George and Dragon

Scenes from Spring Training: Beer, Voros McCracken and almost getting my butt kicked over a misunderstanding

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I had an interesting evening. Went out for beers with my friend Connor Doyle who, long ago, was one half of a good (mostly) sports blog called Two Guys who, like, never agree. It’s defunct now, but back in 2007 and 2008 he and I were occupying the same general Blogspot world.  Also joining us: Voros McCracken, sabermetrician extraordinaire.

For those who don’t know, Voros is the man who originated the idea of defense-independent pitching statistics, or DIPS as they came to be known.  Jeff Passan wrote his story out back in January. I wasn’t interested in getting more of his story. I was merely interested in hoisting the moist with him and Connor last night, which we did in spades at a pleasant British pub.

And, surprisingly, there wasn’t much baseball discussed. We talked way more about soccer, which is a particular passion of Voros’ and Connor’s. I’ve tried in fits and starts to become at least moderately conversant with soccer over the years, mostly because I’ve identified it as an excellent way to spend the winter when there’s no baseball about.  It’s never clicked for me, however.

I get the impression that if I hung out with Voros and Connor more that something would click.  In a couple short hours a handful of misconceptions I’ve harbored about the game were cast aside and, I think anyway, I got at least a tiny glimpse into what makes it so damn intriguing for several billion people the world over.  Or maybe it was just the Guinness talking. Hard to say, but I did enjoy myself and I’m inclined to give soccer another chance because of it.

Sadly, though, there was one brief moment when things turned sour.  The three of us were talking about basketball and the subject of the Carmelo Anthony trade came up. We were all criticizing a particular take that a particular sports writer had on the trade, and the basis for our criticism of it was that the writer’s take seemed to come from a rather racist — or at the very least, paternalistic — perspective. Kind of a “how dare Anthony not remain loyal to his team” kind of thing of which none of us particularly approved.

In discussing this I — sarcastically, with a literal eye-roll — ripped the piece by taking on the voice of the author and saying “of course not, because he’s black” or words to that effect, with the intent of condemning what I took to be the writer’s casual racism.

Seems, however, that the black man the next table over had only half-heard our conversation and assumed that we were genuinely ripping that uppity Carmelo Anthony for demanding a trade. Or for having the gall to be black. I’m still not sure what we were presumed to be saying, actually. All I know is that the guy from the next table over was right pissed off for all the wrong reasons.

After his white friend came to our table and told us that we were pathetic, he himself came by and told us that were it not for the fact that kicking our butts would cause him more trouble than it’s worth, he’d totally kick our butts.  We tried to explain that he misunderstood us, but he wasn’t much interested in that and then moved on.

I was happy that he moved on, but it’s not like I didn’t have a plan if he hadn’t. Indeed, if things got chippy, I would have been behind Voros the whole time. Like, literally behind Voros, hoping to avoid getting my face mashed in until someone got a cop on the scene to rescue my blogger behind. Thankfully it didn’t come to that. Could have been bad news for Voros. I don’t think he’s had a lot of practice as a human shield and he might have gotten injured as he unwittingly protected me. I would have felt bad for him.

Oh well. Sarcasm doesn’t always come through on the internet. I figured it came through better in bar conversations, but I guess that’s not a universal rule either.  All I know is that if more people actually listened to one another instead of merely defaulting to the safety of their preconceptions, people would get along a lot better than they do.  I suppose that’s expecting too damn much of people, however.

But Voros was a cool guy, especially given how poised he was to protect me from the blows that rained down upon me, whether he realized it or not.

One more day of baseball here in Arizona to help cleanse the palette. The Mariners and the White Sox, babies, live from Camelback Ranch in beautiful Glendale, Arizona later today. I’ll try not to get my butt kicked while I’m there.

Bryce Harper reportedly wants a $400 million extension

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Nationals are “balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension” and are thus prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season.

What would make the Nationals balk? According to Nightengale’s source it’s a deal that “will exceed 10 years in length and likely pay him in excess of $400 million.”

That might seem crazy given historical norms and given that Harper is coming off a disappointing season, but if Harper returns to anything close to his 2015 form in which he won National League MVP honors while hitting .330/.460/.649 and hit 42 home runs, $400 million is going to seem quite reasonable. That sort of production was not some crazy fluke for a guy with Harper’s talent, after all. And he’ll be 26-years-old when he hits free agency, which is far, far younger than your typical free agent. Indeed, he’ll be entering what have, historically, been the prime years of most superstars’ careers.

