Until last Sunday night, I was still an agnostic World Series fan.
I have had connections with the Kansas City Royals and the Anaheim Angels over the years I have owned radio stations and I grew up between the Cubs and the Cards.
I have absolutely zero connections with either the Washington Nationals or the Houston Astros. When they both got into the series, I looked forward to a “may the best team win” kind of series.
But when the President attended Game 5 in Washington’s taxpayer-built stadium, he was introduced. And booed.
Those self-entitled Washington dumbasses weren’t actually booing the President as much as they were booing the 63,000,000 of us in real America who elected him.
Washington is a town which is packed with people who want things one way. Their way. They don’t want us interrupting their making a fine living at our expense. Even if it comes down to a baseball game.
Now the President took it very well. He wasn’t the first President to be booed and certainly won’t be the last.
But I’m still more than a little bit pissed off.
Not for the disrespect to the office, which I would have resented for any President.
But for the disrespect to America. That America which is called “flyover country” by those who were doing the booing.
Who, exactly, do these idiots think they are? It looked to me like Washington, D.C. giving the rest of America—at least that part west of the Hudson River, East of the LA County line and South of the Cook County line—an upraised middle finger.
Now, if it were simply about baseball, well, where I grew up, you had to choose up sides between the Cubs and the Cards. I could take it. But we all know it’s not. It’s about the swamp. It’s about people who make a lot of money on our backs both in and out of government but almost always with money which comes from the very people they were booing.
These are the people who—like fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok—say things like “Just went to a Southern Virginia Walmart. I could smell the Trump support.” Which he texted on an FBI cell phone, which we paid for, to his illicit lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, prior to the 2016 election.
Truth be told, they think that Houston is flyover country. Just another place where you could “smell” the Trump support.
Baseball is thought of as our national pastime. Apparently everywhere but Washington DC, where politics is a blood sport and anything which advances those politics goes. In my media life—which started as a sportswriter—I have only seen umpires booed at a baseball game.
And I would have a hard time enumerating the baseball games I have seen save to say it is a very large number. Into five figures.
It’s just not a sport which lends itself to that sort of behavior.
Which makes what happened enough to want to see the Nationals move—perhaps to Las Vegas. D.C. doesn’t deserve a team.
As this is being written, the Nationals have forced a game seven and the series will be won or lost in Houston.
Understand that the players were not booing the President or us. Baseball players can be traded, sent down to the minors or cut at the whim of a General Manager. Indeed, some Washington players GREW UP in Houston.
That said, the Nationals would perform just as well if not better with Las Vegas or any other city except the swamp emblazoned on their jerseys.
And any more stupidity from the so-called “fans” of the Nationals should tell Major League Baseball that such a move would probably not offend the 63,000,000 people who voted for this President.
As a Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, I have plenty of personal experience when it comes to overpaying for season ticket packages because of lofty playoff hopes. This year, though, it was the Twins and not the Timberwolves that put a paltry product on the field, even with Jimmy Butler inevitably being traded before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 7 at 3 p.m. EST.
The $539 I paid for a 10-game, flex season ticket package for the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 season was a relative steal compared to the $760 I paid for a 20-game, flex season ticket package with the Twins’ for the 2018 season. Neither is the cheapest season ticket package available that assures you playoff ticket priority, but sometimes the seats are the only thing that make a Twins game worth watching, whereas the Timberwolves have an ample amount of visiting teams with players and even coaches worth watching.
Picking the games I’ll attend each season is like a holiday. I determined which dozen games I wanted to see moments after the NBA schedule was released, and I chose most of my Twins games on the same day. But instead of cutting Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Oklahoma City Thunder along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks from my 10-game package, I was choosing baseball games based on promotions like Dollar Dog Day (Wednesdays) and $5 Kids’ Meal Day (Sundays). Here are the games I chose (number of tickets in parentheses) to see during the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 impending dumpster fire sale of a season.
Oct. 29, Lakers (1)
Nov. 14, New Orleans (1)
Dec. 1, Boston (1)
Jan. 6, Lakers (1)
Jan. 18, San Antonio (1)
Feb. 13, Houston (2)
March 29, Golden State (1)
March 30, Philadelphia (1)
April 1, Portland (1)
April 9, Toronto (1)
The NBA has so much to offer in opposing teams that choosing to attend 10 of 41 home games (24.4 percent) is easier than finding a similar percentage (24.7 percent) of baseball home games worth watching. Seeing LeBron James twice is a no-brainer, as is Anthony Davis once. The Brad Stephens-coached Boston Celtics are absolutely worth the price of admission regardless of whom they’re playing, as are Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. James Harden and Chris Paul visiting in a rematch of last season’s playoff matchup I had to see at least once. Golden State as a whole is another no-brainer. That roster could feature five All-Stars if DeMarcus Cousins returns to form. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are worth watching, as is Kawhi Leonard, regardless of whom they’re playing. Portland is very well-coached, Damian Lillard is fun to watch, and an April 1 matchup could have playoff implications. Even if the Jimmy Butler-less Wolves aren’t in the playoff picture, they could play spoilers down the stretch. I even got a free ticket to the home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which thanks to Jimmy Butler drama, was a must-see game.
There aren’t as many premium games in baseball. In 2018, I saw just about every premium game the Twins played, including every game they played at home against the eventual champions, the Boston Red Sox (3). I saw every game they played at home against the American League runners-up, the New York Yankees (3). I also saw six (6) of the seven games the AL Central Champion Cleveland Indians played at Target Field (two Twins home games were played in Puerto Rico). Add a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels and baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, and I still have eight games left to choose. (I had tickets to all three games against Houston at Target Field, but that was through a separate ticket deal for April games.)
My hypothesis is that the NBA offers fans of its worst teams the best value when it comes to their cheapest season ticket package because of the vast array of entertaining and exceptional teams, players, and coaches visiting. But let’s do the research and find out the best value for the cheapest season ticket packages for sports’ worst teams.
The Senators were the second-worst NHL team in the 2017-18 season, and at $60 per seat per game, their cheapest season ticket package leaves a lot to be desired. This might simply be due to the Ottawa market, which is no doubt more interested in the sport of hockey than that of the worst team in the NHL last season, the Buffalo Sabres. While Ottawa doesn’t have an NFL team to compete with the Senators, neither does Buffalo, really.
This is a smoking hot deal to see five premium games you can customize. I chose late season matchups against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto, and Washington. Those are fantastic matchups featuring the best offensive players in hockey: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews (who should be healthy by March 20), and the Stanley Cup Champion Alexander Ovechkin.
The Sabres also offer the smallest percentage of games (12.2 percent) you can purchase to qualify for playoff ticket priority. Buffalo’s other awful pro sports team isn’t nearly as friendly to your pocketbook and won’t even sell you a season ticket package if you live outside Western New York.
In a live chat with Buffalo Bills season ticket representative Sarah Beth, I was told the cheapest season ticket package was $400 for this season, but they are no longer selling them. I could purchase single game tickets, but not a season ticket package for next season.
As of Wednesday, October 31 at 5:30 p.m. EST, you could see MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes and the equally electrifying Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt along with the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs running Andy Reid’s schemes for $50. Then you could catch Julio Jones making Matt Ryan look better than he is for $50. Then Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey visit Cleveland, and the final game of your four-game, season ticket package ensuring playoff ticket priority is capped by another wide receiver making his quarterback look better than he is. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton come to town.
Even though most of the games won’t be close, you could argue that four of the most entertaining players playing professional football right now (Mahomes, Newton, Jones, and Green) could all be seen for $200. The Cavaliers couldn’t do better than that simply because they’re a worse team than their crosstown, gridiron counterparts.
The Cavs aren’t selling season ticket packages anymore, and the sales rep couldn’t look back at prices from games already played. But if you want to know how much it would cost to see LeBron visit with his Lakers from the cheapest seats in Quicken Loans Arena, it’s $460 to $500. And that wouldn't even qualify you for playoff ticket priority.
For the 10 best games on the Hawks’ schedule, including the Golden State Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers, plus one more for free at a total under $450, Atlanta offers its fans immense value. For $91 less than I paid to see the same opposing teams visit the newly renovated Target Center, Hawks’ fans can secure their playoff ticket priority, but more importantly, member access to the soon-to-be-renovated State Farm Arena, featuring suites with golf simulators and a barbershop where you can get a shave and a haircut while watching the game.
The Orioles’ Sunday season ticket package featured a game against Boston, the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Angels, but also featured games against Texas, Tampa Bay (2), Miami, and Minnesota. There’s value in allowing fans to pick the games they want to see, but paying less than $18 per game is relatively affordable. The Twins’ “Pick 10” package runs $220 and features just three premium games. Baltimore’s Sunday package features four premium games for $8 more.
The Marlins’ “Variety,” “Saturday,” and “Sunday” plans run at least $130, but I could only find a single seat in the cheapest section for the weekend plans. The variety plan, which most likely provides admission to the best games, was not available in any of the cheaper sections of Marlins Park. If we assume, however, that Miami’s Sunday package offers a similar percentage of premium games as Baltimore’s 13-game package and Minnesota’s 10-game, flex plan, then we can expect to see three premium matchups out of the 10. At $13 per seat per game, it doesn’t get any cheaper to secure playoff ticket priority in any league, but you have to watch the Marlins. At least they got rid of that hideous home run sculpture, though.
The price per game might not be as low as baseball or basketball can offer, but the freedom to choose your own games ensuring every one of them is a premium matchup makes Buffalo a go-to town for hockey. My editor in Toronto, Dan Szczepanek, said trips to Buffalo are a Toronto tradition. “It was always cheaper to drive two hours to Buffalo to watch the Leafs and Sabres, get a hotel, and spend a few days than it was to see the Leafs in Toronto.” The fact that you can establish playoff ticket priority for a measly $183 makes me want to buy a Buffalo Sabres season ticket package, and both of my teams are in the Western Conference.
Again, the percentage of premium games offered in the Hawks’ cheapest season ticket package make up for the higher price point per seat. Even if the Hawks operate the same way the Timberwolves do and make your free game the home opener, that was against Dallas and third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Luka Doncic, whom Atlanta traded for Trae Young at fifth overall and a future first-rounder. If you haven’t seen Doncic play, I assure you, he and Deandre Jordan make for premium entertainment.
