Cardinals Temperature Rising

hi-res-36566150143b471f58504bf485893777_crop_northHere in St. Louis we are in a stretch of 100 degree days but it is not just the temperature that is rising, there seems to be some temperatures rising in regards to the Cardinals. From the never-ending heat on Manager Mike Matheny to players calling other players out, the question has been asked if the Cardinals should do a fire sale on this season and dump players for the future?

The Cardinals made a trade earlier this week, sending former first-round pick Marco Gonzales to Seattle for an outfield prospect, Tyler O’Neill. Looking at this trade outright, I don’t mind it. Gonzales had been passed up by other pitchers in the organization so flipping him for a top power hitting prospect is a good idea. However O’Neill is an outfielder, a position where the Cardinals already seem to have plenty of depth. As evident by sending Magneuris Sierra down earlier this week, despite remaining on a tear at the plate (.365 batting average and six multi-hit games), and without having even called up maybe their top outfield prospect Harrison Bader (.302 batting average, 19 home runs, 47 runs batted in this season in AAA). So why pick up O’Neill. First of all it never hurts to add talent, even if it is a position where you have depth. But the question that is now being asked is does this move preclude more moves? Maybe a package deal that would bring a prominent, impact player to St. Louis.

As of this moment the Cardinals are just 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central Standings, with the Cubs and Pirates sitting between them. So as we near the trade deadline should the Cardinals give up on the season and do a fire sale or should they make a move for this year? I think the Cardinals will be smart no matter what but my hope is they make a move that will not only help them this year but also for the future.

It has long been discussed that the Cardinals lack that true middle of the lineup hitter. I think this goes back a couple of years actually when the whole Cardinal Way first started being talked about. The Cardinal Way is about playing solid defense and the game the “right way”. However I think Cardinal management internally extended that to also mean that no player is bigger than the team. If you remember the Cardinal Way first gained traction during the 2011 season. In 2011 the Cardinals went on to win the franchise’s 11th World Series and kicked a stretch of five straight seasons making the postseason. The Cardinal Way became more prominent in 2012, after the departure of Albert Pujols with the Cardinals maintaining their on field success.

How could they lose a player of Pujols stature and still be successful? Because of the Cardinal Way. The peak of the Cardinal Way came in 2013 when the team set a record by hitting .330 with runners in scoring position. This was a lineup whose top two hitters, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, were both in their mid-30’s or later. But I think this is when management took hold of the belief that a lineup doesn’t need a top slugger to be successful. This can be true, as seen with the 2013 Cardinals or the Kansas City Royals who did a similar thing with their lineup and going on to win a title. However this thinking is fallible when the players do not live up to expectations. And that is what has been happening with the Cardinals players.

So what do the Cardinals do? How do they stay in the hunt for this year while also taking aim at their future?  With nine players ranked in the MLB Top 100 prospects they have plenty of arsenal to work . My ideal move would be to go after Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Arenado, just 26 years old, is an All-Star third baseman that would fill multiple roles for the Cardinals. A gold glove winner, he would solidify the Cardinals defense. Hitting .311 with 22 home runs and 82 runs batted in, he would bring the middle of the order bat the Cardinals need. And with a year still on his contract after this year, he would give the Cardinals more than just a few months of work with the hope of signing him to a longer deal. Unfortunately the Rockies continue to lead the way in the Wild Card race this season and aren’t likely to deal him.

Back to the Cardinals, here is who I think they should deal. First off Lance Lynn. Lynn isn’t quite back to being the workhorse type pitcher he was before sitting out last season but he has been on a nice roll as of late. He is in his final year of his contract and the Cardinals have plenty of up and coming pitchers to step up and contribute to the major league rotation. If you can bring in a younger pitcher who can do the same things as Lynn, with more upside and much cheaper, then why not get something for Lynn.

I would also move Jedd Gyorko. I like Gyorko. He is the type of player that helps teams win. A player that can move around and offers power. However I do not think he is the third baseman of the future. And is he really likely to repeat his current performance at the plate? His current .844 OPS is over 40 points higher than his career best 150 points better than his career average. Why not sell high on Gyorko?

