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April 2018

Sandlot Days

By Lee Kluck 

Twenty-five years after its release, the movie “The Sandlot” is a beloved member of most people’s baseball movie pantheon.  The reasons are numerous.  The 1993 film features a loveable bunch of underdog protagonists, an equal number of equally defined and robust antagonists (Wendy Peffercorn, The Beast, and the Little Leaguers all come to mind), plenty of easily accessible one liners, (“you’re killing me Smalls”) and just enough baseball to remind people that it is indeed a baseball movie.  

One aspect that’s overlooked however is that part of the appeal of the film is that every baseball fan, no matter their age, has had a sandlot summer.  I don’t necessarily mean that they gathered every day to play ball.  Though that may be part of it.  I mean that growing up, especially around the teenage years, most baseball fans had one iteration of their favorite team that they can still recall with overwhelming clarity.  More important perhaps, fans can recall events that occurred in and around the games played by that team.  Crushes.  Summer Jobs.  Adolescent adventures that seemed larger than life.  They were their own movie stars.

My sandlot summer occurred in 1992.  One year before we were introduced to Scotty Smalls and Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez.  I was a twelve-year-old kid growing up in Stevens Point Wisconsin. Home of the last pre-draft baseball bonus baby, Rick Reichardt, Point Beer, and the World’s Largest Trivia Contest

  For the first time since 1986, the Milwaukee Brewers had a new manager and I was excited to see how the season played out.  In between games, I spent my days, along with my brother and sister, at the home of our long-time baby-sitter.  She is a short, roughed-edged, good-hearted, tattooed woman who lived hard.  My brother and sister and I had been in her care on snow days, after school, and over the summer since 1986.  By 1992, the summer routine was well established.  Get dropped off in the morning by eight.  Spend the morning and afternoon watching Nickelodeon or maybe our sitter’s son play Nintendo.  Have some mayo based concoction for lunch.  Which, turns my stomach even now.  And then, more TV until after General Hospital when we would be led outside for sunshine and Patsy Cline songs played on an original silver Boom Box.

For some reason however, the summer of 1992 was different for me.  The mayo was still there.  And, I’m certain I watched a fair amount of TV.  However, I was also allowed to spend more of my day outside reading or listening to Brewer games on a GE radio I received for Christmas.  I could even go over into a former neighbors driveway and play basketball.  Then, something even better happened.  A group of Mormon Army brats moved in to the house where I played basketball.  The boys ranged in age from two to fifteen.  This meant that with them, the boys from the sitter, and the sitter’s sons and their friends from the neighborhood, we could play some serious baseball games.

These games occurred in an overgrown field that bordered the sitter’s.  Often, it was five or six guys to a side if we wanted to play a real game.  In those cases, a strike zone was etched on a woodpile backstop, balls hit to the opposite fields were outs, and, pitcher’s hand and ghost runner rules applied.  If we didn’t play games, 500 (where a ball is assigned a point total and then the ball is thrown or hit high in the air to waiting outfielders who then become the hitter when they reach 500 points) or pickle were good alternatives.  Other times, we roamed the neighborhood.  Or piled in the back of the Army brat family’s VW van for trips to the municipal pool or the local ice cream stand.  

Then, at night, my world was once again consumed by the unlikely events unfolding occurring around the Milwaukee Brewers.  They were winning.  A lot.  They were 39-35 at the end of June.  55-47 by the end of July.  They stole a ton of bases.  They hit and ran.  Got timely pitching from Bill Wegman and Jamie Navarro.  I fell in love with them.  I fell in love with them listening to the GE in my bedroom.  On car trips to Wisconsin Rapids so my parents could help my aunt and uncle hang drywall in their house and redo a dilapidated garage.  On those trips, I would play homerun derby with my cousin (who I couldn’t stand) and his buddies or I would read my latest paperback or sit quietly into the night as Bob Uecker would get excited for a Molitor stolen base or extoll the virtues of a Daryl Hamilton outfield assist.  

And the beat rolled on.  I got my first big crush on a girl from my class who I saw at the pool.  My brother dropped his glasses while running through the woods with the gang from the sitter’s.  This called for a daring rescue mission armed with a can of raid to fight off the bee hive that surrounded said glasses.  I went to the public library and read from the adult history section.  And the Brewers kept winning.  There was talk they might even make the playoffs if they could get lucky enough to chase down the first place Toronto Blue Jays.    

The Crew was 70-61 at the end of August and 4.5 games out of first.  The summer ended but the hot streak did not.  As the school bell rang, I found myself defending the Brewers to a host of kids who liked Toronto better.  How could you like Jimmy Key more than rookie phenom Cal Eldred?  My spirits were buoyed as Milwaukee continued to scrap and claw.  With two weeks left in the year, Milwaukee was five games out of first.  80-66 with the best Runs Against total in the American League.  

With a little more than a week left, they had cut the Toronto lead to 3.5 games.  The Brewers kept winning.  On 29 September they won their 90th game when Cal Eldred beat the Mariners up in the Kingdome, 7-4.  Meanwhile, the Army brats, who had lived in Hawaii prior to moving to our town, prepared for their first winter.  They thought it was freezing before we Wisconsin kids were out of shorts.  Like the weather, the Brewers eventually succumbed to fall.  They won 92 games and would watch Toronto win the World Series in October.  My world changed with the seasons.

The army brats made more friends.  I would eventually move to a new town where hunting and snowmobiling permeated almost every conversation. The 1993 Brewers could not replicate the summer of 1992.  Paul Molitor helped Toronto win the World Series.  Robin Yount retired.   In 1994, baseball would go on strike.  I never really soured.  After the strike, for a myriad of reasons, the Brewers would become horrible.  They would not have another winning season until 2008.  I was in graduate school by then.

Through all those changes, I would gravitate to the summer of 1992.  To the summer of Listasch, Eldred, Ice Cream, Pools, and Pitchers Hand.  Sometimes I would throw in “The Sandlot” and that would bring the memories rushing back.  Back to a time when I lived the movie on my TV and fell in love with baseball.

 

Lee Kluck is a historian and Brewer fan from Wisconsin.   When not consuming baseball, he is cooking with his wife.   He is currently writing a biography of longtime baseball executive Harry Dalton.

 


Old Dusty Baseball Vault: Women's Baseball Guides? Allison Place Gives Two an In-depth Review

By Allison Place

Allison Place makes her debut as the sole review reviewer for ODBBV, putting two books under the feminist microscope. Place will also contribute reviews of newlt released baseball books. You can follow her on Twitter @booksandbalks.

In the book world, there are guides to everything: technology, cooking, music, you name it. Baseball is no exception. The season is underway, games are being won and lost, and new fans are being made all the time. In this edition of Old Dusty Baseball Vault, I read and listened to two different guides to baseball, both of which seemed to be catered to women. The first, Ladies Day: One Woman’s Guide to Pro Baseball (Catherine Rondina and Joseph Romain), came out in the 90s and the second, Woman’s Guide to Baseball (Paula Duffy), is quite a short audiobook that was released in 2006. Did these books teach me anything new about the sport I love or just infuriate me with their sexism?