It’s not all bad in Cleveland. Even with LeBron leaving and both the Browns and Cavs firing their head coaches in a 24-hour time period, you can still get premium entertainment from the teams and players visiting FirstEnergy Stadium at an affordable price. Even while Buffalo was in town, it would have cost twice as much for the same seats at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Ottawa is the last of our worst teams to provide incredible value when it comes to choosing the quality of opposing teams in their season ticket package. At $60 per game, it’s a bit pricey per seat, but the assurance of seeing the best opposing players in the NHL makes $60 worth every penny.
While just 30 percent of your games are against playoff-caliber competition, you’re paying $13 to see a baseball game. You can’t get a beer and a hot dog at a ballgame for $13.
While the Orioles’ cheapest season ticket package has a marginally higher percentage of premium games than Miami’s, the $17.54 price point per seat is more than it ought to be given their .290 winning percentage last season. The beauty of Camden Yards can’t compensate for the collosal incompetence of baseball played by Orioles at Oriole Park.
Since preseason games can’t be considered premium games, and the Bills are so bad the best game on their schedule annually is a visit by Tom Brady and the Patriots, there’s really nothing to like about being a Bills season ticket holder. The Jaguars were the other “premium” game on the Bills’ schedule this season, and we’ve seen how far they’ve fallen.
Seems my hypothesis was wrong. The NHL, not the NBA, provides the best value to fans of its worst teams when it comes to their season ticket offerings. The NBA is a close second, however, and the Cleveland Browns coming in third was a pleasant surprise. Baseball and the Buffalo Bills, however, have a long way to go to make their cheapest season ticket packages more appealing to fans of the sports’ worst teams.
With cannabis now legal in Canada, I thought I’d help sports fans prepare for the circus that is the first day of cannabis legalization. If you’re going to be playing sports or watching them live or on TV, this comprehensive guide provides the perfect pot strains for enhancing your sports experiences.
Pot strains don’t just get you high in varying degrees. Some strains are relaxing and help relieve pain, inflammation, even depression—perfect for postgame pain and blues after a loss. Some strains are uplifting, energetic, and facilitate creativity, which might be nice prior to your recreational flag football game. Now that you can legally purchase cannabis in Canada (some places), our readers in Canada might find this insight helpful in pairing pot with their favorite sports.
I’ve done the first day of legal cannabis sales before. I was there in Denver, Colorado covering the first legal purchase of recreational marijuana in the United States in 75 years for The Leaf Online. Before the dispensary opened its doors to the public, members of the press packed the pot shop to capacity to witness and report history. Coloradans and out-of-state visitors to whom I spoke happily braved the cold New Year’s Day morning in 2014, forming a line that spanned the length of the street. One older couple said they were “hippies from Indiana and just had to be here.” I was surprised to find anyone who drove further than me just to be there. That couple eventually bought something, though. By the time the press conference was over the line wrapped around the block, and I had a deadline to meet, so I drove 1,400 miles round-trip to spend 36 hours in Denver in the first days of legal weed sales and not get high.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time in line if you plan to make a purchase on Opening Day, so it’s best to have an idea of what you want before you get to the pot shop as to not hold up the line for other cannasseurs. Most stores will have their menu of goodies available on their website, so check that out before choosing a retailer. Just give it a quick look to see if they have what you want. You’ll have plenty of time to investigate further while standing in line.
So what do you want, and who am I to tell you? Well, my cannabis credentials have been earned over 12 years of regular consumption for both medical and recreational purposes. I had a medical cannabis prescription for two years in Montana, during which I used indica strains to alleviate back pain resulting from degenerative disc disease and used sativa strains to get my indica’d ass off the couch and take advantage of the moments I was pain free.
I wrote two bills to legalize and tax cannabis in Montana, familiarizing myself with the medical cannabis industry and its regulatory structure in so doing. My work obviously connected me to like-minded people throughout the state who smoked me up and introduced me to countless strains. If it’s a strain grown in Montana, I’ve probably smoked it at some point. I’ve also made recreational, or as we advocates now call it, “adult-use” purchases in Colorado, Washington, and Nevada.
Since I love to cook and bake, I experimented with multiple cannabis recipes because eating it was so much more effective on my back pain. My friends and I made Mint Cheeba Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Literal Laughy Taffy, cakes, cookies, and, of course, brownies. I still love to eat edibles on an off day, but when I was introduced to waxes, sugars, and shatters, I knew I’d seldom smoke again.
Smoking anything, cannabis included, is bad for your lungs. While there’s no rat poison in joints (yet), simply burning the cannabis flower will result in you inhaling tars, and if you have a back problem like me, a seemingly insignificant cough can aggravate that nerve pain and kill your buzz. That’s why I mostly vaporize concentrates.
Concentrates are concentrated Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in cannabis, in resin form. I’ve seen shatter that’s 98 percent THC, which means you could work on the same gram of shatter for weeks and hardly make a dent. Concentrates are for veteran tokers, though, so when I recommend them, it’s with the assumption that you have run the gauntlet yourself and have graduated to a more healthy and effective means of cannabis consumption.
Now that you know that I know what I’m talking about, here are the perfect pot pairings for playing and watching sports live and on TV. If I haven’t tried a strain, you’ll find a link to Leafly to learn more about it.
Snoop Dogg’s Tangerine Man is a strain I’d love to try before a flag football game. It supposedly “pairs wonderfully with daytime physical activity.” Of course, I’d probably eat it to preserve my lung capacity. Maybe at halftime I’d pile on a Trainwreck taffy or two, a hybrid that provides an uplifting, energetic boost while also treating pain. Postgame pain is best treated with Purple Urkle, which will relax every muscle in your body and eventually bring satisfying sleep.
My first Minnesota Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium was an overwhelming experience. My buzz from vaping some sativa pregame had mostly worn off by the time the Vikings took the field, which nearly made me weep tears of joy. I think my next game I’ll eat some Lemon Jack. “Like a strong cup of coffee, Lemon Jack is a daytime strain,” and it apparently makes you talkative, which is an important part of being a good football fan. You need to make noise when the opponent’s on offense.
At halftime I’d keep the energy and stress management going with Light of Jah, which I’ve actually smoked but never eaten. It’s a long-lasting high, so eating it should get you through the second half no problem. Postgame I’d smoke or vape Grape Ape to relax and manage any stress resulting from a poor performance by my boys in purple.
I wouldn’t stray too far from the pot pairings for watching football live except instead of eating cannabis I’d probably vape it simply because I can. Lemon Jack to start with Jock Horror at halftime to enhance your halftime appetite and Grape Ape postgame seems reasonable. If you’ve got things to do besides watching football after the game, substitute Jack Herer, Green Crack, Durban Poison, or Super Lemon Haze for Grape Ape.
My co-ed softball team in college was named Bozeman Toast because most of us were toasted for every game. It did not enhance our performance, but it made the game more fun, especially playing in rain and then sleet and then snow in the mountains of Western Montana.
We always smoked sativas before a game. I remember Super Silver Haze and Sour Diesel both being employed often in those days. They are energetic strains that foster creativity and will have you smiling even if you misplay a ball in right center that you try to undo with a dive into a puddle that leaves you soaked and clears the bases.
The best game we played that season was when we came across some Green Crack. We scored 16 runs and lost. It was the rain/sleet/snow game, during which I saw our center fielder make the best catch I’ve seen while on the field of play. It was on a sinking line drive she got a great jump on and dove for at the last possible moment. Green Crack, as you can imagine, is an ultra-uplifting, energetic strain that facilitates focus rather than creativity. You might not have as much fun playing the game as you would with Super Silver Haze or Sour Diesel, but you’ll be alert out there and light on your feet.
No pregame pot party is going to get you through a baseball game, which is where edibles come into play. The high from eating cannabis lasts much longer than smoking or vaping it. I remember having a bunch of Strawberry Lemonade shake that I used to make butter for cookies and ate a couple before a Minnesota Twins game that made for a most euphoric evening. Strawberry Lemonade is a sativa/hybrid mix, so it’s both uplifting and relaxing. Eating it, though, provides an hours-long body high that makes your cold, plastic chair feel like your favorite recliner at home.
I also enjoyed some sativa-dominant cookies I bought before a game at Safeco Field in Seattle, and we had some five-milligram lozenges to stimulate the buzz for hour three of the game. It was a quick one, as Felix Hernandez barely bested Phil Hughes in a pitching duel. I believe that was the year Hughes set the MLB record for strikeout-to-walk ratio, but King Felix put up a zero to his one. We got so sick of the King’s Corner chanting “K” on every two-strike count (there were a ton), we started screaming at no one in particular, asking what all these Spanish-speakers wanted. “¿Que hora es? Is it the time you want? What?”
We had fun despite the loss, but we didn’t realize that the five-milligram lozenges we were eating were actually two, five-milligram lozenges stuck together, so my buddy, who’s a pot novice, got sick after the game from mixing too much booze with too much cannabis. Don’t do that. In fact, don’t drink any alcohol while using cannabis. Frankly, it’s a waste of booze.
If you’re eating edibles for the first time, go slow to start. Then, if you feel like your buzz could be better and you can handle it, eat a bit more. Like alcohol, your weight, activity, and whether or not you’ve eaten or drank alcohol recently effects your body’s absorption of THC.
If I could consume any cannabis I wanted before a baseball game, I’d try eating Cracker Jack. It’s an intense sativa combining two of my favorite strains: Green Crack and Jack Herer. Around the fifth inning, I’d sneak into the bathroom and take a few vapor puffs of any sativa. Baseball stadiums are more bag-friendly than other arenas, so I generally always have my vaporizer with me in it’s little, book-like case. After the seventh inning stretch I’ll take another trip to the bathroom for another sativa boost. Sativa, sativa, sativa…got it?
The beauty of watching baseball on TV in a place with legal pot sales is when you get to the third inning and feel like taking a nap until the seventh inning stretch, you can reach for an indica and set an alarm for an hour. Don’t be the guy who falls asleep at the ballpark. Baseball doesn’t need you advertising the lack of activity in the game. There are plenty of strikeouts already doing so.
I enjoy an indica-dominant hybrid when watching baseball at home, but usually start the game with a sativa. Durban’ Poison has been one of my favorite sativa strains since I first discovered it a few years ago during a vacation in Colorado. The sugar crumble concentrate keeps my body and mind uplifted even if the Twins do not. If they fall behind early by a lot, I’d reach for Northern Lights or Blue Cheese and get comfortable. If I fall asleep and miss something, I can always rewind. Sometimes I sleep right through until they air the replay, which is even better because I don’t know the score or outcome.
