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 Resigning Derek Jeter Debate

October 25, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

It will be an interesting offseason for Yankees’ fans. While I’m sure many of them are currently weeping and gnashing teeth at their ALCS exit and spotty bullpen, a potentially more significant decision looms on the horizon for the Bronx Bombers.

The face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, just completed the final year of a 10-year, $189M contract. General manager Brian Cashman and the boys will be doing a lot of soul-searching over this off-season to find the right contract to keep Jeter in pinstripes without damaging the franchise’s financial ability to acquire more high-priced talent.

Thankfully, we at the Sports Debates are here to help the Yankees’ front office. We will debate the question of whether or not Jeter deserves a similar contract to his last one, a contract that pays tribute to his consistent on-field production as well as his stature as one of the greatest Yankees of all time, or a smaller contract tied to the fact that he is a 36-year-old playing a position often reserved for younger ballplayers.

Babe Ruthless will be arguing that Jeter deserves another big contract because of everything he has given and continues to give the Yankees franchise. Loyal Homer will argue that Jeter deserves a smaller contract due to his age and some aspects of his play. May the best man win!

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The 2010 MLB Trade Deadline Target Debate… Getting It Dunn in October

July 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Don’t hold your breath about a very exciting MLB trade season as the deadline approaches.

Realistically, I expect 2010 to be one of the more lackluster seasons we have seen in recent history regarding trades. There are plenty of teams in the league right now who are either holding on to slim leads in their division or are within striking distance for a playoff spot. All of them could use some real help to stay in post-season contention.

The problem is that there is an absolute dearth of pitching talent on the market, putting all of the emphasis on offense (and that pool isn’t much deeper).

As far as the pitching talent that IS available, Roy Oswalt COULD make for some interesting trade conversations, but the latest reports of his very high demands may have diminished his appeal somewhat. And when you consider the fact that Cliff Lee was dealt to the Rangers two weeks ago, the depth of available pitching talent is just not what it has been in recent seasons, when guys like C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee (the FIRST time around), and Roy Halladay were sitting on the block.

As for hitters, Prince Fielder is one who could certainly make a team in need of offense happy, but the latest out of Milwaukee seems to be that he is not going anywhere this season.

That really only leaves one viable trade option, and that is Washington Nationals first baseman, Adam Dunn.

The Nationals’ slugger has already notched 23 home runs on the season, tying him for the second most in the National League. Along with those homers Dunn has also knocked in 61 runs (the tenth most in the N.L.) and has a slugging percentage of .565 (the third highest in the N.L.).

While the Nationals have publicly expressed a desire to keep Dunn on the roster, the reality is that he will command far too hefty a salary as a free agent, and I doubt an organization that is five games away from crawling out of the basement WITH him on the payroll would be willing to ante-up as much as $60M, which is reportedly Dunn’s asking price.).

The Nationals are in a classic small-market pickle, and while it may not be an ideal situation, it is the perfect formula for a big-deal trade.

The likelihood of Dunn staying on in Washington after this season is very slim, so the Nationals are going to want to get some value for the slugger, rather than just watch him walk away. There are plenty of potential suitors out there, such as the Giants, Angels, and the White Sox, who would love to see Dunn’s bat added to the lineup. All three teams have expressed an interest in upgrading at the plate, and all three currently are either preserving or chasing very narrow leads within their respective divisions, likely serving as motivation to pull the trigger in order to stay on top.

The question boils down to how much the Nats are going to hold out for before they are willing to make a deal.

Washington’s general manager, Mike Rizzo, understands the value that Adam Dunn brings to the table, and I think he also understands the fact that they currently hold the rights to one of the only viable trade targets of the season. He will do his part to make sure the price tag for Dunn remains as high as possible, but in the end Dunn should wind up as a great mid-season acquisition for a lucky team who was looking for a little post-season insurance.

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The 2010 MLB Second Half Team to Watch Debate… A Ray of Sunshine in the AL East

July 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Four months ago I started my own personal Carl Crawford watch.

The Tampa Bay Rays were entering the 2010 campaign with a great deal of pressure. Because this is a contract year for Crawford, and if the Rays were unable to find any magic during the first half of the season (something I did not expect to happen), then the left fielder would have become the main attraction in a Ray fire sale.

What a difference four months can make.

Instead of being in a position to sell at the upcoming trade deadline the Rays have played some outstanding ball through the first half of the season. The team sits only two games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, and currently holds a three game lead for the AL Wild Card over the other division rival, the Boston Red Sox.

