The 2010 Sport You’re Most Thankful For Debate… Thanks for America’s Pasttime

November 24, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

His deep reflections on this simple sport are as accurate as they are well articulated. Baseball is a thing of beauty. America is truly blessed to have such a sublime sport for its national pastime.

As millions of families gather together today and give thanks for the many blessings in their life, one blessing I will remember is baseball. Even though the New York Yankees did not win the World Series, and the 2010 season saw the loss of one of the most iconic figures in all of sports history – “The Boss” George Steinbrenner – this season proved, as always, to be a thing of beauty. It reminded me why, as a grown man, I love a child’s game so very much.

Perfect In Its Imperfections

The 2010 season was the first to see two perfect games in the same season, those of Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay. Shockingly, it came remarkably close to seeing three.

Aramando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers pitched flawlessly through 26 batters. He had a perfect game going through 8 2/3 innings. All indicators pointed toward perfection, and he was just mere pitches away from joining the most elite company in baseball history by pulling off the rarest feat in the Bigs. Fate had different plans for Galarraga. On the last out of the game he was inarguably robbed of immortality by umpire Jim Joyce.

This was a travesty that could have been worse. Arguably the worst blown call in baseball cost Galarraga his shot at immortality. This could have invalidated the sport. This could have driven fans away in droves. Instead, fans were treated to a bittersweet ending, an ending which highlighted the human aspect of the sport, but more importantly ended with a story of forgiveness and redemption.

Jim Joyce, the 22 year veteran and consummate professional, did the unthinkable. He did what no one dreamed an official or anyone connected with professional sports would ever do. He admitted he was wrong.

With a tearful confession and a heartfelt apology, Jim Joyce set things right. He avoided a potential disaster for MLB and instead restored faith in the game for many. For stories like these, I give thanks.

A True Team Celebration

I was similarly blown away by the thoughtfulness of the Texas Rangers clubhouse in celebrating their post-season advancements. When the Texas Rangers clinched the America League West crown they celebrated in typical fashion with a champagne free-for-all in the clubhouse. This was an unforgettable night and deserved an equally unforgettable party, but one man was unable to partake in the festivities.

Rangers sluggers Josh Hamilton, who struggled mightily to overcome his history of substance abuse problems, chose to be elsewhere. While he was no doubt as excited as his teammates, his self-imposed lifestyle restrictions left him out of the party. But when the Rangers advanced, the players didn’t make that mistake again.

Instead the Rangers showered each others with ginger ale, a touching consideration for their valued teammate. This type of camaraderie is not often displayed in professional sports, but special moments like this renew ones passion for baseball and for that I give thanks.

Miracles and Heroes Abide

Without a doubt, the thing about MLB I am most thankful for is the fact that heroes and miracles still survive. Baseball has had some serious PR issues over the past three decades. From the strike to The Steroids Era, there were plenty of reasons to look down on baseball. But there are still players and stories that keep the legacy of the past alive.

Perhaps nothing is more touching to me than the story of players who hit homeruns on command for a sick child. This seems to be a folk tale from a bygone era, but amazingly it is not. As recent as the 2009 season Brett Gardner defied the odds and did exactly this. Making it all the more improbable is the fact that Gardner did it with an inside the park homerun.

A special young girl in need of a heart transplant asked Gardner that to hit a homerun for her. She even told him that she had been praying he could do it. He wasn’t supposed to be able to do it. He wasn’t a bruising slugger, and he wasn’t even in the lineup that night. But due to an ejection of the left fielder and a miraculous hit Gardner was able to live a story that even Disney could not have even imagined.

It’s so very refreshing to hear good news about a sport and see there is something worth being fanatical about.

So, amidst all the turkey and even the football, I stop to give thanks for baseball, and the great American legacy it continues to build.

Former San Francisco Giants third baseman, Al Gallagher once said, “There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball.” I am inclined to agree.

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The 2010 MLB First Half Surprise Debate… Rangers Shine Amid Uncertainty

July 12, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

For me it has been a fun first half of the season in Major League Baseball. The Braves are in first place in the N.L East (which is surprising) and there have been five four no-hitters, including perfect games by Armando Galarraga, Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jiminez. If you take a look at the standings, there are some real shockers – both in a positive way as well as a negative way. Two of those will be highlighted by my colleagues today. I don’t know if anyone expected the Phillies to be in third in the N.L. East, and I’m pretty sure hardly anyone expected the Angels to be 4.5 games back at the All Star-break. But the team I have my eye on for the biggest surprise in the first half of the season is the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers, despite the turmoil involving ownership (including a rumored bid by a group that includes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban), the team currently leads the A.L. West by 4.5 games. I must say I am shocked. I know Nolan Ryan was saying all the right things in the off-season about how he expected the Rangers to be right there in contention for the division title, but I chalked that up to the usual run of the mill off-season optimism. I know the team won 87 games in 2009. But, not only have the Rangers been in contention, the team has dominated the division for much of the season – even after a recent stretch when they dropped seven of ten. The record still currently stands at 50-38.

