Tag Archives: Baseball

Too many sports? 

So today the “Greatest Show on Earth” the 2016 Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The Opening ceremony is tonight and tomorrow the sport begins*. Over the next 16 days the athletes will be competing for 306 titles in 28 sports (up from 302 titles in 26 sports in London 2012 with the addition of golf and rugby sevens – I’ll get to them). Now you might think 28 sports are too many but guess what? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) don’t agree. 

On Wednesday the IOC announced that five new – well four new and one returning sport – will be added to the Olympic programme. Baseball/softball (the only sports that have been in the Olympics before from 1992-2008), Karate, Surfing. Skateboarding and Sport Climbing will all join the Olympic party in Tokyo in 2020. Between them the new/returning sports will bring 18 more events and hundreds more athletes to the Games. They will not replace any of the existing sports. 

That is not really a surprise as before baseball and softball were voted out in 2005 the last sport to lose Olympic status was polo which was last an Olympic sport in 1936. The Olympics are a bit like what critics say about the England cricket team. It is hard for a sport to get into but even harder to get out of.

Now you might think a baseball fan I would be pleased that baseball is back in the Olympics. Well no actually. The reason is the same reason that I don’t think men’s football should be in (see previous post “Olympic football. Women yes men no”). The best baseball players will not be there as unlike the NBA in men’s basketball (which is in its off season during the Olympics) or the WNBA in women’s basketball (which plays in the NBA off season and takes an Olympic break) the MLB players won’t be there as the 162 game season is too long to take a break (and in any case if the 2020 Olympics are held at the same time of the year that the last Tokyo Olympics were in 1964 – October – that means it will be in the postseason and no franchise would release their star players in that scenario). So while I would love to see Texas Rangers star pitcher Yu Darvish pitch for Japan in his own country it will not happen. And in my opinion unless a sport makes its best players available it should not be in the Olympics. 

Softball I have a different problem with. Namely that it exists at all. No I don’t think the sport should be banned it should be rebranded as women’s baseball. Which as it uses bases, balls and strikes and the aim is to score runs it is. Rebrand it as women’s baseball give it the same rules as it’s “big brother” – same size ball, same style of pitching, same distance between bases for example –  and I would have no problem with it.

Of the other sports Karate, Surfing, Skateboarding,  and Sport Climbing I have no problem with them assuming that they have women’s events too. Except that with thirty three sports there are too many. So what sports would I replace?

Just to be controversial I wouldn’t replace any. But what I would do is get rid of the male halves of sports where the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the calendar but the women’s event is. Three examples of this are football basketball and baseball where for the men it is not the most important event but for the women it is. And the main example of this is the most controversial of the two new sports in 2016. 

The appearance of golf in Rio might be a success. But it has had a rotten build up. Fourteen male golfers – including all of the world’s top four – have withdrawn from the games. Ostensibly this is because of the Zika virus but it is funny that hardly any athletes from other sports have withdrawn. Even US goalkeeper Hope Solo – who thought of pulling out – has turned up although she copped a barrage of abuse from Brazilian fans on Wednesday.  And all the elite women golfers have turned up. 

Which could lead to a major injustice. While golf’s place in Tokyo is secure who could blame the IOC if they voted out a sport whose star players clearly don’t give a toss. At least the male star players don’t. But the women do.  For women’s golf the Olympics are the pinnacle. Why should innocent female golfers pay the price for the arrogant selfishness of their male counterparts? 

Answer : They shouldn’t. So if I ran the Olympics I would say that every sport must have a women’s event but does not to have a men’s event. There is a precedent for this. There are two disciplines that are already women only – rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming – so why shouldn’t there be more? 

So while there are too many athletes at the Olympics I would not cut any sports. Instead I would cut out the men’s events in sports where for the men the Olympics are not the pinnacle but for the women they are. That means no men’s baseball, basketball, football, golf or rugby. 

This idea of mine has two advantages. It cuts down the number of athletes without cutting down the number of female athletes. It would reduce the gap between the number of male and female athletes (in London there were 10768 athletes taking part 5992 (55.6 per cent) were male and 4778 (44.4 per cent) were female). Maybe getting rid of male events where the Olympics are not the pinnacle will lead to gender equality at the Olympics. And isn’t that what everyone wants? 