Now, with the trade deadline fast approaching, the Rays could become one of the aggressive teams looking to buy in the hopes of getting a missing piece that will help them maintain momentum into the postseason.

The core of the roster is as solid as any in the Majors today. For his part, Crawford is making sure his value remains high, whether he stays in Tampa after this season or moves on to greener (pun intended) pastures. Through the first half of the season he is batting .321 and is among the league’s leaders in stolen bases (31) and triples (6). His performance was enough to earn him a starting nod on the American League All-Star roster, and he did not make that trek alone.

In addition to Crawford, the Rays boast two other All-Stars in third baseman Evan Longoria and pitcher David Price.

Longoria made his third career All-Star appearance on Tuesday, thanks to a .300 batting average combined with an on-base percentage of .381 and a slugging percentage of .513. As for Price, he boasts the third most wins in the American League, as he is the proud owner of a 12-4 record through the first half of 2010. Price is also one of only nine starting pitchers in the league with an ERA below 2.50.

As the tread deadline looms ever closer, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has made the commitment to his teams and his fans that he will do everything in his power to ensure that his team will be playing October baseball, even promising that “money won’t be an object.”

And as writer Jerry Crasnick points out, even if the Rays fail to land a blockbuster trade deal, the team still has some amazing young prospects waiting in the wings… the type that could be called up and make an immediate contribution.

Conditions are perfect for a very exciting second half from the Tampa Bay Rays. The combination of first half success and All-Star talent, along with the indication that the team will be among the most aggressive teams at the trade deadline, makes for some very entertaining baseball during its closing months.

The Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series in 2008, but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Will 2010 be the year to finish the job? Rest assured that no other team will try harder than the Rays to make it back to the Fall Classic. In a division that has been dominated by the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, it is the Rays who are contributing the most exciting baseball of the season.

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The Most Hated MLB Team Debate… Beantown Wannabes

May 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

If this debate was ten years ago, my answer to the question of who the most hated team in baseball was would definitively have been the New York Yankees.

The Bronx Bombers of the last 20 years have represented everything about baseball that I despise. Rather than go about winning championships through development of talent, hard work, and long-term strategy, the Yankees would allow other franchises to do all the dirty work. Then, right when all of that hard work by “lesser” franchises was about to pay off because one of their athletes had established himself as a true superstar, the Yankees would swoop in, price almost every other team in the league out of the market for that player (including the very team that had invested so much into his development), and simply acquire an already cultivated superstar.

Admittedly, part of my resentment stems from the fact that the strategy works. From 1996 until 2000 the Yankees pulled off an impressive FOUR World Series championships. George Steinbrenner had monopolized the game of baseball, and it took all of the fun out of the game for fans anywhere else in the country.

Leading the charge for the anti-Yankees bandwagon was the Boston Red Sox, their bitter rivals, whom many had perceived as the yin to the Yankees’ yang. While the Yankees had gone on to purchase one World Series after another, the Red Sox were in the throes of an 80+ year World Series Championship drought. For all of the reasons that the Yankees were despised, the Red Sox loved.

Compounding the pro-Red Sox support was the fact that they, just like every other team in the Majors, fell prey to the big-budget mentality of George Steinbrenner and had to sit back while once revered players from Fenway celebrated World Series championships in pinstripes. Even Red Sox stalwarts like Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens ultimately wound up defecting to the Dark Side, WILLINGLY signing contracts in New York later in their careers, and were perceived by many as having sold their soul for a World Series ring.

Then the Red Sox changed. Like so many of the players that Red Sox fans (and those who vicariously supported Boston through a shared hatred of the Yankees) cursed for having sold out just for the prospect of a World Series championship, the Red Sox themselves hypocritically became sellouts. Under the philosophy of “In order to BEAT the Yankees, we must BECOME the Yankees,” guys like Theo Epstein and Mike Port began to seek out and steal the high-priced talent in the league for themselves, taking players away from other teams… even that team in New York.

Since 2000 the Red Sox have bought talent like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Kevin Millar, and Curt Schilling. They have overpaid in bidding wars for guys like Eric Gagne, and have dropped $50M just to reserve the rights to TALK to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Basically, they had become the very thing that they once hated.

In fairness, this new strategy has worked for them, which makes their treachery that much worse! Like the Yankees of the late 1990s, the Red Sox have since won multiple World Series championships, and are now perennial postseason contenders in the AL East (although this year has been anything but a success for Boston thus far). However, that success came at the price of their principles. For the very reason that they once berated the Yankees, they now are guilty of committing the same infractions.

