Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Excellent Fan-made Video on the Giants' World Series Victory

Thought I would share.  Found this little gem on youtube.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Giants LOL About Zito

Look at those hands.  $126 million hands.
No one likes Barry Zito.  Well, no one likes $126 million-Barry Zito.  No Giants fans enjoy being reminded that their former ownership group made the biggest blunder in signing Barry Zito since the Dodgers signed Darren Dreifort or Germany invaded Russia.  Zito, wisely or not, was brought into the Giants organization in the wake left by Barry Bonds's unheroic departure from the team.  He was supposed to be the face of the franchise and was supposed to keep fans in the seats.  57 losses later, Zito clearly is far from being anything close to the face of the franchise or even from being one of the more popular players.

Nonetheless, it was shocking to hear last week that the Giants were near the end of their rope with Zeets.    Early in the week, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that a "source" from within the "team" declared that the Giants were at the end of their rope with Zito following an abysmal spring training start, where he walked more guys than he got out, which was reminiscent of his final start of the regular season, where Zito ended up walking in runs during the first inning in a big-stage game against the Padres (at game which yours truly attended for better or worse).  It was not shocking to hear that the Giants were tired of Zito, as he is the most over-paid player in the league given his talent level, but it was shocking to hear that the Giants actually were considering trading Zito or buying out his contract.

Zito is a league-average pitcher.  Regardless of his salary and what he should be, Zito is, and always will be, a league-average pitcher.  In terms of WHIP, Zito has been a slightly better than average pitcher in every season with Giants except for the horrendous 2008.  Given the Giants' strength in pitching, with Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Sanchez slated to be your 1 through 4, having a solid league average pitcher in your 5th hole, where Zito is slated to be this season, is pretty damn good.  Most fifth starters in the league are below-average starters.  That is why they are at the tail end of the rotation.

Additionally, the Giants, for all their pitching strength, lack depth in their system to replace starters.  Who would you have replace Barry Zito if the Giants were to kick him to the curb?  Jeff Suppan?  Suppan was so bad last year he had a -0.7 WAR.  He was so bad that he lost his job on the BREWERS.  If you are so bad that you can't even stay on the Brewers, you have no place consistently starting on the San Francisco Giants.

Fortunately, sanity has prevailed and it seems like this "source" the Chronicle found was more likely than not some girl in the front office Zito boned and never called back.  Bruce Bochey explained today that there is absolutely no merit to the rumor that Zito is going to be dumped.

Good.  Because that would be almost as dumb as signing the guy for $126 million.  The bottom line is this: Zito will be a Giant until his contract expires.  If that bothers you then all I have to say is:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Welcome to the Show

The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series.  Despite being a Giants fan my entire life (to varying degrees of intensity), despite always pulling for this team, defending it against the naysayers, I never thought I would be able to write that sentence.  The Curse of Coogan's Bluff was something etched into Giants-lore, much like the Curse of the Bambino for the Red Sox, that honestly left me thinking and fearful that the Giants would never win a championship outside of New York. 

The story is pretty simple.  When the Giants played in New York their home was the Polo Grounds in Harlem.  Overlooking the stadium was a rock formation the locals called Coogan's Bluff.  While in New York, the Giants were one of the most successful franchises in the sport: they won 5 World Series (7 if you count the two that predated the modern championship format, and perhaps they would have won in 1904 against the Red Sox if they had not boycotted the championship to snub the American League) and won 17 National League Pennants.  Some of the greatest names in baseball were known for their time with the Giants: Christie Mathewson was probably the greatest pitcher of the dead ball era, John McGraw is still one of the most successful managers of all time, and no one could forget Bobby Thompson's "shot heard 'round the world" in 1951. 

Despite being a powerhouse throughout their early history, the Giants' success and popularity waned in the 1940s and 1950s.  First of all, they stopped winning.  The Giants won 13 pennants between 1904 and 1937.  They won zero in the 1940s.  Additionally, the Yankees moved to town.  The Yankees had a nicer stadium in a whiter part of town.  The Giants played in Harlem.  White fans, i.e. wealthy fans, did not want to spend their money on a team that played in a black part of town.  Moreover, the Yankees had the Bambino, they had Dimaggio, they had Mantle.  New York became a Yankee town and there wasn't enough room for the Jints. 

So began the westward expansion, spearheaded by the Giants and the Dodgers.  Incensed Giants fans in New York decried that the once proud Giants would never win a World Series so long as they did not play at Coogan's Bluff.  For 52 years that curse was true.

The Giants moved to San Francisco.  Instead of finding a pristine location for their new stadium, as the Dodgers did with Chavez Ravine, Giants-owner Horace Stoneham picked perhaps the worst location in the United States to build a baseball park: Candlestick Point.  In the four decades the Giants would play at the 'stick they would win a measly two pennants and zero World Series championships.  The reason was pretty clear: fans did not want to freeze watching their team and players did not want to play there.  The once proud Giants, a franchise that had the most wins in baseball history, a healthy number of World Series championships, and an army of pennants simply became a joke.  The Curse of Coogan's Bluff could not have been any truer. 

