The MVP Race In the American League

It is mid August, usually around now we are talking about the division races. However, this season it looks like in the American League, the Red Sox, Indians and Astros will win their respected divisions easily. With the second wild card the only A.L. race. The big question this season, the historic competition of the potential American League MVP battle.

We have a potential triple-crown winner in J.D. Martinez and he isn’t even the favoriteMVP on his own team. Most experts alike would say that the Red Sox favorite is Mookie Betts. Betts leads the league in average, hovering around that .350 mark, while playing gold-glove defense in the outfield. Cleveland Indians Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, can easily make a viable case for the award as well. As they have anchored the juggernaut Indians infield with their gloves and bat. Those two dynamic tandems could actually cancel out votes and give way to the perennial MVP favorite Mike Trout. There is a stigma around Trout that suggests he shouldn’t be MVP because the Angels never truly become a playoff threat. However, his statistics with the modern day WAR stat, wins-above-replacement, have him again a potential choice.

The MVP Case For Red Sox’

As of August 12th, the Red Sox record is an absolute absurd 50 games over .500. This could very well be the greatest Red Sox team in history, as it could contend to break the 116 win mark last held by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. The leaders of this Red Sox team are certainly Betts and free-agent acquisition J.D. Martinez. Martinez now stands at .333, 37 home-runs, and 104 RBI. And again, it is August 12th! Meanwhile, Betts, the everyday center/right-fielder, who even has played a game at second base, is setting the tone atop the A.L., with a .350 average, 26 home-runs and 99 runs scored. Betts leads the A.L. in overall WAR at 8.1, due to his five-tool play. He also just recently hit for the cycle against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The MVP Case For Indians’

There is not a better left-side of the infield in baseball than Cleveland’s Ramirez and Lindor. They have been staples on Terry Francona’s team now for the last four seasons. The Indians have been dominant in the central for three years now and lead the division by 12 games. Along with a tremendous pitching staff led by Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, it is Lindor and Ramirez who set the pace for the offense and defense. Lindor is hitting .292, 29, 74, while Ramirez’ line sits at an impressive .298, 34, 84. Ramirez also is fourth in the league in WAR. Their sub .300 averages, could hinder the Indian’s chances.

The MVP Case For Trout

Ahh the wonderful stat of wins-above-replacement. This should be considered the “Mike Trout statistic” as it always seems to help his MVP case. The Angels made headlines early in the season, as this looked like their year to cause havoc in the West, especially with the two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. Well that has since faltered, as it looks like another season where LA will miss the playoffs. Trout usually gets consideration, even when the team does not make playoffs, when other playoff team’s players aren’t having incredible statistical years.  That’s not the case this season. However, Trout still has a league leading offensive WAR of 7.2, while hitting .309, 30, 60.

The baseball purists usually tend to the best overall player on the best team. While the modern statistic experts tend to favor the wins-above-replacement stat. Right now, you have to like Betts’ chances.

Yankees The Only Team Not To Observe Pride Night

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2003. Twelve years later, the Supreme Court of the United States knocked down all remaining barriers, making gay marriage legal throughout the United States. In an effort to recognize diversity in sports, the Boston Red Sox held their first annual Pride Night in 2013. Pride Night is when the Boston Red Sox show their pride and appreciation for the LGBTQ community. Most other teams in Major League Baseball soon followed. By 2019 all but one team will have held a Pride Night at their respective stadiums. Guess who that one team is? You guessed it! According to Maury Brown’s article on Forbes.com, the Yankees are the only team in baseball with no plans to observe Pride Night.

One of the reasons why I love baseball so much is that both teams get a chance to proveobserve pride night
themselves. As the Orioles’ Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver once said, baseball’s not like football or basketball where one team can hold the ball and run out the clock. In baseball, you have to give the other man a chance. I respect and appreciate that idea so much. Not just as a man who loves sports, but also as an equal rights advocate. This mentality is the reason why it’s so important to recognize diversity in sports.

To Observe Pride Night Is To Recognize Equality In Baseball In All Forms

The Boston Red Sox held their annual Pride Night on June 7th of this year. While it was a huge success, there were some fans who expressed their displeasure with the event. According to Outsports.com, one disgruntled person posted the following questions on Instagram, “Where’s the pride night for normal, married men and women that have children and are a family? It’s a two-way street.” Here’s the problem with this question. First, Pride Night is about celebrating LGBTQ pride. Secondly, the person who asked this question does not in any way appreciate or understand how privileged they are. In my opinion, they should be thankful that they don’t NEED a pride night for “normal married men and women.”