Once perceived as bitter rivals, the New York Yankees almost became role models to the Red Sox, as they graduated Valedictorians from the “George Steinbrenner School of Winning in Baseball.”

The Boston Red Sox are the most despised team in baseball today because they not only bought (rather than earned) their way into the forefront of MLB competition, but more importantly, they did so in hypocritical contrast to all that they once stood against.

At least the Yankees come by it honestly.

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The Most Hated MLB Team Debate… People Love To Hate A Winner

May 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

Remember when your mom used to tell you, “People who do not like you are just jealous!” She was lying to you. It probably had nothing to do with jealousy, and more to do with your haircut, hygiene, or personality. Do you know how I know this? Because that statement pretty much only applies to the New York Yankees.

The New York Yankees epitomize being the object of envy. Twenty seven World Series championships, dynasties in multiple eras of the sport, and rosters that often boast as much talent as an All-Star team have given fans of cellar dwellers a lot to be jealous of, and in turn have encouraged a great number of teams to gulp Anti-Yankee Hatorade. That is why I am absolutely shocked that a study performed by the Nielson Company ranked the New York Yankees fifth among the most hated teams in baseball. I believe that the number crunching nerds down at Nielson might have a TI-84 or two on the fritz because, like in everything else, the Yankees deserve first place.

The Yanks are far and away the most hated team in Major League Baseball, and that is a distinction the team has worked tirelessly to achieve. They actually seem to thrive on the boos (or Bronx Cheers as they are sometimes called around the Burrow) they receive while on the road. The Bronx Bombers have worked very hard to earn the envy of their… well, I would write peers, but I cannot since they do not really have any.

The Yankees are a modern day Goliath sitting atop the baseball ranks in an unrivaled fashion. They seem to get the most TV exposure, sign the most coveted free agents, and make it to the playoffs every season. Lesser franchises would thrill to just achieve one of the aforementioned things, let alone all three routinely. Jealousy fuels the flames of dislike into hate. That is why I have an incredibly hard time buying that there really is more hatred for teams like the Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Indians than the New York Yankees. Depression, self-loathing, and embarrassment I could buy, but not hatred.

After all, how do you really measure a quality like hatred anyway? The guys behind the research at Nielson based it off Internet searches that included the team names and words expressing qualitative judgments (i.e. love, hate, etc.). Each one was assigned a positive or negative value to determine an overall rating. While this is a nerd-tastic approach might get the Sports Geek tweaked just talking about it (Editor’s Note: It does.), is it really a valid quantification for a feeling? Can a process like this account for the strong feelings and emotional ties that are so often present in sports rivalries? I am not sure I could assign a word to describe the utter soul crushing loathing I have for Dustin Pedroia and his team, let alone a ranking.

Society is aware that the Yankees have been deemed the biggest villains in Major League Baseball. That much is made abundantly clear by the media and pop culture. In movies like Major League and For Love of The Game the Yankees are the antagonists. In these movies the Yankees are portrayed as brutish bullies that must be overcome by the underdogs. Why? Because people love to hate the Yankees. Popular nicknames for the team illustrate the societal vilification of the Yanks. The Yankees have been referred to as the “Evil Empire” and “The Best Team Money Can Buy” as an attack on the unrestrained spending by Yankees’ ownership. While the New York Yankees have an incredible national and international following, their dominance of the sport has caused masses of non-Yankee fans to unite in shared disdain for the club. Yankee hatred bonds fans of poor clubs like the Florida Marlins and rich clubs like the Boston Red Sox and National League purists and fans of the DH. Come to think of it, Yankee hatred is actually a great uniting force in baseball.

Add to that the larger than life personas that give life to Yankee legend and now we are reaching some serious mass bitterness. Players that leave behind legacies with other teams for the Yankees, like Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon, create lightning storms of resentment. The fist pumping of Joba Chamberlain ruffles feathers now much like the hulking antics of Roger Clemens did during his days in pinstripes. Who can forget the image of Rocket hurling shards of a broken bat near Mike Piazza (I said near because Clemens is a professional. If he wanted to hit Piazza he would have impaled him.)?

Of course there is the grand-daddy of all controversial modern day Yankees, Alex Rodriguez. Whether he is distracting fielders while rounding the bases, chopping at gloves to get a base hit, or just walking right across the pitching rubber he gets people’s attention, you either love him or hate him. A lot of people fall into the latter category.

