Chris Sale, Master In Effect

After a slow start to the 2015 campaign, White Sox ace Chris Sale is finally pitching at the level we all expected

Sale, a former first-round pick of the White Sox in 2010, had fourteen strikeouts across eight shutout innings against the Rangers on Friday (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

When you’re a starting pitcher in the big leagues, there’s dominant, and then there’s ridiculously dominant. The difference, you ask? When you’re ridiculously dominant, you’re falling into the same sentence as Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Nolan Ryan.

With the groove that he’s been in lately, White Sox ace Chris Sale has been not just ridiculously dominant, but he’s been putting up numbers that would be unrealistic even in a video game. Sale, the former Florida Gulf Coast star that quickly ascended to the big leagues in 2010 just months after being drafted, struck out fourteen men — the sixth straight outing he’s punched out men in double digits — in a loss to the Texas Rangers.

“What did he punch out? Fourteen, 15, something like that?” Texas starter Colby Lewis said of Sale, the man he dueled against on Friday night. “He definitely had it going on. I just tried to go out there and match. If he’s doing it, then I try to go out there and have quick innings, too.”

Now, here’s where the numbers start getting crazy: Sale, over his last six starts, has a 1.19 ERA with a 75/7 K/BB ratio over 45 1/3 innings and that’s despite only being 3-2 in those games. After a loss to the Minnesota Twins on May 23 that saw Sale’s ERA sit at 4.23, the lefty ace has lowered his ERA all the way down to 2.74, the first time since April 23 it’s been below 3.00.

In the loss, Sale also extended a franchise record for double-digit strikeout games to 25, and he has struck out at least one in 35 straight innings. And, as mentioned earlier, Sale has now struck out double-digit batters in six consecutive starts, which puts him in the same conversation as Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Nolan Ryan, all Hall of Fame starting pitchers.

Martinez did it on three occasions (two with the Red Sox and one with the Expos from 1997-2000) and has the longest streak at 10 starts, while Johnson struck out 10 or more batters in six or more consecutive starts five times from 1998-2002 (split across the Mariners and Diamondbacks). Nolan Ryan, who did it in 1972 and 1977, had both a seven-game streak and a six-game streak with the California Angels.

“It’s an honor to get my name mentioned with them, but it’s something more for you guys and friends and family. I’m here for one reason, and that’s winning ballgames,” Sale told reporters following the team’s 2-1 loss. “All the other stuff is more of a distraction than anything, really.”

Unfortunately for Sale, though, things aren’t going so well for the rest of the White Sox. For the second consecutive game started by Sale, the White Sox lost 2-1, this time blowing the lead in the ninth inning when big-money closer David Robertson crumbled under the pressure.

“I feel awful because of how well Sale pitched tonight,” Robertson, a former All-Star with the New York Yankees, admitted after the game. “I went out there and blew it.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura wasn’t pleased either, telling reporters, “You have to stay disciplined in the game and come in here with a positive attitude and ready to go. It’s easier said than done on some points, but you’re pros and you come in here and you expect to turn around and have a good effort. That’s required of everybody. There’s no exception to that.”

With the loss, Chicago fell to 28-38 in what’s been yet another dismal season for the White Sox, but Sale hasn’t lost all hope yet.

“We’re definitely pulling from the same rope, on the same side,” Sale said. “There’s no doubt. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you can’t stop pulling.”

Do you think Chris Sale will keep up this hot streak? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Death of the Baseball Role Model?

Baseball has always been places where the youth can look to for influence, but is the baseball role model a non-existent one anymore?

One would think that with his boyish looks, his charming personality, and lack of criminal history that Angels slugger Mike Trout would be an influence to the youth, but many seem not to even know Trout (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

It’s Tuesday night, and for the first time since May 2007, the city of Cleveland is celebrating a trip to the championship; that’s with all due respect to the reigning college football champion Ohio State Buckeyes, of course, but it’s been a long eight years in C-Town. We all know the stories — the Browns have stuck to mediocrity, the Indians have been inconsistent, LeBron James left…and even during the King’s first season back this year, things weren’t so hot in Cleveland.

But, what stood out most during the postgame celebration wasn’t J.R. Smith’s selfie at the podium, but it was instead the response that LeBron James earned not just from Cavalier fans, but fans all over the world. Gone was the heel LeBron James that so many of us rooted against for his four years in Miami, the player that had made the decision on national television to take his talents to South Beach; instead replacing him was The King, the player that our youth wanted to be like not even as a basketball player, but as a person.

The conversation of athletes being influences and role models to our youth has one we as a society have had for a long time, but it seems that this conversation seems to be dead in baseball. As a New Yorker, I can certainly say that the conversation has stopped here, and that’s not just a generational thing either: baseball, football, and basketball have always been places where the youth can look to for influence, but after the Selig Era, maybe that conversation might be a silent one in America’s Pastime.

Part of that might come from the general lack of mainstream popularity that the game’s stars have; a 2014 USA Today article said that the five most famous players in baseball, at the time, were Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, Red Sox first baseman/designated hitter David Ortiz, Yankees third baseman/designated hitter Alex Rodriguez, and former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Of those five, two (Oritz and Rodriguez) have been tied to steroids, a third (Pujols) hasn’t really ever had the popularity in America that he has in Latin America, one (Harper) is among the most ‘arrogant and cocky’ players in the game, so that meant that Jeter was the most ‘innocent’ and good for being a role model.

Now, that makes sense, because Jeter was the face of baseball for a long time and was never in the news for anything bad; you never heard about him getting into fights with his girlfriend or cheating the game, and Jeter was also one of the few players to be on the national stage, often appearing on talk shows and at red carpet events. But still, four of those five players over the age of 34 at the time (Pujols turned 35 in January 2015) and I don’t see many people saying that they look up to Bryce Harper.

As of right now, if you asked me point-blank which five players would be the biggest role models for the youth, I’d say Mets third baseman David Wright, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig (for Latin America and Cuba), Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Yet, the way my generation knew Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Pedro Martinez, and others when we were young, this generation might only know Trout, Puig, and Cabera, and that’s because the latter two were on the past two MLB: The Show games.

Right now, we’re in a time where the main sports of influence are football and basketball, even if it the former is plagued by criminals and awful human beings right now. If I’m a ten year old kid and I have the choice of looking up to LeBron James, this super-popular guy who dominates every time he goes out there, or Mike Trout, a star outfielder who might be content with a 1-4 game and a walk if his team wins, I’m probably going with LeBron.

Now, as you might expect, I’m sure the steroid age played a big role in kids not wanting to look up to baseball players as much. Why, if we use logic, would a youth look up to someone who has cheated the game and cheated themselves by using PEDs? What kind of standard does that set for the kid looking up to Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Braun?

But, maybe it’s just a generational shift, but even then I’m not sure if that’s the case.

But, maybe it’s just a generational shift, and even then I’m not sure if that’s the case. Maybe we as a society have reached a point where because of the steroid era and the shift in balance that baseball has taken over the past two decades that there’s really no mainstream player to truly look up to; I also think part of it may have to do with the fact that a lot of these players either were signed at a young age from Latin America or come from relatively wealthy backgrounds that enable them to play for the best travel teams, attend the best camps, etc. If you’re someone from a poor city like Detroit or southern Chicago, how would you be able to relate to someone that’s had all of these things given to them?

