It’s the tenth anniversary of the travesty that was the 2002 MLB All-Star Game. You know, the one that ended in a 7-7 tie and led to the decision that from then on, the winning side in the game would receive home-field advantage in the World Series. Prior to 2003, the year the rule was implemented, home-field advantage alternated between the AL and NL from year to year. It’s one of three separate but inarguably connected rule-based controversies that dog the “Midsummer Classic” year in and year out. The second being that popular fan vote decides the starting hitters for each side. The third is that all 30 teams must have at least one representative in the game.
The rules are linked because what was formerly an exhibition game meant to showcase baseball’s best and brightest (in other words, a money-making scheme) now has actual value. As such, many take issue with the game’s starters being decided based on fans clicking mouses and sticking mini pencils through holes. Equally many argue that requiring a player from each team often leaves superior players off the rosters, which detracts from the notion that the contest spotlights the game’s best.
It’s impossible to gauge the impact of playing the first and last two games of the World Series at home. In the nine years the rule has been in effect, the American League has won the All-Star Game seven times. The AL won the game every year from 2003-2009, but its representatives were only champions in four of those seven years. The rule’s effects were minimal, if it had any, as the World Series never saw a seventh game. But in the past two years, the National League has had home-field. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants quickly won their first two home games, and had the Rangers playing scared en route to a 4-1 series victory. Last year was the first time the Series went seven, and the St. Louis Cardinals won the game, and the series, at home.
Even if it is impossible to truly gauge the effects, if you’re a fan of a contending AL team, does it sit right with you that Billy Butler might be in a position to decide if your team gets home-field advantage with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth? Or if your team’s in the NL, that Huston Street (who has only pitched 21 innings this season) might have to get that final out? Those are just some examples of the possibilities of the “one from each team” rule. Let’s take a look at who the fans chose, and decide whether they deserve to be starting, or in some cases, even playing.
When you think of the history New York Yankees, the most storied franchise in baseball history, most fans will immediately think about the long line of sluggers and great hitters, with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter leading the way. When you think of the great Yankee pitchers, it’s hard to come up with a list that matches the hitters, but one name that always jumps out is Whitey Ford.
Most baseball fans recognize Ford as a Hall of Fame pitcher, but some of his accomplishments still don’t get the attention they deserve given the notoriety of teammates like Mickey Mantle. For example, with 236 wins, Ford is the all-time leader in wins in a Yankee uniform. His first 20-win season came in 1961 when he finished 25-4 record and won the Cy Young Award. But that’s also the season when the entire nation was glued to the home run chase between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
You don’t have to explain this to die-hard Yankee fans however, as Ford was the best pitcher on one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history. In two separate stretches he pitched game one of the World Series four years in a row! Overall he was 10-8 after 22 starts World Series starts. Nobody has won or started more World Series games.
When you look at his career, there are a couple of fascinating things that jump out. Ford has the best all-time winning percentage (.690) among all pitchers with at least 300 career decisions. Ford had a lifetime ERA of 2.75 and his worst ERA was 3.24. Since the advent of the Live Ball Era in 1920, Ford’s lifetime ERA is the lowest. One interesting record involved his excellent move to first base, as he set a record in 1961 for not allowing a stolen base over 243 consecutive innings.
Ford served in the Korean War, so he was a veteran like many of the greats from the 40s, 50s and 60s. He once joked, “Army life was rough. Would you believe it, they actually wanted me to pitch three times a week.”
As a member of those iconic Yankee teams with greats like Mantle, Ford will always be beloved by Yankee fans. For them he’ll always be the Chairman of the Board. But he’s also one of the greatest left handed pitchers in history.
Will the Tigers run away with things in the American League after acquiring Prince Fielder? Or will the Angels make a trip to the World Series after adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this winter?
Are the Phillies due for a major letdown? Are the Giants ready to bounce back with a healthy Buster Posey back in their lineup? Who is the team to beat in the National League this year?
Below are our predictions for the 2012 MLB Season. Don’t like them? Then tell us who you’re picking, tough guy. All comments are welcome and this is meant to be fun, so enjoy the read and enjoy another season of baseball bliss!
