Topics That Should Have Been Tackled Months Ago: Should Baseball Expand Instant Replay Beyond Home Runs?

Would more instant replay help the boys in blue?

After a postseason filled with inexplicable mistakes (not the least of which was the Yankees winning the World Series) Major League Baseball and its umpires came under intense and deserved scrutiny for their handling of crucial calls in the playoffs. No series was exempt from questionable rulings, including the one-game playoff between the Twins and Tigers, but the biggest gaffe came in Game Two of the ALDS between New York and Minnesota. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th Joltin’ Joe Mauer stepped up to the plate and laced an apparent double down the leftfield line. Though replays clearly showed that the ball glanced off outfielder Melky Cabrera’s glove and landed in fair territory, umpire Phil “Beer” Cuzzi ruled the ball foul and effectively handed the game to the Yankees, who scored in the bottom of the inning to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Would the course of history been changed if baseball had used instant replay to make the correct call? Is the Yankees’ title forever tainted? Does MLB need to expand instant replay beyond homeruns in order to avoid further embarrassment?  

No, no and no. As much as it pains me to say it, the Yankees were the best team in baseball last season (and will presumably be in 2010) and would have won the World Series with or without help from the umpires (though some have speculated that A-Rod sold his soul to the devil for one good postseason). As for expanding replay beyond just homeruns, it might help baseball’s image in the short-term, but a knee-jerk reaction to one postseason would undoubtedly hurt the sport more than it would help it. 

We might not like 'em, but umpires are an important part of the game.

Despite the findings of a recent study which showed that there is more live action in a MLB game than there is in an NFL game (12:22 vs 12:08 minutes with the ball in play), baseball is viewed by and large as a “slow” sport. By adding replays to calls at the bases and along the foul-lines, baseball would further alienate fans who prefer the fast paced action of basketball or football. If baseball is intent on adding more replays (Bud Selig is not keen on the idea but he might not be the commissioner for much longer) the sport will have to find additional ways to speed the game up (less trips to the mound, less chances for a batter to step out of the box, etc.) to compensate for the extra time added with each replay. 

In addition to making baseball games longer expanding replay would also take away the unique place in sports occupied by umpires. In baseball, more than any other professional sport, umpires are intertwined with the game and its players. While they might not quite rival Leslie Nielson’s portrayal in the Naked Gun, each umpires signature “strike” or “out” call add an element to baseball that help to make it America’s pastime. Mistakes by umpires are an inherent part of the game, and reviewing every questionable call with replay would turn baseball from something organic into something mechanical—further distancing the sport from its origins. More often than not, umpires make the correct calls, and one bad postseason doesn’t warrant tearing apart the fabric of the game to appease a few offended parties.

Let’s leave replay to football and keep baseball from making a change it will inevitably regret. After all, if we don’t have umpires to blame for losing games, who are we going to point the finger at? Ourselves?

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Baseball’s Top Five Breakout Stars for ’10

Gutierrez won't be able to hide out in the fog of Seattle much longer.

Besides “free Krispy Kremes” and “Ken Griffey Junior”, no three words in the English language are more exciting to me than “pitchers and catchers”. When I hear that magical combination of words I know that Spring Training has arrived and another season of baseball is on the horizon. With each new year a fresh crop of stars emerge and make their mark on the game, elevating themselves from good players to great players. Just like Jessica Simpson on the last stages of her “In This Skin” tour, the following players are poised for a major breakout.  

1) Franklin Gutierrez: In the eyes of most Mariners fans Gutierrez already had his breakout season—though no one outside of Seattle or the sabermetric community seemed to notice that in 2009. With a retooled roster that doesn’t include Carlos Silva (that’s one of my last shots at El Guapo, I promise) the M’s are a serious contender in the AL West and, if the team can stay in the playoff hunt late into the season, the best defensive centerfielder in baseball will finally receive the credit he deserves (or at least a Gold Glove). The affectionately named “Guti” made significant improvements at the plate last season, and if he continues to mature as a hitter, has the chance to become a legitimate 5-tool star. Don’t be surprised if Gutierrez goes for a line similar to .300-25 HR-90 RBI’s-20 SB’s in 2010…it is the Mariners year after all.  

