Feb 14

Forget NBA, Baseball Still Has Best All-Star Game

For all the tinkering Major League Baseball does with its All-Star Game, it remains superior to the other All-Star Games, including the one we’ll see Sunday night.

Of course, all are commercialized to death, but the baseball edition still is played as a sport. They still play the game, unlike basketball and football, where defense is forgotten and it’s mostly showboating.

Those two are basically pick-up games.

I like the baseball game better because performances have to be earned. It’s also that way in hockey, where not much of anything can be predicted. The batter still has to hit the ball, whereas the basketball game can easily be taken over by a singular player.

In football, with no blitzing, there aren’t many quarterbacks who can’t light up a secondary.

This might sound weird, but one of the reasons I like the baseball game better is that players wear their own uniforms. In that, you get a sense of team. You don’t get in the other games, with the exception of football and their helmets.

Another reason is history.

Selected games in all sports have their moments, but there is a history, a tradition, to the baseball game. Ted Williams’ game-winning homer in 1941 in Detroit; Reggie Jackson going off the light tower, also in Detroit; the 15-inning 1967 game in Anaheim, when pitchers actually pitched, with Catfish Hunter going five innings in relief; Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse; Johnny Callison winning the 1964 game at Shea Stadium; how New York buzzed over Matt Harvey two years ago.

There are so many more, but after awhile the dunks all look the same in the NBA game. And, please, the fashion week adds nothing.

Jan 28

Manfred Must Shift From This Issue

That Rob Manfred is even thinking of it should give pause to any baseball fan, or at least one who considers themselves traditionalists.

MANFRED: Shift not an issue.

MANFRED: Shift not an issue.

There’s no such thing as perfection, and certainly baseball is not without flaws. However, use of a defensive shift isn’t one of them. Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner, in an effort to increase scoring is contemplating outlawing defensive shifts.

Baseball defenses have implemented shifts for years, dating back to Ted Williams if not before. Williams was good enough, and smart enough, to beat the shift.

Many of today’s players are not. Many frustrated by the shift have complained and privately lobbied to outlaw it. If Manfred manages to do this he would be rewarding players for incompetence and not being able to do their job.

Run production has gradually declined in recent years and a knee-jerk reaction has it being attributable to an increase in shifts. Funny, but did anybody connected with Major League Baseball ever think that might be because of a decline in steroid usage?

Of course, this logic would be an admission of the steroid era, one of the black marks of Selig’s tenure.

How many runs do shifts take away is debatable, but I’m willing to bet offenses are more stagnant because too many hitters simply don’t know how to hit. They are too preoccupied with pulling the ball and not using the entire field; they aren’t interested in working the count and drawing walks to increase their on-base percentage; and perhaps above all, they are enamored with the home run and don’t care about strikeouts.

So, what’s next if shifts are outlawed? Could baseball legislate what pitches must be thrown on specific counts? Or, how about telling outfielders how deep they can play, or ban corner infielders from guarding the lines late in the game? What about giving a hitter four strikes instead of three?

There are so many things Major League Baseball could do if it wants to improve the product on the field, but banning shifts is not one of them.

All too often, the stewards of the sport remind me of a man who can’t resist poking the coals of a barbeque to fan the flames. It’s really a great sport, with its biggest problem all those trying to needlessly trying to “improve’’ it.

Jan 26

Yankees Ready To Spar With Rodriguez

The Yankees fired an interesting salvo in their on-going war with disgraced slugger Alex Rodriguez.

After refusing to hold a “clear-the-air’’ meeting with Rodriguez, the Yankees are reportedly bracing their legal defense to prevent him from collecting on any of the $30 million in bonuses he would get from his 2007 marketing agreement with the team.

RODRIGUEZ: Facing more legal hassles.

RODRIGUEZ: Facing more legal hassles.

Good for them, even though they are sure to lose.

With six more homers he will tie Willie Mays (660) for fourth place on the career list, which would be worth $6 million. He would also get $6 million for tying Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755), Barry Bonds (762) and passing Bonds.

Naturally, the basis for their argument is Rodriguez’s involvement with steroids. It would be a worthwhile fight except for several flaws, namely the Yankees knew what they were getting into when they signed him, and then re-signed him.

