Long Way To Go Home: When the Zen Master Wasn’t Zen

In June of 1993, the Chicago Bulls stood as back-to-back NBA champions looking to complete the first threepeat since the 1960s Boston Celtics. After finals series wins over the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991 and Portland Trailblazers in 1992, the Bulls faced Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA finals.

Phoenix, winner of sixty-two games during the regular season, held home-court advantage over the fifty-seven-win Bulls in a two-three-two finals series format. The Bulls won the first two games on the road, and the teams then split the first two games in Chicago. Holding a 3-1 series lead following their home win in game four on June 16, the Bulls had one opportunity to close out the series at home– game five on June 18– before the series would return to Phoenix for possible games six and seven.

Bulls forward Horace Grant was worried about the possibility of a summer return to Arizona, and Phil Jackson, Chicago’s cerebral coach dubbed the “Zen Master,” was especially interested in wrapping things up at home in game five, including for personal reasons: he had a concert to attend.

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2022 Detroit Tigers Midseason Pitching Report

It’s ugly out there. This was supposed to be the arrival year for the next great Detroit Tigers pitching staff. Instead, Tucker Barnhart, Kody Clemens, and Harold Castro each have pitched more innings than Spencer Turnbull, who still is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and, combined, those three position players have pitched nearly as many innings (7.0) as has Matt Manning (8.0), who hasn’t pitched since mid-April due to various injuries. Casey Mize also couldn’t make it out of April, throwing just ten innings before injuries knocked him out and eventually required him to take the Tommy John medicine. Alex Faedo survived all the way to July before discovering he’d inherited one of Matt Kemp‘s hips. Elvin Rodriguez, who came to the Tigers organization as the player to be named later in the Justin Upton trade, has made five scattered starts, because why not? (His rotation-worst 13.19 ERA is why not.) The two veteran workhorses signed in the offseason, Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Pineda, have not been good in the rare moments they’ve been on the field, and while Pineda recently returned (to serve live batting practice), the team literally doesn’t know where Rodriquez is and apparently hasn’t for some time. Tarik Skubal stood amidst the carnage and looked ready to thrive, but he fell apart sometime in mid-June and has not yet commenced the reassembly process. (Skubal’s pitching as I write, so maybe this will serve as a reverse jinx.)

This leaves Beau Brieske as the first-half star of the Detroit rotation, just as everyone predicted. He shouldered more innings than every Tigers starter other than Skubal and, since June 1, he leads those starters in ERA (3.35), FIP (3.64), and fWAR (0.8). All of this of course made today’s injury announcement even more predictable. The twenty-seventh-round draft pick out of CSU-Pueblo will be out until at least August with a sore throwing arm. Considering the 91.2 innings he’s pitched for Detroit and Toledo in about three months nearly match the 106.2 innings he threw in a full season of minor-league ball in 2021 (and far exceed the 20.1 professional innings tossed in 2019), he probably was due for some soreness.

On the other side, Tigers fans have been fawning over the bullpen’s first-half performance. Only the Astros’ and Yankees’ bullpens posted lower ERAs in the first half. That’s neat, especially for a Detroit franchise with a recent history of notable struggles in that department. Maybe don’t look much further than that, though, because there’s good reason to expect the relief corps to collapse down the stretch as well. As a consequence of the severe rotation problems, the Detroit bullpen was highly taxed, and that fatigue, which very possibly will be further exacerbated in the next two weeks by trade departures, should start to manifest itself in terms of in-game results. Independent of that, an expected return to ordinary home-run/fly-ball fluctuations– the gap between the bullpen’s 3.31 FIP and 4.06 xFIP suggests a good deal of good luck in this regard– also would bring this group back to Earth.

Manager A.J. Hinch has the unenviable task of patching together enough functioning arms to cover the roughly 630 innings remaining in this season. His navigation of that obstacle course alone may make this second half worth watching.

MLB.TV.PSA

Readers of this website know that this author is among the last people on Earth who would go out of his way to promote an MLBAM business decision, but here you are, reading a post by me notifying you that MLB.tv is on sale today for a loosely speaking fair-ish price.

