Craig Calcaterra

cuba hat

Athletics, Padres, Yankees and Nats are players for Hector Olivera

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Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that the Athletics, Padres, Yankees and Nationals are all players for Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera.

Olivera, 29, defected back in September. He has yet to be cleared by the U.S. government so it’s still not time for him to sign. He also has some health concerns, having missed considerable playing time with thrombosis in his left biceps, keeping him out of international competition. In club play this past season he hit .316 with an .886 OPS and had more walks than strikeouts. His bat isn’t a question, just his age and health.

The most very special Hall of Fame ballot so far

Image (1) nomar%20garciaparra%20sox.jpg for post 4601
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We’ve actually had fewer stone cold bummer Hall of Fame ballots publicly revealed so far this year than we usually get. Maybe because bad voters don’t publicize them as much, realizing that jackasses like me are going to criticize them. Maybe because there are so darn many Hall of Fame worthy candidates floating around these days that it’s truly hard to make out an awful ballot, at least as long as you put more than five or six names on it.

But give some credit to Jay Dunn of the Trentonian, who tries his able best to do so.

It starts out well enough, with a full-throated argument in favor of Craig Biggio. Good show! Biggio belongs. Thanks for your vote, Jay! He’s also adding Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Nothing unusual there.

But then we get this kind of thing:

But I don’t agree that I should stop after casting three or four votes. In fact, I just placed an X next to Fred McGriff’s name . . . As a point of reference, his home run total (493) is exactly the same as Lou Gehrig. His RBI total (1,550) exceeds Joe DiMaggio’s achievement by 10.

This is my favorite bad vote defense. “Player X had more [stat] than Player Y and more [stat] than Player Z!” Usually, as is the case here, Player Y and Player Z were not best known for the cited stats. Great, you had more stolen bases than Willie Stargell, but that doesn’t make you a hall of Famer. Even here, this is ridiculous. If you asked Dunn straight up if McGriff was anywhere close to the players that Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio were, he’d obviously say no. To therefore listen to this kind of argument in his favor is practically insulting. Then this:

When Lee Smith retired he was the all-time leader in saves, a distinction subsequently passed by two players. I’ve been voting for him for years and I don’t see any reason to stop now.

I dunno, because there are several players on the ballot better than Smith is and you have a finite number of votes? Go on, Mr. Dunn:

My ballot is starting to filling up and I still haven’t voted for Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines or Alan Trammell, players I’ve voted for in the past. I can’t vote for all of them this year and I might not be able to vote for any of them.

But . . . but . . . the Lee Smith rule? Why do you have reason to stop voting for these guys if not Smith?

That’s because there are two other newcomers — Nomar Garciaparra and Gary Sheffield — who can’t be overlooked.

No, man. They really can! I swear to you, they can!

Garciaparra played in what I believe was the golden era of shortstops. He played in the same league as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Omar Vizquel and still earned six trips to the All-Star Game.

His fielding was always sparkling and his career batting average was .313. That gets my vote.

Actually, his fielding wasn’t always sparkling. For a great portion of his career — most of it after he left Boston — he was a subpar defensive player. But don’t let get in your way. And one man’s Golden Age is another man’s Glut. Is it better to have been, I dunno, the third or fourth best shortstop in an age where there weren’t a ton of great ones like Alan Trammell was, or is it better to be the third or fourth best in an age where it really wasn’t that had to find a good one, like Nomar?

As for Sheffield, he notes the PED taint — Sheffield was named in the Mitchell Report — and holds solid PED evidence against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. But he excuses Sheffield because “he says he used them unwittingly.” OK.

That’s weird. Almost as weird as a voter having McGriff, Smith, Sheffield and Nomar over Bagwell, Raines, Trammell, Edgar Martinez and others. I don’t know how that even happens.

The Yankees trade Shawn Kelley to the Padres

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Jack Curry of YES reports that the Yankees have traded righty reliever Shawn Kelley to the San Diego Padres. They receive minor league righty Johnny Barbato in return.

Kelley pitched in 59 games for the Yankees this past season, though not particularly well. He strikes out a lot of guys but walked 20 batters in those 59 innings and put up a 4.53 ERA. Barbato saved 16 games in Double-A. He had a smidge better K/BB ratio and a lower ERA. Curry suggests he could need Tommy John surgery. Kelley is arbitration eligible and will make more than the $1.76 million he made this past season.

Ozzie Guillen wants to manage again

Chicago White Sox manager Guillen sits in the dugout against the LA Angels during MLB American League baseball game in Anaheim
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Ozzie Guillen was one-and-done in Miami, a victim of Jeff Loria’s weirdness, his own mouth and unmet expectations. But the guy brought Chicago its first World Series title in close to a century and was over .500 as a manager in nine seasons and it is weird that, since his departure from the Marlins, he hasn’t had a job with a baseball team.

Scott Merkin of MLB.com caught up with him and finds that that’s something Guillen wants to remedy:

“I hope so. I want to, yes. I mean, that’s my life. That’s what I like to do,” Guillen told MLB.com during a recent interview. “Am I waiting, sitting by the phone, waiting for a phone call? No. I will be lying to you [if I say], ‘Oh, my god. My phone is not ringing.’ If somebody [thinks] I can help, of course I want to do it. If that comes, that would be awesome. But if not, my life right now is pretty healthy.”

As Merkin notes, Guillen is honest to a fault — often an extreme fault — so it’s weird to even think that he’s not being 100% honest when he says that. But there have been enough of these “Guillen wants back in the game” stories over the past couple of years to where I’m actually surprised he puts it as mildly as that. Yes, he’s being paid to do nothing by the Marlins through 2015, but you get the sense the guy wants to manage again.

