall. So is Roger Clemens. So are Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and probably the other three guys as well, along with the players like Alex Rodriguez who will come along after them. As steroid hysteria and all of the bad math, history and chemistry that came with it fade into the past, smart people who weren’t invested in our narratives will recognize that a place that honors the greatest players ever, but doesn’t acknowledge these all-time greats, cannot stand; that a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens creates more questions than it answers. There’ll be a committee, maybe in my lifetime, certainly in my daughter’s, that corrects the mistakes being made now, that inducts these players, that acknowledges that in the heat of the moment, a lot of people got it wrong in the early days of the 21st century.

I think Sheehan is a little too easy on the voters, whose fact-free slandering of Jeff Bagwell is beyond shameful, and I don’t share his belief that “clear directions” from the Hall would have settled this. I just don’t think there’s anything short of not being allowed to vote that would keep enough of these moral scolds from blackballing an unacceptably large number of qualified candidates. That said, he’s clearly put his finger on the problem. I for one look forward to that day Sheehan describes when enough time has passed to allow some sanity to reign. I hope I live long enough to see it. Results of this year’s voting will be announced on January 6. I’ll be back to bitch about them afterward as always. Deadspin has more.

Rob Manfred to succeed Bud Selig as MLB Commissioner

There will be a changing of the guard for Major League Baseball.

Rob Manfred

Rob Manfred was elected baseball’s 10th commissioner Thursday, winning a three-man competition to succeed Bud Selig and given a mandate by the tradition-bound sport to recapture young fans and speed play in an era that has seen competition increase and attention spans shrink.

The 55-year-old Manfred, who has worked for Major League Baseball in roles with ever-increasing authority since 1998, will take over from Selig, 80, on Jan. 25. It’s a generational change much like the NBA undertook when Adam Silver, then 51, replaced 71-year-old David Stern as commissioner in February. And like Silver, Manfred was his boss’ pick.

Manfred beat out Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in the first contested vote for a new commissioner in 46 years. The third candidate, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, dropped out just before the start of balloting.

“I am tremendously honored by the confidence that the owners showed in me today,” Manfred said. “I have very big shoes to fill.”

Selig has led baseball since September 1992, first as chairman of the sport’s executive council following Fay Vincent’s forced resignation, then as commissioner since July 1998. After announcing his intention to retire many times only to change his mind, he said last September that he really, truly planned to leave in January 2015.

[…]

Manfred has been chief operating officer since September 2013, a role in which he reports directly to Selig and oversees functions such as labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration and club governance.

Manfred had spent the previous 15 years as MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, and received an expanded role of executive vice president of economics and league affairs in 2012. He was the point man in negotiating the past three labor agreements, with all three negotiated without a work stoppage for the first time since the rise of the MLB Players Association in the 1970s. He also helped lead negotiations for the first joint drug agreement that was instituted in 2002 and has been strengthened repeatedly.

Manfred started with baseball in 1987 as a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who assisted in collective bargaining.

Manfred has been to Selig what Silver was to Stern — a longtime trusted aide who negotiated labor deals, handled crises such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bankruptcy saga and was intimately involved in major issues ranging from drug testing to revenue sharing. Manfred has taken criticism in recent months, however, for some of the methods baseball employed in its controversial Biogenesis investigation.

“There is no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament, the experience to be a very successful commissioner,” Selig said, “and I have justifiably very high expectations.”

Manfred — whose term was not specified but is expected to receive a three-year contract, according to multiple reports — grew up in Rome, New York, about an hour’s drive from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He must address issues that include decreased interest in baseball among younger people and an average game time that has stretched to 3:03, up 30 minutes from 1981. And he will be leading an opinionated group of multimillionaires and billionaires.

“I think some of Rob’s greatest attributes are his ability to reach consensus,” said St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who chaired the committee that picked the three candidates.

If you’ve read my blog for a few years, you know I’ve never been a fan of Bud Selig. I’ve always assigned him the primary blame for the 1994 strike and all the ridiculous “contraction” talk a few years after that. Don’t even get me started on the whole PED fiasco and the resultant mess that Hall of Fame voting has become. That said, baseball has had tremendous growth lately, they’re at the forefront of online media, there’s been a 20 year run of labor peace that should continue with the next collective bargaining agreement, and they’ve finally taken some steps to modernize umpiring and make it more accountable via instant replay. Selig deserves credit for those things, and to the extent that Rob Manfred can build on them, baseball will continue to be in good shape. I wish Rob Manfred the best of luck in the new gig. Deadspin, the NYT, MLB.com, and Pinstripe Alley have more.

Maybe the Hall of Fame voting procedure changes aren’t so bad

I admit, when I heard the news that the MLB Hall of Fame changed its voting procedures to reduce eligibility from 15 years to 10, I was outraged. That’s my usual reaction to things the HOF does, since most of them are indeed outrageous. But Joe Sheehan has just about convinced me that maybe this time it wasn’t such a bad move.

The 15-year number stems from a time when we didn’t have the access to the tools to evaluate a player’s career that we do today. Given the number of players eligible for election and the greater reliance on contemporary observation and oral history, a long window for reflection and discussion made sense. Now, it no longer does. We’re not writing letters and publishing columns in newspapers and digging through Total Baseball anymore. For one, the Hall passes judgment on almost all players in the first ten years; in the past 30 elections, just three players have been elected to the Hall past their tenth year on the ballot. That includes two of the BBWAA’s worst picks — Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter — and Bert Blyleven, who may have ended up a ridiculous omission but for the work of Rich Lederer. That’s one par-or-better Hall of Famer elected after the tenth year since 1985. It seems quite clear that the BBWAA doesn’t need those last five years.

(Based on history, you might even want to cut that down to eight years. Hall of Famers elected in years 9-10 on the ballot over the past 30 years include Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage and Tony Perez. With due respect to Dawson, five of the last six players elected after Year Eight on the ballot are among the weakest ever selected by the BBWAA. If they had instituted an eight-year cutoff in 1985, the Hall would be stronger than it is today.)

Think about the conversations we have about these players. Nowadays, we pass judgment on Hall cases 20 minutes after a player retires, and those judgments don’t change much over 20 years. Look at the players on last year’s ballot. Do we need more time to talk about Don Mattingly or Lee Smith or Alan Trammell? This isn’t 1948. We have scads of data, and we have huge video archives, and we have a series of tubes through which we talk about this stuff incessantly. We just don’t need to talk about these players every year for 15 years. As I note above, eight might very well be plenty. I’d actually have gone one step further and shortened the time from retirement to the ballot as well, probably from five to three years in a couple of steps. These arguments can be had, and had well, over 10-15 years. They can generally be had over 10-15 months. This change was a boon to the process.

The one mistake the BBWAA did make is in not grandfathering in more players. Not that Trammell, Smith or Mattingly are getting in, but it would have been unfair to just remove them from next year’s ballot. However, the same courtesy should have been extended to everyone on last year’s ballot. The negative reaction to the change is correlated to the strong feelings many people have about candidates such as Tim Raines (entering his eighth year), Edgar Martinez (sixth) and Larry Walker (fifth). Those players will have less time to advance through the process now, with Raines in particular — a fully-qualified candidate now down to three years with which to advance — getting shafted. The BBWAA undercut its good decision by not extending the grace period to all players who reached the ballot under the 15-year rule. Changing a player’s eligibility retroactively is bad form, and gives support to the idea that this change — which, again, is a good one and long overdue — is actually more about ridding the group of the Barry Bonds Question than improving the process. This is a correctable error, one I hope they will address next year.

Sheehan argues that the logjam created recently by the writers’ mulish refusal to elect anyone one year and to be stingy in the next year after that should work itself out over the next three years (Andrew Mearns disagrees on this), and that the real problem we face continues to be with voters that don’t know how to properly evaluate players. I remain a little skeptical of all this because it’s the Hall of Fame’s job to do stupid and reactionary things, but at the very least Sheehan has tempered my indignation. What do you think?

More MLB-to-San-Antonio rumors

Believe them at your peril.

Could the Oakland A’s find a home in San Antonio?

At least one Oakland elected official thinks so, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff says San Antonio sports fans shouldn’t hold their breath.

