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Monday, December 31, 2012

Baseball Notes for December 31, 2012

The holiday season slowed down the hectic MLB offseason, which had operated on full blast for more than a month. Although many free agents have signed with new teams, there is still a lot going on around baseball as 2012 comes to an end.

***It may be the week after Christmas, but it’s never too late to share stories of baseball and good will. Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times wrote about a young fan’s actions and experience of a lifetime while attending a Los Angeles Dodgers’ game earlier this year.

11-year-old Jack Baur (no, not the guy from 24) was sitting in the stands during an August game when he was struck by a bat that slipped from the grasp of Los Angeles third baseman Hanley Ramirez and ricocheted off another child. Fortunately, both youngsters were okay. Security immediately retrieved the bat to return to Ramirez, but new team owner Magic Johnson saw everything transpire and brought autographed balls to the two boys and made sure they weren’t hurt. It turned out that wasn’t the end of the situation.

Bruce Nash, a television producer and co-author of The Baseball Hall of Shame book series, saw Baur receive a bat after the game from team officials and then give it up to the other child who Ramirez’s bat had hit first. Nash was so touched by the gesture that he helped arrange for Baur to receive another bat from Ramirez; a request that was fulfilled by the star. The all-around chain of wonderful gestures is just another example of why baseball is the greatest game there is.

***Boston Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard struggled through a multitude of issues last season that effectively pushed him off the roster. However, in a recent interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Bard was surprisingly upbeat about his future. While not making excuses, he did reveal that he pitched through a stiff back last season, but enters 2013 feeling both mentally and physically refreshed. He’s also looking forward to being reunited with new manager John Farrell, who was his first major league pitching coach. Only time will tell, but signs seem positive that Bard can overcome his problems and become an effective pitcher for Boston once again.

***Godzilla has retired. Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui came to the U.S. after 10 superstar seasons with the legendary Yomiuri Giants, where he hit .304 with 332 home runs. He went on to play another 10 seasons in the majors, primarily with their gold standard team, the New York Yankees. While his American numbers weren’t as spectacular (.282 with 175 home runs), he was a solid outfielder/DH, whose teams made the playoffs six time, including 2009’s World Series winning Yankees (Matsui was that year’s World Series MVP, hitting .615 with three home runs).

In addition to his accomplishments on the baseball diamond, Matsui also became known for his affinity for adult entertainment. Reportedly the owner of more than 55,000 illicit videos, Matsui apparently isn’t doing anything illegal, but now has one of the more bizarre footnotes in baseball history.

***Former major league reliever Ugueth Urbina was released from a Venezuelan prison after having served seven-and-a-half years for attempting to kill five workers on his family’s ranch. The 38-year-old right-hander played for six teams in an 11-year major league career, most notably for the Montreal Expos and Red Sox.

Urbina told reporters he hopes to resume his professional pitching career, but he may want to re-evaluate his goals. The United States have strict laws preventing entry to the country for those with criminal backgrounds. Anyone with convictions for "crimes involving moral turpitude" are strictly prohibited from receiving a visa. Urbina may want to jumpstart his baseball career again, but it appears that won’t be happening in the majors.

***The Red Sox finalized a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates that brings closer Joel Hanrahan to Beantown. In addition to maligned reliever Mark Melancon, Boston sent back several non-premium prospects to complete the deal.

With Andrew Bailey under contract, the addition of Hanrahan seems a bit redundant. With a fastball that has averaged nearly 96 mph for his career, there is no doubt that Hanrahan is one of the most powerful pitchers in baseball.  His acquisition is another in a long line of non-star additions Boston GM Ben Cherington has made this offseason. Even though he is one season away from free agency, the relative pittance Boston paid for his services to be their closer in 2013 justifies the move.

***Free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year contract worth $7.5 million with the Texas Rangers. In many ways the deal may be disappointing to both sides.

Pierzynski is coming off a career year, where he hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBI. However, he just turned 36, which is a precarious age for catchers. It also has to be more than a little galling to him that instead of reaping a large payday from his impressive 2012 season, he will likely finish out his career on one-year deals.  Heck, even Russell Martin, who has hit a combined .224 over the past two seasons, was able to score a two-year, $17 million deal earlier this offseason.

