July 2014

World Series Appearances Could Lead to Future Disasters

Looking at the standings this morning, you see the Phillies in last place five years removed from consecutive appearances in the World Series and six years removed from winning it all.

While some teams have quickly fallen to very bad regular season records in a shorter amount of time, what is telling is the number of teams that win and want to keep winning, or come this close to winning like the 2005 Astros, which hang on too long to certain players and aggressively go after other older free agents, while neglecting to maintain a healthy pipeline of future talent from the minor leagues. The result is a team that 5-7 years later is unwatchable by even the most loyal of baseball loving fans.

The last 40 years of results should be a story of caution to any baseball executive that short changes the player development pipeline during periods of extended success at the major league level. It makes it clear that resources must be deployed to take advantage of the draft even if picks are not coming from the top 20 in the first round and it clearly means that stronger international programs should be the main goal for any team but especially winning teams that don’t get the top amateur picks in June.

The Athletics were a dynasty from 1971-75 with three straight World Series wins from 1972-74. By the end of the decade, Oakland was one of the worst teams in baseball and yes while the owner contributed to that process, even if the team had not been broken up, there would have been some decline which might have made the Oakland clubs of the early 1980’s worse than they would turn out to be.

The Reds were one of baseball’s best teams in the 1970’s, winning in 1975-76, but times would be very tuff in 1982-83 in Cincinnati.

The Pirates won the 1979 World Series and they were competitive through 1983, but the team began to fall apart in 1984 and the franchise hit rock bottom in 1985-86, before surprising many and finishing near .500 in 1987, a preview of success that would follow in 1988 and 1990-92.

The Phillies won the World Series in 1980 and lost it to the Orioles in 1983. Both would enter major decline afterward, Philly would not win more than 82 games in a season accept in 1986, but that year their 87-75 mark was an afterthought as the Mets ran away winning 108. Philly had a surprise run in 1993 but no regular success would come to the franchise until the turn of the century. The Orioles went from 1983 champions and winning seasons in 1984-85, to a second half collapse in 1986 and by 1988 a record worst 0-21 start to the season, losing 107 games.

The Tigers were 35-5 to start 1984 and they would roll to championship glory. They would contend through 1988, but lose 103 games in 1989 and despite teasing fans in 1991 and 1993, the team would never find its winning ways on a regular basis again until 2006. I would worry about 2019-2021 if I were a Detroit fan now.

The Royals won it all in 1985 and have not seen postseason since then. KC did not have a dramatic decline like some of the teams mentioned here, but eventually the winning ways left KC and only recently have the Royals moved back into a discussion as a postseason candidate. The Cardinals team they beat would lose another series in ’87, St. Louis would then go into a bit of a decline though not dramatic like some other franchises mentioned above. The Cardinals have been a model of consistent play since 1996.

The 1986 Mets would win it all and be great through 1988, but 1989 began to show the first signs of possible decline, which were on full display by 1991 and in 1993, the Mets lost 109, by far more than either of that seasons expansion teams, the Rockies and Marlins both did not even hit the century mark in the loss column.

The Twins won it all in 1987 and ’91, but 1993 began a long term period of bad baseball in Minneapolis and other than a decent 1996 twins team, they would not be truly relevant again until 2001.

The Dodgers had that most memorable 1988 world Series victory, starting with what we all remember as the ending of the opening act. “High fly ball in to right field, she is gone!!!!!” By 1992, the Dodgers were a 99 loss franchise that had hit rock bottom, but the rebound would be quicker for LA as they were back in postseason in ’95.

The Reds make this list again, winning it all in 1990 after several better seasons from 1985-88. The team would have some success through 1995, surprise many as a 1999 contender and the team had a winning 2000 season, but 2001-2009 was a forgettable time in Cincinnati baseball. The Reds are good again these days, but if the team doesn’t see a World Series in the next 2-3 seasons, it won’t be remembered as a decline could be on the way if the system does not improve in the minors.

Back to the Athletics, they had lost in 1990 to Cincinnati after a 1989 championship. They would be great through 1992, have a run of six bad seasons, and we all know the up and down history of Oakland since 1999 as that franchise is run by one of the most capable GM’s in all of baseball.

