Posts Tagged ‘Bud Selig’
Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
The Commissioner of Baseball is objective, right? He’s the caretaker for the game, the objective overseer who makes certain it runs right — and each season his fondest hope is that the best team wins, no matter who it is. But in a most fundamental way, fans of the game know that’s a crock: baseball is a business. At the end the year, what’s important is the bottom line.
Which is why the 2011 Brew Crew are Bud Selig’s nightmare, it’s the team that keeps him awake at night. For the truth is that, if the Yankees and Phillies make it to the World Series, baseball will benefit from television viewer ratings in two of the most important media markets in the U.S., while if the Brewers and Tigers (say) make it to the series, the numbers will . . . well, they’ll be less good.
The numbers don’t lie. Since the mid-1980s, baseball’s post-season television numbers have suffered an overall decline, and it’s worse if a big market team isn’t playing. While the 2009 Phillies-Yankees ratings weren’t any great shakes (as compared to 1986 — when the Mets and Red Sox played each other), they were a damned sight better than 2010. If the Brewers beat the D-Backs, and then the winner of the Phillies-Cardinals tilt, those post-season numbers will continue to slide.
Of course, this view can be totally wrong. The Brewers have turned into one of the most successful teams in the sport, and not just on the field. This year the Brewers set an all-time attendance record, selling 3,068,781 tickets — which made them seventh in MLB in total attendance, and fourth in the N.L. And this in baseball’s smallest metropolitan area.
The story of the Brewers is, in fact, the best business story in the major leagues. After limping into Milwaukee from Seattle in 1970, the Brewers built a fan base and a new ballpark — cultivating a market wedded to the Green Bay Packers in a town with rust belt and failing industries. The man who authored this transition was Bud Selig.
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Craig Stammen’s up-and-down season (and it’s been spent mostly down, in Syracuse) headed upwards on Tuesday — as the former 2010 starting hurler and career .217 hitter put a single into right field, then scored the winning run on a Ryan Zimmerman RBI to give the Nationals another 3-2 victory in New York. Stammen’s heroics at the plate were matched by those on the mound, as he picked up the win in relief.
Stammen has not been with the big club that often this year, but when he has he’s produced, accumulating a 1.93 ERA in very limited exposure. Even so, Stammen’s time in Washington, while measly, has been impressive, and Davey Johnson confirms that the righty is in the running for a spot in the bullpen for 2012.
Stammen’s outing, and the win, brought praise from the Nationals’ skipper, who is testing farm arms with an eye towards next year: “That is the second time I’ve seen him since the callup,” Johnson said following the game. “I’ve really been impressed with the way he is throwing the ball. I gave him a couple of days rest. He was sharp. I’m pleased with what I’m seeing.”
The Nationals win came after the Mets scored two runs in the fifth off Washington starter Chien-Ming Wang. Wang has struggled in the first inning of his outings this year, but he broke that mold on Tuesday, allowing a double and three singles to a line-up that had little trouble smacking the ball around the yard. In all, Wang pitched five complete innings, but he gave up nine hits — not a stellar outing from an arm that Nats hope will fill a hole in the back of the starting rotation next year.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There’s a lot of hubbub in New York, and around baseball, about baseball’s decision that the Mets would not be allowed to wear NYPD and NYFD hats on 9/11 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s U.S. attack. After the Mets loss to the Nationals on Monday, Mets manager Terry Collins said that, because of the controversy, his team was not focused on the game . . .
Saturday, June 18th, 2011
Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse both homered, and righty youngster Jordan Zimmermann pitched effectively into the sixth inning to lead the Washington Nationals to their eighth straight victory with a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park on Saturday. The victory continued a streak that began in San Diego and included a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Nationals are on fire and are now one of baseball’s hottest teams.
Saturday afternoon’s victory gave Nationals’ fans more of the same. The triumph featured a strong starting pitching performance (Zimmermann admitted that he didn’t have his best stuff — but it was good enough to baffle the O’s), the Nationals were able to hit the long ball (Michael Morse’s homer in the bottom of the sixth put the Nats on top to stay), and the team’s bullpen came through once again: Henry Rodriguez registered the hold, and Drew Storen notched his seventeenth save.
