All Yankees, all the time

Looking for my writing? Check out River Ave. Blues, the new home of my baseball writings on the Internet. Good stuff.

From The Accomplishment Department

Joe Morgan graced ESPN’s SportsNation with his most idiotic chat of the season today. I’ll have more later, but enjoy this nugget. It’s quite an accomplishment.

Cody (Minneapolis): Its possible that the Twins could have the AL Cy Young winner, the AL batting champ and the AL MVP. Has that ever happened before?

SportsNation Joe Morgan: That’s a great question. I’m not sure if it’s ever happened before. It would be a great accomplishment. I’m not sure if it ever happened before, but it could have happened a different way with a pitcher winning the Cy Young and MVP with a batting title, but I’m not sure about three different players. That would be quite an accomplishment.

Is Clemens to blame for Astros’ struggles?

The season is just going to end too soon for the Houston Astros. Down 7.5 games heading into a pivotal weekend series against the Cardinals, the Astros, powered by Roger Clemens’ potentially final home start in Houston, swept St. Louis to leave Deadspin’s Will Leitch cowering in the corner and Houston fans hoping and praying that their team can overcome a 3.5 game deficit with seven left to play.

Roger Clemens last night was the hero of Houston. He received a warm send-off from a crowd that believes, barring a miracle, Clemens will not pitch again in Houston for the Astros. Will he retire? Who knows. But it’s hard to imagine the Astros shelling out another $20 million for the Rocket’s services.

But around the Internet, an interesting theme has arisen. As Travis Nelson wrote on Double Play Depth, maybe the Astros’ eventual elimination for postseason contention is the Rocket’s fault. He compellingly argues:

If Clemens had decided what he wanted to do in say, January, like the rest of the 700 or so guys who have played in the major leagues this season, the Astros could have had him starting games in April and May, and early June. they could have gotten roughly another 100 or so innings out of him in that span, which would have kept 24-year old rookie RHP Taylor Buchholz in the minors, where he clearly belonged.

Nelson argues that Clemens would have replaced 14 bad starts with Roger Clemens-like outings:

That makes 14 starts, 81 innings, and 52 earned runs. Clemens, with a more or less typical Rocket-esque performance in those starts, could probably have amassed something like 100 innings, allowing half as many earned runs, about 26, which could have netted the team three more wins.

Three more wins for the Astros right now would have been the difference between life and death. Instead of 3.5 out with 7 left to play, they could be potentially just 0.5 games out with 7 left to play. In my opinion though, Nelson underestimated Clemens’ importance. I think Clemens could have meant five more wins for the team, and a view from the top heading into the homestretch. I have no scientific evidence for that, but it’s just a hunch taking a look at how poorly the Astros’ number five starters performed.

However – and this is a big however – let’s not forget about 2005. Roger Clemens, not a young man, broke down in 2005. He couldn’t make it through the regular season and postseason. So if the Astros bring back Clemens in April instead of June, does he break down again? The blame might not fall on his shoulders.

Rather, I would like to blame the Astros’ management for wasting Clemens’ rehab starts. After his first two Minor League outings, it was clear that Clemens still had it. Why not just bring him up to the Big Leagues then? Give him one extra start, one more shot at a win. That could end up being the difference in the NL Central.

Of course, what’s funny about this situation is that if the Astros do overcome the very long odds, Clemens will have a chance to once again be a postseason hero. Hey, you never know.

Angelos: Protesters have “no comprehension” of baseball costs

After a few months’ hiatus, Talking Baseball is back in action. Bookmark the site, add the RSS feed to your favorite feed reader, check back often and comment. We’ll start with everyone’s favorite owner: Peter Angelos.

Today, over one thousand Orioles fans walked out of the Orioles-Tigers game at 5:08 p.m. to protest what they viewed as Peter Angelos’ inept management of the team. Angelos disagreed.

“Whoever joins that protest has no comprehension of what it costs to run a baseball team,” Angelos said in an interview with the AP. “When you get down to facts, putting together a team that can compete in the AL East means having a payroll between $100-$110 million. That money comes from the consumer, and I have chosen to keep ticket prices to a minimum.”

I that is, to mince words, a load of crap. Let’s look at some payroll numbers.

The Orioles have a payroll, according to ESPN, of $72,585,712. That is 15th among all 30 clubs and 7th highest in the American League.

Of the seven AL teams that pay their players less overall than the Orioles, five of them have better records. The other two are the Royals and the Devil Rays.

