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Goodbye, Rams

January 13, 2016 1 comment

For the second time, St. Louis is losing a football team. I wasn’t around when the St. Louis Cardinals football team packed up and moved west to Arizona, but I can only imagine the heartache that lingered until the Rams came from Los Angeles in 1995. So to have this happen again, after just 20 years in St. Louis, it hurts. The Rams only had a few good years in St. Louis, but those years of the Greatest Show on Turf produced some of the best teams in NFL history, and were responsible for bringing people like me closer to the league.

Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine this stadium in Inglewood, Calif. housing my city’s championship banner. It’s a slap in the face to me. St. Louis isn’t good enough, the city isn’t prosperous enough, it isn’t growing enough for the NFL, apparently. I admittedly know very little about the actual monetary negotiations that took place between St. Louis, the Rams, and the NFL, but speaking as a St. Louisan who was nine years old when his struggling football team suddenly became this dominant force, it seems like we’ve always been good enough. The city didn’t need to prosper or grow like a Los Angeles market. We were loyal, we were proud, and we were champions. What else did a city need to have a team?

Unfortunately, as you age, you begin to realize how much money truly talks, and how money can not only physically remove a team from a city but also take the hearts of its fans with it. Rams owner Stan Kroenke promised St. Louis when he took over the team as its majority owner in 2010 that they weren’t going anywhere. His home state would continue to have two football teams. But money spoke, and money called from California, and now less than six years and a scathing letter denouncing the entire existence of St. Louis later, the Rams are headed to the west coast for the foreseeable future.

My biggest issue with how the relocation situation was handled was how insincere it all seems in hindsight. The NFL held town halls, the city held meetings and other events, all in a perceived effort to talk this out, gather opinions, and make an educated decision. I’m likely too salty at this point still, but I’m convinced that those actions were taken just to say they were taken. All along, the NFL was ready to move the Rams and their billion-dollar owner to a bigger market – they just wanted St. Louis fans to feel like they could have a say. That’s the biggest slap in the face. Kroenke and the NFL teased Rams fans with hope – so much hope that the city actually passed a stadium proposal plan to keep the Rams. Inglewood? Nothing supported by the city. In fact, the Rams won’t even play in their new stadium until it’s completed in 2019. Tell me this plan wasn’t premeditated. Tell me that there was ever a chance that the Rams would stay in St. Louis.

I’ll never forget watching Mike Jones tackle Kevin Dyson at the one-half yardline to win Super Bowl XXXIV. Or Kurt Warner’s miracle heave to Isaac Bruce minutes earlier to give the Rams their 23-16 lead. The 1999 season began with head coach Dick Vermeil choking up at the season-ending injury to quarterback Trent Green, and promising that the team would rally around Kurt Warner. It was a season that shouldn’t have happened by conventional wisdom, but it did. I hope I can speak for many St. Louisans when I say that we as a city clung to that season, and we were damn proud of being home to the greatest football team in the world that year.

Eventually this will pass. Life and football will go on, but for now I’ll always feel resentful toward the NFL whenever I see “L.A.” in front of the Rams. Whether its their intention or not (probably not), the NFL cannot make football forget that the Rams lived and found the ultimate success in St. Louis. They may be able to take the Rams out of St. Louis, slap its citizens and fans in the face, and lie through their teeth with promises of consideration, but St. Louis will always be worthy. And we will cherish the 20 years we had with the Rams.

It’s Time For Ilitch, Dombrowski To Admit Defeat

You can’t blame Mike Ilitch for wanting to win. The 85-year-old pizza magnate has owned the Detroit Tigers franchise since 1992 but has seen just eight winning seasons, half of which have come in the last four seasons. His franchise is starved for another championship; the loyal fanbase in Detroit has waited more than 30 years for a World Series title.

So what was his solution? Throw money at the problem.

Over the past few years, Ilitch and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski have gained the reputation of spending big to win ASAP. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Tigers have had top 10 team payrolls each season, and have been in the top five in six of those years. Among the contracts that the Tigers have taken on since 2008 include:

  • Up to eighteen years of Miguel Cabrera’s services for just over $300 million in base pay, and potentially $60 million more
  • A total of up to 11 years and $220 million for Justin Verlander
  • Five years and $80 million, with a $16 million club option for Anibal Sanchez
  • Four years and $68 million for aging designated hitter Victor Martinez
  • Nine years and $214 million for Prince Fielder, to whom the Tigers will be paying a total of $150 million from 2016 through 2020 following his trade to the Texas Rangers

These contracts have brought in and kept some of the best players in baseball – stars that a team can build around. These contracts also become burdensome once a player begins to show signs of wear and regression. Contracts like Verlander’s seven-year, $180 million deal and Cabrera’s eight-year, $248 million deal are signed when the player is in his prime and providing the most value to a team. As the players age, develop injuries that suddenly take longer to heal (see Verlander’s core muscle, or Cabrera’s legs), and begin to slow down, their values decrease and the money gets tied up into paying former stars on their falls from glory. It’s at this point that teams like the Tigers cannot unload these contracts, better players are harder to sign without the financial flexibility, and the team begins to struggle.

