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Fixing a Whole Peter Gammons
2002-11-25 14:25
by Mike Carminati

Fixing a Whole

Peter Gammons writes that there are 25 things wrong with baseball. My first reaction was, "That's all?" After reading it, I am left wondering if Peter Gammons actually watches the game of baseball or just sits in back rooms schmoozing GMs. Those are the "people who care about baseball", to whom he refers.

I do agree with his intro:

One thing the National Football League does much better than Major League Baseball is address conventional thinking and tradition and make annual changes to better the sport, and the business. Baseball has had trouble differentiating between tradition and traditional thinking.

But from there it's all down hill (J.D. Souther?).

Here are his 25 venal baseball sins-for each of which Bud Selig will have to spent 25 years in Montreal as punishment-and my reactions to each:

1. Teams that allow public relations to dictate personnel and organizational decisions.

That's his number one? It goes without saying. No baseball exec will admit that he allowed PR to rule a decision, but it is an entertainment business, and it needs to attract the public via its relationships with them. It's a balancing act. Some teams do it better than others. Some do it more wisely than others. And some have a little more luck than others. It's not an exact science however.

The Phillies for example have ignored (quality) free agents for years, and the results are an inferior product and poor fan support. They are attempting to lure back that fan base with free agent signings in anticipation of moving into a new stadium in 2004. The deals are a bit overly generous, but with their frugality over the years and their market size, they can afford it. The long-term deals may be unwise in and of themselves especially in this off-season's baseball economy, but if they help lure fans back to the stadium, the Phils may be able to swallow them with ease. One could argue that if the Phils had made wise investments in the past (Danny Tartabull?) and fielded a quality product all along, they wouldn't be in a position where they had to create a buzz to entice the fans back. But as David St. Hubbins once said, "That's nit-picking, isn't it?"

2. The notion that a team absolutely has to have a closer...

This is a matter of strategy. At times having a Dennis Eckersley on your staff makes sense. At other times, employing a bullpen by committee is the way to go. A team that designates a player to be the closer when it is inappropriate to do so, will pay for the poor decision. It boils down to how well a team evaluates its talent and uses that talent to its fullest. However, I wouldn't call it a problem.

By the way, Beane traded for the ever-average Billy Koch. The A's reliance on him hasn't helped of late.

3. No-trade clauses.

No-trade clauses have been a bit of a sticky wicket of late with a couple of high-profile trades being held up and even dropped because of them. He quotes a GM who calls them "extortion licenses." Basically, this is on the list because of Gammons frequent hobnobbing with the GMs.

A no-trade clause is just a concession-some would say a sop-given to a player to retain his services. No one holds a gun to the GMs head to force him to offer a no-trade clause. Likewise, the owners have negotiated the so-called "five-and-ten" rule, which states that no player with five years with his current team and ten years in total cannot be traded without his consent. The rule applied to both Williams and Walker in the failed Colorado-Arizona trade, but they also may have no-trade clauses stipulated in their contracts.

The idea was to reward players for their long service and loyalty or to assure free agents that the deal they are signing will not change without their consent. The GMs can stop offering no-trade clauses but will have to make it up to the players with higher salaries (well, maybe not in this economy). How would you feel if you were told that your company has traded you to a sister company in Cleveland and you have to pick up stakes and move, now! Oh, and you have no say in the matter.

There are tons of these incentives built into contracts: loans, bonuses, gifts to charities, deferred payments, etc. Why not stop offering achievement-based incentives (All-Star game appearances, coming in 7th in MVP voting, etc.)? When you sign A-Rod to a $25 M-per-year contract, it's understood that the expectation is that he will perform at the highest level.

All of these incentives are used by creative GMs to acquire and retain talent. None are just given out as the quoted GM states. They are part of the negotiation process. Good GMs use them well; bad ones complain to Gammons about them.

4. American League teams that bunt before the seventh inning.

In the 1132 games played during the 2002 season, there were 262 bunts in the AL before the seventh inning. Do they really constitute such a large problem for the sport?