In general Yankees players dominate headlines. The fact that A-Rod’s dating life gets more TV time than some team’s game highlights tends not to sit well with some fans, and that is another reason the Yankees really rank number one as the most hated team in baseball.

Although it sounds like doublespeak, the Yankees are all at once the most beloved and hated team in baseball. There is no way Cleveland wins this hatred contest unless we are talking about places LeBron James wants to play next year. And just like baseball, I’m betting the city of New York wins that sweepstakes, too. But that’s a different debate entirely.

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Debate… The Sooner the Better

April 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

This is not the first time that we have broached the topic of fan voting for All-Star ballots among professional sports.

The recurring theme through these debates seems to be the fact that the term “All-Star” is very much open to interpretation. To some, like Sports Geek, it should be defined as the best (usually by some statistical standard). To others it could mean the favorite, or in Babe Ruthless’ case, the Yankees. Although the definition of the term All-Star was not the subject of this debate, the arguments presented by both Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek were once again clearly influenced by their own perceptions of who should or should not be deemed as an All-Star.

I cannot deny Sports Geek the fact that it is virtually impossible to identify who the best players of mid-season will be so early in the season. With only three weeks gone, and two whole months to go, a LOT can change on the various leaderboards of baseball. A player who has started the season hot may hit a slump that extends for the next six weeks of the season, taking them completely out of consideration as the best in their respective position. Likewise, a player could have a slow start in April, but by the time May rolls around they are playing lights-out baseball and rapidly climbing to the top of the charts.

Where I ultimately disagree with Sports Geek, however, and the reason that I am awarding the verdict to Babe Ruthless, is specifically for his insistence that a) the fans don’t always vote for the right people (meaning that they are not the people that Sports Geek would have voted for), and b) that early voting negates the opportunity to consider events that may happen in late spring/early summer.

The belief that sports fans in general are misguided, or essentially must “get out of their own way” is one that I adamantly disagree with. The assumption that fans in general are unable to collectively make a qualified decision as to who should be an All-Star could not be more wrong – a fact PROVEN by the Manny Ramirez situation in 2009.

When the voting kicked-off for the 2009 All-Star team, Manny Ramirez found himself at the top of the list, despite the fact that he was on suspension for using banned performance enhancing drugs. The idea that Ramirez could still make the All-Star roster while serving a 50-game suspension was laughable, and it would have greatly diminished the quality of the game.

The reason that Ramirez found himself so high on the vote list, though, was because many of those votes came in BEFORE he was suspended. Once the news broke that he violated baseball’s PED policy, his stock plummeted, as did his fan support. By the time the All-Star game actually rolled around, Ramirez was nowhere to be seen… the fans got it RIGHT!

The All-Star Rosters from 2009 were absolutely populated by the best in baseball. While people may argue the merits of one player over another, it is hard to deny that every single one of the players who participated in last year’s All-Star game was worthy of their selection.

Babe Ruthless unequivocally won the debate (as he predicted he would) by raising the point that All-Star fan voting is not a “one and done” deal. The first votes of April 20th do not present the only opportunity to vote for an All-Star. Likewise, the leaders today may not even be among the top ten vote-getters by the time the actual event rolls around.

Ironically, it is that very fact that helps to ensure for all of the Sports Geeks out there that the “best” players DO make the All-Star roster. By allowing for such a WIDE span of time, the voters in baseball have AMPLE opportunity to educate themselves, and essentially update or correct their votes as new happenings arise. Think of it as an insurance policy to help guarantee that, over the course of time, the best players will ultimately rise to the top.

If voting were condensed into a shorter period, it would be much more easily influenced by recent events. By starting fan voting early in the season, it becomes a fluid process that is essentially updated as the season progresses. Over time, the players who were little more than a flash in the pan will fade into irrelevance, while those who remain consistently among the top performers in the league will steadily climb to the top. The end result is that the players who sustained the most fan support (whether through statistical dominance or by some other criteria) are the ones who will play in mid-July.

Regardless of how you define the term All-Star, early season fan voting is good for the game. For the business of baseball, it helps by ensuring that the players who generate the greatest fan support over the greatest length of time get to participate (i.e. a satisfied customer base). For the players, it helps to ensure that those who can SUSTAIN the best performance will have the greatest opportunity to earn votes.

Everybody wins with early voting (except Sports Geek)!

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