Dec 31

2020 can’t be gone too soon

The Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988.

That’s it. That is the only good thing that occurred in this miserable year in which over 345 thousand Americans lost their lives to a pandemic, nearly 20 million Americans have been infected with the virus, and the amazing speed with which vaccines were designed, tested and rolled out was not matched by actual shots in people’s arms. Only some 3 million Americans have been vaccinated in the two weeks since Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna started shipping vials of the product.

On the baseball front the Padres have been loading up in an effort to catch the Dodgers. In three days in December the team acquired “Blake Snell from Tampa Bay. By Monday morning, they had a four-year agreement with top Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim. Several hours later, they ended a weeks-long pursuit by scoring Yu Darvish and his personal catcher, Victor Caratini, in a trade with the Cubs.”

In labor news MLB showed that it believes profit should always come before people, destroying the minor league baseball structure as it had been for decades because it didn’t want to pay so many employees.

There will be 40 fewer minor leagues farm teams next year than there were in 2019. Those cutbacks hit hardest in the South and Midwest. West Virginia lost all four of its minor-league franchises. The entire Appalachian League got the boot. (It has been reconstituted as a summer league for unpaid college athletes.) The minor leagues—which rely on in-person interactions like concessions and ticket sales—were hit hard when the pandemic forced the cancellation of their 2020 seasons, but that’s not why these franchises got kicked to the curb. Plans to dramatically reduce the number of minor league franchises and players were in the works long before that, because Major League Baseball is filled with insufferable ghouls.

You don’t have to speculate about why big-league clubs decided to reduce their minor-league affiliates by 25 percent. They brag about it. In a 2019 piece at FiveThirtyEight titled “Do We Even Need Minor League Baseball?” baseball insiders argued that the minors were an inefficient way of grooming players to become major leaguers. There were more effective ways to, say, add velocity to a teenager’s fastball or improve a hitter’s launch angle than playing games—this kind of work could be done at closed-door facilities, and any time of year. And there were just so many minor leaguers. Why pay all those prospects, when only 10 percent of them will ever get to Chicago?

[snip]

Paying lots of people to play baseball was a problem, in developmental and financial terms, to be solved by paying substantially fewer people to play less baseball, in substantially fewer places. It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.

[snip]

What little leverage minor league franchises might have had disappeared with their 2020 seasons, although some, like the Staten Island Yankees, are pursuing their options in court. This month, after the realignment became official, the league offered a tepid helping hand to the franchises it had consigned to the scrap heap. Some of them will be absorbed into MLB-sanctioned summer leagues for college baseball players or “draft leagues” for players looking to showcase their wares for scouts—which is to say, they will be replacing rosters of low-paid workers with unpaid amateur volunteers. Others are abandoning the farm system entirely to try their luck in the independent leagues. Nearly two dozen franchises are still figuring out what, if anything, they’ll do next.

Thanks to WBBsAs for the pointer to the minor league story.

Dec 15

Too early to talk lineups?

Adam Weinrib of Fansided doesn’t think so. He has the usual suspects in the usual places, although handing left field to A.J. Pollock and leaving Chris Taylor on the bench might be premature.

Betts, RF
Seager, SS
Turner, 3B
Muncy, 1B
Smith, C
Bellinger, CF
Pollock, LF
Lux, 2B

I agree with Lux at second assuming the season is close to a normal length, which it just might be if the vaccines for COVID-19 really do pan out as effectively as the trials seem to have shown. Lux needs more time to show whether his prospect status was warranted; his 2020 season was horrible (19 Games Played, .175 BA, 3 HR, 8 RBI). He was late reporting to the second training camp before the abbreviated season began and never rounded into the form he’d shown as a September callup in 2019.

This assumes that Turner is awarded a new contract, that Kiké Hernández finds a new home where he can play regularly, and that Taylor and Pederson don’t object to a lot of bench time.

Nov 30

The Hot Stove needs stoking

The uncertainty over the pandemic’s scope and duration is having an impact on baseball’s off-season. There haven’t been very many trades or free-agent signings since the World Series ended the last week of October. While MLB has roughly $2 billion per year in revenue from TV rights (Fox, TBS, ESPN), it derives close to $3 billion from gate receipts (tickets, concessions, parking). A sports industry analysis company called Team Marketing Report created a data set showing truly horrific business results for 2020:

TMR annually produces what it calls the Fan Cost Index, a calculation of the average cost for a fan to attend a game for teams across sports. For the 2020 MLB season, TMR produced a data set looking at how much game-day revenue each club missed out on with the absence of fans. The projection draws from TMR’s 2020 MLB Fan Cost Index and uses what each team saw for attendance across its full 2019 slate of games to approximate the spending that didn’t happen for home games in 2020 because fans weren’t in attendance.