Under normal circumstances the Rangers would be happy to add a player of Pierzynski’s caliber, but since he represents their most significant acquisition this offseason, his signing has to be tinged with disappointment. Not only did Texas allow star outfielder Josh Hamilton to sign with their division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels, but they were also unable to land Zack Greinke, the top available starting pitcher this, who instead went to the Dodgers. As things stand today, there is little doubt that Texas has lost a lot of ground in the AL that can’t simply be made up by their new catcher. 


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Friday, December 28, 2012

An Interview With Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Josh Poytress

You would be hard-pressed to find any young professional baseball players who’d say their path to the major leagues is easy. However, the road can be a lot bumpier for some players than others, and Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Josh Poytress had to overcome a major obstacle to even get to the point where he could be drafted.

Poytress was a well-regarded left-handed pitcher coming out of high school in Fowler, California in 2008. The Houston Astros selected him in the 16th round of that year’s draft, but feeling that college would do him good, he passed on signing to attend Cal State Fresno.

While playing in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2009, Poytress experienced discomfort and numbness in his arm, which ended up being diagnosed as a life threatening blood clot.

After grueling medical procedures and rehab, Poytress was able to beat the clot. He even successfully returned to school at Fresno, highlighted by his junior season, when he went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA.

In 2011 the Pirates chose Poytress in the 18th round of the draft. Upon signing, he was sent to the minors to work exclusively as a reliever. He’s pitched well in his first two professional seasons, but especially shone this past year. He appeared in a combined 26 games between three different levels, and went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA. More information about his statistics is available at BaseballReference.

Prior to the 2012 season I was able to exchange emails with the southpaw prospect. Check out what this future Buc had to say about himself and his time in baseball.

Josh Poytress Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Boston Red Sox, and my favorite player was Nomar Garciaparra. I really liked the history of the Red Sox and the Curse and all that, and I really liked how Nomar played and how great of an athlete he was. Since I played shortstop when I was seven I wanted to be like him, until I found out left-handed people don't do anything but pitch and play outfield.

Can you run through what your draft experience was like?: I was really excited to get drafted because I felt that my college career was done and I felt ready to go pro. Coming up to the draft I got really anxious to see where I would go, and sat down with my parents to watch the draft on tv, and prepare for the next day- when I figured I’d get drafted. I was told I was going to go sooner than I did, so when I didn't get any phone calls deeper into the draft, I got really antsy and decided to go for a drive to the store to get something to drink. That's when I got the call, so I pulled over and answered the phone and was excited to hear that the Pirates were going to take me. It was a much different experience from getting taken out of high school.

How did you determine that you wouldn’t sign with the Astros after being drafted by them in 2008?: Coming out of my senior year and into the draft I had some complications with my arm that sat me out for most of the season. So when they drafted me and told me they wanted to do a draft and follow over the summer, I felt I had time to show what I was worth. I did well, but not like I had the previous year before, and didn't get offered what I wanted to skip college. So I decided that I had three years to get back to where I was and possibly go higher and see who would take a chance on me.

Can you talk a little bit about how challenging it was to come back from the blood clot in 2009?: After all the surgeries, I was finally cleared to come home in August, but I still had a lot of time before they said I could start activity. I wasn't supposed to start anything until October, but I felt healthy enough to start running and working on cardio and try to get into some sort of shape in early September. After one more check-up I was cleared to throw, and I had to learn how to throw again. I had lost over 25 pounds from the hospitalization and my muscles shrunk on my left arm immensely. So I kept rehabbing and throwing and running, hoping to be ready for the season in February.

I started playing catch in early December, and by January I threw my first bullpen. It was definitely bad, since it had been basically a new experience with how my body was set up now. I was a lot more tired from everything and I knew that I had to get better to be ready for college hitters. I ended up coming out of the pen Opening Day and starting that Sunday, but I still wasn't even close to 100%. I was maybe 60% back and I could feel it every day. I didn't ever really get fully recovered that season, and it took a toll on my arm towards the end of the season. I got to take the summer off after the season, and that’s when I finally felt I was as close to normal as I could get.

What pitches do you throw, and which one is your strongest and which one needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam fastball, circle change, and slurve. If you asked me in college what my best pitch was, I would have said fastball, but recently my changeup has been hands down my best pitch. It went from my worst to my best in about two weeks of pro ball. Now I would say that I need to work more on my curveball. I wasn't allowed to throw it at Fresno State, but I brought it back instead of a cutter because it is a lot more effective; I just have to get it back into form.

