Realignment? No way. How about "unalignment"

Leave a comment

In reaction to the “radical realignment” proposals that floated around last month I made an off-hand suggestion to do something far more simple and far more elegant in order to address the temporary problem of the Yankees and Red Sox hegemony: break all of baseball down to two leagues, with no divisions, a fully-balanced schedule and have the top four teams in each league make the
playoffs. It’s not original or anything —  others have suggested the plan before me — but it’s so damn appealing.

Today Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan develops the notion in an excellent column. What’s more, he does something that might actually help get the ball rolling: he gives the plan a name. He calls it “unalignment,” and it makes so much sense that I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if a hundred baseball writers came out to today to dismiss it out of hand:

AL teams would play everyone in the league 11 times a year, with 19
interleague games. Those in the NL would play eight teams 10 games each
and seven teams nine games each, plus the 19 interleague contests. If a
team goes somewhere twice one year, it would host that team twice the
next season. The interleague games would rotate yearly. And if baseball
prefers 15 teams in each league, it could move Milwaukee (or another
willing participant) to the AL and use a schedule with at least one
interleague game every day instead of confining them to two blocks a
year.

Passan has an excellent response to those who think that such a plan would kill divisional rivalries: tough. While ESPN won’t like it if we cut the Yankees-Red Sox games down to 11 from the current 18, unalignment would at least give every other AL team a larger piece of the gate from New York and Boston games than they currently get. Bonus: while we may lose seven Yankees-Red Sox games, we also lose even Indians-Royals games and many others of that ilk.

The biggest thing this plan has going for it is fairness. Everyone plays more or less the same schedule (interleague is still a problem, but let us not make a perfect world in which interleague play does not exist the enemy of a good plan).  As Passan notes, it avoids the pitfalls of the NBA and NHL systems in which everyone gets into the playoffs for one in which making the playoffs is still difficult, but no longer impossible for those stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography. It retains the part of their systems, however, which rewards the best records no no matter where they happen be located.

I think it’s time to get this bandwagon out of the garage and out on the road.  Unalignment, baby.

Joe Morgan is asking Hall of Fame voters to keep PED users out

Getty Images
36 Comments

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has never equivocated on his belief that users of performance enhancing drugs should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Whenever he has been interviewed on the subject he has been steadfast in his stance that PED users are not worthy of induction.

This week he has taken a further step: he has sent a letter to all of the Hall of Fame voters, asking them to keep PED users out.

In his letter — the entirety of which you can read over at Joe Posnanski’s blog — Morgan says “if steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.” By “we,” he’s clearly referring to Hall of Fame members. While he does not name any player he would like to see voters keep out, he spends a lot of time talking about how PEDs are bad for baseball, PED users cheated the game and how he and many other Hall of Famers do not want to see them elected. He invokes “youngsters” and refers to the Hall of Fame as “special” and speaks to the “sanctity” of election. It’s the moral argument against PED use we’ve been hearing for a good 15 years or so.

It’s also hopelessly naive and comes far too late in the game to be a useful plea.

As we’ve noted many, many times, there are already PED users in the Hall of Fame. Amphetamine users to be sure, but even if you want to give them a pass, there are steroid and/or HGH users too. In case you forgot about that, allow me to remind you about the time Hall of Fame voter Thomas Boswell appeared in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary update “The Tenth Inning” and explicitly said that he personally witnessed a current Hall of Famer drink a PED-laden shake:

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said “What’s that?” and he said “it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake”. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.”

Boswell tends to keep pretty silent about that come Hall of Fame voting time in December, but he has never backed off the claim either.

Less reliable, but still never refuted, were the stories of Patty Blyleven, former wife of Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who said that she knows of a Hall of Famer who took PEDs as well, and who continues to nonetheless publicly rail against PED use. There are likewise other Hall of Famers of whom baseball writers are strongly convinced — or know for a fact — took PEDs but about whom they’ve never reported because no one would go on the record about it or corroborate it in a way that satisfies prevailing journalistic standards. Go ask a BBWAA member about why it took Jeff Bagwell so long to get into the Hall of Fame. Or simply go back and read what they said about him a few years ago.

Going beyond those cases are the cases of a host of players — players who have been on the ballot for years —  about which we’ll never, ever know. Do we know for sure that any of the guys currently on the ballot who played before drug testing never took PEDs? Of course not. In light of that all Morgan can ask is for voters to keep players of an entire era out. Which is a completely unreasonable and unfair request.

In the absence of guidance from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball, BBWAA voters were somewhat inconsistent with alleged PED users for a time, but they’re beginning to coalesce around a set of rough standards:

  • If you tested positive for PEDs or were disciplined for PEDs after the testing program was fully online like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro did, you’re not getting in. Figure Alex Rodriguez will fall in this group one day too;
  • If you were strongly and convincingly associated with PEDs in the pre-testing era like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the road you have to go down is going to be pretty bumpy, but you may, possibly, get in one day if you were an overwhelmingly great player;
  • If you were seen as one-dimensional like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa and either admitted to PED use or were suspected of it, welp, sorry. We’ll leave why Sosa is suspected of it to another post.

All of this is will likely change slightly over time. Bonds and Clemens have recently gotten over the 50% voting threshold and could gain some steam with the voters. Alex Rodriguez was good enough and his post-career image rehabilitation has been such that he may get more support than most post-testing PED guys one day. Maybe McGwire and Sosa will get new looks down the road by some iteration of the Veteran’s Committee. After that, there aren’t a lot of guys who are seriously in the Hall of Fame discussion with credible PED claims against them.

Which is to say that history is sorting itself out, for better or for worse. Sorting itself out in a way that renders Morgan’s views on the matter — whether you consider them well-founded or otherwise — too little, too late and, given what we know and do not know about PED users, rather useless.