I don’t know what Angelos’ finances look like, but from this very rudimentary study, I can tell you that he is full of it. The Blue Jays, with a $71 million payroll, were fairly competitive in the AL East throughout most of the summer. The A’s, with a payroll of $62 million, are just three games worse than the Yankees.

As much as Angelos doesn’t want to admit it, it’s not about the costs of running a baseball team. It’s about putting good people in the front office who know how to use their limited resources to put a competitive product on the field, and it’s about putting your faith in those people and letting them do their jobs. As long as Angelos continues to spout of rhetoric about the costs of running an MLB team instead of addressing his team’s shortcomings, these Orioles’ protesters’ actions will be for naught.

New report praises, slams MLB for diversity

Attaining diversity in sports requires a tough balancing act, and writing about gender and race issues can be just as tough. But with today’s release of The 2005 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball from the DeVos Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida, I want to take this opportunity to delve into the issue of diversity in Major League Baseball.

On one hand, winning in professional sports is all about putting the best players on the field at all times. Since 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, baseball has realized that the best players come from all walks of life and race. If someone can play or produce, this person will be on the team regardless of superficial qualities.

On the other hand, front office and executive management can represent an entirely different deck of cards. The Commissioner’s Office wants to see the best and brightest in the front offices, and they also want to bring the sport to a wider audience through various community outreach programs often targeted at minority populations. While I would like to think that color is not important on the field, in the offices, diversity is vital for the continued success and growth of Major League Baseball as business.

Grading Baseball: An Overview of the Report

With the release of The 2005 Racial and Gender Report Card, we can see just how well Major League Baseball is doing promoting diversity and where they need to see improvement. Before heading into this territory, I want to briefly mention methodology. Richard Lapchick and Stacy Martin, the report’s authors, note the way in which they grade baseball on its efforts at attaining diversity:

To give it perspective for sports fans, the Institute issues the grades in relation to overall patterns in society. Federal affirmative action policies state that the workplace should reflect the percentage of the people in the racial group in the population. Thus, with approximately 24 percent of the population being people of color, an A was achieved if 24 percent of the positions were held by people of color, B if 12 percent of the positions were held by people of color, and C if it had only nine percent. Grades for race below this level were assigned a D for six percent or F for any percent equal to or below five percent.

For issues of gender, an A would be earned if 40 percent of the employees were women, B for 35 percent, C for 30 percent, D for 25 percent and F for anything below that. The 40 percent is also taken from the federal affirmative action standards.

With this standard in place, baseball fared decently in racial diversity, garnering a B+ for their efforts, but the sport did poorly in gender diversity managing just a D+ down from a C a year ago. In other words, women are woefully underepresented in Front Office positions in baseball.

Delving further into the data, we see that baseball has assembled a diverse array of players. The sport received an A or better for “player opportunities, managers and coaches as well as for the MLB Central Office.” According to the report, “In the 2005 MLB season 59.9 percent of the players were white, 8.5 percent were African-American, 28.7 percent were Latino and 2.5 percent were of Asian descent.” Furthermore, players born outside the United States comprise 27.4 percent of those on rosters this Opening Day. On the field, baseball is an international game.

The MLB Central Offices receive high grades for racial diversity and low grades for gender diveristy. Furthermore, there is only one person of color among the elite group of baseball owners – Arte Moreno of the Orange County Angels – and, with the Brewers out from under Wendy Selig’s control, no women in the group. This picture does not look to improve in the near future as the groups under consideration to buy the Nationals are largely made up of white men.

As far as the clubs are concerned, the seven managers of color who all were managing during parts or all of the 2005 season represent a success in the eyes of this report card. Four of the managers were African-American; three were Latino. However, Tony Pena and Lloyd McClendon have since been fired and were replaced by white men. Thirty-nine percent of Major and Minor League coaches are men of color.

Despite all of this high scores on the field, Major League Baseball begins to suffer off the field. Ken Williams is the only black GM, making the White Sox the only team with people of color in both the General Manager and Manager positions. The Mets’ Omar Minaya is the only other GM of color. Baseball gets a D in the General Manager category.

In team executive offices, just 15 percent of Vice Presidents are women and only 13.2 percent are women of color. Furthermore, women hold just 27.7 percent of senior administration positions over all. Baseball is also lagging when it comes to diversity in professional administration positions such as administrative assistants, staff assistants and receptionists.