After you signed, what is something you did or bought for yourself or your family/friends to celebrate?: After I signed we all went out to eat at a teppanyaki restaurant to celebrate. I had to wait until September for my bonus to come in, and I used most of it to buy the first car I’ve ever owned, a 2011 Toyota Tacoma.

What are the most important things you think you took away from your first professional season?: The most important thing I took away was how everyone was really on an even playing field. That no one person was miles ahead of anyone else. I had to learn how to pitch even better then I did in college because all the hitters are good and I can't sneak balls by people. I don't throw as hard as a lot of guys, so I used a lot of speed changes to be more effective. Basically I just learned how to be a better overall pitcher and how to attack hitters in a way I couldn't in college.

Do you have any interest in baseball history, and if so, what is the extent of your knowledge?: I have an interest per se, but I have never taken the time to really look a lot of stuff up. I'll listen to someone talk about stuff like that, but I don't really look it up for myself. I don't know very much history, which is something I’m a little ashamed of.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ray Peters: The Modern Moonlight Graham

“Moonlight” Graham, best remembered as the tragic figure in the movie Field of Dreams, was a real baseball player, who really did get into only one major league game in his entire career without recording an at-bat. Unfortunately he is just one of many players whose major league career was measured in hours instead of base hits, home runs, and innings. Pitcher Ray Peters lasted all of two innings in the majors, but it was something he’ll never forget.

The lanky right-handed Peters was a first-round pick of the Seattle Pilots out of Harvard University in 1969. He was a highly-regarded amateur, having been drafted four times previously, but electing to finish his college education before starting a baseball career.

Peters was a hard thrower. Norm Shepard, his coach at Harvard, once said, “A pitcher like Ray comes along just once in a while. He was one that could throw the ball by the hitter. You don't get a real stopper like Ray every day." He finished with a college record of 17-5.

The 1969 Pilots were a 64-win team and their pitching staff was led by the immortal Gene Brabender. Peters was seen as a potential savior for the floundering expansion team. He dominated in the minors after signing, going a combined 12-4 with a 2.98 ERA between three levels.

Peters struggled in 1970, posting a 5.08 combined ERA in the minors. However, he was brought up for his MLB debut with Milwaukee (the Pilots moved from Seattle and became the Brewers) in early June.

On June 4th, Peters toed the rubber of a major league mound for the first time. He started against the Cleveland Indians, but was removed after two innings, having forfeited six hits, three walks and four runs—a performance that earned him the loss.

Despite the inauspicious debut, Peters was given another five days later against the Detroit Tigers. He allowed a single to Dick McAuliffe, walked Elliott Maddox, and then walked eventual Hall of Famer Al Kaline, before being lifted, without having recorded an out. All three base runners went on to score and the Brewers succumbing 8-3, with Peters being tagged with another loss.

Peters was demoted back to the minors after his two starts. Sadly, he never pitched in the major leagues again. He pitched in the minors through the 1971 season before calling it a career. He had a 22-23 minor league record with a 4.50 ERA. In addition to his two major league losses, he also had a 31.50 ERA, giving up seven hits and five walks in two innings. More information about his career statistics is available here:

Albeit brief, Peters enjoyed his time in baseball. He shared some of his memories with me and clearly has few regrets about the opportunity he was given, which isn’t something every pro player can say.

Ray Peters Questionnaire:

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jimmy Reese, by far. Google him.

What was the strangest play you ever saw as a player?: Bases loaded and I’m pitching. The batter hits a line drive between my legs (I never touched the ball). The ball ricocheted into the third base dugout without passing third base. No one touched it, so it was a foul ball! I struck the guy out and ended the inning!

What type of pitches did you throw, and which was your best pitch?: Fastball, slider, curve and changeup. Depending on the day, the fastball or curve was my best pitch.

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: Be injury free!

What else would you like us to know?: I played with and against some interesting guys. One of my first roomies in pro ball was Tom Kelly, former manager of the Twins and a very nice guy. My catcher at Portland was John Felske, former manager of the Phillies, and my catcher at Eugene was “Stump” Merrill, former manager of the Yankees.

Though my major league career was a matter of days, I was fortunate to pitch against my childhood batting heroes. Al Kaline was my favorite right-handed batter and Vada Pinson my favorite left-handed hitter. I walked Kaline and got Pinson (who should be in the Hall of Fame) to fly out, after singling in his first at bat.