The final player I would most like to move and this is probably the most controversial is Matt Carpenter. It has been said that as Matt Carpenter goes so do the Cardinals. And that is true, in 2014 the Cardinals envisioned Matt Carpenter as their ideal ‘Cardinal Way’ player and signed him to a large extention. He was coming off his first All-Star season and was the versatile, consistent player the exemplified the type of hitter the Cardinals wanted to have throughout their lineup.

However, in the four seasons since signing that contract, despite making two All-Star games, he is not the player the Cardinals originally signed. Since his extension Carpenter has gone power-hungry, changing his game to accommodate more power. And just in the same manner as Carpenter goes, so do the Cardinals; they have become inconsistent, error prone, and poor base running.

Carpenter is often talked about on broadcasts about having a good eye, and while it is true he draws plenty of walks (resulting in his high on-base percentage) his strikeout numbers have also increased and he is on his way to a fourth straight season with over 100 strikeouts. In regards to the high on-base percentage, is it really that much of an advantage for Carpenter to be on base when he is also one of the worst base runners on the team?

Carpenter is also mentioned often about his bat, a .300 hitter they often say. Did you know that in fact he has a .281 career batting average, and only twice hit above .290 in his career; his first two full seasons. The other four seasons, he has hit .272 twice, .271, and this year .252; so it would seem since the change in his game he is more of a .270 hitter, having a down year this season, correct?

Oh, well he hits better out of the lead-off spot. Yes this is true, and don’t get me started on the absurdity of why he can’t hit in other spots. If you want to get paid like a franchise player then you should be able to hit anywhere. So while yes he hits better as a lead-off hitter, did you know that since his move back to the lead-off spot this year (June 7) he is actually only hitting .244? Know that when broadcasters mention his average as a lead-off man they are including his career average out of that spot. Which means they are including his first two years with the team when he mainly hit lead-off and was a different type of hitter.

The last straw for me on Carpenter was when he called out Trevor Rosenthal this past week for not covering first base. Yes, it was a mental mistake by Rosenthal. But to call out a teammate in the media, and out of his mouth, well that just didn’t sit right with me. Should Carpenter really be speaking up when he has made probably the most mental errors of any player this season? Between errors, strikeouts, and base running; I don’t think Carpenter is a player that is setting a good example of good baseball.

So with a little over a week left before the trade deadline I would like to see where the Cardinals go from here. Will they take their assets they have (Lynn, Gyorko) and get some prospects or players for the future in return? Can they put together a package of prospects to bring in the All-Star slugger needed for the middle of the order, a true franchise player such as Giancarlo Stanton or Manny Machado? Will the Cardinals make an unexpected move and cut ties with their ‘Cardinal Way’ franchise player who has embodied the mental mistakes the team is becoming known for?

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‘Army’ of Blues

sports_doug_armstrong_st_louis_bluesLast week was an interesting time for the St. Louis Blues. Fans knew that coming into the off-season the Blues, in essence had their hands tied thanks to a large number of players already under contract. The Blues had little wiggle room under the cap but needed to make improvements to their roster. After a slow, and nervous, opening day of the NHL off-season (draft day) the Blues responded with a pair of moves late Friday that helped shape the roster into something new.

Every Blues fans dream, other than the one of seeing the Blue note hoist the cup, came true when Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong was able to unload Jori Lehtera’s contract, sending his 30 career goals and the remaining two-years and $4.7 million per year contract to the Flyers. However, what was even more shocking than dumping the salary was the ability to get a legitimate forward in return. Brayden Schenn, just 25-years old, has already topped 20 goals three times in his career and tied for the NHL lead with 17 power play goals last season.

This comes on the heels of Armstrong getting the Las Vegas Knights to select David Perron in the expansion draft, and taking the remaining $4.5 million dollars on his contract. Perron did well in his return to St. Louis last year during the regular season but failed to make any kind of impact in the playoffs. These two moves not only sent two underperforming post-season players to other teams but freed up the cap space necessary for the future resigning of younger impact players like Colton Parayko and gives the Blues some breathing room to make further moves in the future.

