Category Archives: Baseball

Blue Jays season is over but they still lose big

I haven’t written a baseball posting on this blog in over four years. I didn’t even write anything about the Jays when they clinched the postseason for the first time in 22 years, or when they came back to win a 5 game series when down 2 games to 0, or when finally succumbed to a very good Kansas City team in the ALCS. But what happened today is so mind-boggling that I can’t not write about it: Alex Anthopoulos is not returning as the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. The timing of this announcement is as telling as it is puzzling.

Anthopoulos became the GM of the Jays in 2009 and spent the next six years building the team into the 2015 AL East division champions, a team two wins away from the World Series. And as soon as he breaks the Jays’ 22-year streak of missing the playoffs – the longest of any team in any major North American sport – he decides it’s “no longer a good fit”? No, there’s something else going on here.

But perhaps the timing makes sense after all. During the season, the Jays hired Mark Shapiro to replace Paul Beeston as President of the team at the end of the season and according to one report, Shapiro “scolded” Anthopoulos for trading away too many prospects. Other reports say the contract they offered AA meant that if he had stayed, Shapiro would have had final say on any moves that he wanted to make, effectively making AA the assistant GM. If either of those is true, the Jays should be ashamed because they forced the best GM they’ve had in decades out and in the process, shot themselves in the foot, in a couple of ways.

AA not only brought the Jays back into the playoffs, he put them back in to the hearts, minds, and wallets of the city. Toronto hasn’t seen this much sports excitement since the last Toronto Rock championship the 1993 World Series. Yes, he traded away prospects but you don’t pick up the best 3rd baseman in the game and likely AL MVP, one of the best shortstops in the game, and one of the best starting pitchers in the game without giving up prospects. If he traded away prospects for older players with one last kick at the can, then they’d be right to complain. But those prospects brought in 29-year-old Donaldson, 31-year-old Tulo, and 30-year-old Price, and those three (among others, most of whom were acquired by AA) brought the Jays to the ALCS. He’s set the team up not only to be great this year, but for years to come.

And now he’s gone. This will not sit well with many fans, who see AA’s departure as a virtual firing rather than him just moving on. Make no mistake, the majority of fans couldn’t care less who the GM is and as long as the Jays do well next year, they won’t bat an eye. It’s not like I’m going to boycott the team either, but if deals are made in the off-season that appear to weaken the team in any way, if David Price signs somewhere else and isn’t replaced with another stud starter, or if the Jays don’t compete next season, well, I wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Shapiro’s shoes. And to add insult to injury, Anthopoulos was named the Sporting News Executive of the Year, and was informed of this just moments before the press conference where he announced that he wasn’t returning.


So the Jays may have shot themselves in the foot with the fans, but just as importantly, it’s possible they’ve done the same thing with the players. This whole event doesn’t look good for the Jays, and I only hope it doesn’t have an effect on their ability to sign and trade for players. David Price seemed happy playing for the Jays, but what if he was a fan of AA and doesn’t like the way this played out? He’s a free agent and is going to get top dollar offers from a bunch of teams, and staying in Toronto may not have the draw it did just a week ago. God help us if Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista demand a trade.

The best case scenario is fine, in which it makes no difference and the team competes again next year. But the worst case is terrible. Price signs elsewhere. Other free agents don’t want to sign here. Trades to Toronto get blocked by players. Existing players want out. The team doesn’t compete next year. Attendance drops like a rock. The city forgets about the Jays like they did for much of the last two decades. This is admittedly extreme and thus unlikely, but it’s not a scenario you want to even envision, let alone make possible. When you have a young talented GM who’s done as good a job as Anthopoulos has, and loves the team as much as he does, you keep him at all costs. And if that means the new president has less power, that’s just too damn bad for him.

Another great quote from twitter: “Anthopolous [sic] being declared exec of the year during the conference call about his departure is the most Toronto sports moment of all time.”


Three and one from the Jays game

Quick post about the Blue Jays game I went to with my dad the other day. Three weird things and one complaint – a complaint about complaints.

Weird thing #1: At one point, the Angels had back-to-back doubles, with no outs or stupid baserunning plays in between, and nobody scored. How do you hit a double with a guy on second and not drive him in? Glad you asked. The second double was a popup a mile high to the right side, so the runner on second had to wait to see if it would be caught. The batter, of course, just kept running. When it fell in front of Bautista and behind Lind and Johnson, the runner on second only had time to make it to third but the batter made it to second. Nobody blew the play so it wasn’t an error, so the scorer had no choice but to credit the batter with a double. I’m sure it’s not unique in the world of baseball, but with your standard double, you can usually assume that all the runners will move up at least two bases, and a baserunner scoring from first on a double is not unusual at all.