Luckily for the Giants and their fans, brighter shores were in store for the team.  The Giants went from playing in the worst stadium in the majors to playing in the best one in 2000 when what is now known as AT&T Park opened in downtown San Francisco.  Since the opening of the new stadium the dynamic of the team completely changed.  Whereas before Giants fans were mostly considered hooligans from South San Francisco and Daly City, the new location drew in a wealthier crowd with more appeal to middle class people in the Bay Area.  More free agents were willing to sign with the Giants, as the new stadium is a gem to play in.  From 2000 to 2010 the Giants won 2 pennants, 3 Western Division Titles, 1 wild card berth, and most importantly, 1 World Series Championship.  The curse of Coogan's Bluff has been broken and the Giants have restored pride to the franchise.

Being a fan of this team in its San Francisco era was nothing short of masochism up until now.  The history of the Giants in San Francisco was one of always coming short: in 1962 the Giants lost game 7 of the World Series with men on first and second, when Willie McCovey hit the would-be series winning ball straight to a Yankee Glove.  In 1989 an earthquake was the most eventful occurrence when the Oakland A's swept the Giants in the World Series.  In 2002, the Giants led by Bonds and Kent, lost game 6 of the World Series despite having a 5-run lead.  The Angels would go on to win the whole thing the next day.  In 1993 the Giants had a 100+ win season and still failed to make the playoffs.  It just seemed part of a Giants fan that you would be constantly disappointed. 

And it was something that was shocking to Giants fans who had come to love a team that seemed to have it all.  The Giants are a team with a historic pedigree, a great fanbase, a beautiful ball park, and the best announcing team in the game.  The only thing they lacked is that one damn championship. 

Well now we have it.  All is right in the world.  Being a Giants fan is awesome again. 

Let's do it next year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What to Get for The Push?

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is less than a week away.  The Giants are projected to win the National League West, which would put the team into the post-season for the first time since 2003.  The drought has been so long that even a long-time fan such as myself is having a difficult time remembering the Giants in October.  If the Giants do make it will be the first time the Giants will be in the playoffs without Barry Bonds, something which the army of fans the Giants have amassed since moving to AT&T park have never seen.  So the question on every Giants fan right now is what to do about the trade deadline.  There are two things which the Giants need to shore up to have an elite team: hitting and bullpen depth.

The Offense Now
Thus far, the Giants offense has not been bad, especially if you have been watching the Giants Bonds left.  As it stands now, the Giants have the fourth highest batting avg in the national league and the eighth best SLG and OBP.  This can largely be attributed to unlikely resurgences in Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres, as well as the emergence of Buster Posey as the Giants best hitting positional prospect since Will Clark.  That said, if the Giants want to go deep into the playoffs they are going to need more than a slightly above-average offense.  They will need an offense that ranks among the top third of baseball, at least, in order to compete with the pitching staff in October.  Given that, which players should the Giants look to acquire before the week's end?

Jayson Werth
Werth would give the Giants an Edge.  
Of all the available players, Jayson Werth would probably be the most ideal for the Giants.  First, the Giants are looking to upgrade int he outfield.  This season right field has been manned primarily by Nate Schierholtz or platooned with Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres.  While Schierholtz provides superb defense, his hitting has been rather pedestrian this year.  Upgrading in right would allow the Giants to add a strong player without crowding out any of the other serviceable options.

After signing Ryan Howard to a ridiculous contract, it became clear in Philadelphia that they would not be able to financially hold onto Werth, who is set to hit free agency at the end of the season.  Thus, the Fightin' Phils have put Werth on the trading block.  Rumor has it that the Phillies, who are looking for starting pitching, and the Astros, who are looking to move Roy Oswalt for prospects, could be trying to figure out a three way deal which would land then the Astros' ace.  The Giants have been linked to Werth, and possibly could be involved in this three way deal.  The Giants certainly have a decent amount of prospects, including Tomas Neal and Nick Noonan, who may prove to be attractive enough to Houston to part ways with Oswalt.

So, it may be possible to get Werth, but why would be help the Giants out?  For the past several years, Werth has been around a 4.5 to 5.0 WAR player.  He is superb with the bat, plays defense well enough, and can run with speed.  Werth currently has been hitting with a .382 wOBA, which would bode well for a the Giants offense, and definitely hits for power (Werth hit 36 HRs in 2008).