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay walks off the field after warm ups before his team plays the Toronto Blue Jays in their MLB Interleague baseball game in Toronto, July, 1, 2011. Halladay is a former Blue Jays pitcher. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
I’m so used to sliding the Phillies into the No. 1 spot in the NL East that I nearly did it again this year. But even though Philly has the best starting rotation in the division, I like the Braves to ultimately take advantage of the Phillies’ injury problems. Losing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for the first part of the year will cause the Phillies to start out slow and they could potentially miss the playoffs altogether if Roy Halladay carries his poor spring into the regular season. Atlanta’s starting rotation is solid and its bullpen is very good as well. There’s a good chance that no Brave will hit over .300 this year but they have speed in Michael Bourn, power in Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward, and a couple of guys that can get on base. Assuming they don’t choke in pressure moments like in each of the last two seasons, I like the Braves to overtake the Phillies in this division… There’s too much talent on the Marlins’ roster for them not to be in the thick of things this year in the NL East. That said, what a combustible situation. Does anyone not think problems will arise with Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Carlos Zambrano in the same clubhouse? And with Ozzie Guillen leading them, no less? Maybe Guillen is the right manager to ensure the club stays unified and I do like the additions of veterans Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to the pitching staff. But I just can’t see this team crossing the finish line before imploding first…I really liked what the Nationals did this offseason in adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to their starting rotation. Assuming Stephen Strasburg rebounds from his Tommy John surgery, the Nats won’t be pushovers thanks to an excellent rotation and a solid bullpen. I just don’t like the offense. There’s not a hitter in that lineup that’s projected to hit over .300 and there’s not a lot of speed past Ian Desmond at the top of the order. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nationals challenged for one of the two Wild Card spots but I think they’re still another hitter away (unless Jayson Werth somehow surprises)…The Mets remain in a hell of their own making. Until they get some of their bad contracts off the books, this team will struggle to compete in a good division. Of course, if Johan Santana and Andres Torres bounce back to what they were a couple of years ago, the Mets could surprise. But that would mean David Wright, Ike Davis and Jason Bay would have to produce big seasons and I just don’t see it happening. When stacked up against the rest of the division the Mets are the clear doormats.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
St. Louis Cardinals’ Skip Schumaker (L-R), Matt Holliday and Jason Motte celebrate their win over the Texas Rangers after game 1 of the World Series at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2011 in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. UPI/Brian Kersey
Why the Cardinals? Because they always find a way to compete and despite losing Albert Pujols, their roster remains balanced. Matt Holliday is the key to whether or not this team will make another World Series run but he’ll have help thanks to Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, David Freese and Yadier Molina. This team also has a couple of complementary pieces in Jon Jay, Rafael Furcal and Allen Craig as well. The starting rotation took a hit when Chris Carpenter was shelved this spring with nerve damage in his back/shoulder. But if Adam Wainwright (who has had a tremendous spring) bounces back from Tommy John surgery, the rotation should be fine. (Kyle Lohse remains underrated, Jake Westbrook is coming off a nice spring, Jaime Garcia has very good stuff and the club is high on youngster Lance Lynn.) The question is: Can the Cards stay healthy all year? World Series teams tend to break down the year after appearing in the Fall Classic and the Cards already have a ton of injury questions heading into the year…The Reds are viewed by most pundits as the favorites to win this division and I can’t argue too much with that line of thinking. Landing Mat Latos in a trade with the Padres was a massive upgrade to their starting rotation and you know Joey Votto will mash again this year. But I just think the Cardinals have more balance from top to bottom and if they stay healthy, they’ll win the Central. That said, if St. Louis breaks down, then Cincinnati should run away with the division…Even though the starting rotation is very good (especially the 1-2 punch of Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke), the Brewers are poised to take a step back without Prince Fielder in the middle of their lineup. Ryan Braun will still be Ryan Braun but he doesn’t have Fielder protecting him in the order and who knows how he’ll handle playing on the road in the wake of his PED fiasco this past offeason. Still, Aramis Ramirez was a nice get if he can stay healthy and this lineup has plenty of pop. I just think the Brew Crew will eventually fade down the stretch…If Cubs fans can stay patient, new GM Theo Epstein will bring a winner to the Windy City (although I use the term “winner” very loosely). Until then, they’ll need to enjoy watching youngster Starlin Castro play because that’s about all the 2012 Chicago team will offer. It was huge of Epstein to unload Carlos Zambrano and get a promising young pitcher in Chris Volstad in return, and landing Anthony Rizzo in a deal with the Padres was solid as well. But this team is devoid of talent right now and it’s going to take Epstein a few offseasons to beef up the roster…The Pirates were a feel good story before the All-Star Break last season but their youth and lack of overall talent eventually caught up to them. I love Andrew McCutchen and their lineup features some nice players in Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones. But the starting pitching is weak and McCutchen can’t carry the team by himself. Maybe Pittsburgh will make things interesting for its fans again this year but eventually, the Cardinals, Reds or Brewers will overtake them in the division…It’s downright cruel of the Astros to ask their fans to pay for tickets, parking and concessions. The games should be free given what kind of product management will put on the field this year. There’s not a 20-plus home run player in their lineup and their starting rotation is weak outside of Wandy Rodriguez. Even in a weak division Houston doesn’t have enough to compete and I can’t envision a scenario in which the Astros surprise. They’ll be out of it by the All-Star Break.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey doffs his hat to the fans on introductions before the World Series Champion Giants’ home opener at AT&T Park in San Francisco on April 8, 2011.