Weird thing #2: During Eric Thames’ third at-bat, the scoreboard showed that he’d flied out to LF in his first at-bat then flied out to CF in his second at-bat, so my dad and I decided that he should hit it to RF this time. I said “Put it over the right field fence!”. Thames hit the very next pitch over the right field fence.

Weird thing #3: “Batting ninth, the designated hitter, David Cooper.” The DH hitting 9th? Does someone not understand the concept of the DH? Yes I know: end of the season, the team is out of the playoffs, give the young kids some at-bats, and all that. Still weird.

The complaint about complaints involves Vernon Wells. Each time his name was announced, there were both cheers and boos coming from the crowd. The people booing Wells irritated me. Wells played several seasons for the Jays, and in some of those years he was very good and in the rest he was excellent. After one excellent year he was rewarded with a huge contract. Was he worth it? Probably not. But can you blame him for taking it? If someone said to you “We’re going to give you $125 million over the next seven years”, are you going to ask for less because you don’t deserve that much? Not on your life. So he took it and promptly got injured, hitting 20 home runs only once over the next 3 years. Then he returned to form in 2010, hitting .273 with 31 homers. Are these $15-million-a-year numbers? No but again, his inflated salary is not his fault, it’s J.P. Ricciardi’s. Wells was traded solely because his contract was so big. He never asked to be traded (Roger Clemens) never said he didn’t want to play in Toronto (again, Roger Clemens), didn’t sign somewhere else as a free agent (where do I start?) and never admitted to not giving his best during games because he wanted to play somewhere else (Vince Carter). I have even heard the tired old line about “now that he’s got the big contract, he doesn’t have to play hard.” I don’t buy that for a second.

Any player playing at the major league level has likely been playing baseball all his life because he loves the game. To get to the highest level in the sport, he’d have to have worked hard and excelled in Little League, high school, college, and several levels of minor leagues where he was making very little money. His hard work and determination paid off, and he made it to the majors where he continued to work hard and excel. And I’m supposed to believe that when he gets a huge contract that ensures that he can continue playing at the highest level, he suddenly doesn’t bother trying so hard anymore? The previous 20 years have been solely for the unlikely possibility of the huge payday? No. He’s been working his ass off and playing as hard as he can his whole life – he doesn’t know any other way to play. That refers to any professional athlete, not just baseball players, and not just Vernon Wells. Well, I guess it doesn’t apply to Vince Carter.

Hey Vernon, I was clapping for you.

OK, so that wasn’t such a quick post.

Baseball is awesome too

A while ago I wrote an article listing some awesome things about lacrosse. I love baseball too, so here are some things that make baseball awesome. Some of these are about playing, some are about watching, and some are just about the game in general.

The opposing team has the bases loaded and nobody out and you get out of the inning without giving up any runs.

When playing the outfield, that feeling you get after thinking “Oh crap, I’m not going to get to this fly ball” and then realizing that you can.

Watching one of your favourite players hit a walk-off 3-run home run to left field to win the World Series. (Note: may not be awesome to Phillies fans.)

An outfield assist.

Weird scoring plays. The best are the ones that involve a rundown. Combine this with the outfield assist, and you could have a 7-6-5-4-5-4 double play.

Seeing a ball game in a park you’ve never been to before. Places I’ve seen baseball games: Skydome Rogers Centre, Exhibition Stadium (RIP), Fenway, (New) Comiskey, Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland), The Kingdome (formerly in Seattle – RIP), plus one spring training game in Fort Myers, Florida.

No lead is safe. If you’re down 5-0 with 5 minutes left to play in a hockey game, it’s technically possible that you could come back and win, but I doubt it’s ever happened in the NHL. In baseball, there’s no time limits, so as long as you keep getting on base, you can do it. I’ve seen the Jays come back and win after being down 10-0. The other night I saw them lose 5-4 after going into the bottom of the 9th up 4-0.

Again when playing the outfield, running in on a short pop fly that nobody thinks you can get to, making the catch, and then doubling a runner off. (This has only happened to me a couple of times but is especially awesome since I don’t have a strong throwing arm, so baserunners who test my arm generally win.)

When a pitcher strikes out the last batter of a complete game victory. I love complete games in general, but when the last out is a strikeout, you can tell that the pitcher is still in command after nine innings.

A perfectly executed double steal.

When the ball is hit so sharply to the right fielder that he throws the batter out at first. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this in an MLB game, but it’s happened a couple of times in games I’ve played in.