The 1990’s best teams were probably the two main exceptions to the rule as the Braves and Yankees kept winning and winning and winning. But even the tide would turn somewhat for the Braves as a down period came to the franchise from 2006-09. The Yankees would seem to finally be in some decline now following the 2009 championship and a period of difficult times that remind some of the 1990-1992 period in Yankee history could be on the horizon.

The Blue Jays won it all in 1992-93, Toronto has never won more than 88 games since then and is awaiting its first playoff appearance since ’93. The franchise never hit rock bottom which in a way might have prolonged that very process of not getting into postseason.

The Nationals would have been one of the great 1994 stories when they were still the Montreal Expos, the strike happened that year. Soon after the team would be broken up and other than teasing seasons of 1996 and 2002-03, the franchise never really contended until 2012, though the 2005 team in Washington got off to a lucky start and held as much as a five game lead into July.

The Indians were great from 1994-2001, the model franchise that brought us into the world of developing a core of players together and then bringing them on to the big league seen together. The team would have a sharp decline from 2002-06 following World Series losses in 1995 and 1997. Cleveland had 90+ winning teams in 2007 and 2013.

The Padres had a run of success in the late 1990’s which was the best in team history. San Diego never hit the bottom following a 1984 World Series loss until the team was truly stripped down in 1993. By 1995 it was clear improvement was coming and it resulted in 1996 and 1998 division titles, a World Series loss by the team in ’98 and what seemed to be future success. The Padres would take a few steps back and forth, get to the playoffs in a weak NL West in 2005-06, suffer a dramatic ending to their hopes of October baseball in 2007 which in terms of record was the best team since ’98, only to repeat the same feat in 2010. It may be time for a total reset in San Diego.

The Diamondbacks were a 1998 expansion team, a 2001 world champion, and a 2004 111 loss team that had the worst mark of any team outside Detroit’s 2003 club and matched by Houston in 2013. Arizona has been up and down since then, winning division titles in 2007 and 2011.

The Angels have been a relatively successful team since they won it all in 2002. Worry in Anaheim though, as the farm system is not strong and this team is getting old. It may not be that much fun at the Big A come 2016.

The Marlins are another team that can’t fit on this list like the Braves and Yankees, because the Marlins are the classic case of build a nice house, tear it down five years later and start all over, then after another few years, do it yet again. They won it all in 1997, tore it down, came back to win in 2003, tore it down after 2005, contended in 2008, went for it in 2012 and then tore down yet again. Could Miami repeat 2003 in say 2015-16? If they do, what is 2017, a contending team or a stripped down outfit. Who knows.

Then there are the Astros, a team that was a contender through the 80’s, started over in 1991 but quickly came back to being respectable by 1993 and a contender through 2005. The team would get to the World Series and lose in 2005 and with an aging team, right then should have been the time to reset. Instead no major young talent would develop and a late 2008 push would bring about false hope. The team was torn to the ground and since 2011 it has been one of the jokes of baseball. The jury is out on how well this team may perform long term over the next 3-5 years, but success needs to begin soon at the big league level or the current regime may be out the door.

Which brings us finally to the Phillies, a team that had been so close to October baseball in the period from 2004-2006, finally breaking through in 2007 and winning it all in 2008. Philly though like Houston kept its franchise faces and now with an old team and a lack of young talent coming up from the farm, the future seems very bleak in the City of Brotherly Love. It could be several years before times are good again and until then, you may hear lots of booing from Philly as their team struggles to find its way. The Phillies would be well served to eat some contracts and start all over, now!

Drafting Potential 2017 MLB Schedule, Radicle New Proposal

While my dream job that I will surely never get is that of Baseball Commissioner, I have come up with a major change in scheduling that would in theory help with potential travel and it would shockingly be a very fair and balanced schedule (all apologies to FOX News).

The solution is very basic and get this, all teams would play everyone in both leagues.

A baseball schedule takes exactly 26 weeks on the regular season calendar or exactly half a year. A typical series of three or four games is thus played in the early half of the week and then another is played over the weekend. Baseball fans know this but for those who don’t get the art of the scheduling, the typical arrangement is for a team to play a Monday-Wednesday, Monday-Thursday, or Tuesday-Thursday series, followed by a Friday-Sunday. On some occasions, a series closing on Wednesday is followed by a Thursday-Sunday arrangement and sometimes teams will stay over and play a Friday-Monday series. It is almost unheard of for a team to start a series on Saturday or Sunday, this did happen a few times during the interleague early years of 1997 and 1998. From 1999-2001, teams would play a Thursday-Saturday and then a Sunday-Tuesday series after the All Star break, which was then followed by a small Wednesday-Thursday set.