Remember when it was reported in the off-season that manager Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season. I actually thought he could be one of the first managers to go if the Rangers started out the season poorly. Now, I think he’s one of the favorites to be the American League Manager of the Year.

It’s relatively easy to have a good offense at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The ball jumps out of the park, and the batter’s eye is very hitter friendly. That has led to outstanding seasons by Josh Hamilton and Vladamir Guerrero, who are two of the Rangers’ five All-Stars (six counting recent acquisition Cliff Lee). Hamilton, who is currently hitting .346 with 22 HR and 64 RBI, hit an amazing .454 in the month of June, causing him to be named the A.L. player of the month. Guerrero, who was discarded by the Angels at the end of last season, returned to the Vlad of old and is currently second in the majors in RBI with 75. The middle of the infield features two All-Stars in Ian Kinsler and the exciting youngster Elvis Andrus.

The Rangers knew the hitting would be good, but the pitching staff has been a nice surprise with the team currently posting an ERA under four, at 3.97. It’s a number that will probably improve with the Lee acquisition. So far the rotation has been led by Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson (Go ahead and say it… who?). The bullpen, led by All-Star Neftali Perez, has provided more closure than fictional Texas Ranger Cordell Walker. The bullpen has posted an ERA of 3.39 to this point.

It’s going to be tough to catch the Rangers in the West. The Angels may make a run, but if Hamilton and Guerrero stay hot then the rest of the American League – including Babe Ruthless’ beloved Yankees – better watch out.

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The MLB 2010 Best First Half Player Debate… A Texas Ranger Who Hits Harder Than Chuck Norris

July 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

Now that the 2010 MLB All-Star rosters have been announced, who among them is THE All Star of the All Stars? That’s easy – Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.

While Hamilton may not boast the “most” home runs or the “best” batting average to this point in the season, he has turned in the best overall hitting performance of the first half, not just in the American League, but in all of the Majors.

Most impressive was his absolute tear through the month of June. Beginning on June 1, Hamilton proceeded to collect 49 hits in only 108 at bats for an average of .454. He also ripped nine home runs and 31 RBI, for a slugging percentage of .815.

Those totals propelled him onto the leaderboard for every single major hitting category, something that no other starting All-Star can claim (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera COULD have claimed this, but he was edged in voting by the Twins’ Justin Morneau).

Here is a breakdown of where Hamilton’s hitting ranks today:

    Batting Average: .339 (fourth in both the AL and the Majors)

  • Hits: 106 (third in the AL and fourth in the Majors)
  • Home Runs: 20 (second in both the AL and the Majors)
  • RBI: 61 (fourth in the AL and fifth in the Majors)
  • Slugging: .617 (second in both the AL and the Majors)
  • OPS: 1.001 (third in both the AL and the Majors)

Along with those dominating totals, Hamilton has also racked up 23 doubles (only two behind the AL leaders), two triples, and has an on-base percentage of .385.

It is a performance worthy of the most fan votes for any American League outfielder, and it earned Hamilton his third consecutive starting nod.

But the REAL All-Stars aren’t just those who turn in big individual performances. Instead, the REAL All-Stars are those who not only perform exceptionally well, but they always seem to step it up a notch even further when their team needs it. After all, baseball is a TEAM sport, and individual accolades mean nothing if they are not in support of the team.

And that is precisely what Hamilton did. His Ruthian performance during the month of June may have added some value to his personal resumé, but the TRUE value of that performance was realized by the entire Texas Rangers organization.

As the month of May closed, the Rangers were riding a four game losing streak and they sat in second place in the AL West, one game behind Oakland. But when the calendar turned, and the Rangers began the month of June with a series against the Chicago White Sox, Hamilton kicked his performance into high gear.

He started off the month with a “quiet” 3-5 performance against Mark Buerhle, as the Rangers ended a four-game skid by beating the White Sox 9-6. That was just the beginning, as Hamilton’s bat would ultimately lead the Rangers on to a 21-6 record during the month, including an 11-game win streak during Interleague play against the top teams in the NL East (much to Loyal Homer’s chagrin).

And when the calendar flipped again as June rolled into July, the same Rangers team that started June on a losing slide finished it with a 4.5 game LEAD over the rest of their division.