Luck plays a great part in sports. In my two innings I gave up only singles, four of which were broken-bat bloops. Against Detroit, I walked two and one batter got a single. I was taken out with the bases loaded and no runs in, and the reliever comes in and gives up a grand slam home run, and I’m sent to the minors! That’s life.


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Friday, December 21, 2012

Cleveland Indians' Second Baseman Prospect Joseph Wendle Talks Baseball

The Cleveland Indians may have young second baseman Jason Kipnis making his mark at the major league level, but he will soon have competition. That will come in the form of Joseph Wendle; a player who joined the organization from this past year’s draft and looks to be quite the keeper.

Wendle came from a small school, but has big talent. He was taken in the sixth round out of West Chester University in Pennsylvania; a division two school. As a senior, the left-handed hitter was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association (NCBWA) first team all-America team and was the star of the eventual Division II national champions. He hit .399 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI in 56 games.

In addition to his ability with the bat, Wendle is also an excellent fielder. Coming from a small schoo, some wondered if his bat can keep up with his glove, but the Indians believe that won’t be a problem.

Wendle starred in his first professional season, after being assigned to Mahonging Valley in the New York-Penn League. He appeared in 61 games, hitting .327 with four home runs and 37 RBI. His adeptness at making contact was evidenced by the 25 strikeouts he had; an impressively low number for a player his age. More information about his statistics is available at:

I chatted with Wendle before one of his games this past summer. I had not heard of him prior to that time, but have come to be extremely impressed by his talent. Check out what the Indians prospect had to say, as he answered some of my questions about his time in baseball.

Joseph Wendle Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up?: My favorite team was the Philadelphia Phillies because I’m from the Philadelphia area. My two favorite players were Scott Rolen and Chase Utley.

Do you model your game after a particular player?: Yeah, I think I do after that general type of baseball player; hard-nosed grinder type of baseball player who competes every day whether he’s got his best stuff or not.

What was your draft experience like?: My draft experience that week was actually pretty hectic. I had just come off winning a national title for division two in college baseball and two days later I was getting drafted. It was a little stressful, but also fun at the same time. I was glad to get the opportunity to play for Cleveland.

Did Cleveland notify you in advance that they were interested in you?: Yeah, a little bit. Not as much as some other teams maybe, but obviously they were trying to maybe keep it a little quiet. They just called me on draft day, the day it happened.

Is this your first season playing with wooden bats?: I’ve played in a lot of summer leagues. I’ve played in the New England Collegiate League, right up here, and also the Coastal Plain League, so those are all wood obviously. In school ball it’s all metal, so it’s probably split half and half with my at bats between metal and wood.

Is it difficult to transition from metal to wood?: I think it can be if you let it. There’s probably about a dozen at bats or so in the beginning where you’re still getting used to it. But I don’t think it’s too big of an adjustment for the better hitters.

What is one piece of advice you have been given since starting your pro career that has really helped you?: I think just the mental aspect of the game, trying to stay on the even keel and stay level. It’s a long season and you can’t get too up or down about one game because you probably have 75 more left in the season. So, staying even and keeping your emotions in check and being ready to play every day.

Besides the travel what is the most difficult part of playing professional baseball?: I guess accepting it as your job, not that anyone would think of it as work to come out here and play baseball. But yeah, just having it be your occupation is a little difficult to wrap your mind around for the first month or so. Once you get adjusted to the travel, like you said, just getting used to being at the ball park for five, six, seven, or eight hours of the day…

Since being drafted have you had much contact with those from the Cleveland organization?: Not really. We have the coordinators that come in and it was very good to meet all of them because most of them played in the big leagues. Hearing advice from them is very important. Right now we’re just focusing on this level and then we’ll head down to spring training and hopefully have another good experience.


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Monday, December 17, 2012

Baseball Notes for December 17, 2012

The baseball offseason is a busy time. Really, no further introduction is needed for the notes from this past week.

***The hyperbole machine has been revved up to a fevered pitch now that the 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has gone out and people have started debating the merits of various candidates. I will surely go into who I would vote for at a later time, but for now can offer up these thoughts:

      1.    It’s about time to change how this honor is voted on. It’s ridiculous that the BBWAA continue to have a stranglehold on this process. Other than longevity and knowing the right people, there are precious few criteria for who gets to vote. What makes these writers the experts? Judging by some of their hideous decisions and justifications from the past, the whole process has become amateur hour. 100 years ago, print writers probably had the closest connection to the players. However, there are now numerous forms of media and even fans have unprecedented access to the game. Obviously there’s no exact or scientific way to determine a Hall-of-Famer, but let’s standardize the voting process and remove the power from the ink-stained hands of these dictators of injustice.