I wouldn’t recommend smoking or even vaping anything prior to playing basketball. You’ll be hacking up a lung within minutes. Instead, eat some high-energy sativa like Durban Poison, Jack Herer, or Green Crack pregame. At halftime, pile on an indica-infused edible to help manage cramps, inflammation, and muscle spasms. While I’ve never tried it, Kelly Hill Gold seems to be the perfect pot strain for playing the second half of a basketball game. Not only does it help manage pain, stress, cramps, inflammation, and muscle spasms, it’s an energetic indica, which is rare (it’s the only one I found). A postgame puff of Girl Scout Cookies (now known as GSC) will have you feeling fantastic (it really does taste great), and it’s half-sister Cookies Kush seems to be great for pain before bed. Use CBD oil on any specific pain.
It doesn’t take much to get up for a basketball game. Besides hockey, it’s probably the most entertaining sport I watch live on a regular basis. I think it’s the energy of the crowd and speed of the action that gets me. Basketball was my first love, so it’s easy for me to enjoy. I ride my bike to Target Center for around a dozen Timberwolves games every season, and before I hit the pavement I like to vape a calming hybrid like White Widow or Pineapple Express. If all I have is sativas, Lemon Haze and Sour Diesel are adequate alternatives.
I like to calm my nerves pregame because by halftime I know I’ll be incensed. I usually just grab a Coca-Cola and munch on the trail mix I brought with me and let my buzz dissipate at halftime. The crowd is my intoxicant in the second half, but postgame I’m either subsidizing my euphoria with Durban Poison if we win or treating my minor depression with Bubba Kush or Northern Lights if we lose. Chocolope is the perfect pot strain after a loss in a day game because it’s energetic, uplifting, and helps you handle stress and depression.
Watching basketball makes me hungry as hell, so when I’m watching at home I stuff my face. I don’t feel so guilty when I’m watching Duke University men’s basketball because I’m usually pacing the entire game. I seldom sit down and am usually bouncing with the Cameron Crazies during a Duke game. It’s sad really, but not much could make you sad with a bit of Jock Horror. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve tried just about all of its parents, and apparently it’s most notable side effects are maximum munchies, dry eyes, and dry mouth. Since you’re in the comfort of your home with the fridge and Clear Eyes just steps away, side effects be damned.
At halftime I’d switch to a hybrid like OG Kush just to make sure I’m still able to sleep well after the game. An indica like God’s Gift or LA Confidential will help with fourth-quarter stress and assure you sleep like you just played a basketball game instead of watching one on TV.
Playing hockey hurts. Most of us aren’t playing full-contact football, so hockey is about as hard and painful a recreational sport you can play. That’s why we’re breaking out the high-THC strains. A Jack the Ripper cookie prior to puck drop will keep you energized and focused while treating your pain throughout the first period and into the second. It’s generally more than 20 percent THC, so be careful not to overeat it or you could end up “disoriented and paranoid.”
About midway through the second period a Dragon’s Breath edible will help you manage your fatigue and provide a lift for the third period. Postgame vaping of Harlequin is the ultimate pain reliever with a CBD/THC combination that won’t put you to sleep or over intoxicate you.
I can’t remember what specific strain or if it was even advertised on the bag of cookies my buds and I ate before watching the Minnesota Wild take on the Avalanche in Colorado, but I know it was a sativa that made us very focused on the game. And I never knew the strain of the shake I used to make Cocoa Canna Butterscotch Chip Cookies for when the Avs visited Minnesota, but I know it made us giggly as schoolgirls at a slumber party. It was fantastic, and the fact the Wild won in a shootout made it that much more fantastic.
So before puck drop I’d recommend eating some Super Green Crack or The Cough. Both have had me crying laughing, and hockey can be one of the funniest sports. People falling down is always funny. Eventually, though, you’ll want to come back down to Earth. Some Silver Haze edibles midway through the game will actually clear the haze while maintaining the euphoria. My postgame pot of choice after a hockey loss would be Headband for its ability to combat elevated stress levels and depression, even headaches, which can result from screaming at referees and cheap-shotting opponents. After a win, or anytime in my personal experience, Bruce Banner hits the spot.
Hockey’s probably my favorite sport to watch on TV. It demands my attention, so I oblige by vaping Durban Poison or Green Crack or Super Lemon Haze or Jack Herer or Chocolope or Harlequin. Whatever sativa I have on hand tends to be one that retains most of my focus faculties.
If it’s a day game and I want to accomplish things afterward, some Pineapple Express is perfect for the third period. It leaves you ready to take on a creative project. The third period of night games are best accompanied by Cinderella 99, a dreamy, euphoric, stress-reliever. My preferred pot postgame would be Aliens OG, but it’s not to be taken lightly. It’s one of the most potent strains of weed out there at up to 28 percent THC. MK Ultra would be second, and G13 would be a distant third. For you beginners out there, try some Cheese and forget to call me in the morning.
Despite the Land of 10,000 Lakes losing the second-winningest NBA franchise to a place with roughly as many lakes as Lakers in uniform, Minnesota has managed to become a mini-Mecca of American sports entertainment. In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., you can see the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints play professional baseball, watch one of the best women’s professional basketball teams, see one of the best American football teams and catch the Loons playing Major League Soccer—all in a three-day weekend. The same cannot be said for a much larger and more diverse market in Miami, and their respective histories of stadium funding and construction might have everything to do with it.
In April of 2018, Minnesota had four professional sports teams in action for the first time ever, two of which were in the playoffs. The “Minneapolis Miracle” at U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 14 served as a coming out party for Minnesota sports on the national stage. Relative to the “big four” sports leagues, the Minnesota Lynx quietly collected Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) championships in four of the past eight years. Despite it being the top league of its kind in the world, a dynastic WNBA team hardly nudged the needle gauging national interest.
However, adding a team from MLS, widely considered the fifth-best soccer league in the world, was such a good idea Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf got written permission to pursue the opportunity when seeking approval for construction of U.S. Bank Stadium. The bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature in May 2012 included a clause allowing the Wilf’s to pursue an MLS franchise to play in their new stadium for up to five years. That’s not how it went down, but the Minnesota United Football Club (MNUFC) group fast-tracked its way to an MLS franchise regardless, while a larger, more soccer-friendly population in Miami is still waiting.
The addition of MNUFC makes the Twin Cities one of just 10 markets with franchises in all five of the major, American, professional sports leagues—the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and MLS. Minneapolis-St. Paul is just the sixth market featuring teams in each of the five major, American, professional sports leagues while also supporting a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) franchise.
You might be wondering how the roughly 3.5 million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and the modest reach of its 15th-ranked media market manage to support seven professional sports teams including the independent league St. Paul Saints baseball team. But what makes it possible now has a lot to do with what’s happened in the past.
When the roof of the Metrodome collapsed for a fifth time in 2010, its deflation left Minnesotans deflated. The amount of air Minnesotans collectively sighed over the thought of paying for another stadium would have raised the roof of the Metrodome. The residents and visitors of Hennepin County had just contributed $350 million, or 63 percent of the funding for Target Field’s construction through a county-wide, 0.15-percent sales tax hike. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Wilfs, but at least the Twins didn’t give Twin Cities’ residents a reason to resist stadium construction like Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria did in Miami.
Miami, a city with almost twice the population as the Twin Cities and a diverse population prime for MLS action, has a worse media market ranking than Minneapolis-St. Paul (16th-ranked). But the proximity of sports media competitors in Tampa-St. Petersburg (13th-ranked) and Orlando (18th-ranked) isn’t the reason for the struggles of David Beckham’s MLS investment group in Miami.
Like the Metrodome, the Marlins former home was an all-purpose stadium not meant for baseball. And like Target Field, Marlins Park had support of Miamians—as long as they didn’t have to pay for it. Despite both of these teams being guilty of fielding uncompetitive rosters for years, they both had two, relatively recent World Series Championships to ease the pain somewhat. The Marlins’ 2003 championship spurred the City of Miami to propose the construction of a baseball-only stadium next to the Miami Orange Bowl.
Miami-Dade County was more forthcoming with funding than the City of Miami, proposing a $420-plus million stadium at the Orange Bowl location. But the State of Florida and City of Miami resisted, sparking rumors of the Marlins relocating just as Loria’s last team, the Montreal Expos, did prior to Loria receiving (he didn’t put a dime down) ownership of the Marlins from then-commissioner Bud Selig to replace Loria’s failed business. This didn’t help soothe the anxiety of fans who saw their championship roster disappear over the course of two very bad seasons.
On Feb. 21, 2008, MLB COO Bob DuPuy threatened that if a decision wasn’t made with regards to funding a stadium for the Marlins that very night, it would be “the death knell for baseball in Miami.” Hours later funding was approved by the City of Miami and the County Commissioners for a $525 million home for the Marlins. The plan called for Miami-Dade County residents to flip just $50 million of the bill, with $297 million coming from tourist taxes. The City of Miami would incur $127 million in stadium-related costs.
The finalized deal, however, was for a $634-million stadium, 80 percent of which would be publicly funded. With interest compounding over 40 years, the actual cost to the county to repay the $409 million in bonds would be roughly $2.4 billion. The combined expenses incurred by the city and county for the construction of Marlins Park total $2.61 billion through 2049. Loria just sold the team for $1.2 billion, claiming a loss of $141 million, which would not only allow him to avoid paying the five percent of the sale's proceeds to the public that was agreed upon, but entitle him to the $50 million held in escrow for the city and county.
Like Loria’s Expos, the Twins were an alleged target for contraction for low revenue generation and the inability to get a new stadium built. But Govornor Jesse Ventura and the Minnesota Legislature did manage to agree on a ballpark funding proposal, and the Twins played the 2003 season and six more in the Metrodome. Target Field construction didn’t begin until May 2007, but Hennepin County taxpayers hardly noticed the 0.15 sales tax increase and probably thought it was worth it upon seeing the completed structure. It showed in the sixth-ranked attendance during Target Field’s inaugural season.
The same cannot be said for Marlins Park, where despite its shiny new digs and dancing marlin statue, the Marlins christened their new ballpark by finishing 18th in attendance.
When it comes to the Wilfs building the best stadium experience in sports, they have the Pohlads and Target Field to thank. Had the Twins saddled the county with billion-dollar debts or built a lemon, U.S. Bank Stadium might have been built for the Las Vegas Vikings. The environment the Pohlads left the Wilfs was as squeaky clean and inviting as the windows that had to be replaced on U.S. Bank Stadium because birds kept flying into them.
