Gary Sheffield’s mouth, I’d like to introduce you to Deep Throat

Everybody’s talking about Gary Sheffield’s comments and I really hate the feeling of being left out.

Let’s get the easy part out of the way: The whole Latino vs. black—who gets the job, who doesn’t—has only a tiny little bit to do with control issues. There are a lot of African-American athletes in the NFL—probably the most controlling professional major league. From the time a kid puts on shoulder pads he is taught to listen and obey the coach’s orders. I don’t think the men in the NFL are of inferior (African-American) stock because of that. It’s the nature of the game itself. If every black NFL-er subscribed to Gary Sheffield’s ethos and did what he wanted, rather than what he’s told, the game of football would look pretty silly on the field.

The reason for the larger Latin/reduced African-American presence in MLB is that you can sign a significant number of talented kids from Latin America for the same money you’d pay for a first-round African-American draft pick.

Kids from places like the Dominican Republic and other parts of the Caribbean generally are signed by the bushel when they’re 16 and sometimes earlier. Sammy Sosa was signed for just a few thousand dollars. To find major league gold you need to sift through a lot of ore. Ore is lot more expensive in the USA than it is Latin America. One piece of ore that might be gold can run you $8-10 million in the states. You can buy tons of ore in the other places we’ve discussed.

That’s what a lot of teams are doing. Now, multiply that scenario several times, year after year. For every signed African- American draft pick, the same amount of money used on the pick is also (potentially) being used to sign 40 kids in Latin America.

Now multiply that equation for the last 20-30 years. What do you think that ratio of African-Americans to Latin American will be in both the major and minor leagues?

It has little to do with who is controllable and who is not—it’s about simple cost-effectiveness.

Further, as Ozzie Guillen pointed out, baseball is played year-round by the majority of young athletes in Latin America. In the USA, African-American males often gravitate toward football and basketball looking for a career in the NFL and NBA. An extremely talented black athlete might have offers on the table to go straight to the NBA and/or NFL with all the glamour and perks that come with it rather than toiling in the minor leagues with its long bus rides, second-class hotels, lousy pay, eating on the run, etc.

Don’t forget, inner-city youths often live in dangerous areas where violence is common and your life can end in a heartbeat. That creates a mindset of live for the moment. Young black athletes know that they can go straight to the majors in hoops and football, but baseball requires a few years apprenticeship before they reach “The Show.” Toss in the fact that those who excel at basketball and football—whether at the high school or collegiate level—are BMOC (big man on campus); baseball doesn’t enjoy that kind of status at those levels.

Tthis is reflected in the programs at these school levels. Football fields and basketball courts are given priority in urban areas and their schools and neighborhoods. Baseball diamonds are not.

Finally, when your life doesn’t know if there will be a tomorrow, you tend to live in the right now and plan accordingly: BMOC in high school, then college (for some), and go straight to the bigs. There’s no time for patience and waiting a few years for the payoff when time is a luxury you don’t feel you have.

Also to be kept in mind is that a talented black athlete in high school has the option of college. Latinos who are scouted have to choose between staying home or signing. Don’t forget that, sadly, to a lot of kids in Latin America, the minor league lifestyle is a step up from the way they’re used to living. The money offered, though it would inspire Scott Boras into gales of laughter, is quite a bit of coin to these young men—enough to make a huge difference to their families.

Frankly I’d find it more surprising if there were more African-American players than Latin American in the majors.

Branch Rickey’s farm system was based on building quality through quantity—that’s what’s happening in Latin America. George Weiss, the architect behind the Yankee dynasty of the 1940s-1960s, was a believer in not blowing huge amounts of money on a hyped blue-chip prospect (this was before the amateur draft), preferring to take the money and sign several less-ballyhooed prospects.

Quality through quantity.

With both Rickey and Weiss, that method was hugely successful. The Latin presence in MLB is just another manifestation of that decades-old winning strategy. The simple fact is this: The Latin American community outside the USA is a much cheaper source of abundant raw baseball talent than the African-American community in the United States.

Why isn’t there more Japanese talent in MLB? Posting fees, and player agents driving up the cost of talent.

Deep Throat said: “Follow the money.” The money trail leads to the answer to Sheffield’s concerns about the increasing ratio of Latin American to African-American in MLB in 2007.

Radio-Heads

This week on The Mike Gill Show, Mike and I got to talking about kids who might have a shot at the Hall of Fame. With three exceptions, I tried to keep my picks under the age of 25.

My personal criterion was this: Which young players have Hall of Fame level talent? As any baseball fan knows, there’s a huge gulf between Hall of Fame talent and the Hall of Fame. Other factors come into consideration: intelligence, health, commitment, coaching, maturity, focus (not getting swept up in “extracurricular” activities), etc. Any Mets fan worth his salt laments what could have been with Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, two men with absolute HOF-level baseball gifts and natural talent. They squandered those gifts and now have to buy a ticket like the rest of us. Other examples of this level of ability that was derailed, for whatever reason, include Joe Jackson, Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Vida Blue, Bret Saberhagen, Jose Rijo and J.R. Richards.

Having the talent is one thing. Being able to use the talent to the full for close to two decades is quite another.