*Typical of football’s arrogance the football events started on Wednesday (women) and Thursday (men).

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Why Jeter is an all time great, Kershaw should be NL MVP…and other baseball thoughts

So the 162-game marathon of the baseball regular season is over for another year and it will be remembered as Derek Jeter’s last. Was anyone surprised his last AB at Yankee Stadium was a walk-off hit? Not me. Some things are just meant to be. But inevitably in sport these days a backlash occurs. And in Jeter’s case it came from Keith Olbermann of ESPN who claims that Jeter is not that great. Sorry anyone who has the sixth highest number of hits of all time, plus the most hits and games for the most successful franchise in baseball history has to be great – and add to that he was a perfect gentleman and a credit to the sport. That is important because when he made his debut in 1995 baseball was in the doldrums after the shambles of the 1994-5 strike and needed an image boost. He’s not the greatest Yankee of all time – that is still Babe Ruth who changed the whole way the game was played – but to say he’s not great is ridiculous. Olbermann is on firmer ground when he attacks the season long “Jeter fest” his retirement has brought but that is the media and MLB’s fault and not Jeter’s. And no one complained when Mariano Rivera went through the same retirement hoopla last year. Jeter might be past his best but I would still hate to be the 2015 Yankees shortstop. The first time “E6” is written on a scorecard in the Bronx next year one suspects the poor guy will be reminded that he is not Derek Jeter. I would also just like to say thanks to Paul Konerko and Bobby Abreu who are two very good players whose retirements went under the radar because of the tributes to Jeter.
So with the regular season ending, we think of the MVP awards. A lot of experts on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” seem to think a pitcher shouldn’t be MVP because they have their own award namely the Cy Young . Yet 24 pitchers have won the MVP and two rookies have been MVP in the same year they were Rookie of the year – Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 – and no one said that was wrong or that is should stop Mike Trout from being considered for MVP in 2012 so that argument is false. It is true that position players play every day and starting pitchers only every five days but if one of the latter has an exceptional season he should be considered. And Kershaw’s season was exceptional. You want proof? Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright both won 20 games. In any other season there would be a big debate over which one of them would win the NL Cy Young. They have as much chance of winning it as I have. Why? Kershaw. By winning 21 out of 27 starts he has done something no pitcher has gone since 1880. Counting two games the Dodgers won when Kershaw had no decisions their win rate is .852(23-4) when he pitches…and .526(71-64) when he doesn’t. That is an MVP season. His only rival is Andrew McCutchen but while his season was a repeat of his 2013 Kershaw was outstanding. The Dodgers fans were right when during his last start they chanted “MVP”.
And so on to the post season. The good thing about this post season is there is no outstanding team this year and anyone of the ten teams in the post season can win the world Series. So many questions. I’ll be fascinated to see how the Angels’ young star Mike Trout fares in his first post season. He’s arguably the best player in MLB today but he has yet to be tested in the post season where there are no rubbish fifth starters to feast on and the pressure is greater. On the other side of the scale tonight is a big night for Adam Dunn of the As who plays his first post season game after 14 years 2001 regular season games and 462 home runs – to say nothing of the Kansas City Royals for whom tonight is their first post season game since 1985.
But two people who are under pressure this post season are Jon Lester and Brad Assmus. First Lester. Ever since the As traded for him – trading their best hitter Yoenis Cespedes in the process – the As offense collapsed. Their second half win percentage (.433) is the worst of any post season team in MLB history and but for the second wild card we’d be comparing the As to the 2011 Red Sox and the 2007 Mets for September collapses. But they are still in the hunt. And this is the game they brought Lester to Oakland for. A must win post season game. The pressure is huge. Oh and the other team’s starting pitcher is known as “Big Game James”. Both offences are poor and this game could be 1-0 either way. The margin for error could be nil. And if the As lose Oakland fans will think “why did we trade for this guy and lose Cespedes?” No pressure Jon..
But the man I would not swap places with is Assmus. You are a rookie manager. Its Game one of the postseason. Who do you put on the mound? Your choice is between Justin Verlander (Cy Young winner), David Price (Cy Young winner) and Max Scherzer (the reigning Cy Young winner). Its like being a kid in a sweet shop. Which one do you pick? And if the one who you do pick gets roughed up by the home run happy Os every one will use hindsight and say you picked the wrong one! I would NOT like to be Mr assmus.
Still I think it will be a happy ending for Assmus. Pre season I tipped the Tigers and the Dodgers to be in the World Series and the winner to be whatever League won the All-Star Game. They are both in the post season. I do not change horses mid race. Still the question remains. Who will be 2014’s David Freese – or 2014’s Bill Bucknor? There’s only one way to find out….
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To clean up football will take zero tolerance

