Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dive into the inner workings of Phil Rogers' mind, won't you?

The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers has a new column (I know it links back to the Boston Herald, but it's the right article) in which he has a crisis. His crisis? He doesn't know what to do, and needs the Hall of Fame to bail him out of his crisis. Here's an annotated guide to the inner thoughts of Phil Rogers.

One year. One measly year.

That’s all the time left before the three-player crash that proves once and for all how broken the Hall of Fame voting process has become.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are due on the Hall ballot for the first time next December.

Oh noes! Three of the greatest players of our generation are going to come up for judgment by writers just like me. Not now, though, in a year. So let's hurry this crisis up by creating one.

Barring direction from the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, 580-plus voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America again will be left to determine how to handle the legacies of players implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The BBWAA again will be left to determine how to handle the legacies of players, just like they have since 1936. Those lucky Base Ball Writers of yore never had to deal with players of ill repute. Lucky sonsaguns. If only the non-profit organization who keeps the plaques clean could provide some sort of moral compass!

Was it OK to get some chemical help because so many players were doing it? Or does being a steroid guy disqualify you from membership, as voters are asked to consider the "integrity, sportsmanship, character" of candidates?

Is it okay for me to take an Excedrin? Can my over-inflated sense of importance and ego handle the anti-inflammatories? Am I going to die?

My take on the brokenness of the process is this: 581 voters, 581 standards.

How dare Indvidualism overrun this sacred process! You know what we need? RIGHT NOW? The Hall of Fame to provide a guidebook that can be inserted into our brains to tell us what to do! While they're at it, how about a PDF of feelings? Someone get me a flow-chart. STAT.

It’s ridiculous to expect me and the other 580 who voted a year ago to sort this out. Many of my brethren disagree, but we hardly have the information we need for these calls. We don’t know who did and who did not use steroids, and we never will.

We have only dedicated our lives to the covering of Base Ball, and have to be an active member of the BBWAA for ten years to even get a paper ballot asking us to put a check beside our own moral code. If only we could get some sort of omnipotence pill that would allow us to see inside the hearts, minds, and history of each player we have to choose whether or not to bestow an honor upon...Hall of Fame, you need to get on that, too. It's ridiculous to think that we cannot be omnipotent, and be hoodwinked by the very players we have spent our lives covering.

All we know is which guys have been implicated publicly, through positive tests (Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro), the Mitchell Report (Clemens) and reporting (Bonds, Mark McGwire). Then there are guys like Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Sosa, who are reported to have tested positive in 2003 survey testing, which was done under a since-violated guarantee of anonymity.

All we know is what Major League Baseball and a former senator has been able to uncover through gradually stronger testing. And for those other guys, we had to rely on snitches for us to know and pass crushing judgment on. That's not enough information. We need more. Get on that, Hall of Fame.

The whole thing is beyond a slippery slope. It’s an icy crevasse.

A slick sinkhole. A kickball field full of loose gravel for us to fall and skin our knees. A mineshaft of motor oil. Nobody will live. We will all die because of this. Help us, Hall of Fame, avoid these pitfalls.

The one thing that is clear is that players with any link to performance-enhancing drugs aren’t currently welcome in Cooperstown. McGwire, the test case, has been on the ballot five years, never has received more than 23.7 percent of the vote and received 13 fewer votes in 2011 than in 2010.

Here's what is clear: my compatriots in Base Ball, whom I have just acknowledged do not have enough information to pass judgment, have passed judgment. And Mark McGwire was found wanting by three-quarters of them. Am I saying that Mark McGwire should be in, because the Base Ball Writers aren't smart enough? Perhaps.

While Jeff Bagwell never was linked to steroid use, he improved his body taking androstenedione when it was sold off the shelves at GNC and told ESPN in 2010 that he had "no problem" with a player juicing up.

Jeff Bagwell had the help of GNC, those conniving bastards. It's a place so reprehensible that there are 4800 of these brothels of Base Ball, for players to get their wicks wet in the hazards of making themselves better over the counter. How dare he speak his mind to ESPN? What kind of world do we live in where you can't be held accountable for your mother-f***ing opinions? F*** your opinions, says this Base Ball writer.