The Yankees Should Observe Pride Night Or Risk Further Stain On Their Reputation For Inequality

The New York Yankees claim that they’re devoted to LGBTQ equality. I interpret that as their way of saying they have nothing against the LGBTQ community. The Red Sox, however, made similar claims before they became the last team to integrate in 1959. The Red Sox could have signed Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. But, depending on who you ask, they didn’t want to either because they were a racist organization, or they did not see it as an imperative thing to do.  Despite the Red Sox’s recent efforts to recognize inclusion and diversity, their reputation as a racist organization continues to persist. The Yankees are following a similar path with LGBTQ rights.

If they ever hold a Pride Night, the New York Yankees will become the last team to do so. The Yankees were one of the last teams in baseball to integrate and has more than its fair share of racist history. So if they don’t think observing Pride Night is important, all they have to do is look to the Red Sox and see how they as the last team to integrate has played out for them in history. Maybe it’s an apples to oranges comparison, but either way you look at it it’s not the kind of publicity that the Yankees want or need.

What’s the Best Ballpark in Baseball?

Of course, Fenway Park is the best ballpark in baseball. Many fans though don’t get to venture outside of New England to see other ballparks though. There’s two in New York City. Then there are ballparks in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., which are all within a days’ drive. But how many baseball fans have been to multiple baseball parks?

The Best Ballparks in Baseball

I’ve been to eleven ballparks in my lifetime. I’ve been to Fenway Park 200+ times (seasonbest ballpark ticket holder). Runner-up is Camden Yards in Baltimore, which is one of the most gorgeous parks in the country. It’s a throwback to the old ballparks that were built before the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1970s. The Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park is baseball’s best-kept secret in my opinion. Parking is easy and close by. It has the cheapest food of any other stadium I’ve been to as well. And contrary to popular opinion, their fanbase is actually pretty cool and friendly. I also enjoy going to Nationals Park in Washington D.C. They have the best hot dogs. It reminds me of Fenway Park too because of the close proximity the fans are to the field.

Citi Field in New York is also cool, especially since it’s modeled after Ebbets Field. Historically speaking, Progressive Field in Cleveland has one of the nicest stadiums. Take the time to go to their monuments park. The Indians have a long and under-appreciated history that shines inside their stadium (they also have Genny Cream cans!).

The Not So Best Ballparks in Baseball

So what’s the not so best ballpark in baseball? Well, there’s a few. While it’s no longer in use, Turner Field looked like a dump the last time I went there. Rusty interiors, nasty bathrooms, meager food options, and outrageous prices didn’t make it a fun place to go. I’ve heard better things about Sun Trust Park though. I got the worst sunburn on my legs at Comerica Park in Detroit in 2005. There’s almost no shade anywhere in that stadium. Plus it’s in Detroit.

I might get flack for this, but Wrigley Field isn’t all it’s made up to be. For starters, it doesn’t have a lot of character. The inside is dark. On a larger level though it reminds me of the U.S.S. Constitution. Both have a great and significant history, but they’re no longer what they originally were. The U.S.S. Constitution was built in 1797 but so much work has been done on the ship since then that only about 10-15% of the original ship remains. The same principle applies to Wrigley Field. It’s undergone so many renovations throughout its 104-year history that it hardly resembles what it once was, while Fenway Park’s retained much of its look. That doesn’t mean Wrigley Field isn’t a great place to see a ballgame. But there’s so much commercialism surrounding the ballpark that it takes something away from the aura. Their fanbase isn’t the nicest either.

So while Fenway Park is the best ballpark in baseball, I’d argue that the ballparks in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Cleveland rank up there pretty highly too.

Are We at the End of the Twenty Game Winner Era?

It’s no secret that managers are yanking their starting pitchers sooner than later from games nowadays. The Tampa Bay Rays are using their relievers to start the first inning before moving on to their starter. Middle man pitchers are more in demand. So does this mean we’re seeing the end of the twenty game winner era?

