This Sunday is, for me and many others, the holiest day of the year. It is a day for reflection and for rejoicing. It is a day that reminds us that the miraculous is possible.
It’s Opening Day of baseball season.
Last year, I posted a rather cursory pre-season report, a fledgling attempt to make some claims and support some arguments for the year ahead. This year, in my continued attempt to spread the wealth of The Honestly Blog, I’ve decided to bring in an expert.
Here with what I hope will be the first in a series of reports throughout the season is my good friend, Tripp. Tripp has watched and played baseball all his life, and is actually the one who got a lapsed Little League left fielder like me to take the sport up again, albeit from a spectator’s perspective. Yes, he is the Dr. Frankenstein to my pinstriped Creature, a result I think he neither anticipated nor approves of. Yet I still value his opinions, and am happy he has agreed to share them here on The Honestly Blog. Take it away, Tripp…
(Please Note: The following has been edited for time, cohesion, and Yankee-bashing. Photo captions are mine.)
Looking Back, Looking Forward
What did we learn from 2009? They’re back! The Yankees’ first World Series title in nine years confirmed that the Bronx Bombers have finally bought – I mean found – a winning combination of offensive production and reliable pitching that could translate into another two or three titles before the Yankee core slows down. But fresh off a reviving championship, the Yanks are confronting the undesirable reality of the Jeter/Pettitte/Posada/Rivera/Rodriquez quintet looking at advancing ages. The core, and the team, still has the talent and swagger to win, but the age horizon is approaching.
Will the Yanks repeat in 2010? Maybe. They have the highest concentration of talent and playoff experience of any team in the league. The Red Sox will continue doing their best to raise the collective blood pressure of the tri-state area throughout the year, and will likely hold a lead in the AL East for a notable stretch. Neither the Orioles, still in a rebuilding phase, nor the Blue Jays, with the loss of Roy Halladay, are in a position to challenge the Yanks or the Sox. As 2009 showed, the Rays are a bit of an X factor; will they click as they did on their way to the Series two years ago, or stumble as they did last year? Trends suggest the Rays will be chasing the Bronx Bombers and the Sox for most, if not all, of the year. The AL East aside, a couple of other teams could trip up the Yankees on their way to October. The Twins continue to defy small to mid-market dynamics and put together winning ball clubs year after year. The Tigers have a good squad, even if they’re a little erratic at times (see their collapse at the end of the 2009 season). The Angels have built a consistently competitive team, and the Mariners, with the off-season acquisitions of Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, Cliff Lee, and the volatile Milton Bradley, could very well make a run to the post-season. (Disclaimer: I’m a Seattleite with west-coast blood running through my veins)
Who will be Breakout Player of the Year?
Watch Gordon Beckham, the projected starting second baseman for the White Sox. Keep an eye on Joey Votto of the Reds, too. With proven play throughout last year, he may be a popular trade target when July rolls around.
Who is the Most Overrated Player in Baseball?
The hype that surrounds Joba Chamberlain is pretty elevated. Mr. Chamberlain struggled a bit last season, going 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA. Let me be clear: I have no reason for and no interest in climbing on a pulpit and ragging on a guy. I’ve played the game, and I know how hard it is to play it well. But looking at the results, and recalling the publicity and praise Joba has attracted, I would say he trends overrated. I hope his 2010 season proves me wrong.
Should baseball have a salary cap?
Yes, baseball should have a salary cap, and the league needs to begin the process of conceiving of a specific structure and implementing it soon. Nothing erodes a fan base more quickly and completely than continual losing, and nothing diminishes a game’s popularity – it’s very cultural foothold, for that matter – than the erosion of a fan base. Part of the reason why the NFL is so exceedingly popular is because fans believe (and rightly so) that their team can go from worst to first within a presidential term. Parity, the equity of competition, makes this possible. In the game of baseball, some franchises are entering their second decade of irrelevance (see the Pittsburgh Pirates, with 17 straight losing seasons). Fans lose interest if their teams are consistently bad. The current baseball paradigm, in which a luxury tax is paid by teams that exceed a salary “cap”, doesn’t do enough to level the playing field between the teams. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants will naturally have more fans, and more revenue, because they play in bigger media and population markets. The league needs a salary cap so that the bigger markets cannot continue to dominate the smaller market teams, killing the spirit of competitiveness in the process. Losing the legacies of teams in Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh – among the most storied towns in baseball history – is too real a threat.
