THE USB Baseball Report: Hall of Fame Edition

Hi, hello & welcome to THE USB Baseball Report! I’m Steve Cook, and business is picking up in the baseball world! We’re approaching the Trade Deadline, which means that the next few days will feature lots of speculation & movement of players. Mostly speculation, but we’ve already had one big trade & there will certainly be more to follow! Before that happens, we need to discuss a few baseball topics that have come up lately and deserve our attention. So let’s get right to it!

Hall of Fame Thoughts

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Two of the greatest baseball players to take the field during my lifetime entered the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. The crowd was enormous, the speeches were memorable, and it was certainly worth watching on the MLB Network. I still don’t know why they have the ceremony on a day when baseball games are being played, but that is what that is. Let’s talk a bit about these two amazing players.

Ken Griffey Jr. was an icon. For 1990s kids, he was to baseball what Michael Jordan was to basketball. He was the sport’s biggest star & most exciting player. He put the Seattle Mariners on the map, and it’s tough to imagine where the franchise would be today if he didn’t come along. His performance during the 1990s was enough to ensure HOF placement. He was to baseball video games what John Madden was to football video games. (Madden’s had more staying power in the genre, of course.)

When he got traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, it was tough not to get excited about all the championships that would follow. As a young Reds fan it felt like we had won the lottery. The Reds were coming off of a surprisingly fun 1999 season and the addition of a superstar like Griffey with family ties to the Big Red Machine to the fold seemingly ensured years of fun to follow. That didn’t happen. Junior’s Cincinnati run was filled with injury, disappointment, and the realization that sometimes you can’t go home again. The physical exertion of Griffey’s 1990s came back to haunt him, and every single indication is that unlike many of his peers during the Steroid Era, Griffey didn’t seek chemical help to get past his injuries & enhance his performance. Reds ownership didn’t give Griffey a lot of help around him and the team was mediocre throughout his tenure. He didn’t play in meaningful games again until he was traded to the White Sox in 2008 around the deadline. Many Reds fans took this out on Griffey, but most thoughtful fans knew that the failure of the Griffey Jr. Reds was due to ownership’s unwillingness to spend money & the inability of the organization to scout young talent properly, not Griffey’s injuries, which could have been overcome if not for the other factors.

Remember how LeBron James went home to Cleveland and won a title? Ken Griffey Jr. went home to Cincinnati and the whole thing blew up. It’s part of why I assumed that the Cleveland thing wouldn’t happen. And it’s why a guy who got all but three votes for the HOF who will be the last player that spent time in Cincinnati to make the HOF for at least the next ten years will go in as a Mariner and Reds fans will act like it’s all good but it isn’t really. I don’t blame Griffey. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bitter about how his time in Cincinnati went.

Johnny Bench retired the year before I was born, so Mike Piazza was the greatest catcher of my lifetime. Griffey was the top pick in the 1987 draft, pre-ordained to be a legend. Piazza was the 1,390th pick in the 1988 draft, picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers because his father was friends with Tommy Lasorda & asked Tommy to pick him as a favor. It worked out pretty well for everybody involved. Like Griffey, Piazza never won a championship, but he at least got to play in a World Series as part of the New York Mets in 2000. He also got to have Roger Clemens throw a bat at him during that World Series. As good as his time with the Dodgers was, he will mostly be remembered as a Met, for that World Series run and the home run he hit in the Mets’ first game after 9/11 to beat the Braves.

He hit more home runs than any other catcher and retired with a .308 batting average. It took him four ballots to get in the Hall, which is ridiculous but almost expected in this day & age. Unlike Griffey, the steroid whispers were strong around Piazza during his career. He admitted to using androstenedione when it was legal & stopping after the Mark McGwire controversy in 1998. He never failed a test or got suspended. But hey, neither did many of the other guys being kept out by the writers…so it’s a fair question to ask why Piazza gets a pass when the rest don’t.

The answer is because the writers are hypocrites, of course. Piazza deserves to be in. No doubt. But so do Bonds, Clemens and the rest. Perhaps Piazza’s induction will make it easier for others…as long as they’re nice guys.

Chris Sale Is Nuts

The Chicago White Sox, like most teams in baseball, occasionally like to have their players wear old-style uniforms. Turn Back The Clock Night has been a crowd pleaser ever since I can remember. Now, the White Sox have had some goofy uniforms over the years. Mostly because Bill Veeck was their owner for quite sometime, and there was not a box he thought anywhere near inside of. There was the year they decided that wearing shorts was a good idea. Really, that’s difficult to top, but their collared jerseys were quite the interesting look.

