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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.

Noah Syndergaard on Mets extending Jacob deGrom: ‘Pay the man already.’

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March has marked contract extension season across Major League Baseball. Just in the last week, we have seen Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Brandon Lowe, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Mike Trout, Eloy Jiménez, Blake Snell, and Paul Goldschmidt sign extensions. Nolan Arenado, Luis Severino, and Aaron Nola also notably signed extensions during the offseason.

One name strikingly absent from that list: Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and 46 walks across 217 innings. It’s the lowest ERA by a qualified starter since Zack Greinke‘s 1.66 in 2015. Prior to Greinke, no pitcher had posted an ERA of 1.70 or lower since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 (1.56, 1.63).

deGrom is earning $17 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility going into the 2020 season. He will turn 31 years old in June, but is an obvious extension candidate for the Mets, who have built arguably their most competitive team since 2015, when the club lost the World Series in five games to the Royals. Thus far, though, the Mets and deGrom haven’t been able to get anywhere in extension talks.

deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard is watching. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Syndergaard said, “I think Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want them to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all the fuss and pay the man already.”

Syndergaard added that the recent extension trend around baseball — and deGrom’s lack of an extension to date — sends a message. He said, “I think so, yes, because of what you see in what’s going on in baseball right now. If there wasn’t a trend of other guys getting contract extensions, then I don’t know what the circumstance would be. But you see Chris Sale, Verlander getting extensions. I think it’s time Jacob gets one too.”

Part of the equation behind the recent rash of extensions is the stagnation of free agency. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — two of baseball’s better pitchers — have gone through almost an entire spring training without being signed. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t find new homes until late February. Free agents in their 30’s are largely being underpaid or otherwise forgotten about. Extensions represent financial security for young and old players alike. Syndergaard himself can become a free agent after the 2021 season, so if deGrom’s prospects improve, then so too will his, at least without knowing the details of the next collective bargaining agreement which will be put into place ahead of the 2022 season.