It’s a New Year! Maybe it’s time to elect some starting pitchers to Cooperstown?

Schilling takes a bowCurt Schilling appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time a year ago with overwhelmingly strong credentials for election: The 216-game winner ranks 26th all-time in wins above replacement for pitchers (17th-highest total since the live ball era began in 1920) and 15th all-time in strikeouts, including three 300-strikeout seasons; he’s got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher ever (well, not counting a guy named Tommy Bond who was 5-foot-7, born in Ireland and began his career with the 1874 Brooklyn Atlantics) and three 20-win seasons; and he led the league twice in wins, twice in innings, three times in starts, four times in complete games (his 15 complete games in 1998 is the highest total in the majors since 1991), twice in strikeouts and five times in strikeout-walk ratio. Schilling never won a Cy Young Award but finished second in the voting three times.
Of course, Schilling was also one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2001 Co MVP2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. His October legacy includes his iconic Bloody Sock Game in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, a win in the World Series that year that helped end the long suffering of Red Sox fans, plus his dominant performance throughout the 2001 postseason when he allowed six runs in six starts as the Diamondbacks won the World Series. He helped the Red Sox win another title in 2007. His career 3.46 ERA in a hitters’ era gives him an adjusted ERA equal to Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson and higher than Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Bob Feller.
Schilling was great, he has the advanced metrics that scream Hall of Famer, and he was an iconic figure in the game while active. What more do you need to get elected to Cooperstown?
More than 60 percent of voters didn’t check Schilling’s name on their ballot.
Then there’s the pitcher who finished with the same career adjusted ERA as Schilling. His best ERAs, all in seasons where he pitched more than 210 innings, were 1.89, 2.38, 2.39, 2.58 and 2.69, all coming when offensive totals were exploding. The worst of those seasons had an adjusted ERA+ of 150. Since 1920, only five other starters had five or more seasons with at least 200 innings and an ERA+ of 150 or higher: Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay. This pitcher had another season where he went 18-9 with a 3.00 ERA and another where he went 21-11 with a 3.32 ERA while leading his league in innings pitched. He won more than 200 games. He had a 16-strikeout game in the postseason. His career pitching WAR of 68.5 is higher than Palmer, Carl Hubbell or Don Drysdale.
Kevin Brown MarlinsKevin Brown got 12 votes in his one year on the ballot, not close to the 5 percent needed to remain on the ballot, and he was kicked to the curb alongside Raul Mondesi, Bobby Higginson and Lenny Harris. Thank you for your nice career, but your case has no merit. Heck, Willie McGee received twice as many votes. I mean, Willie McGee was a nice player, and even a great one the season he won the MVP Award, but he had about half the career value of Brown.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America treats starting pitchers like they’re infected with the plague. They’ve elected one in the past 14 years: Bert Blyleven in 2011. And Blyleven, despite winning 287 games and ranking 11th all-time in WAR among pitchers, took 14 years to finally get in. Meanwhile, the BBWAA has elected three relief pitchers in those 14 years, so it’s not an anti-pitcher bias; it’s an anti-starting pitcher bias.
What’s happened here? How come no starting pitcher who began his career after 1970 is in the Hall of Fame? Leaving aside the case of Clemens, who would have been elected if not for his ties to PEDs, there are several issues going on.

Saberhagen in Sox
   1. The 1980s were barren of strong, obvious Hall of Fame pitchers. The BBWAA ignored the cases of borderline candidates like David Cone (pictured below), Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen (pictured above) and Orel Hershiser, and instead embraced Jack Morris, a lesser pitcher than those four but a guy with more career wins.