The closest comp to star hitting free agency at that age was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed his first $250 million deal following the 2000 season. Top big league deals going from $250 million to $400 million in the space of two decades is not really all that crazy when you think about it. Especially when you realize that, between 2001 and 2018, baseball revenues will have increased by a factor of three, assuming current growth holds.

UPDATE: My first thought after reading all of this was “I wonder if the Nats leaked the $400 million thing, whether it was an actual demand or not, in order to turn the PR in their favor if they deal Harper?” Question answered:

At least one quarter of the Today’s Committee owed Bud Selig a solid

Bud Selig
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OXON HILL, MD — The 16-member committee that voted Bud Selig and John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame — the “Today’s Game” Committee — consisted of the following members: Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Pat Gillick, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, and Frank Thomas, major league owners/executives Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Phillies) and Kevin Towers (Reds); and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt and Tim Kurkjian.

That’s certainly a venerable list of names. A quarter of that electorate, however, could be characterized as having a pretty notable conflict of interest when it comes to Bud Selig. At least if anyone cared about things like conflict of interest when it comes to baseball.

Whatever the case, two of those 16 guys became owners — and even more wealthier as a result — due to his affirmatively choosing or approving them to join sports’ most exclusive club. Two others were personally chosen by Selig to assist him over the years, raising their profile and importance in the game and giving them resume pieces that will one day be part of their own Hall of Fame cases.

  • Royals owner David Glass: Became the Royals CEO and Chairman in 1993, right after Selig became the acting commissioner. Glass was a key ally for Selig’s efforts to impose a salary cap and take a financial hard line in negotiations with the union, which eventually led to the 1994-95 strike. In 1999-2000 he became the full owner of the Royals after Selig personally stepped in to stop a bid for the club by a competing ownership group and is thus widely refereed to as Selig’s handpicked man. Glass is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served for decades.
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: Bought his club in 1995, after Selig had taken over and thus would not be a baseball owner without Selig’s approval. DeWitt was a point man for Selig on a host of his pet projects, including the Wild Card and interleague play. He likewise led the charge for revenue sharing and other potentially divisive financial matters which tended to be in the interest of smaller market clubs, the sort of which Selig himself championed when he was a mere owner. DeWitt chaired the committee to find Selig’s successor, which eventually served to validate Selig’s desire to have his hand-picked choice, Rob Manfred, succeed him.
  • Phillies President Andy MacPhail: Selig’s handpicked choice for the labor negotiating committee in 2002 which, at the time, continued speculation that MacPhail would one day be on the short list to succeed Selig. A few years before that MacPhail was public in saying that Selig would be the right choice to become permanent commissioner at a time when many were concerned that a team owner assuming that role was a conflict of interest.
  • Former President of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston: In the late 90s, Beeston resigned as president of the Toronto Blue Jays following a successful reign to accepted baseball’s newly created position of president and chief operating officer. The move was widely seen as a means of giving Selig a top lieutenant — a defacto deputy commissioner — which would help him smooth his transition from acting commissioner to permanent commissioner. Many thought at the time that if Beeston was not hired for that gig, Selig may have declined the full-time commissioner’s role. Selig was described in the press at the time as a strong admirer of Beeston’s. In 2014, Beeston reflected glowingly on Selig’s legacy, saying, “I absolutely admire him on this steroid thing.” Beeston is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? No. Baseball is a small world and Bud Selig existed in it for a long, long time, so having a relationship with Selig was pretty unavoidable for almost anyone with any sort of profile in the game. No technical rule or historical baseball norm was violated by virtue of this vote or the composition of the committee itself. Indeed, the old Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame was widely seen as a group of good old boys voting their old friends. Worth noting, perhaps, that that iteration of the Veterans Committee was abolished precisely for that reason, but I suppose we’ll leave that go for now.

I wonder, however, what the vote totals would have been for some of the other candidates if 25% of their electorate consisted of people who owed personal and professional debts to them the way Selig’s electorate owed him. Maybe Barry Bonds’ agent could get a Hall of Fame vote? Roger Clemens’ mechanic? Mark McGwire’s interior designer?

I suppose we’ll never know.