So here are 21 young guys that I feel have the raw materials for a Hall of Fame-type career (with their 2007 stats):

Pos Player              Ag   G   AB     R    H  2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB   SO   BA    OBP   SLG
3B  Miguel Cabrera      24   57  219   36   70  15  2  12   41  25   52  .320  .389  .571
SS  Hanley Ramirez      23   57  233   51   72  13  3   8   17  23   45  .309  .379  .494
2B  B.J. Upton          22   53  189   34   61  15  1   9   31  22   65  .323  .402  .556
CF  Grady Sizemore      24   56  218   49   59   9  2  10   29  36   57  .271  .394  .468
SS  Jhonny Peralta      25   53  202   34   60   9  1  11   35  24   45  .297  .370  .515
3B  David Wright        24   55  211   33   58  14  1   8   28  29   49  .275  .366  .464
SS  Jose Reyes          24   55  232   42   73  14  8   2   26  32   30  .315  .398  .470
C   Brian McCann        23   49  175   17   49  16  0   3   27  15   22  .280  .333  .423
2B  Chase Utley         28   58  228   42   71  25  1  11   47  19   41  .311  .394  .575
SS  J.J. Hardy          24   57  238   36   70  12  0  16   47  17   39  .294  .340  .546
1B  Albert Pujols       27   55  205   31   60  11  0  11   31  27   20  .293  .380  .507
C   Russell Martin      24   55  194   38   61  14  1   7   39  24   28  .314  .388  .505


Pitcher              Ag  G    ERA    W   L    GS   CG  SHO   IP     H    R   ER  HR   BB   SO
Dontrelle Willis     25  13   4.70   7   4    13    0   0   82.3   91   47   43  11   37   54  
Scott Kazmir         23  12   3.95   3   3    12    0   0   73.0   72   37   32   8   33   71
C.C. Sabathia        26  13   3.40   9   1    13    1   1   90.0   93   37   34  11   14   83
Justin Verlander     24  11   3.44   5   2    11    0   0   68.0   60   29   26   7   24   50
Jeremy Bonderman     24  10   3.27   5   0    10    0   0   66.0   60   27   24   5   14   60
Johan Santana        28  12   3.30   6   5    12    0   0   79.0   65   31   29  12   23   91
Felix Hernandez      21   8   4.40   3   3     8    1   1   43.0   48   21   21   3   16   47
Cole Hamels          23  12   3.55   8   2    12    2   0   83.7   75   36   33  11   21   91
Jake Peavy           26  12   1.68   7   1    12    0   0   80.3   58   17   15   1   21   92

Did I miss anyone? Is there somebody here that doesn’t belong? Let us know!

The Whine Cellar

OK, so maybe the Jays didn’t look so hot against the Devil Rays. I expected Roy Halladay to have at least one post-op bad start and I’ve pretty much conceded a loss to whomever pitches in the fifth spot. By the way, Tomo Ohka has been DFAed. Does Boston need him back? I once asked him during his tenure in Beantown whether he had a girlfriend in Pawtucket, since that’s what he was pitching like during this game. I suspect his tenure in Toronto was his revenge—well played, Mr. Ohka, well played. Shaun Marcum’s back seems OK and the Jays still have a nice starting four.

Thursday’s bullpen meltdown is just a blip on what has been a very good relief corps the last while. It’s gonna happen occasionally. The hitting is a concern as is Lyle Overbay’s hand injury, but Matt Stairs has been mashing (.300/.381/.550; 140 OPS+) and should fill in adequately at first base. Reed Johnson should be back within a month, so that will help. I’m beginning to worry that Frank Thomas might not find his stroke and that he’s simply done. It might not hurt to start Johnson a few games at DH should that be the case. It would also help to work him back into the lineup. If Lind continues to hit, he might be worth keeping on the 25-man and playing the odd game at DH as well.

For all the complaints I’ve made about the bottom of the lineup, it’s been carrying the Jays of late (last seven days):

Player          BA   OBP  SLG
Adam Lind      .444 .444 .722 
Howie Clark    .333 .500 .500 
Jason Phillips .333 .455 .444 
Sal Fasano     .333 .333 .444 
Aaron Hill     .350 .458 .750 

Hill really doesn’t belong in this group, but I wanted to pass along the latest. I’ve been dumping on these guys frequently, but credit where it’s due. They haven’t been the problem with the Jays’ lineup. Thomas, Vernon Wells, Overbay, Troy Glaus and Alex Rios all have been on the cool side. Overbay’s out, Thomas and Wells have yet to heat up in 2007, Rios and Glaus are just streaky. Once again, the underachieving of “The Big Hurt” and the $126 million man are big factors in the Jays’ limp offense.

Still, I’m still of the opinion that this team will play significant September games.

Webb Search

One record I’ve been waiting to see fall is Earl Webb’s 67 two-base hits record set in 1931. Edgar Martinez almost did it, except Lou Pinella just had to put Martinez on third base in this game. At that point he had 44 doubles in just 95 games. Martinez suffered a rib injury and missed 22 games. His sore ribs affected his swing the rest of the year. He finished with 52 (the same as 1995). I actually was doing a diary of the season (and was going to try to publish it as a book but after I read it, I discovered that it really sucked, it sucked like Paris Hilton ….trying to sing) and Martinez’s run had a whole chapter devoted to it.

The years from 1926-36 were the only times players topped 60 doubles. Besides Webb:

Player            2B  Year
George Burns      64  1926 
Joe Medwick       64  1936 
Hank Greenberg    63  1934 
Paul Waner        62  1932 
Charlie Gehringer 60  1936

The closest anyone has come to 60 since was Todd Helton in 2000 (59).

Now, a couple of players are on pace to top Webb’s record (assuming 600 AB):

Player            2B  Team  Pace 
Magglio Ordonez   28   DET   80
David Ortiz       23   BOS   68

We’ll be following their progress on this page as the season goes on.

Finally…

Hell’s Bells, congratulations to San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman on save No. 500. In the grand scheme, I’m not sure how significant it is, since the era of the ninth inning stopper’s value is still under consideration. Regardless, 500 of anything in any significant statistical category is something that deserves recognition.

Did they stop the game to commemorate the feat?*

References & Resources
*That was a joke, people, hold off on the e-mails.

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