Watching a milestone happen live. Doesn’t need to be a huge milestone, but when the PA announcer comes on and tells you that you’ve just seen the first-ever <something>, that’s awesome. My wife was in attendance at Dave Steib’s no-hitter in Cleveland, but those kinds of milestones are few and far between. Milestones I have seen live:

  • The Blue Jays’ first triple play in 1977
  • Manny Lee’s first major league hit (a single)
  • Dave Steib’s first one-hitter
  • Pat Hentgen’s last start as a Blue Jay
  • Roger Clemens’ first start as a Blue Jay (and his opening day start the next year too)
  • Cal Ripken’s first game after ending his 17-year streak

Seeing a kid bring his glove to an MLB game. It’s the only sport where nobody thinks twice if they see you bring your own equipment to a game you’re watching. Nobody brings a hockey stick to an NHL game or their own tennis racquet to Wimbledon. I must say I have seen lacrosse sticks at NLL games, but it’s generally young kids bringing little plastic sticks, not adults bringing full-sized ones.

A straight steal of home. You gotta have cojones.

When a batter watches strike three go by and then smiles because he knows it was a great pitch.

Watching the last out of the last game of the World Series. I love watching the players celebrate, even if it’s not my team. Though it’s better if it is.

Did I miss any?

Bleacher Report’s dumbest list ever

The other day I read an article on Bleacher Report by a guy named Shawn McPartlin about the 50 most overrated baseball players of all time. Now, I understand that different people are going to have different opinions on a player’s value and whether he’s overrated or not. People’s definition of “overrated” may also differ. But some of these choices are either misguided or just plain wrong and the whole article ends up as a complete joke.

Some of the choices for this list are a little weird. For example, everyone knows about Brady Anderson’s 50-HR season but nobody thinks that was normal for him, so I wouldn’t call him overrated. Nobody except the most die-hard (and delusional) Yankees or A’s fan thinks of Scott Brosius as anything other than a pretty decent 3rd baseman. McPartlin specifically says that Lou Brock “belongs in the Hall of Fame”, so how can he be overrated? In addition, we all know that Brock is in there primarily because of his outstanding base stealing ability – nobody thinks it was because of the hundreds of home runs he didn’t hit. Who thinks of Omar Vizquel or Ozzie Smith as anything other than excellent defensive shortstops? Joe Carter was a good player, a good hitter, and a good guy who had one outstanding and unforgettable at-bat, but nobody would list him among the greats, so calling him overrated is unfair – and I’m a Blue Jay fan, the most likely to put Carter on a pedestal.

Dave Stewart won 20 games four years in a row (from 1987 to 1990), and then never won more than 12 in a season after that. McPartlin says of Stewart, “Consistency makes you a great player. Glimpses of greatness makes you overrated.” Nonsense. Glimpses of greatness makes you a good player who had, well, glimpses of greatness. If people latch onto those glimpses and think your whole career was like that, that is overrated. Overrated refers to how you are rated, i.e. how people remember you. If people were to think about Dave Stewart as the most dominant pitcher of the 80’s and 90’s, then yes, he would be overrated. He was very good, and maybe one of the most dominant pitchers of those four years, but anything more than that is a stretch. But who thinks of Stewart as anything more than that? Nobody I know.

The listing of Nolan Ryan as the most overrated player of all time is just funny. If you get to 3,000 strikeouts in your career, you’re almost a lock for the hall of fame, and here’s a guy with well over 5,000, almost 1,000 more than second place. He won over 300 games, was an All-Star 8 times, and threw seven no-hitters. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning over his 27-year career. He struck out 301 batters in 1989 when he was 42 – only three pitchers have beaten that total in the 21 years since (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson). And McPartlin’s argument that he’s the most overrated player of all time is that he only won 20 games twice? He’s not known for being the best pitcher ever, he’s known for being the best strikeout pitcher ever.

We need to decide what “overrated” really means. The way I think about it is as follows: if you asked someone to list the best baseball players of all time in order of overall greatness and a player that you deem to be around #50 is on their list as #30, they they have overrated that player in your opinion. For a player to be generally considered overrated, he would have to show up on most people’s lists higher than he really deserves. But who decides where he deserves to be? You also need to ask why a particular player is where he is on someone’s list. If someone lists Lou Brock high because he had 3,000 hits and a zillion stolen bases, then the fact that he didn’t hit 500 home runs is irrelevant.

Obviously nobody keeps an ordered list of the best baseball players and there isn’t a canonical list to compare with, so you can’t decide whether someone’s overrated based solely on a numerical comparison. You have to look at how people in general think about a particular player in general and subjective terms. McPartlin says:

Some players reach greatness, while others fall short of the hype.

