Friday, November 30, 2007

Replay OK, But Strike Zones Are Getting Out Of Hand

There was a time that, had you asked me if we should instill video replay into Major League Baseball, I would have knocked your hot dog out of your hand and dumped your beer on you.

That time is in the past.

MLB, as you might know, is seriously considering using video replay to resolve certain plays, notably home runs (to determine fair or foul or fan interference or over the wall or not) and fan interference in balls still in play. Other situations may become replay-ready going forward, such as whether balls are caught or trapped in the outfield.

What replay will NOT be used for (at least not now) is to determine balls and strikes, out or safe, or if a batter was hit by a pitch or not.

I would have been resistant back in the day because I felt like part of baseball's charm was the human element in umpiring. Plus, the boys in blue pretty much got everything right -- and replay usually vindicated them anyway. But the plays for which replay is being considered are ones that are genuinely tough to call with the naked eye, and I suppose I feel the time is right to let technology in a little bit.

Of course, if rulings on the field are overturned by the cameras, then baseball will have to incorporate contingency plans, i.e. where to place batters, baserunners, etc. A ball called a home run by the umpire, and then overturned, would of course be turned into a ground rule double, with baserunners (if applicable) being placed accordingly. Obviously, balls originally called doubles or triples that end up turning into home runs thanks to replay would have cut-and-dried ramifications.

I must admit, though, that balls-and-strikes, while certainly not replayable, are getting on my nerves -- because umpires' strike zones are seemingly getting more and more varied. Again, I realize this is that human element of which I speak. But there's human element, and there's "WTF?" The strike zone is edging toward the latter.

So MLB has my permission to use video replay in the situations earmarked. Nothing wrong with gettin' a li'l help.

Monday, November 26, 2007

With Tabletop Baseball, It's Never The Offseason

Some of you may know that I'm a tabletop sports game player. You can have your fancy-shmancy X Boxes, Game Cubes, and PS IIs. I'll take cards and dice, thank you very much, to simulate my pro and college sports.

It might be cold outside, and nowhere near baseball season, but that doesn't stop the tabletop player from enjoying nostalgic baseball action.

I got the hankering late last week to break out my APBA baseball game. I only have one season -- 1974 -- and even though I had replayed the World Series a couple years ago (Dodgers swept the A's, even though the A's won in five games in real life), it dawned on me that I had skipped the LCS in each league.

So guess who's rolling the bones to pit the A's against the Baltimore Orioles?

Thanks to, I'm able to use the same starting pitchers and exact batting lineups that were actually used in these games.

APBA baseball cards

The A's won Game 1 in a pitcher's duel that they broke open late. Catfish Hunter and Mike Cuellar battled for six scoreless innings before Baltimore's Boog Powell clubbed a solo HR in the top of the 7th. Then the A's, who'd been leaving runners on base all game long, finally strung together some hits and hung a four-spot on the O's in the bottom of the inning. The crucial point of the game was in the 8th, when Hunter got into some trouble: bases loaded with one out. But he coaxed Paul Blair to hit into an inning-ending double play. A's win, 4-1.

In Game 2, the pitchers again were the story: Ken Holtzman for Oakland, and Dave McNally for Baltimore. The A's used an error by O's left fielder Don Baylor to score the go-ahead run in the fourth inning. Holtzman was brilliant, and thanks to a scoreless ninth by Rollie Fingers, the A's won, 2-1.

So the A's lead the best-of-five series, 2-0, with Game 3 in Baltimore -- which I'll probably play tonight.

After the ALCS, I'll get rolling -- no pun intended -- on the NLCS, pitting Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

I'll only replay the World Series again if one of the two teams is different.

I have too many tabletop games, in all sports, for one person to own, to be honest with you. Baseball games account for seven of these (APBA, Strat-o-Matic, Pursue the Pennant, Dynasty League, Statis-Pro, Replay, Clubhouse). I know -- I'm sick.

They all offer some great features, but I think Dynasty League probably tops them all in terms of realism and encapsulating EVERYTHING that can happen in a real MLB game.

I got a kick out of my interview with actor Jeff Daniels last year, when he revealed to me that he's a closet APBA player. He told me that, to this day, his wife cringes at the sound of dice rolling.

So it may be the onset of winter outside, but it's a brisk afternoon in October for me in Baltimore tonight!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bonds Joins Rose As Black Sheep Record Holder

They are two of the most hallowed batting records in all of baseball -- if not THE most hallowed.

Most career base hits. Most career home runs.

And here we have Peter Rose, the hits leader, banished from baseball for allegedly gambling on the sport. Not even allowed within shouting distance of the Hall of Fame, like as with a restraining order. Come too close, and Commissioner Bud Selig will yell "rape."

And now here we have Barry Bonds, the home run leader. Indicted, on multiple counts. Could face up to 30 years in the slammer if convicted. It's not a parking ticket, and far worse than a restraining order.

So that's where we are -- two high-profile records stashed away with the suspected Rose and the indicted Bonds. What a legacy!

Maybe it's of some solace to remind you that while Rose's record is nowhere near being threatened, he is still, in many people's eyes, Hall of Fame worthy. Mine are two of those eyes.