“There’s nothing happening over here,” Wolff said.

“Our name’s been thrown out, but we went through that with the New Orleans Saints. I went through that with the Marlins. We didn’t spend a lot of local money but we spent a lot of time on it. You get these owners telling you one thing, and the baseball guys, administration, telling you something else. They’re going to have to be a hell of a lot more serious and a hell of a lot more coordinated to expect any of these communities to express any interest in it.”

However, Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid said he doesn’t believe the A’s are bluffing in their threat to leave the city if they don’t get a 10-year lease extension at the Coliseum.

Reid told San Francisco Chronicle blogger Phil Matier that San Antonio and Montreal are possible destinations should the A’s not get the deal they want.

“They have options,” Reid said, citing sources among the Coliseum Authority negotiators who have been working for 14 months to try to reach an A’s lease extension.

When asked if he thought the threat was real, Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Nate Miley said, “I’d put money on it.”

Here’s the blog post on which this story is based. It mentions that Montreal is another possible relocation option for the A’s, and in doing so broke my brand-new Irony-O-Meter. I paid forty bucks for the damn thing, too – guess I better mail in that warranty form. Anyway, as noted before, San Antonio may be a viable landing place (or expanding place) for a MLB team someday, but that day is not today, and likely won’t be anytime soon. San Antonio and – I can’t say it with a straight face, so please pardon the guffaw – Montreal are much more useful to MLB right now as points of leverage in this sort of negotiation. If it ever gets more serious than that, I trust that grassroots folks like MLB in San Antonio will be a bit more chatty on social media about it than they are currently. Enjoy the All-Star break, y’all. There should be some real baseball news again soon.

“The luckiest man on the face of the earth”

Seventy-five years ago today, Yankees great Lou Gehrig said farewell to baseball and the fans at Yankee Stadium with one of the most memorable speeches of sports history. Here’s an old newsreel of Gehrig’s career and a clip from his farewell speech, on July 4, 1939.

Sports On Earth has the full text of Gehrig’s speech, and a comparison to the version from Pride of the Yankees. They’re paying tribute to the Iron Horse today at Yankee Stadium. Lou Gehrig died of the disease that bears his name in 1941, but his memory endures. Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

Somebody doesn’t like something about the Astros

I’m still not sure what we’re supposed to conclude from this long but mostly unsourced screed about how the Astros are running their team.

The Astros have become one of baseball’s most progressive franchises as they try to rebuild and avoid a fourth consecutive 100-loss season.

But general manager Jeff Luhnow’s radical approach to on-field changes and business decisions has created at least pockets of internal discontent and a potential reputation problem throughout baseball.

“They are definitely the outcast of major league baseball right now, and it’s kind of frustrating for everyone else to have to watch it,” said former Astros pitcher Bud Norris, now with Baltimore. “When you talk to agents, when you talk to other players and you talk amongst the league, yeah, there’s going to be some opinions about it, and they’re not always pretty.”

The criticism, through interviews with more than 20 players, coaches, agents and others, comes in two parts:

On the field, the Astros shift their defenders into unusual positions to counteract hitter tendencies more than any other team, including in the minor leagues. They schedule minor league starting pitchers on altered and fluctuating rotation schedules, what they call a “modified tandem” system, a development strategy unique in baseball.

Off the field, the Astros are said to handle contract negotiations and the timing of player promotions with a dehumanizing, analytics-based approach detected by some across their operation.

The central question is how much criticism should be inherent to their process and how much should signal trouble in a game where word of mouth spreads quickly?

“Ninety-five percent of what we do is very similar to what all of baseball does,” Luhnow said. “We’re being a little bit different for very good reasons in some areas that we think are important.

“It doesn’t affect our ability to make people happy at the big league level. It just doesn’t. It affects their ability to perform better and be more prepared. That’s at least our hypothesis, and what we believe. And to tie that together with (how we handle) contracts is ridiculous.”

As far as the shifting goes, we all know that the basic idea for this dates from the 1940s, right? Lots of teams are employing it heavily these days, due to a combination of much better data about where each individual batter tends to hit the baseball plus a crop of managers and GMs that are willing to do what the plain facts say they ought to do. As the widespread deployment of this tactic is still new there are sure to be adjustments and countermeasures taken along the way, but for now whatever griping there is about it – the story basically had none – is the usual reactionary BS that tends to dominate baseball conversations. This is why we can’t have a better Hall of Fame balloting process.

As far as the “tandem rotation” system in the minors goes, that’s another stathead pet rock that goes back at least 30 years. The basic idea behind it is to develop young arms while minimizing the risk of injury. For all the advances we’ve made in tracking and measuring what happens on the field, we still have no idea what causes some pitchers to thrive and others to blow out their arms. A team that can crack that enigma, or just show some tangible advantage over doing what everyone has always done, will reap a huge benefit. I have no idea if this particular idea will work, but it can’t hurt to try, and the minors is the place to do it since player development and not a team’s won-loss record is the primary goal.

It almost feels silly to even discuss these things because despite being prominently mentioned early in the story, the rest of it has nothing to do with them. I guess those things are proxies for the real gripe, about how the Astros evaluate players and handle contracts.

When players are first promoted to the majors, they need not be paid more than the standard minimum salary of $500,000. Once in the majors, a player’s service-time clock begins, which eventually will determine when he is eligible for salary arbitration (three years, or two-plus in some special cases) and free agency (six years) – both vehicles for bigger paydays.

The Astros have benefited from making contract offers to young players at low rates and holding back players in the minors for service-time reasons.

Last year, Jose Altuve, signed a guaranteed four-year, $12.5 million deal (the Astros can extend it to six years) that made him even more valuable than his statistics alone – players who are productive and inexpensive are the game’s most valuable commodity.

Top prospect George Springer, who was promoted to the Astros after the season started, will not be eligible for free agency until he is 30 after the team delayed his move to the majors. The Astros said service time wasn’t a factor in the move that could potentially save them millions.

The Astros saved themselves money. But the question is whether the team handles these matters in a way that fosters confidence, and how much they should care about that perception in a business worth half a billion dollars based on a core product of 25 players.

“Players are people, but the Astros view them purely as property that can be evaluated through a computer program or a rigid set of criteria,” one player agent said, echoing the comments of others. “They plug players into it to see what makes sense from a development or contractual perspective, and it does not engender a lot of goodwill in the player or agent community.

“They wield service time like a sword (in contract extension negotiations) and basically tell a player, ‘This is what you are worth to us, take it or leave it.’ ”

Extension offers for players who have little or no major league experience have grown in popularity in recent years as teams try to get them at a bargain price, and the Astros have made several such offers.

The premise is not what some agents said bothers them, but how the Astros approach dealings and appear to handle clients.

Springer had an offer last year that reportedly was worth about $7 million guaranteed with the potential to earn more. The Astros also have made third baseman Matt Dominguez an offer worth $14.5 million for five years, plus two options, and outfielder Robbie Grossman received at least one similar offer – $13.5 million for six years plus two options, a person familiar with the offers said.

None of the players accepted. Luhnow has a policy of commenting on contracts only if a deal is finalized.

None of this is unusual. Every team does it to some extent. Offering multi-year extensions to young players that might sign for huge amounts elsewhere once they become free agents is standard practice now, to the point that teams like the Yankees that have traditionally done business by signing such players have had to make adjustments because the free agent talent pool ain’t what it used to be. Generally speaking, teams make this kind of offer to their rising stars with a year or two left in their team-control years – it doesn’t make sense to do it much earlier than that. If the Astros are insulting or alienating the kind of players they’d like to retain at a competitive salary, they’ll find those players will choose instead to play out the string and sign with another team. It’s just too early to say whether they’re headed down that path or not.