Maybe a bigger surprise than the Blues being able to get rid of the contracts of Perron and Lehtera was their next move, sending fan favorite Ryan Reaves to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Reaves was the most recent in a long line of Blues bruisers that the St. Louis fans love; from Kelly Chase to Tony Twist, to Reed Low, and Cam Janssen…Blues fans love their enforcers.  Reaves had developed his game to the point to where he was no longer just an enforcer. He was the key member of the Blues fourth line, a player who brought energy and could crash the net while giving them a threat of scoring those tough goals.

I was sad to see Reaves go, as I am a fan of his. However, let’s take a step back. The NHL continues to change. Reaves is no longer just an enforcer but is most assuredly not a consistent offensive threat. His style of play does not have the same impact it once did in the NHL. The NHL is going faster, quicker, more offensive. Reaves meanwhile is a 31-year old checking line player. The Blues were able to move back into the first round, drafting Russian forward Klim Kostin, and acquiring a Oskar Sundqvist, a 23-year old player that gives the Blues much-needed depth at the center position.

The Blues turned a fading asset into two offensive prospects. And that is what the Blues need. Offensse. Energy and checkers can be found anywhere, but offense is a premium. And that is my big takeaway from the weekend. The Blues are reshaping their roster. Two summers ago during the press conference that announced the return of Ken Hitchcock, Doug Armstrong said about the Blues “We are going to have a different look. We’re going to explore improving our team to levels we probably haven’t explored in the past. But it has to make sense.” 

In the same press conference Hitchcock stated “We’ve got to go back to reckless,” Hitchcock said. “(Our style is) too conservative, it’s too careful, it’s too much skill ahead of work. We’ve got to get back to reckless. We’ve got more skill than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. But skilled, careful hockey doesn’t win. You’ve got to play reckless.” Hitchcock used the phrase reckless five times when addressing the media.

But here is where I think things went different for the Blues. As I mentioned last summer when the Blues brought Hitchcock back once again for a run, he was an old coach set in his ways. We saw this during his tenure. He would say the Blues would play reckless and faster but if they had a bad game or stretch of bad games it would be all about “buying in” and the team would go back to the defensive mindset that Hitchcock believes in. It was something that I pointed out last summer and why I was not in favor of bringing him back.

So my question is with Hitchcock gone, is Doug Armstrong able to finally put together the team he wanted to two summers ago when he promised a faster team? A different looking team? Was it Hitchcock that truly controlled the roster? Yes Armstrong worked with Hitchcock in Dallas but never as the GM. Armstrong was named GM in January of 2002 and Hitchcock was gone that summer. Could Armstrong have let his respect of Hitchcock overrule his desire to make the roster moves he wanted to?

Armstrong deserves some blame for his questionable contract extensions, like Alexander Steen, Jori Lehtera, and Patrick Berglund…but was he being strong-armed by Hitchcock into keeping a roster that fit Hitch’s style of play rather than shaping the roster fitting of the faster paced style of play in the NHL?

I like the moves the Blues made last weekend. Not only are they addressing the current roster but they are thinking ahead. The Blues still may struggle as they reboot the team but I like this roster makeup much more than I did last year’s. The NHL is changing and it is good to see the Blues finally changing along with the NHL.

We have seen players sent packing, a Hall of Fame coach fired; if this year fails there is only one man left to take the blame; Doug Armstrong. So Armstrong will go down fighting and do so his way, by building his ‘army’ of Blues.

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As The Rams Turn

ramsuniIn the latest episode of ‘As The Rams Turn’ the organization announces with mediocre fanfare uniform changes for the 2017 season! Yes, that is right. The Rams are making the return to the glory days of Los Angeles football by re-introducing their blue and white horned helmets. But that is where the good news ends for the Rams, because if you were to look any lower than just the helmet the uniforms may remind you of the Rams organization; a complete mismatch.

