The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The Most Surprising MLB Move in April Debate… Can The Mets Really Keep This Up?

April 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

I was contemplating over this debate for a day or so. The strong play of the Padres and the extension of Ryan Howard’s contract were issues that originally came to mind. But you know, I thought about how the first 20 games of the season had gone, and I must say it became clear to me what I must argue. The most surprising move in April is the move of the New York Mets to first place.

If you will recall, back on April 19, I said that Omar Minaya was on the hot seat. And I still think he may be, so I am not letting him off the hook. But after ten games at the start of the season, I recall thinking to myself, “My gosh, the Mets are the worst team in the league. They are worse than the Pirates and Nationals!”

At the time the lineup was really struggling. Jose Reyes was not back to full strength. Jason Bay was hitting under .200. The only guy hitting at the time was Jeff Francoeur. It was a lineup that consisted of eight easy outs. And while the lineup still isn’t hitting like it is capable, it is definitely getting there. Jerry Manuel mixed things up a bit. He slotted Reyes in the third spot in the lineup, in front of Jason Bay, David Wright, prized rookie Ike Davis, and Francoeur – and it has worked. The Mets are riding a six game winning streak and currently sit a half-game ahead of the Phillies for first place in the East.

Davis has definitely been a spark for the team. Since getting called up on April 19 he has hit .333 and the Mets have gone 8-1. He has been a stabilizing force at first base, a position the Mets have had a surprisingly tough time filling in recent years with the injuries to former first baseman Carlos Delgado. For all of the attention Braves rookie Jason Heyward has gotten so far, especially from yours truly, Davis is quietly making an early splash, so don’t hand that rookie of the year trophy to Heyward just yet.

The pitching staff has been surprisingly strong in the beginning also. We all know how dominant Johan Santana can be. That is not a shock. But did anyone think that Mike Pelfrey would be 4-0 with an ERA at 0.69 at this point? This is MIKE PELFREY, guys! Now I am certainly not insisting that I think he will keep that up. He has not become Santana, Roy Halladay, or Ubaldo Jimenez overnight. Pelfrey has helped pace the Mets pitching staff to an overall ERA of 3.11 through Tuesday’s action, which is currently good enough for third in the league. Keep in mind that coming into the season the pitching staff was supposedly a weak spot.

It is most definitely early, and the Mets will be having a key “measuring stick” battle this weekend with the Phillies. But for the first 20 games of the season the surge of the Mets from worst to first has been the biggest move. And remember, there is a guy on the disabled list named Carlos Beltran who will provide a big boost when and IF he returns.

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The 2010 MLB Division Strength Debate… The NL East Is the Beast of MLB

April 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

Major League Baseball is finally back, and with all due respect to the season opening Red Sox-Yankees game, most of America considers the first full day of games Opening Day. I scooted out of the office a few minutes early to get home and watch baseball. As for today’s debate, The Sports Debates is looking at all six divisions in baseball and trying to decide which division is the strongest. Feel free to vote in our poll, but I fully believe that the National League East is the strongest division in baseball.

Obviously, the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in the East and have a legitimate argument to lay claim to being called the best team in baseball. The core returns from last season, with the exception of Cliff Lee, who was traded to Seattle. But he was replaced by Roy Halladay, who the Phillies have seemingly been trying to acquire for years. The Phillies remain an offensive juggernaut and have one of the best infields in baseball. The Phils definitely have some injury concerns, as Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, and Joe Blanton will all start the season on the disabled list. But this team still should have no problem being a legitimate contender to win the pennant.

The Atlanta Braves have been getting a lot of Spring Training buzz, with a lot of it being centered on rookie Jason Heyward (Editor’s Note: Who had quite the debut.) and the fact that the 2010 campaign is going to be manager Bobby Cox’s last, or so he says. The Braves should be improved, but they need a LOT of things to go right for them to have a chance to keep up with the Phillies. The starting rotation NEEDS to stay healthy. Chipper Jones NEEDS to have a bounce back year. New first baseman, Troy Glaus, NEEDS to play at least 140 games and be productive. I could go on and on. The bottom line is that the Braves could be a legitimate threat to make some noise in the East IF things fall their way.