Some players have mediocre careers, but are talked about for decades because of their postseason exploits. 

Some players were so gifted in one facet of the game that their shortcomings are overlooked.

Whatever the reason is, all sports have these players—the overrated ones.

The first one I completely agree with. The kid who comes up from the majors and is touted as “the next great shortstop / catcher / base stealer / home run hitter” and turns into a decent player but not a star is definitely overrated (or more accurately, was overrated). The second and third cases are more iffy and depend on who you’re talking to and how the player is described. Wade Boggs comes to mind – he was an incredible hitter, one of the best hitters ever to play the game. He was a good defensive third baseman, had a bit of power, and no base speed to speak of, and if everyone remembered him as “one of the best players ever” or even “one of the best third basemen ever”, then yes, he would be overrated. But nobody does. Anyone who saw Boggs play remembers him as one of the best hitters ever. Nobody has ever called him a five-tool player. Does his batting average make up for his lack of power and speed? That’s a matter of opinion, but I think it does.

He also lists a number of players who have tested positive for (or admitted to using) steroids, as if that immediately makes the player overrated. I’m no fan of steroids or steroid users either, but let’s be fair. Would Jose Canseco have hit 40 HRs three times if he had never taken steroids? We’ll never know but assuming he wouldn’t is unfair. Similarly, to simply dismiss Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire as overrated solely because they took PEDs is unfair. And considering this obvious bias, it’s odd that neither Roger Clemens nor Barry Bonds shows up on his list. Perhaps that’s because he decided (correctly) that they were two of the best players in the history of the game and were Hall-of-Famers before they ever touched steroids. The fact that the last number of years of their careers were chemically-enhanced doesn’t take away from the first decade or so when they were clean.

The take-home message, Mr. McPartlin, is that you can’t call someone “overrated” just because he wasn’t a five-tool player. Yes, some players are well known for being great at only one facet of the game, and the other facets weren’t that great. Some players are well known for a single season or even a single event, and the rest of their career wasn’t any big deal. Whether or not they are “overrated” depends on how people remember them. If people thought of Joe Carter as the greatest outfielder the Jays ever had simply because of that one home run, then I’d agree that he’s overrated. But even Jays fans don’t think of him that way – they rate him as a pretty good power-hitting outfielder / 1st baseman who happened to hit the most important home run in Jays history. That doesn’t make him overrated.

Having said all that, I can’t disagree with including Vernon Wells on the list.

And Dustin Pedroia is short

I went with my dad to the Jays/Red Sox game tonight. Four observations:

  1. Clay Buchholz is the slowest pitcher in the history of the world. I’m sure he waited ten or fifteen minutes between pitches.
  2. Rajai Davis doesn’t have anywhere near the outfield range of Vernon Wells. One inning, a ball dropped in front of him and took a high bounce. Davis jumped and cut it off before it went to the wall, keeping the batter to a single instead of at least a double. Pretty nice play, but Wells would have caught it.
  3. Kevin Youkilis has unbelievable bat speed.
  4. Food and beer at Rogers Centre is really expensive. One hot dog and two small Keith’s: $21. Instead of a $5.25 hot dog in the stadium, have a $5 Italian sausage outside the stadium beforehand. Bigger, thicker, tastier, and cheaper.

Expanded playoffs in MLB

I read an article in Sports Illustrated by a baseball writer named Joe Sheehan the other day, and after finishing it, I couldn’t get to the computer to fire up my blog-writing software fast enough. The article was called “More is Less”, and had the following subtitle:

Miss pennant races? Think the regular season should matter? Then an expanded postseason isn’t for you.

I was halfway through the first paragraph of the article before I realized that I read what I expected to read, not what was actually there. It said “an expanded postseason isn’t for you”. I can’t imagine how an expanded postseason isn’t better for everyone.

Sheehan says that adding an extra wild-card team to the playoffs will “finally destroy any notion that regular-season excellence matters”. He illustrates his point with a scenario in which the winner of the second wild-card spot (Team A, in fifth place) has a big lead over the sixth place team and therefore “cruises” into the playoffs, allowing them to rest their starters during the last few games of the season, while the fourth place team (Team B) finishes hard because they’re trying to win their division and just fall short. This means that the Team B, who finished ahead of Team A potentially by “10 or 12 games”, needs to play a well-rested Team A in the first round and the team that finished lower in the regular season could end up winning that series. I’m not saying that this scenario is not possible, of course it is. But that’s what we sports fans call “The Playoffs”. I suppose Mr. Sheehan thinks that the fact that the President’s Trophy winner rarely wins the Stanley Cup the same year is a failing of the NHL.