It’s impossible to know if that 42 percent rating is a reflection on his play - he’s a Hall of Famer in my book - or if he’s considered a steroid user, even if his only real tie is to androstenedione when it was sold over the counter.

He only got a hit in 29.7% of his at-bats throughout his career. Is there a correlation between this number and 42? Jackie Robinson wore 42. Did he take steroids? WE DON'T KNOW. Vote him out.

My interpretation says guys who took advantage of baseball’s lack of testing to do as they pleased - Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Clemens, Rodriguez and Palmeiro, among others - disqualified themselves for the Hall because integrity is among the listed factors for voting. But I need some evidence. I don’t believe I can eliminate every brawny player on suspicion alone.

I think that, if there wasn't a good system in place, and someone was able to beat that system without breaking any laws whatsoever, he clearly has no integrity. I'm suspicious. But I can't be suspicious. I need cold, hard facts to tell me if someone was unduly strong. Get on that, Hall of Fame.

If the New York Times had not reported Sosa was on the list of 104 players testing positive in 2003, I would have felt I had to vote for him even though he seemed as complicit as Bonds and McGwire. There has to be some standard of fairness, even if it allows a good cheat to beat the system.

If a reporter - maybe even a Writer of Base Ball - had not published what was supposed to be an anonymous test, I would not be in this crisis. There has to be some standard of fairness, as long as it doesn't apply to my profession.

Rather than reward some cheaters and sanction others, you can say - as ESPN’s Buster Olney does - players should be judged only by what they have done on the field. But I can’t get there in my thinking when voting rules cite "integrity, sportsmanship, character ..."

See how my ellipses cause me confusion, consternation, and crisis...? I am hamstrung by arbitrary rules. Buster Olney, that sanctimonious bastard, ignores these rules because he does not have a conscience, and because he freely admits that he is not omnipotent.

Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall’s board, needs to take some ownership of the issue. The BBWAA serves at the Hall’s discretion. There has been discussion at recent BBWAA meetings about seeking clarification from the Hall, but a vote asking for help was rejected in 2010. That doesn’t mean voters don’t need help; it means many aren’t humble enough to ask for it.

The chairman of the board of the Hall of Fame needs to address this. See, at one point, we all had a vote - similar to the way we have a vote on who should get into the Hall of Fame - on whether or not we should ask for some clarification. But we couldn't come to an agreement on whether or not to ask for help from a non-profit organization. This clearly means that we aren't capable of making decisions. Except for Buster Olney, that sanctimonious bastard. Help us Hall of Fame, if we ask for it. But we won't, for we are too arrogant.

Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall, cites the BBWAA’s stance in explaining why the Hall hasn’t entered the discussion. "The Hall of Fame has always been an open book with the BBWAA," Idelson said. "Always willing to listen to the concerns the BBWAA has, always willing to discuss them. At this point in time, we have great faith in the organization to continue voting with the integrity it has since 1936."

Having been rebuffed by Jane Forbes Clark's unwillingness to recognize that we need help but won't ask for it, we turned to the Hall of Fame's president who said that, since we have been doing this every year for 75 years, they trust us. This is clearly a mistake. Why won't Idelson override our unwillingness to ask for help? Because of 75 years of tradition and history? When does that play a factor in Base Ball?

Trouble is, it’s not the voters’ integrity that is in question. It’s the perceived integrity of the candidates, and everyone has a different take on that. This is the last chance for the Hall to get in front of the argument, and there’s no indication it feels the need.

How dare you read between the lines and think that it's OUR INTEGRITY in question? We're the ones who are making arbitrary judgments on other people's character here. And until you have covered Base Ball for a print newspaper, you are not allowed to do so. Why won't the Hall of Fame give us a color wheel where we can be told what to think? If the Hall of Fame won't tell me what to do, how am I supposed to do it?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Astros interview Keith Law

Via MLBTR, we find this piece from Rosenthal/Morosi that the Astros have interviewed Keith Law for "a number of front-office roles" including that of scouting director.

The piece is quick to note that no offer has been made, as of yet.

Those of you who follow Law on Twitter can get excited that, should this take place, the Astros' farm system will be the best-fed, most well-read system in baseball.