Though one could make the argument that someone like LeBron James played at an elite basketball academy, which is true, LeBron also came from a single parent household where his mother gave birth to him at sixteen, lived in the seedy parts of Akron, Ohio, and eventually moved in with his football coach. Oklahoma City star forward Kevin Durant, one of the most popular players in the NBA right now, also came from a home with no male role model, as his father deserted the family when the former MVP was just a year old.

That’s not to say that scenarios like that don’t happen in Major League Baseball, but for American kids, a lot of them want to relate to people that went through similar situations in America. Even if he was a playboy, people growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s respected Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle because he came from a poor Oklahoma background that involved a lot of lead and zinc mining; they could relate to the hard-working American, and it’s hard to relate to players that come from such extravagant lifestyles when you haven’t even come closing to have those luxuries.

Will this change? Well, I don’t necessarily think that’ll be the case anytime soon, and a lot of that goes back to what I said in a recent article about youth baseball. There’s a big, big differentiation between where the majority of baseball players and where, for example, the majority of basketball players come from, and it’s very hard to look up to someone when you can’t claim to have anything really in common. The sad thing is that arguably Major League Baseball’s biggest role model right now, as hard as this may be to believe, is Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez: he came from a single parent household and wasn’t wealthy, used his talent to get where he was, eventually made a mistake, and is now trying to redeem himself.

When Alex Rodriguez is arguably baseball’s biggest role model, then you know that there may be a bit of a problem.

Do you think that kids, and youth as a whole, will ever look up to baseball players the way we once did, or is that phase over with for good? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Closely Reading Ruben Amaro’s Statements

It seemed like Philles GM Ruben Amaro might have finally gotten a clue, but those thoughts were erased after comments to CSN Philly

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, who took over the team from Pat Gillick following their World Series win in 2008, has made the rebuild slow and painful (Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

Because Memorial Day unofficially marks the completion of the first third of the baseball season — something I pointed out on SportsBlog — now is when we start hearing from team executives and higher ups about topics such as top prospects, aging veterans, and job security. Most of the time, we’ll hear from the general manager or team president, who will also touch base on how the first part of the season has gone and what’s next.

Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro, apparently aware of this ‘baseball tradition’, stepped up to the plate and spoke with CSN Philly’s Jim Sailsbury about several things relating to the rebuilding Phillies, most notably the trade market and prospects. If you’re a fan of the Phillies or you want to hear about what’s going on with the organization, I definitely would reccomend checking out the interview, because it’s an interesting look at a rebuilding team.

As with any rebuilding teams that has prospects on the horizon, it’s almost a requirement to inquire about those in an interview with the general manager or another higher up. Normally, we’ll get some kind of answer about how the prospects are making strides and the team wants to not rush them and it’ll be left at that; Amaro, however, took it one step further, as Sailsbury reports:

‘When asked about the timetable for pitching prospects Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin to make it to the bigs, Amaro said the plan was to be conservative. When it was pointed out that fans of losing teams tend not to like it when told that they need to be patient, Amaro had this to say:

“They don’t understand the game. They don’t understand the process. There’s a process. And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking with the plan. We can’t do what’s best for the fan. We have to do what’s best for the organization so the fan can reap the benefit of it later on. That’s the truth.”’

In the few hours since this article was posted on CSN Philly’s website, many have been quick to call Amaro out and say that he’s why the Phillies are in the situation they are now or that the organization should just cut him loose. But, as a way of being fair, let’s closely read this statement and not only see what Amaro really meant, but also if he’s right or not.

“They don’t understand the game.”

Ah, the good old ‘you don’t understand what’s going on’ cliche. That’s always a nice way to start talking about the fans that are stuck putting up with your incompetence, Ruben.

“They don’t understand the process. There’s a process.”

That’s a very valid point and, believe it or not, I actually do agree with it becuase there are plenty of fans that think that just adding a top prospect into the mix will immediately solve things. A few years ago, every Mets fan in sight wanted the team to just promote Fernando Martinez already because they thought he’d save the day, but Martinez would only hit .180/.250/.290 in three seasons with the Mets.

“And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking with the plan. We can’t do what’s best for the fan. We have to do what’s best for the organization so the fan can reap the benefit of it later on.”

The fans bitch and moan because the Phillies don’t have a plan? Damn, that’s rough, Ruben. I though they bitch and moaned because you took a perfectly built roster by Pat Gillick and the previous regime and turned into a win-now roster that made one World Series in your six plus years as general manager.

Not only did you give Ryan Howard a massive contract that became nearly untradeable in the final years of it, but you also got not even a full season from Hunter Pence (the Phillies acquired him in July 2011 and then dealt him in July 2012; he played a total of 155 games for them) in exchange for starter Jarred Cosart, reliever Josh Zeid, first baseman/outfielder Jonathan Singleton, and outfielder Domingo Santana. I’m still not entirely sure why the Phillies made that move, especially when you remember they just could have benched the struggling Raul Ibanez (more on him in a second).

Then, when Amaro decided to trade Pence to San Francisco in 2012, it’s not like the Phillies got back a massive haul featuring some of the team’s best prospects, including infielder Joe Panik who would have been a fine fit as a long-term replacement for Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins. Instead, all they received was Nate Schierholtz, Seth Rosin and Tommy Joseph, and they non-tendered Schierholtz following the season. Yes, they cut loose a player that hit .273/.319/.379 and would have been a fine fourth outfielder for the future.

What exactly does that mean? It means that for a player that’s become an essential part of two World Series runs for the Giants and was actually pretty solid with the Phillies, all Ruben Amaro was able to get back was a veteran outfielder that he non-tendered, a starter that became an ineffective reliever, and a top catching prospect that has suffered from concussion issues and may not be a long-term catcher. Nice haul, Ruben.

Let’s see what else Amaro has done that would make fans want to bitch and moan…hmmm…oh, Amaro gave up a draft pick that would later become catcher Steven Baron to sign the aged outfielder Raul Ibanez to a three year deal; while Ibanez was quite good in his first year with the Phillies, hitting .272 and smacking 34 balls out of the park in his first National League season, the veteran outfielder, brought in for power, dropped down to 16 and 20 home runs in the next two seasons. It’s easy to say that Ibanez was instrumental in getting the Phillies to the playoffs in all three of his seasons there, but Ibanez only had two postseason series under Charlie Manuel where he hit over .250, and both of those came in 2009.

Part of why I’m so critical on the Ibanez move, even though I admit to being a huge fan of the All-Star, is because it was a three year deal that hurt the development of top prospect Dominic Brown and came back to bite the Phillies badly. Why would you give a three year deal to an older hitter that would have been a perfect designated hitter? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to either see if he’d take a one year deal or go after another outfielder in the market, like Eric Hinske or Bobby Abreu?

Now, do I think that Ruben Amaro is making the right choice by giving his top prospects time to develop in the minor leagues without throwing them into the fire just yet? Yes, I do, but attacking your fanbase and calling them out for bitching and moaning is uncalled for. What they’re really bitching about, to tell you the truth, is that you going into win now mode has left the team in a rebuild that I don’t see them getting out of until 2018 at the earliest and the reminders of the win now era (Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Paplebon, and Cliff Lee) are all either injured or taking up space on the roster.

Look, Ruben, I get that you really want to make this team into a contender again and I respect that, but it’s not worth it to attack the fans that are sticking by you and the Phillies throughout the rebuild; it’s also not fair, and that’s the truth.