I don’t agree with some of the decisions that Brian Sabean made this offseason (or in prior offseasons for that matter), and I remain perplexed as to why the Giants are so hesitant to start Brandon Belt when they’re a club in desperate need of offense. But I like the Giants to re-claim the NL West this season. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have never been healthy and productive in the same season but I think that all changes this year. Melky Cabrera was a nice addition to the lineup and once he’s healthy, having Freddy Sanchez back in the mix at second base will be huge as well. Of course, the Giants will win because of their pitching. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Volgelsong are fantastic and will cover up the weaknesses of the offense (and Barry Zito, who is horrifyingly bad). Assuming they don’t suffer any big injuries, I like the Giants to make a run this year…That said, if the Giants slip then the Diamondbacks will be there again when they fall.Arizona was very good last season and it went out and improved its pitching staff with the additions of Trevor Cahill and Takashi Saito this offseason. The lineup also offers plenty of power thanks to Justin Upton, Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young, so why am I not picking the D-Backs to repeat as NL West champs? Because I think they’ll have more competition this season than they did last year. The Giants are healthy again, while the Rockies, Dodgers and Padres all improved in some areas. I see a slip coming for Arizona, although I do like the Snakes to claim one of the Wild Card spots…The Dodgers have been a mess off the field the past couple of years but their on-field product isn’t as bad as some think. Led by ace Clayton Kershaw, the starting rotation is underrated and the lineup features star Matt Kemp. That said, the Dodgers have a tendency to underachieve and while I firmly believe that they have enough to compete, I think they’ll eventually slide to the middle of the pack in the National League…Some folks are high on the Rockies’ potential and I can see why looking at their lineup. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are studs, and the additions of Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez will only help an offense that also features nice complementary pieces in Dexter Fowler and Todd Helton. But their pitching scares me. They don’t have that bona fide ace that will go out and stop the bleeding in the middle of a losing streak and I think over time, their bats will be silenced by teams like the Giants and Diamondbacks, who do have the arms to make a postseason run…I like what the Padres are doing but they just don’t have enough weapons to compete this year. Trading Mat Latos and Anthony Rizzo may help this club in the future, but for now San Diego will have to make due with what it has. And outside of Jesus Guzman and Yonder Alonso, “what it has” simply won’t be good enough.
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay (L) and catcher Carlos Ruiz celebrate after Halladay’s no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the MLB National League Division Series baseball playoffs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
My 2011 MLB season predictions were a little off this year.
I said the A’s would win the AL West and they actually finished 22 games out of first.
I said the White Sox would win the AL Central and they just traded their manager to another team, which sums up how well they did this year.
I said the Giants would repeat as National League champions and in doing so I cursed Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Freddy Sanchez and the 900 other players they placed on the DL this season.
I had the Braves winning the NL Wild Card and we all know how that turned out. Yiiiiiikes.
While I did have the Phillies winning the NL East and the Yankees making the postseason as the AL Wild Card, those were gimmies. My only claim to fame was predicting the Brewers to win the NL Central, although when you have the Red Sox winning the World Series and they don’t even make the postseason you have no right to brag about anything.
So if you’re offended by my postseason predictions below, don’t be. Chances are I’ll be wrong anyway.
ALDS: Yankees over Tigers.
I don’t trust the Yankees’ pitching but I trust it more than I trust Doug Fister. Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in the American League this season but he’s had a knack for coming up short on the road throughout the years. Knowing the Yankees they’ll be down in every game of this series and figure out some way to advance. Derek Jeter will be 16-for-18 with 11 doubles and one game-winning home run or something ridiculous.
NLDS: Phillies over Cardinals.