“It was hard work for him today,” Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez said of Zimmermann’s outing. “He got behind in the count — ball one, ball two — but that’s how good he is. He can come back and challenge everybody with the fastball. He did good. For the way he was today, to fight and fight and fight to get his mechanics back on track, he did a tremendous job.” While Zimmermann might not have had his best stuff, the sign of a pitcher who has “arrived,” is that they are able to win without it.
Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Jordan Zimmermann pitched solidly and steadily in the second game of a day-night doubleheader, but could not come away with a win, as the Washington Nationals dropped the third game of their set with the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-3. Zimmermann threw six complete innings, and while he gave up eight hits and five runs, he kept the Nats in the game. The Cardinals Jaime Garcia and the St. Louis bullpen (thought to be the Redbirds’ weak spot), pitched better: holding the Nationals to five hits and one earned run.
The St. Louis hero was Houston retread Lance Berkman, who collected two singles, a double and two RBIs. Baseball fans remain skeptical of St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa’s decision to set Berkman down in right field, but Berkman was been the spark for a slow-starting Cardinals’ offense. Last night’s win over the Anacostia Nine continued that early-season tradition: “The ball doesn’t know how old you are or how much experience you’ve got,” Berkman said after the victory. The Nats are set to take on the Cardinals again today, for the final game of their four game series.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The big news in baseball is Bud Selig’s decision that Major League Baseball will take control of the day-to-day running of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Trolleys are in a heap of trouble — with the owner looking for ways to meet the payroll. This is the second time in three seasons that this has happened: Major League Baseball took over the Rangers when its owner (Tom Hicks) ran up debts. The Texas team was then (in January of 2010) sold to a consortium of business people that included Nolan Ryan. That was last year — the year the Rangers surprised baseball and ended up in the World Series. It’d be nice if this turned out as well . . .
Don Mattingly says that the takeover doesn’t really concern the team, which still has to play well, no matter who’s in the front office. Maybe they will, but it doesn’t seem likely. The Dodgers have been doing just fine on the field — but they’re not the same team that Joe Torre took into the playoffs in 2009, and (honestly) that team (despite the 95 wins) wasn’t all that great. The difference then, particularly with just an average starting staff (Wolf, Billingsley, Kershaw, Kuroda — none of them won more than 12 games), was Torre, who stepped into retirement just as things headed south. We’re just saying . . .
So, where are the vaunted Dodgers? They have a team ERA of 4.66 (that’s fourteenth in the National League), are fourteenth in runs scored (well behind the Nationals, by the bye), and are tenth in team batting average. In the only stat that matters, they trail Colorado, San Francisco and Arizona in the N.L. West and are one-half game ahead of the Friars. Ugh. There are notable bright spots: Jon Garland is throwing ground ball outs (he made the Braves look sick last night), Clayton Kershaw is still one of the league’s premier lefties, Hiroki Kuroda has an ERA of 3.33 (and has turned into a downright frightening pitcher), Matt Kemp is hitting a torrid .426, and Andre Ethier is underrated (and batting .384). You would think Donnie could do something with that . . .
The key is probably Kemp — and for Trolley fans that’s definitely not good news. The outfielder is prone to forgetting exactly where he is and is hardly a clubhouse leader. We can put some of this down to his off-field distractions, which might have caused Kemp’s in-season troubles last year (faster than a speeding bullet, he stole 19 bases in 34 attempts . . . not great). Once upon a time former Dodger coach Larry Bowa (not exactly Sigmund Freud, is our bet) attempted to do an intervention with Matthew (something no one, we imagine, might want), but even that didn’t work. “He’s wound pretty tight,” Torre said of Kemp before departing L.A.