The Florida Marlins are once again a young team, but they can be sneaky good. Manager Fredi Gonzalez, who does not get the credit he deserves for the job he has done down in Miami, always seems to have his group of young kids performing well. Keep in mind that the Fish won 87 games last season, and much of that team returns. Josh Johnson, if he can stay healthy, can be dominant and is a threat to win the Cy Young award. Hanley Ramirez continues to be one of the game’s best all-around players and was probably drafted in the top five in your fantasy baseball draft. The Marlins can certainly sneak into the playoffs as a wild card.

The Mets and Nationals round out the East. The Mets’ first season in beautiful Citi Field did not go as planned, as they won only 70 games. Another season like that and Jerry Manuel will be looking for another job, which is something TSD touched on back in March. The Nationals continue to try to rebuild as they await the major league debut of phenom Stephen Strasburg, which will probably be in early summer if everything goes well.

These two teams admittedly make the East top-heavy, but that is not always a bad thing. The Phillies remain the class of the East, but it will be interesting to see if Atlanta and Florida can give them a battle down the stretch.

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The Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre Debate – The Man with the Golden Touch

March 10, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

For any manager, 2,000 wins is impressive. I do not care who you are or how you got them! In fact, there are only ten managers in the entire 100+ year history of Major League Baseball who have accomplished that feat. Of those ten managers, seven have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Three, however, have not been inducted into that hallowed hall.

Because they are still managing!

For the only time in Major League history, three managers with more than 2000 wins are active at the same time – Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox, and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa.

While there is no doubt that all three of these managers will eventually join their 2,000-win fraternity brothers in Cooperstown, you can always count on TSD to dissect even the greatest of accomplishments in order to rank them among each other. Furthermore, you can always count on Bleacher Fan to give the CORRECT arguments in resolving any such debate!

The greatest of the three managing legends still active in baseball today is Tony LaRussa!

I can hear you screaming already, “Torre’s got more rings! Or, ”Bobby Cox DOMINATED in the ‘90s won 14 consecutive division titles and five World Series appearances during that same run!”

While those results are impressive (and clearly HOF worthy), neither Cox nor Torre have been able to do what LaRussa has done, which is to take every single team he has ever coached into the postseason at least once.

Although both Cox and Torre have had ample postseason experience (and success), they both have blemishes on their resumé where an entire stint for at least one Major League ball club failed to warrant a postseason appearance (Torre with the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals, and Cox with the Braves during his FIRST run from 1978-1981). Simply put, LaRussa is the best manager of the modern era because he can win WHEREVER he goes. It does not matter which uniform he puts on, having LaRussa in your dugout AUTOMATICALLY makes you a postseason threat.

LaRussa took over for the 46-60 Chicago White Sox midway through the 1979 season, and his impact was immediately felt on Chicago’s South side (Editor’s Note: Because he shot someone?), as the White Sox would finish the season at .500 (27-27) under the rookie manager. By 1983, LaRussa had the White Sox playing in the ALCS as Eastern Division champions (by that time, Torre had already been fired from the New York Mets with Cox suffering the same fate in Atlanta).

After LaRussa was fired by the White Sox in 1986, he was called up almost immediately by the 31-52 Oakland Athletics, and once again brought immediate results. He closed out the A’s 1986 season by winning 45 of their final 79 games. Just two short years later, LaRussa became the first between him, Cox, and Torre experience the World Series, as he led the A’s in claiming the 1988 AL Pennant. That year was just the beginning for LaRussa’s A’s, though, as they would go on to claim two more consecutive AL Pennants and a World Series Championship all between 1988 and 1990. Just two years later, LaRussa reached the ALCS one more time as the Western Division Champions.

After the death of Athletics’ owner Walter Haas, Jr. in 1995, LaRussa left Oakland to become manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, where he has remained.