According to calltothepen.com, “From 1886 -1981, there was only one Major Leaguetwenty game winner Baseball season (1981) where an individual pitcher failed to become a 20 game winner. Since 1994, there have already been six such seasons…” What are the reasons behind the decline? An increase in arm injuries is one factor. Since Tommy John surgery is commonplace in Major League Baseball now, many pitchers falsely assume they can throw as hard as they want and just get the surgery later to repair their arm. This is leading to more arm damager and a reluctance by managers to keep pitchers in games longer. The increase in injuries is leading organizations like Little League Baseball to issue guidelines limiting the amount of pitches a player can throw. For example, a Little Leaguer around age seven or eight can only throw a maximum of 50 pitches in a game. Some teams in Major League Baseball are starting to follow suit.

MLB Teams Are Shaking Up Their Pitching Rotations

The Tampa Bay Rays started an experiment this season where one of their relievers pitches the first inning. After the first inning, the pitcher initially scheduled to start comes in. It’s sort of a role reversal where relief pitchers can hammer the opposing team’s starting lineup sooner than later. So what do other baseball writers think of this idea? Sridhar Pappu, author of The Year of the Pitcher, stated that “…the complete game is very much a thing of the past and what the Rays are doing–experimenting with relievers starting games could make traditional starting pitching–much less twenty game winners–obsolete for some teams, should it work.”

We’ll Certainly Never See a Thirty Game Winner Again, Much Less Twenty Game Winner

Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers was the last pitcher to win thirty games in a season back in 1968. Since then there’s only been a handful of pitchers who have come anywhere near winning thirty games. “I think the idea that we would ever see a 30 game winner, given the number of actual starts a pitcher makes and limited pitch counts and innings limits, is going to be something we will never see in the game again,” Pappu added. “Moreover, with the use of advanced analytics, the idea of wins being the primary factor of getting into the Hall of Fame, will fade–and quicker than we might think as new, younger voters begin to grow in influence.”

We’ll certainly never see a thirty game winner again. It’s fair to say too that we are at the end of the twenty game winner era as well.

NFL Moves to Ban Kneeling, Is Baseball Next?

I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” I want you to think about this quotation. Who said it? Colin Kaepernick? Malcolm Butler? I’ll reveal its author at the end of this article. For now, I mention it because as the NFL moves to ban kneeling during the National Anthem, it’s only a matter of time until this issue reaches other professional sports.

Let’s recap how the issue started. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick of the SanNFL moves Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the National Anthem to protest racial injustice towards black Americans. With stories in the news about black men being targeted by the police, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny the idea that America still has a major problem with race. The bigger problem is that Americans don’t want to recognize that it is a problem. They say things like “If they just did what they were told they wouldn’t have gotten shot,” or “They’re racist too!” The problem with statements like this is that it doesn’t address the root of the problem (plus they’re not true). It also completely ignores Kaepernick’s motive for kneeling. In fact, I’m willing to bet you most people don’t even know why he knelt to begin with. They see a black man who they think doesn’t appreciate what he has when the reality is he just wants other African Americans to have the same opportunity he had. That’s not selfish. That’s heroic.

NLF Moves to Ban Kneeling, But for the Wrong Reasons

It’s clear that the NFL is struggling with declining viewership. For example, according to Sports Illustrated, NBC averaged only 18.2 million viewers in 2017, its lowest figure since 2008. Experts cite the kneeling controversy with the NFL’s declining viewership. Meanwhile, baseball is enjoying better ratings thanks to exciting World Series games. So for now the issue of kneeling in baseball isn’t an issue. But how long can other professional sports avoid this issue?

The NFL moves to ban kneeling during a time of deep divide in America. That divide is based on nationalism and willful ignorance. This is not to say that you can’t condemn someone who doesn’t stand for the National Anthem. But the way Kaepernick’s critics are denouncing him doesn’t reflect a solid rationale. Looking at those who strongly condemn people like Kaepernick, including President Trump, it’s clear they’re more focused on upholding blind patriotism instead of the freedom of expression. Deviating from their view of American patriotism scares them. Instead of trying to engage in a meaningful discussion about the issue, they revert to threats and insults. It’s easier to scream “Get out of America!” instead of trying to see things from their point of view. This notion contradicts the values of the Constitution. It also widens the political divide in America.

But who would want to live in a country where you’re forced to stand for the National Anthem? Doesn’t that contradict the very principles written in the Constitution? As Jason Kander said, “Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to [stand for the Anthem].”