The Rangers managed that impressive run by way of offensive explosion. During the month the team would go on to outscore opponents by a combined 173-100. It was Hamilton who led that offensive charge.

Being an All-Star is not just making yourself look good, it is making your TEAM look good by providing exactly what the rest of the team needs exactly when they need it most. Josh Hamilton did that.

He has proven to be the league’s best all-around hitter, and he stands poised at the All-Star break to now lead his team to its first postseason appearance since 1999.

That is what makes Hamilton the Most Valuable Player from the first half of 2010.

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The Home Run Derby Relevance Debate – The Derby Is Old and Busted, MLB to Find New Hotness

July 10, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that the home run derby is still relevant.

In the late 1990s the home run was at its peak in popularity among fans with Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa chasing the long-held Roger Maris single-season home run record of 61. Home run fever swept the entire country, from housewife to diehard sports fan. It was major national news, even finding its way into the Sunday morning talk shows normally reserved for politics. At the time, MLB was an attention-starved league thanks to a strike in 1994, and the home run race brought many fans back to the game.

But, the entire production was a Trojan horse.

As Bleacher Fan pointed out in the intro, the Home Run Derby has lost so much of its appeal that the players do not even want anything to do with it. Why do the players avoid it? Stigma, for one reason (more on that later). But, it also ruins their swing. This decade, the following winners of the Home Run Derby have hit less homer runs after their participating than before: Luis Gonzalez, Jason Giambi, Garrett Anderson, Bobby Abreu, Vlad Guerrero, and Josh Hamilton. Of the players who actually hit MORE homers after the All-Star break – Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, and Ryan Howard – only Ryan Howard has avoided the use of corked bats and proof of performance-enhancing drug use as reasons for the increase in home run total. And, he only hit two more homers in the second have than he did in the first.

It is impossible to address this topic and not discuss the home run itself. The steroids era has tainted the home run, and Major League Baseball’s insistence on glorifying it with the derby is unhealthy for the game. A recent study from the Associated Press released yesterday noted that attendance across the entire league is down over six percent. And 72% of respondents to the survey said MLB “is not doing enough to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs.” Another 66% said that Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa should not be allowed into Cooperstown if they took steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The survey results are interesting, but the loudest voice in the crowd is the drop in attendance. Baseball ought to listen. And until the home run is above suspicion, the derby should stay below ground.

The home run is not even the most exciting play in baseball. Ted Keith of Sports Illustrated claims it is stealing home, but there other plays like a close-play triple, an unassisted triple play, or the suicide squeeze that hold equal excitement. The Home Run Derby is not even showcasing baseball’s only interesting element.

Breaking with long-held traditions can be difficult, and finding ways to replace them only makes it harder. However, it only requires some thought. ESPN will cover whatever the new event(s) are because they’re the only major national sporting event happening in the heart of the summer. It’s time to experiment with the formula and think of other ways baseball’s best can be put on display.

The Home Run Derby tradition now does more harm than good to the game of baseball. There are other ways of showcasing player skills that are also exciting such as a stealing home plate contest, a consecutive hits contest, or directional hitting for points (on the derby model). The more baseball continues to build up the merits of the home run, the more they prove their ignorance of how fans really feel about the game and the steroids era, and the murkier the view of the field gets from their ivory tower.

The Home Run Derby Relevance Debate – Chicks Dig the Long Ball

July 10, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports geek’s argument that the Home Run Derby is no longer necessary.

The All-Star festivities for Major League Baseball are fast approaching. The game, the galas, the celebrity softball game, and the Home Run Derby will be taking place next week in St. Louis, Missouri.

Now, what event do you think the Loyal Homer is most looking forward to watching? (I can promise you it’s not the celebrity softball game, which is probably Sports Geek’s favorite event!)

It is, in fact, the Home Run Derby!

The Home Run Derby is a made-for-TV event that has taken place at the All-Star Game every year since 1985. And last year’s first round created perhaps the most buzz ever, with Josh Hamilton hitting in record 28 home runs in the first round (though he eventually lost to champion Justin Morneau.).

The question posed by Bleacher Fan basically asks if MLB still needs to host the Home Run Derby each. I say most definitely… YES!

I love the home run derby. It’s one of my favorite exhibition events of the year in any sport. Some buddies of mine and I are planning on getting together on Monday to grill out and watch the derby. We’ve been doing this for years. It appears I am not the only one who likes the Home Run Derby, either. Last year’s Home Run Derby drew 6.78 million viewers for ESPN.

