RETIRE 21

Living in Pittsburgh for more than 30 years, it is impossible to not sense the spirit of Roberto Clemente surrounding you. Not just at PNC Park where his statue stands guard, nor crossing over the Allegheny River from Downtown on the bridge that bears his name. Roberto Clemente in death has impacted the community even more greatly than he did in life. Sadly, it took a heroic, selfless act for the blue-collared population of the area to embrace the man and his many missions.

When Clemente first came to Pittsburgh, after being acquired via the Rule 5 Draft from the Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, he already had two strikes againast him. Coming from Latin America and not speaking English fluently enough to make himself understood, he was the subject of ridicule by sports writers and cautious suspicion by a fan base that was not known for its social tolerance. And he was black in a city that historically kept African Americans residents at “safe” distances in specific neighborhoods. Never a person to shy away from apeaking his mind and heart, Clemente spoke out about social injustices and personal slights. Never once allowing any personal anguish affect his steady performance on the field. Clemente cherished his role as mentor to fellow Puerto Rican and Latin ballplayers. He led not by his talents-which were abundant-but by his sense of national pride and ethnic heritage.

Jackie Robinson had two major advantages blazing his trails Clemente never had. While Robinson suffered hatred and disrespect, as did generations of African Americans before him, ultimately he was a citizen of the United States. Yes, it took more than 400 years for laws and social mores to begin to bring about a greater sense of equality. Latino baseball players have never and still not have the legal rights and protections black ballplayers have earned. But the largest (and no doubt most satisfying) advantage Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and the first generation of African American ballplayers had was the ability to witness first-hand the advancements and improvements their sacrifices and struggles paved the way for. Roberto Clemente died living out his legacy and never really realized how his actions made the lives of the leagues of Latino players and communities that have benefitted from the shadows he cast.

Number 47 has rightly been retired by Major League Baseball and worn by every major league player who suits up for his team on Jackie Robinson Day. While Clemente’s Pittsburgh Pirates and select Puerto Rican players will wear Number 21 today in tribute to Roberto, it is time the ultimate tribute to Clemente the player, the man, and the humanitarian is paid by all of organized baseball. Retire Number 21 once and for all-time. No doubt Clemente would have preferred every player donate their time and resources to help people less fortunate every Roberto Clemente and calendar day. But as special as the Clemente leagacy is and shall ever remain, even Number 21 knew miracles did not happen without sacrifice and dedication.

CUT THE CRAP-NO MORE DFAs

’tis the season for a never-ending parade of players being designated for assignment by the major league clubs that own their rights. In some cases. it is an admittance by the front office that they made a mistake assessing the contributions said player could make to their win/loss record. Coming on the heels of the trading deadline, it is simply a matter of making room on the 40-man roster for better player(s) acquired. No matter the reason, I often find myself applauding GMs and organizations for having the courage to admit mistakes or aggressively improving their rosters via the trade route.

At the end of every day, when I read the MLB transaction lists, I find myself getting outright angry. Not necessarily because I value a player more highly or consider a player a “favorite”. I get angry because teams in essence give themselves a mulligan by retaining the players rights should they clear waivers. It is one thing to make an informed decision on a player’s abilities and remove that player from your short-term plans. That is daring to say “hit me” at the black jack table when you have 12 or higher showing; that is having enough confidence in the job you have done and your future plans to risk public or clubhouse backlash. But to make a move and have the ability to cover you ass by having a chance to later stash a player in your system is rather cowardly.

There are several legitimate reasons for 29 other major league organizations to not place a waiver claim on a DFA’d player. Primarily, the reasons are contractual. If a player was signed to a bad contract or is no longer performing up to the level of his contract, then a GM needs to be absoultely 100% certain the player they claim will make their team better or help their team to the post-season. Deeper organizations may truly value a player, but simply do not have room on their 40-man to fit him in. So more times than not, a team is not really taking that big of a risk designating a player for assignment and exposing them to waiver claim.

The solution is simple-when a player is removed from the 40-man roster, he is placed on irrevocable waivers. Should the player not be claimed, that player cannot re-sign with the team that waived him until after the World Series. The more “desirable” players will find a more robust free-agent market during the season. The average player, who for whatever reason was not given the proper opportunity or respect by their most recent employer, may just find greener pastures in another ballpark. It will also eliminate the ridiculously commonplace prctice of claiming a DFA’d player and then a day or week later designate the same player for assignment (Google Daniel Vogelbach if you need a reference point).