      2.    Strength of character is one of the criteria used by Hall of Fame voters, but it may be time to re-evaluate. There are cheaters, racists, drunks, violent criminals and probably worse currently enshrined in Cooperstown. Trying to keep out candidates because of indiscretions, especially those related to PEDs seem laughably hypocritical. 

      3.    Finally, if so much effort is being made to keep out the “bad guys,” why hasn’t the pendulum swung the other way to honor well-known fringe Hall candidates like Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly? This idea was first put in my head by an excellent blog written by ESPN’s Buster Olney, where he included an open letter from Murphy’s son, Chad, extolling his father’s candidacy.

***Former Boston Red Sox stalwart Kevin Youkilis made what is seemingly becoming a rite of passage by joining his former rival, the New York Yankees, on a one-year, $12 million contract. Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Tom Gordon and Roger Clemens are just some of the expats in recent years to join the Evil Empire.

Youkilis was signed to fill in for third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who will be having offseason surgery on his balky hip. It’s an interesting move by the Yankees, who are fighting advancing age and skyrocketing payroll. Giving that much money to the 33-year-old like Youkilis, who is coming off his worst season (.235 with 19 home runs) and seemed to be in serious decline, is very risky. He is a gritty player, but just because the mind is willing doesn’t mean the body will be. Regardless, Boston fans should wish him only the best. He more than earned their enduring respect for what he accomplished in a Red Sox uniform.

***The news that Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels for five-years and $125 million sent some pretty big shock waves through baseball. Hamilton had been the hardest free-agent to peg, as a number of teams had expressed interest, but the consensus seemed to be developing he was going to have to settle for a three or four-year deal instead of the six or seven that he wanted.

The Angels had not been one of the teams closely connected to Hamilton, but evidently jumped in and snatched up the left-handed slugger once they saw an opening. In the short-term, the move may prove to be a master stroke, as it’s hard to argue that their team won’t have the best trio of hitters of any team in baseball, with Hamilton, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols anchoring the offense.

However, by 2015 the Angels will potentially start seeing the effects of a bloated payroll. That season they will be paying nearly $70 million total to just three players, Pujols, Hamilton and pitcher C.J. Wilson. All three will be in their mid-thirties and potentially experiencing a decline in production. Angels’ owner Artie Moreno may have the money to burn, but it can be tough to maintain a solid roster with those types of issues. Just ask the New York Yankees.

***After spending the bulk of the offseason bolstering the offense with a procession of complimentary free-agent hitters, Boston GM Ben Cherington finally made a move to improve his weakened starting rotation—by adding a complimentary pitcher. The team signed right-hander Ryan Dempster to a two-year, $26.5 million deal. Many have scoffed at the transaction, pointing to the soon-to-be 36-year-old Dempster’s age and the 5.09 ERA he had after being traded to the Texas Rangers this past summer as reasons why he won’t succeed in Boston. I’m not buying it.

Dempster may be older and may have some wear and tear on his arm, but he has also thrown 200 or more innings in four of the past five years.

If you take out the two stink bombs (gave up eight earned runs in each game) that came in his first three Rangers’ starts, Dempster otherwise had a 3.77 ERA and a strikeout per inning with the Rangers. His first Texas start came against the Angels on August 2nd. That was one of the games he gave up eight runs, and deserves a further look. It was Dempster’s first game with his new team and the temperature at first pitch that night was 102 degrees. Those conditions better explain his performance than him no longer being an effective pitcher.

Dempster will be just fine with Boston. 12-14 wins and an ERA around 4.00 sounds about right in 2013. If he can produce those results, then the team got a relative steal, given the $80 million contract the Detroit Tigers doled out to Anibal Sanchez, who baseball folk would have a hard time proving has been a better pitcher than Dempster over the past several seasons.

***Knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey appears to be on his way out of New York and headed to the Toronto Blue Jays through a trade. Provided that Dickey can agree to an extension with Toronto by Tuesday, which is considered a mere formality at this point, the deal will be finalized soon. Not all the details have been made public yet, but it’s believed the Mets will receive a package of prospects, including highly regarded catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

Although this trade will put the Mets even further away from contention, it could work out heavily in their favor if just one of the young players they are getting back work out. D’Arnaud is projected to be an above-average catcher and Syndergaard has the potential to pitch near the front of a starting rotation. It may be a few years before they are at Citi Field and consistently producing, but they look to be the hope of the future.

For their part, the Blue Jays continue to gamble big this offseason. In poker terms, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos has pushed all his chips to the center of the table and declared he has gone all-in.  Trading top prospects for a 38-year-old knuckleball pitcher without an elbow ligament is a risky move, to say the least. Anthopulos has merged core players from three sub- .500 teams from 2012 and is hoping they will meld into winners north of the border. He is either going to win big or lose really big. There will be no in between. For the time being he at least has jolted the AL East and made this upcoming season an interesting one to watch from the get-go.


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Friday, December 14, 2012

2013 Boston Red Sox: Shortstop Remains the Team's Biggest Question

The Boston Red Sox have been making some medium-sized noises this offseason, signing a handful of solid, yet relatively unimpressive free agents. Seemingly lost in the shuffle is the gaping hole that exists at their shortstop position. Check out my thoughts on the most overlooked question in Boston these days.


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Another Sip of a Bitter Cup of Coffee

In 2010, Douglas Gladstone wrote A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 974 Retirees a Curve (ISBN: 978-1-59571-512-8). It’s a book outlining the plight of former major league players who lack the service time to qualify for a pension. He brought immediate attention to a subject that has been swept under the proverbial rug for years. Some progress has finally been made and small temporary payments have been issued to some of the men detailed in his book.

The lack of true pensions for the short-term players is a subject Gladstone is still passionate about. He believes that MLB and the Players Association can do even more than the recent developments.

I had the opportunity for Gladstone to elaborate on how he came to the project and what he thinks about what has transpired since the publication of his book.  

How did you become so interested and passionate about the subject of baseball pensions and the non-vested players?: It was really serendipitous. First, in the interests of full disclosure, I happen to work for the New York State & Local Retirement System during the day, so I think I know a little about pensions and vesting. But basically, this story just fell in my lap; it was just there for the taking because so many bloggers, as well as print and broadcast journalists, have been too afraid or indifferent about addressing it.

In April 2009, I had just done a piece for the Chicago Sun Times on the late Larry Gelbart, and his role in the famous "Adam's Ribs" episode of the iconic television show M*A*S*H, when my wife asked what I was going to write about next. Frankly, I hadn't given it a lot of thought, but I knew that July 9, 1969 was the 40th anniversary of what we here in New York still refer to as Tom Seaver's "Imperfect Game," the night that a little known Chicago Cub rookie, Jimmy Qualls, came up in the top of the ninth inning, after Seaver had set down the first 25 batters, and lined a clean single to left center field to break up his would-be gem. And, of course, until Johann Santana threw his no-hitter this year, the Mets franchise hadn't had one.

So I pitched the story to Baseball Digest, which ultimately published the piece in its September 2009 issue. When I called Jimmy up to speak to him in early June of that year, he just casually mentioned that he wasn't receiving any retirement benefit from MLB. And I just thought this was outrageous, especially since in 1980 the league and the union agreed that all players who played at least one game would be eligible to buy into the umbrella health insurance plan, and all players who had at least 43 game days worth of service would get a pension. And while that was obviously great for everyone who played baseball after 1980, neither the league nor the union seemed to want to do the right thing for all those guys who played between 1947 (when the players' pension fund was first established) and 1980. And as any employment benefits attorney will tell you, it can be done. All these guys can be retroactively restored or grandfathered back into pension coverage. Even Rob Manfred, the vice-president of labor relations for the league, concedes it can be done. But it can only be done in collective bargaining, and so far, the players' association doesn't want to do that. They're perfectly content with throwing these guys the life annuity bone that they're now getting. And I just think that's not right.

