Baseball postsSunday December 09, 2018
Don't Ban the Shift; Promote Spray Hitters
Baseball needs more guys like this, here trying on my glove at Met Stadium in 1970.
Apparently MLB is thinking of banning defensive shifts, which are preventing too many hits by players who hit too many times to the same spot.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been promoting such a ban since 2015, according to Jayson Stark, and now it's gaining traction.
This is beyond idiotic. First, how would you implement it? Tell a fielder he can't move X feet from his normal defensive position? Create fielders' boxes the way batters have a batter's box?
The bigger point: players will adjust. If they don‘t, teams will adjust—by putting a premium on players who will adjust; who can hit to all fields. We’ll eventually get better baseball because we‘ll have more spray hitters.
George Will said much the same, but smarter, on Brian Kenny’s show. His arguments against the ban are two-fold:
I just don't like the whole principle of saying, “It will be illegal for baseball to make rational decisions based on abundant good information.” That's what we‘re saying: “You can’t do it, even though it's smart.” I don't think a nation or a society or a business should ban information. Doesn't look right to me.
Then he holds up one of my childhood heroes as the spray hitter in question:
My solution is two words: Rod Carew. I know Rod Carew was a genius, I know Rod Carews don't grow on trees. But the market will eventually demand left-handed hitters who can take advantage of this, and I believe in markets. The supply will come forward. ...
Baseball has never had an equilibrium that lasted forever. ... Nothing lasts.
George Will for MLB Commissioner.
That MLB Donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith? It was at the Behest of Someone Much, Much Worse
On Sunday, I posted a bit about MLB's $5,000 donation to the re-election campaign of U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS). She's the one who brought up public hangings while running against an African-American candidate in a state that once had a habit of lynching African Americans. She didn't apologize. She was offended that anyone could be offended. She played politics with it.*
(*That said, if you look at the full quote, it's obvious she's not saying “public hanging” in a positive sense: “I would fight a circle saw for him; if he invited me to a public hanging, I would be on the front row.” She's saying, for this particular supporter, she would even go to a public hanging, as awful as that is. To her, they‘re as bad a fighting a circle saw. A shame we didn’t get more clarity on this—from either side.)
Anyway, for some reason, Major League Baseball donated $5k to her campaign even after she said this, and MLB's initial explanation didn't explain much:
“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend.”
Give me 10 years and I don't think I could write a sentence that vague. Kudos.
Well, yesterday, more details surfaced. And it turns out the contribution didn't have anything to do with Ms. Hyde-Smith. It had to do with someone much, much worse:
When a lobbyist who works for MLB could not attend a fundraiser put on by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in mid-November, the league was asked instead to donate money to Hyde-Smith, according to sources. The league cut the check for Hyde-Smith's campaign on Nov. 12 or 13, two sources told Yahoo Sports – a day or two after the lynching comments were first made public by the Jackson Free Press. The campaign reported the contribution in a Nov. 24 filing.
First democracy, now baseball: How much of my world is Mitch McConnell going to ruin?
The above comes from an informative piece by Jeff Passan over at Yahoo Sports. It's a shitty site but excellent reporting. He sought out the numbers and crunched them. He got to the when and why and how much:
Since Major League Baseball established a foothold in the nation's capital at the turn of the century, the league has exploited a truism about politics in America: Influence is unbelievably cheap. Over the last 17 years, through its political action committee, MLB has donated slightly more than $3.7 million to 321 members of Congress, according to an analysis of federal election records by Yahoo Sports. For less than one season of the average salary for a single baseball player, the league wooed senators and House members, Republicans and Democrats, men and women, a few thousand dollars at a time, in hopes that someday their power could work in the league's favor.
So it looks like “MLB lobbyists”—a new term for most baseball fans—are in fact a 21st-century phenomenon. One hopes they go away. Mitch first.
Buy Me Some Peanuts and Senators
Last night, vaguely benumbed by aquavit (skol!), I came across a new controversy involving Major League Baseball. It's not a good controversy, and it gets worse the more you hear about it.
Apparently MLB donated $5,000 to the campaign of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), who most of us know best from her “public hanging” comment. Earlier this month, stumping during the runoff against her opponent, Mike Espy, an African American, she said of a cattle rancher who was helping her campaign, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be in the front row.”
Given Mississippi's history of lynching black people, many were offended. Hyde-Smith was offended they were offended. Here's what she said during a debate with Espy last week:
For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statement. ... There has never been anything, not one thing, in my background to ever indicate I had ill will toward anyone. I‘ve never been hurtful to anyone. I’ve always tried to help everyone. I also recognize that this comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent. That's the type of politics Mississippians are sick and tired of.
Same old, same old. I'm curious if “...invited me to a public hanging” is a Mississippi colloquialism, and, if so, what is its derivation? (One Southern writer says he's never heard of it, and it's “kind of creepy” regardless of the racial/lynching connotations.)
Either way, she said something either tone-deaf or deeply offensive, never apologized, doubled down.
And Major League Baseball donated $5,000 to her campaign.
Here's the part where it gets worse: MLB donated the money several weeks after Hyde-Smith's comment.
After the controversy erupted last night, MLB is now doing damage control. It asked for the donation back and issued the following statement:
“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend,” an MLB spokesperson said in a statement Sunday. “MLB has requested that the contribution be returned.”
I like Chris Korman's take in USA Today: “We should talk about why MLB giving $5,000 to any senate candidate anywhere is even a thing.” Then he provides some links to MLB PAC's donations, which average about half a million during election years. He wonders over the donations and the lobbying. What is MLB after? What does it want? Particularly from a junior senator in Mississippi, which includes no Major League club.