What happened since LaRussa came to St. Louis? You guessed it – SEVEN more division championships, TWO National League Pennants, and ANOTHER World Series ring. The 2006 World Series Championship also earned LaRussa a very special place in baseball history, as he became only the second manager ever, along with Sparky Anderson, to win World Series titles in both the American and the National League.

In recognition for his ability to win ANYWHERE, LaRussa has also been named Manager of the Year at least once with each of the ball clubs he has managed, and has earned the title a total of four times – yet another accolade that Cox and Torre are unable to match. Cox also has four Manager of the Year awards, but failed to win any during his first stint in Atlanta. Torre, despite all his rings, has only won the award twice.

If Tony LaRussa were digging for gold, he would have struck it rich several times over, while Cox and Torre each over the course of their long careers found only one mine that paid off. Granted, the mines discovered by Cox and Torre provided them with success for a period of several consecutive years, but they eventually exhausted that mine, and have been unable to find any more success since that time.

Tony LaRussa is the manager with the golden touch!

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The 2010 MLB Manager On The Hot Seat Debate – Manuel is Feeling The Heat in The Big Apple

March 3, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

With the start of spring training comes hope for nearly every team. It is common to read a feel-good “fluff” story in many local newspapers about how this could be the year – You’ve read them. However, reality paints a different picture. The reality is that many of the teams are bad, and that have essentially no shot at winning. That, in turn, leads to job insecurity on the field, in the dugout, and in the front office. Today, The Sports Debates is going to take a look inside the dugout and try to decide who is on the hottest seat in terms of managers.

What manager is feeling the most heat to right the ship and turn the club around? That title belongs to New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel.

The Big Apple is essentially a New York Yankees city – Manuel himself has admitted as much. But that doesn’t mean that the Mets get a free pass from the New York City tabloids. Manuel has already been the target of much of their wrath, and part of me hates it for him because he seems like a good baseball man and a genuinely nice guy. But that and a box of crackerjacks will get you a pink slip if your team fails to produce on the field.

Last year the Mets did NOT produce on the field, finishing with an appalling record of 70-92.

Now, a lot of that can be attributed to injuries. In 2009, Mets players spent over 1,480 days on the disabled list, including extended injuries to Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johann Santana. That is arguably the five best players on the team. But injuries are a part of the game and the buck stops with the manager in terms of on the field performance.

Personally, I think general manager Omar Minaya should be on the hot seat just as much as Manuel, if not more. In a previous debate about the New York Mets, I pointed out their on-field problems, highlighting the fundamental mistakes made by players (dropped pop-ups, missing third base, etc). I also put some of the heat on Minaya, and I have not changed my tune because he has done a poor job of building this team. He still has holes in the pitching rotation after Santana, a problem not really addressed during the offseason. Maybe he shouldn’t spend so much time getting into shouting matches with reporters!

No matter my feelings on Minaya, the heat falls on Manuel first. His team has to improve on the field, and I think they have to show drastic improvement. Manuel has a club option in his contract for next season, but if even he makes it that far I can’t imagine it being picked up unless the Mets are fighting for a playoff spot in September. Despite the spring training fluff you may be reading, it is not necessarily realistic. What is realistic is that Jerry Manuel is on the hot seat.

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The Rooting For Your Archrival Debate – Winning is The Only Thing That Matters

September 10, 2009

Read the debate intro, Sports Geek’s argument, and Bleacher Fan’s argument.

My verdict for this debate is sure to aggravate the loser. I make this statement because I can feel the passion in every line of Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan’s argument. Perhaps even more in Bleacher Fan’s.

Bleacher Fan obviously refuses to root for any archrival. Bleacher Fan, under no circumstances, can come to grips with rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens. There is obviously a lot of built up anger toward both organizations, making it impossible to pull for them under any circumstances. As a fan, I can appreciate that. I also appreciated the He-Man reference. That was admittedly the first time in quite awhile I devoted any thought to the Masters of the Universe!