The thing is that this scenario could happen even without the wild cards. Say we’re back in the days when there was just two divisions in each league, and the winners face off in the League Championship Series. Now say the winner of the weaker East had a 90-72 record but clinched the division with a week left in the season, and the winner of the stronger West finished at 100-62 but didn’t clinch over the second-place 99-63 team until the last day. The team with the worse record is well rested and has a big advantage over the exhausted team with the better record.

I hate to tell you this, Mr. Sheehan, but the regular season is the seeding process for the playoffs. Ask any baseball player which they would rather do – have the best record in the regular season, or win the World Series? Any athlete in any sport will tell you that winning the regular season title is meaningless if they don’t win the Championship.

Mr. Sheehan came up with a theoretical scenario in which expanding the postseason might negatively affect a team in a particular situation (note that the team that was affected in his scenario did make the playoffs, so a lot of teams might think that’s a pretty nice problem to have). But let’s look at a real-life scenario – the 2009 American League. On September 1st, the Yankees, Tigers, and Angels were leading their divisions. The Red Sox were 6½ games back in the East (and leading in the wild card race), the Twins were 3½ games back in the Central, and the Rangers were 6 back in the West. None of the races is over, but if there is no wild card spot, the East and West are much less compelling. 6 or 6½ games out with a month left to go is certainly not insurmountable, but even if Boston sweeps a four-game series against New York, they’re still 2 back, so a lot would have to happen for the Red Sox to make the playoffs. The Rangers are in the same situation in the west, but nobody else really has a chance in either of those divisions. With a wild card spot, the Red Sox make the playoffs, and Texas and Tampa are only 4 and 5 games out respectively. Right away, you can see that having a wild card race means that excitement in these cities would be much higher – excitement not only for the fans, but for the players as well. More excitement for fans means higher attendance and more TV viewers, which is good for ownership and for baseball in general. More excitement for players means harder-played and likely more exciting games, which further increases fan interest. And that’s not just fans in those cities – fans of the other front-running teams will be watching more to see the team they might face in the postseason. I don’t see how adding the wild card spot is bad for anyone.

With a second wild card spot, there’s still excitement in Boston but now if things stay the same, Texas will make also  the postseason and Tampa is only one game out. The Mariners are 9 games out of the first wild card spot, but only 5 out of the second. More exciting games, more excited fans in more cities, more TV viewers. Once again, everybody wins. Winning the division is still valuable – you make the playoffs and have home field advantage while playing a weaker team.

This doesn’t turn MLB into the NHL, where teams barely over .500 make the playoffs (the 2009 Canadiens were 39-33-10) , or even worse – the NBA, where the 37-45 Pacers made the 2011 playoffs. (Of course, I’m a fan of the National Lacrosse League where 80% of the league makes the playoffs, including the 5-11 Minnesota Swarm in 2010. But I digress.) Even with a second wild card spot, only the top five teams in each league (out of 14 or 16) see postseason action.

It is, and should be, possible for a team to lose in the playoffs to a team below them in the regular-season standings. In Mr. Sheehan’s view, this makes the regular season meaningless. But what if there were no wild card spot in the 2009 season? The Yankees get a bye (fans love those, don’t they? They get to watch their team play fewer playoffs games) while the Twins and Angels play each other. But what if the Twins take out the Angels and then the Yankees? It certainly could happen – weirder things than that have. The Yankees won sixteen more games than the Twins in the regular season but don’t go to the World Series. Doesn’t this also make the regular season meaningless?

I am a Blue Jays fan, and the Jays haven’t played a really meaningful game in September for well over a decade, and this is true for many other teams as well. Maybe the entire regular season isn’t meaningless but the last month or so is, for the vast majority of teams. Adding an extra wild card team in each league means that some of these teams have a better chance of making the postseason. They may not be in a Pennant race, but they will be in a playoff race, and for teams that haven’t been in an actual Pennant race in years, that’s almost as good. September will be more compelling and exciting and therefore meaningful for these teams. Isn’t making the regular season meaningful something that you’re trying to accomplish?

So Mr. Sheehan, if you want to make sure that the regular season is really meaningful, you’d need to eliminate the divisions entirely and just have the first-place AL team play the first-place NL team in the World Series. The W-L records can’t be compared because they play with different rules and against different teams, and so there’s none of this worse-record-beats-better-record stuff that you don’t like. But you tell the owners that you’re reducing the post-season from eight teams and three rounds to two teams and a maximum of seven games and see how they welcome this dramatic drop in playoff revenue. You tell the fans of the fourth- and fifth-place teams that the fact that they didn’t make the playoffs is somehow good for baseball. This scheme may be better for the ultra-purists, but not for anyone else.

