Comment of the Day: Baseball faces, baseball heels

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On both the blog and on Twitter (@craigcalcaterra if you’re into that sort of thing), I’ve made a zillion professional wrestling references this week. I don’t know why. Something in the air I guess. The fact is that I was huge wrestling fan from, oh, age 9 to age 15, so mid-80s wrestling is just burned into my head like the iron claw of Kerry Von Erich.

My recent obsession — especially this morning’s reference to Nyjer Morgan’s “heel turn” — inspired some readers as well.  Notably reader Wings, who tried to cast modern baseball players in either face or heel roles a la pro wrestling. It’s long so I won’t use annoying block quote fontage, but all that follows until the mention of Ozzie Guillen’s name is Wings talking:

As one of the few “legitimate” sports fans willing to admit that I also enjoy the illegitimate spectacle that is pro wrestling, I have often found many heel (bad guy) and face (good guy) qualities among my favorite baseballers. I submit to you this line-up of possible MLB heels/faces:

Faces:

C-Joe Mauer
1B-Gabby Sanchez
2B-Orlando Hudson
3B-Pablo Sandoval (Maybe a stretch, but with a nickname like his, how could he not be a George “the Animal” Steele type kid-friendly fan favorite?)
SS-Derek Jeter
OF- Josh Hamilton/Torii Hunter/Ichiro
DH-David Ortiz
SP-Dallas Braden
Closer-Mariano Rivera
MGR-Bobby Cox

Heels:

C-A.J.Pierzynski
1B-Miguel Cabrerra
2B-Brandon Phillips
3B-Alex Rodriguez
SS-Hanley Ramirez
OF-Nyjer Morgan/Manny Ramirez/Milton Bradley
DH-Hideki Matsui (another nickname-stretch thing)
SP-JohnnyCueto
Closer-Francisco Rodriguez
MGR-Ozzie Guillen

Not a bad list. I’ll take issue with Cox as the face manager. I mean, he did hit his wife once. I think Jeter is way more likely to be a Ric Flair kind of a guy who goes back and forth from popularity to villainy, and is often popular because he’s a villain.*  Torii Hunter has to be a heel in the Roddy Piper mode, no? I mean he’s a lot of fun, I realize, but he says some pretty outrageous stuff (but nothing as outrageous as “just when they think they have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!!”  Piper was the best, man).

The heels list is better, though I think Matsui would be a face jobber in the S.D. Jones/Sam Houston mode. Likable. Enough moves to make people think he has some chops, but really there to get beat up by a bad guy. Ozzie Guillen as Jimmy Hart is pretty damn perfect.

Um, OK, this post is getting a little out of control now.  I had better get back to baseball.

*I am forced to admit that I once subscribed to “Pro Wrestling Illustrated.” In the back were wrestler rankings, including “Most Popular” and “Most Hated.”  I recall one month — in the mid 80s, when Hulkamania was still running wild — that Ric Flair simultaneously topped both lists.  Woo!

Tony Clark thinks front offices have too much of an impact on baseball

AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post spoke to MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who said he feels that front offices have too much of an impact on the game of baseball. Clark said, “You hear players saying it’s even hard to recognize how the game is being played. If those on the field see it and experience it, then those who are watching it will notice, too. It’s not to suggest I don’t like home runs or strikeouts or walks. I like all those things. But I also like more of the strategy and the dynamics that have always determined the outcomes in our games.”

Clark continued, “The decisions that are being made are changing the game. When you’re in a climate where the decisions about how the game is being played are being made less by the players who are playing and the coaches and managers who are coaching and managing it, we find ourselves in a climate that seems to be focused in on what everybody’s calling the three true outcomes: the home run, the strikeout and the walk. I would argue that there are two true outcomes: whether you win or you lose. … I’m not saying data is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s morphed our game and its focus quite a bit.”

Clark also discussed tanking, saying, “This isn’t a player problem. It’s reflective, I believe, of very deliberate business decisions. Players as a whole compete on every pitch and every at-bat. Our industry is predicated on competition from the top down. … What it appears that we are seeing in that regard is teams withdrawing from that competition for seasons at a time. It becomes challenging when it’s more than a couple of teams that are going that route, whereby you have a considerable chasm between those that are competing at one level and those that are competing at another.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021, so the union and the owners will have three more years of talking about these issues before they are concretely addressed. The tanking issue seems like it will almost certainly be addressed.

Clark’s concern over the impact of front offices may not be misplaced, but it’s difficult to envision any kind of rule making a difference. Limit what data teams can access? Centralize the data? The “scienceification” of baseball, if you will, was an inevitability, an evolution. In order to go in a different direction, the game will need to evolve again. Trying to tamp down data usage in baseball is akin to playing whack-a-mole with various ways with which teams will find advantages over other teams.

Major League Baseball could try to cut into the ever-increasing three true outcomes rate by changing certain things about the game without touching the data. Back in 1969, the pitcher’s mound was lowered to encourage more offense. In a similar vein, to encourage more doubles and triples and fewer home runs, stadiums could be adjusted to have the fences back to a certain distance (e.g. at least 340 feet down the lines, 410 in center). The pitcher’s mound could be moved back a few inches, lessening the impact of higher velocity, which has been a big factor in the ever-increasing strikeout rate. There are surely other ideas that smart people can come up with to bring the game towards a more active, enjoyable experience. We still have three years to go so we’ll certainly be seeing some interesting suggestions.