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A tremendous event happened in Major League Baseball recently, although you might not have felt it. Hell, you could very well have not noticed or even forgotten about it. I’m of course referring to the selection of Rob Manfred as the next Commissioner of Baseball, a title that will become official in 2015.

My thoughts on this choice are … well, nonexistent. As tremendous as the announcement is, given his predecessor’s lengthy tenure, Manfred’s selection elicited no emotional response from me. No anger, no surprise, no excitement, just … nothing.

This isn’t to say Manfred is unqualified for the job. After all, his resume includes Harvard Law School, a long history of working in labor and employment affairs, outside counsel to MLB owners during the ‘94 strike and MLB chief operating officer. Yet If anything, that’s part of why his selection is as thrilling for me to write about as watching a documentary about blenders. I understand why it’s functional and necessary, but that doesn’t make it interesting.

I don’t expect MLB commissioners to be as eccentric and indelible as Rube Waddell or Lou Gehrig, but a little character or a momentous accomplishment doesn’t hurt. Stubbornly racist as he was, Kenesaw Mountain Landis instantly etched his place in baseball history not just for banning the Black Sox for life, but doing so with the steeliness he had as a federal judge. Peter Ueberroth sailed into the job after bringing the Olympics to Los Angeles in 1984, which made him Time Magazine Man of the Year and served as a pinnacle event in the patriotic epoch of the Reagan years. Continue reading

On some Major League teams this year Tommy Milone, with his six wins and 3.55 ERA, would be approaching the level of Ace.  On this year’s Oakland Athletics squad, even with season-ending injuries to AJ Griffin and Jarrod Parker, he has been reduced,  to the role of Triple-A insurance policy.

The A’s have been the league’s most dominant team this year, at least according to winning percentage and run differential. And Billy Beane is going for a trophy, as evidenced by this weekend’s acquisition of Ace Jeff Samardzija and middle-of-the-rotation guy Jason Hammel.

The deal coincided with an agreement between the Athletics and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority (which still needs approval from the Oakland City Council) whereby the team will remain in what I guess is now called the O.co Coliseum.

I love this. The market settles at least some of its differences with the team, agreeing to make some upgrades to the nearly 50-year-old venue by Opening Day 2015. The team makes a commitment to try to build on the strong first-half of the season by acquiring arguably the best starting pitcher available in this year’s trade market – giving up a stud shortstop prospect in the process of doing so. Continue reading

The Minnesota Twins last won the World Series in 1991. In 1992, they fielded a very competitive team, but were undone by the loss of ace pitcher Jack Morris, and one bad pitch to Oakland Athletics reserve outfielder Eric Fox.

In 1993, the Twins thought they would again be right in the mix, signing hometown hero Dave Winfield to anchor a lineup that included Kirby Puckett, Chuck Knoblauch (before he lost his mind), Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek. The Twins lost 90 games that year. Management appeared to be blindsided and dumbfounded by the lack of production, and it put the franchise into an eight-year tailspin of tragedy, turmoil and ineptitude. It wasn’t until they decided to hand the franchise over to a core of young players who had mostly come up together in the Twins farm system that the team began to win.

The pitching staff of that renewed team was anchored by the “Big Three” of Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays. Having recognized the complete lack of leadership on his team after the loss of guys like Kirby Puckett and Rick Aguilera, GM Terry Ryan sought out veteran pitchers, probably past their prime (and certainly affordable) who’d had success and could pitch a lot of innings, but who, most importantly, could mentor his young pitching prospects. So, in came the incredibly soft throwing Bob Tewksbury, and the very, very, very, (very) well -traveled Mike Morgan.

Ryan’s plan took some time, but it paid off. In the end, none of the “Big Three” became Hall of Famers, or even made a single start in the World Series, but they were significant pieces in the Twins return to the playoffs and respectability.

Cut to 15 years later.

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Commissioner Bud Selig has argued the last few seasons that Major League Baseball has solved its competitive balance issues by levying a luxury tax against teams that spend too much, but local television deals may be bringing those issues back with a vengeance.
Teams on the West coast with new ownership groups, television contracts and competition for popularity were the biggest winners of this year’s non-waiver trading period, which ended a few hours ago.

In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants competed for the top honors, trading respectively for outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence on deadline day. I’ll give the trading period edge to the Dodgers due to their additional acquisition of Hanley Ramirezfrom Miami.

In the American League, the Rangers trumped the Dodgers at the deadline by acquiring Chicago Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had already made their big rotation move, adding Zack Greinke.

One similarity among all those teams is HUGE new television contracts that are dwarfing the numbers being housed by teams in the Midwest. The Dodgers were purchased for $2.15 billion in March by Magic Johnson and Mark Walter in a deal that stunned sports industry observers.

Part of what made the deal work, according to the Wall Street Journal, is the opportunity the team will have in 2013 to either launch a regional sports network in the second largest market in the country or “hold an auction for the rights to telecast Dodgers games.”
Recent rights deals signed by the Angels and Rangers are reportedly worth $150 million a year. Lee Berke, a sports media consultant, told the Journal the Dodgers’ status as the top brand in the market could command even more than $150 million annually – perhaps as much as $300 million annually, according to the Journal’s story.
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First of all, I realize this isn’t a new concept. Sports leagues have been whoring themselves abroad for quite some time, but none have ever done so as cheaply as Bud Selig has done with our beloved Major League Baseball.