Of course, this occasion mostly serves as a reminder of MLB’s callous media-distribution practices. Six years ago, the league settled an antitrust lawsuit attacking things like its telecast blackout policy and centralized MLB.tv product by agreeing to make pricing and offering concessions to fans. Specifically, the seasonal price of the full MLB.tv package at that time would drop from $129.99 to $109.99, and the league would create a new, single-team package at a seasonal price of $84.99. These prices were to remain fixed for five years (i.e., through the 2020 season), subject to annual increases only up to the higher of three percent or the rate of inflation.

Now, that settlement agreement has expired, and MLB is seizing the opportunity to undo its effects. Most obviously, across-the-board pricing is up, doubly insulting as the league simultaneously excludes games from the full MLB.tv package for the benefit of its new partnerships with NBC and Apple.

Perhaps even more underhanded, however, is the soft killing of the single-team MLB.tv package. When first offered, the single-team option was priced at seventy-seven-percent of the full package price, then a twenty-five-dollar difference. MLB now has aggressively closed that gap. At today’s sale pricing, for example, the cost of the single-team option has jumped to eighty-six-percent of the full package price, just a ten-dollar difference. Stated otherwise, someone considering a single-team package can receive a thirty-fold increase in programming for just ten additional dollars. “Even you dummies know that’s a good deal,” fans hear Rob Manfred saying in their heads, even as they wonder why it doesn’t quite feel like a deal. The move to neutralize the single-team package feels like a purely spiteful move designed to achieve the functional undoing of one of the settlement agreement’s most visible achievements without any meaningful cost savings to MLB.

As I have been writing here for years, the message should be a simple one: “Rather than changing the game he wants people to watch . . . Manfred ought to change the way people can watch the game, obviously by making it easier for them to do so.” For how much longer can Manfred continue to squeeze baseball’s fans– including, as a recent example, Padres fans required to purchase yet another streaming service to watch this morning’s Peacock-exclusive game against the Atlanta Braves beginning at 8:35 am San Diego time– remains to be seen.

Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th Hit Put Him in Exclusive Company (via FanGraphs)

Miguel Cabrera had to wait a couple of extra days to make history, thanks to a hitless afternoon capped by a controversial managerial decision and then a rainout. Nonetheless, on Saturday afternoon he collected his 3,000th career hit with a single off the Rockies’ Antonio Senzatela. In doing so, he joined some elite company as not only the 33rd player to reach 3,000 hits, but also the seventh to do so as a member of the 500-homer club and the third to reach both of those round numbers with a career batting average of .300 or better. The other two? Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. You may have heard of them, and even if you don’t put much stock in batting average, you have to admit that’s about as cool as company gets.

What’s more, Cabrera actually owns the highest batting average and on-base percentage of the seven players who have both milestones, with a wRC+ that trails only Mays and Aaron[.]

For all of his struggles over the past half-decade, Cabrera would still have to go 0-for-352 to drop his batting average to .299. Even with those struggles and his lack of defensive value (he’s 102 runs below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved, including 11 below in just 847.1 innings at first base since 2018), he ranks 11th in JAWS among first basemen (68.8/44.8/56.8), in no danger of slipping below Palmeiro (13th at 71.9/38.9/55.4) or Murray (16th at 68.7/39.2/53.9). And while he may be the last to reach 3,000 hits for some time given the dearth of candidates (Dan Szymborski put Jose Altuve, who has 1,783 hits, at 34% and Freddie Freeman, who has 1,723 hits, at 28% last September), he’s hardly the least.

Cabrera joined Ty Cobb and Al Kaline as the other players to reach 3,000 hits as Tigers. As ESPN’s Marly Rivera pointed out, he’s the first Venezuelan to reach 3,000 hits and the seventh Latino, after Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, Palmeiro, Rodriguez, Adrián Beltré, and Pujols. … Read More

(via FanGraphs)

[UPDATED] Braves not Truist to their word on new tax handouts (via AJC)

The fact that the Atlanta Braves got a ton of cash from taxpayers to build their new ballpark is largely forgotten in the wake of the team’s World Series victory.

But there was an understanding when the Braves got $300 million-plus from Cobb County to construct its park: It was that the team, on its own nickel, would build all the affiliated restaurants, apartments and office towers ― AKA The Battery.

Mike Plant, the team’s development chief, promised this back in 2015 when he said, “We do not ask, nor do we intend to ask, for any incentives for the mixed-use part.”