First up: Ladies Day. When I got this book in the mail, I really started to dissect it. When I found and ordered it, all I saw were the words lady and guide. Ugh, I thought, this isn’t going to be a good time. I was wrong. Here is what I found: this book is essentially an A to Z look at all things baseball, with additional features for diving into different women and their impact on the game (the main of which is cheekily titled for that adage about diamonds and girls and best friends, you know the one). Some of these entries were humorous (page 15 wonders, “What could a man possibly know about bearing down?”), some were biographical, and a few were, well, not really all that helpful. Seriously, the definition for a balk takes up three-quarters of a page and I still couldn’t tell you what one is.

There was really only one time when I was taken aback, though, and that was with the entry of ‘Baseball Annie.’ Not only had I never heard this term, but when I read it’s definition, I was really disappointed with its inclusion in the book. Essentially, a ‘Baseball Annie’ is a baseball groupie. Really? Eye roll count: one. That particular Annie aside, I did learn about a lot of other names, like Lizzie Arlington, Toni Stone, and Rose Gacioch.

It was only after I started digging into this book that I realized something in the sub-title: One Woman’s Guide to Pro Baseball. One versus A, such a small change that I didn’t even take into consideration at first. When I actually thought about it for a second, I realized that I was judging this book entirely wrong from the beginning. It isn’t claiming to be a woman’s guide at all, just one woman’s guide. Catherine Rondina wanted to share her love of the sport with the world, in the form of this book, this one book by this one woman. With her use of one instead of a, she didn’t mean it to be for women, specifically, but for anyone wanting to get involved in the sport. What a difference a word makes, huh?

Would Woman’s Guide to Baseball surprise me, too? When I found this audiobook, my expectations were very, very low. Those expectations were met – to a point. The majority of this is pretty informative and could be used for any new baseball fan (I know I could have used it when I first took an interest in the game). Framed as the author taking her coworker to her first game, Duffy breaks down things such as how the field is set up, how to keep score, and the best little comments to make while watching at home so people (read: men) would realize you know what you’re talking about. Oh, yeah, about that last one… There were a few times when Duffy would say something completely accurate (if you wear team merchandise, people will talk to you about it) but follow it up with something kind of icky (if you ever wanted to know how to get the guy on the train to notice you, wear your team merchandise). Eye roll count: two.

One thing that really bothered me about this guide is that there are more than a few sentences focused on how women were making their way into baseball in 2006 (Duffy focuses on the announcing and broadcast booth side of things) and how much of a positive, great thing that was at the time, yet… this guide still came into existence. Did these women listen to something similar in order to give them the knowledge necessary to work professionally in baseball? Probably not. We were and are doing fine on our own – this website is proof of that – and we are still subjected to constantly having to prove our fandom; in a few more words, Duffy asserts that simply sounding smart about baseball will prevent being shunned by a man. I don’t think that’s true, though. Tweet about liking the Mariners and you’ll have men knocking down your virtual door with trivia and roster questions. Eye roll count: off the charts. 

When I was done listening to this guide, I was kind of disappointed. Those little sexist side comments, the Amazon product description that focused entirely on impressing men, there was bound to be an incredibly angering ending that I could really rip into, right? Nope. That’s the ballgame, let’s get back to work. Why? Why did this product ever have to be marketed in this way? Why couldn’t this just be a new fan’s guide to baseball without all of the gendering? At the end of the day, these materials teach baseball. Anyone could learn from them. 

All that being said, let me back up a little. It would be wrong of me to say that women shouldn’t just be fans of a sport because of a man. I tried to be a hockey fan for my boyfriend’s sake and, while it didn’t really stick, I’m not ashamed to say that the reason I tried was because of him. Ladies, go forth and be a fan of that thing that you’ve wanted to be a fan of. Do it for yourself, do it for a cute man, do it for whatever reason brings you happiness. But how about this: ask that cute man to give you some tips, teach you some of the basics, or learn everything you can and be an even better fan than he is. Just leave the kind of gross audiobook guides in the dust.

 

 


Fanning... Toronto Blue Jays

By  Karen Soutar

 

Karen Soutar observes the Jays over several games, including against the Kansas City Royals. On this subject, and “curious “managerial decisions, she shares thoughts and predictions.

 

Wednesday April 18th.     The Blue Jays, having won the first two games against the Royals have a chance for their first series sweep of the season.    It’s a great time to be a Jays fan, night and day compared to April 2017 and their 8-17 record.   Teoscar Hernandez is manning LF and batting second.    Many people thought Hernandez should have made the team out of spring training and I am definitely one of them,  but due to an excess of outfielders on the roster, he was optioned to AAA Buffalo.     He was recalled on April 13th and is playing like he wants to stick around.      His hitting has been excellent at .311/.392/.644 but maybe what stands out the most is the strike out rate.     In parts of 2016 and 2017 in MLB, Hernandez struck out at an alarming rate of 34%.     This year he is working hard on being more selective and it has paid off.     His strike out rate to date is a much better 26%.

 

25-year old Hernandez has an exciting combination of speed and power and he is having an amazing day today.     First inning, single and run scored on a Justin Smoak double.    Third inning, 2 run HR.    Sixth inning, another single.     7th, a 2 run triple.    8th, up he comes with a chance to hit for only the third cycle in Jays history (Gruber April 16, 1989, Frye, Aug 18 ,2001), but unfortunately struck out.     Hernandez finishes the day 4 for 6 with 4 RBIs, 2 run scored and a nice running catch in LF.    The Jays complete the sweep by a final score of 15-5 and I’m feeling great about their chances, going in to a series against the Yankees.

Friday April 20th.     Today marks the major league debut of 24 year old Lourdes Gurriel jr.    Gift Ngoepe is a very good defensive infielder but he has one hit in 18 Abs with the Jays.     Ngoepe has been optioned to AAA to make room for Gurriel who is starting at 2B against the Yankees in NY.      It’s an exciting stage for a major league debut.

 

There are varied opinions as to Gurriel’s ceiling, both on offence and defence, but he is a young player worth watching.    My own feeling is that he could be a major league star, given the time to develop in MLB.    His versatility is a definite asset, being able to play SS, 2B and LF.    He is having an impressive debut, going 2 for 5 with 3 RBIs.     Together with Hernandez who also has 3 RBI, these two youngsters drive in 6 of the Jays’ 8 runs in an 8-5 victory.   The future looks bright with these two playing a significant part of it.

 

Tuesday April 24th.    Jays will attempt to get back in the win column after their first series loss of 2018 vs the Yanks as they host the first place Boston Red Sox.     On the other end of the spectrum there is 37 year old MLB veteran Curtis Granderson, the elder statesman of the Jays’ roster.     Grandy has exceeded expectations thus far as a free agent signing.        Bottom of the second, Grandy comes up with runners on, Jays up 1-0 and hits a 2 run single, the only hard hit ball of an inning where the Jays manage to take advantage of some Sox miscues.      Late innings, Jays holding on to a 3-1 lead, it makes sense to bring in Randal Grichuk defensively to help protect the lead since he is an above average defender in the outfield.     

