A couple of baseball thoughts on the flight to Phoenix as football’s biggest week begins.
There is some talk now — not yet serious talk, I don’t think, but talk still — about adding a pitcher’s clock to speed up baseball games and some sort of ban on defensive shifts to open up offense. These are two ideas to address two of baseball’s biggest problems. One, the games are too long. Two, teams aren’t scoring enough runs.
You could argue a lot of things here. You could argue that one or the other are not really problems but, instead, are simply phases the game is going through right now. A decade ago, any idea to help teams score MORE runs would have been viewed as nonsensical. And for all the grumbling about pace of play — much of it, admittedly, coming from this blog — more people are going to baseball games and watching baseball games than ever before.
So you could argue that these aren’t real problems. You could argue that even if they are real problems, they will work out themselves. You could argue that these solutions wouldn’t work. You could also argue that even if these solutions did work they would cause other even more difficult problems.
What strikes me instead is why I love baseball so much.
So, I’ve been a bit — OK, more than a bit — distracted lately finishing this and doing lots of that and traveling with family, and I’ve been tinkering with the idea of Hall of Fame e-book that I would sell for charity. I’ll get back to you on that one later … maybe you would volunteer to help e edit it.
In any case, in the last month or two, I’ve come across a bunch cool things. I turned forty-eight, and one my fears of growing older is losing joy for things. I’ve noticed that does pop up from time to time. I don’t love football like I once did, for instance. I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, yeah, there’s the NCAA and Roger Goodell and concussions and domestic violence and the persistent buzzkill that is my Cleveland Browns, and I’m sure all of those things contribute. But, man, I used to love football. I lived for football. Baseball always mattered to me, I thought about it all the time, but football (especially Cleveland Browns football) that was breathing, that was eating, that was life.
It’s not life anymore. I still like football. Still like writing about it. Don’t love it.
Here is the sum total of what I have learned in my first 48 years:
1. It’s “shovel pass” not shuffle and certainly not shuttle.
2. Abracadabra does not rhyme with “reach out and grab ya.”
(And don’t get me started on “Texas” and “Facts is.”)
3. The proper time to go for 2 is almost never.
4. The proper time to intentionally walk someone is almost never.
5. White chocolate is not chocolate.
Big Hall of Fame piece tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day, and the next …) but here’s a quick rundown on the ballot percentages and my predictions in parentheses:
Predicted 0 votes:
Aaron Boone: 2
Tom Gordon: 2
Tony Clark: 0
Eddie Guardado: 0
Rich Aurilia: 0
Jermaine Dye: 0
Cliff Floyd: 0
Jason Schmidt: 0
Takeaway: The people who do the most interesting Hall of Fame ballots never write stories about them; I wish they would. I wish the voters would explain how, on this ballot, they found room to vote for Aaron Boone and Tom Gordon. Maybe it would be a great story. Maybe Boone or Gordon saved their lives. Maybe Boone or Gordon taught their children how to read. I want the story, I really do.
Prediction: There are 16 players on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot who will not receive 5% of the vote and, as such, will be bumped off the ballot. It is possible that one or two of these players will climb above 5% — and it’s also possible that one or two more players fall below. But this is my call: Sixteen players will miss out, including some very accomplished players.
Fun facts about five of the 16 players I think will not get 5% of the vote this year:
— One of them hit 600 home runs and three times surpassed Roger Maris’ magic 61 homers in a season mark.
— One of them hit 500 home runs and created more runs in his career than Honus Wagner, George Brett or Mike Schmidt.
— One of them hit more home runs than Yaz and drove in more RBIs than Mantle.
— One of them had the highest OPS for any shortstop in baseball history.
— One of them had a .400 career on-base percentage and more batting runs than Pete Rose.
The last three players might not get 1% of the vote, much less 5% of the vote.
An old editor once told me that at the end of every year, I should look back and write down 10 or so favorite stories of the year. That way, he said, you will know if you spent the year writing fun stories or just thinking about good stories.
I’m not a good judge of my own work. But I did think I wrote a lot of fun stuff in 2014. Thank you as always for reading. Here are 13 of my favorite pieces of 2014:
— Lessons from Sochi. It’s hard for me to believe that the Winter Olympics were in 2014 … it seems a very, very long time ago.
