The Week That Was in Baseball: January 21-27, 2013
Sammy Sosa's Presidential Delusions of Grandeur • An Upton Uniting in Atlanta
The Dodgers' Flu$h New TV Deal • Does Marvin Miller Belong in Cooperstown?
Kneel Before Me
Sammy Sosa has clearly become a legend in his own mind. The man who stands eighth on the all-time home run list with 609—but got there primarily with the help of steroids and, on one occasion we know of, a corked bat—spoke this past week and reminded people why he should be reminded that he only received 12.5% of the vote in his initial year of Hall-of-Fame eligibility. On some online thing called Ustream in which he has 21 followers (or a mere fraction of TGG Facebook fans), Sosa set up his own interview and bragged that he and Mark McGwire should be in Cooperstown because they “saved” the game in 1998 with their mesmerizing (but now tarnished) chase of Roger Maris’ season home run record. Sosa also thinks the Chicago Cubs should retire his number 21. Oh, and one more thing: He thinks he can be president of the Dominican Republic.
Maybe this will score points among fervent Sosa fans and those within his homeland who still grasp at the good vibes of his 1998 home run charge, but his self-gratifying chat deepened the perception of how oblivious he is to the masses, who have a much different opinion of him .
The New York Yankees are in danger of becoming old tech in the world of baseball finance, thanks to the Los Angeles Dodgers—who are already spending like it’s other people’s money. Here’s the scary part: You ain’t seen nothing yet. The Dodgers, who already have a larger projected 2013 payroll than the Yankees, could easily feel empowered to comfortably build on top of that in 2014 when their local TV deal with Time Warner Cable—which finished negotiations this past week—kicks in. The staggering deal will last 25 years and pay the Dodgers a whopping $320 million per year, doubling the yearly intake of the Texas Rangers and crosstown Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that had so many people popping their eyes out last season. (By comparison, the Atlanta Braves earn roughly $15 million a year under their present local TV deals.)
The Dodger-Time Warner agreement underscores the intensity major league teams are exerting to quickly negotiate (or renegotiate, if possible) lucrative local TV deals to keep up with each other as this component has become the new way to earn big revenue in baseball. Those teams locked in on long-term TV deals negotiated long ago, and who never imagined a multi-billion dollar contract like that of the Dodgers’ so soon, must be panicking—with the hope that they won’t fall deep into the major league abyss of lean bank accounts and given MLB welfare courtesy of the Dodgers themselves, who’ll undoubtedly (and painlessly) pay the penalty of crossing the luxury tax threshold .
Upton and Upbeat in Atlanta
The Justin Upton saga finally came to an end this week when the Arizona Diamondbacks not only found a taker, but one that the talented but erratic outfielder was happy to say yes to. In a seven-player deal, the Atlanta Braves acquired Upton and will station him next to brother B.J. Upton, who signed a free-agent deal this offseason.
Additionally, the Braves will receive third baseman Chris Johnson, a solid if not spectacular hitting talent who will help round out what’s turning into a sharp lineup that includes the Uptons, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. Add a good rotation and one of the game’s best bullpens, and the Braves can now be argued to be a favorite to win the NL East, even as the defending division titlists Washington Nationals bulk themselves up.
The trade comes with risks for the Braves; they sent Martin Prado, the tough, trusty infielder who hit .301 last year to the Diamondbacks along with three minor leaguers and 22-year-old pitching prospect Randall Delgado, who some say is bound to improve on a 4-9 record and 4.37 earned run average in his first extended action with the Braves last year. But it appears Atlanta is shooting for winning now over the Diamondbacks, who are still trying to mold a roster mirrored in the character of old-school, tough-as-nails manager Kirk Gibson.
Kap the Cub?
This week’s Super Bowl will feature a quarterback who might have been the Chicago Cubs’ next flamethrower on the mound. Colin Kaepernick, who has exploded onto the football scene for the San Francisco 49ers, was selected in the 43rd round of the 2009 amateur draft by the Cubs as the team paid attention to his mid-90s fastball at the University of Nevada-Reno. Kaepernick made a bit more of an impact on his collegiate football career, becoming the only player to pass for 10,000 yards and run for another 4,000 during his time, so football obviously takes priority in this case. But would it be beneath the Cubs, just for the sake of PR if nothing else, to invite Kaepernick to spring camp?
A Union Boss for Cooperstown?