One of the true joys of my day is to browse boxscores and transaction wires to firm up in my mind that all is well in the world and in baseball. If a dope like me gets out of sorts when a player is designated for assignment and the final outcome of the transaction is not known for up to 10 days, imagine how the player and his family must feel. When someone dies, we generally do not wait a few days or weeks to legally declare that person dead. Following baseball and your favorite team is complicated enough in the Age of Free Agency without team-friendly rules making it even more frustrating. Just have unwanted players placed on waivers and know at most you the fan and the player involved will know for certain the outcome.

BASEBALL OBSESSIONS ON IL

I am sure 99% of the visitirs to this site really didn’t miss me, but a lingering bout of the dreaded COVID-19 virus has kept this scribe on the bench for the majority of the month of August. For my own sanity, I have been able to contribute my unique Toronto Blue Jays observations via http://www.jaysfromthecouch.com and on Twitter @bballobsessions.

Now that I have tested negative and have started to resume normal activities (well as normal as anything can be in 2020), it is my intention to resume annoying you on a weekly basis here at MYBASEBALLOBSESSIONS.net While many of us will be focused on the expanded playoff field and ever-changing MLB landscapes, it is my attention to distract you from the mundane and share wistful stories about wiffle ball, forgotten baseball teams and leagues, and stuff that is much more fun to talk about. There are a billion people who talk about “REAL” baseball events. Join me in the distraction of fantasy and reminiscence evry Sunday.

BASEBALL COMES TO BUFFALO

During the long-forgotten heydays of the Federal League, Buffalo was the home of the Blues, a competitive if not championship side. Since the demise of the BufFeds in 1915, there was ALMOST a Continental League franchise. ALMOST a move of the Montreal franchise before a game was ever played in late 1968. ALMOST a relocation of the Expos and Giants in the early 90s after building the FIRST retro-style stadium designed by H.O.K. ALMOST (on paper at least) an expansion franchise in 1993. ALMOST is ALMOST a reality today, as the nomadic barnstormers wearing Toronto Blue Jays uniforms will take the field as the “home team” at newly renovated/much maligned Sahlen Field in Buffalo. And no one could be happier about that than yours truly.

Buffalo isn’t Toronto. Nor its downstate bully New York City. Historically significant Sahlen Field has been ridiculed by players, fans and pundits-perhaps because its existing lighting system could not shine bright enough in the field and the city. No doubt the first foul ball down the first base line will elicit cries of “Wide Right!”. Laugh if you will, scoff if you must. Buffalo, New York is home to a major league baseball team at long last. The herculean efforts to prepare Sahlen Field for first pitch and to quiet the elitist demands of players and MLB offices have been completed without a hitch or complaint. I know it is only a 25-game audition, but to date Buffalo has proven it IS a major league city. It has been given a unique opportuniy to cement its bond as the top minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. More importantly, Buffalo and Sahlen Field can show MLB and fans that it can be home to a future expansion franchise-or new home of the Rays or A’s once relocation of those teams becomes inevitable.

Take a bow Buffalo the moment after the first pitch is thrown. You’ve patiently waited in the wings for your chance to be a star. Wise baseball men would be prudent to follow your star from now on.

THE PRICE IS WRONG

I am not naive enough to ever believe any decision made by Major League Baseball, the MLBPA, and sponsors is not about money. Even grizzled old fans like me, who vividly remember baseball before free-agency, know that the bottom line mattered to the leagues and the owners more than what happened between the lines. But given the stark realities of a 2020 baseball season shaped more by lab-based statistics than analytics and performances, has the time come to actually put long-term financial stability over short-term loss prevention?

There are so many pundits and health experts that can address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business and fans of sports than I can. But there is one blatantly obvious positive impact of cancelling the remainder of the 2020 season for anyone who claims to put the long-term health of baseball to focus on: use the approved baseball facilities not for games attended by cardboard cut-outs, but attended to by club officials to continue the development of the future-minor league players.