The Perils of Transparency

The Hall of Fame voting members of the Base Ball Writers Association of America have until December 31 to turn in their ballots containing up to, but not exceeding, ten names for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2012. In last year's election, there were 539 voting members (voting members must have covered baseball for ten years prior to their first vote).

We're keeping a tally of the ballots that are published, and how they apply to our very own Jeff Bagwell. At present, Bagwell is appearing on just over 76% of the ballots that we've been able to dig up (thanks, Google) - which would be a 35% jump should that hold up. But I do not expect it to hold up.

One of the things that fans want from writers is transparency. Coaches polls in college football, congressional votes, we want to know why everyone thinks what they think - and it works out great, as long as they agree with our lines of thinking.

The week between Christmas and New Year used to be a slam-dunk, "This-is-how-I-voted" cherry pick column. But I'm seeing less of them this year, and I think that's because if a writer didn't vote for Bagwell, they're going to get called out on it.

Hardball Talk has been linking to various ballots over the course of the past couple of weeks, and is either praising Ken Davidoff's sanity, or questioning Barry Bloom's.

(To be fair, Barry Bloom's ballot is fairly ridiculous - voting for Steve Garvey, and not Bagwell). Hell, I've called a prominent Hartford journalist "lazy", because he wants to wait on voting for Bagwell.

There's simply no motivation for the baseball writers to be transparent, because if they have an opinion that runs contrary to what is accepted as "general knowledge," they're going to catch hell - from the comments section of their site, from Twitter, and from blogs. It was quite entertaining to see Barry Bloom's Twitter feed fill up with our friends' comments asking him the equivalent of whether he had lost a bet.

If I'm a writer, and I don't think that Player X belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I'm social- and alternative- media savvy, and I see that basically everybody else does think that Player X belongs in the Hall of Fame, there are three options:

1) Cave, vote them in, write about it.
2) Not vote for them, write about it, and get my credibility shredded in a variety of ways.
3) Do what I want, but not tell anyone how I voted.

The only way that a writer can exercise his vote and come out on the other side with their credibility (and personal sense of morality) intact is Option #3, which is obviously the least transparent, but also the most attractive option for the writer - just not for us.

Bagwell has become the lightning rod for the sane/insane Hall of Fame Voter. Vote for Bagwell, and you're a Good Writer. Don't vote for Bagwell, and you're Incapable of Complex Thought - at worst, you're Joe McCarthy. Most of the time, if the writer provides a reason for why they don't think Bagwell is a Hall of Famer (that doesn't include the "There's no proof, but I think he took steroids" argument), they may be off the hook from criticism and general hand-wringing. But look at the reaction to Barry Bloom's column, and that's not necessarily the case.

In the present chapter of the information era, if you write it, someone's going to find it. Back in June, I called Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton a non-sensical idiot. He found it, commented, and I caved like a little bitch. It did not feel good. So no, I do not expect Jeff Bagwell to get elected, despite his receiving 76% of the ballots we've found, because there are hundreds of writers who don't think Jeff Bagwell is a Hall of Famer, and it's just not worth it for them to try to explain why.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moving David Carpenter from catcher to pitcher was Luhnow's idea

One of the closer candidates who will be getting some attention in Spring Training is David Carpenter, whom the Astros received in a trade for Pedro Feliz (pause for laughing). As I'm sure you recall, David Carpenter (whom we interviewed in October 2010) started out as a catcher, but was moved to pitcher in 2008, where he is obviously enjoying more success. It was all Jeff Luhnow's idea:

They saw an opportunity for me to be a pitcher. Luhnow was really the one that pushed the idea and really had everybody going towards that.”

Carpenter, to AC in 2010:
Part of the reason was Yadi Molina had signed a big contract and none of the catchers below him were going to be moving anytime soon. They felt that it would be a good career move. The Cardinals had success with a friend of mine, Jason Motte, converting him from a catcher to a pitcher and we shared similar characteristics.

The Astros might move Spring Training facilities

Soon, there might not even be a reason to go to Kissimmee, as Jim Crane is on record as having interest in moving the Astros' Spring Training facilities to Martin County, Florida, on the Atlantic coast.

Stuart, Florida, near Crane's golf club, is two hours southeast of Kissimmee, close to Port St. Lucie, West Palm Beach, and two hours north of Miami.