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The Fans’ Loyalty Should Not be Greater than the Owners’ Loyalty to Us

February 15, 2017 8 comments

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Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Tomorrow, the Dodgers begin the spring training portion of the 2017 season. Lots has been said of the Dodgers improvement, some true, some not, and many expect the boys in blue to be among the top handful of teams in baseball this season – largely based on their high payroll and “depth.”

 

Before I get into that, I do want to say what I have tweeted several times this week – the lack of TV across the LA market for a 4th season is shameful. The Dodgers have been passed around from one bad owner to another since Peter O’Malley decided to sell the team to Fox. At the time, we fans knew it was quite a change – going from mom and pop ownership to a greedy Rupert Murdoch run corporation that only was interested in baseball in order to start a local sports network. Little did we realize, however, how bad it would get.

 

It’s debatable to some whether the skullduggery of Frank and Jamie McCourt is worse than the Guggenheim Partners time as owners, I would say different. When “Hall of Fame commissioner” Bud Selig handed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom to a cash poor Boston parking lot attendant, we knew it wasn’t good. As the McCourts rode high on the hog and drove the franchise into embarrassment, bouncing checks to staff, including Vin Scully, and cheaping out on security until people’s lives were in danger, we ultimately rebelled. Now, with Magic Johnson’s smiling (now absent) kisser conning us into believing everything was ok again, we sit staring at our blank TV screens, or MeTV re-runs of “Hogan’s Heroes” instead of our LA baseball team.

 

I would say from Fox to the McCourts to Guggenheim, LA Dodgers fans have been passed from one bad guardian to another, much like the Baudelaire children in the “Unfortunate Events” books and Netflix episodes. None of them have/had Dodgers tradition at the core of their belief system – all have been in it for profit motives purely. Yet, through generations now, Dodgers fans infight and quarrel and flaunt loyalty ownership doesn’t have to them. It’s quite amazing, the level of love and Stockholm Syndrome displayed since O’Malley sailed off into the sunset.

 

To me, it’s easy. Greed + no TV coverage = you lose my loyalty. You want it back? Focus on our needs, and that includes games on TV. Stealing Vin Scully’s final years was a heinous act. Lest anyone think Guggenheim is in no way like the McCourt era, think about that. Consider it when you get an overload of Charlie Steiner.

 

We will never get back what was taken from us, and considering the misdirection of the overly bloated narcissistic front office, it makes it hard to forgive. All of my life, and prior, the Dodgers were a team known for strong pitching. Over the years there were good offensive teams, and bad ones. The pitching was always key. Look through the Dodgers record books and recall the names. Behind the greats were many good ones, and those who held the fort, eating innings and supplying consistency that always kept the Dodgers in the thick of the National League race.

 

I don’t recall, prior to this administration, such a dismissal of pitching. The Fangraphs lovers among you will point to cobbled together stats and suggest this is the best pitching staff in baseball. I may not understand numbers like you pretend to (by reading some nerd’s analysis), all I have to base my opinion on is many decades of following baseball and end results. A team, especially a Dodgers team, should be built around pitching – starting and relief. It seems an afterthought or a “ho-hum” to the collective geniuses that run the Dodgers.

 

So, if you put together no TV, no Vin and very little pitching, it’s hard for me to get overly excited. There’s a reality that says the rotation is three guys, all of whom have concerns. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in baseball but after years of carrying the burden of the team on his back, his back gave out. Backs can flare up at any time, and while Kershaw may be healthy all of 2017, his sudden vulnerability at least merits a conversation.

 

Rich Hill has resurrected his career from independent league hurler (like his fellow well paid staff mate Scott Kazmir), but he’s also an older pitcher who has spent a lot of time on disabled lists across baseball. To assume his “Koufax-like curve” can be counted on for a full season is perhaps a stretch. Then comes Kenta Maeda.

 

I liked the signing of Maeda, but then I like the signing of most Asian players. Maeda is a gamer with good stuff, but he’s also Japanese and their seasons are shorter than those in the bigs, so his eventual tiring in 2016 should have been expected. He was gassed the last quarter of the season and of course in October, when we all closed our eyes and crossed our fingers as he went to the hill. He is slight of frame and while he could improve on his stamina and continue to evolve, he could also at least be considered someone who may have a solid first half and then vanish after that.

 

The rest of the rotation is more worrisome than the top three. Julio Urias is a talent touted as another Pedro Martinez. He sure can look good, but he’s also 20 and his young arm is not ready for a full season’s workload. In fact, I’d say given the way he was pushed in 2016, due to Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi not considering reliable innings out of the rotation last year, he could even be a candidate for an injury due to overuse. I am not worried about Urias at the start of the season, but like Maeda, I am worried what happens as the year progresses. A baby pitcher should have his innings built up through the minors; Urias’ success and the front office’s desperation has rushed that timeline. Watching how they use him in 2017 should be interesting.