Fans come to the park to see home runs, even in this steroids era. They don’t come to the park to see singles and doubles. Do fan stand up and cheer when the eighth place hitter hits a bloop single to center? Heck no! Do fans stand up and cheer when the cleanup hitter hits a 475-foot bomb over the right field fence? You betcha!

This year’s derby features some of the game’s biggest sluggers, including Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder (his dad Cecil could hit some moon shots back in the day), and hometown boy Albert Pujols. Now, you can’t honestly tell me that you don’t want to see how far Pujols can really hit a baseball. He can hit it a long way in a game (just ask Brad Lidge). Imagine how far he can hit it in against batting practice pitching! I, and thousands of other fans like me, get to baseball games early just to stand in the outfield seats and try to catch a BP home run. That proves to me that America is still fascinated with the long ball.

And chicks dig the long ball. If you have never seen this commercial, please give it a look. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

Is the derby a little too drawn out now with all the rounds and the contestants and commercial breaks after every hitter? Yes, certainly! It needs to be adjusted. But it does not need to be eliminated. Loyal Homer loves the event and I know the fans do too!

The 16-Year-Old Baseball Player Debate – Never Send a Boy to do a Man’s Job

June 25, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s opinion.

Before we talk about sports, let’s put this in context. Imagine a kid, age 16, who is told that he is really good at something and has great potential, and now wants to quit high school and try to “make it.” If he were trying to quit school and go to Hollywood and act, it would be considered a bad idea. If he were trying to quit school to become a musician, it would be a bad idea. He might have all the talent in the world, but people would advise him against it. So why should it be any different because he would be playing baseball instead of singing or acting?

“But Bleacher Fan,” I hear you say… “it’s not his parents or his music teacher telling him he’s great – these are professional baseball scouts that know what they are talking about.”

Scouts aren’t fortune tellers. They just try to spot potential talent, and that’s ALL Bryce Harper is – potential talent. Don’t forget, professional scouts also thought that Tito Nanni was going to be a good ballplayer in the Majors, having come right out of high school!

As a Major League General Manager, there is no way I’m drafting Harper or any other child athlete (‘phenom’ is such an unfair label to place on a child).

Consider the fact that Harper hasn’t matured mentally. I remember when I was 16-years-old. Dealing with the pressure of homework was enough stress for me. I couldn’t imagine having to bear the burden of maintaining performance because I was signed to a big-league contract.

I can also remember how hard it was to receive criticism for something as simple as when my socks didn’t match. That was devastating to me. So once again, I couldn’t imagine being placed under the microscope that professional athletes are. The criticism that he receives, both on AND off the field, could lead to serious emotional problems.

While they are not MLB players, consider the Olsen Twins, Britney Spears, Todd Bridges, the two Coreys, or Danny Bonaduce. All of these examples are kids who were given the responsibility (and income) of full-grown adults, and all of them were unable to handle the pressures that come with that responsibility.

Many grown men aren’t even mature enough to deal with the responsibilities and pressures of being a professional athlete. Consider what those pressures have done to guys like John Daly, Josh Hamilton, or Plaxico Burress. These are grown men who have acted like irresponsible children. Unfortunately, because they had the financial means to get into “real” trouble, their irresponsibility was compounded. Imagine putting the financial means that those guys have in the hands of a child.

Kellen Winslow, Jr. is another perfect example of the immaturity that professional athletes can demonstrate. He thought he was invincible and could do whatever he wanted, so he rode a stunt-bike and nearly ended his career before it even started. If Winslow, who was nearly ten years older than Harper is now, could be so foolish as to do something like that, what would a 16-year-old kid do?

To counter-balance all of those arguments, people will bring up LeBron James as a ‘look how good HE turned out’ example. Even LeBron James, though, finished high school, and he is only ONE example of how it could work right. Compared to all the examples that went poorly, I would consider him the exception, not the norm.

I’m not arguing that Bryce Harper will be a bust in professional baseball. My only concern is that he has barely begun to figure out for himself who he is, so how on earth could professional scouts have any idea what he will become? There is too much risk for both a team – and for Harper – to gamble on now. At any point, on any given day, if Bryce Harper chooses to make just one stupid mistake (which 16-year-old kids are apt to do) it could ruin his entire career, and cost the organization a great deal of money.

If he really IS as great as everyone expects him to be, then the extra couple of years experience under the spotlight would do him good, and he’ll still be available in a few years time… patience is a virtue. In the meantime, I’ll pass on the kid and go for the guy who’s actually proven himself against more talent than little Tommy Higginson, Dr. Higginson’s kid from Henderson who just figured out how to throw a curve ball last week.


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