December 2011

I’m again holding out hope that Jack Morris will have his ticket to the Hall of Fame punched

Jack Morris obviously is a difficult decision for Hall of Fame voters. He didn’t win 300 games or a Cy Young Award. He led the American League in victories only twice, one of those in the strike-shortened 1981 season. His 3.90 career ERA is not dazzling.

So if you cast your Hall of Fame votes by simply lining up the numbers, there’s a chance that 254 career victories over an 18-year career won’t meet your criteria.

Maybe that’s why Morris is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 13th time. Only in the last two years has he gotten 50 percent of the votes. He hasn’t come close to the 75-percent threshold.

To me, he exposes one of the flaws in Hall of Fame balloting. Let’s face it, there’s no perfect system. As Joe Torre said, “It’s the Hall of Fame. It’s supposed to be tough to get in.”

In this case, if you did not watch Morris pitch, if you didn’t cover his teams, you might not appreciate him. To many, the enduring memory of Jack Morris is that incredible 10-inning shutout of the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Morris took the ball, walked to the mound and wasn’t going to leave until the job was done. He was a tough, cantankerous, competitive bulldog.

He wasn’t the most pleasant human being to be around at times, but he was a winner however way you want to define that word. When I covered the Orioles in the ’80s, Morris and Eddie Murray had some hellish battles.

They were alike in a lot of ways. Neither of them said a lot. Both of them believed winning was the only stat that counted.

I hope before my friends cast their ballots, they’ll take one more look at Morris and talk to people like Kirk Gibson and Dan Gladden about what he meant to their teams.

Between 1979 and 1992, Morris averaged 17 victories and 241 innings a season. His ERA over that span was 3.71. He was part of three teams that won the World Series.

Yes, he never won a Cy Young Award. But he finished in the top five in the voting five times. He was in the top five in victories eight times. His 254 victories are 42nd on the all-time list. He’s 32nd in strikeouts and 50th in innings.

Even if some of his numbers don’t measure up, there ought to be some consideration of the human element, what he brought to the table, how he impacted others, etc.

Jack’s teammates knew he gave them a chance to win, and that the bigger the game, the better he’d be. In seven World Series starts, he compiled a 2.96 ERA.

If you covered baseball in the ’80s, especially if you covered the American League East, there’s absolutely no arguing against Jack Morris. Those of us who were there with him, who watched him and appreciated him, know he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Maybe his path to the Hall of Fame will be like that of Bert Blyleven, who got in on his 14th time on the ballot. He didn’t get 50 percent of the votes until his ninth year.

Whether Morris gets in or not, he’ll remain in a special place in the hearts and minds of the people who played with him, and more importantly, against him.

One afternoon, I was standing with Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson on the field at Tiger Stadium.

Like baseball men of their generation often did, they were talking about the possibility of being fired.

Weaver’s Orioles were having a bad year, and Weaver said something about his owner being perfectly justified in getting rid of him.

Sparky smiled.

“See them guys,” he said, motioning toward Jack Morris and Dan Petry, his top two starters.

“I can’t get fired as long as I have them,” he said.

Indeed, a lot of Jack’s managers felt that way about him.

I’m not saying Carlos Beltran is as good as Albert Pujols, but…

Carlos Beltran had a higher batting average than Albert Pujols last season. He had a higher OPS and a higher OBP too. He had more 10 more doubles. Pujols had a significant edge in home runs, 37-22.

It would be silly, silly, silly to argue that Carlos Beltran is as good as Albert Pujols. But last season when Beltran was healthy, he showed that he’s still capable of being an elite player.

If we’d had this conversation six years ago, Beltran would have been right there with Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols and a couple of others in the conversation about baseball’s best player.

But he missed 179 games during the 2009-2010 seasons and was pretty much forgotten until having a big comeback year in 2011.

At 34, he’s just three years older than Pujols, and last season he batted .300 with 39 doubles and 22 home runs.

But he’s not Pujols. His 1.037 career OPS is the sixth-highest of all-time, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Willie Mays.

Still, Beltran is a great signing for the Cardinals if he can stay healthy. He will not fill the hole left by Pujols’ signing with the Angels, but he can hold his own.

The Cardinals played the market carefully after losing Pujols, and it could be argued they should have done nothing until letting the first few months of next season play out.