In a curious move, Gibbons elects to remove 25-year old Hernandez in favor of Granderson.    A better option? Keep the younger legs of Hernandez and better speed instead.     Osuna blows his first save of 2018, allowing the Sox to tie the game 3-3 but Granderson makes a great throw from LF, cutting down the would-be go-ahead run at home plate.      Bottom of the 10th, Granderson at-bat...he launches a second deck HR.    Jays fans go home happy, final score 4-3.

Jays’ President Mark Shapiro has admitted that if it weren’t for the fans, he would have “hit the reset button” over a year ago if it weren’t for the fans 

(https://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/shapiro-blue-jays-hit-reset-year-ago-not-fans/).     

What we're seeing in the early going is the possibility to build for the future, and also try to win in the present.     The Jays are 14-10, tied for the 5th best record in the American League which is better than many people predicted.     

Veteran off-season acquisitions are mostly making positive contributions.     At the same time, when needed they're willing and able to bring up talented youngsters who appear prepared to contribute now.     

Karen Soutar is a lifelong resident of Toronto, Canada, baseball aficionado and die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan.     Twitter:   @KarenSoutar1

 


Rusty Staub's Legacy: New York Met, Friend to Community in Need

The New York Mets began their 2018 campaign on a somber note as news broke of the passing of Daniel "Rusty" Staub on March 29, just three days shy of his 74th birthday. 

Staub passed away in West Palm Beach due to complications from kidney failure. Nicknamed Le Grand Orange during his time as a Montreal Expo, Staub played nine seasons for the Mets from 1972 to 1975 - during which he was a key part of the Mets 1973 pennant winning season – and again from 1981 to 1985. Staub also worked as a Mets broadcaster from 1986 to 1995.  That's how I first came to know him.

 

As a little girl watching Mets games with my grandmother, Rusty was a fixture in my home. He was undoubtedly my grandmother's favorite in the booth – like her, he was from New Orleans, La., and they both had bright red hair. My grandmother spent her life working in public service, so she always admired the work he did in the community. 

 

After his retirement from baseball, Staub went to work helping others through many charitable endeavors including The Rusty Staub Foundation and the New York Police and Fire Widow's and Children's Fund. Through a partnership with Catholic Charities, the Rusty Staub Foundation served more than 9 million meals to the hungry throughout New York. 

 

At an event for the New York Police and Fire Widow's and Children's Fund, Staub shared his thoughts on giving back to those who give so much to us. “I think the cause is amazing because there are so many great causes, but very few of them know that the person, or people you’re trying to help, have given up their lives to make your life better. So, it seems like a responsibility sometimes to make sure these families have some assistance financially and emotionally, because I guarantee you the fact that we don’t forget what took place for them means as much to them as the money. 

 

“It’s one of the greatest things I decided to do with my life. So being a part of this is important to me,” he continued.

 

As the Mets pay tribute to Staub with a patch bearing his name, I'm reminded of the moments I spent with Rusty, this time as a Mets employee. I spent two seasons in the marketing department and he was a fixture within Citi Field. Whether he was there greeting fans as a former player, or working alongside the Community Relations department on various initiatives, his love for people was infectious. Even while he was in declining health over the last few years, he always had a smile on his face and never showed signs of slowing down. He was a friend to so many within the organization and the outpouring of love was overwhelming.

Former teammate and current Mets broadcaster, Keith Hernandez, spoke to the media the morning of Staub's passing, and while fighting back tears, spoke fondly of his friendship with Staub and how he was the one who helped Hernandez become acquainted with all that New York City had to offer. “This is a sad day for Met land,” said Hernandez. “Rusty was a dear friend and he has his place in Met lure as well as the city. It’s a tough day.” Hernandez spoke of visiting Staub during his final days in ICU battling kidney failure saying “he was in a lot of pain,” and seemed comforted by the thought his suffering was over and that he was in “a better place.”

 

 

 

“What a unique personality he was. I never met anyone like him,” said former Met pitcher Ron Darling. “You would sit on the bench with him and you would get a tutorial on how to play the game, the history of the game. He changed Keith's life, and he certainly changed mine.” 

 

The first of several memorial services for Staub was held April 10th in his native New Orleans. There friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of a man who embodied the Jesuit motto "A Man for Others."  

 

A devout Catholic, Staub always turned to his faith. “When I go to church every Sunday, I say, ‘Thanks for another week.’...I say, ‘I don’t know if there is something else I’m supposed to be doing, but if there is, I don’t have that in my mind. I’m going to continue the work I’ve been doing,’” he said in 2016. 

While his work on the diamond made him one of the greats, it's easy to say that that helped set the foundation for what would be his greatest work. 

Executive Director of Catholic Charities of New York, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, said "Rusty Staub proved that it is not games played or record books that make someone special. It’s really about heart." 

 

Another memorial mass celebrating the life and legacy of Rusty Staub is set for April 25th at New York's famed St. Patrick's Cathedral and will be led by Timothy Cardinal Dolan. 

 

 

 


Jackie Robinson's Impact and the Changes Still to Come

By Sydnee Williams

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson stepped on a major league field, and entered a storm.

He became the first black person to play in Major League Baseball. As they do every year, MLB will honor Jackie Robinson with his own day. 42 is the only number players wear. For black players wearing 42, the gesture is a tip of the cap to the person who’s the reason they’re able to play the game. 

Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (now Los Angeles Dodgers) and Major League Baseball would never be the same. The taunts from other teams and fans continued, even with his own teammates; some said they would leave if Robinson stayed. 

Nonetheless, Robinson persevered, and went on to earn Rookie the Year and NL MVP two years later. 

Today’s Impact

Last year, ESPN caught up with some players of color, asking about Jackie’s impact, and what can still improve. Chris Archer was among those that expressed their gratitude, noting that the diversity of baseball fans is in large part due to Robinson: 

“You look how the fans from Japan and Asia were during the WBC. You look at how passionate the Puerto Rican fans were. You look how passionate the Dominican fans were. Jackie Robinson started all of that.”

Curtis Granderson spoke on what MLB could do to enhance the day of remembrance: 

“You can bring diverse groups of kids to the game to continue to show that legacy. Case in point: I remember back when the movie "42" came out, we took some kids in Brooklyn from Jackie Robinson High School to go see the movie. It was really cool. After the movie finished, this diverse group of kids all clapped and applauded. They enjoyed the movie, which was great. But I remember mutual friends of mine knew a parent of one of the kids, and the kid went home afterward and said, "Mom, I didn't realize that's what the N-word means."