As I noted above, however, Werth will hit free agency at the end of the year.  Thus, any trade for Werth would only guarantee his services through the end of the season.  His agent, Scott Boras, has made it clear that Werth will be the premiere free agent in the off-season, thus to retain him would require a lot of cash.  However, it Werth leaves via free agency it will give the Giants two draft picks, which will help replenish the farm system after trading some 'specs away for Werth in the first place.  Thus, while it may be frustrating to get a rental player, having someone like Werth who could help the Giants get a ring this play-off season would be well worth parting with a few prospects.  You have to spend money to make money.

Therefore, Werth should be on top of the Giants' list.  If it is possible to get him, they should.

Josh Willingham
Willingham is a 31-year old outfielder in the Washington Nationals organization.  Like Werth, Willingham could man down in right-field, and could provide some significant production there.  Throughout his career, Willingham has been a 2.5 WAR player.  Clearly, Willingham could not provide the same production that Werth could, nor would he impact the lineup nearly as much as would Werth, but Willingham could provide a more well-rounded lineup which offers more depth and fewer auto-outs.

Willingham's stats are impressive and would be a welcome addition.  He is on track to hit 30 HRs this season, and offensively this year has actually been better than Jayson Werth with a .391 wOBA.  Clearly, he is a good player.

And perhaps that is the reason why it would take a lot to get him from Washington.  After the emergence of Stephen Stausborg, Washington is working hard to build a formidable team.  While they have been wallowing in mediocrity, Willingham could be one of the pieces that they will need in the coming years to have a winning season.  In order to pry him away from Washington, the Giants would certainly have to wow him.  Apparently, Nationals GM Rizzo has mentioned that he is not shopping Willingham, but has received calls regarding them.  Thus, it seems that Willingham may not even be possible, but if he is an option, Brian Sabean should seriously consider it.

Cory Hart
Hart is currently an outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers.  I wanted to address Hart because the Giants were closely linked to a deal with the Brewers for Hart, which the Giants wisely turned down.  Apparently the Brewers wanted Jonathan Sanchez for Hart.  Thank goodness, Brian Sabean turned this deal down.

The Giants are known for being a pitching team.  However, despite having a good rotation, the Giants system lacks pitching depth.  If the Giants were to lose one of their starters either Todd Wellemeyer or Joe Martinez would have to fill in, which has never worked out well for the club when they were forced to use those options.  Cory Hart has had an up and down career.  While he has provided his team with a 4.1 WAR one year, the next he regressed down to 0.7.  This year looks to be another career year for Hart, and it seems that he won't be able to continue the production he has had in the past, as his career has been one that remains very unpredictable.

Unpredictability is an adjective that goes hand in hand with Sanchez as well.  However, Sanchez remains a serviceable fourth-starter that has proven to be a strong anchor for the Giants at the end of the rotation.  Giving up a good starter for a hitter whose production is unlikely to be sustainable is something that the Giants were wise to say away from.  Thus, my hat is off to the Giants front office for not folding to the Brewers' demands.

Adam Laroche
Many fans might have remembered how Adam Laroche snubbed the Giants during the offseason.  Laroche was one of Sabean's initial offerees while preparing for 2010.  Larache apparently turned the Giants down and later accepted a deal for half the money from the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Now, half way through the season, the Dbacks are one of the worst teams in baseball, and management is having a firesale.  One has to wonder if Laroche thinks he made the right decision.

Laroche, while not an outfielder, would still make a good addition to the Giants at first base.  As far as WAR is concerned, Laroche would probably offer the same that Willingham and Hart would: he would be an upgrade, he would be a good hitter, but he would not be the impact player that Jayson Werth would be.  Laroche's wOBA is currently lower than Hart's and Willingham's at .340, but hopefully hitting in a better lineup would see those numbers get higher, even if half his games are played at AT&T Park.

One thing that I like about Laroche is that he may be open to a deal that we could lock him into for a couple years.  Players like to be part of winning teams, and the Giants are going to be competitive for several years.  With a decent hitter like Laroche on the club it might just be the addition they need to be a contender.

The Giants need offense.  They will probably win their division with the players they currently have.  However, it is unlikely they will be able to go deep into the playoffs without a little more help.  Jayson Werth is the best option available, and Brian Sabean should do everything he can to make that happen.  Short of Werth, the second-tier hitters available should be closely examined.

The bottom line: something has to happen.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

One for The History Books

Anyone who reads this blog may have noticed that I have not updated in quit a long time.  The reason for that is because I have been studying for the California Bar Exam.  However, the test is next week, I feel as prepared as I possibly can be, and last week I had the opportunity to watch one of the greatest baseball games I have ever seen in my life.  Thus, my decision to update.

Baseball's Greatest Rivalry

There are many rivalries in sports.  When people think of baseball I am sure the majority of fans think about the Yankees and Red Sox and their rivalry.  That rivalry certainly gets the most attention in the press, and those two teams are the two most popular teams, so of course their rivalry is going to be romanticized.  However, it truly does not capture the intensity, the history, and the pedigree that the Dodgers-Giants rivalry has.