Do you think Ruben Amaro’s comments attacking the fans were out of line? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Is Youth Baseball Dying?

It’s no secret that baseball isn’t the most popular sport among young people, but how much of that has to do with youth baseball?

As Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen brought up in a piece for the Player’s Tribune earlier this year, part of youth baseball’s problem is the cost of playing (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

Mid-May, at least in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, is baseball season. It’s a time where not only are the Major League teams all in action, but Little League is starting up, high school ball is going strong, and kids are putting on their gloves and bats trying to be the next Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, or Alex Rodriguez…I’d hope a clean version, that is.

But, driving through the local towns, the baseball fields seem near abandoned, with the attention going to soccer fields and basketball courts. Even on a warm weeknight or a sunny Saturday, the ball fields don’t have the same level of excitement and hype as they once did…sadly. Along with a lack of interest in Major League Baseball goes a lack of interest in youth baseball, but this isn’t something that’s happened just suddenly.

In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “From 2000 to 2009, [then] the latest year for which figures are available, the number of kids aged 7 to 17 playing baseball fell 24%, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. Despite growing concerns about the long-term effects of concussions, participation in youth tackle football has soared 21% over the same time span, while ice hockey jumped 38%. The Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, another industry trade group, said baseball participation fell 12.7% for the overall population.”

A 38 percent jump in ice hockey? Damn, maybe those kids thought they’d be able to save the NHL from being locked out…ok, bad joke. Anyways, that was a big jump last decade, but, as Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen pointed out in a February piece for The Player’s Tribune, much of that may have to do with money.

“When you’re a kid from a low-income family who has talent, how do you get recognized? Now, you have to pay thousands of dollars for the chance to be noticed in showcase tournaments in big cities. My parents loved me, but they had to work hard to put food on the table, and there wasn’t much left over. They didn’t have the option of skipping a shift to take me to a tournament over the weekend. The hard choices started when I was very young. ‘Do you want that video game system for Christmas, or do you want a new baseball bat?”’

McCutchen, an All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates, then goes on to add, “A lot of talented kids my age probably picked the Playstation, and that was it. It was over for them. I always chose the new bat or glove. But all the scraping and saving in the world wasn’t going to be enough for my family to send me an hour north to Lakeland every weekend to play against the best competition. That’s the challenge for families today. It’s not about the $100 bat. It’s about the $100-a-night motel room and the $30 gas money and the $300 tournament fee. There’s a huge financing gap to get a child to that next level where they might be seen.”

All excellent points by McCutchen, but I think that the next thing he talks about might be the most important part of the entire piece:

“Even despite all the breaks I got with baseball, I probably wouldn’t be a Major League player right now if I didn’t tear my ACL when I was 15. I thought I was going to play college football. Why? Economics,” McCutchen, who turns 29 in October, admitted. “If I could’ve been a wide receiver for a D-I school, I would have chosen that path because of the promise of a full scholarship. The University of Florida offered me a baseball scholarship, but it only covered 70 percent of the tuition. My family simply couldn’t afford the other 30 percent. The fact is, no matter how good you are, you’re not getting a full ride in baseball.”

For McCutchen, the lack of full ride for baseball ended up not entirely mattering, as he ended up going eleventh overall in the 2005 MLB Draft and would sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates rather than attend UF, but the points he brings up are right on the money.

I’ve always thought, and it’s a point that McCutchen brings up in that piece for The Player’s Tribune, that athletes who have the choice between football/basketball or baseball will end up going with basketball or football because if they’re good enough, there’s a chance for an immediate impact money wise. If you’re a .255 hitting, low-income, shortstop with a great glove that is also a point guard with good ball-handling skills that might be able to play D1 basketball and go pro after two years, which are you picking?

Remember, many minor league baseball players will average a salary less than the federal poverty level of 11,490 dollars for a single person, and the average NBA salary, at least for the 2014-15 season, was 507,336 dollars, so let’s think for a second. You’re an 18 year old that comes from a single parent, low income, household, and you have the opportunity to either go off and play collegiate baseball and then get drafted into the MLB, or play collegiate basketball and then get drafted into the NBA.

Now, you’ve always had more of a soft side for baseball — the smell of fresh cut grass, the unique style of each field — but basketball will likely lead to more money in the short term. Which are you picking? Some of you may say, “I’d pick the sport I prefer more,” but if you come from a low-income area and you have the chance to possibly provide for your parents and siblings by going another route, which way would you go? The more rewarding one, right?

Plus, with baseball, you have to buy gloves, bat, socks, cleats, uniforms, and so forth, but with a sport like football, all you really need are gloves, cleats, and minor things like girdles; it’s not like you need to buy a helmet or knee pads, just pay for the league itself. Baseball is an expensive sport, which McCutchen continues to talk about in the TPT piece.

Then, you have to factor in things like training camps, academies, and those indoor facilities that will let you go in and hit off a tee, throw a bullpen, etc. Those may not sound too expensive, but if you come from a low-income area and you have to choose between that or paying for your car, what are you paying for? In an area like Westchester County, NY, which has seen several big-league players like Giants second baseman Joe Panik and Nationals outfielder Darin Mastroianni make the big leagues, money isn’t too much of an issue because Westchester is the fifth-richest county in America, but what about an inner city? What about a poor area?

Now, that’s not to say that youth baseball has fully died. As Forbes contributor Maury Brown reported in a piece published last August, “According to the head offices of Little League, approximately 2 million kids play youth baseball, and that number has held steady for the last 5 years.” That’s in comparison with Pop Warner football, which is seeing a continuous regression of kids playing due to concerns about concussions and brain trauma.

That 2 million staying steady over the years, by the way, is interesting because as recently as 1996, there were 2.5 million kids playing Little League Baseball. But, just because youth baseball has yet to fully die doesn’t mean that it’s not struggling. Look at inner cities, like Chicago and Detroit, and try to spot places where kids are actually playing baseball.

There have been plenty of programs over the years that are trying to get kids from the inner cities back into baseball, like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB’s Urban Youth Academy, but they’re not working. It’s not even just the financial aspect in those cities, where some kids are dirt poor to the point where they don’t even have baseballs to use, but think about the other sports popular in areas like that: football, basketball, and soccer, all of which might be more fun and more exciting to a younger child.

That’s not to say that everyone in the inner cities wants to see baseball die, though, In the music video for his 2009 hit “Beautiful” off of Relapse, Detroit rapper Eminem uses the city he calls home as a means of expressing the difficulties we have to fight through. One part of the video, and honestly my favorite part, has Eminem, real name Marshall Mathers and a dedicated Tiger fan, walking through the remnants of Tiger Stadium.

The reason why I bring up a song that was released six years ago this month is that as the camera (if you don’t want to listen to the whole song because of, well, Eminem, just skip to 3:03 and go from there) shows a construction crew knocking down the Tigers’ home from 1912-1999, the camera then pans to a youth baseball team with looks of sadness on their faces. One player, at the 3:26 mark, is even caught wiping his eyes, like he’s trying to erase tears from seeing the stadium being destroyed.

I’ve always interpreted that part as the kids crying not only because a piece of Detroit is being destroyed, but because it symbolizes their baseball dreams being crushed. Of course, the kids weren’t going to be playing ball at Tiger Stadium, that’s not the point; what Mathers and the video’s director, Anthony Mandler (a directing genius with an extensive videography) are showing by blending the ballplayers and Tiger Stadium is that inner city baseball is ending up in the same place as the classic stadiums that once hosted big league teams — being slowly destroyed.