2) Madison Bumgarner: You can laugh at his last name all you want (and his first name while you’re at it), but it won’t change the fact that Madison Bumgarner is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. In two ridiculous minor league seasons, Bumgarner has posted a combined 27-5 record with a 1.65 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and a nearly five-to-one strike-to-walk ratio. I don’t care if you’re playing in the Soda Pop Valley League…those numbers are hard to ignore. If Bumgarner can replicate his success in the minors for a Giants’ pitching staff that already includes Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, San Francisco would become a very dangerous team in the wide open NL West.  

Will McCutchen become the best pirate since Captain Cook in 2010?

3) Andrew McCutchen: Hidden in the baseball wasteland that is Pittsburgh, McCutchen enjoyed a terrific rookie season, proving once and for all that the Pirates can occasionally do something right (although let’s be honest, A-Mac will be traded in two years). The former first-round draft pick finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting and put together a solid season at the plate (.286-12-54) and on the basepaths (22/27 in stolen bases). The young right-hander exhibited good patience at the dish and has the potential to become a 30-30 player for the next decade in Pittsburgh (or New York). It might seem like baby steps, but players like McCutchen are a step in the right direction for the Pirates…give ’em another 10 years and they’ll be right back in the thick of it (the middle of the NL Central that is). 

4) Matt Weiters: Sure “Orange Jesus” didn’t quite save the Orioles as they walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (aka the AL East) last year, but that just means he’s in no danger of a sophomore slump in 2010. One of the most hyped prospects in recent memory, Weiters got off to a slow start in 2009 (.259 pre-All Star batting average) but finished the year with a flourish (.301) and he will be counted on to lead a group of young talented Baltimore hurlers that includes Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and David Hernandez (each of whom could have made this list themselves). Weiters should be one of the top three catchers in the AL in 2010, and it won’t be long before he’s challenging Joe Mauer for batting titles and MVP’s.  

Bailey and the Reds are looking to make some noise in the NL Central this season.

5) Homer Bailey: The number seven overall pick in the 2004 draft, Bailey has been anything but a homerun in his short major league career, though his finish to last season showed why the Reds thought so highly of him. The hard-throwing Bailey went 4-1 in September, with a 2.08 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 43 innings (numbers eerily similar to Zack Grienke’s last five starts of 2008–and we all know what he did the next year). Bailey will combine with Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez and eventually Aroldis Chapman to form one of the best young rotations in baseball, and should turn quite a few heads in 2010. The Cincinnati Reds will be one of the biggest surprise teams in baseball next season due in no small part to the emergence of Bailey. Expect Homer to win 13-15 games with a sub-4.00 ERA and about 150 K’s.

Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas’ Retirement Leaves a Big Hole In Baseball’s Heart.

At 6’5″ and 260 pounds, Frank Thomas was one of the most intimidating hitters in the history of baseball.

Perhaps no athlete in sports better embodied his nickname than Frank Thomas. Dubbed “the Big Hurt” by his teammates and the media, the gargantuan Thomas (a former tight-end at Auburn) towered over the baseball landscape as the best right-handed hitter for nearly a decade. The two-time MVP possessed a rare combination of prodigious power and plate discipline that made him one of the most feared sluggers of the 1990’s.

Along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez, Thomas was part of a group of young stars that led a revival of the home run during the early 90’s, peaking in the strike-shortened 1994 season in which he hit 39 longballs in only 399 at bats. Thomas finished his career with 521 home runs, good enough for 18th all-time, though the Big Hurt’s game was much more than just big flys.

A disciplined hitter who led the American League in walks four times, Thomas’ knowledge of the strike zone was nearly unparalleled among his peers. His 1,667 walks rank 9th all-time, and combined with his .301 batting average, result in a robust .419 career OBP (21st all-time, just behind Mickey Mantle and ahead of Stan Musial and Edgar Martinez).

Though the later part of his career was marred by injuries (joining Griffey Jr. in the “what if” club), the Big Hurt still finished 15th all-time in OPS, 25th in slugging, 22nd in RBI’s and 26th in extra-base hits. Sure he made David Ortiz look like John Olerud at first base, and yeah he ran with all the grace of a bewildered water buffalo, but Thomas owned home plate with a modern-day Thor’s hammer. Frank Thomas didn’t just hit baseballs…he destroyed them.

Even more impressive than all the numbers Thomas accumulated is the fact that he played baseball the right way, refusing to substitute shortcuts or supplements for hard work. Despite being a home run hitter in the scandal-filled steroids era, the Big Hurt has never been linked to PED’s and was one of baseball’s most outspoken players about steroids, calling for strict punishments of convicted cheaters.