The Wilfs didn’t build U.S. Bank Stadium quite as clean and easy as the Pohlads did Target Field. Through infrastructure expenditures and other stadium-related spending, both the state and city have exceeded their respective $348-million and $150-million contribution limits that are called for in the state law governing the stadium deal. Also, Minnesota House Republicans want to spend $26 million in the stadium’s reserve fund, reserved in case the state is unable to pay its share of the stadium debt, to build veterans homes. But the Wilfs didn’t leave a wake like Loria’s.
While Beckham and his investors must now convince Miami voters to let them build a billion-dollar MLS soccer and commercial complex before the midterm elections despite it costing taxpayers nothing, MNUFC will move into its new, privately-funded stadium in St. Paul next season, it's third in MLS. Again, Loria’s wake has altered all boats in its path, regardless of the boat’s size or the size of its passengers’ pocketbooks.
MNUFC’s Allianz Field cost just $190 million, so not only did the MNUFC ownership group bring MLS to Minnesota swiftly but thriftly. The MNUFC group didn’t even have to put out any golf cart fires.
In December 2013, Miami-Dade County commissioners voted unanimously to allow Mayor Carlos A. Giménez to negotiate with David Beckham’s group of investors looking to bring MLS to Miami. Almost five years later, the hopes and dreams of David Beckham’s Miami MLS investment group are in the hands of understandably skeptical Miami voters, and they have to spend $35 million to clean up toxic soil and another $25 million to the city for park and walkway projects.
People don't easily forget when they've been swindled by billionaire owners of sports teams to pay for the construction of stadiums. Just ask anyone living in Cincinnati. They were swindled twice, and Miamians aren't going to let that happen. Beckham's group might be promising a privately-funded stadium, but everything, from taxes to fast food, gets more expensive when there's a new stadium to fill.
Baseball quite literally is not making ballplayers like Joe Mauer anymore. In fact, he’s potentially the last of a bygone era, during which striking out was still frowned upon by coaches and downright despised by some players.
Joe Mauer hates striking out — so much so he struck out just once in high school. Even as Major League Baseball evolved into a game with more pitchers throwing harder and nastier pitches than ever before, Mauer refused to change his approach and was good enough to not only get away with it, but force defenses to adjust to him just as Barry Bonds before him. Mauer received one of the most extreme defensive outfield shifts in baseball, and he got his hits despite it.
Of the top 21 seasons in overall strikeouts in MLB history, Mauer played in 15. He struck out more than 100 times just once, and his OPS+ was under 100 in just two seasons of his career. But some still think Mauer was overpaid given the expectancy for him to catch full-time.
Mauer, a soft-spoken, Minnesota-nice guy, has his share of haters who think he should have cowboyed up and got behind the plate to earn his $23 million every year despite a concussion issue that not only threatened his career but his life off the field. An issue that reappeared this season upon a dive for a ball at first base and might be responsible for Mauer’s indecision regarding his playing future.
Mauer’s haters should know over the course of his career, the Twins paid Joe just $374,856.42 more per win above a replacement player than the Marlins and Tigers paid Cabrera, and the Tigers still owe him at least $154 million. The Twins paid just $728,825.30 more per win above a replacement player than the Cardinals and Angels have paid Pujols, who’s still owed $87 million. If you average the WAR of both Cabrera and Pujols over their last seven years across the remaining years of their contracts, their cost per win above a replacement player balloons to $381,619.65 and $80,136.39 more per WAR than Joe, respectively.
Not being overpaid relative to his fellow first basemen won’t make Mauer a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Pujols and Cabrera, but it doesn’t hurt.
Most will say Mauer’s six All-Star appearances and 2,123 hits aren’t enough. Most will say he never won a playoff series. Most will say his 55.1 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) isn’t even as good as another former Twin (David Ortiz, 55.3) despite it being top-100 all time amongst Hall of Fame position players and 151st all time in MLB history, according to Baseball Reference.
Mauer’s integrity and humility are Hall-of-Fame caliber, however. Unlike Ortiz, who failed a 2003 performance-enhancing drug test, Mauer’s legacy is unquestioned and untarnished. Although Mauer only played in the post-steroid era of Major League Baseball (the drug policy as we know it was first implemented and enforced in 2004), he’s someone who might have benefited from steroids and had an “opportunity” to use them after sustaining a knee injury in his rookie season. At 21, Joe knew better, and at 28, when his body struggled recovering from surgery and then fell ill with pneumonia, Mauer probably never even considered using steroids.
Mauer came back in 2012 to lead the league in on-base percentage (OBP), beating his 2011 OBP by 56 points (.420). His .351 OBP in 2018 is the worst of his career and was still the 50th-best in baseball and 10 percent better than the MLB average (.318). He was top-10 in league OBP and batting average seven times and top-10 in Adjusted OPS+ six times in his career.
Mauer’s .3063 career batting average is, ironically, identical to his Hall of Fame manager’s, good for 138th-best all time. But Paul Molitor has 1,196 more hits than Joe. Regardless, Mauer’s career batting average is sandwiched between Hall of Famers Ernie Lombardi and George Kell, and is better than that of the next-best hitting catcher of his era, Buster Posey (.306). Mauer’s the only catcher ever to win three batting titles, too.
But what makes Hall of Famers is their relative dominance of their respective eras. Barry Bonds didn’t have to beat Babe Ruth in career home runs; he just needed to dominate his era like Ruth his. Mauer is a Hall of Famer given his place amongst his peers.
When compared to his peers, from 2004 to 2018, Mauer’s batting average ranks ninth, between Mike Trout and Buster Posey. His OBP is twelfth, between Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and Bryce Harper. His Weighted Runs Created (WRC) is tenth, whereas Posey ranks 94th. On an All-MLB 2004–18 Team, Mauer would clearly be the catcher, and he’s probably the fourth-best first baseman of his generation, behind Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto — all first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Mauer’s numbers aren’t first-ballot-Hall-of-Fame worthy, but the way he represented the game of baseball and himself on and off the field is worthy of first-ballot consideration, which he’ll receive. Joe might even be a victim of the Hall of Fame shrinking the length of time players stay on the ballot from 15 years to 10. Mauer won’t be eligible for induction until 2023 at the earliest, but judging from the lack of retirees expected this season, he could benefit from a lack of competition. We don’t know if this is Adrian Beltre’s final season, and if it isn’t, Mauer could be sharing the ballot with holdovers from previous years, not including Bonds or Roger Clemens, who will fall off the ballot in three years.
Even if Joe isn’t voted into the MLB Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, he will most certainly get support from the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. One way or another, Joe Mauer is a Hall of Fame player. Personally, I’d like to see if he’s a Hall of Fame manager.
The one sport that stands to benefit most from advances in technology is America’s Pastime. My colleague Ben Beecken shares that sentiment and understands baseball’s big problem and how to solve it. But as a semi-traditionalist baseball fan, I’m not ready to take the umpires off the field in favor of robots. Something must be done, obviously, and Major League Baseball owners are apparently pushing Commissioner Rob Manfred to make “bold” changes to address what they believe to be a pace-of-play problem caused by the increased employment of defensive shifts. But baseball doesn’t have a pace-of-play problem; it has a lack-of-action problem that an electronic strike zone can solve without taking umpires’ jobs.
“Time flies when you’re having fun” they say, and that goes for a three-plus-hour-long baseball game, too. Shortening the game or speeding it up isn’t going to make the game more appealing to young people. You need action to appeal to the all-time low attention spans of young people, or they’ll just find their entertainment on that computer in their pocket. MLB isn’t providing that action and hasn’t for a decade or so.
Thus far this season, MLB’s collective batting average is .248 — the 21st-worst league batting average since 1871, according to Baseball Reference. Runs are down to 1956 levels, but on-base percentages, upon which run production depends, have remained steady, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. But there’s never been more strikeouts in the bigs.
The league is on pace to break the strikeout record set last year, and the year before that, and in each of the eight years prior. That’s a decade’s worth of record-setting strikeout totals, so no one should be surprised by how often professional hitters are failing to hit. And you can’t blame defensive shifts for strikeouts.
This idea that the increased employment of defensive shifts has forced hitters to alter their approach at the plate to increase their “launch angle” and “exit velocity” to hit over the shift is ridiculous. Defensive shifts don’t force hitters to do anything except exactly what hitters have been expected to do since the game’s inception: hit it where they ain’t. If any professional ballplayer could bunt these days, and every one of them should be capable, or if managers valued baserunners over extra-base-hit potential, defensive shifts would all but disappear except for pull-happy, power hitters who aren’t paid to bunt — ever. The defense is the one taking a risk by shifting; most hitters risk nothing except their batting averages trying to hit over the shift and into the stands. We shouldn’t want more hitters bunting, however. We should want more action occurring from hitters hitting — or better yet, driving the ball.
Some of those hitters, like the Cubs’ Daniel Murphy, have explained why they don’t bunt against the shift despite having a gimme single if they can get it in play past the pitcher on the vacated half of the infield. Murphy’s reasoning is that he’s more valuable to his team pursuing extra-base hits rather than occupying first base and waiting for another two teammates to hit singles to score him given his lack of speed. “It’s really difficult to get three hits in one inning,” he told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, citing “how good pitchers are now” as a reason.
Young fans are avoiding baseball because it’s boring. Hitters can’t hit because pitching is too good. Many hitters, like former MVP and batting champion Justin Morneau, say a hitter can expect one hittable pitch per plate appearance, and hittable pitches are fewer and farther between in today’s MLB than ever before.
Batters aren’t looking to get the ball in the air more often to avoid hitting into defensive shifts. Batters are looking to get the ball in the air more often because there are fewer pitches thrown they are physically capable of hitting hard in the air. There are fewer pitches thrown that have extra-base-hit potential.
In 2010, 50.2 percent of all pitches thrown in MLB were in the strike zone, according to FanGraphs. This season it’s down to 47.9 percent, and despite the percentage of swings at pitches in the zone at an all-time high over the 11-year history of this research, the contact percentage on those strikes is at an all-time low. Contact on pitches outside the strike zone is also at an all-time low, but why?
Before defensive shifts became the norm and launch angle was ever uttered, the approach to pitching had already evolved immensely in MLB. John McGraw had a dedicated relief pitcher on his New York Giants roster as early as 1905, according to the research of Bryan Soderholm-Difatte for “America’s Game.” That tactic became more popular in the 1920s after Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s career was shortened considerably having served as the Cubs’ ace starter and ace reliever from 1908 to 1911.
Even though the lengths of MLB pitchers’ careers were shortened by the now-incomprehensible number of innings pitched over a hundred years ago, there are still pitchers calling for starters to go longer in games and ignore pitch counts.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven reminding MLB’s aging audience that starters were expected to finish games as recent as the 1980s should consider how effective he and his peers were the third and fourth time through a lineup instead of calling it evidence that throwing more pitches leads to fewer injuries.
