May 02

MLB Chooses Non-Confrontational Route In Discipline Of Umpire Tom Hallion

Not surprisingly, Major League Baseball took the path of least resistance in its decision to fine all the parties involved in the Tom Hallion-David Price incident last Sunday.

Long story short, according to Price on Twitter, Hallion told him: “Throw the [expletive] ball over the plate.’’ Later, Hallion called Price “a liar.’’

MLB fined Price, and Rays pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore – caught in the cross fire – $1,000 apiece, claiming Price violated baseball’s social media policy. Fair enough, as MLB has a policy in place on social media.

Hallion was fined an undisclosed amount, and one could only hope it was more because MLB feels the umpire provoked and escalated the issue. MLB isn’t saying, and of course, neither is the umpire’s union.

Joe Torre, who oversees MLB disciplinary cases, was dealing with an untenable situation. For years MLB placated the umpires to the point where they’ve become overcome with self-importance and arrogance. He knows there are fine limitations set by collective bargaining with the players, but the umpire’s union plays hardball on every issue, big or small. The Players Association won’t go to war with a fine or limited suspension; the umpires will cross swords if Torre raised his eyebrows to them.

Umpiring is a tough job and these guys, for all the static they receive, do it better than anybody. That’s not to say they can’t do better and improvement can’t be made.

I still say the only way to avoid these “he said, he said’’ confrontations is to have the umpires wired to microphones they can’t control.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

May 02

Not Buying Terry Collins’ Explanation; Jordany Valdespin Needs To Start

Pinch-hitting is one of the more difficult things to do in the sport. After sitting for up to two hours, you are given little time to get loose and thrust into position of trying to hit a 90-mph., fastball or nasty fall-off-the-table breaking stuff.

Few do it well, but the Mets’ Jordany Valdespin has a knack for coming through with power. His three-run homer Wednesday was his sixth in two years with the Mets. He is indeed, a unique weapon.

VALDESPIN: Must play.

VALDESPIN: Must play.

“That’s what he does,’’ manager Terry Collins said, conveniently forgetting that’s what Valdespin does because he’s rarely given opportunity to do anything else. “For some reason he loves to come off the bench. Everybody likes to play, but he loves to come off the bench when the pressure is on, the heat is on.’’

Sure, Valdespin might relish batting in the clutch, but it’s a misnomer to think that’s all he wants to do. However, as tempting as it is for Collins to want to save him for that spot, one that might not present itself for days.

Given the dismal state of the Mets’ offense, and futility of using six leadoff hitters in 25 games, Valdespin must stay at the top of the order playing center field until he proves he can’t handle the role. His temperament and demeanor sometimes more represent a NBA diva, but that’s peripheral stuff that should be back-burnered until it proves to be a detriment to the team.

Collins tried to create the ideal image for Valdespin yesterday, but came woefully short in selling his position.

“One of those things with those bench players like that, you create the scene for them,’’ Collins said. “If he’s hitting third, he doesn’t come up in that situation. If he’s hitting first, he doesn’t come up there. All of a sudden, here comes the eighth hitter in a big situation. Here he is. Now you can put him in.’’

Is that a load of garbage, or what? That’s manager-speak for what, I really don’t know.

While the clutch spot of the order might not surface until late in the game, had Valdespin started he might have had two or three chances to produce, and perhaps break open the game to where there is no clutch spot. Ever think of that, Terry?

Collins did say Valdespin sometimes changes his approach to where he’s too aggressive and goes outside himself when he plays as a starter. If that is the case, then spare us the other excuses and have him work on that part of his approach.

Collins wants it both ways and that can’t be. The problem is the Mets aren’t talented enough to where they can afford the luxury of a designated pinch-hitter. They have too many holes in their order and outfield to keep Valdespin in that role.

He needs to play, if for no other reason, to find out he can’t.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 29

David Price-Tom Hallion Solution: Put A Mike On The Umpires

Call it a hunch, but I believe David Price on this one with his beef with umpire Tom Hallion, which again leads us to the issue of the “umpire problem,’’ in Major League Baseball.

As he walked off the mound to end the seventh inning yesterday, Price and Hallion exchanged words, and the pitcher said the umpire told him “to throw the ball over the f—– plate.’’