Should replay be a part of baseball?
I am not a fan of replay in baseball. Though I recognize its value and admire its objectivity, I think the game is diminished when the human element, the imperfection, is taken away by allowing video replay. I understand the interest in making things fair and the argument that video replay is the only way to make sure the “right” calls are made (assuming the video footage proves helpful). Even with this understanding, I still stand in opposition to the idea of replay. Part of that opposition comes from a concern that replay for home runs will parlay into replay for plays at first, or tags at home plate (or any base for that matter) and to the broader mechanization of the umpiring of baseball. The game is full of ambiguity. Its very figurative core, the strike zone, is subjective, for goodness sake! Baseball is a human game played by human beings, and as such it should be subject to the vicissitudes and imperfections of its players and it umpires. To consult video, from my view, takes something away from the game.
Will there be any major steroid revelations?
In short, I hope not. But then again, getting all the ugliness out into the proverbial daylight will, ultimately, be better for the game. Today’s players have embraced (at least I think they have) the severity of the crime that comes with using performance enhancing drugs, and Major League Baseball has made a strong push to ensure that the punishment for violating the league’s drug policy is commensurate with the damage the drugs do to the players and to the game. Will I lose any sleep if the 100 or so still-yet-to-be-named players that sit on that list alongside Alex Rodriguez remain anonymous? No. To be fair, though, I love the game more than I love the players, so my devotion isn’t really in play. For the younger fans, or the people who look to the players more than I, further revelations could be devastating; who wants to learn that their hero used drugs? I grew up watching Alex when he was with the Mariners, and I thought he was incredible. If I had been younger when his drug use came to light, it would have hurt a lot more.
I wouldn’t be surprised if more bombshells were dropped this year, and more images shattered. Beyond that, I really, truly believe that airing the ugly truth would be best. I heard it mentioned often that Mr. Rodriguez felt the most comfortable around baseball that he’s felt in many, many years, simply because of his “outing”. Divulging whatever dark secrets remain will be ruinous to many, but redeeming to many more, and most redeeming of all to the game of baseball.
What’s the best thing about baseball?
It would be hard to argue that baseball has the hold on America’s heart that it did half a century ago. The increased pace of life and society, the introduction of mind-boggling technology, the development of endless news coverage, the inculcation of “bigger, faster, stronger” as a marketing and cultural ethos all have helped to push America’s pastime from the fore of American minds. If you ask people why they don’t like the game, or like it less compared to another, I would venture to guess you would hear something along the lines of, “It’s too slow,” or, “It’s boring.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally feel the same way – there are some games that seem to go on for-eh-vur. Plus, the frenetic pace of the modern world just seems to synch better with the excitement of fast breaks and kickoff returns than it does with the rhythm of a well-turned double play or a crisp relay throw home. All this being said, baseball offers something no other game does: complete fairness.
In each baseball game, no team has more chances than the other. The home team and the away team each get 27 outs spread over nine innings to prove their mettle; nine turns in the field to prevent runs, and nine turns at bat to score as many runs as possible. A team cannot hold the ball for the entirety of the shot clock or run a prevent defense with six DBs. There is no shortcut to victory. Victory comes only through outperforming the opponent.
Elegant in its symmetry and fairness, graceful in its timelessness, baseball is at a disadvantage when trying to attract fans and potential players who are drawn to the glitz and glamour of quicker games. The trend isn’t likely to reverse any time soon, but for what it’s worth, the game is nobler than any other.
Wildcard: Red Sox
Yankees over Twins
Mariners over Red Sox
Mariners over Yankees
Phillies over Cardinals
Giants over Brewers
Phillies over Giants
Phillies over Mariners (in 7)
Maybe I’m dreaming, but I’ve got a good feeling about the Mariners this year.
Tripp Williams is an eternal optimist, practicing Transcendentalist, and unwitting heart-breaker. Prior to his two years of Division I competition, he played baseball throughout the Pacific Northwest with future two-time Cy Young Winner Tim Lincecum. I like Tripp’s hair better. He is the future 49th President of the United States.