What was really amazing about this story was just how few people were quoted in it. One unnamed Astro, one unnamed agent, and two former players – Jed Lowrie and Bud Norris. Lots of potential axes to grind in there, but no objective outsider/analyst perspective, other than one positive statement about the effect of the shift defense. I have no idea what we’re supposed to make of this. Sure, it’s easy to point at the on-field performance, but we all know they started from a point of having zero talent. They’re finally developing that talent now, and it would be nice if they could keep the players they grow. It’s fine to point out that their managerial style – talking contract negotiations here, not player positioning or pitcher rotations – might be a hindrance to that. There was so much smoke in this piece it’s hard for me to say if that’s a legitimate concern or a bunch of mindless nattering by the handful of malcontents that every organization has. If it’s the former, there will be plenty of visible evidence for it soon enough. I’m not going to worry about it until then. Chron columnist Randy Harvey, who sees things more or less as I do, and PDiddie, who sees it differently, have more.

Ralph Garr

On the anniversary this week of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, the Chron profiles his teammate and resident of nearby Richmond, Ralph Garr.

With Henry Aaron sitting on 714 career home runs as the Braves prepared to play the Dodgers on April 8, 1974, Atlanta leadoff hitter Ralph Garr badly wanted to be on base when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record.

Garr made it for Aaron’s 714th, but not for 715. He was in the Braves’ dugout as Aaron connected off pitcher Al Downing to become baseball’s home run king, 40 years ago Tuesday.

Garr went 0-for-3 that night, but he had 25 hits over the next 11 games en route to his own milestone. As baseball celebrates the anniversary of Aaron’s record-breaking homer, Garr this year commemorates the 40th anniversary of his 1974 National League batting title.

He and his wife, Ruby, traveled from their Fort Bend County home in Richmond to Atlanta for Tuesday’s ceremony honoring Aaron, 80. After that, it’s back home to his job as a part-time scout for the Braves.

“You never think about it, but 40 years, that’s a long time,” Garr said. “I had a good year because everybody was worried about Henry Aaron hitting a home run. They weren’t paying much attention to me.”

Garr, 68, was known as “the Road Runner” for his speed (3.85 seconds from home plate to first base). He had 1,562 hits in 1,317 games over 13 major league seasons, including 803 hits in his first four full seasons. His lifetime batting average was .306, including his league-best .353 in 1974, and he twice led the National League in triples.

Columnist Jim Murray once said of him: “Ralph Garr is as hard to get out as an impacted tooth.”

But Garr’s thoughts this week are on Aaron’s skill and the quiet grace with which he handled the threats and abuse that accompanied his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record.

“He had taken Dusty Baker and me under his wing, and while all that was going on, he would tell us in the dugout, ‘Don’t sit too close to me,’ ” Garr said. “He didn’t want anything to happen to us.

“Whenever he got to the ballpark, he was all business, regardless of what was going on around him. I’ve never seen a person who could shed things and do his job so well. He is one of the nicest human beings you would want to meet, and he’s a better man than he was a baseball player.”

It’s a nice story about a very good player who had a front seat to history, so go check it out. I’m old enough to have been a baseball fan at the time Aaron broke The Babe’s record, but I don’t have any specific memories of it. Like many people I’m sure, it wasn’t till years later that I learned about the terrible, horrifying racism Aaron faced as he chased down Ruth. He talks about it in this USA Today story – he kept every nasty letter he received, some choice quotes from which are documented at Braves blog Talking Chop. Over at Time, Jon Friedman makes the case that Aaron would have faced worse in today’s troll-laden social media environment. Perhaps ironically, or perhaps not, some wingnut sites do their best to prove his point. (I have no desire to link to them, but here are the URLs I found on the same page as the Google search that led me to Friedman’s piece: http://hotair.com/archives/2014/04/07/time-hank-aaron-wouldve-faced-more-racism-today-because-twitter/ and http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tom-blumer/2014/04/07/times-jon-friedman-fails-show-hank-aaron-would-face-worse-social-media-d) Anyway, these are all good reads for your weekend, as is Craig Calcaterra’s take on that USA Today story. I’ll close with a quote from Hammerin’ Hank in that article:

“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 40 years, and I think more people appreciate it now than 20 years ago,” Aaron says. “History has a way of doing that. People appreciate it more the longer it lasts.”

Aaron acknowledges [Barry] Bonds as the the recordholder. There will be a day, he says, when Bonds’ mark will be broken.

Aaron, who has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, might not be alive to see it.

Yet when it happens, Aaron says, he hopes he’ll find joy in the chase.

“I just hope we can all enjoy the game and celebrate the next athlete who hits 60 homers or even 50 homers,” Aaron says, “and not worry about whether he’s taking anything or he’s on anything.

“Most of all, I pray that no one ever again, in any walk of life, has to go through what I did.”​

Amen to that.

Still dreaming about MLB in San Antonio

From The Rivard Report, a grassroots group in the Alamo City is keeping hope alive.

If you’ve been a San Antonio sports fan for any length of time, you’ve heard it. It’s the label that the Alamo City has been saddled with for decades. Whenever the topic of a new sports franchise in San Antonio arises in the national media, the card is played and the discussion moves on without a second thought.

Perhaps this label was appropriate a number of years ago, but San Antonio is a different place. This city’s major sports potential deserves an opportunity to be reevaluated.

Though “small market” is commonly assumed to refer to television markets, population is a gauge that cannot be overlooked. Though its metropolitan area population ranks 25th in the nation, San Antonio is the seventh most populated city (by city limits) in the U.S. Among the top ten on this list, San Antonio is the only city with just one big-four (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) professional sports franchise. In fact, all of the six larger cities have at least three such franchises.

Many critics of this statistic cite the greater metropolitan area rankings that put areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth in high regard. What’s overlooked in this analysis is geographical reach of San Antonio sports. If you include Austin, Corpus Christi, the western range toward Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio becomes one of the largest markets in the country.

Now, the obvious small market argument points to the television market. Though TV ratings typically fail to include the aforementioned geographical reach, they are important to the potential franchise owner. Sure, San Antonio often can be found ranked in the 30-40 range for TV markets.

The group is called MLB In San Antonio; here’s their Facebook page. The main issue, which I have dealt with before, is the relative lack of population in the San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA. I am skeptical of the authors’ attempt to wave their hands at that by invoking Austin, Corpus Christi, and Del Rio in the San Antonio sports market. For an eight-games-a-year NFL schedule, I could buy that; the Texans have season ticket holders who live in San Antonio, though they’re hardly a big slice of their total fan base. For an 81-game MLB slate, however, I have my doubts. If you can show me that a non-trivial number of Spurs tickets are sold to folks from outside the greater SA metro area – not counting fans who travel specifically to see their hometown team on the road – then I might buy this calculation. But it’s always seemed like wishful thinking to me.

The other obstacle is that there currently isn’t a venue that MLB would accept for a team in San Antonio. Sorry, but the Alamodome won’t cut it as anything but a temporary site while the real stadium gets built. The days of stadium-sharing for MLB teams are over. I’m honestly not sure where you’d put a stadium for an MLB team in San Antonio. If you really want to lure Austinites to the games, putting it north on I-35 somewhere is the best bet, but that would make it less convenient for the masses of people who live west on I-10 or south of downtown, such as those Corpus and Del Rio folks. And we haven’t even talked about how such a stadium would be financed.

The main thing these folks have going for them is that there are two teams that could eventually want or need to relocate – the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays. The A’s would be a perfect fit, with the Astros and Rangers as division mates. Putting the Rays in San Antonio would probably mean something like shifting Cleveland to the AL East and putting the new Rays in the Central. Doable, but might require buy-in from Cleveland, since they’d be moving to a more difficult division. If either of those situations starts to heat up, then there could really be something to this. But don’t be surprised if San Antonio is little more than leverage. Having at least one suitable location that wants a franchise but doesn’t have one is always a useful thing for the league. I wish the fans in San Antonio good luck, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

Lance Berkman

Former Astro and Rice Owl Lance Berkman hung up his spikes this week.

Lance Berkman
(credit: Photo Mojo on Flickr)

Lance Berkman, who starred at Rice before becoming one of the most clutch hitters in Astros history, is retiring after a 15-year career in the major leagues.

“He’s going to go down as one of the great players in Astros history,” said Phil Garner, who managed Berkman during the team’s playoff runs in 2004 and 2005. “A local Texas kid, goes to Rice, makes good, comes to the big leagues. He’s been a fabulous player in the big leagues, and he’s done it all with a touch of class.”