(You can read more player Q/A’s on Jackie Robinson Day at http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/19158175/what-jackie-robinson-day-means-mlb-stars) 

Robinson’s legacy can be felt all throughout the game, as there are multiple persons of color on every major league roster. 8.4% of 2018’s Opening Day roster was African American, the highest number in six seasons. On top of that stat, 41% of players on the Opening Day roster were persons of color (African American/Latino/Asian/Afro-Canadian/Pacific decent). But looking beyond those numbers, it’s clear that much more change is in order.

Room For Improvement

African-American players are important when it comes to the evolution of the game. In a piece done by Ken Rosenthal on the “African American talent pool,” he reported that there were only two or less black pitchers per organization, and five black catchers in total. An alarmingly low number for those players expected to be future stars of the game. 

This matters also to future fans. I can count the number of African-American fans on toes and fingers that are in the stands for Nationals games I regularly attend. That can be discouraging, and can make one feel out of place especially when the same thing is being reflected on the field, with one or two blacks in the lineup. To grow the game, MLB has to go further to be inclusive, and, for example, create more change in how baseball is marketed to black youth. 

A dying wish of Jackie Robinson’s was to see more blacks in higher positions, such as managers. That’s an area still sorely lacking. There are less than five coaches of color. Of those five, none are 100% African American. 

There should simply be more to show for Robinson’s sacrifice and commitment seventy years after that day he first stepped on the field 

Sunday’s Celebration*

These days, players have fun with personalized Robinson cleats, arm wear, etc. As seasons go on, teams find ways to get more creative and make Robinson’s triumph clearer. A “42” patch will be implemented on the players uniforms this year.

All earnings from Sunday that are stitched with the number 42 will go towards the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides funds for 225 students attending colleges/universities for a four-year period. The League will also be giving out 2018 All-Star game and World Series prizes to the winners of the Breaking Barriers contest. Breaking Barriers is for students who wrote essays about their life struggles, and how they overcame, in honor of Robinson. 

All of these events speak to the footprint he left on this earth. An undeniable part of evolution, not just in the game of baseball, but in life. A single soul that paved the way for some of the best talent the world has even seen. He’s deserving of more than a day and the highest praise and, in time, perhaps the sport will reflect the more inclusive sport #42 envisioned.

 

*Some MLB games were postponed Sunday due to weather. Festivities in Robinson’s honor will commence during rescheduled games. 

 

Sydnee Williams is a sports journalist out of the DC/Maryland area. You can follow her on twitter @sydneeW_

 

 

 

 

 


Padres Rapid Reactions from Opening Week

By Rachael Lackner

San Diegans can always rely on a few things.

Great weather. Dank California burritos. Clean surf. And disappointment from the Padres.

The Friars’ start to the 2018 season was full of said misfortune. San Diego fizzled to 1-6 in their opening homestand and suffered several missteps in the process. 

Their second week in play had some bright spots, but they dropped an in-field fly in embarrassing fashion and dropped to last in the NL West.

Here’s three overreactions to the start of the season…

 

The Rivalry Between the Padres and the Rockies Will Last All Season

Pitches, punches and gloves were thrown Wednesday afternoon in the series finale in Denver.

San Diego’s Manuel Margot was hit by a pitch Tuesday night in the ninth inning, resulting in bruised ribs and a trip to the DL. Then Hunter Renfroe took one off the hand early In Wednesday’s game nearly resulting in injury. 

In seven games against the Rockies this season, five Padres have been hit.

“They keep drilling our guys repetitively, at some point in time you hope people do something about it,” Padres manager Andy Green said.

Luis Perdomo did by sailing a fast ball behind Colorado’s Nolan Arenado in the third inning.

Arenado charged the mound, leading to benches and bull pens clearing, a glove throw from Perdomo, and some great GIFs of Arenado’s luscious locks flowing in the wind seriously giving Bryce Harper’s hair flips a rival.

Things appeared calmer when Padres’ bench coach Mark McGwire spoke to Arenado (the two know each other quite well), but then the Rockies’ German Marquez and Gerardo Parra got things going again in the middle. The fight continued.

All in all, five players were ejected and no further injuries were reported.

“I think I was just out there doing what we were all doing. That’s having each other’s backs and protecting each other,” Padres ejected catcher A.J. Ellis told reporters in the clubhouse. “That’s what this team is going to do. We’re always going to fight for each other and we’re going to protect one another.”

The Rockies got the last laugh with a 6-4 win after the Friars gave up two errors. Suspensions await.

But did this fight really cool tensions between these two NL West teams or will this be an on-going battle? It’s lasted two series, will it extend ibto the next four?

We’ll find out soon enough, as the Rockies play host again in two weeks. 

The DL Will be a Popular Destination 

Wil Myers wound up on the 10-day Disabled List, beginning April 3rd with right arm irritation. The outfielder was pulled from that Monday’s game, after hitting his first home run of the season in Game 2, against the Rockies.

To replace Myers, the Padres recalled right-hander Phil Maton from the El Paso Chihuahuas. 

The team is hoping Myers’ stay is short enough to avoid a minor league rehab stint. While everyone thought 10 days would do it, he’s not expected to return to the lineup on April 13th as anticipated.

"He's going to have to swing a bat for a few days,” Green told reporters on Monday. “The longer it gets, the more likely a rehab assignment becomes as well... It's not coming as quickly as we'd like it to."

Uh oh.

Myers was also pulled during the second game of the season with lower back tightness and missed the following game altogether. The Padres are expecting both the nerve irritation in Myer’s arm, and his back pain to improve before a healthy finish to the season.

But Myers also missed a game in spring training stemming from outfield throwing drills.

A key player missing so much time so early in the season certainly feeds the worry of Padres fans.

Was moving Myers to the outfield to accommodate Eric Hosmer’s arrival too much for the former first baseman? Will his season be plagued by injury? Was all his hard work this offseason for nothing?

Joining him the DL is pitcher Kirby Yates with right ankle tendinitis, as well as outfielder Manuel Margot with bruised ribs from the above back-and-forth with the Rockies.

Oh Gosh, We’re Going to Suck Again

Padres fans knew this was another year of rebuilding, patience and trusting the system. But an Opening Weekend clean sweep and a 4-10 start is a bit worse than anticipated.  

San Diego isn’t supposed to be a contender in 2018, but fans were expecting a bit more than this.

The pitching lineup looks underdeveloped and Clayton Richard (of all people) is the only one who looks good.

The offense gives the team a chance to really get in the game and then the pitching tosses it away. 

And the now infamous dropped in-field fly against the Houston Astros made the #SCNotTop10 list.

2018 isn’t supposed to be a winning season. 2018 isn’t their year. 2018 isn’t going to be more than getting a young team more reps. 

But expectations are still higher than last year’s.

Thankfully, Petco Park has a reliable supply of good craft beer because San Diegans might need a lot of it this season.