David Cone Red Sox
   2. Comparison to the previous generation of starters. Including Blyleven, there are 10 “1970s pitchers” in the Hall of Fame. Here they are, listed in order of election year along with each pitcher’s 10-year peak period:
Bert Blyleven (2011): 1971-1980 Nolan Ryan (1999): 1972-1981 Don Sutton (1998): 1971-1980 Phil Niekro (1997): 1970-1979 Steve Carlton (1994): 1972-1981 Tom Seaver (1992): 1968-1977 Fergie Jenkins (1991): 1967-1976 Gaylord Perry (1991): 1967-1976 Jim Palmer (1990): 1969-1978 Catfish Hunter (1987): 1967-1976
These pitchers aren’t merely just great pitchers but products of their generation. The late ’60s and early ’70s produced the lowest-scoring seasons in the major leagues since the dead ball era. The average team in 1968 scored 3.42 runs per game, the lowest total since 1908. That was the notorious pitchers’ year, but 1972 didn’t see much more offense at 3.69 runs per game. This was also the period when pitchers were worked harder than they had been in decades, making more starts and pitching more innings. The 15-year period from 1963 to 1977 saw 62 different seasons where a pitcher threw 300 innings. The previous 15 seasons saw it happen just 13 times (six by Robin Roberts); the ensuing 15 seasons saw it happen just three times, two of those by knuckleballer Niekro.  This period was the perfect time to ferment long careers with lots of wins. More starts and more innings gave pitchers the opportunity to get more wins. It’s no coincidence that the peak seasons of the above pitchers all occurred in roughly the same time span.

Tom Seaver in Red Sox
   3. Speaking of wins … Hall of Fame voters love wins like Yasiel Puig loves driving fast. Morris has 254, a main reason he earned 67.7 percent of the vote last year despite his 3.90 career ERA. Schilling has 216 and Brown 211. The fixation on career wins — and 300 in particular — is the result of a unique generation of pitchers; it’s a standard previous pitchers weren’t held to. Bob Gibson won 251 games, Juan Marichal 243, Whitey Ford 236, Don Drysdale 209 and Sandy Koufax 165. Focus on the entire résumé, not just the win total. Schilling didn’t win 254 games, let alone 300, but he’s a far superior Hall of Fame candidate to Morris.
Let’s compare Tom Glavine to Mike Mussina, both appearing on the ballot for the first time. With 305 wins, Glavine appears to be the much stronger candidate than Mussina, who won 270 games.

Here’s what one voter, Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, wrote:

Glavine and Maddux were 300-game winners. Those are magic plateaus … unless you cheated.
The rest of the list of players I reject are good old-fashioned baseball arguments. (Craig) Biggio got 68.2 percent of the vote last year, but I don’t think of him as Hall-worthy (only one 200-hit season). Same for Mussina and his 270 wins (he always pitched for good teams) and (Lee) Smith and his 478 saves (saves are overrated and often artificial).

There you go. Glavine won 305 games, Mussina won 270, so Glavine is the easy choice. As an aside: I love the bit about Mussina pitching for good teams. As if Glavine didn’t pitch for good teams? Since when is pitching for good teams considered a demerit?

Mike Mussina Baltimore

Plus, as Jason Collette pointed out, “Mussina pitched for Baltimore for 10 years — and Baltimore had losing records in five of those ten seasons. Yet, Mussina had a .645 winning percentage and won 147 of his 270 starts with the Orioles. The Yankees never had a losing record when Mussina pitched there and he had a .631 winning percentage with them. Mussina’s .645 winning percentage as an Oriole dwarfed the team’s .510 winning percentage in that same time.”

(Also, Shaughnessy is apparently voting for Morris because he won 254 games, which I believe is less than 270.)
Anyway, when you examine the numbers a little deeper, Glavine and Mussina compare favorably:
Pitching WAR

  • Glavine: 74.0
  • Mussina: 82.7

ERA+

  • Glavine: 118 (3.54 career ERA in the National League with great defense behind him)
  • Mussina: 123 (3.68 career ERA in the American League with often bad defenses behind him)

5+ WAR seasons

  • Glavine: 4
  • Mussina: 10

Postseason

  • Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
  • Mussina: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

The point here isn’t to detract from Glavine, but that Mussina has every bit the case Glavine does — or 95 percent of it, giving Glavine some extra credit if you wish for his two Cy Youngs. Glavine hung on and won 35 more games; Mussina retired after winning 20. That doesn’t make Glavine a superior pitcher.
   4. Stingy voters. To a certain extent, the BBWAA voters have become tough on all candidates — not just starting pitchers and PED users.