— The Bat Artist. Nobody really knows what “pure hitter” really means. As the cliche goes, there probably doesn’t need to be a definition. You just need a photograph of Tony Gwynn.
—Burnley. My favorite trip of the year — to Burnley, the smallest city to ever have a Premier League club. I cannot wait to go back.
— Life and Times of the King. Richard Petty’s life as country song.
— Vanguard after the Revolution. Bill James. “Bullshit has tremendous advantages over knowledge.”
— Priest. Priest Holmes was a fantasy football God. For him, the price was worth it.
— Royals, small towns and the word “Unbelievable.” Margo and her magical team.
— Sluggin’ Joe Baumann and his magical home run summer of 1954.
— Tennis and life. And losing weight.
— Emily Scott. Why I love the Olympics despite the many problems.
— Hobbs. “You’re the best player I ever had. And you’re the best godammed hitter I ever saw.”
— You don’t have to be lonely. At Farmer’s Only dot com.
— Playing tennis with Ivan Lendl. Sometimes, your heroes live up to your expectations.
So, here’s what I did — I put together two surveys. Both surveys had the exact same 10 names — 10 player who I think (as players) are well-qualified hall of Famers. They are, in alphabetical order:
1. Jeff Bagwell
2. Craig Biggio
3. Barry Bonds
4. Roger Clemens
5. Shoeless Joe Jackson
6. Randy Johnson
7. Pedro Martinez
8. Mike Piazza
9. Pete Rose
10. Curt Schilling
Of the 10, two will get elected this year — Johnson and Martinez. Two have a pretty good shot getting elected this year or next — Biggio and Piazza. I’m not quite sure what to make of Bagwell, but I suspect he will eventually get elected. Bonds and Clemens are obviously their own case. Jackson and Rose are ineligible. And, on this list, only Schilling has an uphill climb because some don’t think he was a good enough player.
The boy sat on a city bus at the end of another semester, Christmas approached, and he stared out the window and watched people talking and smoking in a business park. There were no illusions left. He wasn’t going to become an accountant like his mother had hoped. His accounting professors had made that clear with failing grades. Then, the boy had known the truth for a long time. Even the most basic accounting concepts eluded him. Credits. Debits. He just couldn’t get those clear in his mind. Weren’t debits good and credits bad? But then, why is it good when your account gets credited? And why was debit so close in spelling to debt? Mysteries.
The boy was 18 years old, and he knew only two things about himself. The first thing he knew was that he had no discernible talents. He couldn’t sing, write or draw. He wasn’t strong enough to impress anyone when he worked at the factory, wasn’t glib enough to sell anything to anybody, wasn’t ambitious enough to excel despite his shortcomings. He called himself average and strongly suspected that this was probably optimistic. He wasn’t quite average height, couldn’t see past his nose without glasses and already he was balding.
The second thing the boy knew about himself was that he loved sports.
It wasn’t much to go on.
There’s a negotiation tactic, I don’t know what it’s called, where you give in on something big and then basically expect to be repaid for the rest of your life. For instance, let’s say two people — call them Bill and Ted — want the big office at work.They argue about it for months until finally one day Bill, out of the blue, says: “Fine, you can have the big office, but you owe me.” Ted readily agrees only to find out “you owe me” means that every single day Bill with remind Ted of his magnanimous gesture, Bill will borrow his car repeatedly, Bill will take his parking spot, Bill will expect Ted to pick up the check every time, on and on and on, endlessly.
I’m saying: The Royals are beginning to feel an awful lot like Bill, and I’m feeling an awful lot like Ted.
The Royals have, best I can tell, had an offseason right out of nightmares from Christmas past. It has seemed so absurdly bad to me — so reminiscent of the famous Royals Juan Gonzalez and Jose Guillen free-agent agonies — that I keep thinking it’s all an elaborate gag. You might remember the bit Dennis Miller used to do back before he got political; he would pretend to be setting an impression of Cary Grant acting as Ulysses S. Grant — and then he would suddenly stop and go, “No, I’m just f——— with you, I would never do that.” I keep thinking Dayton Moore will stand up and laugh and say, “No, I’m just kidding, we didn’t REALLY sign Alex Rios for $11 million. Come on, seriously, who would do that?”