I don’t usually write about the same subject twice in a row, but I must go back to the Malky Mackay affair. In an article in the Sunday Telegraph Jason Burt wrote that
“The allegations they face expose a subculture within a sport that is already dripping in arrogance. It is a distasteful subculture of bigotry and insularity. It is macho and arrogant and points to a boorish insistence that they know best and can do what they want”.
He’s hit the nail on the head. Football is like that because it can do what it wants. An example. In every other industry if I were an employer I could employ anyone who I think is qualified for the job. Nationality and gender are irrelevant. Yet in football Chelsea have to offload a player before September 1st – provided he is foreign that is – to satisfy a Premier League rule. That rule is racist. It must go. And very quickly. Also elite women have to play on artificial turf – both at the 2015 World Cup and in the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England (Liverpool and Everton’s women’s teams play on artificial turf).The Liverpool and Everton men play on grass. That is sexist. It must change. And very quickly.
My point is: if the rules of football are racist and sexist (they are) is it any wonder some people in the sport are too? In industries where the Sex Discrimination Act did apply there has been progress in gender equality (not enough but progress). Football has made very little. If the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act* had never been passed equality in the UK would be far less advanced today than it is. The law matters.
However there are other problems. The UK media has a lot to answer for. When the Sun has naked women on Page 3 – and offers a date with one as a prize in its Dream Team competition – you know it is not just football that has problems. And Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – in one of the most depressing remarks of the year – said that an active Premier League player will not come out as gay because of “media interest”. If that is true the press should be ashamed of itself.
So what should be done? Jason Burt wrote that Mackay must never coach a football club again. Quite right. But we must go further. Anyone involved in football – players, coaches, managers, journalists, TV pundits and fans – must be told that any racist, sexist, homophobic or anti semitic behaviour will mean a ban of at least five years and possibly life. It should be a clause in every player’s contract, and be written on every match ticket. Everybody would know where they stood and there would be no arguments. And NO exceptions. And if a footballer is convicted of rape or sexual assault he should be banned for life.
That might seem draconian. But if we want this sport cleaned up there is no other way. Baseball proves this. After World War One baseball had a major gambling problem which reached its nadir in 1919 with the “Black Sox” scandal where eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing that year’s World Series. To his credit baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis – that is his real name -took ruthless action. The eight players were banned for life, and baseball rule 21 (d) banning betting on ball games by players – even in games not involving their own team – was introduced. To baseball’s eternal credit when a big name was accused of betting on the sport they did not shirk their duty. Even though the big name was Pete Rose – baseball’s all time hit leader and an American icon. Rose accepted a life ban from baseball on August 24th 1989 (although shamefully he denied betting on ball games until 2004 when he finally came clean in his book). In 1991 he was also banished from baseball’s Hall of Fame**. Some people including Eduardo Perez on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight think the ban should be lifted. NO. He knew the rules. He still bet on ball games. And then lied for 15 years. He deserves no sympathy. New baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred MUST stand firm.
If we want to rid football of the cancer of racism sexism and homophobia the sport must show the same zero tolerance that baseball has on gambling. the sport must be forced to obey the law of the country. It must have a minimum five-year ban for any racist sexist or homophobic behaviour. And it MUST NOT make an exception for big name stars.
I suspect none of this will happen and football will try to sweep it under the carpet yet again. But that carpet is getting rather full of nasty affairs. And it is beginning to stink.
*These Acts were replaced in 2010 by the Equality Act.
**Rose is in a Hall of Fame however. In 2004 he was inducted into the celebrity wing of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame. Obviously WWE owner Vince McMahon was not concerned about betting on baseball games.