With as much money as there is in baseball and the non-vested players being a finite group, why do you think MLB has been so unwilling to put the issue to bed?: Well legally, they don't have to do anything for these men. They're not vested in the players' pension plan, so they don't have to negotiate over them. Even the union doesn't have to be their legal advocate, because the union doesn't owe its retirees what is known as "the duty of fair representation." So that payment plan that was announced last April 21st, in which men like Qualls or Bob Sadowski or Herb Washington receive $625 per quarter for each quarter of service (up to 16 quarters, or four years) that they're credited with, is just a token gesture of support, in my opinion.  And the money isn't even guaranteed, it's only good through 2016. And if a Bob Sadowski or Jimmy Qualls croaks tomorrow, he can't pass that money on to a designated beneficiary or loved one. And it still doesn't give any of these guys the health insurance they need. I mean, when I started speaking with Jimmy, he couldn't even afford the premiums to pay his health insurance, like a lot of people in this country.

Significantly, I also think the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association is at fault here too. Their leadership doesn't want to do anything more for these guys. If they really wanted to advocate on behalf of their constituency, they would. They would bang the drum...and loudly. But they're never going to. Remember that old DeNiro picture, Bang the Drum Slowly? Well, you don't hear Dan Foster or Brooks Robinson or anybody from that group banging the drum loudly, softly, fastly or any which way. Sadly, the alumni association is the quintessential example of an old boys’ network, and they have no intention to rock the boat. They're just happy with the token gesture of support that is being doled out.


Though just a pittance compared to what longer tenured players receive, payments have started being received by the men profiled in Gladstone’s book. One recipient is former Oakland A’s pinch runner extraordinaire Herb Washington.

As Gladstone explains- “Herb Washington, the former Oakland Athletic who is now one of the nation's most successful African-American restaurateurs, and who later became chairman of the Board of Directors of the Buffalo, New York branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, an, is among the men who received monies last September; a second life annuity was supposed to be disbursed to him in January 2012.  Washington opened his first ever eatery in Rochester, New York.

In the recently unveiled collective bargaining agreement between the union and the league, these life annuities were extended through 2016.
Washington, who famously got picked off first base by Mike Marshall during the 1974 World Series, reportedly purchased all the Youngstown, Ohio McDonalds franchises from Sam Covelli, once the largest McDonalds franchise owner in this country.

A track star from Belzoni, Mississippi, Washington attended Michigan State University, where the four-time All American won one NCAA title, seven Big Ten titles and tied or broke the world record in both the 50-yard and 60-yard dashes several times. Overall, Washington played in 105 games but had 31 stolen bases in 48 career attempts. He also scored 33 runs during his abbreviated career playing for Charley Finley's Oakland Athletics, in spite of the fact that he never once played the field or came up to the plate.”

Despite the temporary payments, the fight is far from over. It’s just a beginning, with a long way to go before MLB and the Players Association atone for having left so many former players out in the cold. If there is any justice, a lasting solution will be found and perhaps make the cup of coffee for those players a little less bitter.

Disclaimer: I was provided with no payment or other consideration for this review/article.


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Monday, December 10, 2012

Baseball Notes for December 10, 2012

If you happen to follow many baseball writers on Twitter, chances are your timeline was blowing up this past week. With MLB’s winter meetings taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, there was a lot of activity, as more free agents were taken off the market. Heck, there was even some trading going on. It was all part of the dance as we get closer and closer to the start of spring training.

***Perhaps the most shocking move to come out of the winter meetings was the Red Sox giving a three-year, $39 million deal to outfielder Shane Victorino. The Red Sox have publicly declared their new distaste in  giving out large contracts of lengths exceeding more than three or four years. Apparently they are content with grossly overpaying players on shorter-term deals.

Part of the outrage stemmed from ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeting that one team executive had previously guessed Victorino would be lucky to get a one-year deal for $6-7 million. The 33-year-old switch hitter is coming off the worst season of his career, hitting just .255 with a .704 OPS. Most troubling were his struggles against left-handed pitching, as he hit just .229 with a .629 OPS against them in 2012. It’s a big financial gamble on a player who might only be platoon-worthy at this point in his career. Such moves can get a GM fired or called a genius for seeing what others couldn’t.

***The average MLB salary hit an all-time high of $3.2 million in 2012. The average has climbed nearly $1 million in the past decade and speaks well to the solid financial foundation of the league and their labor agreement with the players. Right now there is plenty of money to be made on both sides, and with new tv deals giving teams like the Dodgers stupid money, there may be no end in sight to this trend

***The downward spiral of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez does not seem to have hit rock bottom yet. It was announced that he will be having surgery later this winter that will keep him out until at least the All Star break, when he will be approaching his 38th birthday.