Well, that was then.

Last week, the Bravos were up at the plate again looking for a second helping of taxpayer love. The team and their friends at Truist, the mega-bank with a silly name, approached the Cobb Development Authority with the latest scheme: a 10-year property tax break to help build a $200 million, 250,000-square-foot office tower overlooking Truist Park. … Read More

(via AJC)

UPDATE: “The Atlanta Braves and Truist Financial this past week withdrew their application for property tax breaks on a $200 million office tower at The Battery, Cobb County development officials confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”

_____________________________________________________________

Previously
“Atlanta” Braves seek millions more from Cobb County
Ted Turner on the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb County
2017 Atlanta Braves Season Preview
Braves finally strike a positive note in move to new stadium
The political costs of a new baseball stadium
Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves
The Braves are failing on their own terms
New Braves stadium project continues to falter
Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Cobb’s Braves Stadium Bond Deal
Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle
The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues
From Barves to Burbs: What’s happening to baseball in Atlanta?

Introducing Ash Barty…as Herself (via WSJ)

Go forever.

That’s the expectation of great athletes now. The money is fabulous, the sponsors adore longevity, the science is there, the modern accouterments of success make it easier—the physios, coaches, therapists, nutritionists, private jets and more. 

Go and go and go and go. Until the body quits. Until you’ve chased every record and possibility. Until the public has had enough. 

Look at ancient Tom Brady, already back at it. Look at Serena and Venus Williams, chasing greatness into their 40s. Look at LeBron James, pledging to stick around until his own son is playing in the NBA. 

Why not? It can be done. And again: The money is fabulous

Once in a while, however, a great athlete says no more, at an early age, way before they’re due, and they mean it. 

That’s what the tennis star Ash Barty did this week, announcing her retirement from the tour at age 25, while still No. 1 in the world, the reigning champion at Wimbledon and her home country’s Australian Open.

While still No. 1 in the world. Let that linger for a moment. Barty’s playing the best tennis of her life. She’d be a favorite in every tournament she played. She isn’t quitting because of a decline in her skill, or any apparent physical injury. 

It’s quite the opposite. Barty says she’s simply ready…for what’s next. 

“The time is right for me to step away and chase other dreams and to put the racquets down,” Barty said in a short, admirably level-headed interview with her friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua. … Read More

(via WSJ)

No Joy in Mudville, No CBA Deal in Jupiter, and No Opening Day on March 31 (via FanGraphs)

So much for commissioner Rob Manfred’s stated desire to avoid a “disastrous outcome,” and so much for the urgency of the owners’ “defensive” lockout, which was supposed to jumpstart negotiations towards a new collective bargaining agreement — albeit in a most curious manner, with 43 days of radio silence and just one formal proposal to the players over a 71-day span. On Tuesday evening, the commissioner canceled the first two series of the regular season — a total of 91 games, constituting five to seven for each team — after the players union and the owners failed to meet his artificially-imposed deadline for a new CBA in time to preserve the season’s scheduled opening on March 31.

“I had hoped against hope I wouldn’t have to have this press conference where I am going to cancel some regular season games,” said Manfred on Tuesday. Citing the two sides meeting in Jupiter, Florida for nine straight days, he added, “I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”

If indeed those games are lost, they would be the first regular season games missed due to a work stoppage since the 1994-95 players’ strike, and the first due to a lockout by the owners….

It’s worth reiterating that any attempt to reduce the number of games below 162 and thus salaries, service time (including eligibility for free agency), and bonuses would be subject to collective bargaining as well, opening a can of worms that could affect both sides’ positions on other issues….Read More

(via FanGraphs)

The Bonds of Enshrinement: Assessing the Cooperstown Case for David Ortiz in 2022

https://img.bleacherreport.net/img/images/photos/001/750/956/72350937_crop_exact.jpg?w=1200&h=1200&q=75

Earlier this year,* the Baseball of Fame passed an important threshold when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa each failed to secure enough votes for induction on their final year of eligibility (though various mop-up committees conceivably could change that in the future). In other news, David Ortiz was the only player selected for enshrinement this year.

In the last decade or so, the online baseball social media community quickly and unequivocally came to the unwavering position that Bonds, allegations of wrongdoing cast far aside, belongs in the Hall.** Thus, any voter supporting Bonds’ candidacy is cheered as righteous, upstanding, intelligent, and correct, while any failing to do so is an unreconstructed hypocrite. These are the only choices.