 


All Inclusive: Finding my Path in Basball

By Lee Kluck 

 

We are living in a second golden age of baseball writing.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the bubble of social media.  In that space, educated fans mingle with new and old school professionals to cover the game in more ways than ever before.  At any given moment, a fan may read a story from their favorite beat writer and then deep dive on the same game using information provided by a whole different set of writers using metrics that a newspaper columnist may avoid.  This type of environment has made it possible for different voices to be heard loud and clear.  This is the situation here at All Heels On Deck.  This, as the mission statement points out, is a media outlet that is “changing the game” of baseball reporting by giving an outlet to various voices in order to promote inclusion not only among the media but also baseball fans by featuring women, women of color, and LBGTQ baseball writers.  And, it does not stop there.

AHOD is also giving a voice to people like me.  My name is Lee Kluck.  I am a 37 year old white male from Wisconsin with a MA in history and a lifelong love of baseball.  On the surface, I am the anthesis of everything that AHOD was set-up to do.  I am a middle aged, middle class, white guy.  People like me are the demographic for just about every baseball outlet imaginable.  Except, when you dig deeper, I am not your average middle age, middle class white male baseball fan.  

I was born in 1980 in the same small college town I currently reside in.  I am the oldest of three children of loving, free thinking, parents born in the baby boom of World War II.  I also have a serious set of disabilities, that effect both the way I learn, and my physical ability to do things.  As one can imagine, these shortcomings have shaped every aspect of my life.  Including, my baseball fandom.

Technically speaking, I suffer from dyscalculia (think dyslexia but with numbers), a spatial disorder that makes it hard to translate information taken in through my eyes to my brain and then to my hands (which are affected by a fine motor skill deficiency brought on by adolescent epilepsy and a mild case of Cerebral Palsy), and for good measure, Attention Deficit Disorder that is exacerbated by an underlying condition of anxiety.  Oh, and I was born without depth perception too.  What this means in the real world, as it relates to baseball is very simple.

  First, I was not a very good player.  I loved the game from an early age and my dad and uncle both went out of their way to teach me all the finer points of the sport.  Except, the game is hard when you can’t judge how to turn your glove to catch a ball or you think the ball will hit you in the face as it speeds toward you.  Not because you are afraid of the sphere, but, because you can’t tell how far away from you it is.  Still I persisted.  I played despite getting hit by line drives while pitching, backswings of teammates while warming up, and having easy pop fly’s land behind me with a dull thud because I misjudged where the ball was even though I thought I had it.  And, when the game became too hard, I tried to find other avenues.

I became the most knowledgeable score keeper in my town.  I knew the game cold and could compute even the most difficult scoring situations when quizzed.  I was slated to be the bookkeeper for one of the best small high schools in Wisconsin.   Only one problem.  My disability affects the size and quality of my handwriting.  In the days before apps that score at the click of a button, this sounded the death knell of my career because the coach couldn’t read what I wrote and my decisions didn’t fit in the boxes.  I became discouraged even further but I stuck it out.

Then, something miraculous happened.  I realized that I could, through the spoken and written word, educate others about the game I loved.  This began by doing play by play.  At first, I was the only person hearing my work as I announced video game contests to myself.  Then, with the help of my college radio station, I got to work real games.  I still couldn’t fill out a score card but I could describe the pinpoint control and nasty breaking ball of Jordan Zimmerman long before he got to Washington and Detroit.  Maybe I had found my calling.  Only one problem.  My comm classes were boring and put me to sleep and my disability made the following of a radio schedule harder than it needed to be.   So, I became a history major who didn’t have time for radio work.

Luckily for me, baseball, as you might know, has a rich history and is easily translatable to the written word.  I learned my craft as an undergraduate.  I even received an A on a paper about baseball history and memory during World War II.  I then went on  and honed my skills as a graduate student.  This time, I realized that baseball makes a great topic for the realm of Public History.  Public History is academic work that, as I like to call it, is designed for public consumption.  For instance, the work of Ken Burns is a great example of public history.  So  are exhibits designed by teams for ballparks.  Even the baseball hall of fame employs public historians.   I don’t work in Cooperstown.  I do keep busy however.  

I actively write for the Society for American Baseball Research, I routinely present at an academic conference with some of the best baseball historians in the country, both men and women, and I am writing a biography of long-time baseball executive, Harry Dalton.  And now, I contribute to a blog.  This blog features educated, informative baseball discussions by women, Women of Color, Lesbians, Gays, Bi, Transgendered, and Queer baseball writers.  And me.  A white, middle aged, middle class, disabled American.  For whom baseball fandom has not come easy.  Like my counterparts however, I persevered. And now, like all of my other AHOD cohorts, I have a forum to discuss, revel in, and educate about the game I love.   Despite the fact that other aspects of my fandom are so hard.  If that isn’t inclusion, I don’t know what is.  

 


The Cubs, Nostalgia, And The End Of History

By James Bridget Gordon

 

Hours before the first pitch was supposed to be thrown, the Cubs announced that their 2018 home opener would be postponed due to inclement weather. Temperatures were in the mid-30s and there was a light but persistent snowfall. It was April 9th.

 

https://twitter.com/Cubs/status/983377964896346113

 

Even among people who’ve lived in Chicago for a long time, there seemed to be a sense of bewilderment that we would have this kind of weather in mid-April. This is Bears weather, after all, not Cubs weather. Call it Chicago’s particular weather-related eccentricities. Call it a product of climate change. Whatever it is, there’s a definite sense of expectations being defied. As if this isn’t supposed to happen— not on this day, at this place.  

 

And really, what is Cubs fandom but an eternal struggle with expectations? The North Siders spent over a century laboring under one of the worst curses in sports. Fans watched rival after rival book tickets to the World Series while their team’s players started their winter vacations early. Literal generations of Cubs fans, the kind that insist they bleed Cubbie Blue, endured decades of mediocrity (at best!) on the vague hope that one day their patience and suffering would be rewarded. That there was always Next Year.

 

And once Next Year came, it would be a sort of End Of History. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the old Soviet Union, there would be a sort of endpoint of Cubs history, and the horizon would be marked by the lifting of a World Series trophy. Cubs fans liked to joke that the world would end once the Cubs actually did it— and to be fair, the 2016 US presidential election did happen less than a week after that famous Game 7— but the End Of History is not the end of the world. It just means that the particular way that the past is constructed and interpreted into a story stops being particularly meaningful. It also means that the future ends up looking much like the present at the moment history ended. Less of an apocalypse, more of a Happy Ever After.

 

Of course, history didn’t stop after the Soviet Union failed. And despite the peculiar ways in which its past is sanctified (and even calcified), nothing ever really ends in baseball either.

 

In his book The Chicago Cubs: Story Of A Curse, author Rich Cohen summed up what it’s like to be a Cubs fan under the yoke of forces beyond comprehension and control:

 

“Being a Cubs fan made you different, special, better. Wearing that blue cap told the world that you were holier, had escaped the wheel of profit and loss. The others, obsessed with their trophies and parades, were shallow. We were deep. A Cubs fan understood the futility of ambition. He was a kind of Buddhist. He knew that a different team had won last year and that a different team will win this year, so why the gloating? A Cubs fan learns to enjoy these moments of respite, when the world stands before him in all its beauty— bases empty, two outs, Rick Reuschel cruising. A Cubs fan appreciates every August afternoon, because, for him, there is no October.”