And there's solace with Bonds, too -- for his record won't last forever, not even close. Alex Rodriguez, should he decide to play long enough, figures to shatter Bonds's mark, which was confiscated thanks to the magic of creams and pills. So this won't be a decades-long run, this stint as baseball's home run king. A little consolation, anyway.

Still, with all this legal trouble swirling around Bonds, the question about where he'll play in 2008 (he's a free agent) continues to be talked about -- as if it will even matter. This indictment the other day wasn't a small deal. I mean, he could be looking at 30 years behind bars. What team in their right mind would sign a 43-year-old who's a court hearing away from wearing an electronic tether?

The Oakland A's, clearly not of sound mind, are rumored to be interested in Bonds. They're just across the Bay, so maybe employment with the A's wouldn't exacerbate any flight risks. Maybe he could play just the home games, and with a curfew. Not sure.

I jest, but it's not really all that funny. The all-time hits leader and the home run king are persona non grata within their own sport.

As Casey Stengel would say, "You can look it up."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tigers' To-Do List Grows Shorter With Addition Of Jacque Jones

My last memories of Jacque Jones are of him and his Minnesota Twins teammates terrorizing the Tigers, back in the pre-Jim Leyland days. I lost track of him when he went to the National League. Even a post-season appearance this year by Jones's Cubs didn't clear the fuzz; of course, three-and-out didn't help, either.

But I'll get my fill of Jones now, as the Tigers acquired him yesterday for utility man Omar Infante.

The move apparently means the often-rumored Geoff Jenkins-to-Detroit move will not happen, as Jones is a lefthanded-hitting corner outfielder. And bonus: Jones can play centerfield if necessary, spelling Curtis Granderson.

I like how the Tigers are addressing needs swiftly. They moved quickly to shore up their shortstop vacancy, trading for Edgar Renteria. They signed closer Todd Jones yesterday, ensuring he won't be testing the free agent waters. And now they've filled their need for a lefty stick, courtesy the Jacque Jones move.

Jacque Jones

Still on GM Dave Dombrowski's to-do list: a veteran starting pitcher and some bullpen help. And if the team can re-sign Kenny Rogers, then that will only leave the bullpen for off-season tinkering.

Another backup middle infielder might be needed with Infante's departure. But the Tigers might be content to go with Ramon Santiago for that role, which would be fine.

The lineup looks solid. Here's a potential batting order:

Curtis Granderson, CF
Placido Polanco, 2B
Gary Sheffield, DH
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Carlos Guillen, 1B
Edgar Renteria, SS
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Jacque Jones, LF
Brandon Inge, 3B

Not Murderer's Row, but solid. If everyone does their thing, and tries not to do too much, this lineup will be a nightmare for pitchers. A healthy Sheffield, obviously, is key. A bounce back year from Rodriguez would be nice, too -- if he has it in him. Inge could stand to improve at the plate, too.

One thing that hasn't been talked about too much is the expected return of backup catcher Vance Wilson. No disrespect to Mike Rabelo, but a healthy Wilson (he missed all of 2007 with an elbow injury) will help Rodriguez, and the Tigers, immensely. Wilson is better than Rabelo defensively, and is a more experienced, smarter hitter. It may not look like it if you compare the raw numbers, but I guarantee you that Wilson will give you more quality at-bats over the long haul than Rabelo at this stage of the youngster's career.

It's not even Thanksgiving, and the Tigers have addressed concerns admirably and smartly. It's another reason why, in Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland, the Tigers have among the best front office and field boss tandems in the majors.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Boras's Sabre-Rattling Likely Empty Threats Re: Rogers

(I can't believe it's been NINE days since my last post. I apologize! I'll try to keep this site updated twice a week)

I've always found it ironic that sports agents are hired, partly, to be the mouthpieces for their clients. Yet they are the last people, often times, that you should listen to -- if you want accuracy, that is.

Scott Boras has struck again. The super agent represents, among many others, free agent pitcher Kenny Rogers. Throughout the summer, pending free agent Rogers reiterated this salient point: that he really had no interest in playing anywhere other than Detroit, should he decide to pitch at all in 2008. Yet Boras has publicly told everyone to hold the phone; Rogers will test the market, after all.

My first instinct when I read that contention this morning was that it was all a smoke screen; that Rogers will, indeed, be a Tiger next year -- and that there's nothing for Tigers fans to worry about. And, after taking some time to reflect on it and mull it over, I think this: that it's all a smoke screen; and Rogers will, indeed, be a Tiger next year.

In other words, I don't believe a word Scott Boras, or any other agent for that matter, says.

Now it may be that Rogers, who'll turn 43 on Saturday, may have mentioned to Boras that it might be wise to just toss a few bones out there and see who jumps for them. But the agent is trying to portray Rogers as suddenly non-committal, and that the Tigers are on the same level as any other MLB team who might want the lefty's services. Quite a difference from his client's own words during the '07 season.

To their credit, the Tigers are doing the wise thing and are gauging interest from other free agent starting pitchers. Just to be safe. They still have to treat Boras's words as more than just empty sabre-rattling. GM Dave Dombrowski has been through all this before.

I would be floored if Kenny Rogers, having decided to continue to be a big league pitcher next season, doesn't do so as a Detroit Tiger. Despite Scott Boras's sabre-rattling. But I can afford to be unimpressed with the bleatings of a self-serving sports agent. The Tigers cannot. Even if they tend to agree with me.