The thing is, the video for ‘Beautiful’ was filmed in June of 2009 and released in July of that same year, and the message is still relevant, even six years later. The one real bright spot we’ve had for inner city baseball over the past few years has been Mo’ne Davis and the Jackie Robinson West team winning the U.S. title at the 2014 Little League World Series, and they had their title stripped earlier this year because they used players who were “outside the geographical area.”

So, is youth baseball dead? No, not yet, but is it dying? Yes, without a doubt, and I’m honestly not entirely sure that’s an easy fix. Even if kids start getting back into baseball and want to be the next Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw the way I wanted to be the next Derek Jeter, baseball is an expensive sport to play and is likely going to turn a lot of people off when they realize basketball or football might not only be cheaper, but also have more financial incentive in the long-term if they’re that good.

Plus, youth baseball is kind of boring unless you’re one of the best players. If you have the option of sitting in right field doing absolutely nothing and watch the pitcher stare down the catcher, then look back at the base, then stare down the catcher again, then scratch his cup, then stare down the catcher again, or playing soccer on defense and getting to move around all game, which are you playing? The same goes for football, where even being an offensive lineman can be more fun than playing baseball (something I admit to as a former tackle).

McCutchen did tackle that idea in the aforementioned article, but he thinks that part of it may have to do with teenage players from Latin America being signed to contracts worth 40,000 or 50,000 dollars. Now, that may be the case of why a player who has the choice between playing minor league baseball for a few years or going to college for two years and then going to the NBA might choose basketball, but for kids? I don’t necessarily know if a twelve year old kid is really thinking about big contacts at that point.

Unlike basketball or football, I think baseball is a sport where you really have to make it your one ‘craft’, so to speak, if you’re serious about it. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t focus entirely on basketball if you want to play in the NBA and might have a serious chance at it, but think about it like this: you can be a wide receiver and a shooting guard in high school and be fine, but what if you want to be a pitcher as well?

Between long toss, bullpen sessions, throwing on flat ground, sessions at the gym involving squatting and working on the core to increase velcoity, as well as hitting sessions for those who might also hit for their team, there’s not really much else time to do basketball. Even with football or something like tennis, kids who play for year-round ball teams really have to focus on baseball, not a side sport.

So, how do we go about fixing the ‘decline’ of youth baseball? Well…I think that if Rob Manfred can continue to make baseball more popular and exciting in the eyes of the youth, then perhaps more kids will start playing. I think we’re at a point where we may need something…drastic…to see a return of high interest in youth baseball, but I’m not sure right now.

Do you think there’s a chance that youth baseball can really be ‘saved’ and revived? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Ratings Are Back, Will They Stay

After a disappointing past few years with regards to TV ratings, are the numbers from the first month of the season a good sign for baseball?

Alex Gordon and the Kansas City Royals, after a World Series run last year, have been one of several teams to see dramatic TV rating boosts in 2015 (John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

It’s no secret that baseball’s been in a bit of a dry spell with regards to buzz and excitement in recent years. It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about how new commissioner Rob Manfred should try getting the youth back into baseball, and as it stands right now, more and more hype may be starting to come back to the game. It’s not perfect — yet — but it seems like Major League Baseball is starting to get the attention again. People like the pace of play rules, they like that games aren’t taking as long, and they like that small-market teams like the Astros and Twins have been playing extremely well as of late.

With excitement and hype comes the desire to watch these games, and with that desire means better TV ratings. You’d think that despite baseball slowly losing interest over the past few year that the big time networks — Fox and ESPN — would still have decent MLB ratings, right? Well…not really, as they’ve in fact been in a decline.

As Business Journalism pointed out in an article published last month, this decline isn’t something that just suddenly happened one day; rather, there’s been a slow — but steady — decrease in ratings since 2001, as the following pictures will demonstrate.

(Sports Business Journal)

I’ve pointed this out before, but part of that may be because we see the same teams — New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals — on it seemingly every single week, and part of it might also be that there’s more entertaining things on. But we were at a point last year where only one million viewers tuned into a Sunday Night game during the pennant race, featuring the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers.

But, this season has seen baseball ratings increase, and in a big way. First, let’s look at Opening Day. According to a press release put out last month, ESPN’s 2015 Major League Baseball season-opening viewership went up 48 percent from 2014, those stats coming via Nielsen. Through five games – MLB Opening Night (Cardinals-Cubs) and a MLB Opening Day quadruple-header (that included the return of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez from suspension) – ESPN averaged 1,370,000 viewers compared to 926,000 in 2014. ESPN also went up 50 percent in U.S. household rating (0.9 versus 0.6) compared to last year.

That Opening Night game, the Cardinals-Cubs one that ended in a victory for the Redbirds, that had 3,354,000 viewers, which is way up (47 percent, in fact) from 2014’s 2,279,000 viewers for 2014’s Dodgers-Padres opening game. Granted, that game was going up against the season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a series that beat the NFL and Sunday Night Football five out of eight times this past season, so that’s understandable. That particular episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘A’, did 15.67 million viewers, so ESPN shouldn’t take any offense.

But, back to baseball and those stats from the press release. Though the amount of views are definitely important, just look at the demographics and the improvements across the board there. We’re talking about 17 percent in the male 18-34 demographic (0.7 versus 0.6); 17 percent in males 18-49 (0.7 versus 0.6); 40 percent in M25-54 (0.7 versus 0.5); 67 percent in P18-34 (0.5 versus 0.3); 67 percent in P18-49 (0.5 versus 0.3); and 67 percent in P25-54 (0.5 versus 0.3). In short, younger people took time out of their Monday to not watch Netflix, but instead watch a baseball game.

Fox Sports also has done very well in the first month of baseball, as Awful Announcing reported earlier this week. After a very poor 2014 with regards to ratings, things look to be going in the upwards direction, with the average viewership for Major League Baseball on Fox rising by 26 percent over the first three Saturdays of the season, which was good for an average of 597,000 viewers per game.

If I’m Fox Sports, I’m also taking pride in the fact that a game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers did 817,000 viewers in an exclusive window. Now, that may sound weird that I’d be suggesting that it’s something to be proud of, but Fox Sports nearly did a million viewers in a game between two, non-major market teams. When you think of teams that would do 817,000 viewers on a Fox game, you’d think it’d be something like Yankees-Red Sox or Cardinals-Cubs, but Indians-Tigers.

Oh, and they happened to do more views than the game that followed it, Mets-Yankees that saw Matt Harvey pitch for the Metropolitans; that game did a still-good 647,000 viewers, which is still nearly 200,000 less than the Indians-Tigers game.

Oh, and it’s not just the big Fox Sports that’s doing well with regards to ratings. In fact, eight Fox Regional Sports Networks (think of Fox Sports Detroit, for example) rank either first or second in their local market in primetime ratings, those teams being the Indians, Tigers, Royals, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Rays. The Royals, most notably, are up a staggering 129% on Fox Sports Kansas City after making the World Series in 2014.

Now, are these ratings a fluke? Maybe, and let’s not forget that this was just for the first month of the season. But, this is progress, definite progress that I’m sure is exactly what Rob Manfred was hoping for when he took over as commissioner. For so long, Manfred has been talking about his desire to get people back into baseball, and if the ratings are anything to go off, then this is a great start.