Frank Thomas retired from baseball as one of the 15-20 greatest hitters of all-time. His numbers alone make him a Hall-of-Fame candidate, but it’s his integrity that ensures he will go in on the first ballot. Happy trails Big Hurt; baseball was a better sport because of you.

This Just Doesn’t Feel Right: Milwaukee Brewers to Build Statue of Bud Selig Outside of Miller Park.

I know Bud, I can't believe they're building a statue of you either.

Perhaps it’s because of his movie star looks. Maybe it’s on account of his turning a blind eye to steroids while baseball bulked up and ultimately tarnished two decades of the sport. Or it could just be that the team had some leftover bronze. Whatever the reason, the Milwaukee Brewers decided that they owed it to Bud Selig to erect a seven-foot tall statue of the commissioner outside of their home stadium, Miller Park (I promise never to use the words “erect” and “Bud Selig” in the same sentence ever again). Selig’s statue will join that of former players Hank Aaron and Robin Yount in some sort of bizarre baseball ménage à trois.   

Selig is a former owner of the Brewers that led a group of investors who purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved the franchise to Milwaukee. According to current owner Mark Attanasio, “The Brewers and Miller Park are in this city because of the commissioner’s vision and dedicated efforts”. Be that as it may, does Bud Selig really deserve a statue? 

Selig has done a few good things as commissioner, most notably the institution of the Wild Card, which has helped add parity to a sport ruled by those with the biggest bankrolls (look no further than the Florida Marlins World Series titles in 1997 and 2003). On the other hand, Selig has also presided over some pretty boneheaded decisions, such as ending the 2002 All-Star game with a 7-7 tie (at Miller Park of all places) and then “resolving” this issue by giving the winner of the All-Star game home field advantage in the World Series (this time it counts–yeah sure). Selig has come under intense scrutiny for his role in the steroids era, and rightfully so. He was in bed with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa throughout 1998 and then feigned surprise and disgust when the truth about PED’s couldn’t be hidden any longer. Selig’s not a terrible guy, but he is a terrible liar.

Mark your calendars for August 24th and then make sure you’re not in Milwaukee. That’s the date Bud Selig will be revealed in all his glory. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take long for some vandals to get ahold of that statue.

Let’s Get Bedarded in Here: Are the Mariners Crazy to Bring Back Erik Bedard?

There's nothing wrong with being Canadian. There's lots wrong with being Erik Bedard.

It’s really not much of an exaggeration to say that Seattle could sign a convicted murderer (or Richie Sexson) and the team would get a better response from their fans then they will if the Mariners bring back Erik Bedard. He’s not exactly what you would call a “fan favorite”.   

Though it’s probably not possible for one player to cripple a franchise, Bedard did his best during his two-year stint in the Emerald City. When he wasn’t on the disabled list with yet another arm injury (no one is calling him soft, no one) Bedard was struggling to last five or six innings on the mound in a pitchers’ park. And let’s not even get into all the players that were traded to pry him away for Baltimore (although we should briefly mention Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and George Sherril). When you look up “unmitigated disaster” in the dictionary Bedard’s mug will be staring right back at you (assuming your dictionary has pictures–I realize it’s not in everyone’s price range). Seattle has made tremendous strides this offseason to repair the damage done to the franchise by Bill Bavasi, are they risking it all bring back a jinxed/hexed/Canadian/cursed player?  

Well, no. This time around is a bit different from Bedard’s first go-round with the Mariners. He’s not expected to anchor the pitching staff, we’ve got Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee for that (thank you Jack Zduriencik). Bavasi also isn’t around anymore, which means we aren’t going to grossly overpay for his services (I’d guess a 1 year/$1 million dollar contract with incentives) and since Bedard isn’t a free agent this time we don’t have to give up any prospects that would inevitably haunt us. 

Let's hope Bedard makes the most of his shot at redemption in Seattle.

It sounds like because of his offseason arm surgery Bedard won’t be able to pitch until the second half of the season, making this deal very similar to the one Boston had last year with John Smoltz (let’s hope we have better success). If he his able to come back and pitch efficiently after the All-Star break and the Mariners are still in the thick of the playoff hunt, this signing could pay major dividends. It’s easy to forget because of all his injuries, but when Bedard is on the mound he is one of the top left-handers in the American League (5-3, 2.82 ERA, 90 K’s in 83 innings last year). Seattle has great pitching at the top of their rotation (Hernandez, Lee, Ryan Rowland-Smith) but there are plenty of question marks after that (Doug Fister? Jason Vargas?) and a healthy Bedard could potentially give the M’s one of the best staffs in baseball.

