Ichiro is Hall of Fame eligible (and a digression about Pete Rose)

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Thumbnail image for ichiro_090906.jpgStuff you don’t think about very much: you have to have played in the majors for ten years to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Doesn’t come up too often of course because it’s hard to imagine a nine-year career that would be worthy of discussion. I mean, sure, Lynn Jones may have his supporters, but it was always a stretch that he was going to be inducted. Freakin’ politics.

An exception to this rule? Ichiro, who has seemed like he’s been around forever, but only has nine full seasons under his belt. Monday marked the beginning of his tenth, and by the rules of the Hall of Fame, he is now eligible.  Rules that, were he hit by a bus over the winter, probably would have been changed because as people don’t often realize, one woman and a small handful of people who know the value of good politics can simply change those rules if the mood strikes.* Thankfully that didn’t have to happen, of course.

And yes, Ichiro is a Hall of Famer. Perhaps he’s a bit overrated, but being overrated doesn’t mean that you’re not still pretty spectacular. It simply means that people overstate your contributions on occasion. Ichiro is pretty spectacular. And he’s famous. And though he wasn’t the first Japanese player in Major League Baseball history, as a position player he’s still something of a groundbreaker. Even if you totally discount what he did in NPB — which you should not — he still makes the Hall of Fame in my book and I would hope everyone else’s. Once you include his NPB accomplishments he’s a first ballot guy.

But the point is now he can get hit by a bus if he wants to, because he’s totally good to go.

*This is always what has bugged me about the Pete Rose thing. The reason he’s not in the Hall of Fame is not because he’s banned from baseball. The reason is that the Hall of Fame board has a rule that says if you’re banned from baseball you can’t be in the Hall of Fame. The board could, if it wanted, change the rule, decouple itself from baseball’s ban list and induct Rose and Joe Jackson and whoever the hell it wanted to if it decided it wanted to be a museum of history instead of a political institution.

It won’t because Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy and other baseball officials are on that board, but they could just do some Kabuki-theater abstention thing, let the board let Rose in and still be able to say that they’re keeping the game safe from the gamblers.

And for the record, I’d still keep Rose banned because I don’t think he should be near the competition of baseball games. But I do think that his historical contributions to the game should be reflected in the museum of record for Major League Baseball.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason


Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.