All Things Being Equal

When fans discuss a league for a period of time, something that inevitably comes up is parity. This seems to be the goal of any league – the idea that all of the teams in the league are similar enough talent-wise that it’s highly possible for any team to beat any other team on any given night. This also implies that any team has a reasonable shot at winning a championship. The idea certainly has merit. If you’re a fan, you know that the chances of your team winning it all or at least being competitive are pretty good.

But if you listen to Bob McCown, one of Canada’s most knowledgeable sports broadcasters (both loved and despised by many), he’ll tell you point blank that parity is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a league. When you look back over the history of pro sports in North America, what kinds of team-related things do you remember? The Yankees’ dominance in the 50’s, the Islanders in the early 80’s and the Oilers immediately after that, the Red Wings in the late 90’s, and the Rock of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Do you look back fondly on the years of parity? Do you even know when they occurred? No, you don’t. You remember the dynasties.

With the dynasties come the, well, anti-dynasties, I suppose. We also remember the teams that were really bad for long periods of time – the Senators of the mid-90s, the lowly Nordiques before Eric Lindros turned them into the powerhouse Avalanche, the Maple Leafs for most of the last 40 years, and the Clippers, Pirates, and Cubs seemingly forever. Again, do you remember the years when all the teams were pretty good, but nobody was awesome and nobody was terrible?

So parity isn’t so good for the history books, but is it good for the fans? That depends. I’ve been a Maple Leafs fan all my life, and apart from a few good years in the 80’s and a few more in the 90’s, they’ve been mediocre at best for the majority of that time, and downright awful for quite a bit of it. A little parity sounds like a pretty damned good idea there. The Jays were terrible from 1977 until about 1984, then good for the rest of the 80’s, awesome in the early 90’s, then dropped off and have been no better than pretty good for the last fifteen years. The Raptors were terrible for a while, then pretty good for a few years, and now they’re terrible again. The aforementioned Cup-winning Islanders and Oilers are both pretty bad these days. It’s a terrible feeling watching your favourite team lose, and know that they’re going to have a lousy season and are not likely to improve for at least a couple of years. That feeling is made even worse knowing that some other teams are likely to be awesome for that entire period. I’m sure parity would be welcome to fans of those teams as well.

But I’ve also lived the other side of the equation, thanks to the NLL. I became a Rock fan in 2001, when they had already won two championships. The total number of home games they lost was in single digits for several years. In their first seven seasons, they won five championships and lost a total of two playoff games. The Wings stole the 2001 championship away (don’t get me wrong, they earned that victory), but the Rock stormed back and won the next three of the next four. I can tell you that parity in the NLL was the last thing that Rock fans wanted around 2005.

So for the fans the conclusion is hardly surprising – when your team is winning, parity is something you want to avoid. When your team is losing, parity is something to strive for. How about for the league as a whole?

Obviously most leagues think that parity is ideal. They want fans from all of their teams to continue to pay money to come out to the games as much as possible. This is easier when all the games are meaningful because each team still has a chance to make the playoffs and win it all. This is at least part of the reason we have salary caps and luxury taxes and such, so that some teams can’t outspend the rest of the teams by 200% and buy themselves a stacked team. Of course that wouldn’t happen in a league without a salary cap, would it? Well, the pre-cap Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers tried it for a number of years, but just ended up with some very expensive losing teams. But this strategy has worked very well for the New York Yankees, and has made the Yankees one of the most hated teams in all of North American sports, outside of New York anyway. It has also turned the Yankees into one of the biggest draws at MLB stadiums all over North America, and has made them one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. And at the same time, MLB is doing very well financially, thank you very much, with no salary cap. Parity shmarity. How’s that salary cap working for your owners, Mr. Bettman?

The NLL east has been pretty even for a couple of years. Only 2 games separated 2nd from 5th last year. In 2009, the top 3 teams had the same record 10-6 record, and in 2008, the top four were 10-6. The west has been kind of weird for a few years. Minnesota’s 5-11 regular season record (.313) in 2010 is the second worst ever to make the playoffs in the NLL, and the third worst ever in any sport*. Calgary ran away with the west in 2009, and in 2008 San Jose and Colorado tied for the division lead with records just above .500.