Let’s try and forget all we know about Erik Bedard and welcome him with open arms as a player that has the ability to help guide Seattle back to the postseason. After all, he owes us…big time.

Is the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl Berth a Harbringer of What’s to Come in Baseball this Season?

Sorry Nationals' fans, not even Drew Brees' magic touch can get you to the World Series in 2010 (or '11, '12, ad infinitum).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, watching Jersey Shore 24/7 or hanging out with Tiger Woods in a “Sex Rehab” center in Mississippi, you probably know by now that the New Orleans Saints will be playing the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7th. Moreover, with all the hype and news coverage that comes with a game of such magnitude, you probably also know that this will be the first Super Bowl appearance ever for the New Orleans franchise (who no longer can be called the “Aint’s”). That leaves only four teams in the NFL that have never been to the big game; the Detroit Lions (shocker), Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. So, does the Saints magical run to the big game give hope to fans of long-suffering baseball teams as it does to the above football teams, or is it simply another painful reminder of how little they’ve accomplished in their pitiful existences?       

Entering their 39th season, the Rangers still have not made a World Series appearance.

Heading into the 2010 Major League Baseball season there are only three teams that have never reached a World Series; the Washington Nationals (including their time in Montreal), the Texas Rangers and, of course, my beloved Seattle Mariners. That’s right, even the four expansion teams created in the last 17 years (Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays) have all made World Series appearances, with the Marlins winning twice and the Diamondbacks once. How frustrating is that if you’re a Nationals, Rangers or Mariners fan? Heck, I’d assume those teams are even more embarrassed than that guy in Viagra commercials who tries to work up the courage to talk to his doctor about ED (though his real problem might not be ED, but the fact that his reflection talks to him).  The Montreal/Washington franchise has been in existence since 1969, the Texas Rangers since 1972 and the Seattle Mariners havecompeted in Major League Baseball since 1977 (these dates do not include the two separate Washington Senator franchises that spawned the Montreal and Texas teams). Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally, but these teams somehow have not been able to reach a World Series in over 30 years of existence. Will that change in 2010?      

Now, before I go any further into depth about the three teams, let’s eliminate the Nationals from the conversation all together, because let’s face it—it’s going to take a lot more than a miracle for Washington to make the World Series next year (or ever for that case). They’re just like the little engine that could, except they can’t (also see: Royals, Kansas City and Pirates, Pittsburgh).      

The addition of Cliff Lee makes the Mariners a serious threat to capture the AL West this year.

The Mariners and Rangers, on the other hand, both had strong offseasons that could put them in contention to make a deep run in the playoffs in 2010. Texas had a solid 2009 season with the emergence of young pitchers like Scott Feldman and Matt Harrison and added a talented hurler in Rich Harden to their roster to complement an offense led by Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young. The Mariners were one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball last year, finishing 85-77, and reloaded their roster this offseason with Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. The two teams will have their work cut out for them in an increasingly difficult AL West, but it’s not hard to believe that either Texas or Seattle could capture the division. Of course, having never reached a World Series, neither Texas or Seattle has a particularly strong postseason track record. Which one has the best chance to break through this year?     

The Rangers have been one of the sorriest organizations in baseball over the past 40 years (but no one’s blaming George Bush). Not only have they never reached a World Series, but the franchise has also never even won a single playoff series. Texas didn’t reach the postseason for the first time until 1996 and have a lifetime 1-9 record (all against the Yankees) in the playoffs. Quite simply, they stink.     

Expect plenty more dog-piles from the M's in 2010. The magic is back in Seattle.

Seattle had a similarly putrid start as a franchise, failing to post a winning record until 1991 and not making their first postseason appearance until 1995 (but what an appearance it was). However, whereas the Rangers have never won a playoff series, the Mariners have made three trips to the ALCS, falling to the Indians in 1995 and the Yankees in 2000 and 2001. Seattle’s overall record in the postseason is a respectable 15-19 (.440 winning percentage) which compares favorably to the New Orleans Saints 4-6 postseason record (.400 winning percentage). Like the Saints, the Mariners have enjoyed a modicum of postseason success, yet have been unable to get over the hump and reach their sport’s biggest stage. That is, until 2010 rolled around.  

The stars have aligned for Sodo Mojo in 2010. Bet it all on the Mariners to reach the World Series for the first time this season…my logic is infallible.