Some 450 people including former and current major leaguers attended a memorial for former players’ union head Marvin Miller, who died last November at age 95; it also became a soapbox for those who believe that Miller, who during his run with the union (from 1966-82) turned it from a lapdog for the owners to a powerful entity that shattered the notorious reserve clause (in 1975), has not received proper respect from the Hall of Fame by not being admitted in. Five times he’s appeared on the ballot, but he’s never received the number needed for admission. Of course, now that he’s gone, his chances go up. (Just ask Ron Santo. Oh, sorry, you can’t.)
In our Lists section, we’ve just uploaded our picks for the ten most influential people in baseball history; we placed Miller at no. 3 because of his efforts to strip the owners of their overbearing powers and give the players their just due worth via the birth of the modern free agency era. Many Cooperstown voters—not those of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, but others from within the game who vote on executive and veterans committees— surely still view Miller in an adversarial light and thus can’t get themselves to put a checkmark next to his name on the ballot. But his impact on the sport has been enormous; we think he’s owed the plaque.
Replay Inches Along
A few years back, we came up with our suggestions of how to best use comprehensive video replay to determine close calls in major league games. Meanwhile, baseball continues to tiptoe on the issue. Why? In a recent column, ESPN’s Jayson Stark blamed—get this—common sense. You see, there had been talk of slightly expanding replay for the 2013 season to include fair/foul and trap/catch calls, but there’s been something of a balk against it because, as one executive told Stark, “That’s such a small percentage of plays.” So baseball is using baby steps to get to comprehensive replay…but it doesn’t want to take baby steps. The paralysis is deafening.
The hope now is that baseball can test out a comprehensive replay system and put it in place for 2014. Of course, before MLB can even get that far, it has to figure out the process, get everyone on board (Stark says there’s almost unanimous clamor for replay from executives, players and umpires alike) and institute it. Just whatever you do, baseball, don’t settle for the flag/quota deal the NFL currently uses .
Let’s be Frank About Steroids
Frank Thomas is a rarity. Not in that he put up big numbers during the steroid era, but that he likely did it without any kind of performance enhancing help. And he’s not thrilled about the many who did succumb to the steroid needle. Speaking at the Chicago White Sox’ fan convention this past weekend, Thomas feels no sorrow for the first-year Hall-of-Fame plights of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, three players with legendary numbers who failed to even come close to earning Cooperstown induction from the voters. “I wouldn’t say I feel bad for them,” said Thomas. “I respected them on the field, but they chose this. They made their own decisions off the field and they’ve got to live with it.“ Thomas added that their numbers were “incredible” but “fake.”
Be Afraid, Japan, be Very Afraid
Last week, it was Vicente Padilla, the headhunter. This week it’s Nyjer Morgan, the loudmouthed one-time thorn in MLB’s side, who’s heading to Japan, signing a deal with the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars. These things are always said to happen in threes; Albert Belle, are you ready to make a comeback?
A January Guess for October
We’ll be posting our annual choices for who is expected to thrive, die and survive for the upcoming regular season in March, but The Sporting News has already come out with its picks for the year—with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim predicted to beat the Washington Nationals in the World Series. If anything else, it’s an intriguing and star-studded matchup. We’ll see if we agree in a few months.
Pitcher Bud Norris resigned with the Houston Astros this past week for $3 million. Congrats to Bud: He’s currently the highest-paid player on an Astro payroll valued at roughly $25-30 million, a figure anticipated to be far lower than any other team—the Miami Marlins included. Norris’ salary is even below the major league average of $3.2 million.
This Coke is Not to Go
In another one of those fast-food promotional stunts, the Detroit Tigers this past week sent players Torii Hunter and Phil Coke to Dunkin’ Donuts to hand out food to drive-thru passengers. Question: When customers asked for a Coke, did Coke tell them, “Sorry, but I’m already married”?
The Dukes of Hazard, Part XXXIV
Elijah Dukes got arrested again in Tampa this past week, but this is such a broken record of a story, we’re not going to talk about it. Oops, sorry.
Wounded of the Week
Pitcher Carl Pavano entered the offseason as a free agent, and he’ll likely remain one for awhile. While shoveling snow this past week, the 37-year-old right-hander ruptured his spleen. (That must have been some heavy snow.) Pavano was 2-5 last year with a dreadful 6.00 ERA for Minnesota before a shoulder injury shut down his season; this freak incident will set him back some six-to-eight weeks.
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