He goes on to quote a GM who supports the idea of an automatic bunt given that the extra out you lose lessens your chance of scoring. Well, that's a GM with a firm grasp for the obvious. Bunts lessen the chance for the big inning. When used properly and executed well in the right situation, they help increase the odds of scoring one run. Overuse of any strategy is bad, but it's especially bad with the bunt because even when successful it costs you an out. Good managers know when to use this strategy, and bad ones don't.

Beside, for the last four seasons bunts per plate appearance are at a historic low. They are almost 50% lower than they were in 1978 and about half of what they were in 1946. This is a non-issue.

5. That baseball allows pennants to be decided by minor leaguers.

I agree that it is a bit unfair to allow September call-ups to affect the result of a pennant race, but what's the alternative? No September call-ups? If you allow just the non-contenders to recall players from the minors in the last month of the season, then they get an unfair advantage. If you have no call-ups, then teams will be unable to transition jobs to young players in anticipation of the next season without cutting the veteran he is replacing. Getting to see young players in actual major-league games is invaluable for teams evaluating their prospects for the upcoming season.

This situation is not ideal, but I think that it's the best solution possible right now.

6. "While we're at it," adds one AL executive, "how about enforcing the rules on transactions?

First, let me say that no rules were broken when Francisco Rodriguez joined the Angels in the playoffs. He replaced a player on the 60-day DL, which the rules state is OK.

The problem is not in enforcing the rules but in the wording of the rules themselves. The rules should stipulate that the player that is being replaced must play during the season, or even better after the All-Star game, prior to getting injured. As the rule currently stands, a team cam promote a player on the minor-league DL to get the extra spot for the playoffs. No one wants to see a player being played out of position to fill in for a player injured after August 31. But by the same token, no one wants another ringer brought up just prior to the playoffs. Just close that loophole.

7. Players who slide into first base.

Yeah, it's dumb, but isn't this just a pet peeve.

8. "The entire Montreal situation continues to embarrass baseball," offers one executive.

This is the first item that belongs on the list. What MLB is doing with this franchise, its players, its staff, and its fans is deplorable. Of course, the GM-minded Gammons is just concerned with potential trades that may be a conflict of interest.

9. Meaningless steals of third base.

"Meaningless steals", isn't that redundant? Who cares?

10. Empty dugouts during close games.

Yeah, another pet peeve. Who cares?

11. One NL GM asks why have a tie game when rain is an issue?

Why not just keep the rule, and just play the game in its entirety as soon as possible, even if it forces a (gasp!) doubleheader?

12. The best-of-five Division Series.

Right. Go to seven games and add a few doubleheaders during the year. They say they cannot add the extra two games without shortening the schedule. So why did we have to wait four days between the league championship series and the World Series this year?

13. The stigma against right-handed pitchers under 6-foot-1.

This is a problem? Kind of like MLB's Stupendous Scenarios calling a season a moment. Besides, who cares? It gets back to evaluating talent and doing it well or not.

14. Traditionalist baseball thinking that continues to draft and sign far more high school than college players.

See 13. The smart GMs have already figured this out.

15. Speaking of scouting: Why do so many teams hire friends or enthusiasts based on how little they can pay them, to determine whom they draft and sign and build their organizations?

Again bad organizations make bad decisions. It's not really an endemic problem with the sport.

16. The fact that the Gold Gloves Awards are handed to three outfielders...

True, but the awards are a joke anyway. Who cares? Why not define the MVP award to get rid of the annual egg baseball has to remove from its face. What about the Gold Glove Rafael Palmeiro won in 1999 for playing 28 games at first base?

17. Teams not taking infield practice, at least four times a week.

Heaven forefend!?! Who cares?

18. Lack of change in the arbitration process.

What change? Arbitration was an owner-proposed compromise that they negotiated with the players years ago. Would you rather have every player become a free agent after his first year?