The old school blue and white Rams horned helmet was a favorite of mine, even back when they were playing here in St. Louis. The Rams were actually the first NFL team to put a logo of any type on a helmet, doing so in 1948. They moved to the white horned helmet in the late 50’s, wearing it for nearly two decades, the two decades the Rams consider their glory days, of course their ONLY NFL title remains a part of St. Louis history and not L.A. HA HA, sorry I had to get the dig in there, still bitter!

Anyway, back to the main point, bringing the white horned helmet back was really a no-doubter, it was just a matter of when. So when would a good time be to bring back the iconic helmet of the franchise which was last worn over three decades ago during the 70’s, a decade in which they won six division titles. I don’t know maybe a good time would have been in the first year of the team’s return to L.A.?  But what do I know?

The Rams have a great staff of people running their marketing. The same people who

decided to promote the Rams on HBO’s Hard Knocks, leading to the most boring edition of the program yet. Also the same marketing department that in the return of Rams football to L.A. decided to promote an opposing player (Cam Newton) with a giant

billboard by LAX. It is also an organization with Kevin Demoff as its mouthpiece and run by every sport fans favorite Stan Kroenke. The same one that recently w

as actually on a London news report with the reporter stating “Stan lowers babies into coal mines without protection” and “He kills baby rabbits to use as oil for his mustache”. Just watch this VIDEO of Arsenal fans “cheering” him on at their match.

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So the Rams obviously have a strong leadership group in place. Maybe that is why their uniforms are such a mess. Moving on past the helmet, which taken as a stand alone is great looking but was brought back a year too late, look at their full uniform together. They also changed up their pants, removing the gold which had been in place since 2000, deciding to go with a full blue stripe. But do you see it? Look at the three DIFFERENT blues on the three separate pieces of the uniform. The helmet is different from the jersey which is also different from the pants. It is a complete joke.

Some people may not find this very interesting or newsworthy. It is just a uniform who cares. And I am quite positive the Rams will unveil a completely new uniform in 2020 when their new stadium opens, which by the way has already been delayed a year…see a trend? But in a league which is all about marketing itself, with an organization trying to build back interest for their return; why are they not putting their best out there? Why are the Rams just going at it half-way? Oh that’s right, because it is the Rams.

Just a uniform? I say dress for success. It is about an attitude. And does this uniform really look like an NFL team or does it look like they went shopping at the nearest Goodwill and pieced together a costume? Leadership is everything in sports, it flows down from the top. And the Rams will be a mess as long as Kroenke remains the owner. At least it is never dull, except for their play on the field, with ‘As The Rams Turn’

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Albert; Looking Back

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Seeing last week’s historical moment for Albert Pujols got me thinking about his departure from the St. Louis Cardinals and heading out west to join the Anaheim? Los Angeles? L.A. of Anaheim?…..The Angels. First and foremost congratulations to Albert Pujols on hitting the 600th home run of his Hall of Fame career.

Can we take a pause and look at the gaudy numbers that he will produce by the end of his career. Already with 600 home runs, just one of nine players to reach that mark, he should reach 7th place on the all-time list by the end of this season and has a good chance to finish in the top five all-time by the end of his career. He is just over 100 hits away from reaching the 3,000 hit mark for his career. Only 30 players have accomplished that feat, with only three players having reached both 3,000 hits and 600 home runs (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez). He is also just over 100 runs batted in away from the 2,000 mark, of which he would be just the fifth player all-time to reach that milestone. Know how many players have accomplished all three feats in the more than 150 years of professional baseball? Two. Just Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez. And despite his power numbers he was a great hitter, as evident by the career .308 batting average, and more impressively is that he has never, that is right NEVER struck out more than 100 times in a season. That is unheard of in today’s game.

Okay, so we have established Albert Pujols is one of the all-time greats. The likes of which fans only see once in a generation. So how did we come to a point where he would leave St. Louis, baseball heaven, for Anaheim? Let’s head back to the fall of 2011. The Cardinals were fresh off the team’s 11th World Series title. On October 31st Tony LaRussa, the man who had managed Pujols for the entirety of his 11 years in St. Louis had announced he was retiring from managing. A little more than a month later Albert announced he was signing a 10-year, $254-million deal with the Angels.