In 2011, you’ve got a couple of strong teams (Washington and Boston) but nobody that’s unbeatable. You’ve got some weak teams (Philly, Colorado, Minnesota), but nobody who’s really terrible. And everybody else could easily find themselves in the playoffs or fighting for a spot. Could Washington repeat? Sure they could. It’s way too early to say “dynasty”, but they could easily be in the running again this year. But could I predict a Rush championship without looking like an idiot? Sure I could. Or the Blazers. Or the Rock. Or the Bandits. Could the Roughnecks win without Sanderson or Kelusky? Well, the Oilers won without Gretzky, so anything’s possible.

* In the 1993 and 1994 NLL (called the MILL at the time) seasons, three different teams made the playoffs with 2-6 (.250) records. In the other major sports, only the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets of the NBA were worse: 16-54 (.229). No NFL team has ever made the playoffs with a record under .500. In baseball, the 1981 KC Royals made the playoffs at 50-53 (.485), though that was a strike-shortened season. And my beloved Leafs made the playoffs in 1987-88 with a 21-49-10 record, which is .263 in wins (21 wins in 80 games) but ties screw things up. They got 52 out of a maximum of 160 points, which is .325.

Damn Yankees

Ryan and I watched an inning or two of the Yankees-Rangers ALCS game tonight. Since we just went to New York City, Ryan said “Go Yankees!”, at which point I sternly told him that we don’t say things like that in this house. He seemed surprised when I told him that I wanted Texas to win. I told him that I’ve always hated the Yankees. My whole life (well, ever since 1977 when the Jays came into existence and I started paying attention to baseball), my two favourite teams on any given night were (1) the Jays, and (2) whoever is playing the Yankees. Ryan asked why, and I was a bit surprised to find that I had a hard time answering him.

I tried to think about Yankees players that might cause these strong feelings. Before my time, there was Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris. You can’t hate any of them. Back in the 70’s there was Reggie Jackson, but everyone loved Reggie. In the 80s they had players like Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti, all of whom I liked. Even non-Yankee Yankees like Wade Boggs – in my mind he never left Boston and he certainly never played for Tampa. I mean that would be like George Brett not playing for Kansas City or Paul Molitor not playing for Milwaukee. Oh yeah, um, never mind about Molitor. From the 90’s until now there’s been Derek Jeter, who I have all kinds of respect for, Mariano Rivera, one of the best closers of all time, and Andy Pettitte, a great pitcher and a classy guy. I have no problems with them or Posada, Teixeira, Cano, Swisher, or Sabathia.

Of course, there are Yankees players who I don’t like. Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players in the game, but a bit of a jerk. I have less of a problem with his taking steroids than others do; in fact I think it took some serious stones to come out and say “Yes I did them and I regret it”, knowing it might cost him the Hall of Fame. He has pulled a few dick moves though (and I’m not talking about his relationship with Madonna – heyo!), so I can’t say I really admire him. Similarly, I liked Roger Clemens when he was with the Jays, but he turned out to be a jerk as well. I don’t remember the details of the circumstances under which A.J. Burnett left Toronto (I hate getting old), but whatever they were, they made me not like him. David Wells was not the most popular player around, though I never really hated him. I think he fit in on the Yankees better than on the Jays, and after he was traded to the Jays from the Yankees in the Clemens deal, he publicly stated that he wasn’t happy with that trade and would have preferred to remain a Yankee. Way to make new friends in Toronto, Boomer. But I hated the Yankees long before any of those four donned the pinstripes.

I never really liked George Steinbrenner (did anybody?), but you gotta admit that what he did with the team was pretty damned impressive. He bought the Yankees for dirt in the 70’s and not only turned them into a baseball powerhouse (they’ve only missed the playoffs once since 1994) but more importantly for him, he turned the team into a multi-billion dollar enterprise and one of the most valuable franchises in any sport in the world. I found it amusing how often he changed managers, up until Joe Torre I guess. I believe he hired and fired Billy Martin five times. Martin himself was entertaining. I liked Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. I don’t particularly like Joe Girardi, but I can’t say that I hate him.

But because of Steinbrenner, it’s gotten increasingly easier to hate the Yankees over the last ten or fifteen years. Because the team rakes in so much money and because there’s no salary cap in baseball (just a “luxury tax” that the Yankees are only too happy to pay), they’ve been able to sign just about every big-name free agent out there. Whenever any star player becomes a free agent, it’s assumed that the Yankees are going to talk to him. What other team would have even considered signing ARod to a multi-gazillion dollar deal when they already had a superstar shortstop? There’s already talk of Cliff Lee signing with the Yankees in the off season, and that he has increased the amount that New York will have to pay him next year by beating them this year. But again, I hated the Yankees even before they started to outspend everyone.

