Selig inspiring Fehr …

At the risk of starting a political firestorm, I’m going to relate part of a conversation I had with somebody whose opinion and thoughts I have learned to trust.

We were discussing the situation in the Middle East and the violence perpetrated by certain elements within Islamic fundamentalism. From there we were discussing the backlash in this part of the world, where mosques have been vandalized and people of the Islamic persuasion have been abused.

Besides basic human decency—which goes without saying (I hope)—the thing that bothers me the most about these actions is that over the years I have known (and been good friends with) a great many people of the Islamic faith and found them to be warm, humble, hospitable and compassionate.

I was sitting in a bar the day after 9/11 with an Islamic acquaintance whom I knew as a bit of a sensitive sort (in a good way). The TV over the bar was tuned to CNN. When they showed the jets crashing into the World Trade Center, I noticed that tears were welling up in his eyes and he was fighting them back. I pretended not to notice and we sat there in silence for several minutes. He later broke the silence by commenting while shaking his head on how many families were irrevocably hurt and how many friends had been lost and how much pain probably millions must be experiencing right at that moment.

In short, despite all we hear and read about in the news, when I think of a Muslim, it engenders a positive feeling due to enjoyable personal interactions. So, to hear and read about how these people are being harassed and abused for the actions of others really gets my blood boiling.

Getting back to my conversation with my friend, I wondered in frustration why some Islamic fundamentalists do things that they know are going to cause harm to their brethren in other parts of the world. It’s one thing to try to do harm to an enemy, but why on earth would you do something that would cause harm to a brother?

He remarked that most likely the radical element was fully aware and counting on the backlash. That way, it could point to the backlash as proof that the western world has it in for Islam and the only way to protect Muslims from harm was to ally themselves with those who were fighting in behalf of Muslims around the world.

It made sense.

The strange thing about all this is that it appears that Bud Selig’s actions regarding George Mitchell’s steroid investigation are working along the same lines. Selig is trying to demonstrate to Congress and the public at large that performance-enhancing drug usage in baseball is a baseball player and MLBPA scandal and not an MLB one.

People have been wondering: If Bud Selig wants information about steroids, why is he encouraging players to come forward yet punishing those who speak up? Why was Selig threatening to do something to Jason Giambi even though it’s blindingly obvious that any fine/suspension to Giambi would be a slam dunk win for the MLBPA when it files a grievance?

Simple. Selig wants the MLBPA to stonewall him. He wanted Don Fehr and Gene Orza to advise their constituents not to cooperate with Mitchell. That way Selig looks like the crusader trying to rid the game of steroids but the players and the MLBPA have stood in his way.

Selig knows the harder he pokes, the more intransigence he’ll receive from the union. As in the earlier situation where certain Islamic factions can point to the backlash as “proof” that the western world is opposed to them, Selig can now point to the reactions of the union and point out to Congress and the public, “I’ve been diligent. I’ve brought testing into the game and I did everything in my power to find out who did what and when. Unfortunately, the MLBPA advised the players not to cooperate with the Mitchell investigation. I encouraged players to come forward and be honest but they chose not to assist our efforts.”

Adding to this notion is how recent statements from baseball people are trying to deflect any blame away from anybody but the players. Jason Giambi released a statement saying:

“I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior.”

Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman—whom you’ll recall was in on the Giambi contract negotiations (with agent Arn Tellem) in which any references to steroids were removed from the document—went on record as saying:

“There’s an implication that there was a lot of people that were involved that would know that, what was going on, and I can tell you that’s false …We’ve spoken to that in the past, so I do have a problem with that, without a doubt, because I can tell you—I can speak from being right there, too—that whatever goes on individually with these guys, is really on them”

It’s quite a coup for Selig. The commissioner is trying to get on the right side of history and is trying to paint himself–not as an enabler of baseball’s steroid era, but as the man who rescued baseball from it. The amazing thing is, he’s getting cooperation (whether willing or through manipulation) from both the players and the MLBPA.