Joe Lucia of Awful Announcing put it best: any positive signs are a good thing.

Do you think that these increased ratings are here to stay, or are they just a fluke? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Top Ten Subway Series Moments

With the 18th edition of the Subway Series starting tonight, we look at the ten most memorable moments since 1997

Mariano Rivera, the last player to ever wear 42, recorded his 500th save against the New York Mets in 2009 (Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

April in New York means hockey playoffs, basketball playoffs, and preparation for which disappointing quarterback will be joining the New York Jets shortly…yet, no one really cares about any of that right now. It’s Subway Series time, and for the first time in a long time, this series actually means something; both teams are contenders out of the gate, and the title of New York is on the line again. This isn’t a series just for pride anymore, and after a silly attempt at putting the Subway Series all in one week over the past two years (it was not a good idea, despite what some fans will tell you), there’s legitimate excitement all around the Big Apple.

It’s hard to believe, but 2015 marks the 18th year of the regular season Subway Series; this matchup, in fact, kicked off ten days (June 16th, 1997) after I was born, and it started with the Yankees’ dominant offense being shutout. So, some things haven’t changed it seems. In the past 18 years, we’ve had some fantastic moments from the Subway Series, but which were the absolute best?

Well, that’s what we’re here to count down. Whether it be regular season or from the World Series, a game in the Bronx or a game in Flushing, anything from the past 18 years is eligible for this list. Without further waiting, let’s take a look at what I believe to be the top moments from the Subway Series in the past two decades.

10. Yankees mess with the Johan

Nine earned runs, three innings, and a 15-0 loss…no, that’s not the statline of your MLB 15: The Show created player. Rather, that was the statline of Mets ace Johan Santana on June 14, 2009, in a blowout loss to the New York Yankees. For fans on both sides, this was an extremely memorable series, as we’ll see below, but this was the finishing touch; Santana was lit up badly by the Yankees, including giving up a two-run home run to Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, and his ERA went from 2.39 to 3.29 in the process. Not at all a good start from the two-time Cy Young winner, that’s for sure.

9. Koo bests Johnson

Do you remember Koo Dae-Sung? I didn’t really remember him, but all of the memories came back when I saw what he did in May 2005. Facing Yankees ‘ace’ (don’t let anyone fool you, Mike Mussina was the true ace of those teams) but still extremely intimidating Randy Johnson, the 35 year old Koo hit a double and then scored on a sacrifice bunt. The last time Koo had hit before facing Johnson, according to the left-hander, was in high school. What a legendary moment from a player that appeared in only 33 games during his illustrious MLB career.

8. Doc’s return to Shea

It’s not much of a memorable moment to some, but the five solid innings by Yankee starter Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden in July 2000 make this list for one reason only: it was the first time Doc Gooden had pitched at Shea Stadium since he was with the Mets. Gooden, who had pitched for both Houston and Tampa before coming back to New York, went five innings while allowing two runs in a 4-2 Bombers win. It wasn’t a perfect start, but it was definitely an emotional one and Doc got his team the win.

7. Jeter leads off with a bang

Our only moment on this list solely from the 2000 World Series between these two teams, now-retired Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter led off the game with a home run to swing the momentum back in the direction of the Bronx Bombers. There’s a reason why the future Captain won the World Series MVP award for this Fall Classic…

6. David Wright’s closes the door on Sandman

Ah, it’s hard to forget this signature moment of the 2006 Miracle Mets season. In only his second year starting at third, Mets star David Wright hit a walk off single against Rivera to give his team a 7-6 victory. It wasn’t quite David versus Goliath, but it surely was a bright moment in the then-young career of Sir Wright.

Do you remember Dae-Sung Koo? It may be hard to recall the Korean import, but many Met fans will never forget his double and subsequent scoring on Yankees ace Randy Johnson (NY Daily News)

5. Piazza vs. Clemens

Ah, one of baseball’s premier rivalries that featured blood and guts galore…well, just blood, though I’m sure Mets catcher Mike Piazza would have loved to rip out Roger Clemens’ guts like a zombie from The Walking Dead (sorry, brother). Anyways, we should all know the story by now: Clemens domed Piazza in the summer of 2000, then there was the whole bat incident in the World Series, Piazza goes deep against Clemens in 2002, and then the beef kind of lost its relevancy. Seeing as some of you probably got very excited when you heard the word blood, here’s the aforementioned bat incident.

4. Dave Mlicki starts it off right

With all of the great names on the old Mets and Yankee teams — Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Al Leiter, David Wells, Rick Reed — you’d think that the first pitcher to throw a shutout in the Subway Series would be a premier name, right? Well, it was veteran Dave Mlicki who threw that first shutout, he of the 8-12, 4.00 ERA season in 1997. In fact, Mlicki did it in the Subway Series’ first ever game, shutting down the Yankees by a final score of 6-0.

3. Mo joins the 500 club

Thirteen years after his first save, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera joined the 500 save club with a four out closing of the New York Mets. Like most of Rivera’s other outings, the opposing hitters were fooled by the cutter, as Sandman struck out two and forced Alex Cora into a game-ending groundout. Not bad, old man.

2. Carlos Delgado breaks the Bombers

June 2008 is going to be remembered by every Met fan for what was, essentially, the beginning of the end. It’s a time where Mets manager and former New York Yankee Willie Randolph was fired and Jerry Manuel was named his replacement, a move that began a streak of mediocrity and inconsistency…but, June 2008 was also a time where Carlos Delgado, the oft-criticized Mets first baseman, finally began to show why the team had so much faith in him as their veteran leader. In the first game of a double header in the Bronx, Delgado recorded two home runs nine RBI in the Mets’ 15-6 rout of their crosstown rivals.

June of 2008

1. Luis Castillo drops the ball…literally

Michael Kay said it best…A-Rod becomes the hero with a pop up.

What are your favorite moments from the Subway Series? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

The Best and Worst of John Sterling

Yankees radio play by play man John Sterling has had some interesting home run calls over the years, but which stand out the most?

Sterling, 76, has been the Yankees’ radio announcer since 1989 and has never missed a game (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

Well, we’re ten games into the Major League Baseball season, and the New York Yankees are 4-6. To some, it’s not a surprise, and to some, the team is actually overachieving. I don’t know if I’d go that far, because I thought the Yankees were better than people were giving them credit for, but it’s definitely been an interesting start to the season so far.

To start (no pun intended), Alex Rodriguez has been the team’s best hitter. Look, we all knew that expectations for Alex Rodriguez entering this season were lower than the approval rating of The Phantom Menace, and for good reason: Rodriguez missed all of last season due to suspension, and he hasn’t been a truly solid player since 2011 or even 2010. Yet, Rodriguez is off to a .344/.432/.781 start with four home runs and eleven runs batted in…not bad, old man.

One of the best parts about Rodriguez’s hot start isn’t just the fact that every baseball fan that doesn’t root for the New York Yankees is losing, but also that we get to hear John Sterling’s home run call for A-Rod again. Sterling, who has been the Yankees’ radio announcer since 1989, ends every Rodriguez home run with a call of “It’s an A-Bomb…from A-Rod” and I like to mimic it on my Twitter, in large part because it seems to annoy the A-Rod hating baseball fan.

There’s a lot of people out there that seem not to like Sterling, and I honestly can see why. He makes plenty of mistakes behind the mic, and some of his home run calls are…less than stellar. But, that’s a large part of why so many people do enjoy Sterling’s work: his signature home run calls for every player. It doesn’t matter if you’re Curtis Granderson or Colin Curtis — Sterling will find a way to make a home run call for you, and it adds a certain…uniqueness to the game.