The Giants and Dodgers are two of baseball's oldest teams.  Their hatred for each other began while the two teams broke ground as two of the premiere teams in New York and Brooklyn, respectively.  The Giants represented the wealth and class of big city New York, while the Dodgers represented the knock-hard working class Brooklyn.  The cultural rivalry that was represented each time the two teams met on the diamond endured across an entire continent, when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants moved to San Francisco: two cities which have always fought and struggled with another to be the beacon of the American West.

Unlike the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which has been historically one-sided, the Dodgers-Giants rivalry is uncannily even insofar as the success of the two franchises is concerned.  The Giants have beaten the Dodgers 1164 times, while the Dodgers have won 1147 times.  Additionally, the Dodgers have 22 pennants while the Giants have 20; the Dodgers have 6 World Series titles, while the Giants have 5.  Indeed, the rivalry between these two teams has always been fresh and intense, due to the fact the two teams always have something to prove to another.

The rivalry, being the longest in sports' history, has may great moments.  The Shot Heard Round the World, is perhaps the greatest moment in the history of call sports.  Juan Marichal's viscous attack on Johnny Rosboro with a bat remains the most viscous episode of violence in the history of professional baseball.  Brian Johnson's 12th-inning homerun agains the Dodgers in 1997, which sent the Giants into the post-season, remains one of the greatest homeruns in Giants' history.

A New Chapter

And now, the Giants and Dodgers have yet another game to add to the long list of epic moments the often results when these two franchises meet.  On July 20, 2010 the Giants and Dodgers met at Chavez Ravine to play game 2 of their three-game series.  The Giants had not fared well against the Dodgers at all this year.  Going into the series the Dodgers had beaten the Giants 5 times, including a sweep at AT&T Park, while the Giants had beaten the Dodgers once.  The Giants were able to beat their rivals on July 19, 2010, and going into game 2 it seemed like the Giants would be able to win their first series against their rivals, as Tim Lincecum was taking the mound against Clayton Kershaw.

Also on the minds of many Giants fans was when the Giants were going to get revenge.  Earlier in the season, Dodger starting-pitcher Vicente Padilla threw a ball that hit Aaron Rowand in the face, fracturing the Giants' center fielder's cheek bone; an injury that would sideline him for several weeks.  Many of us anticipated the Giants would retaliate when the Dodgers came to San Francisco, but nothing happened and it seemed that Rowand's injury would be forgotten.

The game began immediately with the Dodgers drilling Giants' lead-off man, Andres Torres.  Again, Giants fans wondered when the retaliation would come.  It appeared that the Dodgers were going to continue to bully our players and no one on our staff would get revenge.  As a blood thirsty fan you want to see blood whenever a Dodger pitcher hits a Giants batter.  However, to make matters worse,  Lincecum did not have his stuff going for him.  He threw some pitches randomly into the air, he could barely hit the strike-zone, and before he was taken out in the fifth inning he had given up five runs.

In the fifth-inning however, with the Giants down 5 to 1, the tensions would escalate.  With Matt Kemp at the plate, on the 1-0 pitch, Lincecum threw a ball high and inside, which brushed Kemp back, knocking him to the ground.  Boos echoed throughout Dodger Stadium as Kemp stood up and resumed his stance in the box.  With the next pitch, Lincecum threw at Kemp again, hitting the Dodger-slugger in the back.  Kemp marched out in front of the plate and watching the game you wondered if he would charge the mound.  Lincecum, for his part, stepped off the mound and turned his back to Kemp as the Dodger fumed and marched to first base.  Pablo Sandoval rushed forward and stood between Kemp and Lincecum.  The tension subsided and the game went on.

The drama would return however.  Pablo Sandoval hit a three-run double in the 6th inning that brought the game to 5-4.  With Aaron Rowand at the plate in the 7th, Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw threw a ball right at Rowand, hitting him in the leg.  Due to the fact that Kershaw had been warned about retaliation, he was ejected along with manager Joe Torre.  The game went out without any more immediate drama.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants managed to get a man on second and third.  Jonathan Broxton, the elite closer for the Dodgers, came on to close out the game and to protect the slim 5-4 lead Los Angeles had.  After Broxton came on he walked the first batter he saw to load the bases.  After that perhaps one of the weirdest rules lawyering happened that I have ever seen in baseball would end up helping the Giants mount one of the most epic comebacks in recent history.

Mattingly, the Dodgers coach after Torre and their second in command had been ejected, came out to talk with the Dodgers and Broxton.  The men huddled on the field and discussed strategy for a moment.  After a short time they broke.  Mattingly stepped off the mound and onto the grass.  As he did so, James Loney, first baseman for the Dodgers, asked a question.  Mattingly spun around and stepped back onto the mound in order to answer.

Renteria scores the winning run.
Suddenly, with a fire in his step you rarely see, Bruce Bochy came thundering out of the Giants dugout.  Bochy bee-lined straight for the umpires and starting complaining about something.  No one watching the game knew what was going on.  The Dodgers didn't know what was going on.  The Giants didn't know what was going on.  The Dodger-fans never know what's going on.  Certainly none of the umpires knew what was going on.  However, an obscure rule would come into play, which would turn the Giants' fortunes for the better.

Rule 8.06 of Baseball limits the amount of mound visits a coach can make during the same batter.  Subsection (b) holds that "a second trip to the same pitcher in the same inning will cause [the] pitcher's removal."  Lastly, subsection (d) holds that "a manager or coach is considered to have concluded his visit to the mound when he leaves the 18-foot circles surrounding the pitcher's rubber."

After a short argument, Jonathan Broxton, the elite-closer for the Dodgers was taken out of the game.  In to replace him was George Sherrill, one of the biggest disappointments in major league baseball this year.  After just two pitches, Andres Torres hit a shot into left-center, which scored two runs and gave the Giants the lead, and after a shut down from Brian Wilson, the Giants were able to steal away a game from the Dodgers and stun them.  It was one of those moments that harken back to the glory days of baseball.  It was one of those moments that fired up an entire fanbase and let us all know that the 2010 Giants have a fire in their hearts and are going to try their hardest to go deep this year.

A Rivalry Renewed?

During the Bonds years there was a fervor in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.  Dodgers fans hated Barry Bonds.  He was the best player in the game and he played for their hated enemy.  Giants fans loved to see Barry beat LA.  Since Bonds left, however, the rivalry, at least from the perspective in San Francisco, lost a little of its pop.  The Giants were hardly competitive through 2007 and 2008, thus the rivalry lost a little of its fun.  Moreover, for all the hatred that existed between the fans of these two franchises, you always had to wonder where the hatred was between the players, if it existed at all.

Beat LA.
I always wanted the players on my team to hate the players on the Dodgers.   I never wanted to see them get chummy at first base.  I never wanted to see them laughing and making jokes with each other.  I never wanted to see them tell the media how good of a team the other was.  No.  I didn't want them to friend.  I wanted Juan Marichal beating the crap out of a blueberry with a baseball bat.  That's baseball.  That's Giants-Dodgers.

With modernity, a lot of these rivalries fizzled out on the field.  In the early days of baseball many of the players on major league teams were actually from the cities they played in.  They often grew up rooting for the teams they played for.  And many of them lived within blocks of the stadiums where they worked each day.  Thus, players of yesteryear understood how the fans felt.  They understood what it was like to hate the Dodgers or hate the Giants.  Because they grew up being in the same place as the fans had been.

Now, however, with baseball being an extremely professional and sophisticated business, most players do not play for the team they grew up rooting for.  In fact, several Giants players today, such as Sergio Romo and Barry Zito, actually grew up rooting for the Dodgers.  Thus, much of the hatred for the Dodgers, which is so personal for fans, is simply not there for the players.

Suck it Russel Martin.
I feel that has changed with this past series in Los Angeles.  Over the past two years several incidents have occurred which I believe has led to some serious bad blood that now has become personal between players on the Giants and Dodgers, which has seemingly recurred on the field several times.  One such incident was last year when Casey Blake mocked Brian Wilson from the dugout in Los Angeles by copying the gesture Wilson makes in remembrance of his father.  To Blake's credit, he didn't know what Wilson's gesture meant, but even after he found out what it meant he refused to apologize.

In 2009, the Giants and Dodgers cleared the benches at AT&T park after Pablo Sandoval and Russel Martin got into an argument at the plate.  No punches were thrown but it looked like something serious was brewing.  This year, Aaron Rowand has been thrown at twice.  Matt Kemp has been hit.  Andres Torres has been hit.  Russel Martin got a brush-back.  And after 20 July, the Dodgers suffered one of their most humiliating losses in years.

There is no telling if further retaliation will come.  However, coming this week the Dodgers will return to AT&T Park.  Let's hope another chapter in the rivalry will be written.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Antitrust and Competitive Balance

Competitive balance is a hot topic for baseball fans these days.  After the Yankees won their 27th World Series on a gargantuan payroll that was leaps and bounds ahead of any other team in the league, the grumblings around the baseball community about the need to address balance issues in MLB were renewed.  Indeed, without a doubt baseball does have a balance issue.  "From 1980 to 1986, twenty of baseball's twenty-six teams made it to a League Championship Series (LCS).  From 1995 through 2001, only eleven of baseball's thirty made it to an LCS." (Zimbalist, May The Best Team Win (2003) p. 43.)  Moreover, of the eleven teams that did make it to an LCS during the 1995-2001 period, none won a World Series who were outside the top fourth in payrolls. (Id. at p. 43.)  Clearly there is something wrong with baseball.  A myriad of solutions have been suggested: salary caps, salary floors, more revenue sharing, and realignment have been the most common solutions debated in the media.

There is one thing, however, that I never hear discussed.  Baseball's archaic antitrust exception.  Baseball's antitrust exception has allowed the league to create a system which lends itself to balance issues throughout the lead.  With its antitrust exception, baseball has created a flawed minor league system which may be a chief contributor to baseball's balance issues.  In this essay I will detail the history of baseball's antitrust exception, what it means, and why it still matters for baseball today.

What Is Antitrust?
Antitrust law is the federal government's attempt to stop business concentration and economic power. (E. Thomas Sullivan et al., Antitrust Law, Police And Procedure: Cases, Materials, Problems (6th Ed. 2009) p. 1.)  Antitrust law is designed to prevent economic power from being concentrated in too few hands (avoid monopoly).  It is also designed to stop unreasonable restraints on trade, including inter alia: price fixing agreements (where competitors agree to charge higher prices than they would if they competed), market allocation (where competitors to agree not to compete in certain geogrpahical areas), and attempts to monopolize.  Antitrust laws prohibit more than just the aforementioned conduct, however those actions are the most commonly seen.

Since antitrust law is federal legislation enacted by Congress, it can only reach activity that is interstate, as per Congress's commerce clause power.  This is important because what exactly is interstate commerce is not the same today as it was when baseball first was granted its antitrust exception. 

Baseball's Antitrust History
In order to understand baseball's current antitrust exception one must delve into the history of MLB.  MLB was formed in 1903 with the merge of the American and National Leagues. (Zimablist, May The Best Team Win, supra, at p. 15.)  While the leagues were once competitors, the owners of the respective leagues determined it would be economically viable for them not to compete with each other.  Pursuant to their collusion, the owners of the newly formed MLB could create labor policies that players were helpless to combat: with the two major leagues now combined into one league, players could no longer vote with their feet and move to a different league that offered better playing conditions.  The policy that was the most unbearable for players was the dreaded reserve clause.  The reserve clause forbade players from seeking free agency; players could only be moved if an owner wanted to sell that player to another team.  In a sense, this was 20th century indentured servitude.  Players hated the reserve clause, but all attempts to rid baseball of this arcane labor requirement failed.

Seeing a class of disgruntled players ripe for the picking, a new baseball league was formed in 1913.  The Federal League was originally formed as a minor league, but quickly announced that it would become a major league and began to court MLB players by promising players long-term contracts and abandoning the reserve clause.  (Id. at p. 15.)  The floodgates opening, and a army of disgruntled MLB players jumped ship for the FL.  Between 1914 and 1915, 221 major league players joined the FL.  (Id. at p. 15.) 

MLB was not about to take this betrayal sitting down.  MLB quickly blacklisted any players who went to the FL and sued many of the defectors.  (Id. at p.16.)  The FL responded by suing MLB, claiming MLB's attempt to block players from joining the FL was an unreasonable restraint of trade, an antitrust violation.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The argument in the Federal Baseball case was whether federal antitrust laws reached baseball.  Was baseball "interstate commerce"?  Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that it was not interstate commerce and ruled baseball was exempt from antitrust laws.  In an opinion by Oliver Wendell Holmes, baseball games were "purely state affairs" that did not effect interstate commerce, because the travel across state lines each team did to play in a rival city was merely incidnetal to the game, but it was not an essential element of baseball. (Id. at p. 17.)  Thus, the FL had no ability to prevent MLB's anticompetitive behavior.  Within several years the FL folded. 

While it may seem odd to us today, the decision was not necessarily wrong at the time.  Prevailing views of what constituted interstate commerce were extremely different in 1922, when the case was heard.  It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that our modern idea of what constitutes interstate commerce began to take shape. The decision in Wickard v. Filburn (1942) 317 U.S. 111 noted that Congress has the power to regulate any activity, local or interstate, that either in itself or in combination with other activities has a substantial economic effect upon or effect on movement in interstate commerce.   This decision greatly broadened the power of the commerce clause, as now federal laws could reach activity that was entirely intrastate if that activity, in the aggregate, would or could have an effect on interstate commerce.  Clearly, after Wickard, baseball fell into that class of activity.

However, the battle over baseball's antitrust exemption did not end there.  Following World War II, a new baseball league was formed.  The new Mexican League offered players handsome salaries, especially for young players looking for an initial club to sign with.  One such player, Danny Gardella, signed with the ML after getting a handsome offer (coincidentally, the MLB he snubbed was the Giants).  (Id. at pp. 17-18.)  Gardella began playing in Mexico, but found the playing conditions simply unbearable.  He walked away from the league and sought return to the MLB, however for his defection to the ML, he was now blacklisted.  Gardella sued MLB, claiming that baseball's antitrust laws no longer applied given the advancement of commerce clause jurisprudence and that the advent of radio and television had changed the nature of baseball so drastically that it certainly constituted interstate commerce. (Id. at p. 18.)  Lower circuit courts ruled for Gardella and awarded him damages of $300,000.  MLB attempted to take the case to the Supreme Court, however before the Court could hear the case it was settled.  Thus, there remained ambiguity about baseball's antitrust exemption: a federal circuit court had seemingly struck down the exemption, however the Supreme Court never got the chance to have the final word.

