The WBC, unlike the World Cup or the Olympics is not run by an international governing body, but by Major League Baseball (MLB) a for profit American corporation that is immensely popular among American Jews. MLB uses what they call a “heritage rule” to allow players who are eligible for citizenship in any country to play for that team. The primary reason for this is to dilute American talent so that the tournament proves more competitive. Accordingly, some Italian Americans can play for Italy, some German Americans for Germany and the like. Israel is a big beneficiary, because all Jews anywhere are eligible to become citizens of Israel. MLB, for its part, has encouraged American Jews to play for Israel, because, unlike many international organizations, it recognizes the organic connection between all Jews and the state of Israel.
Lincoln Mitchell and Bobby Curran discuss MVP voting, the NL wild card game and Will Big League Baseball Survive.
The film ends with a now legally blind 93 year old Hano celebrating his birthday, how else, by reminiscing about the great New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell and throwing a few screwballs, his and Hubbell's favorite pitch, to Leonoudakis. Leonoudakis crouches like a catcher, with his fielder's glove on his right hand, as both he and Hano, like the great Carl Hubbell are lefties, to receive the pitches. As the ball travels across about 30 feet, as far as Hano can throw now, it also travels across almost all of baseball history. The history contained in the arc of Hano's screwball is that of the personal stories, favorite players, beloved teams and memories of days in the bleachers that exists inside of all real baseball fans, even those of us who, unlike Hano, never saw the Babe, Don Larsen or Willie Mays.
The narrative that the Mets are lovable losers has probably been seen by people outside New York as one of those strange New York things like saying "on line" instead of "in line," walking fast or knowing a good bagel from a bad one. Outside of New York, the Mets are not compared to the Yankees all the time, but are just another baseball team. Today, they are not just another team, but one of the very best. Perhaps Mets fans will grow to prefer that storyline and recognize that compared to many teams they've had it pretty good.
There is, however, another reason. Pete Rose as a player and manager was gruff, a little sleazy and linked to disreputable characters from the gambling world. The St. Louis Cardinals, on the other hand, are the best organization in baseball. We know this because the media reminds us of this all the time and because their manager wrote a book called "The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life." I have not read the book but am looking forward to the chapter on how to successfully lose in the post-season to teams that you had been expected to beat.
The Giants' ability to produce impact players from within has been central to their impressive success in recent years. The evolution of the Brandons from solid regulars to stars, and the development of another not very widely heralded prospect, Joe Panik, into a very solid starter are the most recent examples of this. The Giants have also gotten a bit lucky with their farm system. For example, although it is unlikely to look this way at the end of the season, Matt Duffy, a player about whom a year ago all but the most intense Giants fans had heard nothing, is quietly having a better year (.279/.324/.388) than the major star, Pablo Sandoval (.251/.317/.371), who he replaced. In an era that is more competitive, with more teams, and more safeguards against dominance by wealthier teams, the Giants continue ability to produce quality players from within is an extraordinary accomplishment and one that goes a long way towards explaining those three rings.
Harper's success in the face of so much pressure is an impressive accomplishment, but it is also part of a broader trend where top draft picks are now more likely than ever, injury notwithstanding, to make become impact players. Harper's teammate Stephen Strasburg, the first pick in the country the year before Harper, has been one of the Nationals' best pitchers over the last few years. Similar recent very high draft picks like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rendon and George Springer are already becoming impact players. Moreover, many of the best American players, foreign players are not eligible for the draft, such as Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner and Sonny Gray were first round picks.
While Rodriguez exploits with the bat have been impressive, his success in winning back the affection of Yankee fans, and even some fans who hate that team, has been even more impressive. Rodriguez has learned that clashing with, and showing up, the Steinbrenner brothers is something that many baseball fans appreciate. For Yankee haters in particular, Rodriguez's success this year, and the embarrassment that success has caused the Yankee management, is probably very dissonant.
If, however, recent, and not so recent World Series history tells us anything, it is that anything can happen this week. The Royals bullpen could blow three leads, Bumgarner could get roughed up in the first inning of game one. The Giants could continue to score runs on wild pitches and errors by the pitchers as they did against the Cardinals. A light hitting middle infielder like Joe Panik or Alcides Escobar could hit a big home run or two to win a game. The kvetching that these are not the best two teams in baseball, whatever that means, notwithstanding, this should be a fun World Series with lots of interesting stories and players, but the way each team got to this point is a reminder that predicting what will happen next is a mug's game.
he games themselves still need to be played and it is possible this World Series could be a less than dramatic one, but that can happen any year even when the Yankees or Red Sox are playing. However, the stories, players and characters behind this World Series are as compelling as in almost any year. If you're a baseball fan and don't realize that, you haven't been paying attention.
