The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate… Pujols Threatens to Put St. Louis on Lockdown

February 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

This whole Albert Pujols situation really exploded in the past two weeks or so. We’ve known for awhile that his contract was set to expire of the end of the 2011 season, and that he was going to be a wealthy man. We all just assumed that he would either reach an extension with the St. Louis Cardinals and there would be a general consensus that it would take place. That doesn’t appear to be the case after the passing of Wednesday’s self-imposed deadline to reach a new deal. So who is to blame? I think this is an easy one. It’s Albert Pujols. He’s being outrageous, actually.

I have a lot of respect for Albert Pujols. I was in attendance when he hit his 150th home run on a Sunday night in Atlanta nearly seven years ago. Until this point, he’s been worshiped in a city that worships baseball. But the fans in the Gateway City, as St. Louis is often referred to, know their baseball and I have a feeling those knowledgeable and passionate fans could turn on him. Who could blame them?

According to sources, St. Louis had offered Pujols an eight year contract that was believed to be worth in excess of $200M with a possible stake in ownership once his playing days are completed. With Pujols, currently 31 years old, the life of that type of deal would take him to the age of 39, and presumably, to the near-end of his career. As a middle-class American who earns considerably less than my sports idols, how I am supposed to feel toward Pujols for turning down such a contract, especially since he grew up in less than stellar conditions in the Dominican Republic?

There is no conceivable way to question Pujols’ credentials. He is arguably the game’s best player and deserves to be paid handsomely. But I don’t know if it is realistic to compare what he could make to what players on the New York Yankees make. That throws out the likes of Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Texiera. A-Rod and Texiera also have the option of playing DH the last few years of their contract if age begins to take away their fielding skills. Besides, the Yankees are a whole other gorilla to tackle, and well, Albert, if you want that kind of cash, Brian Cashman would probably love to talk to you because he needs something positive going for him.

The Cardinals have stated that they can’t get into the payroll stratosphere with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. By signing Pujols to an A-Rod type deal, not only would the organization blow its payroll through the roof, but the chances of building a championship-type contender around the star first baseman would be severely limited.

There’s no question that the Cardinals are taking a risk by not reaching a deal with Pujols yet. Truth be told, it never should have gotten to this point. But it has, and the Cardinals are going to have to dig deep into the coffers because Pujols is asking for the bank vault and the keys to lock the vault up after he’s done with it. Signing Pujols to a contract that exceeds either of A-Rod’s last two contracts will make it less likely that Pujols will add another ring to that hand. Way to cripple your organization, Albert!

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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 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 Best World Series Champ of the Decade Debate – Breaking the Curse, Red Sox Overcame To Be the Best

November 9, 2009

Read the arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan about which teams they believe were the best World Series Champs of this decade.

It all ended on October 27, 2004. The best World Series Champion of the past decade – and one of the best in the history of baseball – completed the final out in an unprecedented season. To the chagrin of new TSD contributor and fan persona Babe Ruthless, the 2004 Boston Red Sox are the best World Series Champion of this decade.

The Red Sox finished the 2004 season two games shy of 100 wins, and three shy of the division crown, taken again by perpetual stumbling block, the New York Yankees. After sweeping the Los Angeles Angles in the American League Division Series the Red Sox faced its old foe and curse-perpetuator from the Bronx. We all know the story now, down 0-3 in the series and 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth of the first game in the series where the Saawwwwxx faced elimination, spark plug Dave Roberts pinch runs for Kevin Millar. Millar drew a rare walk from Mariano Rivera, and then Roberts stole second and scored the game tying run in the bottom of the ninth on a Bill Mueller RBI base hit. The rest is an improbable history making event where the Red Sox were the first team in history to overcome a three games to zero hole to win an American League Championship Series, before sweeping through the World Series. This Red Sox team accomplished what few thought was possible in the modern era of sports, winning a series after putting itself in a three game hole. But the amazing feats from this Red Sox team did not stop with a surprising comeback.

Another reason the Red Sox are the greatest World Series championship team of this decade is because each player on the roster exceeded their previously established talent limitations. For example, opening day second baseman Mark Bellhorn set career highs in batting average (.264) and RBI (82). Catcher Jason Varitek hit a career best .296 and even grabbed 10 stolen bases. The usual suspects in the middle of the order, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz – put up their usual excellent stats. The difference makers for this team were the several players on the Red Sox roster that played above what their career stats indicate as possible. You know the scenario in your favorite team’s context. “I know player X, player Y, and player Z are going to be great this season. But if player A, player B, and player C give us ANYTHING it will be gravy.” The 2004 Red Sox were a team dominated by gravy.

Players that are able to go beyond their limitations are a requisite for any championship team. What makes the Red Sox better than the usual championship team is that they broke a 100 year “curse.” Therefore the players that exceeded their capabilities exceeded them by such a significant amount that the team was able to accomplish something no other team in the history of baseball was ever able to do.