Belief at the time was that it was a smart move for the Cardinals, letting the then 31-year old star first baseman leave and not being tied to an aging slugger that would burden the team for years to come. And as time went on and Albert’s average dropped it only served as more proof as the right move. That move was further solidified in the Cardinals favor when Stephen Piscotty and Michael Wacha became mainstays in the Cardinals lineup. For those who do not know, Piscotty and Wacha were the two players the Cardinals drafted with the compensation picks they received for losing Pujols in free-agency.

Some will also argue that the Cardinals were able to extend Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina as well as sign Dexter Fowler with the savings from Pujols’ contract. But for our purposes today let’s only deal in reality and facts, Piscotty and Wacha are the only additions linked directly to the Pujols departure.

So last week as I sat here listening to people talk about Pujols’ milestone and almost always include the “yeah but” argument afterward, stating that it was a smart move for the Cardinals to let him go; I got to thinking…was it really a smart move?

I will concede that Pujols is strictly a DH now and has spent the majority of his time at first base in only three of his six seasons with the Angels so who knows how many games he could have played at first for the Cardinals or how playing the field would affect his numbers. But like I said earlier about Piscotty and Wacha, we can only deal in facts and numbers. So let’s take a look at those numbers.

Now I am not a huge fan of analytics but others are so let’s do a quick head to head comparison accoring to WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Albert has a 9.5 WAR in his six seasons in Anaheim. Piscotty has 3.9 in his three years as a Cardinal and Wacha an 8.1, although a pitcher’s WAR is skewed easier. Point in fact Wacha had a high WAR of 2.3 in 2015, which is lower than what Wainwright had last year (2.9), a season in which he was 13-9 with a 4.63 earned-run average. So that would put Piscotty and Wacha duo ahead of Albert head to head 12-9.5, but again a pitchers’s WAR skews higher. Also to point out that while yes Pujols is on the downside of his career, the once promising young careers for Piscotty and Wacha have both seemed to stall. Piscotty has no power to speak of (something the club was aware of when signing him to the six-year, $33.5 million extension this spring) while Wacha has a 4.97 E.R.A. over the last two years and seems to fade as the season, and innings go on due to his shoulder issue. So it seems as though thought of younger is better, might not be so appropriate here.

Now let’s take a bigger picture look at things. People talk about Pujols like he is an out of date, old-beloved uncle that was a star back in the day but just someone hanging on and of no value now. True he is no longer the constant .300 hitter that he was during his St. Louis tenure but he is a .265 hitter with the Angels. Do you know how many Cardinals starters are hitting above that mark this season? One (Jedd Gyrko), two if you include the recently promoted Tommy Pham. Oh that’s just one year you say, well do you know who has a higher mark over their Cardinals career during the six years Pujols has been gone, with a minimum of three years played? That would be just four players: Jon Jay (.282), Matt Carpenter (.280), Matt Holliday (.280) and Molina (.271).

We talked about Pujols being not just a hitter but a power hitter. So how about the power numbers? That group of four that was just mentioned. Do you know how many home runs they have totaled in the 21 combined seasons in the Cardinals uniform over that same six-year span? 250 total; an average of 11.9 per season. Albert alone has hit 155 in six years on the West Coast, an average of 25.8 per season.

Runs driven in? Something the Cardinals have struggled with the last couple of season. Albert is averaging 88.3 per season. Do you know how many players have had more than 88 runs batted in during a single season since 2012? Six. Only six times has a player reached that mark in a Cardinal uniform since 2012; three by Holliday, two by Allen Craig, and one by Carlos Beltran. And that is an average for Pujols. A yearly look shows he has topped 100 runs batted in three times and is on his way to a fourth this season.

So do you think could the Cardinals lineup use a .265 hitter with 26 home runs and 88 runs batted in? Someone that while on the downside of their career, still strikes fear into pitchers? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind those numbers or a threat like that. So to those who are saying Albert Pujols is washed up and it was a brilliant move by the Cardinals to let him go. Don’t buy the easy narrative. Albert may not be the man used to be, but he is still The Machine.