As Joe Sheehan wrote recently:

Consider the recent history of Hall voting. The average number of players named per ballot declined steadily up until just last year. In 1966, which was the first vote in the modern era of BBWAA balloting (that is, in which there have been no years in which the BBWAA did not vote), there were 7.2 names listed per ballot. Ten years later, that figure was 7.6. By 2000, a year that featured two players voted in and a ballot with five others who would eventually be voted in (plus Jack Morris, still kicking around), the number was down to 5.6. There were more baseball players than ever before becoming eligible for the Hall, but the voters were becoming much more difficult to impress. That would remain the case for most of this century:
2001: 6.3 2002: 6.0 2003: 6.6 2004: 6.6 2005: 5.6 2007: 6.6 2008: 5.4 2009: 5.4 2010: 5.7 2011: 6.0 2012: 5.1 2013: 6.6

Remember, that downward trend is occurring despite an increasingly crowded ballot due to the split opinions on what do about the PED candidates. With as many as 15 to 20 legitimate Hall of Fame candidates on this year’s ballot it will be interesting to see if that 6.6 players per ballot increases further.

Pedro at Fenway
   5. Timing. The starting pitching problem will be abated somewhat in upcoming elections. Maddux will get in this year, Glavine this year or next. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez (pictured above) and John Smoltz (pictured below) then join the ballot next year. Johnson is a lock, and Martinez has the Koufax-esque peak value thing going for him, although with 219 wins he’s not a first-year lock. Smoltz is similar to Schilling in many ways, down to the career win total (213) and postseason heroics, so odds are he’ll face the same uphill climb.

Smoltz Red Sox
I believe most Hall of Fame voters have the same goal: Elect the best players to the Hall of Fame, or at least the best ones they believe to be clean from PEDs. That issue is still stuck in the mud, the Hall itself refusing to give guidance to the voters. But electing Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina is simply an issue of understanding their greatness. They are among the very best pitchers in the history of the game. They deserve to be elected this year, alongside Maddux and Glavine.

Alex Rodriguez: What If..?

In Comic Books they are known as ‘What If?’ (Marvel) issues or ‘Elseworld’ (DC) tales, taking the established character out of their established norm and seeing what would have or could have happened if….

What If 31

A decade later, we revisit called-off engagement between Rodriguez and Boston

From: Gordon Edes

They rank among the great what-might-have-been stories in Red Sox history.

What if an organization with a history of racial intolerance had given more than a sham tryout to Jackie Robinson or listened to the urgings of a scout named George Digby to sign a young outfielder named Willie Mays?

Jackie Robinson Red Sox

What if Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had, in the cold light of morning, decided to follow through on the trade arranged over drinks the night before with Yankees co-owner Dan Topping, one in which the Sox would have swapped Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio? (Note: This deal also was scuttled due to the Yankees reluctance to include a young catching prospect named Yogi Berra.)

Teddy and Joe D

And what if the Red Sox had succeeded in their audacious effort 10 years ago to acquire Alex Rodriguez, generally acknowledged as the best player in the game at the time, from the Texas Rangers?

Ten years ago Monday, Rangers owner Tom Hicks declared that effort “totally, totally dead.” He would soon send a letter to Rangers season-ticket holders pledging that Rodriguez would be the team’s shortstop on Opening Day 2004. Then, on Valentine’s Day, he traded him to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees.

A-Rod dissapointment

With A-Rod now shamed and a shell of his former self, a player who went from being championed by the game’s ruling class to pariah, it is easy to regard Boston’s failed courtship as a blessing, a disaster averted.

But that’s with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, the Sox — and A-Rod — were bitterly disappointed that it did not come to pass, this deal first proposed by Hicks to the Red Sox within days of their crushing Game 7 loss to the New York Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

A-Rod Texas presserHicks was looking to get out from under the game’s biggest contract, a $250 million, 10-year deal that in its first three years had not lifted the Rangers out of mediocrity. He asked for Nomar Garciaparra in return. The Sox countered by offering Manny Ramirez, whom they had placed on irrevocable waivers only weeks before without any takers.

With that deal in play, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made another at the winter meetings, arranging to trade Garciaparra to the White Sox for slugging outfielder Magglio Ordonez. That second trade was contingent on the A-Rod deal being approved, but when Epstein entered the hotel room of his new manager, Terry Francona, and rattled off a prospective lineup that included Johnny Damon, A-Rod, David Ortiz and Ordonez, on knees made unsteady by multiple surgeries, Francona climbed onto his bed and did an impromptu dance.

That same night, Epstein slipped out of the meetings in New Orleans and flew to New York to meet with Rodriguez and his then-wife, Cynthia. Owner John W. Henry had already met with the couple in Miami, granted extraordinary permission to do so by commissioner Bud Selig, who had run into Rodriguez at Sammy Sosa’s party in the Dominican Republic and listened to A-Rod earnestly express his desire to play for the Sox.

I was working for the Boston Globe at the time, and I, too, went to Miami to meet with Rodriguez. I liked him. He was smart, engaging and gracious. I believe he really wanted to play for the Sox. I had seen him when he’d made his major-league debut at Fenway as an 18-year-old from Miami, and I was impressed with his appreciation of Boston and what it would mean to his legacy if he would be the one who led the Sox to a World Series title after 86 years without one.

The deal was complicated and ultimately collapsed under its own weight. The Red Sox, for luxury tax reasons, wanted to reduce the value of Rodriguez’s contract by $4 million a year, a total of $28 million over the remaining seven years of his deal. That was a nonstarter for the union. Any reduction, the union lawyers said, would require “added benefits” from the Red Sox — like the Mets gave Mo Vaughn when they added two more teams to the no-trade provisions in his contract in exchange for a $500,000 reduction. The Sox tried to sell the union on an “added benefit” of allowing A-Rod the chance to opt out of his contract after two years and become a free agent, a proposal ridiculed by the union, which argued that A-Rod, because his contract was so much more than anyone else’s, probably would have been looking at a pay cut. They made a counteroffer the Sox deemed unacceptable.

Hicks, meanwhile, was seeking some immediate financial help and not only wanted the Sox to assume A-Rod’s contract, but pay a portion of Ramirez’s deal so that he could pursue some pitching in free agency. That was not going to happen. But on his own, A-Rod contacted Hicks and offered to pay, out of his own pocket, the $15 million Hicks wanted from the Sox. That’s how badly he wanted to come to Boston.

By the end of talks, there were bruised feelings on all sides. Henry was upset that Nomar comes HomeHicks had made little effort to keep negotiations quiet. Hicks was furious with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, to the point that Tom Werner became the Sox point man with the Texas owner. Lucchino and union lawyer Gene Orza took whacks at each other. Garciaparra never recovered from the shock of learning that the Sox had sought A-Rod, even as Henry later explained he initially thought that they could have co-existed. And A-Rod resigned himself to remaining with the Rangers.

The upshot, of course, is that the Sox won two World Series in the next four seasons without A-Rod, and won their third in the 10 seasons in which Rodriguez has been a Yankee. And A-Rod alienated his longtime friend Derek Jeter, the first of many soap operas that would mark his time in New York. And then came the PED revelations.

Ortiz A-RodThat part of the story, sadly, would have been no different had he played for the Red Sox instead of the Yankees. But the rest of it? Ten years later, I still believe it could have gone a different way for A-Rod in Boston. Instead of a wary Jeter, he would have been embraced by David Ortiz, who remains one of his good friends in the game. He also was very close with Ordonez, who would have combined with A-Rod to more than compensate for the loss of right-handed power Ramirez represented.

He would have remained at short, where his value to the club would have been greater than it was to the Yankees at third.