HALLION: Has to walk away.

HALLION: Has to walk away.

Hallion denied it and called Price a liar.

Later, as all athletes do these days, Price took to Twitter: “1. I am not a liar 2. I would not make that stuff up 3. My own dad doesn’t speak to me that way 4. Again I am not a liar. #accountability.’’

The quality of umpiring has long been an issue, and along with it the umpire’s sensitivity to criticism. The rub is they are too confrontational and have rabbit years, meaning they don’t let things slide and seek out an argument. It is as if they are looking for a fight.

The umpire is supposed to be the one who is objective and calm, so why was it necessary for Hallion to yell at Price from a distance? Walk up to him calmly and say your piece. Or, better yet, ignore it and realize that with players there’s going to be emotional displays of frustration, with not all of it directed at the umpires.

Major League Baseball is enjoying unmatched financial revenues so it can afford to make improvements in his area that should reduce the tensions between the players and umpires, and more importantly, get it right. There’s ways to make this a less adversarial relationship, at least on the surface.

Let’s start with instant replay. I concede they’ll never have replay on balls-and-strikes, but there’s no reason not to use it for more than just home run calls. Unlike football, the baseball action is primarily focused on fixed locations like the foul lines, outfield wall and bases.

It is absurd not to take advantage of the high-definition technology. Have a representative from MLB in the pressbox, or have the video examined in a central location like the NHL does for its replays or the networks have for their “instant replay’’ expert on the NFL telecasts.

Finally, all umpires should be have microphones they can’t control so exchanges like the one Price and Hallion had can be properly evaluated and eliminate the “he said, he said,’’ issue.

A miked-up Hallion would tell us instantly who is telling the truth, and perhaps more importantly, prove a deterrent to umpires compelled to interject themselves into the emotions of the game.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

ON DECK: Harvey goes for Mets in Miami.

 

Apr 12

Mets Must Be Careful If They Trade Wheeler And D’Arnaud

 

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at New York MetsIt is fun to speculate Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzalez in the Mets’ outfield. I would also take Josh Willingham, but pass on Carl Crawford and Alfonso Soriano. It would take a lot in terms of prospects and cash down the line to make a run at Giancarlo Stanton.

These names have been suggested as outfield possibilities for the Mets, but of all of them, only Willingham in terms of salary and talent they would surrender, makes the most immediate sense.

The Mets claim to have the resources, but we’ve heard that refrain before. Don’t tell us who is out there; tell us when you sign somebody. Until then, it is all just running in place. I want the bird in hand.

Either and Gonzalez represent an exorbitant cost in terms of salary and prospects if they trade, or just salary if they wait for the free-agent market.

They would have to wait several years for Stanton to become available on the free-agent market, and quite frankly they would be diving into the deep end of the pool if they went after him now. But, that might be their only chance because in an open market, the Mets won’t be able to compete.

However, I don’t think the Mets would be willing – or daring enough – to go in that direction.

Crawford and Soriano would just cost too much money for little production. If they went in that direction, they might as well have kept Jason Bay.

Every time I read these names, also mentioned are Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud. But, the Mets aren’t dealing them, although there is no guarantee of their stardom.

For the past few years the Mets sold us on the belief of the future with those prospects and Matt Harvey. They preached the future to the point where they let Jose Reyes walk and traded R.A. Dickey.

I might be willing to deal d’Arnaud because they have Kevin Plawecki, who is 22, in the minors. He’s in Single-A and still a few years away, but having John Buck means they could take the risk with d’Arnaud if it’s the right deal.

As far as Wheeler goes, he’s wild in Triple-A and not close to being ready. The Mets have seen wildness in Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez, so they don’t need another scatter arm. Wheeler also has blister issues, so it would be premature to give up on him now, because that might be the cause of his problems.

It would likely take both Wheeler and d’Arnaud for Stanton. The Marlins might be willing to trade in the division, but are the Mets willing to face Wheeler and d’Arnaud 18 times a year?

I’m inclined to guess not, so the path with them would be to see what develops.

The Mets are making an investment in the future, so it’s ridiculous to change course and go back to the days when they chased the big names.