I hope the digging continues. I hope it clears away the fog of vagueness in MLB's official statement.
I love this part of Joe Posnanski's post about his childhood crush Super Joe Charboneau and what he meant to Cleveland in the summer of 1980:
See, we needed Super Joe, needed him more than he could ever know. The city was dying, even as a 13-year-old, I understood that. More than 175,000 people — almost one-quarter of the city's population — had fled Cleveland in the 1970s. In 1978, Cleveland became the first city since the Great Depression to default on its loans; in the mind of a kid this meant the whole city had gone bankgrupt. Smoke billowed into the Cleveland sky. Potholes shook us to the bone. The reason we even have an Earth Day is that the Cuyahoga River caught fire. And no team had won a title since the early 1960s, before I was born.
These were desperate times. Every other day, it seemed, Cleveland had some cringe-worthy new slogan designed to make the city seem better.
- New York's the Big Apple, but Cleveland's a plum.
- The best things in life are right here in Cleveland.
- We‘re a big-league city (with Little Leagues too!)
- Cleveland’s a great place to live
We so badly needed Super Joe.
For some reason, I thought Super Joe was given the nickname “Joltin' Joe” during that summer, but Joey Poz makes no reference to that, and even on a Google search you only come back with 200 examples. After his Rookie-of-the-Year season, Charboneau played in only 70 games, with 210 plate appearances and a .211/.258/.371 slash line. Did any other Rookie of the Year fall so fast?
Poz also comes up with a great term, “the counterfeit hope of lousy teams,” that the Seattle Mariners should really, really pay attention to.
Willie McCovey (1938-2018)
How many ways was he a giant? In stature (6' 4“ at a time when most ballplayers didn't reach 6 feet); in San Francisco (of course); and ultimately of baseball. There was a musicality to his name. It rhymed. It's now the name of a cove on the other side of the right-field stands at Giants Stadium. SABR, in its tribute, calls this fitting since ”his ferocious swings always sent ripples of fear throughout the National League.“
When my guy, Harmon Killebrew, won the Most Valuable Player award in 1969, just as I was becoming baseball cognizant, McCovey was the first baseman in the other league who did the same. There's actually an interesting parallel between the two. Killebrew was a ”bonus baby,“ a player signed north of $4k who had to remain on the 25-man roster for two years, but his first full year in the Majors, 1959, was McCovey's first year overall. He debuted July 30 and went 4-4 with two triples and three runs scored. He hit his first homer, off Pittsburgh's Ron Kline, three days later. He only played in a third of the games that year, 52, but still won the NL Rookie of the Year. Unanimously. Meanwhile, in the AL, Killebrew led the league in home runs.
Then it was McCovey's turn, believe it or not, to fight for playing time. According to Joe Posnanski in his tribute, the Giants were loaded then and didn't have an obvious spot for McCovey. Or his obvious spot, first base, was taken by Orlando Cepda (another musical name), who was NL Rookie of the Year in 1958, and who led the league in homers and RBIs in 1962. Nice problem to have, Giants. McCovey didn't play a full year until 1963 when he was often in left field. He didn't play a full year at first base until 1965.
But McCovey and Harmon? Some kind of synchronicity there. They were mirror images. NL/AL. Black/white. ”Stretch“/”The Fat Kid.“ Both were quiet. Both had the most powerful swings in their league. They were homers/RBIs/walks guys who hit the thing a country mile. For their MVP years, their lines are somewhat similar:
Ditto their career lines.
Killebrew hit more homeruns in the 1960s than anyone (393), while McCovey was fifth (300), but that was in part because of limited playing time, a tougher league, and a tougher ballpark to hit it out of. Was this why McCovey seem more respected? He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer while the Hall passed on Killebrew three times before deciding ”What the hell.“
I wish I'd gotten to see McCovey play more. We saw AL teams in Bloomington. But I was certainly aware of him: Topps, NL Leaders, Baseball Digest, and ”Baseball Stars of 196-whatever.“ Not to mention Peanuts.
I'd always assumed this was a random game, and the three feet was what was necessary to hit the ball over the wall. I think I was an adult before I realized, no: Schulz, a Minnesota boy now living in northern California and rooting on the Giants, was lamenting the end of the 1962 World Series. The Giants were playing the hated Yankees and losing Game 7 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th when Matty Alou led off with a pinch-hit bunt single. Ralph Terry struck out the next two batters, but then Willie Mays hit a double to right. Some part of me wonders, without seeing the footage, how Alou didn't score on that. Two outs, double to right, speedy baserunner? But he didn‘t. Some part of me also wonders why Terry stayed in, but that was baseball then. He stayed and faced McCovey, who hit a screaming line drive ... right at second baseman Bobby Richardson. Game, series, season over. Cue Charlie Brown’s lament. Was it McCovey's most famous at-bat? Probably. Cue Shelley: Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
I suppose he's lucky he saw a pitch during that at-bat. Nobody wanted to pitch to him. Killebrew led the AL in intentional passes three times, with 18, 15 and 20. McCovey? Four times: 45, 40, 21 and 25. The 45 IBBs were during his MVP year, and they set a record. The 25 were in 1973, after his black-ink days, when he was 35. And they still didn't want a part of him.
Walter Alston: ”When he belts a home run, he does it with such authority it seems like an act of God.”
Sparky Anderson: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball.”