 

Superficial references to the Four Noble Truths aside, there’s a definite sense that being a Cubs fan invoked a set of feelings that lay outside the framework of normal competitive baseball. The struggles were different. The rewards, such as they were, were different. And yet there was always a hope that one day they’d merge back onto the path with the rest of baseball, among teams who had not-wholly-unreasonable ambitions of challenging for a pennant. There’s Always Next Year, after all.

 

Next Year finally arrived. Two years ago. A century of waiting, a season of destiny, a contentious playoff run, a World Series full of Sturm und Drang. And finally, Kris Bryant threw to Anthony Rizzo, and that was that. A whole paradigm, a whole belief system, an entire way of being, thrown down.

 

The 2017 season was something of a liminal space, a stretch of unreality. A halo seemed to settle on Wrigley. Or maybe a drunken haze, depending on how you see it. It lessened as the season wore on, but there was little doubt that 2017 was fundamentally different. There was no curse. There was no Next Year to pine for. There was just the team in front of you. The defending World Series Champions.

 

The title defense fell short, of course. The Cubs fought their good fight against the Dodgers, but it wasn’t enough. Cubs fans were reintroduced to something they were all too familiar with— other teams playing in the World Series.

 

So where do things stand in Wrigleyville in 2018? They’re not the Lovable Losers anymore. But they’re not the Defending Champions anymore either. So what are they, then? Are they just another baseball team?

 

Julie DiCaro, a Chicago-based journalist and broadcaster who covers the Cubs extensively, says that the halo hasn’t entirely dissipated.

 

“It's funny, there are still the same malcontents who wait for anything to go wrong so they can complain. and there are still wildly optimistic fans who think the Cubs have a shot at the World Series every year. I guess the fans are the same as they have always been, but the 2016 World Series took the edge off. That sharp pain isn't there anymore; we don't wonder if we'll live to see a Cubs WS. There's this general feeling of satisfaction that overlies everything, and fans definitely give the organization the benefit of the doubt. While the Cubs aren't the defending champs, they've gone to three straight NLCSs and won the whole thing - so the warm glow is still sort of there. “

 

DiCaro also gave an assessment of Cubs fandom expectations that sits at odds with Cohen’s— that perhaps the burden of the Curse is a bit overstated.

 

“All fans really wanted, aside from a WS win, was for this team to be competitive regularly. We've definitely gotten that. All in all, we're probably a much happier, more contented lot.”

 

Who we are, and how we live, how we love the things we love, is a collaborative effort. (“Socially constructed” might be a more accurate term.) Cubs see themselves one way, everyone sees them differently, and they’re all bound by an ongoing process of reconciliation. Even among those Cubs fans who did not labor under the Curse of the Billy Goat, whose expectations for the team were less fraught, it’s difficult to deny that these are uncharted waters.

 

Uncharted, but not wholly alien. This is still baseball. The Cubs have existed in one form or another since 1876. Baseball’s self-crafted mythology is old and often hidebound, yet there are strong roots and the roots give way to branches. We know this story. The snow melts— sometimes late, but it melts. The air warms. The ivy re-sprouts on the brick outfield wall. The pungent aroma of domestic light beer and mustard and Merion bluegrass fills entire city blocks.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2tiBzIVHMw

 

Even in unfamiliar territory, the signs that point the way are there, if you know how to look for them. History doesn’t end. There’s always Next Year.


The Case for a New MiLB Business Model

By Tammy Rainey

 

Last month, as with every week for the last 60+ weeks (if not more), the news was filled with so much existentially disturbing news that it was difficult to draw much attention to an issue which was, however ugly, not a threat to our civilization. In the midst of the chaos Congress patched together a shepherd's pie of spending and called it a budget and, as they always do they plugged in a plethora of riders that really have nothing to do with a spending bill but which had been paid for by wealthy interests seeking to improve their ability to get still more wealthy.

 

One of those provisions did get a fair amount of attention relative to others of a similar nature, but only within the realm of the professional baseball universe and even then only among those writers, fans, and players who are invested not just in the highly paid major leaguers but also the young men who barely survive toiling for over 200 teams in pursuit of the major league dream. Within that world a good deal has been written on the subject of the very appropriately acronymed S.A.P. Act and I would  not presume to fully dissect all the finer points of the subject.  But for context let me very briefly give you an overview.

There’s a lawsuit which asks the court to require the major leagues to pay their minor league farm hands in a manner consistent with the fair labor laws. The defendants, along with the minor league ownership, argue that such players are “seasonal” workers who are effectively apprentices which is on its face a ridiculous defense and so they managed to find some Congressperson (we still aren’t sure yet exactly who) to negotiate a provision into the Omnibus Budget Bill which excepted minor league players from certain provisions related to the minimum wage and overtime pay. This new law doesn’t completely crush the suit, particularly because there will likely be state law provisions which apply regardless, but it is a significant setback.

 

Rather than go deeply into the many layers of this subject, again which has been done quite well by other writers already, I want to kind of zoom in on a ground level view of an aspect that can’t be emphasized enough: just how very little, in relative terms, it would cost MLB to do right by these guys. Here too, others have run the numbers and written out the conclusions of their calculations. Camden Depot has an interesting piece which helped informed this one which addresses the subject from a businesslike approach more complex than the one I’ve chosen. I recommend it.

But here’s what I want to do. I want to postulate a given minor league guy. Not a star with a big shiny signing bonus, but also not organization filler that will play 2.5 seasons and retire. I want to walk through the system with that guy and postulate a rate of pay for him that is at least decent. Mind you, one can certainly argue that MLB is so awash in billions of dollars (and growing) that these guys ought to be pretty well paid relative to other labor 20-something year old men might be engaged in but I’m not even postulating that. I’m just talking about basic, reasonable, dare I say humane compensation for the men you employee. For the purpose of putting a face on this journey, I’ve selected Blue Jays LHP Tim Mayza.

While it’s very difficult to find an example of a guy who moved through the whole system pretty much station to station, spending most of a season playing for at least five if not six different levels, Mayza comes fairly close, close enough for this example. Mayza was a 12th round pick in the 2013 draft. Not a big-bonus steal or anything, as draftees go he was just a guy and he opened his career appearing three times in the GCL before playing most of that draft year season at Bluefield.

 

Here’s a couple of caveats before I begin: first, I’m going to lay aside signing bonuses because the question I’m attempting to answer is “how much more would a MLB have to spend to do this?” and the bonuses would not necessarily change because of this proposal. Likewise, I’ll ignore minor league free-agent signings since those negotiated salaries also are not part of my proposal and also operate independently of the base pay structure. Now, let’s ride along with Mayza and see how the journey might have been different.