The result: More than $5 billion in lost revenue across the league, according to TMR’s calculations. The New York Yankees topped the list, with an estimated $437 million in game-day revenue lost compared to what the Yankees might have drawn with fans attending a traditional 81-game home schedule. The Miami Marlins were on the other end of the scale, at No 30, with $37 million in game-day revenue lost.

See the projected game-day impact for each of MLB’s 30 teams through the gallery above.

If a COVID-19 vaccine or several vaccines become available to the general public by April the season might conceivably begin with fans in the stands, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s also no guarantee that enough of the public will actually get vaccinated, a requirement before any form of herd immunity can be assured. Failing that, baseball may start its season with cardboard cutouts in the seats again with a resulting loss of revenue.

No GM is going to commit a lot of money to a free agent pitcher without having some idea of how much money he or she is going to take in during the years of that pitcher’s contract. I wouldn’t expect a big surge in player contract signing or movement before spring training begins, or even until it’s close to ending. The US may have a better feel for how its vaccination program is proceeding by then.

Nov 16

Hunkering down, again

With the incredible surge of the pandemic over the past week, I expect that many of the country’s governors will start issuing stay-at-home orders very soon. That being the case, then, while at home we can cook, watch movies and read books. Here are the twenty books in my library I’ve tagged as Dodgers-related. Authors include Jon Weisman, Red Barber, Molly Knight, Roger Kahn, Peter Golenbock, Ron Fairly, John Roseboro, Jane Leavy and Doris Kearns Goodwin. My baseball movies (on DVD) include Bull Durham, Fever Pitch and The Natural.

Anybody gonna read any baseball books or watch any movies?

Oct 27

World Series Game Six, 2020

Rays vs Dodgers, 5:08 PM PDT, TV: Fox

The visiting Rays send LHP Blake Snell to the mound to fend off elimination, while the Dodgers send RHP Tony Gonsolin out to end the Series today. Snell started Game Two of the Series and went 4 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits and four walks while striking out nine. Gonsolin started Game Two against Snell, but he was being used as an “opener” and went just 1 1/3 innings, giving up a home run and taking the loss in a 6-4 game the Rays won.

The Dodgers don’t need Vin Scully, of all people, giving the Rays any bulletin board material!

“I don’t mean to put anybody down,” Scully, the beloved Hall of Fame broadcaster, told USA TODAY Sports on Monday, “but when the series started, I thought the Dodgers would win in five (games). Not that I know anything, but my thought is, ‘What’s taking them so long?’

“That’s probably a dumb thing to say, but I guess it’s not so much the failings of the Dodgers, but it’s a tribute to the Rays. They don’t look very formidable on television, I tell you that. They don’t look like a team that scores a lot of runs. You look at them, and they’ll leave the bases loaded, or nobody out and runners on first and third and trying to steal home. They just don’t have enough firepower.

“Watching the Dodgers all year, the Dodgers are a far better team, a far more formidable team. I don’t think the people in Tampa will argue. Sometimes the weak beats the strong, but these fellows don’t impose a formidable threat.

“I would be totally and completely shocked if they lost.”

October 27 has had more baseball history than I expected, most of it coming in the past 20 years as extra rounds of playoffs have extended the number of days required to finish the World Series.

Lineups:

Rays:

Dodgers:

Oct 25

World Series Game Five, 2020

Dodgers vs Rays, 5:08 PM PDT, TV: Fox

The Dodgers hand the ball to LHP Clayton Kershaw, who pitched wonderfully in Game One of this series, to face the Rays’ RHP Tyler Glasnow, who was Kershaw’s opponent in that game and was gone after 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on just three hits while striking out eight, but he walked six. Kershaw is 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA this postseason; Glasnow is 2-2 with a 6.08 ERA.

I am not going to post video of that last play. I think I’ll be seeing it in my sleep, especially if the Dodgers don’t win this Series.