Over the past decade, the trend of turning away from long-term contracts to older players and towards embracing younger players developed by the organizations. The old adage can certainly be applied here- “numbers never lie” Player performance and consistency has been shown to decline past the age of 30, especially for players who came up from the minors at a younger age and compiled significant innings on the mound and on the field. Front offices routinely make seasonal decisions to choke down remaining dollars of existing contracts or allocate payroll dollars elsewhere. Planned financial losses are more commonplace than one might think. So why not plan for future earnings and face your losses in 2020?

Turning major league facilities into extended spring training sites might seem absurd at first glance. But the whole point of financing and maintaining a minor league system is to ensure success now and in the future. Every trade deadline introduces a group of unknowns to the casual baseball fan when known commodities are sent to a contender for said players. Some teams admit their short-term mistakes and shortcomings with the hope new mixes of merchandise will bring success (i.e. profits). Nothing about 2020 A.D. remotely seems normal. Why not turn the slews of losing propositions this season has imposed on all 30 MLB teams into a shining example of protecting the future?

Yes-fans will scream bloody murder about being “cheated” out of watching baseball, then reach for the remote to watch whatever foreign methadone sport is being given to them to feed their sports addictions. Of course the owners and the Commissioner’s Office will cry poverty, but somehow I don’t think any of them will be praying for the next stimulus package for relief. Naturally it is not what anyone really wants, but if dealing with a pandemic has taught us anything it has shown that even when things aren’t going our way, we still find ways to eat, breathe and wake up the next morning.

Think about the LONG-TERM benefits of giving the future a chance to develop now. Get over the SHORT-TERM sense of loss settling for an understudy version of a major league baseball season. You can’t put a price on happiness…but you can make decisions to ensure future happiness. Give the kids a chance to prove themselves…give yourself a chance to see the future.

STOP! In the name of love

EDITOR’S UPDATE: MLB reported that there have been ZERO new positive COVID-19 tests out of nearly 9000 conducted, outside the Marlins organization. While we welcome the news, we stand by the opinions expressed in this article

I am wretching as I type this, but it’s time to cancel the 2020 MLB season.

Like you, I spent the past 4 1/2 months praying for the return of the game we love. Not your quick, “Dear God give us baseball back” all purpose prayers. Long, contemplative petitions to The Real Commissioner, complete with impassioned pleas and lit candles. Deep in my soul, I honestly believed America could only successfully come to terms with the pandemic if they had live baseball games to give them strength and courage. I was willing to put up with baserunners at 2nd base in extra innings, endless talk of asterisks, and an “everything included” expanded post-season, just to watch baseball games.

And it had been a heavenly weekend, augmented by the MLB Extra Innings free preview. But like Stanley in “Bedazzled”, the Devil found way to take away our joy and turn our dream come true into a hellish Covid-19 nightmare. The news of multiple positive test results for Marlins players and staff, and the subsequent cancellation of two series hammered home the stark reality: a 2020 MLB season just isn’t going to play out.

Sure, the idea of cancelling the 2020 season might be an overreaction. But I argue the continuation of play in a pandemic-fueled world would be fool-hardy. Akin to allowing a child to play with matches to let him learn a lesson the hard way. I am reminded of the line from the movie version of Moneyball, when Billy Beane/Brad Pitt asks the fictional Peter Brand character if he would rather be shot one time in the head, or multiple times in the chest. “Are those my only two choices,” a forlorn Jonah Hill replies. Given the reality of the situation with the Marlins and Phillies, add the very real possibility of similar outbreaks, and you have the answer to the above question. Put the 2020 season out of its misery now.

That doesn’t mean 2020 will be a total loss for organizations. Instead of racing against time and terror to have a season, all 30 MLB teams could invite their minor league players to their major league and alternative sites to create an Arizona Fall League environment for further development of future players. Give 40 man roster players the option to participate in what will amount to a VERY extended spring training. Yes the owners will take financial hit-a huge one. But what insurance does not cover, tax accountants will through loopholes and accounting slight of hand. With labor negotiations on the near horizon, what better shaky ground for ownership to stand on when they seek concessions from the players?