 

With Urias as the 4th starter (he should ideally be the 5th), it means a gaggle of curiosities will compete for the last spot. At this point most fans realize the signings of Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy were foolish ones by Friedman/Zaidi. They will compete with Hyun-Jin Ryu, former warrior with a shot shoulder, and assorted guys Friedman devotees will tell you are superstars in the making. No, they are just guys. The league is full of guys who fill roster spots, go up and down from the minors to the bigs and are not stars. Newsflash – not everyone who comes up through the Dodgers system will be a star. And another newsflash – every team has “depth” – it’s called a 40-man roster and minor league system. Living, breathing humans do not “depth” make.

 

For these reasons, the Dodgers rotation does not impress me. It’s possible they will have a decent first half, enabling Friedman/Zaidi to make a July deal for the 2nd half, but I’d argue, given what we see from most of their deals, and the fact the beef in the rotation should already have been added, who cares? As of today, the rotation is not ready for Oct play, which begs the question: “What have Friedman/Zaidi fixed since taking over?” I’d argue the deficiency the team had was the Oct part of the equation – that one more piece or two that could get the Dodgers over the hump. They already were making the playoffs for years. That isn’t enough. Friedman/Zaidi tinker, like mad scientists, but with the April through September part of the team, which, like I said, was in good enough shape before.

 

Friedman/Zaidi and their disciples would tell you it’s all about the regular season; the playoffs are all luck and a total crapshoot. That’s what Billy Beane has said, and the Moneyball record of World Series titles would bear that out. Small market executives, like Beane, like Friedman, like Zaidi, think like this because they must. They are traditionally hampered by lack of resources, financial most specifically, and need to assume getting to the dance is good enough. Perhaps, once in the post-season, they get lucky – it happens. Just not to Moneyball teams.

 

Guggenheim must have had their reasons for hiring Moneyball types to run the Dodgers – either hoping to save some money they could put into their own pockets (that’s not working, Friedman and Zaidi spend like gold-diggers out on the town), or because they were tipped off that the game has gone data and whiz kids who are all Ivy League are the ones you want in charge. I’m not dismissing data, it’s important (I recall loving Ross Porter’s constant stats that drove fans insane), but it doesn’t seem to apply to the work being done by Friedman, Zaidi and their crowded front office team.

 

Friedman inherited a windfall. He got a playoff team with a new rich ownership group and ripe farm system. A smarter man would have added the missing parts – perhaps a 3rd starter better than Brett Anderson – in order to go deeper into Oct. Instead, much like Paul DePodesta before them, a lot of tinkering, convoluted, needlessly complicated trades, signings of Cubans, reliance on unimpressive and often injured pitchers (overpaid), and other factors have led the team to no more Oct ready than before. I’d add, taking the long way around the mountain, creating needless busywork to get there.

 

At some point, perhaps luck will roll the Dodgers way and they will win. There IS talent on the roster. Some of the prospects in particular, holdovers from Ned Colletti and Logan White, look like this generation’s great Dodgers – Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger, to name a few.

 

I just have no idea why fans continue to believe in a front office that shuffles pieces around, wastes money, skimps on money (hard to do both at the same time) and is rebuilding the regular season part of the team that was already a playoff contender, rather than the post-season part, which was the obvious weakness.

 

I chock it up to youth – easy to say, as I am old. I think baseball fans are not as diehard as they used to be, and youth comes with lack of perspective. As you get older, not only do you have to sometimes wake up in the night to pee, but you gain wisdom. As Louis C.K. famously mused in one of his routines, just by virtue of being on the planet longer than a young person, you generally come to know more. A young fan has the right idea – love their team, no matter what, but without a frame of reference, it’s easy to not really know what the fuck you are talking about. I have been young, and now I am old. Believe me, I know more now than I did when I was young.

 

I won’t even go into depth about the bullpen that was not improved at all over 2016, or the 2 guys for every position approach in the lineup that could work – if rosters are expanded to 35. A new season is upon is, so don’t let me burst your bubble. I will say, perhaps don’t be gullible. Keep your eyes open and your head up. Call “bullshit” when you see it. And yes, you should be very angry that for a 4th season, games are not on TV across all of Los Angeles. I would suggest you don’t pay for games, or McCourt’s expensive parking. If they won’t televise the games, listen on the radio, or just read the box scores the next day. If they don’t care enough about you, you shouldn’t care so much about them. Guggenheim is in it for the money, just as Fox and the McCourts were. The team has not been to the World Series since 1988, and that was a fluke. The rot had set in after the 1981 championship and the greats from the 70s teams moved on.