This is where the Detroit Tigers currently reside.

To their credit, the Tigers have been one of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball since the start of the 2011 season, winning 366 games as of the start of the 2015 season. All four seasons resulted in playoff appearances, including a World Series appearance in 2012.

But none of those appearances ended with a parade down Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. For a team with the star power that they possessed, not winning a championship meant that they failed as a team. Their best shot came in 2012 when Cabrera became the first hitter to win the Triple Crown since 1967, Fielder hit 30 home runs and posted his only .300 batting average, and Verlander led the league in strikeouts and ERA+ while finishing second in Cy Young Award voting. But after defeating the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant, the heavily favored Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants. Their strategy was to spend big to win big, and it had failed.

So Ilitch and Dombrowski doubled down. They re-signed Sanchez, inked Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26 million deal, and signed Verlander to his $180 million extension. After losing to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS in the 2013 postseason, the Tigers gave Cabrera the richest contract in baseball history at the time, traded Fielder for Ian Kinsler, and traded for David Price midway through the season. Another failure – this time a first-round sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

The theme here is that throwing money at the problem has not worked.

Now, the Tigers are stuck watching the likes of Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene, and (until recently) Joba Chamberlain try to bring Detroit back to the promised land. The Tigers offense has done its job for the most part, with Cabrera hitting .350 to lead the league, Jose Iglesias and J.D. Martinez making their first All-Star team, and Yoenis Cespedes providing some pop in the middle of the order. However, outside of Price and Joakim Soria, the pitching staff has been mediocre at best. As a result, the team sits at 44-44 at the All-Star break, nine games back of the Kansas City Royals and 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot.

Meanwhile, the Tigers farm system is ranked as one of the worst in the league with few glimmers of hope waiting in the wings. No “next in line” top-flight starter is in their system, no future face of the franchise is waiting to be called up – and the worst part about it is that likely won’t change anytime soon.

The reason is two-pronged: finding a team to take one or some of the Tigers’ massive contracts of their hands is highly unlikely, and the front office is too obstinate to find out. Barring another Fielder-Kinsler deal, finding a trade partner for a contract like Sanchez’s or Victor Martinez’s will be difficult, as teams don’t typically look for long-term solutions at the trade deadline. It’s not even worth mentioning moving Verlander or Cabrera. It’ll never happen.

But some Tigers could find themselves elsewhere by August. Heading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the Tigers could move Cespedes, Soria, or even Price – but that’s if the front office wants to. Dombrowski has stated several times in recent weeks that he believes the Tigers are still in contention and can once again reach the playoffs, meaning the likelihood that one or more of the aforementioned trade chips leaves is small. Keeping these players for the rest of the season means that the rebuilding process of the minor leagues can’t begin, and the cycle of throwing money at the problem continues.

The time has come for Ilitch and Dombrowski to admit defeat and start anew. As their aging stars continue to command absurdly large paychecks, gambles like Simon, Greene, Chamberlain, etc. will continue to roll into the clubhouse. Some may pay off – look at J.D. Martinez and Iglesias – but until the contracts of Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler, Fielder, Sanchez, and Victor Martinez come off the books, the Tigers front office will be almost entirely dependent on their stars to carry the team well past their primes.

After four years of strong baseball without a World Series title, the Tigers’ run may be at its end, its window for bringing a championship back to the Motor City closing. But the residual effects of the contracts offered by Ilitch and Dombrowski and the money paid to eventual fallen stars may very well linger throughout the rest of the decade in the form of mediocrity and missed playoffs.

Heyward Trade The Latest In Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak’s String Of Brilliant Deals

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did what he does best on Monday. By acquiring right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, Mozeliak directly filled one dire need while indirectly addressing several others at the same time. The trade may have cost the Cardinals some young pitching talent, but it will likely result in the team making fewer moves and taking on fewer risks to build a championship-caliber team for 2015.

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Detroit Tigers Spending Habits Have Dangerous Precedence

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Detroit Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski stated earlier in the week that bringing designated hitter Victor Martinez back to Detroit was his “top priority.”

Mission accomplished.

Martinez inked a four-year, $68 million deal on Wednesday, securing the team’s best hitter from 2014 and providing Miguel Cabrera with the lineup protection that he needs. The Martinez deal means that the middle of the Tigers lineup should remain strong through the 2018 season — even with Martinez at age 39 and Cabrera at age 35 at the conclusion of 2018.

With two aging stars, though, the major concerns obviously lie with their ability to maintain the skill level that earned them their large contracts. Major League Baseball players typically reach their peak in their late twenties, and see substantial decline by their late thirties.

