Craig Calcaterra

Rob Manfred

Manfred hopeful for Cuba game; owners to discuss netting

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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred remains hopeful a big league team will play an exhibition game in Cuba during spring training.

President Barack Obama announced in December his intention to restore diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, and embassies were re-established in July.

“There are a variety of issues involved there, not all of which are wholly within baseball’s control,” Manfred said Tuesday at the general managers meetings. “Obviously, the federal government has some significant influence on whether that’s going to take place, and there are issues that need to be solved before that can happen.”

U.S. teams played spring training games in Cuba before Fidel Castro’s revolution but none appeared there from March 1959 until the Baltimore Orioles faced Cuba’s national team in Havana in March 1999. MLB has not returned since.

“We got a little time still. There isn’t really a firm cutoff,” Manfred said. “We’re going to proceed internally and get to the point where we’ve sort of identified who would go, meaning which club would go if we can get it done. And one club maintaining flexibility with respect to a spring training date is a lot easier than 25 clubs maintaining that flexibility.”

On other topics:

FAN SAFETY

He said ballpark differences make it impractical to have identical protective netting at all 30 big league venues. The commissioner’s office has been discussing the issue with teams following a series of injuries to fans from foul balls this year. Owners will talk about the matter when they meet in Dallas on Dec. 18-19.

“If you go out and look at the ballparks, it becomes evident that a simple uniform – for example you’re going to net to the edge of the dugout – is not workable, given the variation in designs of the stadium,” Manfred said. “It’s going to have to be a little more complicated than that if, in fact, we move ahead.”

PETE ROSE

Manfred remains on track to decide Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement by the end of next month.

Then Cincinnati’s manager, Rose agreed in 1989 to a lifetime ban from baseball after an MLB investigation concluded he bet on games involving the Reds while managing and playing. Manfred met with the career hits leader Sept. 24.

“The end of the year is my deadline,” Manfred said. “I’m not telling you that this is coming Dec. 30 or whatever. It will be done before the end of the year, let me be clear about that.”

SECOND BASE TAKEOUTS

Baseball and the players union appear to be moving toward a new rule applying to takeout slides at second base. The Dodgers’ Chase Utley broke a leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada breaking up a potential double play during the NL Championship Series.

“There will be dialogue on that topic with this group this week. There will be dialogue with the owners next week and we will continue our conversations with the MLBPA on this topic,” Manfred said. “We see this as a player safety issue and we want to make sure we’re in the right place without committing to whether there’s going to be a change or not.”

CARDINALS-ASTROS PROBE

Following the start of a federal investigation into whether St. Louis Cardinals employees hacked into a Houston Astros’ database, Manfred spoke to GMs about intellectual property and plans to have the issue on the agenda for next week’s owners’ meeting.

“It’s an issue upon which we will give advice to the individual clubs to make sure that they negotiate individual contract provisions that are protective of what they feel they need to protect,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago or 30 years ago, intellectual property in this business was what some GM carried around in his head and he was going to take with him when he left. … Today the business has changed.”

DODGERS TV

Manfred hopes to avoid a third consecutive season in which Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA, which televises most Dodgers games, is unavailable to many homes in the market. Charter Communications announced in May it plans to buy Time Warner Cable.

“I’m hopeful that there are dynamics in play beyond baseball in terms of corporate activity that may create some flexibility and hopefully we will get a resolution in time for the 2016 season.” he said.

ALL-STAR GAME AT WRIGLEY FIELD

Wrigley Field last hosted an All-Star Game in 1990. MLB already has announced the All-Star Game will be played in San Diego next year, followed by Miami in 2017 and Washington in 2018.

“It’s a question of how far out we want to be committed right now,” Manfred said.

RAYS BALLPARK

Tampa Bay hopes with a change in members following this year’s election, the St. Petersburg City Council will allow the team to explore other sites in the area for a new ballpark.

“I believe that Tampa-St. Pete is a viable major league market with the right facility,” Manfred said.