Real research conducted by real physicians found that throwing fastballs, not curveballs, is linked to Tommy John surgery, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ian McMahan. Blyleven made his living with his curveball, which is why he’s a terrible spokesperson for getting rid of the pitch count and treating today’s starting pitchers like it’s 1971.
Over his career, Blyleven allowed an OPS of .679 when pitching to opponents for a third time and a .711 OPS when seeing hitters a fourth time in a game. That’s respectable, but according to Total OPS+, or tOPS+, Blyleven’s teams, on average, would have been better off had Blyleven never pitched to a hitter a third or fourth time. That is, of course, if there was a relief pitcher on the team with a better tOPS+ when facing hitters for the first time in relief than Blyleven’s tOPS+ when facing hitters a third or fourth time in a game.
In 1971, at age 20, Blyleven’s tOPS+ against batters in their third plate appearance of a game was a fantastic 77 (the further below 100 the better a pitcher was in that particular instance). Only Minnesota closer Tom Hall was more effective in his first time facing batters as a reliever than Blyleven was facing batters a third time as a starter. And while Blyleven struggled a bit when facing batters a second time (107 tOPS+), he certainly had a good feel for his curveball when they stepped to the plate a third time.
Blyleven’s struggles the second time through lineups persisted throughout his career, but he actually got better as the game went on because he was throwing mostly curveballs, not fastballs. In 1986, Blyleven allowed an .853 OPS to hitters in their second plate appearance. But in their third plate appearance, opponents’ OPS was down to .733 and back up to .828 in their fourth look at Bert. So Blyleven, besides a knuckleballer, is the last person who should be calling for today’s pitchers to go longer in games because he was spending the early innings “finding” his curveball so he could throw it more often and more effectively late in games while pitchers today are throwing far more fastballs and fast breaking balls than he or anyone else in his era was throwing.
Since the 1980s, when the curveball gave way to the slider as the breaking ball of choice, pitchers have been throwing more fastballs and are understandably less effective against hitters a third and fourth time given that approach, losing their velocity and, in turn, movement. A curveball is difficult to track regardless of inning, but a fastball can be timed in a single plate appearance and exploited in the next. Sliders and cutters slide and cut less with less velocity, which is lost by pitchers faster in games these days due to the volume of fastballs and fast breaking balls thrown.
Since pitchers have been relying on fastballs more so than breaking balls, and rather effectively given the aforementioned statistics, pitchers ought not throw as many pitches as a curveball specialist given the medical research previously cited. Hence the advent of the pitch count.
Managers want to keep their starting pitchers healthy and able to start every five days, and the pitch count provides them with a guide for attempting to do so. But managers’ number one priority is winning ballgames, and throwing four or five electric arms at a lineup instead of one or two increases their chances to win games and preserve the health of their pitchers. But it doesn’t matter how fresh the arm or how electric the stuff if pitches thrown in the strike zone aren’t called strikes.
Baseball purists like my attorney and Blyleven think it’s the human element home plate umpires provide that makes the game of baseball great. Each home plate umpire having his (and “his” sadly is the proper pronoun, at least in MLB) own unique, strike zone does make the game great. It sparks dugout chatter and builds camaraderie as teammates badmouth that day’s enemy behind the plate while trying to figure out the one 60 feet, six inches in front of it.
Then questionable calls lead to looks of “whoa” directed at the home plate umpire, culminating in confrontation and eventual ejections followed by the truly inspired, laid-bare performances in response, as if these men, like all great thespians, forget they have an audience. Now that’s drama.
There’s nothing more entertaining in baseball than a player or manager getting their money’s worth after being tossed from a game. Maybe a three-homer game or a straight steal of home could rival Ron Gardenhire’s red-faced rants or the legend of Lou Piniella’s interpretive, dirt dances, but hitting for the cycle pales in comparison. An ejection can invigorate both a team and crowd for the entirety of the game like winning a fight in hockey. The cycle climaxes with a curtain call lasting a few minutes, while the ejected entertainers, also deserving of a curtain call, make for a lonely locker room to find some semblance of solace in a cold shower and comfort food.
Frankly, I think the decline in ejections has been detrimental to baseball and contributed to baseball’s problem attracting young fans, who have gravitated toward the soap operatic drama of soccer instead. Bad actors with no respect for the theatre of sport are taking advantage of baseball’s dwindling drama thanks to a surplus of soccer drama performed by characters like The Zlatan — too unreal for even MTV’s Real World.
The advent of replay has scrubbed the sport of baseball relatively clean when it comes to disputing plays on the bases, and that’s an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice to get the calls right. An electronic strike zone will have a similar effect, removing some of the drama that makes a baseball game both joyous and enraging for all involved.
I like when an incorrect call goes my team’s way as much as the next fan, and I scream at the television when an umpire or official misses one. Officiating-hating is part of the fun for fans of all sports. There’s a problem, though, when pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes in a game where even the best players fail seven out of 10 times. It makes a game ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian calls “the hardest game in the world to play” even harder for hitters.
Pitches these days are harder to hit than they’ve ever been. On average, they’re being thrown harder than they’ve ever been. Fastballs, split-finger fastballs, sinkers, sliders and even change-ups are being thrown harder in 2018 than they have since 2007, which is where FanGraphs’ dataset starts. Pitches are moving more, too. Sliders, on average, have more horizontal movement than ever, with a focus on spin rate making pitches move more and making it harder for hitters to recognize pitches.
So not only are we expecting MLB hitters to hit the nastiest pitches ever pitched, but we’re expecting them to hit the highest volume of nasty pitches despite an inconsistent strike zone that changes everyday, or twice daily for doubleheaders. The players are quite literally playing by different rules every game, and while Babe Ruth and Ted Williams dealt with similarly subjective strike zones in their eras, neither they nor the umpires of the day had to track an exploding slider or sinking and cutting fastballs thrown in the mid-90s all game, every game. Williams was subjected to defensive shifts, though, and they didn’t ruin the game back in the 1940s and won’t now.
Baseball is a contact sport in that it requires contact between bat and ball to provide audiences action. “Strikeouts are boring. Besides that they’re Fascist,” as Crash Davis correctly claimed in Bull Durham. “Throw some ground balls. It’s more democratic.” Contact equals action, and a lack of contact is a lack of action.
Baseball’s problem attracting young fans is a result of that lack of action, not pace of play. You could shorten games to a two-hour time limit and without contact, the game would still be boring to young people. But the game wasn’t boring when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were launching steroid-fueled bombs into the stratosphere back in the 1990s because we had contact — epic contact.
Since ending MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy is unlikely, using technology already available and already being used to train umpires to provide players with a consistent strike zone will lower chase and swing-and-miss rates, increase contact rates and, in turn, increase action. If baseball wants to attract young fans, instead of Commissioner Manfred altering the rules to limit defensive shifts or defensive positioning, he should consider implementing an electronic strike zone that’s consistent from game to game, umpire to umpire.
The most fun I have watching the lowly Twins is when Logan Forsythe runs out to left field from second base to serve as a fourth outfielder and then running back to the infield. Players are probably getting more exercise than they ever have in the history of the game, and movement is action.
Defensive shifts are the most interesting thing baseball’s had to offer since the Steroid Era. That is until Tampa Bay’s use of relief pitchers to start games becomes the norm so starters can relieve the “openers” and face hitters during their higher-leverage plate appearances the second, third and fourth time through the lineup. But instead of hitters figuring out a starting pitcher in their second or third at-bat, they’re figuring out a new pitcher in their second at-bat. If you thought strikeouts were out of control now, just wait until flamethrowing relievers are facing hitters at their most vulnerable — their first plate appearance — and then starting pitchers come in and make hitters relive the horror of their first plate appearance all over again.
Not only do both hitters and pitchers have to figure each other out throughout the course of a game, but they have to figure out the home plate umpire as well. Pitchers test the edges of the plate to see how wide the umpire’s strike zone is that day, resulting in plenty of pitches thrown out of the strike zone slowing play to a halt. A ball off the plate that doesn’t entice a swing is a complete lack of action, and a ball off the plate that does entice a swing tends to result in poor contact and little action. Until pitchers are forced to throw strikes, why would they? Greg Maddux carved out a Hall of Fame career pitching out of the strike zone, and he didn’t have the velocity or wicked movement pitchers feature today.
So what’s the answer to baseball’s problem? No, not robots, but technologically enhanced umpires. I’m not talking about creating special headgear that projects the strike zone on a see-through visor like Google Glasses and makes blue look like RoboUmp, although that’s a cool option. That way home plate umpires still feel useful and in control of the game, with technology assisting the umpire in calling a consistent strike zone instead of dictating balls and strikes. Technology is a tool humans should use to do work better; it should not be a means to do away with work altogether.
A less cool but effective option would be to put a microphone in the ear or a buzzer in the pocket of home plate umpires that indicates when a pitch is thrown in the electronic strike zone, and the technology is close to doing so accurately. That way hitters come to the plate every game knowing exactly what a strike is and is not, so they swing at more strikes instead of chasing balls incorrectly called strikes, which will result in more contact, better contact and fewer strikeouts despite defensive shifts. It will also give managers one less reason to argue with umpires, which, unfortunately, might be one of the last reasons left. But the electronic strike zone will make a three-plus-hour game more appealing to the short attention spans of young fans.
Unless you’ve been playing fantasy baseball and were in need of an undrafted reliever like me, you might not have known who Josh Hader was until the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. Hader’s All-Star selection was a bittersweet honor in more than one way. He allowed three runs in a third of an inning and then discovered after the game that he’d have to complete sensitivity training for racist, sexist and homophobic tweets made at 17.
The tweets were uncovered by Twitter users with too much time on their hands. These investigations into the social media statements of minors are unfair to the public figures who made the statements because minors aren’t entirely responsible for themselves, legally speaking. Journalists seldom quote minors for that very reason. Their parents share responsibility for their words and actions until they’re 18.
While I agree with my colleague, Dan Szczepanek of Grandstand Central, that Hader’s “young and dumb” excuse isn’t good enough, he isn’t solely responsible for the social media statements he made as a minor. His parents share that responsibility, but not in the court of public opinion. It is troubling, however, that just seven years ago and even to this day, racist, sexist and homophobic thoughts are running through the minds of American minors.
On the Foul Play-by-Play podcast, my attorney and I discussed how to remedy the racist, sexist and homophobic sentiment that seems to be growing or at least getting louder in America. Reforming haters is a delicate process not unlike treating addiction. It requires the dedication of the addict first, and an empathetic, supportive community providing evidence consistently contradicting the addict’s former mentality. But hate, like addiction, isn’t curable, only treatable.
“There’s no magic cure, no such thing as a ‘life after hate,’ only a life of fighting not to succumb to it” Wes Enzinna wrote for Mother Jones’s cover story in the July/August issue. Not everyone is as fortunate as Hader was to grow into a man in an environment conducive for avoiding an addiction to hate.
Without social and familial support and a safe environment facilitating the formation of relationships between diverse groups of people, haters gonna hate. That’s why Barack Obama’s administration added the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to the Fair Housing Act in order to address segregation that persists in public housing. Department of Housing and Human Development Secretary Ben Carson has since suspended enforcement of the rule, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the National Fair Housing Alliance and joined by the state of New York.
Those living in environments that perpetuate hate can also learn something from Hader’s hateful tweets coming back to bite him. Even parents perpetuating hate in the home have their children’s preservation as their top priority, so talking with their children about safe social media usage, similar to the talk about practicing safe sex could result in fewer instances of hate speech online.
If children in the moment are too emotional to consider the effect their words might have on others, perhaps they’ll resist using hate speech over their own interest in self-preservation. Just as images of STDs are used in sex education courses to scare young people into practicing abstinence or safe sex, stories like Hader’s and Roseanne Barr’s might be enough to scare children from publicly expressing hate if their parents explain how imperative it is that their children are employable.
And if Hader’s and Barr’s stories aren’t scary enough, or children don’t understand why they should protect something they don’t yet have, maybe they’ll protect something they do. A fifth of undergraduate college students believe physical force is an acceptable response to “offensive and hurtful statements,” according to a 2017 Brookings Institution survey. So hate speakers have to consider whether they’re prepared to defend themselves, although most instances of violence resulting from hate speech indicate they are, which is why it’s so important that Hader do more than apologize and complete sensitivity training.
Colin Kaepernick didn’t just take a knee during the national anthem. He thoughtfully explained why he took a knee when asked, sought feedback from military personnel as to avoid offending them and backed up his words and actions with his money. Kaepernick has donated a million dollars to organizations working in oppressed communities as of January. Life After Hate, an organization working to reform haters, received a $50,000 donation from Kaepernick. Since Hader doesn’t make millions of dollars, he should donate his time and image to the movement to end hate.
If Hader was willing to take the time to trademark his nickname, “Haderade,”he can take the time to start a nonprofit called Hater Aid, an organization that helps haters stop hating. I’ve started two nonprofit organizations, make a lot less than Hader’s $555,500 annual salary and had no previous training. If he needs some guidance, the National Council of Nonprofits provides all the information he needs.
I would only recommend Hader focus his efforts locally to start. If the standing ovation he received from Brewers fans at Miller Park in his first appearance since the All-Star Game is any indication, he still has the support of Milwaukeeans, at least until he struggles to get MLB hitters out. Regardless of his performance on the field, Milwaukeeans will appreciate Hader focusing his off-field efforts locally, and there’s plenty to be done in Milwaukee.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are four active hate groups in Milwaukee alone and nine statewide. So Hater Aid’s initial mission should be to eradicate hate in Milwaukee first, then the state of Wisconsin, and then the region and nation. It’s also cheaper and easier to start and run a locally-focused nonprofit than one with a state or national focus.
With a modest, tax-deductible donation from Hader to found Hater Aid and a bit of paperwork to incorporate the organization and acquire a tax exemption, Hater Aid could be up and running before the end of the baseball season. MLB and the Brewers’ public relations department would love for Hader to dedicate some free time to meeting with former haters in the Milwaukee area willing to share how they managed to stop hating. If interested, they could serve as Hader’s Hater Aiders, a group of volunteers, interns and paid staff to run the day-to-day operations of Hater Aid, including a 24-hour, hater hotline for haters who want to stop hating but aren’t sure how.
If Hader were to take these steps, his national image wouldn’t just be repaired — it’d be more valuable than it was before the tweets were uncovered. It never hurts to be a role model and a community contributor in contract negotiations, either. By the time Hader’s eligible for free agency in 2024, Hader’s Hater Aiders will have helped haters stop hating throughout Milwaukee and, perhaps, the state of Wisconsin if not the entire country.
Hader might never have been addicted to hate, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the face of a movement to end hate. He should embrace and take advantage of this opportunity if he wants to earn a standing ovation from anyone other than Brewers’ fans.
All rise, and welcome to this sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play -- the podcast that provides play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.
Since the Miami Dolphins are one of the first NFL teams to report to training camp, they were the first to put police brutality protest penalties in writing, as required by the league. I’m calling them police brutality protests instead of anthem protests because that’s what they are: the players are protesting police brutality against minorities, not the national anthem. Yet the media was quick to dub the protests as anthem protests, which has stuck.
If you search Google using the terms “anthem protest” you get 13.6 million hits. Using the search terms “anthem protests” you get almost 1.5 million hits. If you search “police brutality protests” you get just 187,000 hits, so simply assigning a name to these protests
The Dolphins stuffed the police brutality protests in with other acts of conduct deemed “detrimental to the club” punishable by up to four-game suspensions, but they reportedly have no intent of suspending players four games for protesting the national anthem. Co-owner of the New York Giants, Steve Tisch, has since announced that their players will not be subject to penalties for protesting police brutality during the national anthem.
The public backlash to the Dolphins’ announcement has forced the NFL to put a freeze on its national anthem protest policy, and the NFL Players’ Association and the NFL are finally working out an agreement to end the anthem feud, as should have been the case in the first place given the collective bargaining agreement.
Since the Dolphins’ announcement and resulting public backlash, Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure with the anthem dispute, tweeting, “Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”
To answer your question Donald, players’ contracts do not include an anthem clause and neither does the collective bargaining agreement, and the commissioner taking your recommended stand could be devastating to the league given the NFL Players’ Association membership being almost 70-percent black. That union, at least, still has power. There is no NFL if only the black players protest during the anthem, and it hasn’t been just black players protesting.
I imagine the players value their right to protest less than guaranteed contracts but more than the right to use cannabis. On the topic of guaranteed contracts...
For a third consecutive season, running back Le’Veon Bell will play for the Steelers without a long-term contract in place, providing him no job security if he were to be injured in 2018. Pittsburgh’s final offer to Bell, which is likely to be the final contract the Steelers ever offer Bell, was reportedly worth $70 million over five years. But it only contained $10 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. And Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com tweeted that the deal would have been virtually identical to...the last contract” Pittsburgh offered because the boosts in value would have been based on the increase in value of the running back franchise tag.
Bell’s franchise tag with Pittsburgh will pay him $14.55 million this season, but if he were to be injured, Bell might end up with a mostly unguaranteed contract in 2019 if he’s healthy enough to play at all.
Bell isn’t the only player griping about the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts, but running backs seem to be the loudest proponents for guaranteed contracts and for good reason. Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley told TMZ Sports that all NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts and expects a lockout by the players to get them in 2021.
Running back DeMarco Murray chose to retire at age 30, and during his short, seven-year career, Murray amassed just over $25 million. That’s what Yu Darvish will make this season despite spending much of it on the disabled list. Murray, remember, led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage just four years ago. So a guy who was arguably the best player in the sport at one time made the same amount of money over his career as a top-30 starting pitcher will make this season despite appearing in just eight games thus far.
Major League Baseball, though, is not a hard-capped league. Owners could theoretically spend as much as they want on players, although not without paying a hefty competitive-balance tax. The same goes for the NBA, but the NFL and NHL owners benefit from a hard salary cap that limits the earning potential of players. It seems NFL players are better positioned in bargaining than they’ve ever been given decreasing viewership and youth participation. So what are the chances the NFLPA challenges the hard cap with a 2021 lockout, and how ugly is this round of collective bargaining going to get? And will it end the way the players want, with guaranteed contracts for all NFL players?
Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory has been reinstated by the NFL, ending a two-year banishment for repeat violations of the league’s Substances of Abuse Policy. Gregory’s use of cannabis while at Nebraska is well documented, and he’s told multiple media outlets that he used the drug to cope with anxiety.
With the STATES Act getting the support of Congressmen and -women on both sides of the aisle, it seems the end of cannabis prohibition will be determined by each individual state. It’s safe to say Texas might be one of the last states to adopt medical cannabis laws, but regardless of the laws in Texas, the STATES Act would still allow the NFL to prohibit cannabis use, medically or otherwise and in states where it's legal or otherwise. With cannabis remaining federally illegal, the NFL can pretty much demand what it wants of its employees regardless of state law. But the NFL Players’ Association can and should make it a point to demand cannabis prohibition end in the NFL.
On the show two months ago we talked about a high school football player whose use of CBD oil, the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis that has healing and pain relieving properties, eased his seizures so he could play the game. But the .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis responsible for its euphoric effects, still present in his medicine made it impossible for him to realize his dream of playing for the Auburn Tigers due to NCAA rules. “We don’t want kids to give up their dreams of playing football for a living because there’s fewer and fewer of those kids in existence everyday due to concussion fears” seems like a strong message the NFLPA can use to get what it wants on this front.
Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s first All-Star appearance didn’t go very well, allowing three runs on four hits in a third of an inning, but what awaited him after the game was even worse.
Jeff Passan reported for Yahoo Sports that Twitter users uncovered a series of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets Hader made over an eight-month period when he was 17 years old. Hader thrice used the n-word, used the fist emoji followed by “white power lol” and another time tweeted, simply, “KKK.” “I hate gay people,” one tweet read, and two months before the Orioles drafted him in 2012, Hader tweeted, “Need a bitch that can bleep, cook, clean, right.”
Hader’s family and friends in attendance at the All-Star Game left Nationals Park with their Hader jerseys either inside-out or covered by generic, no-name National League All-Star jerseys. After the game, Hader called his comments “inexcusable” and said he was “deeply sorry” for what he said. “There’s nothing before that I believe now,” he added. “When you’re a kid, you tweet what’s on your mind.”
Regardless of age, those thoughts being on anyone’s mind should be troubling to anyone, and in my mind, it’s partially a result of just white, old-timers being white, old-timers and teaching their kids outdated and offensive habits, and partially a result of the segregation that persists in this country in the form of gentrification. Hader graduated from high school in Millersville, Maryland where 55 percent of enrolled students are minorities, according to U.S. News and World Report. But 71.3 percent of the city’s population is white.