Kneeling Is Not a Problem in the MLB (Yet)

Last season the Oakland A’s Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the National Anthem before beating the Texas Rangers 1-0. Like Kaepernick, Maxwell was strongly criticized for the move. As of today, Maxwell is the only player in Major League Baseball who has chosen to kneel during the National Anthem.

It would be ridiculous for the MLB to ban kneeling during the Anthem. First of all, it’s not a problem in baseball (yet). Secondly, if it became an issue, banning kneeling would give birth to a whole other set of problems that the MLB doesn’t want to have to face. Perhaps on a larger level, the MLB understands how it would contradict their past efforts towards inclusion. As the NFL moves to ban kneeling, baseball can’t quite use the same rationale as football, and it’s not because of declining viewership.

Baseball can’t effectively ban kneeling. It would be a blatant contradiction of the kind of diversity they’ve been promoting since Jackie Robinson broke the color line. Forbidding baseball players from kneeling would erase any credibility that the MLB is trying to build through promoting diversity in baseball.

MLB teams are privately owned and technically reserve the right to direct their players’ behavior on the field. President Trump’s involvement though might jeopardize this ban since it involves government interaction. Regardless, instead of forcing players to stand, perhaps they should be allowed to stand trial in the court of public opinion.

NFL Moves to Ban a Practice Inconsistent with Baseball Values

Jackie Robinson wrote the words in the first paragraph in his autobiography in 1972. In the twenty-five years between his debut and his death, Robinson felt that America hadn’t made much progress towards improving race relations. Kaepernick wasn’t the first athlete to protest the Anthem, and he won’t be the last. If we condemn the practice of kneeling during the Anthem, then we should cancel Jackie Robinson Day too. We might as well un-retire the number 42 throughout American ballparks because the same principle used to condemn kneeling is the same principle once used to bar blacks from baseball in the sense that such a ban exposes the fear ignorant people have of those who are different from them.

*Yawkey Way Report firmly believes in the First Amendment. We do not, nor will we, censor our writers. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions Yawkey Way Report, its CEO, staff, publishers or advertisers. 

Do Strikeouts Make Baseball Fun or Boring?

One of the may things that I love about pitching is the art of the strikeout. For some fans the lack of action equates to boredom. According to “Real or Not? Striking Examples of Failure Becoming a Turnoff,” Major League teams have averaged 8.72 strikeouts per game this season, a 1.01 increase from 2015, and 1.95 from 2008. “That means about four more strikeouts between both teams per game than we had a decade ago,” according to the same article. So do strikeouts make baseball fun or boring?

Back in 2016, my friend Chuck Fountain and I attended a Red Sox game. David Pricebaseball fun faced off against Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Chris Tillman. Price was superb by striking out eleven in eight innings. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the 3-2 deficit. Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop hit home runs for the O’s while Jackie Bradley Jr. took Tillman deep in the seventh inning. Aside from those home runs, Fenway Park was pretty quiet that night. Looking around the stadium I noticed how bored a lot of fans looked. Chuck and I talked about it on the walk back to his car. We thought it’d been a very interesting game to watch because the pitching had been so strong. Price and Tillman had a combined eighteen strikeouts. Price and closer Craig Kimbrel didn’t even walk a single O’s batter. It wasn’t the home run derby that many fans look forward to, but for two baseball writers, it was like watching a duel between two skilled marksmen.

Do Strikeouts Make Baseball Fun? More Than You Think

Many baseball fans go to the ballpark hoping to see as many home runs as possible. Fewer fans though seem to appreciate the art of the strikeout. Fans complain about the pitch count, fouled off balls, and other aspects of an at-bat that can draw a game out. What they don’t understand though is that it’s not a drawn out affair as much as it’s a duel between a pitcher and a hitter, both of whom are trying to overpower the other. A skilled hitter will foul off ball after ball until he gets the pitch he wants. In the process he’s trying to wear out the pitcher. The same goes for the hitter. A skilled pitcher throws an arsenal of pitches that are designed to deceive the hitter. There isn’t a baseball fan who doesn’t already knows this, but it’s also something that many fans don’t seem to appreciate.

Instead of complaining about the lack of home runs, focus instead on the pitching duel that you see in every game. It’s a mental game between two of the top athletes in the world. That makes baseball fun for this writer!