Per the figures at Camden Depot (there’s a variety of figures reported from different sources, but all in the same range)  these are the pay rates at the various farm team levels which presumably much like what Mayza got paid so far in his career.

I cannot find the current Minor League Baseball agreement, but the numbers communicated to me are these:

Monthly Salary

Dominican Summer League: $300

Rookie League: $950

Short Season A: $1150

Low A: $1300

Hi A: $1500

AA: $1700

AAA: $2400

Players are not paid by the club for spring training or instructional leagues.  Short season payment covers two to three months.  Full season payment covers five months.  This means the yearly expected salary for minor leaguers at various steps would be:

Yearly Salary on Level

DSL: $900

Rookie: $2850

Short A: $3450

Low A: $6500

Hi A: $7500

AA: $8500

AAA: $12000

If a player repeats a level, he is usually entitled to a raise of about $50 a month.  If you are in the minors and score a 40 man roster spot, your pay increases to $88,000.

 

If you’d like a bit more detail there’s a Pitch Talks video on Youtube featuring then Jays’ minor league broadcasters Jesse Goldberg-Strassler  and Ben Wagner (since promoted to the big league broadcast team) and they answer a question about minor league pay starting about 25 minutes in. Wagner expands on the variance in pay once a player reaches the top levels of the system. But again these are not things which address the point of this article.

 

From 2013 through 2016 Mayza spent most of each season at one pay level. In the last of those years he spent six weeks out of that season at AA but for simplicity I’m going to “round off” each season to the level where he played the bulk of the year. Last year he climbed from AA to the majors which if I was really talking about Mayza I’d need to break down but for the purpose of example I’ll pretend he spent all year in AA and was looking at a full season in AAA this year before hitting the majors in 2019 for good. In such a career his total minor league earnings would then be $40,800. For six years of his life. For comparison that total is less than the median income for one year in the U.S. If one worked at the federal minimum wage for 40 hours a week for three years you’d make almost $5,000 more than that. My argument is that such a reality is basically criminally abusive and ought to be a badge of shame on the entire MLB industry. But what might the alternative look like?

Let’s go back then to 2013. In a player’s draft year, he’s drafted in June and signed within a month or so of the draft and finds himself assigned to a short season team. The best of them, usually college draftees, will go to the highest of those teams in Vancouver but most spend a little time in the GCL and sort out who gets to go to Bluefield. All in all those short seasons last just less than three months. Our guy spent that 2013 season at this pay level. I’m going to leave the existing pay rate for this level alone (as I did for the DSL which has so dramatically different an economic environment that the pay there is probably fairly generous). This is a players first summer out of school and it’s not the time when anyone expects to be highly paid, or support a family, or anything of that sort. So per the above figures from Camden Depot (sources vary) he’s collected about $2,850 for his summer of roughly 12 weeks work. Or about $220 a week. Equivalent to about 30 hours of minimum wage. McDonalds pay.


However, that pay ends at the end of the season while almost all of these guys report to Florida for a month or more of Instructional leagues which are unpaid, then they are expected to be back in mid-March for spring training - unpaid. So I propose that pay continue for six weeks after the season.That still leaves the players who are coming back with five months in between instructionals and spring training where they are on their own. Again, these are generally guys who are still very young and a lot of them won’t progress much further and it’s not criminal to let them find temp work in the first off-season. I’m not advocating for the least option here just describing a reasonable minimum. He’s made $4,170 so far as a professional baseball player.

 

Now it’s 2014 and our player is assigned to Vancouver. A lot of prospects only play one season in short season ball but many pitchers, particularly relievers, spend two or more at the level. He’s making, according to the above pay schedule, slightly more per month here than he did at the rookie level, but the additional $200 a month likely is less than the difference in rent between Bluefield WV and Vancouver BC. But those who come back for a second season are now embarked on a career, with obligations and responsibilities and no longer just doing the equivalent of a summer job. You showed up in Florida at least by mid-March to work - somehow - without pay for three months before the season actually starts (short season players literally spend more days at spring training than they do during the regular season playing games that count. I think here is where the teams ought to really diverge from what they are doing now.

 

Let’s suggest a pay “year” that begins when you report to ST, and that at this level “Mayza” gets paid $300 a week during spring training and I propose a salary of $500 per week for the 12 weeks of the minor league regular season.  If the player goes back to instructs then another six weeks at the same rate of pay he made in the spring. So that’s 20 weeks at $300 and 12 weeks at $500 for a total of $12,000 for the period from mid-March to mid-October, basically $1,700 per month. Now Mayza is looking at another five month window where whatever he does to be ready for next year goes unpaid. This isn’t right either but again, we’re looking at the most basic level here.

 

March 2015, our man arrives in Florida for another session of unpaid labor. However since you are not looking at a full season assignment it’s only about four weeks. I propose no less than $500 a week for this. Early in April he’s assigned to Lansing for his first full-season gig which will last for five months. As things stand, remember, he’s looking at $1,300 a month which is $300 a week which is basically dead on (the federal)  minimum wage for 40 hours. Let’s take a moment and note that players arrive at the park no later than 3 PM and are there until after they finish the game, shower and change and so forth - at least seven hours at least six and often seven days a week and that’s only thinking of home games. On the road there are countless hours of travel time which by any reasonable standard they are “on the clock.” This assumes they don’t show up early for any extra BP, or medical treatment, or any other effort towards being a productive quality player, which, let’s be real, happens much much more often than it doesn’t. So, yeah, 40 hours is not a thing. (for subscribers to The Athletic, Eno Sarris has a full breakdown of what a player’s day looks like here)

 

Let’s double that.. If you’ve made it to full-season ball you are at least considered good organization filler at this point. So you should make $2,600 a month at least (which is more than is reported for base pay at AAA). That works out to about $600 a week. No instructs (unless you are rehabbing) by now so around weeks in all and “Mayza” has been paid $15,000 so far in this calendar year. By now, in my opinion, we’re to a point where the team owes players an offseason “retainer” to compensate them for the work they do to be a productive player and help insure them against financial ruin. So let’s give such a player 50% of that weekly rate of the level where they ended the previous season for the 27 or so weeks until he reports again in the spring and account it towards the 2015 total for an additional $8,100 which adds up to a yearly salary from one mid-March to the next of $23,100. Our guy isn’t exactly getting rich is he?

 

So Spring Training 2016 arrives and if all goes well (it does) “Mayza” is going to break camp with Dunedin. This year we’ll stick with the ST salary structure from last year and pay him about $2,000 for the four weeks of work before the season starts. But Hi-A in season pay under my proposal is $4,000 per month, that’s $20,000 for the season. The off-season retainer jumps to $500 per week (which is only fair, not many guys are still in the system at this point) for an additional $13,500 and a “baseball year” total of $35,500.

 

Same pattern at AA but let’s give the man a 20% raise for ST. That’s $2,400 pre-season. Raise it to $5,000 a month during the season (a total of $25,000) and a 20% raise in the off-season retainer ($16,200) for a yearly total of $43,600 which is right around the median income in the U.S.