It was at Rice where Berkman’s smooth swing first got noticed. He hit 41 homers in 63 games as a junior and was drafted in the first round (No. 16 overall) by the Astros in 1997. Just two seasons later, Berkman was in the majors to stay.

From 2000-09, Berkman hit .300 for the Astros, averaging 31 homers and 103 RBIs.

“There aren’t many better in this generation,” baseball historian/statistician Bill James said at the time.

Among switch hitters, Berkman ranks among the best of all time. His career on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .943 is second only to Mickey Mantle’s .977 among switch hitters, and he ranks third among switch hitters in on-base percentage (.406, behind Mantle and Roy Cullenbine) and fourth in home runs (366, behind Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones).

No question Berkman was a great hitter. But is he a Hall of Fame player? There’s certainly local sentiment for that. My gut intuition was that his career was a little short and left his overall numbers, especially the kind of counting stats that tend to most impress Hall of Fame voters, a bit below the standard. Cliff Corcoran took a deeper look and agreed with that.

Berkman ranks second in baseball history among switch hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances in OPS+, behind only Mickey Mantle, and fourth among switch-hitters in home runs (behind Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones, though Carlos Beltran will likely pass him this year). However, he doesn’t fare quite as well in the other cumulative stats (which covers everything from hits to wins above replacement), and that reveals the soft underbelly of his Hall of Fame case. For the bulk of his career, Berkman was a tremendously productive hitter, but not only did he play just 15 seasons, he only played in 140 or more games in eight of them.

[…]

Berkman’s retirement doesn’t come as a great surprise, particularly given how close he was to hanging it up a year ago. It does leave us with the question of whether or not he is a Hall of Famer. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS stats say no. Berkman’s 51.8/.38.9/45.3 career/peak/JAWS scores all fall short of the standard at first base and left and rightfield, his three primary positions (he also played 166 games in center early in his career, which yielded this gem on Tal’s Hill).

It may be surprising that Berkman doesn’t at least meet the standard on peak score, but the combination of the offense-heavy era in which he played, the Astros’ move to the hitter-friendly Enron-cum-Minute Maid Park in 2000, and some brutal fielding scores undercut those impressive statistics above. That, in combination with his short career, make the Hall seem like a longshot for Berkman, though he may get some extra points from the voters for his postseason performance, being a switch-hitter, and for his personality and honesty with the press.

In terms of a comparable candidate, one player that jumps to mind is Edgar Martinez. The legendary Mariners DH was also an undeniably great hitter who also had a memorable postseason moment, made essentially no contribution on defense by virtue of having been a designated hitter for the bulk of his career and had a similarly short career (just 12 qualifying seasons). Martinez hit .312/.418/.515 (147 OPS+) in his career to Berkman’s .293/.406/.537 (144 OPS+). Berkman hit more home runs (366 to doubles-hitter Martinez’s 309), but Martinez, perhaps crucially, surpassed 2,000 hits while Berkman did not (2,247 to 1,905). Martinez also played in more games (2,055 to 1,879) made more plate appearances (8,674 to 7,814), and had superior WAR (68.3 to 51.8) and JAWS scores (55.9 to 45.3). Martinez can also stake claim to being the greatest ever at his position, even if that position was designated hitter. Despite all of that, after five years on the ballot, he has yet to surpass 36.5 percent of the vote.

Edgar Martinez is a good comp, but I think it’s fair to say that Jeff Bagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame before Berkman gets there. He’s got a case, and I’ll be interested to see who argues for him in five years’ time, but I don’t think it’s inaccurate or insulting to say that the Big Puma was a great player and a fearsome hitter who falls a bit short of Cooperstown.

One thing for which there should be no argument at all is for Berkman to retire as an Astro. The team needs to make this happen.

The Astros should sign Berkman, give him his No. 17 to wear one last time for a farewell news conference, and let him retire as one of them, at home in Houston, where he belongs.

Berkman was a clutch hitter who gave the Astros many happy endings. Now they can give him one.

“He’s really an Astro,” said Phil Garner, who managed Berkman in Houston for parts of four seasons, including the teams that reached the playoffs in 2004 and the World Series in ’05. “He knows it. We all know it.”

That is the mother of all no-brainers. The Yankees did this last year for Hideki Matsui, who was a popular and well-regarded player that made key contributions to the 2009 World Series win and the 2003 LCS win over the Red Sox, but is hardly a franchise cornerstone. Whatever you think about the Yankees, they do this sort of thing right. If the Stros want to ensure at least one sellout crowd this year, they need to start planning for Lance Berkman Day at Minute Maid. (They should be planning JR Richard Day, too, but that’s another story.) It’s great that the team wants to bring Nolan Ryan on board, but one way or the other they need to give Lance Berkman a proper sendoff. Make this happen, y’all.

MLB adopts expanded instant replay

Excellent.

Baseball’s replay age has finally dawned, thanks to Thursday’s unanimous approval by owners of what commissioner Bud Selig called a “historic” expansion of replay to correct missed calls.

The new system, which will go into effect this season, will give managers most of the power to trigger reviews, by providing them with one challenge per game, along with a second potential challenge if their first is upheld.

Only after a manager has used up all of his challenges, and only from the seventh inning on, would umpires be authorized to initiate a review on their own.

For the first time, calls at first base, at the plate and on the bases will be reviewable. There will be limited exceptions, including the fabled “neighborhood play” at second base. But MLB executive Tony La Russa, one of the architects of the new system, estimated that almost 90 percent of all potential calls are now reviewable.

Disputed home runs will be reviewed under existing rules and do not need to be formally challenged.

Baseball officials paved the way for Thursday’s vote by negotiating late deals with the Major League Baseball Players Association and with the Major League Umpires Association. Sources said an agreement with the players’ union wasn’t finalized until Wednesday night.

“The Players look forward to the expanded use of replay this season, and they will monitor closely its effects on the game before negotiating over its use in future seasons,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement.

Meanwhile, MLB alleviated a key concern of the umpires by agreeing to hire two additional umpiring crews (a total of eight new umpires), and staffing the replay center in New York through a rotation of current umpire crews instead of with former umpires and umpiring supervisors.

“For some, the discussions regarding expanded replay appeared to move too slowly, too deliberately. But there were technical and operational challenges that needed to be addressed, and that took time,” World Umpires Association representative Brian Lam said in a statement.

More details are here. As you know, I’m a big supporter of replay technology to get as many calls right as possible. I just see no reason not to be able to review and correct where needed calls that are obviously, painfully wrong. Umpiring is hard – I’ve done it for youth baseball – and MLB umpires generally do an excellent job. But nobody is perfect, and even the best umps can get caught out of position or get a sub-optimal view. Why hang them out to dry when a fix is so easily done? The NFL has used instant replay with great success for years, and while it was controversial at first, there’s basically no one arguing against it any more. I’m sure there will be some reactionary voices this season, and I’m sure the system will need some fine-tuning – MLB has committed to tweaking it as needed over the next three years – but before you know it we’ll all be wondering what took so long. Pinstriped Bible and Hair Balls have more.

No BGO for HOF

Missed it by one vote.

One of the most majestic induction classes in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame was set on Wednesday with the announcement that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were elected by eligible writers of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, all of them by big margins.

On the ballot for the second time, Craig Biggio, who had 3,060 hits in 20 seasons, all with the Astros, did not get the necessary 75 percent, falling two votes shy of induction.

Already to be inducted in July are three of the greatest managers of all time — Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, all selected by the Expansion Era Committee last month.

That means six living members are heading toward one of the grandest Induction Weekends from July 26-27 in Cooperstown, N.Y. The results of this year’s BBWAA vote were in stark contrast to that of last year, when the writers didn’t elect anyone.

Maddux and Glavine, a pair of 300-game winners who pitched the bulk of their careers for the Braves, were the favorites, but the 571 voters outdid themselves by also adding Thomas. It was the first time since 1999, when Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and George Brett were elected, that the writers put three first-time eligibles into the Hall.