There’s a pattern here somewhere, let’s see if we can guess what it is. L.A.’s financial problems date from the owner’s very public divorce — with the team split between former husband and former wife. Frank (McCourt) even accused Jamie (McCourt) of having an affair, and fired her from her position with the team. Ugly. Really ugly. So ugly that it has spilled a lot of ink, ink better spent talking about runs and outs. There’s even a blog for Trolley fans called Dodger Divorce. And Kemp? Kemp’s 2010 spiral coincided with his focus elsewhere. Wags say, well . . . ah . . . they say that now that that’s done, Kemp can worry about baseball, instead of giving new meaning to the term “good with the stick.”
What a mess.
Saturday, July 24th, 2010
Nats bench bat and right fielder Michael Morse slammed two home runs and drove in four, but the Washington Nationals fell to the Milwaukee Brewers 7-5 on Friday night. The game might well have come down to one play: with two outs in the fifth inning (and with Craig Stammen providing a solid outing), shortstop Ian Desmond failed to throw out a sprinting Alcides Escobar at first. Escobar then took second and scored on an up-the-middle single from pitcher Chris Narveson. The Escobar single shifted the game’s momentum, with Narveson eventually scoring on a Jim Edmonds’ single. The Desmond play, had it been made, would have ended the fifth with a Nats’s lead of 5-1 and left Stammen cruising into the sixth. “I think Desmond made a great play to get to the ball,” Jim Riggleman later said. “Escobar hit it sharp. Desmond may have had a little more time. Escobar runs well. That’s baseball. It’s still two outs, man on first and the pitcher is hitting. We have to put that inning away.”
But the Nats didn’t put the inning away — and the Brewers rallied for two runs against Tyler Clippard in the sixth before Edmonds lofted a home run against Sean Burnett in the seventh. The bullpen collapse is particularly worrisome, as it repeats a pattern that has seen Tyler Clippard struggling to find the form that made him one of the best middle relievers in the season’s first three months. “It’s about the third time we have gone through that with Clippard,” Riggleman said after the loss. “We give him a couple of games and boy, here he goes again. He is looking good. Today, he had great momentum striking out Fielder. I felt, ‘OK , that’s huge,’ but [then] he walked Casey McGehee. Again, that gives them the opportunity to think, ‘Hey, we are one swing away.’” Clippard’s ERA continues to slip: he is now at 3.45 for the season. At the end of June, Clippard’s ERA stood at 2.20.
The Team That Bud Built: While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is a much derided figure among large numbers of baseball fans, it’s hard to find anyone in Milwaukee who openly criticizes him. For good reason: there wouldn’t be baseball in Milwaukee if it weren’t for Selig, whose loyalty to the city assured that it would retain its big league tradition. Selig was a minority owner in the Milwaukee Braves and fought a lonely, but losing battle to keep them from moving to Atlanta, then virtually blackmailed baseball to keep a team in the city by inducing the Chicago White Sox to play twenty games in the abandoned Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968 and 1969. The threat was clear: if the White Sox didn’t start drawing on the south side, Selig would buy them and move them north. But Selig’s bid to buy the Pale Hose in 1969 was blocked by the American League, which was committed to keeping two teams in Chicago. Selig got the booby prize when the league allowed him to purchase the no-account (and bankrupt) Seattle Pilots for $10.8 million and move them east.
Selig’s conviction that baseball could thrive in Milwaukee was much like a second marriage: it was a triumph of hope over experience. The Braves never drew well after their late 1950s success and the city seemed only marginally interested in supporting a major league team in the 1970s. Milwaukee was hit hard by the successive rust belt recessions that stripped jobs from the city’s machine tool and heavy engine manufacturing industries. Thousands of jobs were lost at Milwaukee’s largest plants — Allis-Chalmers, Evinrude, Briggs and Stratton, and Harley-Davidson. The city’s breweries started disappearing in the late 1960s and into the 1970s as Schlitz (“the beer that made Milwaukee famous”), Blatz (“it’s draft brewed Blatz beer, wherever you go”) and Pabst (“it won the blue ribbon”) closed or merged with larger brewers. While Milwaukee’s beer brands have been revived, the old scions of the industry (named for Milwaukee’s most famous German-American families) are gone, gone, gone. By the late 1970s, the miles upon miles of Polish, German and African-American working class neighborhoods were either disappearing or being gentrified.