But, which are the best and worst home run calls from John Sterling? Keep in mind, I’ve left off many calls, but this isn’t an all-time list of every call that Sterling has done (if you are interested in something like that, though, there’s a Yankee blog that’s been collecting as many of John Sterling’s home run calls as humanly possible. How could we forget Nick Green’s home run call?) and this list is not in order. I may put player A’s call above player B, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy the call more. Think of this as a non-ordered list, but it’s only ordered in terms of sub-headings.

So, without further waiting, let’s get right into the best and worst of John Sterling.

The Best:

3B/DH Alex Rodriguez — “It’s an A-Bomb…from A-Rod! Alexander the Great conquers again!”

Well, we may as well start off with the one that helped inspire the creation of this article. You know, despite all of his flaws, I still remain and will always be a huge fan of Alex Rodriguez, and this home run call was one of the things that helped endear me to him. We have two instances of history (the Atomic Bomb and Alexander the Great) being used in conjunction with a baseball hitter in a way that, actually, makes sense. Nice one, John.

OF/DH Shane Spencer — “Shane Spencer, the Home Run Dispenser!”

This was a call I didn’t get to hear too much, seeing as Spencer played for the Yankees when I was a small child, but I’ve always had a thing for this call. There’s just something about the execution of this call, and the rhyme with Spencer and dispenser, that makes this one of Sterling’s best calls over the years.

OF Bernie Williams — “Bernie goes boom! Bern baby, Bern!”

This one’s easy. Not only is it a pun on the song ‘Disco Inferno‘, but there’s some great alliteration here and it’s just an overall fun call. Plus, the ‘bern, baby, Bern’ part is pretty catchy, and I enjoy it a lot.

3B Chase Headley — “You can bank on Chase! Headley is deadly!”

I love this home run call, even if we haven’t even heard it for a full year. When the Yankees acquired Chase Headley last season from the San Diego Padres, I had a feeling that Sterling would go for a Headley is deadly pun, but the bank on Chase part is an excellent addition. As you’ll see below, some of Sterling’s more recent calls haven’t been anywhere close to good, but this one is great.

1B/OF Eric Hinske — “Hinske with your best shot!”

There’s not much to say here, other than I love the Pat Benatar pun; the call, of course, is a reference to Benatar’s hit “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” from 1980. Again, not bad, John.

The Worst:

1B Lance Berkman — “Sir Lancelot rides to the rescue!  C’est lui!  C’est lui!”

What. I’m linking this just so you can see how ridiculous this is.

2B/SS Stephen Drew — “Stephen Drew! How do you do? He sends a Drewskie to the fans!”

What a terrible call. A Drewskie? That may be one of the worst calls I’ve ever heard, and this is coming from someone who loves John Sterling. I was joking about it on Twitter this week, but Sterling’s call really should have been something along the lines of, “Stephen Drew that one up perfectly!” or something with a play on words with Drew. But Drewskie? What?

OF Chris Young — “Chris Young, younger than springtime! Chris Young, forever young!”

No. No. No. No! No. What kind of call is this?

3B Yangervis Solarte — “Never Nervous Yangervis! Solarte, woh woh…Solarte, woh woh woh.”

Please make this stop. Please. Then, you realize that Sterling sings part of that call. Please, I can’t take any more of these awful calls.

Honestly, some of the more recent Yankees have had the really bad calls, because I can live with some of Sterling’s older calls. Let’s be real for a second…I would much rather have Sterling’s call for Gary Sheffield (The Master Sheff! A Sheff Special!) than Stephen Drew’s call, and I loathed Sheffield’s call.

The eh:

LF/DH Hideki Matsui — “It’s a thrilla by Godzilla! The Sayonara Kid does it again!”

As a kid, I flat out loved this call. Some years later, and after having heard it so many times, this falls under the eh section because of the second part. The Sayanora Kid? I would have preferred Sterling just stick with the thrilla by Godzilla part, but it’s not an awful call. I get that Matsui is Japanese, and Sterling likes to show where players come from, but this is too much.

C Russell Martin — “Russell shows muscle.  Monsieur Martin est la.”

Again, this is another call that isn’t bad, but would have been perfectly fine if Sterling cut it off after the first sentenced. I like the Russell shows muscle part, but then Sterling has to add the French…we get it, Martin is from Canada and can speak French.

 

The Greatest:

1B Mark Teixeira — “Mark sends a Teix message! You’re on the Mark, Teixeira!”

Yes, this may shock some people, but this is probably my favorite John Sterling home run call. Everything that you want from a Sterling call is here; you have the pun, the play on words, and it’s said in such a fluid way time after time that you can’t help but repeat it when you hear it. This used to be tied with Alex Rodriguez’s home run call, but this call has just grown on me so much over the past few years that I can’t help but put it there.

So, is John Sterling an amazing radio play-by-play man? Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I will say that it’s always a pleasure to listen to him and his…unique home run calls. Hopefully, Sterling can get back to making some better calls, because some of the recent ones have been pretty bad…I need to go get the Chris Young and Stephen Drew ones out of my head soon.

But hey, I can’t hate too much on someone that has called every New York Yankees game since 1989, meaning he never missed one of Derek Jeter’s hits or Mariano Rivera’s saves. If that’s not dedication to your trade, then I don’t know what is. I guess you can’t predict baseball sometimes…

What are some of your favorite John Sterling home run calls? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.

 

Can Hamilton Reinvent Baseball?

In a time where offense is supposedly dying, is Billy Hamilton’s speed the key to changing the game?

Hamilton, 24, already has seven stolen bases through his team’s first five games (David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

Offense is dying, they say. The game of baseball is becoming even more boring with the lack of monstorous home runs, they say. Well, if you’re someone who thinks baseball is becoming ‘even more boring’ in a time where offense is dropping, I recommend you turn your attention to Cincinnati.

Before we became a society that loved upper deck home runs and shots that would go further than the eye could see, baseball loved small ball and when I say that, I don’t mean shifts and sabermetrics. Home runs were cool and all — sexy, if you will — but there were few things better than pure strategy, where your leadoff hitter would get on base, steal second, steal third, and advance home on a base hit by the next batter. The art of strategy has definitely been revived over the past few years with the addition of shifts, sabermetrics, and LOOGYs, but stolen bases seemed to be a dying art.

Sure, there were players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Reyes, and Juan Pierre that would consistently come close to swiping 70 bases a year, but we were in the age of power. Instead of your leadoff hitter being a guy that would get on, steal second and third, and find his way home, there were teams that instead chose to put a hitter in the leadoff spot who would get on base and set the table for the rest of the order. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, for example, had outfielder Nick Swisher hit leadoff during parts of the 2011 season due to an injury to shortsop Derek Jeter instead of, say, Brett Gardner or Curtis Granderson (two much faster players than Swisher) because Swisher had a .374 OBP in 2011.

In the six games leading off, Swisher hit .316, but I still find it interesting that so many teams went with pure OBP over speed at the leadoff position. That definitely played a role in the decrease of stolen bases, and remember, it was only three years ago that Padres shortstop Evereth Cabrera stole a measley 44 bases to lead the National League. What happened to all of the stealing?