19. Armor on hitters.

The whole hits batsmen situation stinks and should by addressed. First, why are players allowed to erase the back line of the box and why are they not required to stay within the box? Eckstein is one to talk. He doesn't even avoid being hit. He just turns into the ball to get a free pass. As far as body armor: first, they should be more strict in allowing players to wear the stuff. If a player does need it for medical reasons, let him wear it but don't compensate him for being hit on it. Just don't count it as part of his equipment. If he gets hit on his prosthetic, then the ball is dead and the ump makes a ball-strike call. He is allowed to protect against injury but is not unfairly compensated for the protection.

20. The notion that a leadoff hitter has to be fast.

Brian Downing figured this out a while ago. Again, how it is a problem is beyond me. If a team cannot properly evaluate its talent, it's their own problem not the sport's.

21. National League managers who intentionally walk the eighth hitter.

Again this is a strategy that should not be overused. Oh, and who cares?

22. Radar-gun readings determining a pitcher's worth.

So now all of baseball's problems boil down to managers not knowing when to employ a given stratagem or GMs not being able to evaluate talent. See 15.

23. "Uniforms," says one AL executive, "that aren't uniform.

Who cares? Teams have always tried to spruce things up to draw fans and now to sell merchandising. (see 1916 Giants and satin uniforms for night games).

24. One National League GM insists "we need stricter consequences for an intentional walk. Should an intentional walk advance all baserunners? Fans should be allowed to enjoy Barry Bonds more, even if it beats us."

A) The only alternatives that remotely make sense are to outlaw the intentional walk or (as Neyer proposed) to reward the recipient with two bases to make the defense think twice before so freely issuing them. I think no change is the best answer because...

B) Aside from Barry Bonds, intentional walks are down. Here are the totals since they started recording intentional walks in 1955:

1955	9044	722	7.98%	95025	0.76%	11068	0.1165
1956	8997	783	8.70%	95231	0.82%	11031	0.1158
1957	8167	740	9.06%	95386	0.78%	10636	0.1115
1958	8127	679	8.35%	94143	0.72%	10578	0.1124
1959	8184	707	8.64%	94714	0.75%	10853	0.1146
1960	8384	729	8.70%	94771	0.77%	10664	0.1125
1961	9897	732	7.40%	109568	0.67%	12940	0.1181
1962	10936	818	7.48%	124540	0.66%	14461	0.1161
1963	9591	933	9.73%	122336	0.76%	12780	0.1045
1964	9621	1015	10.55%	122980	0.83%	13123	0.1067
1965	10036	1130	11.26%	122749	0.92%	12945	0.1055
1966	9331	1088	11.66%	121677	0.89%	12900	0.1060
1967	9665	1295	13.40%	121839	1.06%	12210	0.1002
1968	9156	1223	13.36%	120816	1.01%	11109	0.0919
1969	13429	1436	10.69%	148181	0.97%	15849	0.1070
1970	13727	1464	10.67%	149312	0.98%	16880	0.1131
1971	12535	1396	11.14%	146685	0.95%	15073	0.1028
1972	11727	1378	11.75%	139947	0.98%	13706	0.0979
1973	13100	1357	10.36%	148777	0.91%	16372	0.1100
1974	12963	1353	10.44%	148831	0.91%	16041	0.1078
1975	13402	1338	9.98%	148596	0.90%	16291	0.1096
1976	12391	1156	9.33%	147576	0.78%	15486	0.1049
1977	13757	1297	9.43%	161517	0.80%	18798	0.1164
1978	13566	1338	9.86%	159165	0.84%	17247	0.1084
1979	13601	1366	10.04%	160357	0.85%	18712	0.1167
1980	13190	1435	10.88%	161186	0.89%	18053	0.1120
1981	8868	895	10.09%	105880	0.85%	11146	0.1053
1982	13301	1319	9.92%	161017	0.82%	18105	0.1124
1983	13518	1379	10.20%	160590	0.86%	18166	0.1131
1984	13320	1270	9.53%	160538	0.79%	17915	0.1116
1985	13838	1337	9.66%	160305	0.83%	18215	0.1136
1986	14227	1289	9.06%	160835	0.80%	18543	0.1153
1987	14389	1287	8.94%	161891	0.79%	19883	0.1228
1988	12984	1367	10.53%	159365	0.86%	17378	0.1090
1989	13528	1446	10.69%	160016	0.90%	17402	0.1088
1990	13852	1384	9.99%	160301	0.86%	17918	0.1118
1991	13984	1228	8.78%	160730	0.76%	18127	0.1128
1992	13682	1315	9.61%	160516	0.82%	17340	0.1080
1993	15110	1477	9.77%	174546	0.85%	20862	0.1195
1994	11131	1008	9.06%	124472	0.81%	15751	0.1265
1995	14240	1105	7.76%	156691	0.71%	19554	0.1248
1996	16088	1341	8.34%	177219	0.76%	22827	0.1288
1997	15666	1168	7.46%	175512	0.67%	21602	0.1231
1998	16447	1067	6.49%	188257	0.57%	23297	0.1238
1999	17891	1105	6.18%	189677	0.58%	24690	0.1302
2000	18238	1210	6.63%	190242	0.64%	24971	0.1313
2001	15806	1383	8.75%	186961	0.74%	23199	0.1241
2002	16250	1452	8.94%	186647	0.78%	22411	0.1201
Total	602882	56740	9.41%	6978113	0.81%	795108	0.1139
Avg	12560	1182	9.53%	145377	0.82%	16565	0.1132