During TSD’s last production meeting Bleacher Fan specifically asked that I not make any mention of the bloody sock. However, it is impossible to research and write anything about the 2004 Red Sox and avoid the bloody sock. Pitcher Curt Schilling pitched hurt during the ALCS and the World Series, and he pitched extremely well. We all know the story. In retrospect the bloody sock is important not because of Schilling’s individual performance but because historic teams – transcendent teams that defeat not only a formidable opponent but vanquish a curse – must have a symbol that embodies the experience and the journey. For the Red Sox the bloody sock was so much more meaningful than a red stain on a baseball sock. The sock symbolized hard work, dismissing frustration, above and beyond effort, and a general disregard for adversity – all characteristics of the team’s personality.

No team built momentum like the 2004 Red Sox, either. After the surprising comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, the Red Sox were an unstoppable locomotive, sweeping the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals. The team redefined momentum with its beating down of the Cardinals – the team that won more games during the regular season than any other team in baseball in 2004, including the Yankees – 11-9, 6-2, 4-1, and 3-0.

Many great teams exist in baseball’s history. Only ONE broke a curse in a spectacular, unprecedented, and an unavoidably entertaining way.

What ultimately makes the 2004 Red Sox great is not solely what the team was able to accomplish in between the chalk lines. The team had more than just baseball skills. It had history, character, and an unstoppable spirit rivaled by no other team.

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The New Coach with Questionable Ethics Debate – Past, Ethics Matter To All

November 4, 2009

Read the debate intro, Loyal Homer’s argument, and Bleacher Fan’s argument about the importance of a coach’s ethics when an organization hires a former player as a new coach.

Readers, please tell me where else you can find an insightful sports commentary website that quotes Friedrich Nietzsche. If you can, The Sports Debates will retire right now. Since I am confident a search would yield zero results, I shall continue on to the verdict on a topic that is sure to ruffle some feathers.

Bleacher Fan used a great, borderline brilliant quote… but it is not the quote from Nietzsche. Bleacher Fan wrote, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” Accuracy does not matter in the court of public opinion. It has rendered its verdict, and the results are not good for Mark McGwire – or Loyal Homer.

Bleacher Fan wins this debate because truth is not always slogged away in the minute facts. Sometimes truth is found in perception. Bleacher Fan’s quote accurately depicts public perception of Mark McGwire and any player implicated as a factor in the so-called Steroids Era in Major League Baseball.

Public perception matters a great deal in this case. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols has more at risk in this new arrangement than any other hitter on the team because he is doomed if he succeeds, and doomed if he fails… and his fate is now tied to McGwire’s. If Pujols has a poor season at the plate in 2010, Cardinals fans and management will be very frustrated. If Pujols has a banner season at the plate fans and media will berate him and his coach with questions about how – EXACTLY – he improved his performance. It is unlikely that answers from Pujols like, “I was dipping my shoulder and McGwire fixed that” or “I now hold my front arm higher to create more force through the zone” will satisfy skeptics.

A few, select players are not the only ones affected, either. The entire world of baseball is impacted when a coach of questionable ethical background is hired. The taint of that coach’s reputation permeates not just the players directly under his influence, but any interactions he has throughout baseball.

For the integrity of the record book – and the integrity of the Cardinals’ hitters – McGwire should not be the hitting coach.

Loyal Homer made some interesting points, though I respectfully disagree with them. Loyal Homer said that a player’s past does not matter. A player’s past does matter – a lot. The past is the composition of the present and the forecast of the future. The past cannot matter for McGwire as a means to inform coaching best practices but not impact the way he coaches the team. It is an inescapable, unacceptable paradox.

If the Cardinals begin to make dramatic improvements in hitting next season the general fan will care about McGwire’s past. The media will ask a relentless barrage of skeptical questions, and any success that comes as a result of McGwire’s coaching influence is forever shrouded in doubt.

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The New Coach with Questionable Ethics Debate – Do Questionable Ethics Matter When Hiring Coaches?

November 3, 2009

Read Loyal Homer’s argument and Bleacher Fan’s argument about the importance of ethics when an organization hires a former player with questionable ethics as a new coach.

I cannot help but wonder… will the St. Louis Cardinals new hitting coach, former home run king Mark McGwire, refuse to help the team’s players because everything he learned about hitting is in the past he so reluctantly addresses?

It is easy as a fan or a member of the media to sit in judgment of Mark McGwire. His abject refusal to answer any and all questions pertaining to his steroid use in a 2005 Congressional Hearing on the subject – for fear that he may “jeopardize” his friends, family, and himself – changed his status from esteemed former player to disgraced side-stepper. In other words, his non-answer was a definitive answer. McGwire did steroids during his career as a professional baseball player, at least according to his own brother who claims to have introduced the slugger to the substance. McGwire, the slugger that helped rejuvenate a fledgling MLB in an all-time home run battle in 1998 with Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa, became just another former player implicated in a scandal that marred one of the greatest slugging eras in the history of baseball.

If McGwire knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs even though the rules – and the conscience of any professional – indicate that is a wrong choice, why should the slugger now be allowed to coach?

If a player, according to one interesting argument from the Ethics Scoreboard, is unfit for the Hall of Fame due to ethical question marks, why is that player fit for coaching and influencing other players?

