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How to decide who to root for in the World Series

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Obviously most of us are neither Tigers nor Giants fans, so how do we choose a rooting interest for the next eight days?  Just some out loud thinking:

  • If you’re a Dodgers fan or a fan of whatever team has decided that the Tigers are their big rival lately — White Sox maybe? — your path is clear: you root for the other guy because eff those Giants/Tigers.
  • The Tigers have a pretty high payroll: $132 million, which is fifth in baseball this year. The Giants are eighth at $117 million. Not a big difference, but if you like to root against a team that spends more, the Giants are your huckleberries.
  • That said, San Francisco has a larger media market than Detroit — 2.5 million TV households to 1.8 million — so they are presumably the richer, better-supported team overall, which kind of blurs the finances and changes the Tigers story from “rich team with bigger payroll” to “generous owner spending what it takes to win.” If you’re into that whole game, maybe the Tigers should be your horse.
  • I have always liked the Giants standard uniforms a lot (though I hate the orange alternates), but the Tigers are far and away the best-dressed team in the game, especially at home. If you’re a uniform junkie this is a great series, really, but you probably need to root for the Tigers.
  • The Giants big star is Buster Posey. It’s hard to find anything to dislike about him. The Tigers big star is Miguel Cabrera. He has had his past issues. If you follow the star power and if that sort of thing bothers you, go for the Giants.
  • If you’re looking beyond the biggest names, you have a bit of a mixed bag. And almost too-quirky-by-half thing with the Giants (Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson) that can be a bit annoying. Some Tigers who are either execrable (Delmon Young) or at the very least kinda douchey (Jose Valverde and, to some degree, Justin Verlander, even if he is a freaking pitching machine). Call that a tossup.
  • The Giants play in what I consider to be the best ballpark currently in use in all of baseball. The Tigers, however, used to play in the best park to ever exist in baseball and in a current park that is definitely top five. If you care about home park optics, the Giants probably get the edge.
  • Fan bases are an interesting way to determine a rooting interest. The Giants definitely have a wild-and-crazy vibe in the park and, as I mentioned this morning, the city is currently bonkers for the team.  Detroit, however, has what I consider to be one of the most knowledgeable and sophisticated fan bases around, even if they haven’t drawn as consistently as the Giants have over the past 10-15 years. I’d caution you against going with stereotypes here — not all Detroit fans riot and burn things when the team wins and not all Giants fans are latte-drinking liberal weenies who just discovered the team in October 2010 — but I do think you have a clear choice between a lower-intensity but sophisticated fan base with Detroit and a higher energy but maybe a bit more touristy fan base in San Francisco. Pick whichever floats your boat.
  • Playing styles: The Giants get good pitching and a are an opportunistic balls-in-play kind of offense. The Tigers get good starting pitching — and have the best pitcher on either team in Verlander — but on offense they’re a slower, more power-oriented team. The Giants may be a bit more aesthetically pleasing in doing what they do if that kind of thing matters to you.
  • What’s your take on history? The Giants have had more overall success and have won more World titles, but a ton of that came a looong time ago. They certainly have the more recent title — 2010 — but since 1945 both teams have exactly two championships, with the Giants winning seven pennants and the Tigers five. Just an insane amount of overall history here regardless. Cobb, Mays, Greenberg, Matthewson, McCovey, Kaline, Bonds, Trammell and on and on. This is a traditionalists dream.

Personally: I’m not rooting for anyone. This is less a fancy media “I must remain objective since I’m here on the scene” kind of thing than it is me really being at a loss as to how to choose. When my team is out of it I tend to go for the team that has had the longest championship drought, but it’s not like the Tigers are plucky underdogs or something. There are players on each club I like and players on each I do not like, but no serious man-crush that would tip the scales one way or another.

I want good baseball. I wouldn’t mind it going seven games. Short of that, one of these guys is gonna have to win me over on the fly.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.