So it’s not the players, ownership, or managers that makes me hate the Yankees. It’s not that they play in the same division as my favourite team, since I don’t hate the Red Sox or Devil Rays. It’s not the city of New York, since I don’t hate the Rangers or Mets. So the answer to the original question “Why do you hate the Yankees?” would have to be: “I dunno. I just do.”

So long, Cito. And thanks.

Today is Cito Gason’s last home game as Blue Jays manager. I don’t really have a lot to say here, but I wanted to acknowledge what Mr. Gaston has done for the Blue Jays. He was the hitting instructor in the mid-80’s, when the Jays went to the post-season for the first time. He became the manager in 1989, and the Jays returned to the playoffs. They won the AL East three more times, and of course won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. If the 1994 season hadn’t been cut short, who knows what might have happened (Jays vs. Expos in the World Series? It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities…) Gaston helped to take a team that was on the way up and bring them all the way to the top.

Cito announced earlier this year that he would be retiring after this season, so I wanted to write this as my way of saying thanks. Thanks for the pennants, the championships, and the All-Star games. Thanks for the slow trips to the mound and the arguments with umpires. Thanks for being a quiet but commanding leader. Thanks for letting Todd Stottlemyre do his own baserunning. But most of all, thanks for the greatest moment in Blue Jays history:

The Ole Ball Game

I was watching a Jays game a few nights ago, and they mentioned Roy Halladay’s 8-6 record, as well as both Shawn Marcum and Ricky Romero, both of whom pitched very well at the beginning of the season but got no run support and therefore have fewer wins than they really deserve. I already knew this (as do all baseball fans), but it became clear to me once again that wins and losses are a rather meaningless stat for pitchers. It seems to me that a pitcher is not out there to help his team win, he is out there to help his team not lose. There’s a subtle but important difference there. To win a baseball game, you have to score more runs than the other team, and (ignoring the occasional NL miracle of a pitcher hitting) the pitcher can’t help do that. All he can do is try to minimize the number of runs the other team gets. Short of throwing a perfect game and hitting a home run, a pitcher cannot win a game by himself. But he sure can lose one.

How many times have you seen a pitcher throw a complete game with no walks, a handful of hits, give up one or two runs, and lose because his team scored nothing? Happens all the time. Hell, there have been pitchers who have thrown no-hitters and lost the game. And yet who, according to the pitching stats, is responsible for the loss? The pitcher – the only guy on the team who did his job.

It’s even more interesting when you consider relief pitchers, particularly closers. I remember a year when Tom Henke had a great season but finished with an 0-6 record, and some baseball journalist said that this wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounded because wins, for a closer, are generally a bad thing. This seemed incomprehensible to me until he explained: closers generally come into the game when their team is already winning. To get credit for a win, the pitcher would have to allow the other team to tie the game (or go ahead), and still be the pitcher of record when his team comes back to win it later. This means that to get the win, you have to screw up your save opportunity. But if wins are bad for closers, how do you explain Henke’s 1989 season, where he went 8-3? Using this logic, 8 wins for a closer should be terrible but he had a 1.92 ERA and 20 saves, which ain’t bad. And Mariano Rivera, arguably the best closer in the history of the game, has had W-L records over .500 in 10 of his 15 complete seasons including two seasons with 7 wins and one with 8. Once again, we see that wins are meaningless.

There are other pitcher stats that don’t necessarily indicate the skill level of the pitcher – ERA for one. If you have Tony Fernandez and Roberto Alomar as your middle infield, you’re going to have a lower ERA (and possibly more wins!) than if you have just average defensive players there. If you have a catcher that throws out 95% of runners attempting to steal a base, you can concentrate more on the batter and less on the speedy guy on first because you know he’s less likely to run, and if he does your catcher will take care of him.

Similarly, RBIs are meaningless for hitters, because they depend greatly on who’s hitting ahead of you. If you’re the team’s cleanup hitter and the #3 hitter is having a bad season, you’re likely going to see your RBI total drop – not because you are having a bad season, but because someone else is. Or say the guy hitting in front of you last year was a great base stealer, but the guy hitting in front of you this year isn’t. Even if his OBP is about the same, you’re likely going to have a drop in RBIs as well, since the new guy will still be on first when the old guy would have been on second. Unless the new guy doesn’t have to steal bases because he gets more extra-base hits than the old guy, then you might get more RBIs. Unless a lot of those extra base hits are home runs, and then you might get less.

I suppose these types of things are the reasons they come up with new stats like OPS, WHIP, and ERA+, in the hopes of measuring a players skill level while attempting to filter out external influences. There is even an Adjusted OPS, which takes into account the park that the player plays his home games in, as does ERA+. Pretty soon you’re going to need a degree in statistics to be able to understand all these things.