The key number though is 51 available blocks of scheduling, 25 early-week and 26 weekend series. The proposal I am sharing here, the one I will put forward with a completely built schedule this fall as an example to the MLB Players Association, the 30 MLB Front Offices and to MLB corporate headquarters is based off a very linear approach.

Teams play each of the four oppositions within the same division 14 games each for a total of 56 division games. This percentage at just over one third of all games taking place in the division is close to the ratio seen in the NFL and NHL, the former like MLB having a much stronger focus on division play as a component of qualification for postseason play. A team currently plays 66 games against the ten teams that are intraleague outside the division, this number would reduce to 60 such games at six games per team divided as three each home and away. Thus, you have 16 scheduled series or blocks of games within the division and another 20 such series against the intraleague teams for a total of 36. This leaves 15 series of games to be scheduled naturally against 15 interleague opponents. The schedule arrangement would feature three games at home against seven teams, three games on the road against another seven teams, with four games played as a two home-two away block on four consecutive days. Where this proposal is more like the NHL and NBA is the percentage of games played against the opposite league or conference. In both hockey and basketball, 30 of 82 games are against the 15 teams in the opposite conference, or just over 36%. The ratio for the baseball proposal would put that figure at 28%, 46 of 162 games and as a percentage of regular season games, that figure is actually closer to the 25% as is the case for the NFL.

The home and road assignments would change from one season to the next and the 4-game block series would also change. IN cases where a team from the Eastern time zone was facing a western team in Arizona or on the west coast, the block series would always start in the eastern city. Furthermore, the team playing in the east would need to be previously scheduled at another city within the eastern Time zone and the team traveling to the western city would then be scheduled for its next series in a western division city or a central division city in the central time zone.

Over the first two and a half weeks of the season, all teams would play divisional opposition, two home and two away series, the fifth against either an intraleague or interleague opposition, with minimal interleague play during this period. The same approach would be taken over a period in June during weeks 10-11 and the first half of week 12 and in September during the ladder half of week 24 and weeks 25-26 closing the season. Division play with interleague play and no intraleague games outside the division would be scheduled for the period in late July and early August covering the back half of week 16 and weeks 17-18. Thus, teams in the same division would be scheduled for series in April and late July or early August in one city, with games scheduled for the opposite city in June and September.

The remainder of the schedule would feature various combinations of interleague and intraleague play and with 195 interleague series to be scheduled over 31 blocks of the schedule, two approaches could be taken. First, schedule five different interleague series during each of 11 blocks in the schedule and seven interleague series over each of the remaining 20 blocks, or schedule 15 interleague series during a single block of the schedule, leaving 180 interleague series to be scheduled over 30 blocks of playing time. Those remaining 30 blocks would then be split evenly with 15 blocks of the schedule featuring nine interleague and six intraleague series, while the remaining 15 blocks feature just three interleague series and a dozen intraleague series.

The pros, it makes for some easier travel arrangements as teams could in many instances get scheduled for consecutive road series at neighboring cities that were in both leagues. It would certainly allow for some instances of teams taking a road trip where they played consecutive series against the Giants and Athletics, Cubs and White Sox, Etc.

While some will certainly react very negatively to this, the one con is simply that AL teams have to go without a DH for 23 games instead of the current ten games. My counter argument to this would be based on three points of fact. First, most teams have not used the same DH for more than 139 games in any given season since the DH came to the American League in 1973 and a full time DH playing every day would miss 23 games if he could not play the field. This would force AL managers to sometimes choose to play someone in the field and give up a player with better defensive ability. It also forces NL managers to keep a bench warmer regularly into game situations since that player would be called upon at times to serve as DH when playing at the AL city. Second, you can please the players association by adding a 26th roster spot that would be made part of the full-time active roster for the period from opening day through August 31. Third, build in some basic scheduling rules to include limits on how games are scheduled. For example, no team would play more than two consecutive road interleague series. Furthermore, teams would play one series against an intraleague team outside the division during the first 13 weeks of the schedule and the series at the opposite city would be scheduled between weeks 14 and 26. This ends the practice of having the Rangers and Red Sox facing one another twice during the first six weeks of the schedule and thus not playing one another at all over the season’s final 20 weeks as was done in 2014.