Maddux, who won 355 games, the eighth-highest figure in Major League history, saw his name appear on 97.2 percent of the ballots, falling short of the all-time mark still held by Tom Seaver, who was elected on 98.84 percent of the vote in 1992. Glavine, who won 305 games, fourth-most among left-handers, was at 91.9 percent, and Thomas, a first baseman and designated hitter, who batted .301, hit 521 homers and amassed 1,704 RBIs in 19 seasons, 16 of them with the White Sox, finished at 83.7.

I’m going to take a break from all the ranting and airing of grievances about the deserving candidates that didn’t get elected and the idiocy of the voters, for this year at least. Biggio becomes the first player to miss being inducted by a single vote, which at least bodes well for his future. You aggrieved Astros fans, go vent your spleen at Ken Gurnick, you’ll feel better. How much better off we’d all be if he had given his vote to Deadspin instead. Congratulations to the three supremely qualified new members, and better luck next year, Bidge. Hardball Talk has more.

Hall calls for Torre, Cox, and LaRussa

Congratulations to the newest members of the Hall of Fame.

The first wave of inductees for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class have been announced. The Veteran’s Committee has decided to induct managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony La Russa:

All three managers were inducted unanimously by the 16-man committee, and absolutely no one should be shocked. They are all extremely well-loved in baseball circles and rank 3rd (La Russa, 2,728), 4th (Cox, 2,504), and 5th (Torre, 2,326) all-time in managerial wins.

All three are deserving, no question about it. However, the joy of seeing those deserving candidates get enshrined is greatly tempered by the sadness of the one that didn’t.

The other people who were on the ballot were Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, Steinbrenner, and Marvin Miller. Of these nominees, I’m of the opinion that Simmons, John, and Steinbrenner should probably be honored in Cooperstown one way or another, but the biggest crime of all is the continued dismissal of the late Marvin Miller. It is a complete and utter joke that the Hall of Fame claims to honor the biggest figures in the history of baseball but has never done anything for Miller. Dayn Perry over at CBS Sports nicely sums up Miller’s slam-dunk case:

Marvin Miller

Miller is the man who, armed with his training as an economist for the United Steelworkers of America, forged the MLBPA into something more than a handmaiden to ownership, something more than a “company union.” Recounting the gains made by the players under Miller would take too much bandwidth (and keep in mind that bandwidth is not especially finite). Most notably, though, he methodically and relentlessly attacked the reserve clause — the patently unfair system that yoked a player to one team for life or until the team was done with him.

Finally, in 1975, thanks to the “test cases” of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, the reserve clause was overturned by arbitrator Peter Seitz, and free agency in baseball was born. In part because of that and in part because Miller was able to persuade owners to accept salary arbitration, the average major-league salary increased tenfold during Miller’s tenure. And that’s to say nothing of the pension system he created — one that’s the envy of athletes in other professional sports.

All of those are good things, both on the principle of economic freedom and in terms of making MLB a more attractive destination for athletic talent around the world. Contrary to popular misconception, free agency also improved parity and competitive balance across the league.

The players’ union was an absolute joke when Miller took over. By the time he left office, players had far more rights than ever before. The nigh-century old reserve clause was a complete injustice; Miller’s hard-fought case against it eventually led to its elimination. Average salary increased by 1,616% during his tenure. (No, that is not a typo.) Players were previously unable to file grievances against owners. As previously mentioned, anyone arguing Steinbrenner’s case better be arguing for Miller’s too, since free agency, the very institution that Steinbrenner capitalized on, would not have been possible without Miller. Miller changed the game for the better, but his continued to exclusion is why people like Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra have legitimate reasons to completely dismiss the Hall’s validity (emphasis mine):

The direct problem is one I’ve mentioned many times before, and that’s the horrendous exclusion of Marvin Miller. He’s been passed over multiple times now, and he’s probably never getting in. I’ve accepted that. I’ll never accept, however, that the Hall of Fame is anything approaching legitimate without Miller’s inclusion. Many owners, executives and commissioners — many feckless at best, some actively harmful to the game — are in the Hall. Very few of them if any have had as big an impact on how baseball operates than Miller.

Bowie Kuhn, the crappy commissioner who Miller constantly fought and triumphed over multiple times, is in the Hall of Fame while Miller remains outside. That is just completely baffling. What’s worse is that Miller apparently received even fewer votes than he did during his last vote in 2010: six at most. Coincidentally, the 16-man committee had six former players on it. Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, and Frank Robinson better all have voted for Miller, if not only due to his effect on their salaries. The remainder of the committee consisted of managers Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda, historians Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell, and Jim Reeves, and executives Andy MacPhail, Dave Montgomery, Jerry Reinsdorf, and Paul Beeston. Even if all four executives on the ballot decided to screw Miller over for what he did to them over the years, the remainder of the voting bloc could still have inducted him with the requisite 12 votes. Hirdt, Jenkins, O’Connell, and Reeves don’t deserve the title of “historian” if they didn’t vote for Miller, given how much Miller did to impact baseball history. We might never see a Hall of Fame without Marvin Miller. and until he’s elected, that gross fact likely stands as Cooperstown’s biggest failure.

I agree completely. I wish I knew what it would take to fix this massive oversight, but then the Hall of Fame stopped making sense years ago. Think Progress and Linkmeister have more.

Time to ponder how the Hall of Fame voters will screw things up this year

Pinstripe Alley reviews this year’s Hall of Fame ballot and heaves a sigh.

If I was given a ballot and asked to name at most 10 players for induction, I would first complain that I can’t add more, then submit the following ballot:

[Greg] Maddux, [Frank] Thomas, [Mike] Mussina, [Tom] Glavine, [Barry] Bonds, [Roger] Clemens, [Craig] Biggio, [Jeff] Bagwell, [Mike] Piazza, [Tim] Raines

Seriously, how are voters supposed to cut that down? The BBWAA needs to eliminate the 10-player limit or at least extend it. Otherwise it’s only going to get more crowded next year as Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield join the ballot. My ballot for this year wouldn’t be permitted to include the other worthy players I mentioned above, like [Curt] Schilling, Edgar [Martinez], [Larry] Walker, [Jeff] Kent, and [Alan] Trammell. I frankly don’t bear much ill will to [Mark] McGwire, [Sammy] Sosa, and [Rafael] Palmeiro, either. The bottom line is that the limit of 10 just doesn’t cut it anymore.

In the end, I can sadly see the possibility that only Maddux is chosen for induction. Voters have been weird about seemingly obvious candidates like Thomas before, and despite Biggio’s strong showing last year, the large ballot could complicate matters. Although there are other candidates better than Biggio, those are my predicted top three finishers. Please surprise me and induct more than one Hall of Famer, BBWAA. There are so many worthy candidates.

I can see an even worse possibility, that the writers once again ignore worthy candidates like Raines and Trammell, insult candidates that have no credible allegations of PED use against them like Biggio, Bagwell, and Piazza, and elevate clearly less worthy candidates like Jack Morris and Lee Smith instead. The ballot is indeed jammed with deserving candidates this year, with more to come next year, thanks to two consecutive years of inactivity fueled by ignorance and hypocrisy. Going out of their way to enshrine the undeserving at the expense of those who belong in the name of personal vendettas and bogus statistics would be the bitter cherry on top of the rancid sundae. So yeah, that’s what I expect to happen.

Crane sues McLane

This ought to be fun.

Jim Crane’s Astros ownership group filed a state court lawsuit Thursday against former Astros owner Drayton McLane, Comcast and NBC Universal, accusing them of fraud and civil conspiracy and accusing McLane’s corporation that owned the Astros of breach of contract in conjunction with Crane’s 2011 purchase of a 46 percent interest in the parent company of Comcast SportsNet Houston.

The suit accuses McLane, who sold the Astros and his CSN Houston share to Crane in 2011 for $615 million, of selling “an asset (the network) they knew at the time to be overpriced and broken.” It also says Crane was “duped” when he bought McLane’s network interest based on what have been proved to be “knowing misrepresentations” and “falsely inflated subscription rates.”

“Ultimately, fans of the Houston Astros have been injured because defendants’ misrepresentations leave (Crane) with an impossible choice: accept the broken network as is and deprive thousands of fans the ability to watch Houston Astros games on their televisions, or distribute the game at market rates and take massive losses out of the Houston Astros player payroll – thereby dooming the franchise for years to come,” the suit adds.