They chased Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar when they were in the twilight of their careers. They chased Carlos Beltran, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado, but didn’t have the complimentary pieces. They were unlucky with Bay and Johan Santana. They were lucky not to get Alex Rodriguez.

In all cases, the timing wasn’t there. I don’t think it is there with Stanton. The Mets have hit the bottom and are now showing signs of growth. There’s still a lot of work to do, but there will be even more if they reverse course now and guess wrong.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 12

Mets Need To Weather The Storm In Minny

target-field-snowOf all the tweets in all the world of Twitter, the one with Target Field blanketed in snow is the most telling.

There is five inches of snow with more forecast in Minneapolis where the Mets play tonight. The high for the series is forecast at a blustery 43 degrees. It will be colder with the wind.

I would love to see Twins owner Jim Pohlad sit with Commissioner Bud Selig in short sleeves tonight in a vain attempt to convince us the weather is fine. But, it isn’t and probably won’t be much better next week in Denver, where it also snows any time.

It is true scheduling isn’t about one team but all 30 and you can’t predict the weather. However, it is also true MLB created this issue, and first did so with the increase to 30 teams from 20 when the Mets were born in 1962.

The insistence of a 162-game schedule stretched the season from the first week of April into October. Factor increased playoff rounds with the last two – including World Series – lasting up to seven games and we’re brushing against November.

There’s too much money to be made over 162 games and the playoffs – the vehicle for the networks to shill for their programming – so they won’t think to cut there.

Nonetheless, Major League Baseball made things more difficult for itself with interleague play, and now, interleague play every day of the season.

With interleague play comes the unbalanced schedule, which means not every team runs the same race in a season. By definition, that means the schedule has no integrity to it, thereby making it unfair.

Unfortunately, Selig loves interleague play, so that won’t change, either. Interleague play has become part of Selig’s legacy, and I don’t think in a good way.

I don’t believe MLB’s economic growth is directly attributable to interleague play as it is to the steroid era which brought on the great power numbers; the construction of new stadiums in both leagues; almost 15 years of the Yankees and Red Sox on top which increases everybody’s attendance and TV ratings; better television deals because of cable; and to Selig’s credit, the international marketing of the sport and continued labor peace.

The great influx of money made MLB, its teams and the Players Association willing to accept the playing in horrible conditions, where injuries and pitcher’s arms are at risk. Instead of improved conditions, the players union settled for more money. Seriously, don’t worry about ending a career because you’ve got enough money to retire for life at age 32.

Things happen and weather is unpredictable, but MLB can still do things to put the odds in its favor while keeping most everything it has going for it now, things that came with the cost of tradition.

First, what genius approved an open-air stadium in Minneapolis? There’s inclement weather this time of year in the Northeast and Midwest, but Minnesota is a different animal. It can snow there for another week or so and almost any time in mid-October.

If they weren’t smart enough to build a dome where it snows seven months in the year, then play the Royals or Indians or White Sox in April, teams that are easier to reschedule later.

Yesterday, the Yankees were out of their division and had a rainout in Cleveland for a second straight day. They now will have a doubleheader on an off-day and play 17 games in 16 days. That makes for tired players and poor pitching, but who cares about putting the best product on the field?

“I don’t think you can go to cold weather cities in April if you’re only going to go there once,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I know the schedule’s not easy to make, but if you could just stay in your division longer or go to some warmer weather cities you might be able to get by a lot of this.’’

From a business standpoint, the Indians can’t like playing the Yankees in April, when the crowds are down. They’d rather play them later when there’s a chance for a sellout.

It’s pounding a square peg into a round hole to play interleague and non-divisional play in April. The first two weeks of the season should be within the division so make-ups are easier to reschedule.

I’ve suggested this several times, even talked with players and club officials who believe it is a good idea, and that is the scheduling of day-night doubleheaders.

In this case, MLB can make the unbalanced schedule work to its advantage. Because you’re playing 18 games within the division, have several day-nighters each month. Not only does this give the owners the gates they want, but provides more off-days to make rescheduling easier.

Nobody likes to play in horrible weather conditions, and nobody likes to sit in them, either. However, this is an issue because MLB lacks the willingness or foresight to change something within its control.