The Phillies did the Cardinals a favor by beating Atlanta but if I were them, I would have wanted the downtrodden Braves to advance. That team would have just been happy to reach the postseason after a miserable September. Nevertheless, the Phillies’ pitching will dominate the hot-and-cold St. Louis lineup and the Cardinals’ pitching will fail them in Philadelphia. They’ve got Edwin Jackson slated to start Game 2 in that bandbox the Phillies’ call a stadium, which should work out well considering he’s a fly ball pitcher. (Read: sarcasm.)
New York Yankees Derek Jeter stands next to Christian Lopez, the man who caught hit number 3000, at a press conference after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium in New York City on July 9, 2011. Jeter hits career hit number 3000 with a solo home run in the third inning. UPI/John Angelillo
How great is it that Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit was a home run? Not because a home run is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but because it wound up being a nice metaphorical middle finger to those who have criticized him over the last couple of weeks for being a player who “just hits bloop singles.”
Of course, had he just hit a bloop single, then he wouldn’t have had to worry about whether or not he was ever going to get the ball back.
Since his historic 3,000th hit landed in the stands behind the left field wall, the ball theoretically belonged to Christian Lopez. He’s the 23-year-old Yankee fan who caught the ball and was immediately ushered into the bowels of Yankee Stadium to ask what he wanted in exchange for the piece of history. Instead of hanging onto the prized possession for a while, Lopez decided to hand deliver the ball to Jeter after meeting him in the clubhouse following the game.
Some have estimated that the ball would sell for $50,000 to $250,000 in the collectibles market. But instead of cashing in, Lopez swapped the ball for a couple of autographed bats, balls and jerseys, and the Yankees pitched in with four Champions Suite season tickets for every remaining home game this season, including the playoffs. On top of meeting Jeter and the rest of the team in the clubhouse, it was all Lopez wanted in exchange for No. 3,000.
Since Jeter hit his historic shot, I’ve had separate conversations with friends and family members regarding what they would have done with the ball. It’s been interesting to hear their responses.
Several people said they would have sold the ball to the highest bidder and wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Another said he would have done the same thing Lopez did, which was give the ball back for a chance to meet Jeter and some of the other Yankees. If they received tickets and autographs on top of that, great. But it wouldn’t have been anything they specifically asked for.
That got me thinking: What would I have done with Jeter’s 3,000th hit, or any historic home run ball that I caught for that matter? My answer is simple: I’d give it back. I wouldn’t give it back without the opportunity to visit the clubhouse, speak with the players and maybe take a handful of pictures with them, but I would give it back without trying to sell it. No question.
Ever since my father bought me my first glove and used to throw pop flys to me in the front yard, I have loved the sport of baseball. I have been a Giants fan ever since Will Clark blew me away with his smooth swing and no-nonsense attitude in the late 80s. Had I caught a historic home run that he hit, money would be the last thing on my mind. Having the opportunity to catch the ball and be a part of history, all while meeting the team and getting a few autographs, would have been enough for me. As a person who cherishes the game, just being a part of the moment would be worth its weight in gold. I would have a story and an experience that I would remember for the rest of my life.
But I’m also a diehard baseball fan. The people who I spoke with this weekend who said they would try to get as much in return for the ball as possible aren’t diehard fans, so cashing in makes sense to them. I can’t speak for him personally, but if I were to take a guess as to what fellow TSR writer John Paulsen would do, I think he would be looking to cash in as well. Baseball just doesn’t appeal to John as the NBA or NFL does, so meeting Jeter or Clark or anyone else wouldn’t carry the same weight as X amount of cash would.
And that’s not to say that anyone is right or wrong here, or that you’re a money-grubbing person because you would try and sell the piece of history. If I got my hands on a historic game-winning soccer ball, you better believe I would sell that piece of rubber and air for as much as I could. The same could be said for any NBA, golf, or NASCAR memorabilia that I caught/received/stole. Those sports just don’t have the same impact in my life as baseball does, so I certainly understand if people thought it was crazy for Lopez not to sell Jeter’s 3,000th hit. It’s all relative.
But in the wake of Jeter’s moment, let’s stick with baseball. What would you do with a historic home run ball? It doesn’t have to be Jeter’s 3,000 hit – it could be anything that you believe would be valuable to you in some way or another. Would you sell it to the highest bidder? Exchange it for autographs and a chance to meet the players? Keep it as part of your personal collection? Sell it for booze and women? There are no wrong answers here, so let them fly in the comments selection.