As ever with these types of social movements, it isn’t enough to be “right.” One also must be right for the right reason. Naturally, herein also enters the discussion of identifying the right reason why the wrong are wrong, perhaps so as to convert them– upon receipt of the crowd’s wise and agreed critique– to being right. Among collective critics, few devices are more seductive than the critique of hypocrisy, and boy are people who think Barry Bonds should be in the baseball hall of fame enjoying lobbing that one over the barricade right now. As enunciated by ESPN baseball “insider” and live Pinocchio puppet Jeff Passan, the latest version goes like this:

The campaign against Bonds has spanned decades, involving malfunctions of fairness and logic across multiple cohorts.

It starts with Major League Baseball and the blind eye that Selig, his office and the game’s stewards turned toward PEDs. From there came the duplicity of riding the steroid wave to new stadiums and bigger TV deals and exponential revenue growth while villainaizing the very people who fueled it.

Perhaps ironically (irony being another too-seductive critique of people expressing themselves on the internet), Passan’s thesis contains some infirmities of its own. Omission of serial commas aside, this seems to ignore the fact that the Hall is a separate entity outside the control of MLB or its commissioner or club owners. Everyone associated with baseball profited from the game’s pharmacologically driven power boom in the second half of the 1990s, and MLB still recognizes all of the statistics posted and records broken during that era. Among “the game’s stewards,” only the Hall and its electors have tried to deny laudatory acknowledgement of this period of history. The facts do not support this particular smear of Bud Selig and the owners. (Readers of this site know there are plenty of other, valid reasons to engage in that exercise.)

Nor does logic support the levying of this charge. If player-driven, sport-wide profits should buoy the Hall-of-Fame credentials of the players whose playing pushed those profits, then, the theory would hold, more support is due to, for example, the non-serving players who kept the game going during World War II (vis-a-vis the likes of Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams) or the white players, simply by virtue of their skin color, during MLB racial segregation. As concerns this sort of parsing, the far-better and generally accepted view is, of course, the opposite. Passan’s contention is too reductive to be useful.

And none of this explains Ortiz’s first-ballot election. Let’s start with the case for Ortiz. He spent most of a twenty-season career with a very successful, popular, and visible Boston Red Sox team for which he was one of the most visible faces. He was a key part of three World Series championships, adding World Series and ALCS MVP honors to ten regular-season All-Star nods. Ortiz didn’t experience much of a decline as he aged, and, as a forty-year-old, he led all of baseball in slugging (.620), OPS (1.021), and doubles (48) in 2016, his final season. He finished with 2,472 hits and 541 home runs.

I don’t lose much sleep over first-ballot (or unanimous first-ballot) status; you’re either in or you’re out. That said, here, in reverse-chronological order, is the full list of players selected for enshrinement on their respective first ballot:

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Halftime Score: Age statements for past Super Bowl halftime show performers

People say age is just a number. Here are some super numbers:

Extra credit awarded to Phil Collins and Shakira for performing at the Super Bowl on their respective birthdays.

You Took the Words Right Out of My Jam

Nobody hit that grand rock production sweet spot like Meat Loaf, who died yesterday at the age of seventy-four, and who, this now being the end of time for which no one prayed, Satan better hope is not coming his way. My first memory of Meat Loaf was an appearance at an MLB all-star game. (Google suggests it might be this one, but I’m not so sure.) When I later heard the original music he created with Jim Steinman, Prof. Roy Bittan, the Mighty Max Weinberg, and Todd Rundgren, with assists from Edgar Winter and Phil Rizzuto, it was almost impossible to believe it was real, and seeing that music presented in the context of the Rocky Horror Picture Show didn’t make it any easier to believe. Bat out of Hell, Meat Loaf’s 1977 debut, is punch in the face after punch in the face, and the title track and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” are knockouts. A decade and a half later, 1993’s Bat out of Hell II proved Loaf & Co. still had it, opening with comeback epic singalong “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do that).” (Full disclosure: this post is not sponsored by Dr Pepper.)

Meat Loaf’s memory can bear two selections, and these two heavy hitters will serve as this week’s Jam: