The Yankees Free Agent Attraction Debate

December 20, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Allow me to apologize on behalf of all of us here at The Sports Debates for breaking the first rule of clichés.

That’s right – we assumed. And you all know what happens when someone assumes…

So, what is it that we assumed? Well, we assumed that the Yankees would get AT LEAST Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee in free agency this off-season, if not both of them.

As it turns out, we were wrong.

With Carl Crawford now playing in Fenway, and Cliff Lee returning to the city of brotherly love, the Yankees are for the first time in a long time watching their truckloads of money come back to the Bronx with their deliveries refused.

This very shocking turn of free agency events begs a new and unexpected question: Are the post-George Steinbrenner Yankees still the main destination point for free agents in baseball?

Yankees’ money used to mean something in baseball, but this year the top free agents left millions of that money on the table to play elsewhere. Loyal Homer believes that this is a sign that market tides are shifting in baseball and free agents are looking for more than just chasing the Yankee dollar. Babe Ruthless, however, feels this off-season was an anomaly and that the Yankees are still the premier destination point for free agents.

Before we begin, though, I want to offer a bit of advice to both our debaters. Unlike Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, I CAN be bought for a truckload of money.

Begin…

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The 2010 Sport You’re Most Thankful For Debate… Thanks for America’s Pasttime

November 24, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

His deep reflections on this simple sport are as accurate as they are well articulated. Baseball is a thing of beauty. America is truly blessed to have such a sublime sport for its national pastime.

As millions of families gather together today and give thanks for the many blessings in their life, one blessing I will remember is baseball. Even though the New York Yankees did not win the World Series, and the 2010 season saw the loss of one of the most iconic figures in all of sports history – “The Boss” George Steinbrenner – this season proved, as always, to be a thing of beauty. It reminded me why, as a grown man, I love a child’s game so very much.

Perfect In Its Imperfections

The 2010 season was the first to see two perfect games in the same season, those of Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay. Shockingly, it came remarkably close to seeing three.

Aramando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers pitched flawlessly through 26 batters. He had a perfect game going through 8 2/3 innings. All indicators pointed toward perfection, and he was just mere pitches away from joining the most elite company in baseball history by pulling off the rarest feat in the Bigs. Fate had different plans for Galarraga. On the last out of the game he was inarguably robbed of immortality by umpire Jim Joyce.

This was a travesty that could have been worse. Arguably the worst blown call in baseball cost Galarraga his shot at immortality. This could have invalidated the sport. This could have driven fans away in droves. Instead, fans were treated to a bittersweet ending, an ending which highlighted the human aspect of the sport, but more importantly ended with a story of forgiveness and redemption.

Jim Joyce, the 22 year veteran and consummate professional, did the unthinkable. He did what no one dreamed an official or anyone connected with professional sports would ever do. He admitted he was wrong.

With a tearful confession and a heartfelt apology, Jim Joyce set things right. He avoided a potential disaster for MLB and instead restored faith in the game for many. For stories like these, I give thanks.

A True Team Celebration

I was similarly blown away by the thoughtfulness of the Texas Rangers clubhouse in celebrating their post-season advancements. When the Texas Rangers clinched the America League West crown they celebrated in typical fashion with a champagne free-for-all in the clubhouse. This was an unforgettable night and deserved an equally unforgettable party, but one man was unable to partake in the festivities.

Rangers sluggers Josh Hamilton, who struggled mightily to overcome his history of substance abuse problems, chose to be elsewhere. While he was no doubt as excited as his teammates, his self-imposed lifestyle restrictions left him out of the party. But when the Rangers advanced, the players didn’t make that mistake again.

Instead the Rangers showered each others with ginger ale, a touching consideration for their valued teammate. This type of camaraderie is not often displayed in professional sports, but special moments like this renew ones passion for baseball and for that I give thanks.

Miracles and Heroes Abide

Without a doubt, the thing about MLB I am most thankful for is the fact that heroes and miracles still survive. Baseball has had some serious PR issues over the past three decades. From the strike to The Steroids Era, there were plenty of reasons to look down on baseball. But there are still players and stories that keep the legacy of the past alive.

Perhaps nothing is more touching to me than the story of players who hit homeruns on command for a sick child. This seems to be a folk tale from a bygone era, but amazingly it is not. As recent as the 2009 season Brett Gardner defied the odds and did exactly this. Making it all the more improbable is the fact that Gardner did it with an inside the park homerun.

A special young girl in need of a heart transplant asked Gardner that to hit a homerun for her. She even told him that she had been praying he could do it. He wasn’t supposed to be able to do it. He wasn’t a bruising slugger, and he wasn’t even in the lineup that night. But due to an ejection of the left fielder and a miraculous hit Gardner was able to live a story that even Disney could not have even imagined.

It’s so very refreshing to hear good news about a sport and see there is something worth being fanatical about.

So, amidst all the turkey and even the football, I stop to give thanks for baseball, and the great American legacy it continues to build.

Former San Francisco Giants third baseman, Al Gallagher once said, “There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball.” I am inclined to agree.

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The Who Should the Yankees Sign Debate… Cliff Lee is a Luxury, Carl Crawford is a Necessity

November 8, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

I can absolutely see the attraction that Cliff Lee holds as a free agent, and from the New York Yankees’ perspective, Cliff Lee is basically the reason their season ended in October rather than November. To be able to add a pitcher like Lee to the Yankees rotation would absolutely be a major plus, but if Brian Cashman and the Yankees organization are afforded the ability to only sign one free agent this off-season, then Carl Crawford should be the primary target.

This is a simple question of need versus want for the Bronx Bombers.

Do they NEED another pitching ace? In short – no.

C.C. Sabathia remains one of the frontrunners to win the AL Cy Young Award AGAIN for his performance in 2010. He was the only 20-game winner in the American League this past season, and at a pricey $25M per season, he is the undeniable anchor of the Yankees’ pitching rotation.

If the Yankees were to sign Lee, he would become a luxurious complement to Sabathia, but he would neither supplant nor replace Sabathia as the top pitcher in the Yanks’ rotation. As much as the Yankees may enjoy opening up the check book, I don’t think they NEED to pay upwards of $150M for a number-two pitcher.

Now, left field in New York is a different story.

Brett Gardner had a decent season in left, but this is an area where they could absolutely use an upgrade. Enter, Carl Crawford.

At the plate, Crawford is exponentially more productive than Gardner. In 2010, his average was 30 points higher, and he racked up 52 more hits, 14 more home runs, and 43 more RBI than did Gardner.

Just imagine Crawford at the plate in pinstripes, batting behind, say, Derek Jeter (who I am confident the Yankees will re-sign). Yankee Stadium is a home run paradise for left-handed hitters, which should inflate Crawford’s home run total, and Jeter will give Crawford many more RBI opportunities than Jason Bartlett, Tampa’s leadoff hitter. As for those at-bats where Crawford doesn’t go yard, his base-running ability will be another huge boost for the Yankees, who have hitters like Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Alex Rodriguez, or Robinson Cano to move him around the bases.

The best lineup in baseball just got better. Oh yeah, did I mention that Crawford provides an upgrade in the field as well?

Gardner may have only committed one error in the field for the Yankees last season, but Crawford’s speed, range, and athleticism make him a much better defensive left fielder, especially when paired with Curtis Granderson in center field.

Crawford, who is in line for his first career Gold Glove award this season, led all left fielders with a range factor of 2.24, and his 306 put-outs were second only to Juan Pierre (307) of the Chicago White Sox.

The addition of Carl Crawford to the New York Yankees further solidifies their positioning as the best lineup in baseball, and elevates their outfield into the ranks of being the best defensive trio in the league.

Any way you look at it, Carl Crawford IMPROVES the Yankees, while Cliff Lee only COMPLEMENTS them.

If Hal Steinbrenner signs only one free agent this off-season, it had better be Carl Crawford!

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The Resigning Derek Jeter Debate

October 25, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

It will be an interesting offseason for Yankees’ fans. While I’m sure many of them are currently weeping and gnashing teeth at their ALCS exit and spotty bullpen, a potentially more significant decision looms on the horizon for the Bronx Bombers.

The face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, just completed the final year of a 10-year, $189M contract. General manager Brian Cashman and the boys will be doing a lot of soul-searching over this off-season to find the right contract to keep Jeter in pinstripes without damaging the franchise’s financial ability to acquire more high-priced talent.

Thankfully, we at the Sports Debates are here to help the Yankees’ front office. We will debate the question of whether or not Jeter deserves a similar contract to his last one, a contract that pays tribute to his consistent on-field production as well as his stature as one of the greatest Yankees of all time, or a smaller contract tied to the fact that he is a 36-year-old playing a position often reserved for younger ballplayers.

Babe Ruthless will be arguing that Jeter deserves another big contract because of everything he has given and continues to give the Yankees franchise. Loyal Homer will argue that Jeter deserves a smaller contract due to his age and some aspects of his play. May the best man win!

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The Most Disgraced Athlete of All Time Debate… The Bloom is Long Gone

October 7, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

What an amazing career. We will get to the stats in a moment. Before we do, conjure up some memories of Pete Rose playing baseball. I’m guessing a few specific memories popped into your heads. For me, I like the one of Pete Rose hustling in the All-Star game and bowling over the catcher. Sure, that was a violation of the unspoken rules and regulations in baseball. But it was also a beautiful play that embodied the hustle and attitude millions of dad’s across American were trying to instill in their children. Never quit. Never take a play off. Never phone it in. Pick the way you want to play, and play in that manner at all times, regardless of the consequences.

Rose used to be a legitimate role model. Until the truth set us all free. It turns out he was a chiseler. A liar. A fraud, and a phony.

Some athletes become disgraced for decisions others make, and some are disgraced by their own actions. Baseball legend Pete Rose falls into the latter category. He chose the path he so publically followed, and failed to confront the consequences until it was far too late for him to save face and respectability. Like a devastating and slow leak, negative information about Rose has leaked out for years. First it was just gambling. But, it has gotten worse.

The Pete Rose situation is a strange one. It seemed as though Pete Rose could not do anything that would further tarnish his image and reputation with American sports fans. Yes, despite the proven – and now admitted – gambling Pete Rose did on baseball, new evidence arises of further disgrace.

Before we come to that, however, it’s best to contemplate just how bad betting on baseball is as a player. If you have ever taken delivery on a sports magazine, you know the type of valuable information that is contained within it. You know, too, if you bet on sports that you need good information to help inform decision making. So, imagine the position Pete Rose was in? He knew the MLB scouting reporting on every player, every pitching match up. He built line up cards. He positioned the team on defense. That type of information could never be purchased, yet Pete Rose used it to bet on his team and make gobs and gobs of money. It’s not just that he gambled on the game, it’s that he cheated everyone out of respecting him. And what sucks the most is that he could have earned and kept that respect.

Pete Rose had 4,256 hits in his 24 year career. That’s right, he played baseball – productively – for 24 seasons and he owns the hit record. He batted .303 for his entire career. He won Rookie of the Year in 1963, MVP ten years later, second in the voting another season. He was also the rare player-manager that seemed to make it work.

Some pundits and fans will relentlessly defend Pete Rose arguing that just because he is a lousy person does not mean he cheated on the game. I mean, what harm do a few bets really do? After all, Rose never ADMITTED to cheating on the game, or gambling AGAINST his team. It is consistent with Rose’s personality to bet ON his team, then spur them to victory. His stats are amazing, right?

Except in June of 2010, very quietly, Deadspin.com reported on an X-ray that was done on the bat Pete Rose used in 1985 as he was chasing down Ty Cobb’s all time hit record. The picture does not lie. Yep, that’s cork. Pete Rose is not just a gambler, he’s a cheater too. Surprised? If so – why? We all know and understand Pete Rose’s character now. There are few surprises the man can throw at us.

Given this additional character evidence – on top of the years of self-perpetuating, stigma-building lying – it is not evident that Pete Rose is the most disgraced, and the most disgraceful, athlete in American sports history. His name has been dragged through the mud year after year after year since he stopped playing. Rose has done nothing to stop it, either. He tried to come clean – 14 years too late – in Sports Illustrated in 2004. Then, when it turn out that was not the complete truth, he again came “completely clean” in 2006 when he admitted to betting on the Cincinnati Reds nightly. Yes, every single night. And, in his arrogance, that admission was supposed to be exactly what people wanted to hear to quiet the criticism. Heh. How insulting.

Pete Rose has proven time and again that he just isn’t a good, trustworthy, upstanding person. He is a disgrace to baseball, to record-holding, to fanaticism, and to history. He further tarnished his imagine after it was discovered that he used a corked bat, too… for who knows how many seasons? No player in any sport has more publically, more thoroughly, and more dramatically tarnished his imagine that Pete Rose.

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The Which Player Should Hang ‘Em Up Debate… From Mannywood to Mannywon’t

September 20, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

I can still remember sitting at old Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium in Canton, OH, on a spring night in 1993 where the former Akron-Canton Indians, a minor-league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, used to play their home games in the Eastern League. At this particular game, a kid that no one had ever heard of named Manny Ramirez stepped up to the plate and crushed not one, but two homeruns, one of which went all the way out of the stadium and into the parking lot.

I was only 14 years old at the time, but I was struck with such a sense of awe and amazement having never seen a display of power so impressive from a Minor League player, that I just knew I was witnessing the very beginnings of what would almost certainly become a special career in baseball.

That was 17 years ago, and for 14 of those years, I was right.

As the 2008 baseball season drew to a close, Manny Ramirez was widely regarded as one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game of baseball. His statistics as they were would have earned him legitimate consideration as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And even at the age of 36, he was turning in remarkable performances, having finished that season with a .332 batting average, on 183 hits, with 37 HRs and 121 RBIs.

As far as career totals are concerned, he was batting .314 lifetime, with 2392 hits, 527 HRs, and 1725 RBIs. When you consider that there are only about 200 players in the history of baseball who can boast a career batting average greater than .300, and only about 75 who hit better than .314, Manny was sitting in some very exclusive company.

Then came the charges of Ramirez having used performance enhancing drugs, and everything changed. And while we can only speculate as to what his numbers would have been had he NOT used PEDs, there is one thing that we can be sure of – Manny Ramirez has played as only a shell of his former self since his return to the game after having served a 50 game suspension.

Ramirez returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 3rd, 2009, from which time to the end of the 2009 season, he recorded 260 at-bats. Of those 260 ABs, though, he only recorded 70 hits for a batting average of .269. That result is a far cry from Ramirez’s career average, and is matched only by his 1994 season as being the worst performance of his career.

And although he still managed to hit 13 HRs and 43 RBIs during that time, it was not enough performance to bring Ramirez any job security. So in 2010, after he suffered a hamstring injury during the middle of the season, the Dodgers placed Ramirez on waivers.

He was simply getting paid too much money for the level of performance he was putting out, and the Dodgers decided they just couldn’t afford to pay him anymore.

Deciding to make a play for the postseason, then, the White Sox claimed Ramirez, and brought him over to the south side of Chicago . Their hope was that Ramirez’s hitting capabilities would provide a jolt to the White Sox lineup, giving them the last push they needed to compete for a postseason spot.

How has that decision worked out for the Sox?

In his 17 games since joining Chicago, Ramirez is a pathetic 13 for 64, with only one HR and one RBI (which came as a token run scored in a 9-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. He has, however, struck out 18 times, has gone hitless in more than half of his games since joining the White Sox, and has only been good for five runs.

Corresponding with that very poor performance, the White Sox as a team have played to a record of 7-10, including being swept twice by the Detroit Tigers, and a third time by the Minnesota Twins. And now, the same White Sox team that was hoping to make a push for the postseason (as they were only four games behind the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins when Ramirez arrived on September 1st), are today a full ten games back from the Twins, and have virtually no shot at playing October baseball.

It has been a tale of two Mannys, and the Manny that we see today is doing no one any favors by sticking around, especially himself.

Before the 50-game suspension, Ramirez was a World Series champion, a 12-time All Star outfielder, and a nine-time Silver Slugger. After the 50-game suspension, he has become a financial liability and an injury risk that cannot produce any offense. He WAS a feared hitter who no pitcher wanted to face, especially in a clutch situation. Now, he is a 38 year old player who can’t run, apparently can’t hit, and is in grave danger of further damaging a legacy already marred by scandal.

His Hall of Fame candidacy is already in question, simply from the merits of having admitted to cheating in the game of baseball. But thanks to his decision to hang around still, two years removed from having made any REAL contribution to his team, he sits in danger of destroying what little hope he had remaining.

Perhaps it is sentimentality speaking, but as a longtime fan of Manny Ramirez, I hope for his sake that he retires from the game BEFORE it is too late.

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The 2010 National League MVP Debate… Pujols Continues to Reign Supreme

September 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

The Holy Grail of hitting in Major League Baseball is to win the Triple Crown as the league’s leading hitter in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average, all in the same season.

Usually by this time each year, hopes of seeing the first Triple Crown hitter since 1967 (when Carl Yastrzemski became only the 16th player in history to do it) have been long since forgotten. This year, though, there is not only a possibility of one player contending for the Triple Crown – We actually get to enjoy a race between THREE of the best hitters in the National League!

Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, and Joey Votto each have a genuine opportunity to close out the 2010 baseball season by winning the first Triple Crown in over 40 years.

These three hitters each stand with a very real chance to earn the greatest hitting accomplishment in baseball, and have created baseball’s most exciting LEGITIMATE batting race (sorry Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, your races just don’t count anymore in my book) since Pete Rose chased Ty Cobb’s career hit total.

It will be fun to watch, and we can only hope that one of these three players can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

But that is not the only race that Pujols, Gonzalez, and Votto have created. As a side effect of this quest for possible baseball immortality, another very real competition has been formed between Pujols, Votto, and Gonzalez that is far more relevant to the context of baseball today. That is the race for the National League MVP.

Obviously, if any one of the three is able to pull off the Triple Crown, they should be a shoe-in for the MVP award. But let’s assume that things will play out in similar fashion to where they stand right now, and once more a season passes by without a Triple Crown winner.

Who wins the MVP award then?

While each can stake a claim for the crown, the clear frontrunner for the award in 2010 is once again Albert Pujols.

Pujols is already a three-time winner of baseball’s highest individual season honor, and has reigned uninterrupted as the National League MVP since the close of the 2008 season, and with good reason. No player has meant more to his team, and to the game of baseball, than has Albert Pujols.

Triple Crown statistics are one thing, and they already speak very highly of Pujols’ individual performance over the 2010 season. He leads the NL in homers and RBIs with 39 and 104 respectively, and has the fifth best batting average in the league.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg when you are discussing Pujols’ contributions to his team. There are other areas, arguably more meaningful to a team in the game of baseball, where Pujols also sets himself apart as being far more valuable than Votto or Gonzalez.

For starters, Pujols is not an all-or-nothing hitter. Some batters may swing for the fences with each at bat. Sure, they get their share of homeruns, but they also fail to have their share of quality at bats, often striking out in their quest for big hit glory.

Albert Pujols is different.

Compare his homerun and strikeout numbers to those of Votto and Gonzalez. Joey Votto has 34 homeruns and 112 strikeouts so far this season, and Carlos Gonzalez has 32 homeruns with 122 strikeouts.

Basically, Votto and Gonzalez are good for nearly four strikeouts to go with every one homerun they hit.

So where does Pujols fall? With his aforementioned league-leading 39 homeruns, Pujols has struck out only 69 times this season. That is less than two strikeouts for every homerun hit!

Now, let’s add walk totals into the mix – Once again, it is Pujols at the top with 85 walks, leaving Votto (83) and Gonzalez (33) trailing.

How about extra-base hits? You guessed it. Pujols leads the NL with 74, while Gonzalez (72) and Votto (66) once more fall short of Pujols’ exceptional standard.

Oh yeah, he also happens to lead the league in runs scored with 100 so far in 2010.

All of those numbers point to one single fact – Pujols is by far the most productive hitter in baseball. He is extremely smart at the plate, and is good for considerably more QUALITY at bats than either of his two likely MVP competitors.

So allow me to sum up the 2010 National League MVP race for you:

Albert Pujols has hit for more homeruns and bases than any other batter in the National League. He has personally crossed home plate more than anyone else, and has driven more teammates across the plate than anyone else. Even when he DOESN’T hit the ball, he manages to make it on base more than just about anyone else in the league.

Contrarily, Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez strike out almost twice as often as Pujols, walk less, and produce much less offense.

If my team is down to their last out, and I can pick the one person I want stepping up to the plate, I am going to take Albert Pujols every single time.

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