Selig ignored the evidence, gambling that the city would survive and support a team. It was a lousy gamble, but it has paid off. While the team limped along in the 1970s, Selig (the inheritor of his father’s successful car leasing business), not only inaugurated a marketing program that brought fans into the city from northern Wisconsin, he built a scouting and development team that identified young talent (Robin Yount and Paul Molitor) — mixing them with Milwaukee legends (the Brewers brought Hank Aaron back to Milwaukee for the 1975 and 1976 seasons), that boosted attendance and solidified the Brewers’ identity in the city. While the Brewers were busy winning MLB Organization of the Year awards (seven in all), Selig was becoming an increasingly important figure in the game itself — leading an owners’ revolt against baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and heading up the powerful MLB Executive Council. When Selig replaced Vincent he ceded ownership of the Brewers to his daughter Wendy and in 1994 the team was sold to Mark Attanasio, an out-of-state investment management mogul, for a measly $224 million.
You have to be impressed with “The Team That Bud Built.” While the franchise has never won a World Series, it has consistently outperformed baseball’s expectations, fielding small market boppers like Prince Fielder and filling the seats by building a team that focuses on a mix of Milwaukee’s working class history and Old Europe traditions — from the Archie Bunker-like downscale “wallbangers” to the puzzlingly popular sausage races. It has helped that the Brewers were able to plan and build Miller Park, with a fan shaped convertible roof. Not surprisingly, the Miller Park brand (which runs to 2020 and costs the brewing company $40 million) comes from one of the remaining great (and financially successful) brewing companies of Milwaukee, founded by German immigrant Frank Miller in 1855 and sold by his granddaughter (a temperance advocate) in 1966 — to an international conglomerate. The opening of Miller Park was the last piece of the puzzle for Selig’s plan to make baseball a permanent Milwaukee tradition: the Brewers brought over 3 million fans into the park in 2009 in an urban area that is half the size of Washington.
Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
The Washington Nationals bombarded the Houston Astros on Monday, wracking up 14 runs on 14 hits, and registering the biggest inning in Nats history. Nyjer Morgan, batting second, went 3-4 in breaking out of a May slump, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman each had four RBIs. But the Nats-Astros tilt was not only notable for the fireworks provided by Washington’s bats. In the third inning, Houston ace Roy Oswalt was ejected from the game by home plate umpire Bill Hohn, whom Oswalt clearly believed was not giving him an outside strike. Oswalt complained, confronted Hohn, and was tossed. The Nats were pleased with Oswalt’s departure (even though they seemed to be hitting him) and jumped on the Astros’ bullpen.
Oswalt argued his innocence after the Nats win. “I was upset I missed with a pitch a little bit off the plate and was actually talking to myself on the mound,” Oswalt said. “I wasn’t even looking his way, and when I turned around, he was pointing at me and saying something about, ‘Are you going to keep your mouth shut?’ I couldn’t really tell what he said. I told him I wasn’t talking to him and he kept on talking, so I told him again I wasn’t talking to him, and he threw me out.” Houston manager Brad Mills put himself between Oswalt and Hohn, but the signal for Oswalt’s ejection had already come. Hohn’s finger-in-the-air toss came after Adam Dunn had put an extra base knock into right-center field off a pitch that Oswalt seemed to groove after Hohn had called successive balls on his corner pitches. “That’s on you,” Oswalt mouthed to Hohn as Josh Willingham came to the plate.
