Author: Craig Calcaterra

File image of New York Mets chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon talking to reporters at a news conference in New York

Rob Manfred defends Fred Wilpon being put in charge of baseball’s finance committee


On the one hand, this is good to hear. Commissioner Rob Manfred explains to the New York Times that, bad optics aside, putting the debt-ridden, two-time victim of Ponzi schemes in charge of baseball’s finance committee is not a problem because baseball’s finance committee does not actually handle investments. That’s another group altogether, so don’t worry about old Fred giving $50 million Baseball Bucks to some fraudster with a get-rich quick scheme.

On the other hand, the reason Wilpon is in charge of the finance committee is bound to make Mets fans want to tear their hair out. Here’s Manfred:

“The committee — the finance and compensation committee — really deals with two issues, principally: executive compensation, which he’s more than capable of dealing with, and a central office budget. Obviously, to be a successful businessman, you have to know how to budget . . . He understands how the budget process in baseball has worked, and he’s more than qualified to fill that role.”

Yes, Fred Wilpon knows how to budget. As indicated by the fact that his baseball team, which plays in the largest market in the country, currently has a payroll lower than that of the Minnesota Twins.

Reminder: eliminating defensive shifts is a dumb idea

dodgers shift

Rob Manfred created a ruckus yesterday when, among other things, he said that he’d be in favor of a rule which would limit or eliminate the use of defensive shifts.

This idea was first thrust into our consciousness last summer when Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci suggested it. I responded to the idea here. Short version: um, no.

Slightly less short version: the lack of offense in today’s game has many causes, most of which have nothing to do with defensive shifts. Mostly strikeouts. Defensive shifts cut down on singles. They do not stop doubles or triples or homers. You know, those things which are more effective at putting crooked numbers on the board. Also, shifts reward teams with athletic and versatile players who can (a) play great defense; and/or (b) eventually anyway, hit to all fields, making shifts counterproductive. I would think we’d want more athletic and versatile players and fewer lumbering sluggers who cry about it when they’re proven to be physically and mentally unable to hit the ball the other way once in a damn while.

Also, question: how is this even enforced? At what point is shading a guy in the direction in which he tends to hit the ball an illegal shift? A bright line about which side of the second base bag each infielder has to play? That could be problematic given that, for years, many, many shortstops have played certain hitters almost straight up behind the bag. Would we ban only extreme shifts? What are those? And, whatever answer you come up with about that, is this a judgment call we want umpires to be making?

More fundamentally, a rule to eliminate shifts goes against the very nature of baseball. A sport in which strategies and theories have always evolved over time. People thought Babe Ruth’s home run totals were unsporting in 1920 and taking away a key part of the game. Would the mindset which would eliminate shifts now have advocated for making over-the-fence homers automatic outs or partial runs in 1920?

In any event, there is a more detailed handling of it here, but my mind remains the same on the matter a few months later: changing the rules because of a recent change in which teams approach the game, rather than waiting for the game to evolve, as it always has, in the face of changes, is an unnecessary overreaction and shouldn’t be given serious consideration.

Important: we have new data on Wade Boggs’ epic beer consumption

Wade Boggs Devil Rays

For years we’ve all heard the legend of how Wade Boggs once drank 64 beers on a cross-country team flight. Or was it 107? Or was it more? The point is, we’ve heard that story for a long time, and that story always seems to center on the same basic anecdote, growing larger, Bill Brasky-style, over the years.

I’ve always been a mildly skeptical of that. Not of the basics of the story — I’ve no reason to doubt that Boggs could put a lot of beer away — but certainly the number tossed out as that tale has grown taller on down the line. And part of me notices that the stories always involve that one incident. Maybe it was like a lot of things: something fun and quirky happened once and it has since has been blown out of proportion because, man, it’s a pretty good story!

But after reading David Laurila’s latest Sunday notes column, my skepticism is beginning to drop. Because we have a new data point on Boggs’ beer consumption!

Laurila interviews Brian Rose, a former Sox’ pitching prospect who later had a cup of coffee with the Devil Rays when Boggs was coaching for them. On a flight he was sitting next to Boggs and . . . well, go read Laurlia’s story for the details. But know that Boggs’ legend — whatever one might think of it — continues to grow.

Ernie Banks, one of baseball’s greatest players and greatest ambassadors has died at age 83

Ernie Banks

It’s a sad, sad day in baseball as one of the game’s greatest ambassadors and most beloved figures has died. Ernie Banks was 83 years-old.

Mr. Cub was one of the most famous figures the game has ever known. A Hall of Fame shortstop and first baseman. The face of a franchise for multiple generations. A franchise known more for its futility than its success, but it was a futility which never lessened or besmirched the legacy of its greatest player, even as he set the record for most career games played without a playoff appearance. But that was on them, not him. He was good enough to be the best player on any number of World Series winning teams, but circumstance and bad fortune made it so that Banks’ legacy is one of singular optimism more than anything else. A man known more for his desire to “play two” on a warm summer day than anything that ever happened in October.

Not that his on-the-field exploits were anything less than fantastic.

He was signed to his first professional contract by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues at the age of 19. There he learned the game from legends, including Cool Papa Bell, who signed him, and Buck O’Neil, who was his manager. After an introduction to the game and then a stint in the army, he hit .347 for the Monarchs in 1952, catching the eyes of the Chicago Cubs. When he was offered a contract, he didn’t want to leave Kansas City, citing loyalty to his teammates and his club. He did leave, of course — who wouldn’t — and then embarked on a Hall of Fame major league career.

Banks was the Cubs’ first black player and was runner up to Wally Moon for the Rookie of the Year Award in 1954. The following year he hit 44 home runs, setting the record for homers by a shortstop. He was the NL MVP in 1958 and 1959, leading the league in home runs and slugging in 1958 and leading the league in RBIs in both seasons. He’d win another home run crown in 1960 and led the NL in games played in 1954, 1955 and 1957-60. He won a Gold Glove in 1960 as well.

For his career he hit 512 home runs in his 19 major league seasons, all in Chicago, and posted a career line of .274/.330/.500. He was a big-hitting shortstop in an age where shortstops were not expected to hit. His bat was so good that, when he could no longer handle the position due to knee problems which dated back to his days in the army, that bat played just fine at first base. Indeed, he ended up playing more games at first in his career than he did at short.

After his playing days were over he served as, perhaps, the best ambassador the game has known. Certainly the best ambassador the Cubs have known. No one who has ever met or interacted with him has ever shared a negative story about the man. In 2013 he was a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. His stature was such, however, that the honor was more likely the president’s for having met him to give it to him than Banks’ for receiving it.

Baseball lost one of its best today. But one who will never be forgotten.

I think we’re just about to the nadir off the offseason

baseball grass

In late December we get the shortest day of the year. Night falls so early and sunrise comes so late that it feels like we’ll never return to the happy warm life we love so dearly.

But it is not all bleak! For on that shortest day, the tide of darkness turns. It never gets worse! The very next day is a few seconds longer. Soon, we’re gaining a minute a day and before you know it we’re setting clocks forward and spring begins to bloom!

Baseball’s offseason is a lot like that. As it drags on, it gets more and more attenuated from actual baseball and the activities and events we’re forced to settle for seem less and less important. It feels like we’ll never enjoy a game again. But there is, like the winter solstice, a low point that we can nonetheless celebrate because, surely, everything that happens thereafter is more significant and brings us a step closer to mitts popping and bats cracking.

Ladies and gentlemen: I bring you what I believe to be that moment:

Everything that happens now will be better. Blue skies will be here soon.