Today in Dodgers’ history:

  • 1981 In Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, Pedro Guerrero’s and Steve Yeager’s back-to-back solo home runs in the seventh inning off Yankee southpaw Ron Guidry give Los Angeles a 2-1 win, its third victory in the Fall Classic. Guerrero and Yeager, along with teammate Ron Cey, will be named as the co-recipients of the World Series MVP award.
  • 1986 One strike from defeat, the Mets tie the game on a wild pitch and then, thanks to Bill Buckner’s error, win Game 6, knotting the Fall Classic at three games apiece. This event was selected as one of baseball’s 30 most memorable moments. “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words, but more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.” – Vin Scully, describing the aftermath of the play after a long silence.
  • 2005 The first World Series game ever to be played in the state of Texas proves to be memorable when Geoff Blum’s 14th inning solo home run (the 30th Major Leaguer to hit a HR in his first World Series AB) becomes the beginning of the end of the longest Fall Classic contest ever played. The 7-5 victory, which gives the White Sox a commanding 3-0 advantage over the Astros, takes 5 hours, 41 minutes to complete, with the 14 frames equaling the number of innings the Red Sox needed to beat the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 1916 series.

Lineups:

Dodgers:

Rays:

Oct 24

World Series Game Four, 2020

Dodgers vs Rays, 5:08 PM PDT, TV: FOX

The visiting Dodgers ask LHP Julio Urias to keep the ball rolling toward a championship. All he’s done so far is go 4-0 this postseason with an ERA of 0.56 over four games, three in relief. He’ll face the Rays’ LHP Ryan Yarbrough to start; he went five innings in Game Three of the ALCS against the Astros and got the win, so he’s not necessarily filling the role of “opener,” but he might be pulled from the game early.

You may have heard that Justin Turner tied Duke Snider for most postseason career home runs for the Dodgers (remember, casual fans, that the Duke’s postseasons were limited to World Series games). Here are all of them:

Baseball history has many events on October 24, but none really includes the Dodgers or Rays except for 1972 when Jackie Robinson, weakened by heart disease complications and diabetes, dies of a heart attack in his North Stamford (CT) home. The 53 year-old nearly blind baseball pioneer and social activist’s death comes nine days after his appearance at the World Series, where he threw the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.

Lineups:

Dodgers:

Rays:

Oct 23

World Series Game Three, 2020

Dodgers vs Rays, 5:00 PM PDT, TV: Fox

The series is tied at one game apiece. The Rays are the home team for the next three games. Today it’ll be RHP Walker Buehler (1-0, 1.89 ERA in this postseaon) for the Dodgers and RHP Charlie Morton (3-0, 0.57 ERA) for the Rays. This will be Buehler’s second World Series start: he pitched seven scoreless innings in 2018’s Game Three against the Red Sox. It will be Morton’s third World Series appearance: while with the Astros he pitched against the Dodgers twice in 2017, relieving in a Game Four loss and winning Game Seven.

Today in Dodgers’ history:

  • 1945 Dodger President Branch Rickey announces that the team has signed two black players, shortstop Jackie Robinson and pitcher Johnny Wright, to play with Brooklyn’s Triple A team in Montreal. The 26 year-old Negro League infielder will be the first black player to play in organized baseball since 1884.
  • 1951 The Associated Press selects Giants skipper Leo Durocher as the Manager of the Year. Under his leadership, the Giants rallied from a 13 1/2-game deficit in mid-August to win the pennant, beating the Dodgers in a three-game playoff series best remembered for Bobby Thomson’s fabled home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding game at the Polo Grounds.
  • 1993 Mike Piazza, the sixty-second round pick of the 1988 draft, is the BBWAA’s unanimous choice for the Rookie of the Year award in the National League. The Dodger catcher is the first player to hit over .300 (.318), connect for more than 30 homers (35), and drive in at least 100 runs (112) in the Senior Circuit as a freshman since Wally Berger accomplished the feat in his initial major league season with the Braves in 1930.
  • 1998 Davey Johnson is hired to manage the second-place Dodgers, taking over the reins from Bill Russell. The former Mets, Reds, and Orioles skipper, who has finished first with every team he has ever led, will see his streak end in LA when he compiles a 163- 161 (.503) record.

Today in Rays’ history:

  • 2014 After aggressively trying to sign their manager to a third contract extension, the Rays announce Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out in his contract. During his nine-year tenure with Tampa Bay, a franchise perceived as perennial losers before his arrival, the popular skipper compiled a 754-705 record, leading the team to the playoffs four times, that included winning two AL East titles and one appearance in the World Series.

Lineups:

Dodgers:

Rays: