Craig Calcaterra

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #8 Rob Manfred becomes the new commissioner

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Bud Selig took over as Major League Baseball’s commissioner in the early 90s as the result of an owners’ coup. While he almost immediately drove the game over a cliff with by forcing the 1994-95 strike, he somehow survived, eventually learned from his mistakes and, over the next 20 years, consolidated his power. By the time he was ready to step down he had a case for being the most successful commissioner in the history of the game.

Selig announced that he was stepping down well before Rob Manfred took over in late January and he did so for the express purpose of making sure Rob Manfred became the next commissioner. There was some drama about all of that in August of 2014 when the owners vote was held — a small insurgency led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox sought an alternative candidate — but eventually Bud Selig’s heir apparent got the job.

But just because Manfred was Selig’s chosen successor does not mean that he is much if anything like Selig. Indeed, his history in the game before last January was as a complementary force to Bud, not a yes-man. He was the Consigliere to Selig’s Don, working behind the scenes opportunistically and, often, adversarially, while Selig was building consensus among the owners. Selig waited to act until the moment his will, due to consensus, seemed inevitable. Manfred was far less deliberate.

That being said, Manfred’s first year on the job hasn’t really put him to any serious tests and hasn’t required him to act, publicly anyway, any differently than Selig had. Revenues continue to grow and, for the most part, the owners who employ Manfred have been happy. Or at least quiet. Manfred’s most notable initiative has been to speed up the pace of play, instituting new rules about when batters can step out of the box and requiring pitchers to deliver the ball in a certain amount of time. That saw some success in 2015 and those efforts will likely continue. He likewise oversaw the implementation of baseball’s domestic violence policy. He’ll soon have to impose discipline under it and that will likely lead to some criticism no matter what penalties he hands down.

Manfred’s biggest test, however, will come in 2016. That’s when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and a new pact will have to be forged with the union. Manfred outmaneuvered Tony Clark and the union fairly easily with respect to performance enhancing drugs both as Selig’s assistant and as commissioner, extracting concessions from the union without giving up anything in return. Will that embolden Manfred to take a hardline stance with MLBPA regarding the CBA, or will he appreciate that the union is far more resistant to public pressure when pocketbook issues are on the table as opposed to drug issues?

Hard to say. All that can be said for certain is that Manfred has never been impulsive, reckless or unwise. And if he’s lost battles he’s waged in the past, they weren’t very big battles and his losses weren’t well known. He’s a formidable figure. Whether he’s formidable enough to get all 30 owners on the same page for labor negotiations and reach a new deal with the union without a work stoppage will go a long way toward establishing his legacy as commissioner.

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #9: Max Scherzer tosses two no-hitters

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

On October 3 — the second to last game of the year — Nationals starter Max Scherzer became just the fifth player in major league history to throw two no-hitters in the same season. In so doing he joined Johnny Vander Meer, Allie Reynolds, Virgil Trucks and Nolan Ryan. It was the first time it had been done since Ryan did it in 1973.

On that day Scherzer struck out 17 Mets batters over his nine hitless innings. The only thing which kept him from a perfect game was a Yunel Escobar throwing error in the bottom of the sixth, allowing Kevin Plawecki to reach base.

Back on June 20, Scherzer’s first no-hitter of the year came against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That game was also almost a perfecto, with Scherzer’s only hiccup coming when he hit Jose Tabata with a pitch with only one out to go. He shook that off, however, and got Josh Harrison to fly out to end the game. There he threw 105 pitches, 80 for strikes. He recorded 10 strikeouts.

Scherzer’s first season in Washington following his signing of a $210 million contract was fantastic, even if the Nationals’ year was disappointing overall. The Nats ace went 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA and struck out 276 batters against only 34 walks in 228.2 innings pitched. He led the National League in starts (33) batters faced (899), complete games (4) and shutouts (3).

Oh, and he led the league in no-hitters too.

 

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #10: The Hall of Fame inducts a class for the ages

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

The Hall of Fame has its problems. The voting is messed up and, thanks to a weird soup of subjective standards and some moralizing and/or myopic voters, many of the best players from the past quarter century remain on the outside looking in. For some people the Hall of Fame is broken. For some it’s becoming irrelevant. Last July, however, it inducted a humdinger of a class. Possibly the best since the inaugural class. Its members: Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

It was the first time since 1955 that four players were inducted. That year Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Dazzy Vance and Ted Lyons made it in. Nice, but only DiMaggio had the stature of the 2015 class. Before that, you’d have to go back to 1936, when Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson comprised baseball’s first group of Hall of Fame inductees.

Randy Johnson was a strikeout machine, but he was more than the sum of his Ks. Indeed, he may have been the greatest left-hander of all time. Pedro Martinez was Sandy Koufax, but only if Sandy Koufax pitched against crazy-good hitters in the most insane offensive era of all time. Meaning that, yeah, Pedro was BETTER than Koufax. Smoltz paired Cy Young starting with shut-down closing to give his career the sort of arc we haven’t seen since Dennis Eckersley retired. And, of course, Smoltz was the better starter and playoff pitcher to boot. Biggio combined fantastic on-base ability, great gap power and plus defense despite the fact that second base was not his natural position. Biggio, who came up as a catcher, still managed to play 20 years and collect 3,000 hits despite the fact that second basemen AND catchers have shorter careers than most position players.

Four players being inducted is rare indeed, but it was definitely necessary given the resumes of these four. In 2016 there are at least four who are as equally deserving in Ken Griffey, Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines. Will we get four more? I doubt it — I think Raines will remain on the outside looking in and Bagwell may as well — but it sure would go a long way towards fixing the Hall of Fame’s lamentable oversight of a couple of decades of baseball history.