Remember how the Cincinnati Reds used to open up every season as the first game because they were the oldest team in baseball?

Remember when you could watch the Major League opener on ESPN from noon until bedtime?

Well, now ESPN sells a lie because this year Opening Day was Wednesday, March 28th 2012. It just took place across the globe at 6 a.m., which is a lot like a sucker punch from someone promising long lasting kiss.
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Bud Selig is reportedly upset and “embarrassed” that the Mets went public with the fact that they were not allowed to wear special hats to honor New York City first responders to honor the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

This is a further example of how clueless the commissioner of Major League Baseball really is–he should be embarrassed that he and his office made the decision in the first place. And he should be even more embarrassed that the hats they wore in pregame were physically taken away from the players, after it was heard that they may conspire to wear them anyway–the players had given the league an out (tell the players they can’t, players do it anyway, fine the players, donate the money to a charity supporting first responders).

And he shouldn’t be surprised–especially in today’s modern world, where players are constantly tweeting and actually interacting with fans–that the players would go public about the situation.

MLB dropped the ball on this one–multiple times now.  And if Selig was smart, he would look in the mirror, and figure out a way to fix the situation.

Why do I not think that’s going to happen?

I hoped it was a bad idea that would fade away after the season ended but as Major League Baseball approaches its winter meetings next week it appears that further expansion of the playoffs is not only going to be on the table, but is likely to pass with little opposition.

Thus Major League Baseball will take one more step toward becoming another league that waters down its regular season in favor of a playoff format that invites too many teams to take a shot at the championship.

I initially didn’t like the expansion to four playoff teams with a wild card included but it was a necessity when each league was split into three divisions. And I grudgingly will admit that it has created some fantastic races, this year included when San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta fought tooth and nail to the season’s final weekend over the last two playoff spots.

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Often times former catchers make good major league managers. Sometimes they get fired anyway.

Major league journeyman Matt Walbeck spent two years at the helm for the Altoona Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2009 the team finished in sixth place in the Eastern League. In 2010, the team captured the first Eastern League championship in its 12 year history.

On Sept. 29, Pittsburgh told Walbeck his services were no longer needed.

I’m not going to pretend I followed the Curve during their championship run, nor am I going to say I recognize even one of the names of the players on the team’s roster during the 2010 season. I can’t say I know anything about Walbeck as a manager or much about his background – other than I watched him play catcher for the Minnesota Twins back during the team’s dark years in the early 2000s.

But when a guy wins a championship, even in the minor leagues, it would seem he is doing something right.

The Pirates, who last had anything resembling a competitive team in the major leagues in 1992, only released a one sentence statement: “We appreciate Matt’s efforts and wish him the best in his future endeavors but felt that it was best that we allow him to pursue other opportunities,” according to general manager Neal Huntington via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Dejan Kovacevic, the Post-Gazette’s Pirates beat writer, updated the story later with a comment from an unidentified source indicating that the move came from concerns about Walbeck’s communication with staff and players.

Okay, maybe he was a bad communicator. He won a championship at the Double-A level for an organization that, for two decades in the major leagues, has had virtually nothing to be excited about at all.And he was 312-224 in four seasons managing in the Detroit Tigers’ system.

Granted, there is more to managing in the minors than winning. But the Pirates finally have some young guys – Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker among others, that interestingly have come from the  minors over the last couple seasons. Not all played under Walbeck. Some did. And for an organization that has shown little promise for two decades, I would think continuity would be a good thing for a team that must have done something right in 2010 to win the league championship.

Walbeck certainly didn’t do it himself, but someone had to help those players reach that level.

Maybe the Pirates will prove this was the correct move. Maybe the players won the championship in spite of Walbeck rather than because of him. If so I’ll fall on my sword later.

Until then, it would appear to me that the once-proud Pirates franchise has given the city of Pittsburgh and baseball fans around the country another illustration of how the organization has spent two decades as a laughingstock.

Brushbackpitch.com has railed against the Florida Marlins and owner Jeffrey Loria several times for his use of baseball’s luxury tax money for personal gain.

Today Jeff Passan from Yahoo! Sports uses documents obtained by Deadspin to put the franchise’s distortion of its financial situation to get Dade County to approve a new ballpark, which will open in a couple years.

Deadspin has spent the last several days exposing financial documents Major League Baseball owners likely never wanted made public (Marlins’ president David Samson called it “a crime” in Passan’s piece, which might technically be true).

Passan’s column is good. I haven’t read the entire Deadspin series yet, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s worth a look. It takes a look at “the other side” of the game, which compared to the gracefullness with which Joe Mauer can hit opposite-field doubles all season long and makes it instead look as ugly as watching Delmon Young patrol the outfield.

But it’s the reality of professional sports these days.

The good news–apparently, four months ago (also known as the heart of the NFL Season), Bud Selig realized that a) baseball needed more parity, and b) his efforts (if he’s made any) weren’t going to cut it.  So he named a 14-person “special committee for on-field matters,” promising that all topics would be in play and “there are no sacred cows.”

Unfortunately for baseball fans, Selig apparently found 14 people even more stupid than himself to be on the committee.

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