Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Catching Up

By The Common Man

A lot has happened over the last three week while The Common Man was trapped under a squishy and adorable baby, and TCM hasn’t had a chance to organize a real response to the news. So let’s just get through it all quickly so we can get back on track with our offseason, shall we?


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The Common Man has been fortunate to get to know a lot of Cardinals fans and writers over the last couple years, and he remains happy for them. Despite that, he takes no real joy in the Cardinals’ win. TCM just doesn’t think the team is terribly likable, between Albert Pujols’ silly refusal to talk to the media, Tony LaRussa’s paranoia and whining, Chris Carpenter’s yelling, Ryan Theriot’s healthy ego, and the way the club ran Colby Rasmus out of town. That said, what a great World Series. Congratulations are due to David Freese and Lance Berkman for their huge performances, and to Mike Napoli for proving what idiots the Angels were last offseason.

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Prior to the World Series, there was a lot of speculation that the Midwestern matchup of the Cardinals and the Rangers was going to end up being one of the least watched matchups of all time. Sure, there were substantial fan bases that followed both teams, but neither could match the kind of national appeal and drama of the Red Sox and Yankees. Woe is baseball, for no one would watch it. That didn’t bother the people broadcasting the game, however, as fellow SweetSpotist Jon Weisman (of Dodger Thoughtswrote in Variety, “the Fall Classic should still deliver auds that Fox and its advertisers can bank on, especially if the net catches a break and the Series runs longer than five games.”

Surprise! Not only did fall classic run the full seven games, it beat the NFL in a head-to-head matchup and more people watched Game 7 than any other baseball game since the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004. Drew Silva related the news that 89 percent of St. Louis televisions were watching Game 7 when the Cards won it all.

Cynical and lazy writers like to pee in everyone’s Cheerios when a great postseason ballgame gets eclipsed by a mediocre football game, pointing to baseball’s supposed decline in popularity and how boring it allegedly is. This new development won’t stop them, and they’ll continue to claim baseball is in trouble as it rakes in near-record profits and sees the game expand in popularity internationally.

But it’s also a lesson for broadcasters that even casual baseball fans care less about storylines and Red Sox and Yankees than they do about watching good, exciting, and tense baseball.

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For as little as The Common Man likes Tony LaRussa, there’s no doubt that he couldn’t have handled his exit any better. Tony is the first manager to retire immediately after winning the World Series (Dick Howser and Miller Huggins lasted into the 1986 and 1928 seasons respectively before they were forced to retire for health reasons, and Jake Stahl retired as a player/manager in the middle of 1913 after winning the 1912 Series). He also finishes 3rd all-time in manager wins, 2nd in losses, and tied for sixth in both World Series appearances and wins. He managed more games than any other man except Connie Mack, and his 33 years at the helm are tied with John McGraw for second all time. He’s almost 1200 victories ahead of the new active leader in manager wins, Jim Leyland.

LaRussa is as responsible as anyone for the ways bullpens are constructed and used today (for better or worse). He contributed to the rise of the LOOGY given how successful he was in deploying Rick Honeycutt in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and of the one-inning closer through his use of Dennis Eckersley. And while he projected a gruff old-school persona in his later years, he also proved remarkably interested in sabermetric studies about optimum lineup construction, hitting the pitcher eighth regularly over the last decade.

LaRussa also leaves behind a fairly disappointing legacy in regards to PEDs. His Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals teams were instrumental in the steroid scandal, and LaRussa banned reporters who expressed interest in the steroids that were out in Mark McGwire’s locker. While never directly implicated in the scandals, it’s difficult to believe that LaRussa had absolutely no knowledge of what was happening in his clubhouse with his players. And it’s disappointing that players have born the full brunt of the PEDs backlash, while the management types who enabled them have gone largely unpunished and unscrutinized.

That said, LaRussa is easily one of the top 10 managers of all time. He’s an innovator and has been an integral part of baseball history. He deserves a plaque in the Hall of Fame, and The Common Man wishes him all the best in his retirement.

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Theo Epstein’s departure from the Red Sox was less graceful, and TCM can’t help but think that the Red Sox are making a mistake. While it’s become fashionable to find fall guys in Boston and rip them on their way out the door, Epstein remains the man who brought two championships to Fenway while building the Red Sox into a player-development and front-office talent development juggernaut. Ben Cherington is probably a capable executive, but he's still a fairly unknown commodity at this point.

Plus, TCM is less than convinced that Epstein, and his hand-picked GM Jed Hoyer, will have the same success in Chicago, where expectations for the former boy wonder will be high. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that rough finishes over the next couple years (and there’s no reason to think the Cubs won’t continue to struggle) could leave the Ricketts meddling like previous Cubs owners in signings, refusing to shell out for draft picks, and looking for someone else if things go South. In short, The Common Man trusts Epstein and Hoyer, but doesn’t trust the Cubs to stay out of their way.

What will be interesting is that it seems like Bud Selig is going to have to decide what the appropriate compensation the Cubs will have to pay to the Red Sox for spiriting Epstein away. This could be a precedent-setting decision by the commissioner, essentially setting a price for future compensation packages, and it certainly will be fun to see what Selig thinks a great GM like Theo is worth. Much will depend on Selig’s (and his advisors’) thoughts on the value of minor league prospects versus Major League players, and what constitutes value. This is going to be great.

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While Theo’s left Boston, CC Sabathia is staying in New York, signing an extension with the Yankees that guarantees him an extra year and $25 million. You have to figure that he’s leaving some extra money and years on the table by not even testing free agency, which (easy joke alert) is the first time CC Sabathia has ever left anything on the table. Hey-Now! Tip your waitresses. (Sorry)

3 comments:

Bill said...

How could Theo's departure from the Red Sox have been any more graceful? He spoke glowingly of the Red Sox in his press conference, John Henry spoke just as glowingly of him, and he took out a full-page ad thanking the fans in the Globe. If you've decided it's time to move on but aren't ready to retire, I don't think you could do it any better than that was done.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Agree with Bill on Theo's exit. But thoroughly enjoyed this recap. You should take time off more often.

The Common Man said...

Good point, boys. The Common Man should have been more clear. He simply meant that it's turned into a bit of a mess with all the talk about compensation and the various reports about unruly Red Sox players in the wake of the Sox's collapse. Theo, you're right, has been the picture of class.