So MLB owners, players and fans. Unite in the call for this 2020 competitive nightmare to end. STOP! In the name of the game we love and light the 2021 hot stove a little early

A Sunday Prayer

Dear God,
How’s the weather up there? I realize you have a lot on your mind these days and I’m sure the Prayer Line is choc-ful-o requests for healings, forgiveness, and the smiting of Donald Trump. But I’m asking for your divine intervention during the 2020 MLB season. It is my policy to NOT involve you or invoke your intercessions in sporting events, on or off the field. Sure I “damned” you a few times after striking out at a crucial time or letting in an easy goal. BTW- sorry for the blasphemies surrounding the Mookie Betts contract and the first baserunner being placed at second base in extra innings. I agree with Jim Bouton’s viewpoint that people often assign You too much credit-and blame- for results on the playing field. Your “hands-off” management style of the Wide World of Sports is greatly admired (sorry for groveling).
But the pandemic-swept 2020 landscape screams out for your Grace and Mercy. I’ve taken enough philosophy courses to understand Free Will and actually listened to enough sermons to accept we should not expect you to do EVERYTHING yourself. Not even asking you to pre-determine results, enhance performances or pick a favorite team( imagine the grievance the MLBPA would file if that happened). Please God, hear my prayer and do everything in Your powers to guide the 2020 MLB season to a conclusion. Leave it to the owners, the draconian MLB.tv blackout rules, and the designated hitter to inflict the pain and suffering baseball fans embrace and expect. It’s only been 3 days and for the first time in what seems like an eternity we humans can seek happiness and redemption in the sport we love. We accept the disappointments and the heartaches as willingly as the triumphs and the sabermetric-driven appreciation of Our Game. Invite us back into Eden for 60 games (I know the extended playoffs might be an imposition).
Amen-let us play ball!
P.S. What are your thoughts on a Bulldogs-St.Kilda Grand Final?

Doctor Strangeglove (or how I learned to stop cheering and hate the Pittsburgh mayor)

EDITOR NOTE: This post has also been submitted as my maiden voyage with JAYS FROM THE COUCH http://www.Jaysfromthecouch.com Their staff is far more knowledgeable and talented than I am, but maybe they’ll show pity

On Friday, 24 July at 6:40 p.m.EDT, the first pitch of the Great MLB Experiment of 2020 will begin its trial run in Tampa . Blue Jays management is frantically trying to finalize a “home” schedule, The team should got to work on tobtaining clearances from Willie Nelson and adapt a new theme song “On The Road Again” to accompany the canned crowd noise in whatever stadium they will play in this year.

The Blue Jays have been exiled from their Rogers Centre home, are essentially teasing their AAA affiliate in Buffalo with promises to “get back to you”, and denied access to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park in the span of 72 hours. Fans can’t get angry with team management, as they had been duped into believing their Home and Native Land would not turn their backs on them. To be fair to the Trudeau government, there was no conceivable way it could grant a waiver to MLB to allow cross-border travel when U.S. state and federal officials seem to be playing a game of chicken with the Corona virus. Buffalo….they do have Jack Eichel and Duff’s Famous Wings. But the Bisons play in what was designed to be a multi-million dollar Lego stadium, to be added on to and redacted depending on whether or not the city would be granted an MLB, MiLB or KFC franchise.

Which leaves us with Pittsburgh PA. At first glance (and upon further review) the Blue Jays and PNC Park were the ideal nesting place for a young Jays ballclub. Playing in arguably the finest ballpark in America, approximately 6 hour drive from Toronto and less than 30 miles from Toronto, OH, a small river town they could have adopted as their spiritual home away from home. Pittsburgh is essentially a football town, so even when the Pirates are good fans barely take notice except for Fireworks Nights. Perfect environment for a young team to flex their muscles and continue to develop into a contender. There is a strong Blue Jay connection within the Pirates offices as well. GM Ben Cherington and his assistant Steve Sanders spent several successful years with Blue Jays and new pirates skipper Derek Shelton was a Toronto coach. A scenario designed for a beautiful partnership.

Not so fast Blue Jays fans-politics are a divisive and prominent part of Pennsylvania life. There is a reason presidential candidates spend so much time and money in the state (though a few extra bucks to repair crumbling infrastructure might be more valuable to Pennsylvanians) Had the offer by the Pirates to share PNC Park with the Jays been extended at the beginning of Summer Camp 2.0, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may well have granted permission for the arrangement. But just as Justin had no choice but to deny border crossings by MLB teams, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto had to do what they often do to get their way- throw a hissy fit and refuse to be team players.