 

We are owed more than this. The fans’ loyalty should not be greater than the owners’ loyalty to us. Bickering on Twitter can be amusing, but it does not hold the owners accountable. Demand more and if they don’t give it, consider what else you want from life. Maybe it’s going to the beach, catching the latest superhero movie in the theater or just spending more time with family and friends. For me, if a group of smarties can’t figure out your rotation needs reliable innings and your bullpen should be several guys deep at the back, you don’t deserve my respect. If the games aren’t even available to watch, why should I care?

 

Here’s to another season of Dodgers baseball. Let’s see what happens. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

When it Comes to Pete, MLB’s “Integrity of the Game” Argument is Bullshit

March 19, 2015 1 comment

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Once again the Pete Rose Hall of Fame topic has raised its dirty face. I drive along, tuned into MLB Network Radio, and listen to the hosts – usually company men, shills for the organization – and callers, rant about how Pete knew what he was doing, committed the Cardinal Sin of baseball and therefore should not ever be allowed into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Sometimes I feel compelled to call in, but think better of it. What’s the use? Argue with a host that already has pat answers, refer to calls from raving mental patients? There’s better ways to spend one’s time; so I flip the station to something else and continue on my merry way.

The reason, however, I think Pete deserves to be in the Hall is pretty basic. The argument for anyone saying he shouldn’t be in is that he bet on baseball, so the integrity of the games – the most sacred of sacreds – is on the line. After all, if the outcome might be affected – such as the Black Sox scandal of yore – who gives a crap about baseball?

I would facetiously argue that “reality TV” is drawing pretty well, as does professional wrestling, and perhaps other fixed sports such as boxing, the NBA and NFL (no proof on the latter, but it’s always fishy the way things go down, especially when the games matter). This is my light, cynical reasoning, but the biggest reason I would argue on Pete’s behalf is what integrity of the game?

Pete’s gambling occurred as a manager, so his playing days might be considered separate altogether. Apparently they’re not, so lumped together, Pete is seen as a gambler who while there’s no proof he affected games at all, may have had some hand in outcomes. Anyone who understands Pete knows he is such a competitor it’s completely unreasonable to assume he threw games. That leaves potentially damaging pitchers’ arms to ensure winning them. Well, there’s no proof of that, and in a country that maintains proof to convict, it’s a bit sketchy at best.

The only thing that matters to me though is that assuming Pete affected games’ outcomes, or not, and just placed bets on his team to win, is that more of an affront to the integrity of the game than Bud Selig either incompetently allowing big leaguers to rewrite the (just as sacred) big league record book by not knowing their “too good to be true” numbers were chemically enhanced, or perhaps more obvious – happy it was going on?

Either way the “integrity” aspect was and continues to be shot to hell to me. Baseball – from Bud on to broadcasters, managers, players and fans, were and are involved in deception. The numbers were heavily padded for an entire era, and continue to be padded. PED cheats still pop up, many are allowed to cash in on the next large contract, and younger stars are passed off as the next Mantle, Mays and Aaron. Until they’re caught – if they’re caught.

Players bulking up to the size of NFL linebackers and being judged not on baseball skills but “tools” – earning contracts through football-style combines where they pull or push cars, lift weights, drag cement blocks, etc., as opposed to traditional baseball skills.

Bud is gone, but it’s yet to be determined how different the new commish, Rob Manfred, is. After all, MLB wants viewers, wants asses in the seats and knows it must compete with the NBA and NFL for those who require superhuman achievements and action – action – and more action! The modern fan is deficient of mental skills required to appreciate what makes baseball the best game, and what put it atop all other sports and called the National Pastime. The time of a game was never in question as fans understood the nuances of the “game”, not necessarily the “sport.”

Today we are supposed to buy massive bodybuilder type players gaining weight over the few month off-season and when an older player improves in his advanced years, hitting everything in sight in a red hot post-season run, we’re supposed to assume it’s legit. We know in the very recent past the players were all doped up and cheating, but now – well, it’s different. It is, it really is!

Then some busts happen or someone is outed and we’re told it’s an isolated incident, not to worry. The commish will handle it. Whatever – it’s an insult to fans’ intelligence and speaks volumes to me that there is very little “integrity” left in the game. If the 100+ year record book is peppered with trickery, why do we draw a line in the sand where baseball’s all-time hit king can’t cross?

All I know is Pete played the game like all of us would want any player on our town’s team to play the game. When Steve Sax came up from AA ball to play second for the Dodgers, it was like watching our own blue Pete Rose. He ran to first base when he walked, he hustled non-stop – it was fun, it was energy. Pete played that way every game of a very long career. He amassed, legitimately, more hits than anyone who ever played the game. If sportswriters mull over whether Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Palmiero, Big Mac, Piazza, Sosa, etc. – even nice guy Andy Pettitte – deserve to be in the Hall – eventually – then Pete should get that level of respect. More. Pete didn’t do anything unethical as a player – unless you count overly enthusiastically bowling over a catcher in the All-Star game.

Yet I see many baseball writers in my Twitter feed saying they voted for PED-era users or suspects and feel they should be in. I will say Bud and MLB created a very messy problem for the writers to figure out. In reality, if Pete is not allowed to be in the Hall, none of the PED users should either. And I would argue perhaps even if Pete is allowed in, the PED users shouldn’t (plenty of old-timers they could allow in first – Gil Hodges, for one). What the dopers did was affect outcomes of games and took away a large part of the mystique of baseball’s record book. No other sport considers its record book as gospel as much as baseball – a game built on its past and its statistics. Pete gambled, but he didn’t do it as a player, and there’s no proof his gambling affected games. We KNOW all those extra home runs, RBI and pitching accomplishments did.

I don’t get the dislike of Pete. I see him in interviews and he seems very genuine in his lifelong love of baseball and regrets what he did. Some punishments cannot be lifted – this I get – but it seems once Bud touted “Chicks Love the Long Ball” as MLB’s post-strike mantra and advertising campaign, all bets were off the table. There has been no “integrity” so to speak in over 20 years. No one can look at Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Papi, Yasiel Puig, etc., etc. and know for sure that what they’re doing, that seems so incredible, is in fact all-natural. That is the legacy of Bud and why the game’s morals are damaged.

I don’t see the talking heads on MLB Network Radio or the TV side, MLB Network, or during games, on the radio, in columns, etc., saying this. Baseball writers, ex-jocks and pundits don’t want to be the one caught calling out the game or the commish. They don’t want to be blackballed – like that reporter in San Francisco was when he went after Melky Cabrera – and they certainly don’t want to lose access to the locker room, or free food. So they talk up the incredible achievements happening on the field and never do their duty as reporters and ask – “Do we know for sure that this is real?”

I am suspicious immediately when anything looks too good to be true. The old adage is that if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. We certainly learned Bud’s heralded home run chase of Roger Maris by pumped up buddies Big Mac and Sammy Sosa was. The aging Roger Clemens pitching as good as he did when he was a young man, etc., etc. Baseball has a past steeped in dirty behavior – racists, drunks, abusers, drug addicts, etc. In that way, unfortunately, it is like any walk of American life. The Hall is full of bad eggs, but as MLB Network Radio hosts says, what Pete did goes beyond being a bad boy – he made us call into question the scores themselves. Ok, if that’s true (again, no proof that it is), how are Bonds fantastic accomplishments at age 40, Clemens, and all those hits, homers and RBI by the rest of them any less? You’re going to tell me that in those record-breaking stats, no achievement directly affected the outcome of a game? There was no walk-off homer, no 15 K pitching win, no 4-5 RBI night that helped a team win? Please… it’s offensive to anyone with a brain in their head.

Baseball and the writers not having the balls to bring any of this up are sickening. Listening to them continue to paint Pete as something akin to a Nazi because he bet on games as a manager is pathetic. I don’t know how the old or new commish sleep at night, nor the guys who know more than they’ll ever tell. Managers, former and current players, announcers, beat reporters, etc.

There is no baseball Hall of Fame without the all-time hit leader in it. And if you’re going to ban him from having a plaque next to violent racists and other offenders, fine, just don’t ever cast a vote – or even put on the ballot – a whole generation of players we know either did performance enhancing drugs, or whose numbers suggest they likely did. They do not belong as they hurt the “integrity” of the game. As a fan, I find this inexcusable – but more than just blame the players, who wanted accolades and tens of millions of dollars – I point the finger at those who allowed, and even promoted, their offenses.

In the end, Pete deserves to be a Hall of Famer – with a comment or two on his plaque how after he retired, he admitted to gambling on baseball when he managed. I am not sure it will ever happen, or most certainly not sure it will happen in his life – which is just sad. On a bright note, Pete won on the field and continues to win in life. Kiana Kim? Once more – please – the man is a genius. And certainly the textbook description of how a person is supposed to play the game of baseball.