[…]

Crane’s suit alleges McLane and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander demanded in 2010 that Comcast charge a base subscriber rate for CSN Houston in Zone 1 – the area around Houston where Astros and Rockets games can be seen – that Comcast said was too high. In fact, the suit said, the rate was so high Comcast feared it could not convince other distributors to carry the network.

Comcast eventually agreed to the inflated base rate, the suit said, in return for a most favored nation clause, which ensured Comcast it would always pay the lowest base rate of any distributor.

Faulty business plan

Crane, according to the suit, was not aware of these facts when he was negotiating to buy the team in 2011 and that Comcast, NBC Universal and McLane agreed to “conceal material information” about the network’s business plan.

The suit also accuses Jon Litner, group president of the NBC Sports Group, of making false and misleading claims the CSN Houston business plan was achievable, even though they were based on what the company knew were inflated subscriber rates.

Crane became aware of the 2010 demands by Alexander and McLane, according to the suit, during a December 2012 meeting in New York City, about a year after he bought the team and three months after the network launched.

The suit asks that McLane’s McLane Champions corporation be ordered to repay Crane’s group for losses that have resulted from alleged breaches of the group’s purchase agreement – including, presumably, more than $30 million in rights fees the Astros failed to receive in 2013 and what Crane says is the “artificially inflated price” he paid for McLane’s network share. Court testimony indicated CSN Houston was valued in 2010 at $700 million, with McLane’s share valued at $326 million.

I haven’t followed it here on the blog, but CSN Houston has been plagued with problems, mostly stemming from the fact that nobody other than Comcast carries it. That limits its reach to about 40% of Houston-area viewers, which also limits ratings and ad revenues. Mayor Parker has tried to facilitate talks between Comcast and other carriers to resolve this, but has had no luck. The infamous game nobody watched probably didn’t improve Crane’s mood about the station. The Astros have been trying to get out of this deal but aren’t on the same page as the Rockets, who are also stakeholders in CSN Houston. Four Comcast affiliates have filed for bankruptcy stemming from that action. It’s all a big mess, is what I’m saying. I have no idea what happens from here, but I’ll be watching. Sports Update and Hair Balls have more.

Bye-bye, Bud

Can’t say I’m sorry to see the tenure of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig come to a close.

Bud Selig said Thursday that he plans to retire as baseball commissioner in January 2015 after a term of more than 22 years marked by robust growth in attendance and revenue along with a canceled World Series and a drug scandal.

Some owners — and even his wife — have been skeptical in the past that he really would do it, but this marked the first time that Selig, 79, issued a formal statement that he intends to step down from the sport’s top job.

“It remains my great privilege to serve the game I have loved throughout my life,” Selig said in a statement. “Baseball is the greatest game ever invented, and I look forward to continuing its extraordinary growth and addressing several significant issues during the remainder of my term.

“I am grateful to the owners throughout Major League Baseball for their unwavering support and for allowing me to lead this great institution. I thank our players, who give me unlimited enthusiasm about the future of our game. Together we have taken this sport to new heights and have positioned our national pastime to thrive for generations to come. Most of all, I would like to thank our fans, who are the heart and soul of our game.”

Selig said he will leave Jan. 24, 2015, which would mark the second-longest term for a baseball commissioner behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who served from 1920 to 1944.

He also said he will announce a transition plan shortly that will include a reorganization of central baseball management.

Selig’s tenure included splitting each league into three divisions from two, adding wild cards and additional rounds of playoffs, expansion to Arizona and Tampa Bay, instituting instant replay, starting the World Baseball Classic, launching the MLB Network and centralizing the sport’s digital rights under MLB.com.

“The game has grown under him tremendously. He’s made every effort to try to clean the game up,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s left his mark on the game. There’s no doubt about it.”

I agree that the game has grown under Selig, and that he deserves credit for many of the good things that have happened. He also deserves blame for the 1994 strike, the now-subsided “contraction” fervor that was largely fueled by laughably dishonest claims about the game’s finances and the false belief that so-called “small market” teams could not be competitive, the moronification of the All Star Game, and the witch hunt that is the obsession with PEDs. He’s always been an owner’s Commissioner, which is why he was tapped to be Commissioner in the first place. I’ll leave the judgments to history, but it’s definitely time for a change.

Jayson Stark lists some of the possible and not-at-all-possible candidates to replace Selig. While I have no doubt which category this would fall into, I endorse what The Slacktivist has to say.

Bud Selig is set to retire as commissioner of Major League Baseball after the 2014 season. Ari Kohen asks, “which old white guy is the odds-on favorite” to replace him? As much as I’d love to see a former player — such as Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson — replace Selig, the commissioner does tend to be a conservative, establishment figure. Mitt Romney is probably a likelier candidate than either of those hall-of-famers.

So here’s my proposal: John Roberts for commissioner of baseball. The chief justice of the Supreme Court would, of course, have to step down from that post in order to accept the promotion, but it shouldn’t be a problem for the president to quickly nominate a replacement.

I’d be willing to compromise and suggest Antonin Scalia as an alternative. Or hey, how about Clarence Thomas, if we’d prefer an old non-white guy? Surely any of these gentlemen would be good philosophical peers of the owners, and would be able to offer some real insight on how to stay just on the right side of that good old anti-trust exemption. Who’s with me on this?

Better bats

Technology marches on.

As part of new MLB regulations, manufacturers use ink to test bats’ stability. If the dot bleeds more than a quarter inch, indicating low density, that wood isn’t major-league caliber.

Thanks to that practice and more implemented since 2008 when bat breakage has been studied by the U.S. Forest Service, the rate of shattered maple bats has decreased 50 percent, according to results of the study released Friday by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Referred to as “slope of the grain,” the straighter the wood appears along the bat, the less likely it breaks and hits other players or fans. Regulations put in place because of the study call for three degrees or less slope on the wood — essentially a straight line — for use in MLB.

The changes have affected half of Louisville Slugger’s bat production, as MLB’s leading bat manufacturer still produces half of its bats from ash.

[…]

In the five-year study, experts with the U.S. Forest Service and MLB examined every broken major-league bat from July through September of the 2008 season and found inconsistency in the wood’s makeup caused maple to splinter on contact.

Data collection isn’t over, though, as the USDA team will continue recording and analyzing video of every broken MLB bat since 2009, including some from the new-regulation bats in 2013. The goal is to keep bats with potential to fracture out of players’ hands — and away from fans.

This is a safety issue, since splintered bat fragments flying all over the place are an obvious hazard. It’s also a cost issue, especially for college baseball programs. The reason college programs used aluminum bats for so long is that aluminum bats hardly ever break, and thus can last a long time without needing to be replaced. Now that college teams are required to use wood bats, making sure those bats are less likely to break will be a boon for their budgets. On the down side, it probably means no one will ever again get a Chair of Broken Dreams like the one that Mariano Rivera recently received. But then that was likely the case anyway.

On wins and losses

This story about CC Sabathia and his chances of winning 300 games in his career got me thinking along some slightly different lines.

CC Sabathia won his 200th career game [last] week against the Minnesota Twins, becoming the 114th pitcher in major league history to do so. While wins are an overrated stat for pitchers, the fact is that they become a pretty good barometer of how good a pitcher was over his career.