By that time, their needs could have been more defined. But they obviously got comfortable with Beltran’s asking price, and now if Adam Wainwright is healthy and if Beltran and Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday can stay on the field, the Cardinals will be favored to win the National League Central.

This off-season has been a tough one for defending champions. First, Tony La Russa retired. Then Pujols left.

But as spring training approaches, they’re back in a familiar spot: the team to beat.

Let’s just hope Yu Darvish keeps that blog updated

According to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, Yu Darvish caused a scandal when photographed smoking a cigarette in a pachinko parlor while still in high school.
Uh oh.
I was completely put off that a kid would do such thing, especially since I thought a pachinko parlor might be something else if you know what I mean and I think you.
It’s not that. It’s an arcade game similar to a slot machine.
Now about that blog. Again according to Fraley, here’s Yu—we’re going to be on a first-name basis, so why not start now?—his latest blog update:
Losing weight: Done
I finished my first round of weight loss.
I lost about 5-6 (kilograms) over three weeks (a good pace) and now plan gain 3 kg and then lose 3-4 kg in January.
I have also managed to maintain the amount I can lift!
I want to focus on growing stronger and trimming down even more.
I also recently found out how I like to blow off steam. By thinking about training exercises, how to stay fit, and supplements.
You may have realized by now that… I am weird.
Today I feel that baseball, or being an athlete, is a vocation.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the negotiating process plays out. Agent Arn Tellem fired the first shot, sort of, last night by referring to Darvish as a “once-a-generation” talent.
Isn’t that what they said about Daisuke Matsuzaka?
Darvish apparently made over $12 million last season in salary and endorsement, so it’s reasonable to assume $75 million over five years could be a workable number. If he indeed made $6 million in endorsement money, he could very well exceed that if he becomes an MLB star.
This process is a cautionary tale. Including Matsuzaka, teams have made $100-million investments in just seven pitchers: C.C. Sabathia (twice), Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, Cliff Lee and Kevin Brown. Only Sabathia has been exactly what he was supposed to be (Lee is in just the second year of his five-year, $120-million deal with the Phillies).
That said, talent evaluators love Darvish. He has an above-average fastball, a big body and an assortment of breaking pitches. He has pitched a big workload without a hint of shoulder or elbow trouble. The Rangers have done such a good job of evaluating talent that if they believe in him, it’s a strong endorsement as to what he’s capable of.

Michael Cuddyer left a very nice legacy in the Twin Cities

Every so often, a player comes along who is perfect in just about every way. He’s productive on the field and a good teammate off it. He sees it as part of his professional responsibility to be a good citizen of his community.
That first paragraph pretty much sums up Michael Cuddyer’s 11 seasons with the Twins. He always tried to do and say the right thing.
Clubs evolve through the years, and as this off-season unfolded, it was clear that Cuddyer would end up elsewhere. The Twins saved about $3 million a year by signing Josh Willingham instead of Cuddyer and will pick up a couple of compensatory draft picks.
GM Terry Ryan will now sort through options, from re-signing Jason Kubel to shopping for pitching to holding his cards and gauging his team’s needs during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Cuddyer fits nicely in Dan O’Dowd’s remake of the Rockies. He can play right field, which would allow Carlos Gonzalez to move to left at Coors Field. He can also spell Todd Helton at first.
Still, when it happened, it was an emotional moment for the Twins. They drafted him out of high school, brought him to the big leagues and watched him grow into one of the most respected players in the game.
He fit nicely on a club respected for its work ethic and blue-collar approach. The Twins made the postseason six times in his 11 seasons, and with the opening of Target Field, changed the way people think about baseball in Minnesota.
He made the American League All-Star team only once in his 11 seasons, but he departed the Twin Cities with the respect of all who knew him. As legacies go, that’s not a bad one.

Brewers did their homework on Aramis Ramirez, and I guarantee it.

Back when he was a young executive with the Yankees between 1979 and 1985, Doug Melvin was reminded again and again about the value of preparation.

“If you worked for George Steinbrenner,” he said, “you had to be ready for anything he’d throw at you.”

For instance?

“He might call you at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and tell you he was discussing a trade with the White Sox,” Melvin said. “He’d say he needed the White Sox’s top five prospects on his desk, and he needed them right that minute.”