Lance Berkman on the topic of home runs being rally killers

Lance Berkman
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My conversation with Lance Berkman yesterday wasn’t exclusively about politics and transgeder rights. I mean, the dude was an elite ballplayer so it’s not like I wasn’t gonna talk to him about baseball. The highlights:

  • Berkman was pleasantly surprised about the 2015 Astros and, as a longtime member of the club when it was in the National League, amusingly noted that they exemplified “typical A.L. baseball,” with all of the “big power hackers” they had. He was most impressed with their pitching, however, and talked about Carlos Correa in awed terms. Berkman thinks they’re one starter and one reliever away from being something truly special. I think he’s right about that. Maybe more than one reliever given that a handful of their go-to bullpen arms are free agents, but still.
  • A lot of our political conversation dealt with his perception that there is some entitlement to younger people that he finds displeasing, and that extends to baseball in some ways. He talked about how so many players have individual pitching and hitting coaches these days and how that wasn’t common when he was coming into the game. But he is not under any illusions that players from the past are better than players from the present or that the game was somehow better. “Everyone says it was better back in their day,” Berkman said. “They’ve been saying it forever. They’re always wrong about that.”
  • I mentioned that the Hall of Fame ballot for 2016 had just come out in the hour before our conversation. He asked me who was on it. I read the list. He sort of gave a low whistle and said “man, I played with all of those guys” and laughed about feeling old. I told him he’s still OK as he won’t be eligible for a few years and he said “sooner than I think, probably.” What a drag it is getting old.
  • I mentioned that, if everything breaks just right, his teammate Jeff Bagwell could get elected this year. I went further and suggested that, if it wasn’t for PED whispers about him, he’d probably be in already. Berkman agreed. He seems to understand the politics of the Hall of Fame pretty well. And, like a lot of ex-players, seems to be way less hung up on it than fans and those of us in the media do. I suspect that, if you devote your life to something for 30 years or more, external validation is not really necessary, even if it is welcome.

One final topic was a bit more serious.

Berkman watched the World Series but as both a baseball coach and a baseball player he was as frustrated by the approach Mets pitchers took when things got dicey. He specifically mentioned Tyler Clippard facing Lorenzo Cain in the eighth inning of Game 4 and Matt Harvey facing Cain in the ninth inning of Game 5. Cain walked both times, helping spark rallies which led to Royals’ victories. This is when Berkman said something that made me — and would make all baseball fans of a certain disposition — stop cold in their tracks.

“Solo home runs are rally killers, man.”

I stopped. I tried to gather myself. You hear such things so often, but you never think you’ll hear it said directly to you by someone you admire. After nearly an hour of talking about some of the most controversial, hot button political issues of our time, I was about to lose my composure over an old dubious chestnut of baseball analysis. I took a deep breath and tried to think of how to challenge him on that, but thankfully I didn’t have to.

“At least from the pitchers’ perspective,” Berkman added. He noted that, obviously, there’s nothing better than a home run, but that having runners on base can rattle a pitcher in ways that a homer really can’t. He agreed, of course, that a homer is the worst thing that can happen when you’re pitching, but at least it’s over and you can go back to the windup and pitch with no one on, and there’s some benefit to that psychologically.

More specifically, his point wasn’t that it would’ve somehow been bad for the Royals if Cain had hit a homer off of Clippard or Harvey in those situations. It’s that Clippard and Harvey — especially Harvey, who threw a 3-2 breaking ball to Cain — should’ve stuck with fastballs and not gotten cute the way each of them seemed to with Cain while behind in the count. His point was that, ahead in the game 2-0 in the ninth inning, you risk the solo homer by challenging Cain with a heater rather than try to be too fine, put him on base and let a potential rally get started.

I don’t disagree with that and, upon explanation, I caught my breath and regained my equilibrium. But man, telling a baseball writer that a homer is a rally killer is like yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie house. You gotta be careful with your words, dude. Someone could get hurt.

 

The Nationals 2016 calendar has Fenway Park on the front

fenway park seats getty
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The Washington Nationals had a bad 2015. Embarrassing, really. The Nationals’ 2016 calendar is keeping the embarrassment rolling.

Or at least it was. The first editions of it have been recalled and are being reprinted, but the initial release of it was pretty hilarious in that the cover of the thing featured Fenway Park. Which, you may have heard, is not where the Nationals play baseball:

The team itself doesn’t print the calendar so it’s not the Nationals’ fault. And hey, it IS a great picture, so let us throw stones for all manner of things but not aesthetic judgment.