A little background…Pennsylvania, especially its 2 largest population centers Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have been hit hard by the pandemic. Extensive restrictions were put in place for most of the spring and it had only been a month since businesses were allowed to operate at as close to normal as possible. Governor Wolfe seems to have taken criticism of his restriction policies personally. Two weeks ago he refused Lebanon County state funds because its county commissioners ordered businesses open in spite of the Governor’s orders. One week ago, five Western PA counties (including Allegheny, home of Pittsburgh) filed suit in federal court seeking to declare his orders unconstitutional. So Tom Wolfe was not sheepish in his contempt for local business and political leaders. A recent spike in positive COVID-19 testing results gave him the ammunition for his smoking gun. After remaining silent until his surprise announcement via the state health department, Governor Wolfe fired the Shot Heard ‘Round the ‘Burgh. Coincidentatlly, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto got off a conference call with Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx an hour or so before the state’s announcement, on which he an 10 other mayors were spanked for their ineffective responses to recent spikes in positive test results for the virus. Hmmm

Once the announcement was made, I did what any Pittsburgh-based Blue Jays fan would do-I went on a Twitter rant. https://twitter.com/fekless117/status/1286376854899785728?s=19My Blue Jays were going to play a season (albeit a shortened one) in my hometown. COVID-19 took away my interleague series tickets for Blue jays visit to PNC Park in 2020 v.1. Two vindictive politicians were not going to take away my dreams. Having dealt with the Governor’s office on other matters related to education policy and ballot access, I knew he would dismiss any social media attack offhand. So I focused on Pittsburgh’s mayor Bill Peduto, who for the first time in his career refused to speak to the media about his role in the decision to make the Pittsburgh Blue Jays extinct. He did issue a terse Tweet which seemed to borrow from a child’s bag of tricks- “I didn’t do it”. So I turned to the one thing every politician relates to-money. I offered $1000 donation to a charity of the mayor’s choice if he passed a lie detector test supporting his claims of non-involvement. A GIF of a clucking chicken was later added to insinuate his unwillingness to face the music. The Pirates flagship station 93.7 The Fan picked up my tweet and invited me on their morning show to elaborate further my belief that Mayor Peduto was involved in decision and explain why Pittsburgh and the Blue Jays were a positive thing for the city and local business. Alas, the mayor still has not responded to the challenge, or the station’s request for response. I’m sure he’s too busy planning more bike lanes on busy highways to follow me on social media.

As bad as I feel about the loss of a unique opportunity for the Blue Jays to adopt a homefield for one season, I feel worse for the businesses who had a lifeline snatched away from them. And what about the players and their families? This whole scenario surrounding a salvaged 2020 baseball season has been disruptive enough. To have no choice now but to run on to the playing field, in an epicenter for the pandemic, without any notion of where they will be playing half of their future games is a salute to the future of Toronto Blue Jays baseball. Buffalo is a minor league baseball city, but maybe the locals and the Blue Jays brass can show its potential as big league ready. Or maybe the Blue Jays can play at the “Field of Dreams” in Dyersville Iowa. Players appearing and disappearing into a cornfield in the outfield is much more believable than what the Blue Jays have had to experience so far in 2020.

“Arrrgh…where be the mayor’s car”

A RAIN CHECK

As April comes to a close, there is still no organized professional baseball being played in the United States and Canada. I’m trying to get excited about the KBO starting its season in May, but somehow that event just makes baseball seem more distant than it already is for the majority of us. Every week USA TODAY seems to morph into THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER and tease the baseball-starved masses by throwing out crumbs of resuming the 2020 season at spring training facilities, with realigned divisions and (presumably) real players playing meaningful games in an unreal COVID-19 scenario.

I could fool myself into believing I have so many salient, witty and game-changing ideas and comments that thousands of baseball fanatics would refresh their browsers every 5 minutes to see what I have typed next. But years as Marlins fan and my SAT scores are a testament to my lack of objectivity. So I have postponed the launch of this blog until actual training commences and an honest-to-Gooden season commences (in whatever form it takes).

So just bookmark this domain and as soon as baseball comes back to life, I will make it worth your time to read about it.