The battle continued.  In the 1950s, Congress held hearings, not unlike the ones following the steroid scandal in the 21st century.  Aftering hearing from many ballplayers, including Ty Cobb, who argued that the reserve clause was required in order for baseball to stay competitive, Congress declined to remove the antitrust exemption as it applied to baseball (Zimbalist 18).

The Supreme Court, bizarrely, confirmed baseball's antitrust in yet another decision in 1953.  George Toolson sued MLB after he was to be traded from the Yankees.  Toolson refused to report to duty when the Yankees informed him they were moving him.  The Supreme Court claimed that baseball had an antitrust exemption for two reasons: (1) we already ruled that baseball has an antitrust exemption (even if it no longer makes sense); (2) Congress held hearing and decided not to remove the exemption.  This seems like a bizarre excuse from the high court.  They felt they did not need to act because Congress did not decide to remove the baseball exemption that Congress never gave them in the first place?  Baseball's antitrust exemption was a judicial monster, not a congressional one.  Should not the solution come from the judiciary?  What made this case so frustrating, is just several years later in Radovich v. NFL, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Football League did not have an exemption from baseball.  (Id. at p. 20.) 

Finally, the Flood case would begin the death knell of the reserve clause, which remained to be hated by major leaguers throughout baseball.  Curt Flood was one of the best center fielders in the game in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  When he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals he objected.  He wrote to the baseball commissioner and requested that he not be traded; the request was denied.  Following this, Flood sued MLB, claiming that the reserve clause was an unreasonable restraint on trade.  The Supreme Court eventually heard the case, and in a decision by Justice Blackmun the Court noted that baseball's antitrust excemption was an "aberration."  The Court refused, however, to remove baseball's exemption, alleging that the rule had stood for so long, and so many people had many important business or life decisions on baseball's exemption.  Justice Blackmun also noted that the decision was a "reconition of baseball's unique characteristics and needs."  Oddly enough, Blackmun failed to explain exactly what made baseball so unique from football.  (Id. at pp. 20-21.)

Fortunately for Mr. Flood, however, while the antitrust exemption survived, the reserve clause did not.  In 1975, MLB agreed to abandon the reserve clause and in 1976 the free agency system began. 

So where do we stand now?  Today there is still ambiguity over whether baseball has an antitrust exemption.  Most of the litigation surrounding the exemption addresses the reserve clause.  Some pundits have talent his to mean that the exemption only reaches the reserve clause, and seeing now that the reserve clause is dead, the exemption means nothing.  MLB has been very good at avoiding litigation it believes will destroy its antitrust exemption.  As it stands now, baseball has a broad antitrust exemption in most legal circles; at least until there is cause for the Supreme Court or Congress to clarify exeactly what the exemption reaches today.  Regardless, the presumed exemption has effects on the modern game.

What The Antitrust Exception Means
There are several practical effects the antitrust exception still has on baseball.  Traditionally, as I hope has been made clear, most litigation surrounded the reserve clause.  Despite the fact that the reserve clause is a thing of the past, the minor leagues are still greatly effected by the antitrust exception.

Minor Leagues and Antitrust
Baseball is unique in professional American sports in that it grows players in a unique minor league system.  How does this system work?  Every June MLB holds a draft.  Unlike the NFL draft, where teams get together to draft NFL-ready players out of college, the MLB draft is for high school and college players from the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico.  Players are chosen by a particular team.  "Once chosen, players can either sign with the selecting team with a fixed salary . . . plus a signing bonus for the top prospects, or they can stay out of professional baseball until the next year's draft.  Chosen players who sign witha major league team then spend up to four years in that club's minor league system before another team has an opportunity to sign them."  (Id. at p. 25.)  If a minor league player is put on a team's 40 man roster, then he cannot be picked up by another team for seven years.

As I noted above, antitrust laws prohibit unreasonable restraints on trade.  Generally, a restraint the artificially fixes prices or prohibits competition will be unreasonable.  In the case of minor league players, this is clearly an unreasonable restraint of trade.  Why?  First, because players are not allowed receive competitive bids for their services after they are drafted.  Their pay rate is set by the owners and does not reflect his own skill.  Imagine you have a business making pizza.  Your pizza is the greatest pizza in town, but the city has put some restrictions on you: (1) you can't raise your price; (2) you can't move to a more profitable block.  These are unreasonable restraints on trade and it is what goes on with baseball players in the minor leagues.  Furthermore, minor league players are not, and cannot, be unionized.  They cannot partake in collective bargaining.  All htese are unreasonable restraints on trade and the only reason they are legal is because baseball has an antitrust exemption.

What would happen if the antitrust exemption were lifted?  Baseball competitive balance would probably improve.  Currently, teams draft players and then are responsible for a player's development.  It is on the team to grow budding players into superstars.  Often, prospects do not work out.  Under the current system, the teams with the worst records from the previous year get the first pick in the draft.  However, it is extremely common for these top prospects to not pan out.  So, the fact that weak teams often get first dibs often does not matter.  However, if the antitrust exemption were lifted, baseball might have to modify its system.

Zimbalist envisions a system were minor leagues still exist, but they are not controlled by major league franchises as they are today.  Under this system, minor league teams would develop players and after a set service time they would be eligible to be drafted in the major leagues.  This would probably have a good effect on competitive balance in baseball, because unlike the current system, where teams essentially pick players and then hope for the best, under this proposed system teams would select players after they have largely been developed.

Under current free agency laws, a player cannot hit free agency until he has six years of big-league experience.  This would allow smaller market teams to draft MLB-ready players directly out of the minors and get six years of play time.  For those six years, small market teams could try to create a team that could compete with the big boys.  It would be easier for smaller teams to make educated decisions about which players would better fit their club, because they will have a better idea of what kind of major league player they are going to get.

Baseball's antitrust exemption is still a problem for the sport.  Today baseball does face competitive balance problems.  Some solutions, such a salary cap, may never be realized considering the great opposition from the Players' Union.  In fact, I don't think a salary cap would make much of a difference either: money would simply go to management and not necessarily to the players.  Reorganizing baseball's draft and minor league system may be one part of the ultimate solution to see more balance in the sport. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Future of Fred Lewis

Anyone who follows the Giants knows that the Achilles Heel for this team is its offense.  While the Giants have amassed perhaps the best pitching staff in MLB for 2010, there is still a large question mark regarding the effectiveness of the team's offense.  General Manager Brian Sabean has made some moves to improve the offense, such as resigning Freddy Sanchez and Benjie Molina, while also bringing in Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa.  The jury is still out on whether this offense will be able to help the ace-staff the Giants have on the mound into the playoffs.  The fact remains, however, that this team needs all the help it can get. 

Let's assume there was a player who had the following career stats: .775 OPS, .420 SLG, .343 wOBA, and a 10.1 BB%.  All things would indicate a player who has the ability to hit for some extra bases, can take a walk, and can get on base more than the average player.  Also assume that this players make fewer errors on average than other players at his position. 

If you thought: "Hey, that player sounds a lot like Fred Lewis", then you are correct.  Because that player is Fred Lewis.  So that sounds good.  Fred Lewis is ready and waiting to get some playing time in with the Giants.  Let's put him on the team, and have him help our way toward making it to the playoffs.

Wait.  What's this?  The Giants have already decided to trade Fred Lewis or remove him from the roster?  'Tis true.  The Giants, for some asinine, reason have decided to get rid of Fred Lewis, and apparently Lewis has been informed of this.  The Giants have indicated that they already have six outfielders (DeRosa, Bowker, Schierholtz, Rowand, Torres, and Velez), including two left-handed hitters, like Lewis (Bowker and Schierholtz).  Thus, they intend of getting rid of Lewis as there is no room.

This is an utterly absurd move.  DeRosa and Rowand, due to their contracts are certainly not going anywhere, so that cannot be helped.  Bowker has proven himself with the bat while Schierholtz seems destined to be a fourth outfielder, due to his defensive prowess but weak bat.  That leaves Torres and Velez.  Neither player can hit well.  At all. Velez and Torres both have below average wOBA and show no promise of improvement.  Velez is probably the more valuable of the two: he can play many positions on the diamond and that versatility is probably what gave him his job on the team.  But do we really need that?  Mark DeRosa can play any position on the field, while Juan Uribe was signed for the purpose of being a utility infielder.  What is the point of holding onto Velez?  Why not send Velez to AAA, move DeRosa to 2B, bench Uribe, and put Lewis in LF?  The Giants' lineup would look much better:

Lewis LF
Renteria SS
Sandoval 3B
Huff 1B
DeRosa 2B
Rowand CF
Bowker RF
Molina C

I would rather see Torres go than Velez, but Bruce Bochey seems intent on having a right-handed outfielder to platoon with John Bowker.  Of course, once Freddy Sanchez returns, the field will look more crowded, but having Lewis on the bench would prove to be far more valuable than having Eugenio Velez on the bench.  The fact that the Giants' front office does not recognize this is utterly mind-boggling.  Whoever's decision this was, whether it was Bochey's, Sabean's, or both deserves to be fired.  This is ridiculous.