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Sobotka; The Reunion Tour

On Thursday afternoon many St. Louis Blues fans shared joy in the announced return of Vladimir Sobotka. The enigmatic player that left the organization three years ago to play in the KHL was returning to the Blues for the playoffs with a freshly inked three-year contract. In many ways this announcement reminds me of a reunion tour by a band.

All season long one of the biggest complaints about the Blues was their lack of identity. But since the move to Mike Yeo as head coach the team seems to have found themselves, going 13-2-2 in their last 17 games. They are playing with more energy, thanks in large part to the emergence of several young players like Ivan Barbashev, and have developed a chemistry that appeared to be lacking earlier in the season.

So what happens when you insert a new member onto the team, or welcome back a former player in a band? Will the team miss a beat? Will it disrupt the energy and flow that the team has worked 80 games to build?

Sobotka disappeared for three years (which is a long time considering the average playing career for an NHL player is 5.5 years). He comes back with great anticipation by fans who have been clamoring for his return during the entirety of that span. Fans remember the days of Sobotka in many ways we remember our favorite bands, only the hits (the good times) and we tend to base our judgement on those feelings. But what happens if our memories are not reality?

Take for example a band such as Guns N’ Roses reuniting. We all remember November Rain, Welcome To The Jungle, Mr. Brownstone. We remember the attitude and swagger that Axl Rose brought to the stage. We remember the energy the band had when rocking arenas. But what happens when they come back after years away, and the chemistry is no longer there. They are a bit older. They are a bit slower. They still want to rock the fans but they are just slightly off?

The Blues have under one week left in the regular season when the “real season” starts for the NHL, the Stanley Cup playoffs. How will bringing Sobotka back at this point in the season affect the team? Will Sobotka still be the type of player the Blues and their fans remember or should I say think they remember?

Let’s take a look back on Sobotka’s time in the NHL, a bit of a refresher if you will. He was a high energy player with a career high of nine goals in his seven NHL seasons. He is now a 29-year old third liner that hasn’t played in the league in three years. However, the biggest thing he brought to the team during his career was his ability to win face-offs, winning at a 62-percent clip in his last season in the NHL (which would rank him tied for first in the league this year).

Yes the loss of Paul Stastny looms large for the Blues, losing their top face-off player, and most talented center. And his “week-to-week” injury seems to be taking longer than expected. So conceivably Sobotka will fill a large void left by Stastny in the face-off circle, and even when Stastny returns it will solidify an area of the game for the Blues they would like improve, currently ranking 12th in the NHL in face-off percentage.

But I am left again wondering about the unknown. Do people realistically expect Sobotka to just pick up where he left off in his NHL career? And even if he hasn’t missed a beat, does bringing a third-line player with 35 career goals really improve the team that much? For me I feel that the risk outweighs the possible reward. Bringing in an unknown player with limited upside this late in the stage to a team that finally seems to have found their way is a dangerous game to play.

I think fans remember the energy that Sobotka played with and have gotten caught up in the nostalgia of that time. If you remember during his tenure with the Blues this was during a time when many Blues players were underperforming. In the four years they missed the playoffs once , were eliminated in the first-round twice, and swept by the #8 seed L.A. Kings in the second round. Fans were going through a frustrating time, watching the underperformance of players like Chris Stewart, Patrick Berglund, and T.J. Oshie. They were caught up in the game in and game out energy and effort by Sobotka, that is what they remember. And it is those nostaligic replays that I feel has skewed the fans memories of Sobotka.

What is the one thing the fans and analysts have been asking for the Blues to do? Add offensive punch up the middle, instead the bring in yet another third line player. I was a fan of Sobotka on his first go-round with the Blues. And I don’t think his play will necessarily hurt the Blues. But is it really energy that the Blues need? Haven’t they found that under Yeo?