The wild card, and the expanded wild card, are not going away anytime soon. This, as Levine points out, is a financial decision that may be bad for the Platonic ideal of big league baseball, but not a lot can be done about that. There are, however, some minor changes that might eliminate some of the randomness and make postseason baseball look more like regular season baseball.
Following a season that was been dominated by MLB relentlessly telling fans that Derek Jeter is class act deserving of their respect, to the point where even Yankee fans were tired of it, Martinez demonstrated that he, like his longtime Yankee rival, is also a class act, willing to stand up for somebody who he thinks was treated badly. That too deserves our respect.
I saw when Jeter when first broke in at the end of 1995, and recently made one last trip to Yankee Stadium to see the great Yankee play one last time, although he struck out so quickly in his last at bat that I barely had time to take a photograph. I want to remember Jeter for the numbers he put up year after year, the championships he helped win, and the many great moments including the flip, the diving catch against the Red Sox where he landed in the stands, the leadoff home run in the 2000 World Series and being in the middle of almost every big Yankee rally for a generation. However, I can live without being told by MLB, the Yankees and their cheerleaders in the media who deserves my respect and reverence.
The regular baseball season now extends over six full months, the first regular season game is scheduled for April 5, and the last for October 4th. The World Series is not expected to start until October 28th, a full 24 days after the season ends and will almost certainly extend into November again. For those of us for whom there is no such thing as too much baseball, this is a fine arrangement, but seven months of baseball is a lot and does not come without a cost.
With roughly a month remaining in the baseball season, it is clear that, at least for 2014, there has been a geographical shift in the game's balance of power. If the season were to end today, four California teams would be assured of one of baseball's ten post-season spots, while another west coast team still has a chance for the second wild card in the AL. Equally significantly, no team from Boston, New York or Philadelphia would make the post-season. The last time none of those three northeastern cities all missed the post-season was 1992. That was also the last year that only four teams made the playoffs.
The more difficult issues facing the new commissioner will be to ensure that baseball continues to generate the profits it has produced in recent years in an environment where the process of turning content into revenue is changing and becoming more difficult. Rising attendance throughout most of the Selig years has been a source of revenue for MLB and the teams themselves. That is unlikely to change in the near future, but the other major sources of revenue, notably cable television contracts are different.
Ellsbury's contract, like that of many of his teammates, makes him very difficult to trade. Not too many teams would be very interested in a good 30 year old leadoff hitter with six years and more than $120 million left on his contract, as that is what Ellsbury will be after this season. Gardner, on the other hand, has tremendous trade value. He is the best player on the team, and one of the most valuable outfielders in the AL. Gardner's contract is also very team friendly and, given the payroll flexibility the Yankees enjoy, keeping Ellsbury instead of the more cost effective Gardner is not a problem for them.
The Red Sox might not be able to trade Lester, or the the prospects they get for Lester may not turn into valuable players in the future, but the willingness of the Red Sox to shop Lester demonstrates why the Red Sox are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. It also presents a stark contrast between the Red Sox and their top rival the New York Yankees. In recent years, the Yankees have never accepted that they are out of contention or decided to trade a player approaching free agency. This has contributed to a cycle that demands the Yankees sign increasingly expensive and old free agents to field a team that is unlikely to play deep into the playoffs.
Duvall is never going to be a big star and probably will never hold down a full time job in the big leagues, but he has brought needed power to a Giants bench that includes Joaquin Arias, Joe Panik and Ehire Adrianza who have combined for zero home runs in 286 plate appearances and Hector Sanchez who has three home runs in 168 plate appearances. Duvall is, like all those other players, a role player but he plays a different role. Duvall cannot catch or play the middle infield. He plays an adequate first base, but his real position is hitter.
The World Cup is an important global event in which the US usually plays a very peripheral role. That was certainly the case this year as the US made it out of their group but lost in the Round of 16. The World Cup inevitably draws contrasts between soccer's global even universal popularity and the American people's stubborn preference for baseball. This is, of course, a false contrast as baseball is popular in much East Asia, the Caribbean and increasingly in a few other countries besides the US. Soccer, while the world's most popular sport, has failed to catch on in many parts of South Asia and is one of several popular sports in Australia, parts of East Asia and North America.