Sports Geek breaks down the counter argument into three different segments, effectively portraying the opposing side by saying, “the duty of fans is to root for the best possible outcomes for their favorite teams.”

Look, I have teams I hate. As someone who lives in Georgia and supports all Atlanta pro teams, I have a lot of hate for teams like the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Florida State Seminoles. I despise them! Mention names like shortstop Derek Jeter, pitcher Andy Pettitte, and former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks and I get rather agitated (much like Bleacher Fan does with Art Modell).

That being said, if one of those teams can do something that benefits one of my teams, I can put aside my anger and put aside my pride. I will root for them. Maybe not PUBLICLY. But, I will root for them.

The bottom line is winning. I have a hard time believing that anyone would be okay with sitting at home during playoff time when a situation arose where a sworn enemy could help the team make the playoffs. The goal in every team sport to make postseason play, right? It certainly is. Winning matters… and if those bad guys on the other side help me out, then so be it! I am going to the playoffs, and if I win the championship, I am going to Disney World!!!

Therefore, I declare Sports Geek the winner.

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The New York Mets are the Worst Debate – The Verdict Is In!

August 14, 2009

Read the debate intro, Loyal Homer’s argument that the Mets are the most poorly run franchise in baseball, and Sports Geek’s argument that they are not.

Misery loves company.

Having grown up in the Cleveland area of Northeast Ohio, I can sympathize with the frustration that New York Mets fans are feeling right now. One minute, you are angry and frustrated, the next you are consumed by a hopeless thought that things will never get better. I’ve been there… I know.

It becomes an increasingly more difficult pill to swallow when a team gets so close one year (losing the 2008 NL Wild Card to Milwaukee on the final game of the season), then to seem so far away the next year.

Being from Cleveland, I have seen both sides of the coin. I have watched teams fail because of poor management and I have watched teams fail that were simply unfortunate victims of bad luck and ill-timed injury(ies). I have also seen teams fail due to a combination of those problems, and the Mets seem to be moving into that category.

Loyal Homer and Sports Geek both discuss very real problems within the Mets organization. As Loyal Homer points out, the Mets have had their fair share of drama in the front office. Former VP of Player Development Tony Bernazard was fired for making VERY poor choices, and there was an incident which occurred between manager Omar Minaya and a reporter when announcing Bernazard’s dismissal. Meanwhile, Sports Geek points out that on the field the Mets have also had a multitude of problems around injuries, most notably to Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and Francisco Rodriguez.

The challenge, though, is to determine which of those problems are the CAUSE for the Mets woes, and which are an EFFECT.

Whenever a team is losing, every action is placed under a microscope. Each decision is scrutinized, and problems that may have been overlooked during a relatively successful season suddenly become overblown crises that fans and the media fixate on.

Those problems are all a part of the EFFECT that comes from losing. I am awarding this debate to Sports Geek because the CAUSE of the problem has to do more with injuries than with those front office issues.

As Sports Geek points out, the Mets have still managed to put together 53 wins, something that many other teams in the league have not been able to accomplish yet. While you cannot blame all of their 61 losses so far this season on injury, it is fair to assume that injuries have been the cause for some of them. For the sake of argument, consider the possibility that a ‘healthy’ Mets team would have won only five additional games to this point in the season. Under that scenario, the Mets would be two games ABOVE .500, and only six games behind the Phillies, instead of sitting at eight games BELOW .500.

Obviously, that is all speculation. My point is simply to illustrate the enormous impact felt by the difference of only a few games. When a team is forced to take the field with less talent than what they had originally planned, those extra losses are bound to happen and they can inflate many of the other problems within the organization.

I do not intend to diminish or excuse the problems going on within the upper levels of the Mets franchise. However, those problems (or at least the increased attention being paid to those problems) are part of the EFFECT of losing, rather than the CAUSE for it.

Regardless of cause or effect, though, Mets owner Fred Wilpon will have to address ALL of those problems if he wishes to see his team make a return to the postseason any time soon.

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