Nowadays, most stat-savvy fans recognize that pitcher wins are more a function of run support and bullpen quality than anything else. Pitcher quality is more accurately measured by the things that the pitcher has control over – primarily strikeouts, walks, homeruns yielded, also known as defense-independent pitching stats (DIPS). At a somewhat deeper level, things like groundball and flyball rates are factored in, as are ballpark effects. It is true that while a so-so pitcher can luck into a big-win season, any pitcher that can rack up a large number of wins over his career is almost by definition of high quality. There can still be a pretty broad range of quality among even pitchers with gaudy career win totals, however, and that got me to wondering who are the “worst” pitchers with at least 200 career wins. “Worst” is obviously a highly subjective term, just as being of Hall of Fame quality is, so this is just one person’s attempt to quantify that. For these purposes, I used two measures of Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. The most common ones used are fWAR and bWAR, where the “f” is for Fangraphs and the “b” is for Baseball Reference. Here are the pitchers with at least 200 wins and less than 40 fWAR and/or bWAR:

fWAR Name Wins Losses FIP fWAR ========================================== Hough, C 216 216 4.29 24.6 Niekro, J 221 204 3.79 26.9 Spalding, A 253 65 2.93 26.9 White, Will 229 166 2.92 28.4 Burdette, L 203 144 3.68 31.1 Fitzsimmons, F 217 146 4.05 32.0 Perry, J 215 174 3.78 32.6 Hunter, C 224 166 3.66 33.8 Lemon, B 207 128 3.79 34.4 Welch, Mickey 307 210 3.27 35.4 Haines, J 210 158 3.95 35.9 Welch, Bob 211 146 3.71 36.1 Root, C 201 160 3.78 36.4 Mullin, G 228 196 2.80 38.0 Stivetts, J 203 132 4.11 38.8 Wakefield, T 200 180 4.72 38.9 McGinnity, J 246 142 2.89 39.2 Mays, C 207 126 3.27 39.4 McCormick, J 265 214 2.87 39.8 Dauss, H 222 182 3.29 39.9 bWAR Name Wins Losses ERA+ bWAR ========================================== Burdette, L 203 144 99 25.8 Niekro, J 221 204 98 28.7 Reuss, J 220 191 100 33.1 Fitzsimmons, F 217 146 112 33.5 Marquard, R 201 177 103 34.2 Mullin, G 228 196 101 34.3 Wakefield, T 200 180 105 34.5 Dauss, H 223 182 102 35.2 Haines, J 210 158 109 35.7 Hunter, C 224 166 104 36.6 Lemon, B 207 128 119 37.5 Root, C 201 160 111 38.0 Perry, J 215 174 106 38.7 White, Will 229 166 121 38.9 Derringer, P 223 212 108 39.0 Hough, C 216 216 106 39.6

“FIP” means Fielding Independent Pitching, and is a way of calculating ERA based on strikeouts, walks, and homers. “ERA+” is simply the ratio of the pitcher’s Earned Run Average to the league ERA. A 100 ERA+ means your ERA is the same as the league average; the higher the ERA+, the better your ERA is relative to the league that year. Fangraphs had FIP, Baseball Reference had ERA+, so I just went with what they had.

As a point of reference, nine pitchers have an fWAR of over 100 – Roger Clemens is the all-time leader with 139.9 fWAR – and nine pitchers have a bWAR of at least 100 – Cy Young leads that group with a bWAR of 170.3. If you don’t recognize some of the names in this lists above, don’t worry – neither did I. A number of them are from the pre-1900 era. While there are a number of pitchers on both lists, fWAR and bWAR are calculated differently, and in some cases they were quite disparate. I think it’s fair to say that Lew Burdette, Freddy Fitzsimmons, and Joe Niekro are the bottom three here. Doesn’t mean they weren’t good pitchers – they most certainly were – but of all hurlers with at least 200 wins, they had the least overall career value. Hey, someone has to be at the bottom of the list.

Note that several of these pitchers are in the Hall of Fame – Catfish Hunter, Bob Lemon, Jesse Haines, Rube Marquard, Joe McGinnity. (Al Spalding is also a Hall of Famer, but as an executive; he did not play ten full seasons and thus would not have been eligible as a player.) Lemon racked up nearly all his value, and 186 of his wins, in only nine seasons as a fulltime starter; McGinnity had a bWAR of 60.6. The others are perhaps not quite as worthy of the HoF as they might have seemed at the time of their induction. That’s an argument for another time.

I must say, when I started writing this post, I’d assumed that one name to appear on these lists would be Bobo Newsom, one of only two 200 game winners to have a losing record. Newsom went 211-222 over a long career with mostly crappy teams, but had a 51.7 bWAR (107 ERA+) and 62.2 fWAR (3.81 FIP), making him a notch above the ones that did get included. The other such pitcher was Jack Powell, about whom I knew nothing going in. Powell went 245-254 lifetime with a 56.0 bWAR (106 RA+) and 46.3 fWAR (3.01 FIP) in a career that began in 1897.

All this talk about losses and 200 wins got me to wondering whether there are any active pitchers closing in on 200 career losses. Here’s the leaderboard for losses among current pitchers:

Name Wins Losses Age ===================================== Lowe, D 176 157 40 Pettite, A 252 148 41 Zito, B 164 138 35 Buehrle, M 179 137 34 Dempster, R 129 132 36 Burnett, AJ 141 127 36 Colon, B 183 125 40 Garland, J 136 125 33 Wright, J 92 125 38 Arroyo, B 131 121 36

Only 45 hurlers have lost 200 or more games in their careers. I don’t see anyone joining that list anytime soon. The youngest players with at least 100 Ls are 32-year-olds CC Sabathia (108) and Dan Haren (106). I suppose if Sabathia could win 100 more, he could lose 92 more as well, though given that his career winning percentage is .649, it’s hard to imagine he’ll revert to being a near-.500 pitcher the rest of the way.

Finally, the players bidding to be the next member of the 200 win club:

Name Wins Losses Age ===================================== Colon, B 183 125 40 Buehrle, M 179 137 34 Lowe, D 176 157 40 Zito, B 164 138 35 Oswalt, R 163 99 35 Garcia, F 155 106 36 Carpenter, C 144 94 38 Burnett, AJ 141 127 36 Santana, J 139 78 34 Garland, J 136 125 33 Lee, C 135 80 34

Barring injury or a complete dropoff in effectiveness, I’d say Mark Buehrle is a cinch to reach 200, possibly next season. The ageless Bartolo Colon, who has 12 wins this season, could join him. If Chris Carpenter hadn’t lost nearly three full seasons to injury, who knows how many more wins he’d have. Cliff Lee would need to regain some form, but he has a shot. Beyond that list, Justin Verlander (133 wins, 30 years old), Dan Haren (123, 32), and Felix Hernandez (106, 27) seem like the ones with the best odds. And going back to my original statement about wins being tightly connected to run support and bullpen quality, imagine how much closer to 200 King Felix would be if he toiled for a better team than the Mariners. He’s in his ninth season now; Andy Pettite collected 149 Ws through his first nine years. Don’t let anyone tell you that luck isn’t a part of the game.

You have a strange definition of “only”, Bud

Or maybe it’s your definition of “logical”, I’m not sure.

But while first-year manager Bo Porter continues to fire up his players and general manager Jeff Luhnow oversees year one of a complete organizational overhaul, many longtime Astros fans continue to criticize the club’s impending American League debut.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday he fully understands fans’ complaints and sympathizes with their pro-National League pull. But Selig told the Houston Chronicle the only “logical choice” for baseball was to relocate the Astros to the AL, and he believes fans won’t question the move five years from now.

“The American League is very attractive,” said the 78-year-old Selig, who plans to retire Dec. 31, 2014. “We had a division number of six (teams) in the National League Central. And all the National League clubs had complained to me for a long time: ‘Commissioner, this isn’t fair. The other (divisions) are either five, and one division only has four.’ … And it made no sense.”

[…]

Selig said the primary reason for the Astros’ AL relocation came down to simple geography. With St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, the Astros were the odd team out. According to the commissioner, the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds have “tremendous” rivalries. The Astros did not, he said, because of their isolation.

“The teams left in the National League Central all had a geographical (base) – there was a relationship. Houston was sitting down there; there was no relationship,” said Selig, who stressed he made the decision in the best long-term interests of baseball. “And I understand they’ve been in the National League for a long time, and I’m sympathetic to that. But we had to move a team, and … the fact of the matter is when you looked at all the other things that could happen, the only logical thing was for Houston to move. … I didn’t have an alternative.”

I can think of at least three reasonable alternatives, none of which would have necessitated the need for all-season interleague play, as we will now have with an odd number of teams in each league. Note that the Cincinnati Reds get their traditional rival the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as their Opening Day opponent. Baseball could have done any of the following:

1. Left things as they are. The divisions have been unbalanced since they were created in 1994, with the NL Central having a sixth team since 1998. Why did we hear so little about how “unfair” this was until there arose an opportunity to impose a condition on a somewhat sketchy new buyer? Every team in the NL Central has won the division at least once since 1995 with the exception of the pathetic Pirates, and the number of teams in the division is the least of their issues. I don’t buy the premise that there was a problem that needed to be solved.