Note that the totals for 2002 are well below average. They are about a third higher than three or four years ago, but much lower than they were 10 years ago.

Note also that as runs go up, intentional walks drop. They become a less desirable strategy. However, scoring has remained high for so long in the last 10 years that the IBBs have started to go back up in the last two years. Evidently, the strategy of walking the opposition's power hitter holds sway. Once that approach has been tried for a long enough time, if it is found lacking, the smart teams will disregard it.

Again it is not a problem per se, but I wouldn't argue if they changed the compensation to two bases. As long as they realize that there will be a number of consequences resulting from that change.

25. The notion that shortstops must be plus runners with guns for arms.

The notion that professional writers should be able to write coherent, complete sentences. Again, GM's are angry because they can't evaluate talent properly.

Just for fun here's my list:

1) Bud Selig: too much baggage and questionable activity.

2) The press in bed with the owners.

3) The Expos. (Gammons #8)

4) Attracting young fans: the game could be in trouble in twenty years.

5) Luring back the fans they lost in the '94 strike: all of the bad PR has to stop and they need to sell their young stars to the fans (not literally).

6) Interleague play: ruining the All-Star game and World Series, unfair, messes up stats, etc.

7) The Wild Card: add another division, just get rid of playoff teams being second-place teams

8) Lack of uniformity in the DH rule.

9) Revenue sharing based on team salary.

10) Game length.

11) Full definitions for the annual awards.

12) Security (after the Gamboa incident).

13) Ticket prices: the average fan can no longer take his family to the ballpark on a semi-regular basis.

14) Bad GMs: when ridiculous contracts are handed out, that's when arbitration awards become an issue.

15) Thom Brenniman and Steve Lyons: never again.

16) Uniforms: No purple pinstripes allowed. No seventies retros except the Astros. OK, here's a real one: expand the Hall of Fame voting as Bill James proposed to writers, TV and radio analysts, ex-players, etc.. Evaluate all players eligible to the Veterans' Committe and then retire the committee.

17) Close the loophole in the playoff roster rules (Gammons #6)

18) Best-of-five playoff series (Gammons #12)

19) International player draft: baseball really screwed the pooch on this one during the last CBA negotiations.

20) Doubleheaders: they're fun.

21) Player use in the All-Star game: wasn't Herr Bud going to fix this?

22) Giving All-Star managers too much latitude in picking squads.

23) Automatic ejections for hit batsmen after a warning.

24) Overuse of young pitching arms: I would argue that this goes beyond game strategy. The sport needs to ensure that the next generation of pitching aces is not sacrificed to injury. Preach pitch counts.

25) Peter Gammons and other antediluvian analysts telling us what's wrong with the game.

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