Anyways, it looks the art of stolen bases is back, thanks to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton. After stealing 56 bases last year, but also being caught 23 times, Hamilton has stolen 7 bases in 7 attempts in his first five games this year. Though Hamilton’s hitting remains low, as he’s currently hitting .222/.364/.222 to start the season, the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up has improved his patience (four walks to four strikeouts after a 34-117 ratio last year) and is looking like the type of feared leadoff hitter we all expected him to be for Bryan Price’s Reds.

For what it’s worth, when I say feared leadoff hitter, just watch what he did in the opening series against Pittsburgh on a pitch-out.

I’m sorry, Josh Harrison. That is the baseball equivalent of having your ankles broken.

Hamilton is the first player since Vince Coleman in 1987 to steal six bases in his first three games, and Coleman finished with 109 stolen bases. Now, that number has jumped up to seven in five games, When Rickey Henderson stole 130 bases for the 1982 ‘Billy Ball’ Oakland Athletics, he had five through seven games, so Hamilton is on pace to beat the stolen base king. What’s caused this change in Hamilton’s game?

“It’s something me and Hatch [coach Billy Hatcher] have been working together with since I’ve been here. It’s different from last year,” Hamilton told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon earlier this week. “We have Joey [Votto], who is hot right now. I feel like now, I don’t have to steal right away. I don’t have to steal on the first pitch or second pitch. I can wait around a little bit and go whenever the right time is so I feel confident over there.”

With offense in the drought that it is, maybe Hamilton’s stolen base prowess is going to help revive the stolen base game to a level we haven’t seen in years. The same way that we’re seeing heavier cleanup hitter bunt when they have the entire left side of the infield open, there’s a chance we’ll see more players take more chances on the basepaths.

With all of the brilliantly fast players there are in Major League Baseball right now, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see more and more players follow in Hamilton’s footsteps and record anywhere from 35 to 55 stolen bases a season. It may sound like a high number range, but players are going to have to compensate for the offensive power outage we’re in right now.

Now, is Hamilton going to break Henderson’s record? I don’t necessarily think so, but I do think Hamilton is going to be baseball’s first player to steal 80 bases in a single season since…both Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson back in 1988.

Do you think that Hamilton’s success with stolen bases to start the season can ‘reinvent’ baseball and help fix the offensive drought? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

No Love In L.A.

After an arbitrator ruled that Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton would not be suspended for a relapse, Hamilton’s employer had some choice words for the former MVP

Hamilton, 33, will not be suspended by Major League Baseball for his recent relapse (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Hamilton, 33, will not be suspended by Major League Baseball for his recent relapse (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

Sometimes, with a television show, you’ll have what’s called a ‘wham episode.’ With a wham episode, something, or some things, happen that will make your jaw drop in shock, your fists clench in nervousness, and your brain start going crazy at things that could occur in the near future due to events in the wham episode. The recent season finale for AMC’s The Walking Dead, for example, could be considered a wham episode, what with the return of a certain character and what they see upon their reunion with character B; if you were a fan of Breaking Bad, also on AMC, one of my favorite wham episodes from the entire series was the episode ‘Blood Money’…yeah, you know what episode that is!

Anyways, my love of AMC shows aside, Friday was as close to a wham episode as we’ve had in Major League Baseball that we’ve had in a long time. Not only was Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana suspended 80 games for testing positive for steroids, but it was announced that Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, a six-time All-Star and the 2010 American League MVP, would not be suspended for a recent relapse; Hamilton, of course, struggled with a drug addiction for several years and was once baseball’s poster boy for clean living.

The initial concern was that Hamilton, in his relapse, had violated the league’s drug agreement, but that’s apparently not the case. According to an arbitrator, Hamilton would not be suspended because the Joint Drug Agreement only calls for discipline if the player (a) refuses to submit to evaluations and followup tests; (b) “consistently fails to participate in mandatory sessions with his assigned health care professional”; (c) his health care professional tells Major League Baseball that the player is not cooperating; or (d) the player tests positive for a drug of abuse. So, by turning himself in, Hamilton was able to avoid any of these, and now he’s going to work on atoning for his mistake.

That sounds all good and fine, right? Well, not quite. Hamilton’s employer, the Los Angeles Angels, seemed to be expecting an incoming suspension, or at least some type of discipline, as evidenced by statements put out by the front office on Friday.

“The Angels have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans. We are going to do everything possible to assure he receives proper help for himself and for the well-being of his family,” Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto said in a statement on Friday morning. Some have taken issue with that statement, but I don’t think it’s as bad as people are making it out to be.

DiPoto is disappointed that Hamilton relapsed, and I am as well. Could he have maybe said it in a somewhat kinder way? Sure, but when it comes to people relapsing on drugs or alcohol, disappointment is often a very common feeling, and he even said that the Angels are going to help and support Hamilton despite his relapse. With that being the case, I can’t say DiPoto said anything that bad. But, the same doesn’t go for Angels president John Carpino, who said the following:

“It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”

You know, John, I’m glad that’s your concern when one of your players just relapsed after years of being clean. I get that baseball is a business, but the fact you’d talk like that about one of your players — and to the press, no less — is appalling. If Carpino wanted to say it behind closed doors, fine, I can’t control that or be upset at what happens there. But to the press? This makes all of the Yankee officials bashing Alex Rodriguez look like the Joe Torre-Derek Jeter relationship in comparison.

I mean, we’re talking about a player that failed six drug tests in a three year span and has seen so many lows and highs the past decade and a half, and your priority is the lack of logic in Hamilton’s non-suspension? Way to tell Josh that you care about your player’s health, John.

Of course, Hamilton has been a disappointment in his first two seasons in Los Angeles, only hitting .255/.316/.426 with 31 homers and 123 RBI since the start of 2013. Factor that in with his relapse, and the Angels would love to see him suspended so that he’s off the hook for some money he’s owed. I get it, but they do realize that this is still a human being, right? This isn’t even tough love; this is an organization prioritizing money and contracts over the health of an employee, one who is still battling a deadly disease.

When was the last time you saw a team be this frustrated that a player wasn’t suspended? You would think that a team like the Angels, one that could realistically be World Series contenders in 2015, would be happy that Hamilton isn’t suspended and would then turn their attention to getting him healthy, right? Instead, we have an organization that is seemingly appalled at Major League Baseball’s decision not to suspend their slugging outfielder.

Should Josh Hamilton have been suspended? No, because a better punishment for him is Hamilton living with the fact that he relapsed. Now, you may be saying that me saying that is just as harsh, if not harsher, than the comments made by the Angels’ front office, but the difference is that I have no affiliation with Hamilton and I didn’t want to see him suspended. All I want from Josh Hamilton, truth be told, is for him to stay clean — I don’t care if he retires tomorrow as long as he manages to stay clean and serene.

But, it’s hard to stay clean and serene when you have people close to you doubting your ability to be healthy and wanting you to fail. Hopefully, Josh Hamilton can get clean again, and if he can’t get it done in Los Angeles, then I’m sure there are plenty of other teams that would want Josh Hamilton, the baseball player, and Josh Hamilton, the person.

Do you think that the comments made by the Angels’ front office were out of line? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.

MLB All-Time Broadcasting Team

There have been plenty of great MLB announcers over the years, but which are the absolute best?

vin-scully-mlb-los-angeles-dodgers-season-preview-850x560

Vin Scully, who is still going strong at age 87, is entering his 66th season broadcasting games for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we’re less than a week away from the official return of Major League Baseball for the 2015 season. Teams are deciding who they want starting on Opening Day, minor leaguers and players on the bubble are doing their best to show why they should be taking place in the Opening Day ceremonies, and baseball is almost back.