Is This The Year of the Umpire? Oswalt’s ejection over called balls and strikes highlighted the increasing noise over the strike zone in major league baseball. Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday featured a strike zone that gave the Phillies’ ace an outside strike — not nearly as tight as Hohn’s zone with Oswalt in Houston on Monday. The Marlins refused to talk about “the Halladay strike zone” after the game (“I don’t want to talk about the strike zone, because that’s a discredit to what he did,” Fish regular Chris Coghlan said), but they were clearly upset about some of the calls — on 3-1 and 3-2 counts. Strangely the strike zone seemed incredibly small in April — perhaps an attempt to inject some offense into the game in the post-steroid era — before loosening up through all of May.
A family member (here he is, honest) theorizes that the endless use of slo-mo, super slo-mo and the strike zone box featured in nearly all MLB broadcasts (on Nats broadcasts it’s the “MASN HD Pitch Track”), has so irritated the umpires that they are in revolt. The result of the revolt is a wider strike zone, faster games and punch and judy hit-the-opposite-way games. The theory is more than just an idea. In March, a group of baseball experts convened by USA Today (that included players, umpires and managers), took on the strike zone box used by color commentators. Veteran ump Steve Palermo was the most outspoken; he called the graphic phony and inaccurate. “They put up the same box for Freddie Patek and Dave Winfield,” Palermo said. “You telling me those two strike zones are the same? I don’t think so. Not at 6-foot-6 and 5-foot-4. They should say at the bottom of the screen, ‘This is for entertainment purposes only.’ ” The graphic has led to endless second guessing by managers, fans and viewers of umpire calls. “I hate that damn box on TV. Why don’t they eliminate that?” super scout Gary Hughes queries.
If MLB’s umpires are in revolt, they’re likely led by Joe West, the president of the World Umpires Association and the spiritual leader of the fed up and huddled umpire masses. West would be an odd choice for a revolutionary leader: he’s controversial, holds grudges and spends a lot of time off the field promoting his country western CD and hobnobbing with celebrities. Earlier in the season, West criticized the Red Sox and Yankees for their habit of playing interminable games, calling the two teams “pathetic and embarrassing.” The comment sparked a firestorm of comment. But West’s complaint was hardly new: it has been made often by baseball insiders (and outsiders), who point to the Red Sox and Yankees as arrogant flouters of Commissioner Bud Selig’s wish to speed up the game. “Everybody else gets screwed but those two teams,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter says. Steve Palermo went public with his own anger back in March, noting that when Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was disciplined for throwing extra pitches in the bullpen warm-up session after being summoned to the mound, he ripped up the disciplinary notice in front of a group of reporters. “You know what?” Palermo says. “If somebody acts up, whack them. I’m talking about $50,000. And then $100,000. And then $200,000. You usually get the attention after the $100,000 mark.”
If there’s an umpire revolt in major league baseball, it’s likely to reach a boiling point this week, when Bud Selig and crew may decide to reprimand Joe West — and either fine or suspend him — for allegedly recruiting reporters to his side in the length of games controversy. West is also under fire for calling two balks on White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and ejecting him, and then doing the same with Pale Hose manager Ozzie Guillen. Now, granted, West comes off as a jerk and his “Cowboy” Joe West pose flies in the face of one of the game’s most sacred unwritten rules — that umps should be invisible. But in spite of this, West seems to be making a point that has nothing to do with his comments on the length of game controversy or his dust-up with the South Siders. And it’s a point that every umpire in the MLB would support: that the strike zone is what the umps say it is (that’s what it says in the rules) and . . . and as soon as you step on the field, the umps are in charge. It can’t be any other way and it hasn’t been for more than one hundred years. Then too, let’s get serious: it’s not as if Roy Halladay is Danny Cabrera. You don’t like the strike zone? Well, get a clue: swing the bat. Like the Nats did yesterday in Houston.
Saturday, January 23rd, 2010
RememberÂ Bobby Bragan? TheÂ bent-backed big-bellied curse of Brooklyn and Birmingham and the fair-hairedÂ best buddy of Branch Rickey before that kid infielderÂ Jackie Robinson came along, Bragan was his generation’s Bobby Cox.Â He could bait an umpire by just being there, but was at his best while shuffling to the mound, muttering under his breath. And the umps would yell at him: “What did you say Bragan? What was that?”Â It seems a required part of Braves’ baseball even now, a “given”Â on the single-sheet job description: “MustÂ know the game. Must hate umpires.”