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Chris Sale, All-Star pitcher & noted red-ass, was the scheduled starting pitcher for Saturday’s game where they were set to turn back the clock and wear some 1976-style unis. Apparently the players & coaches had previously discussed the uniforms and decided that the collars were too much & wouldn’t be comfortable for play. However, there was a promotion involved, and whenever promotions are involved and money can be made by a franchise, that has to go ahead of things like players’ feelings.

So I understand Sale being mad. Starting pitchers usually get to pick between home/away jerseys based on location or a team’s alternate jersey, and he wasn’t given a choice. That doesn’t give him an excuse for what he spent his time doing while the team was taking BP & warming up for the game…taking scissors to the collars of the entire teams’ jerseys. Dude was like a jilted lover cutting up all the pictures & mementos of his ex-girlfriend. Sale was excused from the premises after berating White Sox management and suspended for five days (yup, the most useless punishment in sports. Again.).

Sale has been an unhappy camper in Chicago for awhile now. He flipped out when the White Sox refused to let Adam LaRoche’s kid hang out in the locker room 24/7, and now he’s taking scissors to official team equipment. What this all means, basically, is that Chris Sale is on the market. Sure, he’s a few McNuggets short of a Happy Meal, but he’s also one of the best pitchers in MLB. Any contending team could use that.

Just don’t let him anywhere near other players’ uniforms, or try to start a conversation with him if you’re upper management.

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Reds Update

The Reds had a successful homestand coming off the All-Star Break, going 6-3 against the hapless Brewers, the pitiful Braves & the sorry, no-account D-Backs. Does it mean anything? Not really, they still sat 21.5 games behind the 1st place Cubs on Monday. No matter what the Reds do from here on out, it’ll be tough for them to get more attention than Bengals Training Camp. Heck, they probably won’t get more attention than FC Cincinnati, a USL team taking the city by storm. When you’re 38-60, it’s tough to get people to care.

That’s why one of the topics of Cincinnati sports talk radio lately has been the idea of split-season standings. Minor league baseball crowns division champions in the first & second halves of the season, then the playoffs start from there. MLB has six divisions so the math gets a little fuzzy there, but the positives include the following:

-Fans of teams way out of first place in the first half still have reason to be interested in the second half.
-First half winning teams can take it easy in the second half.
– More playoff games equals more money.

It’s an interesting idea. But it’s not going to happen, nor should it. All the divisions are still pretty close here in July…the biggest lead belongs to the Cubs, and the Cardinals are 7.5 games back and slowly sneaking back into things. Basically, what this would do is bail out bad baseball teams for putting out a product so piss-poor that they can’t feasibly make the playoffs halfway into a season.

And as many Reds fans have pointed out, the one time we had split-season champions in baseball in 1981, the Reds had the best record in the NL but were left out of the playoffs because they weren’t first place in their division at the end of either half. Then people would tell you they could fix that little problem, and by the time this is all over we’ll have half of MLB in the playoffs & the World Series will take place in December.

I’ll pass.

Chappy Makes The Cubs Happy

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Aroldis Chapman’s New York Yankee tenure was not much longer than Ken Griffey Jr’s stint with the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees traded Chapman to the Chicago Cubs for four prospects, all of whom are reportedly better than the prospects they traded to Cincinnati for Chapman during the off-season.

Hold on, I need to comment on the Reds’ GMs for a second…

Anyway, the best team in the National League now has one of the best closers in baseball. They gave up quite a bit to get him, but we know that the Cubs’ minor league system is overflowing with prospects because they know how to scout talent. Situations like the one the Cubs find themselves in are why you load up on prospects to begin with. They’re obviously a contender to do big things in October, but they’re not perfect. One of the things they were missing: a lights-out closer. Now they have one. It’s a smart move.

Now, there are some people out there worried about Chapman’s off-field issues. Yes, he was involved in a domestic violence incident in the off-season. Yes, he was suspended for 30 games this season. Nobody’s excusing his actions, but at the same time it’s important to allow Chapman, who from all accounts was remorseful over the situation and served his suspension without complaint, to move on.

Honestly, in 2016, I’m sick of seeing people get on their moral high horse over Aroldis Chapman & other athletes while not giving a damn about the morals of people running for President. Where are these folks’ priorities? Me, I’m more concerned about the people that somehow got nominated for that process and what they do behind the scenes than I am about a relier pitcher’s personal life. Don’t tell me about “social conscience” and how bad Aroldis Chapman is when all I see on TV these days are people that are much more dangerous and terrifying than anybody a sports team is bringing in to win a championship.

But that’s really another topic for another time, isn’t it? Join us next time when there will surely be more trades to discuss!

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