With the start of the baseball season comes the return of some of our favorite broadcasters, everyone from the living legends (Vin Scully and Jon Miller) to the young guys (Ryan Ruocco). As a New Yorker, I’m a bit spoiled because I’ve gotten to listen to both the YES (Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network) and SportsNet New York (who broadcasts the New York Mets) over the years, and both networks have excellent crews. There are plenty of broadcasters that have been fantastic over the years, but if I were to make an all-time broadcasting team, who would be on that list?

So, what goes into a broadcaster making this list? Well, it’s part longevity, but it’s also just personal taste about five broadcasters who I’d pick as the guys to broadcast anything from a World Series game 7 to an exhibition game in Toyko, Japan. There are two teams, so to speak, the TV and Radio team. All broadcasters on this list worked in both TV and radio, so I split them up as just an easy way of having my five broadcasters not crowded in one booth. I’ve definitely left off a lot of deserving people, so make sure to send me your all-time broadcasting team. Without further waiting, let’s head to the booth.

TV:

Vin Scully:

It’d be so wrong to make a list like this and not have Vin Scully on it, even if you’re someone who hates the Dodgers with everything in your body. There’s a term known as ‘GOAT’ which stands for Greatest of All Time, and Scully is the epitome of a GOAT. I’ve always joked that the only time I sleep without waking up at least once is when I hear Vin Scully broadcasting a Dodgers game, mainly because the way Scully commentates is so calm and relaxing. As much as I honestly enjoy listening to guys like Duane Kuiper (San Francisco) and Ken Harrelson (Chicago White Sox) who put a lot of emotion and emphasis in their calls, Scully is one of the few broadcasters out there who excels with a, for lack of a better term, quiet way of commentating.

But, that’s always been the case with Scully, who is entering his 66th season broadcasting games for the Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers. To give you an idea of how long Scully has been broadcasting, he’s had a longer career than fourteen of the league’s thirty teams have even been around, and if you want to count teams that at some point have moved cities and made ‘new franchises’ (not counting a team like the Oakland Athletics that only changed cities), that number shoots up to sixteen. Scully’s called everything from perfect games to four home runs in a row, and it only makes sense to put the GOAT on our list, right?

Jack Buck:

We go from a broadcaster still going strong to one that actually replaced Vin Scully on the World Series radio broadcasts, that being former St. Louis Cardinals play-by-play man, Jack Buck. Father of the somewhat loved, somewhat hated, Joe Buck, Jack Buck was the broadcaster you wanted announcing your wedding, your graduation, and your funeral; Buck was able to mix excitement with a love for the game, something we often criticize his son, Joe, for not doing. Some of the most notable calls in recent baseball memory — Kirk Gibson’s home run in 1988, Ozzie Smith’s walk off in 1985, Kirby Puckett letting fans know that he’d see you tomorrow night in 1991 — were all called by Buck, and all had a level of excitement that can send chills down one’s back.

Also, as a native New Yorker, maybe I’m a little partial to putting Buck on this list because of his beautiful poem that followed the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

Phil Rizzuto:

Unfortunately, I missed out on hearing Rizzuto call games, as he retired following the 1996 season and I was born in June 1997, but the late, great, Scooter’s legacy lives on nearly two decades after he hung up the microphone. What I’ve always loved and respected about the way that Rizzuto called games was his creativity and humor, something that helped make the slow game of baseball more enjoyable; from wishing listeners happy birthday to eating a canoli in between innings, Rizzuto was a colorful character that broadcast Yankee games for 40 years.

What was great about Rizzuto’s commentary was that he could make a boring game one worth watching, instead of flipping the channel to watch a re-run of some sitcom. So often, we talk about how baseball is boring and we want to find ways to keep watching the game, but Rizzuto was a reason in itself for Yankee fans to keep listening, even during the dark years of 1982-1994. With my TV crew, we have a poetic broadcaster in Scully, an excited one with Buck, and a humorous, creative one with Rizzuto. That, friends, is a pretty good crew in my eyes.

Radio:

Ernie Harwell:

Another broadcaster I unfortunately didn’t get to hear much before his death in 2010, Harwell was to Detroit what Buck was to St. Louis: when you listened to Harwell, you weren’t listening to baseball, but life itself. From Norm Cash to Mike Maroth, Harwell broadcasted parts of five decades for the Detroit Tigers, trading a normal play-by-play style for a more conversational one, not unlike Phil Rizzuto. To be blunt, Detroit baseball was not as good as they are now for the majority of Harwell’s tenure, only recording four playoff appearances — and only two after 1972 — across those five decades, but fans still tuned in daily to hear Harwell’s thoughts on a batter “who stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by,” or about a young fan from Kalamazoo that caught a foul ball.

Alas, Harwell seems to have been somewhat forgotten in recent years, but there’s no denying what a fantastic broadcaster he was. It’s a shame that the Tigers were so bad in his final years broadcasting, because this is a guy that deserved to call at least one more playoff game in Detroit. Rest in peace, Ernie.

Jon Miller:

I end this list with the former host of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and the Major League Baseball 2K series, Jon Miller. Before Sunday Night Baseball became Dan Shulman’s gig (and Dan is an extremely underrated announcer, for what it’s worth), Sunday nights belonged to Jon Miller, a poetic, easy going San Franciscoan with a love for Shakespeare and homers. Regardless if it was a Yankees-Red Sox thriller or a matchup between the Cubs and Brewers that was over relatively quickly, Miller made Sunday nights baseball nights with flawless broadcasting, emphatic calls, and witty banter with former Reds second baseman Joe Morgan that kept our eyes glued to the screen and our remote on the counter.

I also have to give Miller credit for something that not many people think about when his name is mentioned. Since the late 90s, Jon Miller has done broadcasting work for the San Francisco Giants, a team that employed the controversial outfielder, Barry Bonds, for fifteen seasons. In 2007, Bonds’ final big league season, the slugger hit his 756th career home run, taking hold of the record previously owned by former Atlanta Braves star Hank Aaron. At the time, there were a lot of people upset with Bonds because of his past mistakes when it came to performance-enhancing drugs, but Miller, a self-described puritan, still called the home run as if Bonds had done no wrong. Sure, Miller was employed by the team that Bonds played for, but the Hall of Fame announcer could have acted nonchalant about it because of the player’s history.

Is it the excitement that, say, John Sterling shows when a member of the New York Yankees hits a home run. No, but just the fact that Miller would show the level of excitement that he did — for a puritan — is partly why I remain a big fan of his despite only hearing him when I listen to a stream of a Giants game.

Finally, though he wasn’t on this list, I’d like to give a special mention to the late, great, Bobby Murcer. Growing up in suburban New York, watching Yankee games on the YES Network became a hobby of mine that soon turned into a requirement, in part because of how much I loved listening to Bobby Murcer. There’s an honest part of me that is studying communications at Florida Atlantic University starting in the fall of 2015 because when I was much younger, I wanted to follow in Bobby Murcer’s footsteps.

Though I never met Bobby Murcer, I’ll always remember the late Oklahoman that inspired me to go down the path that I have. Rest in peace, Bobby.

What MLB broadcasters are on your all-time broadcasting team? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,482 other followers