A-Rod’s OPS has declined precipitously for six consecutive seasons, dropping almost a total of 300 points. The Yankees should not hold their breath expecting to get much from him during the next five seasons, when they owe him $114 million. Fortunately for them, they apparently are insured for the majority of that amount, softening the blow of their terrible investment. It’s appropriate to call it a terrible investment because giving a 10-year, $275 million contract to any player that age (32 at the time) should never be considered a wise decision.

***One of the players being eyed to replace Rodriguez is former Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis, who was reportedly offered a one-year, $12 million deal by the Bronx Bombers. It’s another curious decision by the Yankees. They already have their backs up against the wall with payroll issues and trying to manage aging players in decline. Adding the soon to be 34-year-old Youk, who looked like toast last season (career-worst .235 batting average and a strikeout every four at-bats), would seem to be compounding their problems instead of helping them.

Stats from show some reasons for Youk’s decline. His .268 BABIP suggest he either encountered some bad luck or lost bat speed. His 8.9 wFB (Fastball Runs Above Average) seem to indicate lost bat speed, as that mark is a far cry from the 35.5 mark he posted as recently as 2009.

Other than perhaps deciding to reunite with former manager Terry Francona in Cleveland, it’s unclear that Youk could expect to receive any other offers that could top the Yankees for one season. If he truly doesn’t think he is nearing the end, taking the contract might be a good way to show he still has some gas in the tank and then go out against next offseason to get a multi-year deal.

***The San Francisco Giants brought back two of their most important players from their 2012 World Series team. They re-signed center fielder Angel Pagan to a four-year, $40 million contract, and gave second baseman Marco Scutaro a three-year, $20 million deal. Although the team may ultimately come to feel that they overpaid for these two players, neither deal is outrageous, and it makes sense to retain players who were so key to their close-knit and efficient group.

Scutaro is 37. Middle infielders don’t always age well and it’s unlikely he will come close to matching the .362 batting average he had in 61 regular season games after coming over in a trade from the Rockies last summer.

Pagan has been sneaky-good over the past three seasons, totaling a combined WAR of 10.1 He is a good defensive center fielder, has speed, and has surprisingly even splits as a switch hitter. If Victorino can get the kind of money he got, the Giants should feel no shame for what they gave Pagan

***After a lot of speculation, the Texas Rangers traded infielder/DH Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Josh Lindblom and a minor league pitcher. It has to be a bittersweet moment for Young, the Rangers and their fans, as he is on the short list of the greatest players in the history of the franchise.

Despite a .301 career batting average and 2,230 hits, Young’s production fell off a cliff last season. His -2.4 bWAR was among the worst in baseball and put him well below the value of a replacement-level player. Never a great defensive player, he is now nearly unplayable in the field, yet will be the Phillies 2013 starting third baseman.

You have to wish the best to Young and hope that the trade works out for both sides. The Rangers are picking up at least half of his salary, showing how much they wanted to jettison their former leader, in part to create more playing time for their prospect savant, Jurickson Profar.

*** The Dodgers, aka Scrooge McDuck, struck again, doling out a six-year, $147 million contract to free-agent starter Zack Greinke, the largest ever given to a right-handed pitcher in baseball history. Los Angeles has put on a spending spree this past calendar year that may be unmatched in baseball history. With their owners having deep pockets and a new tv deal that will bring in an income exceeding the GDP of many small nations, there seems to be no boundaries for the new-age Dodgers. Their financial exploits have been oohed and ahhed at by people, but down the road such spending may be the provocation for stricter salary cap rules or, heaven forbid, a bone of contention in a future labor dispute.

It will be interesting to see how Greinke fits in with the Dodgers. Not because of his supposed aversion to the spotlight, but because of the possible chemistry issues of such a motley crew. I have not put much stock into all the talk about how his anxiety issues would supposedly prevent him from being successful in certain environments. Clearly, only Greinke and certain team officials know what (if any) his limitations are and what he needs (if anything) to successfully navigate on a day-today basis. So many people heard the word “Anxiety” and simply wrote off Greinke as being unable to operate on an MLB mound unless he was playing for the smallest market teams. By joining the Dodgers and their Fabrege-esque collection of talent, he is walking into a literal storm of expectations, media presence, and attention. Clearly there was no insurmountable concern on his part of that of the Dodgers before the deal was struck. Hopefully that will be a lesson learned for some of the judgers out there.


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