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Tony La Russa: Anti-Harold Baines arguments are ‘weak-a–, superficial bulls—‘

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LAS VEGAS — We’ve talked a lot about Harold Baines’ recent election to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Committee. The executive summary: Baines — however nice a guy he is and however much people liked him — did not have a career that came close to the standards of most Hall of Fame inductees.

As I wrote on Monday, my view as to how this happened is that Baines was the beneficiary of an extremely friendly 16-person committee, at least three members of which had personal connections to him. While I am happy for Baines for for receiving baseball’s highest honor and for Baines’ fans for getting to grok some of the glory vicariously, it’s hard to view it as anything other than a product of cronyism and a conflict of interest on a part of the Hall of Fame and the Today’s Game Committee. Nothing personal, Harold, it’s just a fact.

One of those three members of the Today’s Game Committee was Tony La Russa, who managed Baines in Chicago and in Oakland and whom Baines described on Monday as a close, personal friend. As I wrote on Monday, I don’t begrudge La Russa for voting for Baines. Once you’re on the Committee you have free rein to vote your conscience and that’s what La Russa did. But leave it to La Russa — a guy with a law degree who has never met an untenable position he didn’t at least make an effort to argue with a straight face — to claim he didn’t vote for Baines because he knows him and loves him.

La Russa was on Chris Russo’s show on MLB Network this morning, and Russo confronted him about Baines’ election, trying to get the Hall of Fame manager to admit that, really, Baines is not up to typical Hall of Fame snuff. La Russa pushed back on that forcefully, claiming that it was not a matter of him knowing and loving Baines, but that Baines was, by objective baseball standards, a worthy Hall of Famer. What’s more, he claimed that anyone who disagreed with him on that was basing their argument on “that weak-a**, superficial bulls**t.”

Watch:

I’m not sure what about the case against Baines is “weak-a**” or “superficial bulls**t.” Indeed, the case is about the most straightforward and substantive case there could possibly be. As I and others have observed, Baines led the league in exactly one offensive category in his long career: slugging percentage in 1984. His highest finish in MVP balloting came in 1985 when he came in ninth. Those relative-to-Hall-of-Famer modest hitting numbers look worse when you consider that for well over half of the 2,830 games he played he was a designated hitter. As Jeff Snider of BaseballEssential.com tweeted yesterday, Baines was rarely even a top-five player on his own team.

La Russa is a very smart man and he knows this. But he also has a long and rich history of trying to tell people that black is white when he has been second guessed. He didn’t screw up, it’s you who got it wrong. Or perhaps you simply misunderstood.

In 2011 he made a famous mistake with his bullpen in the World Series and claimed he didn’t screw up, it was simply too loud, which never really added up. I witnessed something similar in person. In 2010, after a spring training game — spring training! — I was in the clubhouse as he explained to a very well-respected reporter that a very clear mistake which was made in the game — by a player, not La Russa — did not in fact happen or did not happen in the way the reporter saw it (note: the reporter was right). One could charitably chalk this up to La Russa protecting his players and coaches as many managers do. With him, though, it often seems driven by arrogance and zero tolerance on his part to be questioned by people he does not feel are as smart or qualified as him. Which is, well, almost everyone.

La Russa was a great manager and baseball mind, but he is full of crap here. He knows dang well why he voted for Harold Baines. He tries to save it here by citing “the things we looked at” and making references to Baines’ “greatness” and “longevity” but the case holds no objective water. As I said, once the Hall of Fame put La Russa on the Committee he was entitled to vote for whomever he wanted and, if he wanted to, he could simply say “Harold Baines was a great man and a great professional and I think he’s a Hall of Famer.” We’d take issue with that as being enough, but it would at least constitute the honest reason why La Russa gave him his vote.

Instead we get this. A highly disingenuous argument combined with a profane insult aimed at anyone who disagrees with La Russa (i.e. almost everyone). What a sad performance from a guy of La Russa’s stature.

Straight-away center field will be 385 feet at London Stadium

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Marley Rivera of ESPN has a story about some of the on-field and in-game entertainment, as well as some aspects of the field conditions, for this weekend’s London Series.

The fun stuff: a mascot race, not unlike the Sausage Race at Miller Park or the President’s race at Nationals Park. The mascots for London: Winston Churchill, Freddie Mercury, Henry VIII and the Loch Ness Monster. I suppose that’s OK but, frankly, I’d go with Roger Bannister, Shakespeare, Charles Darwin and Guy Fawkes. Of course no one asks me these things.

There will also be a “Beat the Streak”-style race which had better use the theme to “Chariots of Fire” or else what the heck are we even doing here.

They’ve also taught ushers and various volunteers who will be on-site to sing “Take me out to the ballgame,” which is a pretty good idea given how important that is to baseball. As a cultural exchange, I think some major league team should start using “Vindaloo” by Fat Les during the seventh inning stretch here. It’s a banger. It also seems to capture England a bit more accurately than, say, “Downton Abbey” or “The Crown.”

That’s all good fun I suppose. But here’s some stuff that actually affects the game:

The end result will have some interesting dimensions. The field will be 330 feet down each foul line, and it will have a distance of 385 feet to center field, which will feature a 16-foot wall. Cook also said it would have an expanded, “Oakland-like” foul territory, referencing the Athletics’ Oakland Coliseum expanse.

Those dimensions are unavoidable given that the square peg that is a baseball field is being shoved into the round hole that is a soccer stadium. As Murray Cook, MLB’s senior field coordinator tells Rivera, that sort of thing, while perhaps less than ideal, is at least in keeping with baseball’s strong tradition of irregular field conditions. It will, however, be one of the shortest dead center distances in baseball history.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Protective netting was also an important issue addressed when building the ballpark, with Cook stressing that his team has implemented netting that “is the largest you’ll ever see in any major league ballpark.”

[Craig makes a mental note to bookmark this for the next time MLB says it won’t mandate extended netting in the U.S. because doing so is too difficult]