People always talk about Guillen’s personality — a lot for some to take — when looking for reasons why he hasn’t been hired anyplace else. Merkin talks about all of that. Specifically, his shoot-from-the-hip media style and the fact that, yes, he will tell his boss exactly what he thinks. That can be a definite problem in the go-along, get-along culture of major league baseball. But I almost wonder if a different kind of honesty — more of a self-deprecating honesty — is a problem for him too.

Back when he was with the White Sox he used to openly admit — and honestly, I think, in a way more managers would admit if they allowed themselves — that he’d sometimes daydream during the early innings of a game, realizing that he didn’t have a ton to do until the bullpen came into play. He also used to give tons and tons of credit to Joey Cora as his bench coach, crediting him with all of the thinking and hard work. That was likely partially humorous, but the idea of “Ozzie Guillen: managerial genius” never took hold, not even a little. In no small part, I bet, because of his own demeanor which inadvertently or otherwise took a lot of the air out of the balloon that is the Genius Manager. For the good, in my view, but likely in a way baseball teams don’t much care for or to which they maybe can’t easily relate.

But he was a successful manager. Colorful and sometimes the sort who got into it with his superiors, but I am surprised he’s not had a job in baseball over the past couple of years.

Why don’t cities just buy sports teams instead of paying to build them stadiums?

Condemned
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Neil DeMause of Vice Sports has an article up today posing an interesting question: why don’t cities just buy sports teams instead of build them stadiums? After all, he notes, often times the stadium deals these teams are getting from cities cost more than the actual value of the team.

As far as the out-of-whack values/costs go, it’s a decent observation. One which should be the first argument against any stadium deal when one is proposed. But the other part — why doesn’t the city buy the team? — is more of a problem. Mostly because, as DeMause notes, no pro sports league wants to sell to a government, ever, so it’s never going to happen.

So DeMause’s argument is this:

Okay, so no league is voluntarily going to allow its franchises to fall into public hands when it can keep on using its monopoly power over team ownership to extract subsidies. Is there any other way to force them to?

The answer is: maybe. And the trick lies in one of the same governmental powers that team owners use on their side in stadium deals: the power of eminent domain.

As the headline notes, it’s a “radical” solution. Unfortunately for DeMause’s argument, however, it’s also one that would never work, and not just practically speaking. It wouldn’t work legally because the power of eminent domain — that is, the power of government to take someone’s property and reimburse them for it at fair market value — would never allow for this kind of purchase.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution recognizes the federal government’s right, in some cases, to take property, and the Fourteenth Amendment and attendant state laws grant states the right to do the same. All of these laws, however, limit the government’s takings power to property that will be put to “a public use.” Think of a roadway that cuts across a corner of a farm or a park that will sit on a former factory site.

Of course, over the years, there have been efforts, many successful, to expand the definition of “public use.” These days it doesn’t have to be for land or property that everyone will use. For example, “public use” has been expanded to mean “aesthetic improvement” in some cases, wherein governments can buy up slum property and the like to beautify it. The most recent major attempt to expand it came when a government tried to condemn land simply because some developers thought of a better economic use of the land. Specifically, they tried to take some houses because they assumed a mall would do much better there. Efforts like that one have been largely beaten back due to a fierce backlash against what was perceived to be an attack on the rights of property holders, and now it is much harder for the government to take property on the basis of an economic argument alone. (note: the author of that last linked article is devilishly handsome and wise).

Which takes us to a hypothetical city wanting to buy a hypothetical sports team via eminent domain. How does that happen? What’s the “public use” argument? Will the city make admission to the ballgames free and treat the place like a public park? Of course they won’t. So it really won’t be a “public use,” it’ll be a commercial enterprise. Which is fine if the city buys a team from a willing seller, but as DeMause notes, it’s not going to have one of those.

Heck, this would fail even if that backlash I mentioned above hadn’t happened and courts were routinely allowing cities to condemn property and take it because they can come up with a good economic use argument. Because, as we may have noted one or two times around here, no one has ever actually made a convincing case that the presence of a sports team provides cities with economic benefits. Sure, owners of sports teams argue that all the time when it suits them, but the actual scholarship on that shows that they’re wrong. And if you can’t make a convincing argument about sports teams being public economic boons in a newspaper editorial or a town hall presentation, good luck doing it in a court of law when an eminent domain case comes up.

All of that said, I’d like to see someone try it, simply so that Rob Manfred or Roger Goodell or someone would have to argue, under oath, that no, there is no public economic benefit to the operation of a sports team, as they would have to argue if they wanted to stop a city from taking a team. That’d be positively delicious!

So, good thought experiment, I guess. But a complete and total non-starter.

UPDATE: DeMause comments. Some decent points in there about the potential of at least using the tactic as a bluff:

I’m not a lawyer and you are, Craig, but I still think that you’re selling the possibility of eminent domain slightly short. There are tons of public use arguments, many of them put forward by the team owners themselves — economic benefit, “civic pride,” what have you — that are no more ridiculous than the winning argument in Kelo. Yes, you and I would probably end up being in the weird position of testifying on behalf of the leagues on these, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work.

Besides, for eminent domain to be workable as leverage, a city wouldn’t have to win a case, just to have enough of a chance of winning to scare the leagues and team owners into lessening their demands. If I were mayor of a city, I’d at least send my lawyers to explore the possibility.