Craig Calcaterra

Cooperstown
Associated Press

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #21: A bunch of voters were kicked off the Hall of Fame rolls

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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.

Until this year, once a BBWAA member became eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame he or she got that vote for life. That meant that a great many voters who were no longer covering baseball — including many who never really covered baseball in a meaningful way — got a vote. Editors who oversaw baseball writers for a time. People who covered baseball for a few minutes during the Carter Administration but later went on to do other things.

As a result, a large portion of the Hall of Fame electorate was not comprised of experts in the field. Indeed, it was comprised of people who had less of a professional reason to keep up with baseball than many non-voters. It was just a club, really, out of which one could never be kicked despite their lack of engagement with the game. All the while getting to make baseball’s most important historic calls.

That changed in July when the Hall of Fame decided that BBWAA members who were more than ten years removed from actively covering the game would be taken off the voting rolls. It’s estimated that around 130 of the 650 active voters were removed from the pool.

Now that the dead wood is out, it’s possible that we’ll see some significant changes in the vote totals of some of the holdover candidates when results are announced for the 2016 Hall of Fame class next week. At least if the assumption that older voters are more likely to be harder on newer candidates or candidates with PED associations is true. This may not catapult Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens to Cooperstown, but it could give Tim Raines a decent bump in his second-to-last year on the ballot and could put Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza over the top and into the Hall.

Now, if the Hall of Fame would allow all BBWAA members to vote, and not just those with ten years of experience, we’d really be getting someplace. In the meantime, we’ll take this as a solid step forward.

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #22: Baseball reaches peak inexperienced manager

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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.

In recent years managerial hires have trended young and relatively inexperienced. Former players, many with little managing or coaching experience, have been hired by a number of teams. Brad Asumus in Detroit. Mike Matheny in St. Louis. Walt Weiss in Colorado. Craig Counsell in Milwaukee. The list goes on and on.

The rationale for this trend? Baseball has become a front office-oriented game, with general managers, their assistants and their analytics departments running the show and calling the shots to their on-field staff. The front office folks increasingly dictate the strategies and team philosophies, it is reasoned, so a crusty and experienced manager is not the most important thing. Indeed, managerial experience may be seen as a drawback by some, leading to a butting of heads between the uniformed and non-uniformed staff. It’s better to get a guy who is on the same page as the GM. It’s also a plus to get a guy who recently played the game so that he can better-relate to the players on the roster. The manager’s top job now: ensuring clubhouse harmony.

In May, the Miami Marlins took this theory to a whole new level. They wouldn’t just hire a manager who was on the same page as their general manager. They’d literally make their GM their manager. Dan Jennings replaced the fired Mike Redmond (who was supposed to be one of those new-style managers himself, but never mind that). When he took the job Jennings had no professional coaching or managing experience whatsoever. His only on-field experience was a stint as a high school coach in Alabama in 1985.

The move didn’t work out well. Under Redmond, the 2015 Marlins went 16-22, which is a .421 winning percentage. Under Jennings they went 55-69, or .444. Not terrible given that Jennings didn’t have Giancarlo Stanton on the roster for most of the season, but he wasn’t a revelation or anything. Soon after the hiring, several rival managers offered catty remarks about Jennings and his inexperience to the press. The Marlins, long a laughingstock under Jeff Loria, continued to be the butt of jokes.

Many think Jennings taking the manager job in the first place was less about him thinking it was a good idea and more a function of his loyalty to the Marlins organization. If so, he miscalculated. Jennings was fired after the season, both from his managerial job and from his old job as GM. He’s well-respected around the game and will likely, eventually, find a scouting or front office gig someplace, but for now he’s unemployed.

For as unfortunate as that all is for Dan Jennings, with his dismissal we may have finally reached Peak Inexperienced Manager in Major League Baseball. We may have witnessed that moment when the wave finally broke and then rolled back.

The Marlins hired Don Mattingly and his several years of experience coaching and managing as Jennings’ replacement. In Washington, Matt Williams completely lost his clubhouse in 2015 and was replaced by old hand Dusty Baker. Ryne Sandberg had a lot of minor league managing experience before taking the Phillies’ job, but he had no major league experience and still, generally, fit the “hire an ex-player” mold. When he resigned he was replaced by baseball lifer and 64-year-old Pete Mackanin. The gray hairs are, tentatively, regaining some of the ground they have lost.

Whether Dan Jennings is the reason for that, a symbol of it or an oddity separate and apart from these trends will ultimately be a matter for baseball historians.

 

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #23: Some ballpark patriotism revealed to be sponsored by the military

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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.

Baseball has always featured the National Anthem before “Play Ball” and red, white and blue bunting has been commonplace in ballparks for years. After 9/11, however, baseball saw a surge in patriotic displays –tributes to the troops, the flag, veterans and the like — before, during and after games.

This is understandable, of course, as our nation went to war and such sentiments surge during wartime. At some point in the past 14 years, however, the exercises began to become increasingly scripted and increasingly rote. More troubling, they also became more a function of corporate sponsorship than unadulterated, heartfelt patriotism. It wasn’t just Major League Baseball saluting the troops. It was Bank or America. It wasn’t just the Kansas City Royals offering veterans seat upgrades at games, it was Budweiser. At some point after 9/11 professional sports saw fit to allow corporations to ride on the back of patriotic sentiment in an effort, intentionally or unintentionally, to bolster their own image.

Against that backdrop came a story last May about how the military actually spends tax dollars to pay for a lot of this stuff, using it as a recruitment and P.R. tool. Indeed, National Guard officials admitted as much when asked about it. Nothing illegal occurred in this, but many considered the practice to be manipulative in that fans were clearly led to believe that these salutes to the troops and “Hometown Hero” tributes were public services by the team or, at the very least, spontaneous tributes. Which they clearly were not. They were advertisements. Soon after the report came out a Congressional investigation was launched and a bill was introduced aimed at outlawing the practice.

As for baseball, one gets the distinct impression that the conspicuous displays of patriotism, while far from being pushed out of the game, are beginning to be ratcheted back ever so slowly. A comparison of the pre-World Series game activities from 2014 to 2015 showed a shift from military-related ceremonies and public relations opportunity to more community based, youth baseball-focused ones.

Baseball will never dispense with giant flags and patriotic associations, but one gets the sense that, each year, the post-9/11 volume we experienced with these things will be dialed back a tad.