One thing Yeo has shown since he took over is that he is willing to give players a chance, young or old. He does not necessarily stick to the veterans or high-priced players. He has constantly allowed players like Barbashev, Dmitri Jaskin, Zach Sanford to show what they can do in various situations from regular ice time to power-play or short-handed units. But I am worried about where he goes in the lineup. Does he replace everyone’s favorite beating stick Jori Lehtera or will he take time from one of the younger players that have worked hard and responded to the confidence Yeo has shown in them?

We will see soon enough how the Sobotka reunion tour will play out. I hope to hear more Welcome to the Jungle than Bad Apples this playoff season.  But as with many reunion tours, I am not expecting a whole lot.

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The Baseball Hall of Huh?

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This past week the Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2017 class which includes Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Oh and by the way former commissioner Bud Selig will also go in this summer as elected by the “Today’s Game Era” committee. All of this comes a year after inducting Mike Piazza and a year that saw Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens make significant jumps in their vote totals, which will inevitably lead to their Hall of Fame induction. So what does all of this mean? What happened to the steroid outrage?

Back in 2005 when news of the juice-era in baseball broke thanks to Jose Cancesco’s book Vindicated steroids was at the forefront of all sports media. Writers and fans were outraged. They felt cheated by the players and by a league that turned a blind eye. But just a decade later the Hall of Fame, and the writers that vote players into the shrine to be memorialized, have changed their minds. Writers have spent the past two years putting players, and a commissioner, into the Hall of Fame while also seemingly caving and allowing Bonds and Clemens to make their climb to enshrinement.

From the start, when the news about steroids broke, I felt that people were being too judgmental. Not in the fact that what the players did was wrong, but in the fact that the writers were attempting to hold out players from the Hall of Fame because of steroid usage. My contention was that you did not know who was using and who wasn’t. What was first thought to be beneficial only to hitters as actually shown that pitchers were just as guilty of using. And with a percentage that was likely around 70-percent of players using, all offensive numbers that were affected were countered because pitchers were just as guilty.

What I did not like was writers discounting certain players because of their connection to steroids while allowing others. Why was Mark McGwire dismissed so easily? Was he not the most feared hitter during his playing days? McGwire had 12 seasons of 30 or more home runs, amassing the 11th most home runs in baseball history, and had seven seasons of 100 or more runs batted in. He helped define an era of baseball. True he was not a great hitter but no one can argue his impact on the game. Not all players are well-rounded hitters, some are power hitters like McGwire and some slap the ball into spots like Wade Boggs. There should be enough room in the Hall of Fame for both. Mark McGwire still ranks 7th in slugging percentage and ninth in OPS with 12 All-Star game appearances and four times leading the league in home runs.

Quick side not on McGwire. I still stand by that he was taking Andro, which was legal in both the United States and MLB at the time. In addition Andro is a product that allows for recovery, something that was needed for McGwire due to his numerous injuries, but is not a product that automatically creates muscle. You still need to work hard in the weight room to benefit from the product. Unlike Bonds and Clemens who were associated with HGH, a product that changes your physical structure on its own without hard work, at a time when the product was illegal in both the U.S. and baseball. It was against MLB guidelines and they still used steroids. To me that is different.

The steroid situation also dovetails into the Pete Rose dilemma. The Hall of Fame is now allowing players who cheated the game but remain solid on keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall. Why? Pete Rose would go into the Hall of Fame as a player not a coach. His gambling occurred when he was a coach. Therefore why should he be held out? In my opinion using steroids at a time when it is banned is a worse offense than betting on your team to win.

The Hall of Fame is walking a dangerous line right now. Do they want to show their integrity and say anyone that cheats the game does not get its highest honor? Do they want to acknowledge the era of baseball that was shaped by the long ball and steroids? I have no problem with them doing either but they can not pick and choose. A decade ago a line was drawn but now voters have kicked dirt over that line like a hitter stepping into the batters box and the guidelines are blurred. If you are letting players who are associated with steroids in, and voting for players that defied rules and openly used steroids, and inducting the man in charge of the game that oversaw the rise in usage of steroids, then you have to welcome every player with open arms. Right now voters are acting like a pitcher facing Mark McGwire, scared to face the problem head on and just giving a pass, walking away from it. Voters need to step up and determine what it is they believe in. Because right now I am confused.