Call it radicle, call it out of the box, call it whatever you like, but perhaps baseball should try this idea for the 2017 season and see how it is received. It focuses on division play, a truly balanced intraleague schedule and ends the practice of giving certain teams a weak interleague schedule as opposed to others who face much stronger competition.

Reflecting on Great Baseball Memory Which Kept me Sane During Cancer Treatment

Six years ago to this very day on Monday July 21, 2008 my life was at a very different place. At that time, I was still single and it would be another 22 months before I met my now wife in person. It would be another 13 months until I had completed my masters in student affairs, 13 months until I knew where my next job would be as a direct result of finishing the degree at Texas State University-San Marcos. At that time though, I had some doubt as to if my degree time line would even remain in place.

Originally scheduled to graduate in May of 2009, my plans were altered weeks earlier during the summer of 2008 by a shocking discovery. After feeling off for a few weeks, I had a lump discovered on my thyroid and by the time June 20 came around, I had gone through a surgery and then got the shocking news that early stage cancer was discovered. A second surgery would follow July 14, the day Josh Hamilton hit 28 homers in the first round of the Derby at the old Yankee Stadium. I was scheduled for a follow-up July 21. It just also happened that July 21 was plan B of my attempt at seeing baseball outside Texas for the very first time in my life.

Earlier that spring, I had been scheduled to meet my friend Liz in San Diego for a weekend getaway where we would see a pair of games, the Padres on Sunday May 11 and the Angels the next night. Unfortunately, I came down with a head cold and those plans had to be scrapped. Only days afterward, the thyroid issues would be realized.

That same summer, I had circled dates on the baseball calendar for some time in July and I picked a time when the Mets and Yankees were both at home, the Yankees against Minnesota July 21-23 and the Mets against Philadelphia July 22-24. Originally scheduled to be in summer school with a window that would allow travel in late July, the plan was to leave Tuesday the 22nd, see both teams on the 23rd as the Yankees had a day game and the Mets a night game, then fly home the morning of the 24th and be in class that evening. As a result of the events in June though, now classes were off the board. Summer classes in 2008 which were are graduate electives in the program would be pushed to summer of 2009 and I hoped to just be in position to maintain myself for my already scheduled courses that fall.

Sunday night the 20th, I stayed with my aunt Barbara and she was taking me to my appointment the next morning. The plan would be one of two approaches, return to my San Marcos apartment or head to the airport for a Southwest flight which when from Austin to Philadelphia via Nashville. I would end up cleared to travel and so off I went.

I got into Philly late that night and it was near midnight before I got to my hotel. I took care of some other travel arrangements, then discovered Hotwire had double debited my bank account, I never book online that way anymore. I was able to get the banking situation dealt with in time Tuesday before my train to New York. I arrived at 2:15 that afternoon, then used the subway and an airline train to get to my hotel. I then dropped my things and headed out via cab to the subway at 5:00. I was now headed to the Bronx for the first time on my own.

This was not my first visit to New york, I had been in the city in 2002 and 2003 with friends, but as a blind person in a relatively new environment, it certainly presented for some adventure.

I made it to the game about an hour before first pitch. I was awaiting the arrival of my friend Heather who at the time lived in Connecticut and she had decided to meet me for the game. We would get connected with each other just minutes before first pitch.

The game would be very enjoyable, the home town 9 with a relatively easy victory over visiting Minnesota. Little did we know that in 2008, the Yankees would miss the playoffs all together and the Twins would lose a dramatic divisional playoff game against the White Sox. Sitting near us that night, another group of fans who were as it turned out also going to the Mets game the next night. Like me, they were in town to see two ballparks that would soon fall to the wrecking ball.

After the game, I said goodbye to Heather and eventually got back to my hotel. I would sleep well and I was trying to plan how to spend a day alone in New York. The answer, make an impromptu visit to the Empire State Building. I would get to go all the way to the top on a very cloudy afternoon and it was an experience I will never forget. Storms were in the forecast that night and I asked the guide who was with me, what do you do when you have all these people up here and lightning approaches. He said please don’t say that, though in my mind I was thinking it could happen while I was on site.