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Are The Tigers Losing With Their “Win Now” Approach?

November 9, 2014 Leave a comment

The Kansas City Royals’ miraculous run through the 2014 MLB playoffs exposed baseball fans across the country to the idea that, contrary to popular belief, a team could win in today’s game in a small market. A team could spend multiple first-round picks across several years and build a truly homegrown lineup and have success.

Meanwhile, over in Detroit, the Tigers could only sit and watch as the team they pulled away from late in the season to win their fourth consecutive American League Central Division title pushed the San Francisco Giants to Game 7 of the World Series. The Tigers had put together a team full of recognizable names — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, and so forth — and spent a lot of money in the process to end up being swept out of the American League Division Series by the Baltimore Orioles.

One team’s small-market success by no means defines a trend or proves one system better than another, but the question is worth asking: do the Tigers have the right approach in building their team?

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An Open Letter To MLB Baserunners

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Dear Major League Baseball baserunners,

I admire your athletic ability, your grit, and the skills it takes to face (and occasionally succeed against) the best pitchers the sport has to offer. I can only dream of being able to hit a 95 mile per hour fastball out of the infield let alone out of the park. In short, I’m impressed.

However, there’s one thing that bothers me more than just about anything when watching an MLB game, and it involves baserunning. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more hustle running out grounders, and maybe some more stolen bases, but that’s not what this is about. I’ll put it loud and clear, so there’s no beating around the bush:

STOP SLIDING HEADFIRST INTO FIRST BASE!

I say this for two reasons, one logical and one scientific. I’ll start with my favorite: the logical. You slide into second and third base for the specific reason that you can’t overrun those bases like you can first base and home plate. Sliding into those bases gets you to the base quicker while also giving you more contact points to the base as your body slides over the bag.

Compare that to having to slow down and come to a complete stop at second or third base without sliding. Which would you rather do? Slide, of course.

But imagine you could run through those bases. All it would take is a dead sprint at the base – beat the fielder there and you’re safe, simple as that. Still want to slide?

That’s exactly what first base is. You beat the ball/fielder to the bag and you’re safe. So why would you slide?

Let’s move on to the scientific side of this, and to help, I’ll enlist the ESPN Sport Science experts to demonstrate. Take a look:

Sport Science: Run Or Slide?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes

As you can see just from the screenshot ESPN decided to use, running through the bag gets you to first base quicker than sliding headfirst. The 50 percent deceleration you see occurs when the runner leaves his feet and loses the propulsion from his feet. By running through the base, you get one more step – one more opportunity – to push off your feet and make one more lunge toward first.

So take it, please.

You have likely heard about the most recent inspiration for this: Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer slid into first base in an attempt to beat out a double play in the fourth inning of Game 7 against the San Francisco. After originally being ruled safe, the call was later reversed and Hosmer was doubled up.

The play was so close that it begged the question: would Hosmer have been safe running through the bag? Obviously we’ll never know, but take into account the 10 milliseconds difference (on average – Hosmer looked like he hit the dirt a little too far in front of first, which theoretically would have slowed him down more) that Hosmer lost by sliding, and the Royals’ fourth inning could have been completely different. Who knows, maybe Kansas City would be planning a World Series parade for Friday instead of San Francisco.

In closing, please never forget how much I love your sport, and that now that the World Series is over, we as fans must now wait four excruciatingly long months for the glorious day that competitive baseball returns. But when it does, please, please make it a point to rid yourself of this bad habit. It’ll make me, as well as countless other baseball fans across the world, much happier.

Cordially yours,

Scott

 

Cardinals Clutch Hitting Woes More Damaging Than Shaky Bullpen

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s easy to say that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s usage of his bullpen was the main reason that the his team lost in just five games to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.

In many ways, it’s a fair argument – Matheny made several questionable decisions when it came to his bullpen, and he saw the immediate results when his relievers either lost the lead or lost the game in four of the five games against the Giants. Matheny’s misuse of his bullpen was capped off by the series-winning three-run home run that Travis Ishikawa launched into the right field stands off of Michael Wacha, who entered the ninth inning of the a must-win game for the Cardinals having not pitched in over three weeks. Standing in the Cardinal bullpen just beyond first base ready to go were lefty Randy Choate (who could have faced lefties Ishikawa and shortstop Brandon Crawford) as well as righty Seth Maness (whose uncanny ability to induce double plays has been invaluable to the Cardinals the last two years). Instead, Matheny chose to stick with Wacha, who ultimately gave up the series-clinching home run.

Throw in a couple of other poor choices – leaving Choate in after walking Crawford in the tenth inning of Game 3, and Matheny’s quick hook of both Maness and All-Star Pat Neshek, and there’s no doubt that the bullpen played a large part of the untimely demise of the Cards’ World Series hopes.

But don’t pin this all on Matheny. The Cardinals offense failed to put their team in a position to win without unnecessary drama from the Matheny and the bullpen.

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