 

At AAA, we’ll retain the above spring rates and raise the monthly pay in-season to $6,000 per month. For comparison, that’s about what an hourly-wage worker would make if they made $20 an hour and put in 20 hours of overtime in a week. After this year our guy, assuming he’s still in the organization but not on the 40 man roster yet would be a minor league free agent after the season. He will have made $32,400 by the final game of this year.  In this postulated career our “Mayza” has accumulated at least $150,770 in pay for employment that runs from late June 2013 to early September 2018 or roughly 63 months. That works out to on average a rate equivalent to $28,718 per year. Or $13.80 er hour for 40 hours a week all year. To repeat myself, we’re not talking about lavish income here and the pay is still quite modest until you get to Hi-A ball.It never exceeds the median income for the country (until you are added to the 40 man, which is a rate set by the major league CBA, or you become a free agent).

 

So now we’ve come to the question - how much would such an increase cost your favorite major league team? Well depending on the figures you use, what they are spending now puts them between $1.3 million and $1.4 million for the entire system (again, FA signings excepted). That’s less than Devon Travis alone will make in 2018. For around 240 players. This assumes 40 players being paid at each short season level and 30 each at every full season stop. Under my proposal (which honestly is just an example for discussion purposes) that same team would need to spend $4,887,600 for a net increase of approximately $3.5 million. For the Jays, who are in the middle third of projected payrolls, that works out to around 2.25% of what they are spending on the major league roster. Put another way, for the lowest revenue team in baseball in 2016 that would have been 1.7% of total revenue. For the Jays, right in the middle of the pack that year, 1.25%. For the Yankees, a miniscule .67%

 

That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s the amount this multi-billion dollar industry is being stingy with. Over 7,000 young men and, sometimes, their family, draw less than poverty level wages so that billionaires can cling to an amount that won’t generally buy them even one starter at any position on the free agent market. A total of $105 million which, if you think that sounds like a lot consider this: attendance across all of MLB has averaged over 74 million per year since at least 2000. If every ticket cost $1.50 more than it does now, that would be enough to pay the players on the farm in the manner in which I’ve proposed. Would you be willing to pay that much more for your ticket? Literally less than two pennies per minor league player in your team’s organization on each ticket? I’m going to go out on a limb and say pretty much every fan would say yes. The question is, if you did so would the billionaires pass it along to the players, or put it in their already deep pockets?

 

There’s much more that could be said here. For example, ask a minor league player whats provided for them to eat in the clubhouse. You’d think a major league organization would pay handsomely to be sure their best prospects got the best nutrition to maximize their abilities. Not so much. Or take housing. If a given short season team has 40 players under contract and they share occupancy two to a unit, the team could build a 20 unit dorm complex in (sticking with the Blue Jays example) Dunedin, Bluefield, and Vancouver for a reasonably small investment and provide housing for their players. Fifteen units maybe in Lansing. At the upper levels guys are better able to afford rent. There’s a capital investment there certainly, and one a corporate owner might not see the value in but the point is that it’s financially possible if short term profit gives way to the concept of actually investing in your players. But don’t hold your breath. 

 

Tammy Rainey is a contributing writer for Baseball Prospectus Toronto and a trans-activist. You can follow her on Twitter @Tammy_Beth.


Blue Jays Final Spring Training Report: Au Revoir Montreal

By Karen Soutar

The Blue Jays wrapped up their 2018 spring training schedule with their fifth annual two game series at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, and a record of 14-18 with one tie.

There are those who’d love to see Major League Baseball return to Montreal, years after the Expos franchise left, following the 2004 season, when they became the Washington Nationals; however it seems like the (second) honeymoon between baseball and fans in Montreal may be over.

From 2014-2017, total attendance for the two game series was 96,350, 96,545, 106,102 and 95,382, respectively. The spike in 2016 is easily explained, since much of Canada had “Blue Jays fever” in 2015 due to the team’s first postseason appearance in 22 years, and this carried over in to 2016. In 2018, however, total attendance was only 51,151. It’s worth noting that in previous years, the two games were played on Friday and Saturday, whereas the Thursday start to the regular seasion in 2018 necessitated that the games be played on Monday/Tuesday instead.

Still, even with weekday rather than weekend games, attendance in 2018 dropped 46% from the average attendance in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Using the 2017 Blue Jays regular season as a comparison, and eliminating the home opener which is almost always sold out, they averaged 36,362 in 41 games played Monday-Thursday and 42,682 in 39 games played Friday-Sunday and holidays. This works out to approximately 15% fewer fans attending weekday games than weekend games, so it’s reasonable to assume there are other factors at work here. MLB commissioner Manfred has previously expressed interest in returning an MLB franchise to Montreal. (www.cbc.ca/.../montreal/montreal-a-frontrunner-for-expansion-mlb-commissioner-says-...) It will be interesting to see what effect this drop has on Manfred’s future consideration of bringing an MLB team back to Montreal.

But for 19-year old Vladimir Guerrero Jr, it was an opportunity to play professionally on the same field where his father rose to super stardom with the Expos. Vlad Jr was born in Montreal during Vlad sr’s tenure with the Expos. None of this was lost on the crowd of 25,335 on Monday. When Vlad Jr, wearing his father’s #27 on his jersey was announced in to the game as a defensive replacement mid-way through the game, he was greeted with a standing ovation.

Vlad Jr hasn’t looked intimidated or out of place when playing in MLB spring training games this year. This isn’t surprising, as the son of a future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero sr, the younger Guerrero has been around MLB ballparks his whole life. In 4 MLB spring training games, he hit .538 in 13 ABs with only one strikeout. He also went 2-4 with a walk in a game vs the Canadian junior team that doesn’t count in the spring stats.

Vlad Jr has proven to be more than just a slugger. He has made a few impressive defensive plays at third base, and displayed good hustle and instincts on the base path. Some may argue the future should be now for MLB’s third ranked prospect, and that the Jays should add him to their major league roster now. But it makes sense that they’re assigning him to Double-A to start the 2018 season. Vlad Jr is a special young talent, and the Jays should give him every opportunity to succeed; that means allowing him time and experience to develop at each minor league level, not rushing him to MLB before he’s ready. By mid-season if he’s dominating Double-A pitching the way he did at A-ball in 2017, maybe then they should promote him to Triple-A.

Before the exhibition schedule came to a close, the stage was set for a special moment. Bottom of the 9th. Two out, bases empty in a scoreless tie. It was announced earlier that they wouldn’t play extra innings; either the Jays would be victorious or it would end 0-0. Up came Vlad Jr, who crushed a solo shot to left centre field for his first dinger of MLB spring training, and giving the Jays the win, to the excitement of his teammates and fans in attendance. The curtain call afterward was the icing on the cake for the young prospect.

Karen Soutar is a lifelong resident of Toronto, Canada, baseball aficionado and die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan. Twitter: @KarenSoutar1