Here in Minneapolis we have school segregation disguised as a “right to choose.” That is, parents and students have the so-called “right to choose” in which school they want to enroll, resulting in taxpayers like me paying more to bus white kids to mostly white schools further from the diverse neighborhoods in which they live.
Maryland also prides itself as a “right to choose” state, offering vouchers to low-income students to attend private and charter schools instead of public schools where the majority of students are minorities. That wasn’t the case for Hader, but he was sounding like Donald Trump before Donald Trump started sounding like Donald Trump. Hader’s tweets were published a year prior to the 2012 election that didn’t include Trump, but did see Barack Obama earn reelection by beating the pants off Mitt Romney.
So from where does this seemingly growing racist and sexist sentiment of young, white men start? Is it a direct result of the reign of white presidents coming to an end and a sense that white men’s power is finally being threatened?
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is facing two lawsuits alleging sexual assault. The first, brought by an unidentified Texas woman, accuses Dareus of sexual assault and transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, according to Chris Parenteau of News 4 Jacksonville.
The second lawsuit stems from an alleged incident occurring in Florida in January 2017, according to Greg Aumen of the Tampa Bay Times. Dareus rented a mansion in Florida the week of the college football national championship game and allegedly invited the accuser to an afterparty at the mansion, where she said Dareus groped her against her wishes. She then “blacked out” from drinking too much alcohol and awoke next to a naked Dareus, aware that sexual acts had been committed.
Dareus will move to have the second lawsuit dismissed on Aug. 9, but regardless of how the lawsuits are settled, Dareus would be subject to suspension by the NFL and for a considerable amount of time. The baseline suspension for sexual assault is six games, but the NFL hasn’t had to issue a punishment for multiple allegations as of yet, meaning Dareus could miss up to 12 games this season.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was suspended by the team for five weeks and fined $200,000 after pleading guilty to extreme driving under intoxication on Tuesday. The suspension stems from an incident occurring the night of July 4th. Keim was arrested, booked and released the same night, but shouldn’t NFL GMs and owners be subject to the same conduct policy as the players?
Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten was murdered Thursday in Kazakhstan by a man who has since confessed to the crime in the presence of an attorney. Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city. He died in the hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.
Our dishonorable mention this week is Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker, who was suspended three FIBA matches for delivering multiple flying kicks during a brawl between Australia and the Philippines in a World Cup qualifying match on July 2nd. Do you agree that flying kicks by a seven-footer would be considered cheating in a basketball brawl, Mike?
Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week is Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler, who was suspended for the first game of the 2018 season. Fowler’s bronze balls are massive, as he refereed a fight between his baby momma and current girlfriend in February of 2016, a video of which TMZ released. Fowler also has 10 traffic violations since December of 2015, and is charged with misdemeanor battery and mischief after an arrest on Tuesday. All of this comes in a contract year for Fowler, Mike.
The Silver Syringe goes to New York Jets receiver ArDarius Stewart, who tested positive for a substance designed to mask performance-enhancing drug use, Ian Rapoport reports. While a suspension hasn’t been announced, it’s expected to keep Stewart out for two games.
Let’s get nostalgic and talk about foul play of the past, when news was delivered on paper and milk in reusable glass bottles. Here’s your sports-crime history lesson we call Historically Foul Play.
On July 20th, 1944, en route to a 20-win season, St. Louis Browns’ ace Nelson Potter became the first player in big-league history to be ejected and suspended for throwing spitballs. Potter denied ever loading up the ball with anything, and returned to play a big part as a reliever and spot starter in the Boston Braves’ World Series appearance in 1948.
The last player to be ejected and suspended for using a substance on baseballs is former Yankee and current Twin Michael Pineda, who was ejected and suspended for loading the ball with pine tar back in 2014.
The New York Yankees led the American League Wild Card race by five games over Seattle as of the Major League Baseball All-Star Break. They could very well finish the season 10 games better than both the Mariners and the winner of the AL Central Division, and will still have to win a one-game playoff just to earn the right to play the best team in the American League, who will likely be from their own division.
I’m not one to make excuses for the Yankees. As a Minnesota Twins fan, I despise the Yankees more than most, and I’m a huge fan of the one-game playoff. But there’s nothing fair about a team’s postseason chances coming down to one game when that team has played a tougher schedule to a better record than all but one team in the league. It’s time for MLB to do away with divisions and go back to a division-less pennant race.
While Rob Manfred was repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth prior to the MLB All-Star Game, blaming the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout for not marketing Mike Trout, and calling for a discussion on ending defensive shifts, only the most interesting thing happening in baseball, he failed to address the most pressing issue facing the game. The one-game Wild Card could be played between the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the American League while the sixth-ranked team in the league gets a pass to the Divisional round simply for playing in a historically weak division. And that sixth-ranked team won’t even play the league’s best team.
Back in 1969, when East and West divisions were adopted by Major League Baseball, there were no Wild Card teams in the playoff format. And when just one team from both the American League and National League were awarded a postseason berth as a Wild Card for the first time in 1995 (the 1994 postseason was cancelled due to a player strike), there weren’t immediate issues.
But now that there are two Wild Card teams from each league reaching the postseason, either those teams need to play a three-game Wild Card series, or the league needs a good, old-fashioned pennant race. I’m for both.
I would recommend shortening the season to 154 games and adding a three-game Wild Card Playoff series to be played between the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in each league, regardless of division standings. There is no need for a team to play the same four teams 19 times every year. I’d be fine with MLB divisions remaining simply for travel and rivalry reasons, but 17 games against division rivals is still probably too many. Commissioner Manfred should shorten the regular season to the original 154-game length while adding at least four and up to six lucrative playoff games to the schedule.
Since the All-Star Game no longer determines which league has home field advantage in the World Series, a good, old-fashioned pennant race is the most reasonable and fair way to determine who plays who in the playoffs. The top three seeds in each league would benefit from up to five days off entering the playoffs while the two Wild Card teams are decided, and each league’s top seed would play the fourth-best team instead of the second-best team that happened to lose its division despite winning more games than other division champions.
So before Manfred even considers changing rules to the game regarding defensive shifts and pace of play, he should make sure the league’s best teams are rewarded for being the league’s best teams. Even if the Yankees were to win the Wild Card Game, if the playoffs began today, they’d meet the Red Sox in the Divisional Series instead of the ALCS. And if 2004 taught us anything, it’s that baseball’s best rivalry should be decided in the ALCS. Most importantly though, the league’s best playoff team should play the league’s worst playoff team in the divisional round, and that’s not the case as the MLB postseason currently stands.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) Trade Deadline is July 31, and the weeks leading up to it give fans of every team at least one reason for hope regardless of the standings. Even fans of the last-place Baltimore Orioles have reason for hope at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, despite the seemingly silly salary of Chris Davis, whom the Orioles owe $92 million over the next four years, and the depreciated value of both Zach Britton and Brad Brach. I wrote that they should have been sellers at the Trade Deadline last season, but last season’s failures could still end up successes of seasons to come. Here’s every fan’s reason for hope at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.
Reason for hope: Plenty of affordable bullpen arms available
The Red Sox are in a good place at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but every team’s bullpen could be deeper come August, September and October. The Red Sox have the fifth-best bullpen based on FanGraph’s version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), so adding a veteran reliever like Zach Britton to open a sixth or seventh inning instead of relying on 29-year-old Heath Hembree might give Boston’s bullpen the boost it needs to challenge the Yankees’ MLB-best bullpen.
Boston also has some room to improve at second base if Dustin Pedroia does indeed miss the rest of the season due to a troublesome knee. The Red Sox have been linked to Whit Merrifield, who would give them a long-term insurance plan at the position if Pedroia continues to struggle with injuries. Merrifield is cheap (for now), arbitration eligible for the first time in 2020 and comes with team-control through 2022. He will not be cheap to acquire, however. Brian Dozier could be an alternative option as an affordable rental if the Twins are still committed to selling at the deadline.
Reason for hope: Manny Machado and Miguel Andujar
The Yankees look to be in need of a Game 3 starter who can swing a playoff series in their direction, but New York’s focus has been on acquiring the best player available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Manny Machado.
The Yankees don’t need a shortstop, and they don’t look to be in need of a third baseman given Miguel Andujar’s .818 OPS at just 23 years old. But Andujar could be traded to acquire that starter the Yankees need to hang with the Astros, Indians and Red Sox, all of whom’s starters have performed better than the Yankees’ this year.
Toronto’s J.A. Happ is a “realistic” trade target the Yankees are considering according to Jon Heyman, and could be the Game 3 starter who swings the momentum of a playoff series the Yankees’ way. Happ earned a win over Houston allowing three earned runs over six innings earlier this season and has allowed just .938 walks/hits per inning pitched (WHIP) in two starts against Boston. His start against Seattle was a disaster, though, lasting just three and a third innings after allowing seven earned runs.
Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market and Wilson Ramos
The defending champions have almost everything they need to repeat as champions. The Astros’ starting rotation has been almost 14 wins better than a replacement play – the best in baseball. Houston’s starters are so good that Collin McHugh was forced into a bullpen role, where he’s amassed an incredible ERA+ of 392.
The Astros, like every other contender, is looking to add bullpen depth at the Trade Deadline, and like the Red Sox, they’ve shown interest in Britton according the Heyman. With Ken Giles being optioned to Triple-A, Houston has reason to acquire a reliever despite its bullpen ranking second in MLB in WAR thus far in 2018.
The Astros aren’t reading too much into the success of catcher Max Stassi and his .804 OPS over 177 plate appearances either. And while Brian McCann is expected to return from arthroscopic right knee surgery in September, his .606 OPS over 173 plate appearances leaves a lot to be desired, even when considering the hitting ineptitude of catchers throughout the league.
That’s why the Astros contacted Tampa Bay about pending free agent and All-Star Wilson Ramos, whose proven ability to hit (.751 career OPS) will be even more evident given Houston’s deep lineup. His deficiencies behind the dish (6 defensive runs below average over 1,200 innings this season) would also be less impactful given the pitchers he’d be catching in Houston compared to those he’s catching with the Rays.
Reason for hope: Yu Darvish or J.A. Happ
The Cubs might make the second-best addition at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline and do so without surrendering anything in a trade, but that possibility is looking less and less likely everyday. Yu Darvish experienced pain in his elbow after a bullpen session that followed a rehab start in the minors, so the Cubs don’t know when or if he’ll be available.