2. Expand to 32 teams and go to four four-team divisions in each league. This would solve the balancing issue, and would make scheduling easier to boot. You could use it as an impetus to get rid of that silly interleague play altogether, since all that really does is vary each teams’ strength of schedule, which is a definite competitive liability for some teams each year, and make rainouts harder to make up. There’s plenty of money in baseball these days – the biggest problem is bottom-feeding owners – and no sign of that reversing course any time soon. I’d nominate Montreal as one expansion location, as that might help MLB make up for the grievous sin it committed against them a decade ago; I don’t have a clear favorite for a second franchise location, but there are plenty of potential sites. I can understand why the owners might not want to do this, but it’s surely a logical possibility.

3. Use divisions for scheduling purposes only and ditch them for playoff seeding. This is basically what the NBA does, where the top eight teams in each division qualify for the playoffs and winning your division carries no special benefit. MLB could simply take the four teams with the best record – or the top five, with #4 and #5 playing that one-game death match as they do now for the right to advance – and be done with it. This deals with the “unbalanced division” problem and almost certainly ensures that a team with a losing record cannot make the playoffs. It can’t dilute the concept of a “pennant race” any more than the three-division/wild card setup already has.

So there you have it, three logical alternatives to shifting (or shafting, depending on your perspective), the Astros. Maybe the league switch was the “best” solution by whatever criteria Selig and MLB had, and maybe it was the only solution that could get sufficient political support to actually happen. But it sure wasn’t the only logical solution. So happy Opening Day, at least for those of you who can see it.

How cursed is Houston as a sports city?

What curse?

So another Super Bowl is history, and as you might have noticed the Houston Texans were not be playing in the game. This continues an unbroken streak of Houston football teams not making it to the Super Bowl, some in particularly heartbreaking fashion. The Astros have never won a World Series, having only won one pennant in fifty-plus years of existence. Were it not for two NBA titles by the Rockets in the 90s, the city of Houston would be completely championship-free for the major sports. You may be wondering how Houston compares to other big league sports cities in this department. I was, so I did a little research to find out. I limited myself to the last 40 years, mostly because ancient history is only of so much comfort to most fans. (For what it’s worth, Bill Simmons uses a 35-year period for assessing true wretchedness.) With that in mind, here’s what I found. Let’s start with the cities that have had nothing to celebrate in that time span.

Cleveland

Franchises – Browns (two versions, NFL); Indians (MLB); Cavaliers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Buffalo

Franchises – Bills (NFL); Sabres (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

San Diego

Franchises – Chargers (NFL); Padres (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Seattle

Franchises – Seahawks (NFL); Mariners (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – SuperSonics (NBA), 1979

Any discussion of cursed sports cities has to start with Cleveland. Their last title of any kind was a pre-Super Bowl NFL championship by the Browns in 1964. Since then, they’ve had The Drive, The Fumble, the relocation of their team to another city where it then went on to win a Super Bowl a few years later plus another this year, and all that is before we discuss the Indians (last World Series win 1948) or the Cavaliers. See here, here, here, and here for more. Really, there’s no question about it. No other city is in Cleveland’s class when it comes to sheer sports misery.

Buffalo is first runnerup, though I doubt anyone in Houston will offer much sympathy to them. Besides the Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls, not to mention the Music City Miracle, the Sabres are oh-for-two in Stanley Cup finals, with the most recent loss being as controversial as it was gut-wrenching for their fans. They’re not quite in Cleveland territory, but they’re closer than anyone else. San Diego has lost two World Series, both times getting swept by teams of the ages (1984 Tigers and 1998 Yankees), and one Super Bowl, but it’s hard to think of anyone in San Diego as being cursed. Seattle managed to never win a pennant despite fielding teams that featured as many as four future Hall of Famers plus Jay Buhner; I include them here since their one title was won by a franchise that has since relocated.

And here are the teams that have won one or two titles, thus putting themselves in a similar class as Houston:

Atlanta

Franchises – Braves (MLB); Falcons (NFL); Hawks (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Braves, 1995

Phoenix

Franchises – Cardinals (NFL); Suns (NBA); Diamondbacks (MLB); Coyotes (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Diamondbacks, 2001

Kansas City

Franchises – Royals (MLB); Chiefs (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Royals, 1985

Indianapolis

Franchises – Colts (NFL); Pacers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Colts, 2007

New Orleans

Franchises – Saints (NFL); Pelicans (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Saints, 2010

Minneapolis

Franchises – Twins (MLB); Vikings (NFL); Timberwolves (NBA); Wild (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Twins, 1987 and 1991

Tampa

Franchises – Rays (MLB); Buccaneers (NFL); Lightning (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Buccaneers, 2003, and Lightning, 2004

Milwaukee

Franchises – Bucks (NBA); Brewers (MLB); Green Bay Packers (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Packers, 1997 and 2011

Houston

Franchises – Astros (MLB); Texans (NFL); Rockets (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Rockets, 1994 and 1995

Out of that group, I’d probably rank Minneapolis and Kansas City as more cursed than Houston. The Vikings are also 0-4 in Super Bowls, with several other heartbreaking playoff losses, the Twins can’t get past the Yankees, the North Stars won the Stanley Cup after relocating to Dallas, and the Timberwolves watched Kevin Garnett win two NBA titles with the Celtics. Both Kansas City teams have been poorly run for years, though the Royals are a little better these days. New Orleans would have had a decent claim to superior cursedness before their Super Bowl win; as long as Drew Brees can play at his level, they’ll have a chance. The other cities for the most part don’t inspire much sympathy. Atlanta may have the hapless Hawks and the feckless Falcons, but they also had Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Indianapolis replaced Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck and rebuilt a contender after one season. Tampa and Phoenix haven’t been big league long enough to inspire real misery. No city that roots for the Packers can truly be cursed.

So, putting it all together, I’d probably rank Houston as the sixth most cursed city, following Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I see it. How would you rank the losers?

Hall of Fame elects nobody

Truly, utterly, ridiculous.

Steroid-tainted stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa were denied entry to baseball’s Hall of Fame, with voters failing to elect any candidates for only the second time in four decades.

Bonds received just 36.2 percent of the vote, Clemens 37.6 and Sosa 12.5 in totals announced Wednesday by the Hall and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. They were appearing on the ballot for the first time and have up to 14 more years to make it to Cooperstown.

Craig Biggio, 20th on the career list with 3,060 hits, topped the 37 candidates with 68.2 percent of the 569 ballots, 39 shy of the 75 percent needed. Among other first-year eligibles, Mike Piazza received 57.8 percent and Curt Schilling 38.8.

“I think as a player, a group, this is one of the first times that we’ve been publicly called out,” Schilling said. “I think it’s fitting. … If there was ever a ballot and a year to make a statement about what we didn’t do as players — which is we didn’t actively push to get the game clean — this is it.”

Jack Morris led holdovers with 67.7 percent. He will make his final ballot appearance next year, when fellow pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine along with slugger Frank Thomas are eligible for the first time.

It was just the eighth time the BBWAA failed to elect any players. There were four fewer votes than last year, and five members submitted blank ballots.

I’ve run out of ways to express my loathing for the Hall of Fame voters, who to my mind are as contemptible as a room full of Rick Perrys. I had to stop the embedded video on that ESPN link because I was about to start yelling obscenities at Pedro Gomez and Harold Bryant. At least Tim Kurkjian was making some sense, as do Jayson Stark, David Schoenfeld, and Joe Posnanski. But hey, it’s not all negative. Despite the BBWAA’s epic fail, there will be inductions this year, as Deacon White, Jacob Ruppert, and Hank O’Day will all be enshrined. If you have any idea who even two of these fellows are, go to the head of the class. If this isn’t a clarion call for a complete John Byrne does “Superman”-style reboot of the whole process, I don’t know what would be. Linkmeister has more.