Maybe Don Fehr doesn’t care much about that. In a sense, being true to your principles and not worrying about public opinion is a commendable attitude. However his job is to serve the players’ interests. His laissez-faire attitude could cause the legacy of a lot of great players to be tarnished. Players who played clean and had amazing careers will be tarred with the same brush as the users (possibly even affecting their Hall of Fame chances) simply because he allowed Selig to rewrite history to his own liking.

If Fehr truly wants to be the players’ advocate, he’s got to stand up and remind people of management’s complicity in the steroid saga long, loud and repeatedly, and make sure that nobody forgets it.

A final thought on Mr. Fehr: It’s time you admit to yourself that you screwed up. Your fixation on the salary bar and personal ideology have hurt your constituents. Besides the steroid issue, where you’ve really wet the bed is in the fact that between publicly financed stadiums, MLBAM, variable pricing/ticket agencies and international marketing MLB has more money coming in than ever before, yet every time the collective bargaining agreement comes up for negotiation, further restrictions of salaries result.

Alex Rodriguez might get the headlines by breaching the $30 million barrier, but the players’ slice of the revenue pie seems to be shrinking. The owners finally have started to figure out how to work the system to their advantage. We’re seeing more and more non-tendered free agents/players not offered arbitration, flooding the market every off season. Clubs are saying: “Why should I offer arbitration to a lefty setup man/late-inning defensive replacement if he’s going to file for $2.5 million? I can get a comparable player among non-tendered players or the farm system or somebody not on another team‘s 40-man roster for 20% of that?” Owners are starting to come to grips with what is a fungible commodity and what is not.

The result? If a player sets a new market value in free agency for a certain skill set that’s easy enough to replace, teams will simply let go personnel who might benefit from the new market values and get a cheaper alternative.

Don, the MLBPA needs a leader willing to look at MLB 2007. The era of Marvin Miller vs. Neanderthal ownership groups is over. Bud Selig has taught his constituents the value of consensus. Players are coming from all over the world to MLB with different mindsets than players had in 1981.

They need an educator, a consensus builder, a creative thinker as well as someone who understands the importance of union. It’s time to either get back to the drawing board and start rebuilding and reaching consensus or find someone who is up to the task. Ownership will take all it can out of the players. Unless you can forge the unity that was the hallmark of the MLBPA 25 years ago, you may find yourself explaining to the players why they should accept a salary cap and NFL style non-guaranteed contracts. Management will try to get those things.

The Whine Cellar

Well, the Jays may not be done in 2007, but I’m looking ahead to 2008. There’s something missing and general manager J.P. Ricciardi seems to be disinclined to find out what. I think it was pretty obvious: The Blue Jays gave too many at-bats to guys who could neither hit nor walk. On top of that, manager John Gibbons didn’t even think of using the offensive black holes to move along guys who got on base. Time and again, he hoped for something that the numbers clearly suggested was not going to happen.

We’ve just passed the halfway point of the season. Despite some terrific pitching—with the emergence of some young power arms in the rotation and the bullpen—the Jays sit at 41-43. It’s hard to draw any comfort from being second in a tough division when it means you’re 11.5 games out of first and 8.5 out of the wild card with four teams to overtake.

We finally got the Frank Thomas we paid for; “the Big Hurt” is .313/.420/.566, with six homers and 21 RBI over his last 27 games. He was on base 42 times but was driven in by the men behind him on only eight occasions. Over his last 27 games, Vernon Wells was on base 36 times and was driven in on nine occasions. Alex Rios reached 43 times over his last 27 and was driven home on 16 of those situations.

Bottom line? Thomas was left on base a lot. Since the Jays aren’t a running team, Thomas should be higher in the batting order. If he keeps hitting like, well, Frank Thomas, then he should be in the three hole with Rios batting cleanup since he’s more likely to hit for extra bases, which would move Thomas more than 90 feet.

It might have helped a little, but still not overcome the ineptitude of the bottom of the lineup and the mismanagement of base runners by Gibbons.

The thing that frosts me the most about the offense is that it has hidden the magnificent work of Shaun Marcum. He has had 10 starts, posted an ERA of 2.02 over those 10 and is 3-0. Four times he left the game without surrendering a run. He came away with a win once. In his seven no-decisions (42.2 IP), Marcum has an ERA of 2.11.