The Cubs lead the National League in run differential, and by 25 runs as of this writing, making their 23rd-ranked starting pitching WAR less of a concern. That won’t be the case against an American League contender, however. The Astros, Red Sox and Yankees all have higher run differentials than the Cubs, which is why J.A. Happ has been on Chicago’s radar according to Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun. If Darvish gets bad news, the Cubs will have to add a starter to have a chance at winning a second World Series in three years.
Reason for hope: Buyers’ market for bullpen arms, Andrew Miller’s return, and maybe Adam Jones
The Cleveland Indians’ bullpen, once the team’s biggest strength, has become the team’s biggest weakness. Cleveland’s Cody Allen, who was almost unhittable last season, blew a four-run, ninth-inning lead over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, allowing six runs in two-thirds of an inning after Trevor Bauer tossed eight shutout innings. The Indians lost 7-4, breathing new life into a Minnesota Twins team that was 11.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central Division and announcing the availability of its pending free agents. The Twins are just 7.5 games back as of this writing and
While Andrew Miller is expected to return after the MLB All-Star Break, his return won’t make Cleveland’s bullpen playoff-ready. Allen’s struggles aren’t a result of bad luck. While his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.92 is evidence that his team’s defense is at least somewhat responsible for his bloated 4.66 Earned Run Average (ERA), Allen’s soft contact percentage of 8.9 percent thus far this season is a career low and way down from the career high of 22.2 percent he set last season.
Allen’s not the only Cleveland reliever struggling either. The Indians are last in bullpen ERA and home run rate allowed, and second to last in bullpen WAR, according to FanGraphs. So Cleveland needs all the bullpen help it can get at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.
The Indians have also shown interest in center fielder Adam Jones of the Orioles because their center fielders Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen have left much to be desired when a bat’s in their hands. The two have averaged a .576 OPS between them.
Baltimore is the perfect trade partner for Cleveland because the Indians could also acquire the bullpen help it needs in the form of Zach Britton, who is finally starting to look like his old self according to Jon Heyman of Fancred. Brad Brach, on the other hand, has surrendered hard contact on nearly a third of batted balls against him, a career high. Acquiring one reliever won’t likely be enough for Cleveland to contend for a championship, so they’re lucky it’s a buyers’ market for bullpen arms at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.
Reason for hope: Robinson Cano’s return, Dee Gordon’s flexibility
I said prior to Opening Day that Dee Gordon’s transition to center field would be an adventure worth watching, and it was. While Gordon’s speed and athleticism was often displayed on highlight reels, he was well below average in center field (35 runs below average per 1,200 innings). But Robinson Cano’s suspension for performance-enhancing drug use makes the acquisition of Gordon one of the best deals Seattle won’t have to make at the Trade Deadline. The acquisitions of Denard Span (.842 OPS in 124 plate appearances) and Alex Colome (16 Ks in 16.2 innings pitched) at the end of May have provided the roster depth necessary for Seattle to make a push for the postseason as well.
Seattle will get Cano back on Aug. 14, which will be like adding an All-Star prior to the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. But unlike a waiver acquisition, Cano can’t participate in the postseason, so Jean Segura and Gordon will be the Mariners’ middle infielders should they make the playoffs, leaving a big hole in a lineup that struggles to score runs.
Recent recipient of a contract extension, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto hasn’t been in a hurry to announce any trade targets at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, even with both James Paxton and Felix Hernandez hitting the 10-day disabled list with minor back issues. Regardless, the Mariners’ eighth-ranked bullpen and 11th-ranked starting rotation according to FanGraphs’ WAR won’t be good enough to contend for a championship given their 20th-ranked offense in runs scored, so bringing another bat to Seattle might be necessary. Perhaps an Adam Jones reunion is in order given the Mariners’ .692 OPS from center fielders this season.
Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, and Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos
Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle are potentially huge additions expected to come of the DL prior to the Trade Deadline, and the Nationals have already gotten Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and catcher Matt Wieters back from injury just in time to save their season – the last of their quickly closing World Series window.
Washington is still in pursuit of a catcher like Ramos to push Wieters into a backup role, and while the Nationals have the eighth-best starting rotation in baseball, their 23rd-ranked bullpen is in dire need of an upgrade. Expect Washington to pursue pending free agents to improve its bullpen to allow for maximum flexibility in free agency this offseason.
Reason for hope: Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier...if the Twins actually sell
The Brewers were surprisingly good last year, and continue to surprise just about everyone by holding a one-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central as of this writing. The starting rotation consists of no one you’ve heard of and the lineup is a collage of castaways, overachieving prospects and Ryan Braun. Their +55 run differential is 50 runs worse than the Cubs, but the Brewers’ bullpen is fantastic, especially Josh Hader – Milwaukee’s version of Andrew Miller.
Despite losing new acquisition Lorenzo Cain to injury, the Brewers continue to impress. But scoring the top bat available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline could help them overcome their 17th-ranked offense in runs scored. They were in the bottom third of the league in runs scored last year, so the Brewers are better, but will end up fighting for a Wild Card spot regardless of what they do at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, and they’ll need to do something big to hold off the Diamondbacks or Dodgers.
Milwaukee can improve most at both middle infield positions. The Brewers have been active in the Machado sweepstakes, but are unlikely to win his services according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. So the Brewers will have to hope the Twins’ recent success doesn’t deter them from trading pending free agents Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier, in whom Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports the Brewers’ interest.
Reason for hope: Adding another Zack to go with Greinke, Godley
Also leading their division as of this writing, the Diamondbacks will need to add at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline in order to hold off the Dodgers, who have been trending up and carry a run differential 36 runs better than Arizona’s as of July 13.
The Diamondbacks still have Zack Greinke, who allowed more home runs last year (25) than he had since his rookie year in 2004 (26), but the new baseball humidor in Arizona has made him even better in 2018.
Behind Greinke, though, only Patrick Corbin can be considered reliable for Arizona. Clay Bucholtz is on the 10-day disabled list with a strained oblique. Robbie Ray is averaging five walks per nine innings, and Zack Godley isn’t doing much better (4.7 walks per nine innings).
The Diamondbacks need a middle-of-the-rotation starter who can give them a chance in Game 3 of a playoff series, and adding a third Zack to the roster might be the solution. Arizona has expressed interest in the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, who is controlled through next season if Arizona loses Corbin to free agency this offseason.
Reason for hope: Clayton Kershaw once more, Manny Machado if they’re desperate, or Whit Merrifield, if they’re smart
Clayton Kershaw is back in what could be his last season with the Dodgers. He’s looked like his old self after coming off the disabled list, but the Dodgers needed more than Kershaw last season and need much more this season.
The Dodgers are considered a favorite to land Machado, which is the kind of addition Los Angeles would need to make at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline in order to contend for a title. If the Dodgers’ plan is to move Chris Taylor to second base for Logan Forsythe and plug Machado in at shortstop, they might be better off long-term adding Whit Merrifield given his lower cost, both in terms of prospects surrendered and salary owed. Plus, with Chase Utley retiring after the season, and Forsythe a free agent at the end of the year, the Dodgers could use a long-term, affordable second baseman who will improve the Dodgers’ 25th-ranked defense if Kershaw isn’t in LA to hide the Dodgers defensive deficiencies next year.
Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the Dodgers are also linked to the Reds’ Scooter Gennett, who doesn’t anticipate being traded Mark Sheldon reports for MLB.com. The Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera also has the Dodgers’ attention, as does Josh Harrison of Pittsburgh per Mike Berardino of St. Paul. LA’s exploring all options because these could be the last of Kershaw’s Dodger days.
Reason for hope: Manny Machado, bullpen buyers’ market
Prior to Opening Day, I wrote that the Phillies weren’t as far from contending as some people thought thanks to their young talent being quick studies at the MLB level. They’ve proven me right, but why the Phillies are willing to trade the farm for not even half a season of Machado is beyond me.
The Phillies without Machado can make the playoffs and compete with anyone in the National League thanks to its NL-best starting rotation, which might be why they’re so eager to land the best player available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. They think Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin can hang with the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals, and they might be right.
Eflin was brilliant in one start against the Cubs, has two wins against the Brewers and one more against the Nationals. Nola allowed just two hits and one run over seven innings in a win over the Dodgers, is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA against the Nationals and held the Cubs to three runs over six innings. And Arrieta pitched seven innings of shutout ball in a win over the Dodgers, has a .909 WHIP in two no-decisions against the Nationals and should be pretty familiar with the Cubs’ lineup.
Philadelphia seems to be in a hurry to take advantage of Washington’s sudden fall, but the Nationals will be even worse next year than they are this year, and Machado could be acquired without surrendering any prospects prior to the season. I think the Phillies are overreaching given their third-worst defense and 20th-ranked offense, but I’ve been wrong before.
Machado would certainly make the Phillies contenders for the NL pennant. I just don’t think the risk is worth the reward given the strength of the American League. If I were a Phillies fan, I’d rather hold onto our prospects and lose in the playoffs than trade those prospects to lose in the World Series and then lose Machado in free agency to the team that beat us in the World Series. But maybe I don’t know Philly fans.
Reason for hope: Michael Fulmer
Billy Beane sees the Athletics as buyers at the trade deadline, and they need a starter, especially with Trevor Cahill a free agent after the season. Detroit’s Michael Fulmer would give Oakland a stable starter atop the rotation through 2022 to pair with 26-year-old Sean Manaea, who is under team control through 2023, as is 25-year-old Frankie Montas. Fulmer would give Oakland three-fifths of a rotation with playoff potential under team control for at least five seasons. That’s worth a lot, and besides Chris Archer, Fulmer might demand the best prospect haul of any pitcher traded at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.
Reason for hope: Rebuild way ahead of schedule, and Nick Markakis
The similarly surprising Braves are taking the exact opposite approach of the Phillies despite being just 1.5 games back of Philadelphia in the division. Unlike the Phillies, the Braves can really hit (sixth in MLB) and field the ball (seventh in MLB), but their pitching is middle-of-the-pack. Without any sure-fire aces available on the market, the Braves aren’t risking prospects for rentals according to Rosenthal. That’s a smart move given their situation.
Atlanta made an offer for Machado but isn’t likely to win his services. The Braves are looking to add controllable starting pitching at the trade deadline. They’ve scouted Nathan Eovaldi, who comes with another arbitration year beyond this one.
Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, Wacha and Wainwright?
The Cardinals are taking the same approach as the Braves. They aren’t shopping for rentals. They’ll look to improve the 23rd-ranked bullpen by adding arms controlled for multiple seasons. The Cardinals’ seventh-best starting rotation will add Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright sometime in August. Whether either is any good is yet to be determined.
Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, CarGo?