Those early days with Steinbrenner taught him some important lessons about preparation and organization he has never forgotten.

Steinbrenner could be impossibly difficult to work for, but almost all the executives who did were better off for the experience.

In fact, it was Melvin’s Yankee experience that led to his second job in major league baseball and set him on the path to being one of baseball’s most respected general managers.

In 1986, Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams sought out Melvin, in part, because he’d heard great things about him and, in part, because he respected the way Steinbrenner’s Yankees did business.

Melvin spent nine seasons with the Orioles in various capacities before joining the Rangers, where he was general manager from 1996 until 2001.

His Rangers made the playoffs three times in a four-year stretch between 1996 and 1999. Before that, they’d never played a single postseason game in their 25-year history.

He worked similar magic in nine seasons with the Brewers, leading them to their first postseason appearance in 26 years in 2008 and their first division championship in 29 years in 2011.

Along the way, he was made hundreds of moves, from big ones like the deals for C.C. Sabathia and Zack Grienke to smaller ones like getting Casey McGehee and Scott Podsednik with waiver-wire claims.

During his three decades in major league baseball, it’s his relentless preparation that has not changed, and that’s why his introduction of Aramis Ramirez on Wednesday was so interesting.

He spoke to dozens of people who’d either played with or against Ramirez, managed him, coached him or had some connection to him.

Likewise, Ramirez did his homework on the Brewers, including a long chat with manager Ron Roenicke as well as Roenicke’s former boss, Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

He came to admire Ramirez’s professionalism, his attention to detail and his work ethic. Brewers’ third basemen were among baseball’s least productive last season, but with so much uncertainty surrounding the club, Melvin has succeeded in filling a huge hole.

Brewers make an important signing as they await word on Braun and Fielder

At a time when the Brewers have no idea if they’ll be able to re-resign Prince Fielder or if Ryan Braun will be available for the first 50 games, GM Doug Melvin filled one of his significant holes on Monday when third baseman Aramis Ramirez agreed to a three-year deal.

Brewers’ third basemen were last in the National League in batting average, OBP and OPS last season. Manager Ron Roenicke started seven different third basemen, but Casey McGehee got 139 of the playing time there.

But the final totals of the seven—11 home runs, 67 RBIs—would be about a half-season for Ramirez. His presence adds depth to a batting order that could need it depending on where Fielder plays next season.

In 14 seasons, he has filled out an impressive resume, with a .284 career batting average, 315 home runs and two All-Star appearances. At 33, he’s coming off one of his best seasons, hitting .306 with 35 doubles and 26 home runs for the Cubs last season.

Beyond the numbers, he’s a low-key guy who doesn’t say much but prepares himself and does his job every single day. This is an off-season of uncertainty for the Brewers, but Ramirez’s signing is a significant step in the right direction.

Angels see a quick return on Pujols investment, and Hanley Ramirez hints he’s a happy camper

OK, now how do the Angels come up with the cash to pay Albert Pujols? I’m glad you asked.

The Albert Effect, Part 1…

The Angels sold around 1,000 season-ticket packages in the first 24 hours after agreeing to a $250-million deal with Albert Pujols, according to the Los Angeles Times. In addition, the team said it had received more than 500 on-line orders for season-ticket packages.

“You’re talking about billboards, TV spots, attendance, jersey sales,” Ben Sturner, chief executive of Leverage Agency, a New York-based sports and entertainment marketing firm, told the Times.

He said Pujols could impact sales for the Angels the same way Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin have done for the Angels and Clippers in Southern California.

The Albert Effect, Part 2…

The Angels expect sales of all-things Pujols to be brisk. There’ll be Albert t-shirts, Albert jerseys, Albert this, Albert that. If you want a C.J. Wilson jersey, the Angels can take care of that, too.

The Albert Effect, Part 3…

The Angels have a new TV deal with Fox worth at least $3 billion, according to the Times, and it’ll be significantly bigger than the $50-million-a-year deal the team currently has with Fox.

• • •

   The Angels will begin selling the product that is Albert Pujols today with a news conference at Angel Stadium that’ll be part pep rally, part marketing pitch. His free agency has been the biggest story of this baseball off-season, and the Angels are attempting to begin getting some return on their huge investment.