A Case Study on Baseball’s ‘Thinking Positions’

With these numbers painting some positive trends and some negative trends, the report’s authors took at look at what they called the “stacking” trends of certain positions on the field. This is where the report heads into the territory of race relations in baseball. The report’s authors wanted to identify the percentage of African Americans playing one of three so-called “thinking positions”: pitcher, catcher and third baseman. In 2005, the categorizations were changed to pitcher, catcher and infield. The results were surprising:

Only three percent of pitchers, one percent of catchers and 11 percent of infielders were African-American. It is worth noting that in 2004 when the Report Card looked at the isolated position of third baseman versus the entire infield, the percent of African-Americans was only five percent. The percentage of African-American pitchers is less than one half of what it was in 1983. Twenty-six percent of outfielders, who rely on speed and reactive ability, were African-American during the 2005 MLB season. This was nearly three times the percentage of African-Americans in MLB.

Texas playing for more than just a division

Now that the Astros have reached the World Series, the Texas Rangers have inherited the title of Least Successful Expansion Era team. But that could change this year. If this team can stay competitive in the American League West through June, a 43-year-old savior could swoop in and deliver them elusive October success.

In 1961, the Texas Rangers — then the second Washington Senators team — were the new kids in town. The original Washington Senators had just pulled up stakes and moved to Minneapolis, and Major League Baseball awarded Washington another Senators team and Gene Autry got his Angels in Los Angeles. These two new additions to the Major League Baseball roster kicked off a period of expansion that would see baseball go from 16 teams in 1960 to 30 teams by 1998. The sport’s rapid expansion was a testament to the ever-growing population in America (and eventually Canada) and its increasing popularity in society.

Eleven unremarkable seasons after their creation, the second Washington Senators team left the socially struggling and stagnant District of Columbia for greener (or is that whiter?) pastures in Arlington, Texas. By 1994, after 33 seasons of futility, October baseball games seemed to be in Texas’ future. Even with a 52-62, the Rangers on August 11 were one game ahead of the second-place Oakland Athletics.

But fate in the form of a lockout intervened, and the Rangers would not see October ball until 1996 when they were swept by the Yankees in the Divisional Series. The Rangers would make the playoffs again in 1998 and 1999, but they would be on the receiving end of the great Yankee Dynasty of the 1990s. They managed just one playoff victory in 1996 and went 1-9 against the Yankees during their three futile attempts at reaching the ALCS.

Since losing in 1999, the Rangers have finished last in the division four times and third twice. Despite an explosive offense, the Rangers just haven’t found the pitching they need to win in the highly competitive American League West. But this year the stakes are higher: Roger Clemens’ return to baseball looms large in the minds of the Rangers…

Aaron’s 755 looks safe for now

Henry Aaron has been largely silent as Barry Bonds zeroes in on his home run record.

While he praised Selig for doing the right thing in appointing an investigation into steroids in baseball, he guardedly said he would congratulate Bonds if Barry were reach 756. “I wouldn’t say anything, just ‘God Bless You,’” Aaron said to the Associated Press. Can you really blame him for this reservation?

During his run at Ruth’s record in the 1970s, Aaron was on the receiving end of a lot of racist backlash. Now, thirty years later, Bonds is suffering in the eyes of the public but for vastly different reasons. Aaron’s treatment reflected the strain of race relations in the United States. Bonds’ treatment shows what happens in the court of public opinion to someone who may have cheated. While Bonds tries to play the race card, fans are hesitant at best to embrace his pursuit of the record because of his close ties to the BALCO court case and baseball’s current steroid scandal.

For Aaron, Bonds’ pursuit must be something to watch because these two players, while both immensely talented, have put together vastly different career profiles. Bonds, now famous for his late-career resurgence, has always been a flashy player. He made enemies in Pittsburgh with the Pirates’ management and took to calling Andy Van Slyke the Great White Hope because Slyke was better paid and more well-liked them him.

But for his attitude and talk, Bonds has been miles better than any other player in baseball even when you don’t consider his home runs. He won Gold Gloves seven times out of eight years in the 1990s. He won three MVP awards in the early 1990s and four so far in the twenty-first century. He’s topped 500 stolen bases and has over 2700 career hits.

While Bonds has put up gaudy totals in spurts while maintaining an overall level of excellence, Aaron was consistently at the top of his game from 1955 until 1973…


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