The next big question due to the weather, what about the Mets game that night. Before I could worry about that, came a jam of people back at Penn Station. A major electrical failure had shut down the New Jersey transit trains going into the Garden State and I could not even guess how many people were at the station awaiting those trains. Thankfully, the subway systems were not impacted and a little after 5:00 that Wednesday July 23, I was off to Shea. This game would be close all the way, the Mets ultimately held on for a one-run victory. That night, I sat with a father and son who were also doing the ballpark visits and the prior night, they were also in the Bronx but on the other side of the stadium from where I was seated. The weather held until the game ended that night, though shortly after returning to my hotel, the rain would begin to fall.

It would be a short night as I had a mid-morning train back to Philadelphia on Thursday July 24 and I tried out the Acela Express. It was a very comfy train and as someone who loves riding train cars, it was an experience I would recommend again. I got to Philadelphia a bit before 11:00 and a few hours later, I was on my flight back to Austin.

Three weeks later, the treatment would conclude and before I knew it, I was back in graduate school for fall classes and a year later, I had finished what I had started in August of 2007. I will never forget that baseball experience and how it kept me going. Baseball along with politics and weather were those things that kept my mind occupied when I was not worried about my medical situation. Above it all, I will always remember how much I enjoyed those times at the ballpark. If you know someone who is facing a challenge in life, no matter how big or small it may seem, find a way to get them out of the house and into a ballpark. It just might help in more ways than you ever realize.

Minor Scheduling and Structural Changes to MLB First Year Player Draft Could Help Avoid Astros, Aiken Style Fiasco

At the time of this post, we are down to just under 46 hours for the Houston Astros and Brady Aiken to decide on a professional contract. Reports first published by CBS Sports Line on July 7 indicated that the two sides had broken off contract talks after Houston supposedly found a medical concern with the top pick’s elbow.

While I could dedicate a lot of space to what the Astros should do, noting the success rate of TJ procedures while also noting the high number of top picks that were pitchers that did not pan out when fully healthy, that is not my focus tonight. Rather, the topic here is all about how some minor changes to how the MLB draft is scheduled and organized and how medical information is communicated to the ball clubs would bring an end to toxic situations like the one in place between the Houston franchise and the San Diego native Aiken.

In no other major United States sports league is a draft held during the season as the NFL draft is nearly three months after the Super Bowl, while the NHL and NBA hold drafts a week or two following their final championship clinching playoff games. While amateur levels of college football, college basketball, and college and high school hockey run concurrent to the professional regular season, in baseball the high school leagues in warmer states play games that count before spring training has kicked off exhibition games in Florida and Arizona. Division I college teams traditionally open between February 14-20 and smaller colleges in some parts of the nation play games that count as early as February 1 before the Super Bowl has even been decided. Baseball has its draft while state championships are still being decided at the high school levels and the College World Series doesn’t start for another week or two following baseball’s draft.

Thus, while the NFL and NBA have pre-scouting camps and the combine, no such program exist in baseball. NO opportunity exists to get a medical report on players that teams are being asked to offer 10 thousand to 7 million dollars in bonus payments as amateur draft picks, I won’t even go into the risk taken in the same vein internationally. It thus brings about situations where medical issues are found after the player has already been drafted and even after the player has signed a contract in a few cases.

The solution is seemingly simple if baseball wants to do something it finds difficult, buck tradition. First, move the draft from the first week of June to the first week of July and schedule it for 10 days following the final date of the College World Series. Schedule the short season minor leagues that are home to recent draftees to run from around July 20 to October 5, rather than the current June 15 to September 1 model you see in leagues like the Pioneer, Northwest, New York-Penn, Etc.

Schedule a combine for all listed draftees from four-year colleges for 3-7 days after the College World Series where all players get among other things, a total medical evaluation. For those players who are in the MLB Scouting Bureau’s database who are from high schools and junior colleges, schedule regional locations around the nation where combines are done for the same purpose between June 15 and July 1. The ball clubs could send medical and scouting personnel to staff these various events and it would allow for teams to get final medical clearance on all players following their final amateur competition. This would then catch any red flags from elbow and shoulder troubles, to more serious issues like those we hear about that are found with football and basketball players concerning the heart and other high risk organs.

Would it require more work, the use of more resources, cost more money? Would it require a change in the calendar for the scouting community? Yes is the answer to all of these questions, but this also becomes an affirmative way to avoid problems like those currently embroiling the Houston organization and its highly prised Californian hurler.