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The “ME” Culture of Sports

000-football-money3-700x400There is no “I” in Team but there is  a “ME”. And on Monday morning Stanford University star running back Christian McCaffrey became the poster boy for a trend that is becoming more and more popular and one that is only likely to grow in the near future. McCaffrey is the biggest name in college football thus far to not just forgo a year of eligibility but to walk out with games still on the schedule during the season. McCaffrey announced that he would be skipping the Sun Bowl to begin preparing for the NFL Draft, which he stated last month he was entering early.

With the McCaffrey announcement the immediate discussion of whether or not this is a good move began making the rounds. I will not sit here and try to say whether a player should or should not risk their future earnings by playing. It is the players right to make that decision. So I will not be talking about the monetary aspect of this argument. But a quick sidenote, many of these star players take out insurance policies to protect themselves in case of an injury. So while it is not the “big” money they could make without an injury, they still would be set. Christian McCaffrey in fact would have received $5 million on his policy. But rather than talk about the money aspects of this situation I want to focus on the heart of the matter, and that is the perfect sentiment…heart.

Ask anyone that has played a team sport and they will talk about their teammates. The players they sweat and bleed with. The same men they spend early morning workouts or late nights traveling with. It is their teammates that ex-athletes, from all levels, will say they miss after they have moved on from the game. That commradery, that bond, the shared pains and joys of being a teammate. That is what it is all about. Working together as a team, putting your heart into it. And this is where I think the argument on McCaffrey and others should be focused on. Take a look at a tweet from Ezekiel Elliott on Monday in regards to the topic.

zeke

Of course in the day of social media people immediately jumped on Ezekiel, mentioning that he skipped his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. But I think they missed the point of his tweet. As I mentioned earlier I have no problem with players forgoing a season. But what Ezekiel and I am talking about are the players that are leaving DURING the season. Just as McCaffrey is leaving without finishing the season, LSU start Leonard Fournette is skipping his team’s bowl, although his situation is different because he has battled injuries all season long and in fact missed LSU’s last game of the regular season. But earlier Oklahoma’s Charles Walker left the team back in November, although he was out at the time with a concussion, but he still left the team with more than a month left to focus on the draft.

The same discussion has even worked its way into the NFL when Adrian Peterson announced last week that he was considering not returning from his injury to play in games unless the team was in playoff contention. He did in fact return this past Sunday, to a lackluster performance, but it opened the question that if he was healthy enough to play shouldn’t he be on the field no matter what?

The issue is when a player, a healthy player, leaves his team. Walking away from the same guys he spent the last few years with on the field and committing to. When a player decides that they are more important than the rest of the players on the field that is an issue. Yes I understand the injury questions. But I have always said that is one of the weakest arguments brought up by anyone because injuries can happen at any time. There is no magical amount of time spent on a field that lowers risk of injury. Are there more chances for a player to get hurt? Yes, but it is still not quantifiable in terms of statistics because there is no proven point of injury.

To see players like McCaffrey walk out on their teammates is disappointing. It is only furthering the business aspect of sports. I will not claim that college athletics is pure anymore, it is most definitely a business. But the fans do not watch sports to see how big budgets can grow or what type of investments players make.

We watch sports because we are passionate about the teams we follow. And seeing players walk away with games remaining on their schedule, brings the ugly side of business to the forefront. As I’ve said this is not money this is about heart. Fans will do most anything for our teams, including spending large amounts of money for our teams. It is too bad that the players on those teams won’t do the same and simply care more about themselves than the team.

We have seen the devaluing of teams over the years. It is now about the stars; from star players to star programs and star coaches. It is a “ME” culture. I don’t want to sound like an old-timer talking about the good old days but maybe we need to bring back the phrase about “players that spend more time worried about what’s on the back of the jersey than on the front”. I for one do not want a player more worried about himself than about the rest of the team. Because even though they may be super-talented we know that talent alone does not win; it takes a team. And I want players focused on winning on the scoreboard not on their bank account.

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