While Angels Manager Mike Scioscia considers the impact Pujols will have in the middle of his lineup, the business side of the franchise hope to be seeing a similar payoff.

Before the Angels jumped into the Pujols bidding, Scioscia said his first priority would be additonal depth in his pitching rotation. In a whirlwind few hours, he got both.

• • •

Hanley Ramirez has spoken, and if you’re the Miami Marlins, you like what he’s saying.

”We’ll have fun and work hard,” he said Friday during an appearance at Disney World. “We’re going all the way to the World Series and win the World Series.”

And: “We’ll just go to Spring Training and get ready for the season and be together. We need to be a team.”

The Rays solidify their future and prove again they’re among MLB’s smartest teams

Matt Moore will achieve a lifetime of financial security. He may give up some total dollars, but it’s a spectacularly good tradeoff. Evan Longoria made the same decision at the beginning of his major league career in 2008. David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis and all signed long-term deals early in their careers.

Today, we’re reminded why the Tampa Bay Rays are so good at what they do. They do not complain that they don’t have as much money as some other teams. Instead, they’re smart and creative and aggressive.

Moore, 22, is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. In two years, he has jumped from Class A ball to the major leagues. He ended up helping the Rays make the playoffs for the third time in four years. He has dazzling stuff. He also has a toughness and a self-confidence that only the special ones have.

His first major league start was in the 156th game of the regular season, and with the Rays desperate for a victory, he pitched five shutout innings at Yankee Stadium. How’s that for a memory?

His second start came in Game 1 of the playoffs, and he nailed that one too with seven shutout innings against the Rangers.

That he was every bit as good as advertised allowed the Rays to see the future a bit more clearly. In David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson and Moore, they have four gifted starting pitchers, all of them 26 years or under.

Rather than watch the clock tick on Moore’s arbitration and free-agent years, the Rays moved aggressive to offer him financial security and to give themselves some cost control. The Rays and Moore have agreed to a deal that could be worth $40 million. That’s the number that’s important to Moore.

For the Rays, there’s another significant number: eight years. With one negotiation, the Rays have taken care of his arbitration years and two years of free agency. If Moore is as good as he appears to be, the Rays will have one part of their rotation taken care of through 2019.

This deal is similar to the six-year, $17.5-million deal Longoria got before he’d established himself as one of baseball’s 10 best players. He got financial security, the Rays got control of him through 2015.

As GM Andrew Friedman attempts to keep a competitive team on the field, the Rays are also attempting to put together a long-term stadium solution that would produce the resources to allow the payroll to increase as players like Longoria and Price hit their free agency years.

Until that ballpark is a reality, they have to be aggressive, creative and smart. They proved again today that they’re all three.

Phillies fans may not know Ty Wigginton now, but they’re eventually going to love him

Before almost every game, Ty Wigginton steps in front of a mirror just before taking the field. He straightens his hat, adjusts his uniform and gets everything just so. And the very last thing he does–and he has done this almost from the beginning–is to take a look at that MLB logo.

To Ty Wigginton that logo is a remember of all the hard work and sacrifice and of dreams realized. He’s about to begin his 11th season in the big leagues. He has made some nice money and made hundreds of friends and gained the respect of almost every teammate, coach, reporter who has been lucky enough to know him.

Still, he looks at that logo to remind himself not to take any of it for granted, to stay hungry and to respect the game and to be appreciative of all that has happened. When I heard the Phillies had signed Ty for the 2012 season, it struck me that this was a perfect marriage.

Phillies fans may not know much about Ty now, but they’re going to love him. In a clubhouse that prides itself on its work ethic and blue-collar approach, he’s the absolutely perfect addition. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ty had come highly recommended from a few people, and that the more he’d looked into him, the more he was certain he’d be a nice fit.

The Phillies are Ty’s seventh team in 10 seasons, and he has appeared in 1,190 games without a single postseason game. The Phillies seem to be his best chance, and he’s thrilled about that. Charlie Manuel will love Ty, who can play first, second, third or the outfield. He’ll do whatever Charlie wants, and with a .265 career average and coming off a season in which he hit 15 home runs in 401 at-bats for the Rockies, he does it all pretty well.