After Marcum left his 10 starts, the bullpen backed him with a 3.56 ERA, which is actually a lot better than it sounds. You’ll recall the game where Casey Janssen finally got rocked against the Dodgers—giving up six runs without getting an out. Toss that one appearance out and the relief ERA behind Marcum was 1.78.

Think about that for a moment: Excluding that one bad outing, Marcum pitched 10 starts with a 2.02 ERA and the bullpen followed up with an ERA of 1.78 and he could only get three wins. In games Marcum got a no-decision, the Jays were 3-4. That kind of support would put a lot of brassiere manufacturers out of business.

My point? The Jays, believe it or not, are in a terrific position in 2008 if Ricciardi doesn’t try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What am I talking about? Right now, rumors swirl around A.J. Burnett. Now, Ricciardi knew three things about Burnett: He was good for an ERA+ of about 110, a K per inning and being injury prone.

What has Burnett given the Jays? An ERA+ around 110, a K per inning and time on the D.L. This is what J.P. bought and he’s thinking about trading him for getting what he signed him for? Sadly, in the current pitching market, a guy of Burnett’s talent is reasonably priced for the Jays. For the next three seasons, the Jays have four tremendous arms under their control: Roy Halladay, Burnett, Marcum and Dustin McGowan.

Why mess with that?

Next year, you’re going to have a bullpen consisting of Jeremy Accardo, (hopefully) B.J. Ryan and Brandon League, Davis Romero, Janssen, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet.

Also in the mix are guys like Jesse Litsch, Jamie Vermilyea, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers and Ty Taubenheim.

That’s going to be the best pitching staff in the AL next year or bloody close to it. Here’s what you do with Burnett: You name him your No. 2 or 3 starter but treat him like your fifth starter. Limit him to six innings/90 pitches; if you have an off day, you skip over him and give him extra rest. He has an amazing arm that’s also fragile—accept it and work with it.

Speaking of trades, the best trade is often the one not made. That applies to Burnett and Troy Glaus. If you trade Glaus, you need two guys to replace him: You need a third baseman, and you need to find .250/.360/.500, 35 HR-100 RBI production. Glaus is younger than A-Rod and is approaching 300 HR. Those kinds of third basemen don’t grow on trees. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez may command $30+ million a year if he opts out and you’re thinking of trading a third baseman capable of thumping 40 HR and slugging .550 who is making a bit more than one-third of that?

Glaus has a shot at a 500 HR career, which for a hot corner man means a Hall of Fame plaque.

And you’re thinking of dealing him?

If Ricciardi trades Burnett and Glaus, he should be fired, period.

Ricciardi should look to upgrade shortstop. If Vernon Wells returns to form and the Jays don’t have the wave of injuries of the last two seasons, they’ll be in terrific shape. The roster needs a tweak, and a couple of breaks (the good kind) and 2008 would signal a return to glory for the Blue Jays.

I pray Ricciardi doesn’t find a way to screw it up.

Of interest…

Many wonder if Roger Clemens’ success at his advanced athletic age might be due to some pharmaceutical assistance. Ponder this:

Pitcher        W-L   ERA  IP    K
Roger Clemens 57-30 2.89  781  721
Player X      61-52 3.18 1048 1234

Those are Clemens’ totals since the season he turned 40—he is now 44. Player X is Nolan Ryan from ages 40-44. He’d have a much better won-loss record except in 1987 he led the NL in ERA+, strikeouts, K/9 IP, H/9 IP and BB/K. He finished fifth in Cy Young voting, third in WHIP and ninth in IP, yet was second in the NL in losses—he finished 8-16. His normalized numbers have him at 15-8, which would change his record those years to 68-44.

Webb Search

As of July 5…

Players who are on (or close to*) pace to top Earl Webb’s record of 67 doubles (assuming 600 AB):

Player            2B  Team  Pace 
Magglio Ordonez   34   DET   68
Chase Utley       33   PHI   60

*on pace for at least 60

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

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