Bragan was that, and classically Birmingham fat, aging gracelessly as the players got younger around him. So Bragan would come out of the dugout, muttering about the unfairness of it all (carryingÂ his Denny Lemaster hook — “oh thank God, he’s pullingÂ Lemaster”) and you would swearÂ he was going to lose his balance, tipping forward as he walked.Â I never thought he was that heavy, but back in 1965 Milwaukee Braves fan would razz him, ceaselessly, relentlessly, cruelly: “Go on a diet Bobby,” and “you’re a pig, Bragan.” He was of a “type” — a southern boy who was okay behind the plate, a player forever of the verge of being something more than just average. Neither a peripheral great nor even mediocre, Bragan was one of those guysÂ you put in the line-up until someone better comes along. There is a whole community of guys like Bragan wandering through the underworld: Dennis Menke and . . .Â well, Dennis Menke.
Bragan would have been a forgettable character, were it not for his memorable 1947 decision to circulate a petition from white players saying they wouldn’t play with Robinson, whom Rickey had brought in the break baseball’s color barrier (andÂ transform the Trolleys from a very good to a great team). Bragan even asked Rickey to trade him: he would not play with a black man. You have to wonder what Bragan was thinking. Did he really believe Rickey would send Jackie packing because his second string catcher was a racist? Bragan quickly changed his mind. “After just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player,” Bragan later remembered. “I told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson.” Trumpets.Â Organ music. Fade.
Bragan never lived down that moment, but he tried. He pushed Maury Wills to the majors when he was a minor league manager in Spokane, praised Rickey as theÂ person who had “made me a better man,” and became one of baseball’s smartest and most well-respected administrators — as head of the Texas League and then head of the governing body of minor league baseball. In the 1980 he started the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which raises money for scholarships to keep kids in school andÂ was elected into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. But back in 1965, Bragan was viewed by the people of Milwaukee as anything but a hero. Bragan was the manager of the lame duck Milwaukee Braves, who had announced the previous year that they would be moving to Atlanta. Milwaukee partisans were shocked — and angered.Â
When a group of local businessmenÂ sued, the Braves were forced to stay an extra year in Milwaukee. Bragan, the on-field symbol of the Braves’ ownership bore the brunt of Milwaukee’s anger, but he was never known for being a stoic (or knowing what the word meant). You could see him seeth, and the more he seethed the more fans let him have it. As I remember it (and I was there — blessedly), the anger towards the Braves and Bragan culminated on a hot August day at Milwaukee County Stadium when Bragan walked to the mound to remove a pitcher (probably Lemaster, but I can’t remember for sure) and on the way back to the dugout he motioned in Rico Carty from left field. Carty had just misplayed a fly ball and Bragan was punishing him — in public, humiliatingÂ him front of the fans. On purpose. And the Braves fans just let him have it. And I mean they let him have it. I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought the fans in front of me, along the third base line, were going to come out of their seats. And Bragan looked upÂ into the stands and just smiled and nodded his head: yes, yes, I took him out.Â So go do yourself. You know, whatever else you might think about Bragan, he knew when not to give a damn.
Bobby Bragan died last weekÂ in Fort Worth, Texas.Â Â Major League Baseball paid homage to Bragan in a public noticeÂ that quoted Bud Selig. “He was a dear friend of mine for nearly 50 years,”Â Selig said.Â ”He had a long and wonderful baseball career as a player, coach, manager and executive.” What the announcementÂ failed to mention is that the group of Milwaukee businessmenÂ who forced the Braves to spend ’65Â in Milwaukee was organized and led byÂ prominent local car dealer — named (oh yeah)Â Bud Selig. SeligÂ was convinced thatÂ the Braves, and Bragan, owed their home town fans something more than aÂ singleÂ press release and an empty stadium.Â
Bobby Bragan was 92. Actually I kinda liked him.