McGwire has never expressed remorse about his decision to take performance-enhancing drugs because he has never admitted to it publically, even though the court of public opinion has already rendered its verdict.

While baseball cannot explicitly prohibit McGwire from coaching in the Major Leagues, it is reasonable to question the employment of a player turned coach given questionable game-related ethics.

Using Mark McGwire as an example, should a former athlete of questionable ethics be permitted to coach?

For the purposes of this debate, set aside any OSHA and equal opportunity employment arguments that may be forming your skulls. Keep this debate focused solely on the question.

Loyal Homer will argue that former athletes of questionable ethics should be permitted to coach while Bleacher Fan will argue that former players with dubious ethical behavior should not be allowed to formally influence current players.

No behind the scenes lobbying, debaters. And no caffeine prior to writing. Play ball!

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The Bad Team with an MVP Player Debate – Failure is NOT a Valuable Contribution!

October 1, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that a league MVP CAN come from a lousy team.

Every team in the league has an MVP. It does not matter if that team wins 90 games, or loses 90 games, there is one player who is the most valuable to the organization in any given year.

There are also league honors in place for recognition of that player’s accomplishments. Such honors are All-Star invitations, contract bonuses, team MVP awards, even Hall of Fame candidacy for the truly special. Each of those honors exists to recognize a player’s performance on the field, and each are completely blind to the condition of the team on which that player is a member.

There are 30 different Team-MVPs every year in Major League Baseball.

Each of those player’s individual contributions were most valuable, in the context of their teams performance, and each one is duly recognized for those contributions.

When you talk about a League MVP, though, you have to consider their contributions in the scope of LEAGUE performance, not just TEAM performance.

A League’s Most Valuable Player is not necessarily the best hitter… that is what the Silver Slugger award is for. He is also not the best pitcher… those guys get the Cy Young. As for the best fielders, the Gold Glove award is their recognition.

The League’s Most Valuable Player is the award that should be reserved for the one player whose contributions were so vital that their team would not have been able to attain success without him. Consider the most valuable player from each team. Which player had the single greatest contribution to the success of their team in comparison to the other teams? Sometimes that contribution is leading a team to a Division Championship, or a Wild Card berth. That contribution could ALSO simply mean that a player’s performance was so good that a team which would have otherwise been bad was able to remain competitive throughout the season. Maybe they did not reach the playoffs, but they finished at third in the standings instead of dead last, all thanks to the player’s performance.

Sports Geek brings up the example of the 1987 National League MVP award, which was given to Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs finished 1987 with a record of 76-85. I am curious to know what contribution Dawson made to the team that was SO great that he was named the Most Valuable Player of the entire National League that year, when his team only managed to win 76 games! Is it that the Cubs would have only won 40 games if Dawson had NOT played?!

When discussing the qualities of a LEAGUE MVP (league is the operative word, here), you have to consider the scope of their performance as it compares to the ENTIRE league!

The 1987 Cubs finished 18.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals that year. Do you know who played shortstop for the Cards’ in 1987? It was a guy by the name of Ozzie Smith… ever heard of him? That year, Smith hit with a .303 batting average, had 182 hits, batted in 75 runs, an on-base percentage of .392, and committed only 10 errors for a fielding percentage of .987! Smith also managed to draw 89 walks on the year, with only 36 strike-outs on the entire season. Oh, by the way, Smith also helped lead his team to a Division Championship in the NL East, and into the World Series.

How did Andre Dawson compare? Dawson finished the 1987 season with a batting average of .287 (that’s .016 BEHIND Smith), 178 hits (4 BEHIND Smith), and an on-base percentage of .328 (.064 BEHIND Smith). He also drew only 32 walks (57 BEHIND Smith) but struck out 103 times (67 MORE than Smith). In the field, Dawson committed 4 errors for a fielding percentage of .986 (which is close, but still .001 BEHIND Smith). The only thing that Dawson had that Smith did not was the long-ball, as he hit 49 home runs that year, compared to Smith, who did not hit any.

The MVP is not for the person with the most home runs!

In 1987, Ozzie Smith was a more consistent and reliable hitter, a better fielder, and led his team to a World Series appearance. Dawson did nothing more than hit a lot of home runs for a crappy team. If that is all it takes to win the League MVP award, then there have been many hitters who got robbed!

Criterion for voting on a League MVP should exceed rating the power behind a hitter’s swing. The criteria for this award should be to evaluate the player’s total contribution to the team, and the relative benefit that the team gained from that contribution. When comparing the contributions that Smith and Dawson made to their respective teams AND how that contribution translated into league competition, Smith comes out ahead by MILES! Dawson may have been the MVP of the Chicago Cubs in 1987, but he should NOT have been the National League MVP.

Moving forward once again to present day, the same principles still apply. The MVP of the league is NOT supposed to be the award for the person who hits the most home runs. It should be awarded to the one person in the league whose contributions were SO vital that the team would not have achieved the success they did without him. THAT is what the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER of the league provides… the MOST VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION of the league.

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