However, their case would carry greater weight if they were to sue him for money already paid and to get out of the contract entirely, which has three years and $61 million remaining.

Proving they had no knowledge about steroids would be difficult because it is largely assumed Major League Baseball was aware of steroid use as far back as 1998, when we were “treated,’’ to the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Going this way would undoubtedly reopen old wounds and possibly create new ones. Personally, I would like to see them go that route regardless of the fallout because maybe all the truth would come out.

 

Jan 24

Missing Ernie Banks

This one hurts. Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,’’ passed away last night at 83.

Unquestionably, one of the highlights about covering baseball was meeting the game’s greats from when I first started following the sport. Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver and, of course, Banks.

Mets’ fans, of course, should remember Banks from the 1969 season when he was one of the few likable members of the Cubs. Some might actually have felt sympathy for Banks as he missed the playoffs for yet, another year.

Banks was the longtime face and persona of the Cubs. He was a Wrigley Field fixture who was a pleasant and kind visitor to opposing dugouts. Players loved to shake his hand and listen to his stories.

And, Banks loved to hold court, whether for a group or an individual. If you had a question, or just wanted to say hello, he would greet you and make one feel welcomed.

We’re in an age where too many of today’s athletes prefer to distance themselves from the public that adores them. That was never Banks. People liked him because he genuinely liked people.

The baseball world is a little poorer today without him.

Jan 21

Cheating Isn’t Trying, It Is Cheating

They say if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. That’s garbage.

The New England Patriots are in the news for cheating and it stinks. It reminds me of how the balls were stored at Coors Field. My thinking is the balls had little to do with it and was mostly the altitude and Rockies’ lousy pitching.

But, it created doubt.

The intrinsic beauty of sports is for the fan, the paying customer, to watch the game with the knowledge what they are seeing is true. That’s why I am against PED use, and why, although I was a big Pete Rose fan growing up, I understand his banishment from baseball for gambling.

The common argument from Patriots’ fans, who have the same entitlement as Yankees’ fans, is for them to point to the scoreboard and say the deflated balls had no bearing on the outcome of the game. But, that’s wrong. By definition, it is cheating. It is bending the rules and that violates the essence of sports.

As far as PED’s are concerned, yes, you still have to hit the ball and you still have to pitch it, but that’s an overly simplistic approach.

I keep hearing of Barry Bonds’ work ethic and Roger Clemens’ work ethic. I saw Clemens work out and I watched Alex Rodriguez train at 8 in the morning during spring training. I was taken in by their effort. I was fooled.

What steroids do for a hitter is it enables him to work and train harder in August when he’d normally wilt in the heat and be tired. That ability to work gives him more strength and energy, and consequently lets him generate more bat speed, which is the key to power. That comes into play not with the 450-foot homer, but when the ball just clears the fence.

That’s why I don’t use the words “home run” with Bonds. I call him “balls hit over the fence,” because they aren’t legitimate home runs. That’s just me.

Aaron Rodgers likes the ball firm and perhaps over inflated. Apparently, Tom Brady likes the ball when it is easier to grip. Obviously, this had to be conveyed to whoever pumps up the balls where the Patriots play. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? And, how can a control freak like Bill Belichick not know what’s going on? Just like with SpyGate he had to know.

Because he cheated, how can we be sure he didn’t cheat other times? How can we be sure everything the Patriots achieved was on the level? The argument Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame numbers before they cheated must also be discounted, because we don’t know exactly when they cheated.

We can’t and this puts everything they’ve done into question. It goes beyond gamesmanship. It’s cheating, and it’s wrong. Who is to say the Patriots didn’t film illegally before they were caught? And, the NFL destroying the tape is reprehensible. You realize they haven’t won a Super Bowl since.

The NFL suspended Sean Payton for a year because BountyGate damaged the integrity of the sport. Considering this is the second cheating charge against Belichick, a year suspension wouldn’t be out of line.

Just like what Bonds and Clemens did was wrong and will likely keep them out of the Hall of Fame forever. But, what about Brady and Belichick? I wonder if the football voters will hold this against them.

If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. But before you dismiss me, ask yourself this question: How would you feel if your doctor cheated his way through med school?