In his first five seasons with the Yankees, through the 2008 season, Rodriguez hit 208 home runs. No one in baseball hit more. And Fenway is much kinder to right-handed hitters than Yankee Stadium. He was one of 10 players who had an on-base percentage greater than .400 in that time. He averaged 6.8 in WAR in that time.

Call me naïve, but I think Boston would have brought out the best in him, and he would have been loved for it.

A-Rod befuddledWe’ll never know, of course. And in this town, I am well aware, that’s hardly a popular thought. But there’s a part of me that has never forgotten the shining promise of that 18-year-old and laments that it has ended the way it has.

 _____

On a personal note: I was at that same game, just a few rows up and sitting between home and the visitors dugout (best seats I ever scored) for that Fenway game where an 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez debuted for Seattle.  I sat close enough to see all the awe and wonder on the face of a kid who was walking out into a Cathedral to take his first big league swings.  My how times changed as he was on his way to Texas!

Before the PED’s, before the even more inflated ego and sense of entitlement, I was not a fan of the proposed trade.  I was a Nomar guy.  I didn’t dislike A-Rod at that point, I just disliked the perceived greed and the monster contract and the handcuffs that came with it.  How could you as a team hit the free agent market for pitching and additions under those circumstances?  Yeesh!  Sure the Yankees did it and eventually put a World Series ring on A-Rod’s finger, but we won two in the same amount of time and of course just added the third.

A-Rod TekWould or could any of that have happened if we found A-Rod under the tree for Christmas of 2003?  Maybe a ring… two at an outside chance?  Luckily, this is one of those Scarlett Hose / Bronx Bombers hypotheticals we don’t have to put too much emphasis on… after all, we came out for the better.

Kevin Youkilis wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to play closer to the Pacific Ocean….

Kevin Youkilis, who just recently rebuffed the Bronx Bombers in talks of playing another season in New York due to ‘wanting to play closer to his home on the West Coast’, has agreed to a one-year contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan for the 2014 season, his agent confirmed Friday.

Youkilis will have a $4 million base salary and can earn $1 million in bonuses — including some based on walks, a provision not allowed in major league contracts.

“He’s looking at this as a terrific life experience for his family,” agent Joe Bick said. “There were a number of opportunities and inquiries and conversations that took place here [in the U.S.]. But in the final analysis, this is what the family decided they wanted to do.”

Youk Sox RoadYoukilis, 34, is a three-time All-Star and a .281 career hitter in 10 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. His best season came in 2008, when he hit .312 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs with the Red Sox and won the Hank Aaron Award.

Youkilis underwent back surgery last June and appeared in only 28 games with the Yankees. He’s expecting to play first and third for Rakuten, the defending Japan Series champion.

Bick said Youkilis, his wife, Julie, and their two children, ages 7 and 1, plan to spend the 2014 season together in Japan.

“Kevin’s intent is to play one more year,” said Bick, although he wouldn’t rule out Youkilis playing beyond the 2014 season.

At Rakuten, Youkilis may become teammates with star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 last season, While Tanaka wants to join the major leagues, Rakuten is reluctant to make him available in the new posting season, and the 25-year-old right-hander can’t leave as a free agent until after the 2015 season.

“We were talking with eight or nine other clubs over here,” Bick said. “In the final analysis, he said the right thing for my family and me is to go do this. It will be a wonderful life experience.”

MLB’s Hot Stove spending could eclipse $2 billion

No sport incites salary rage like Major League Baseball, so for those who bellyache the money is too big, consider this a fair warning to gulp a handful of Tums before reading the next sentence.Daisuke Matsuzaka Lions

Teams are barreling toward $2 billion spent on free agents this offseason.

Now, they may fall short of that nice, round number and still absolutely obliterate the previous spending record: around $1.75 billion in the 2006 offseason, a number that includes major league free agents as well as the posting fees for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa.

Already teams have lavished approximately $1.543 billion on players, the latest a $130 million investment by the Texas Rangers for seven years of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. He is the third nine-figure player of the offseason, joining Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million) as an offset diamond around the center stone, Robinson Cano ($240 million).

Masahiro TanakaThere is plenty more to come. If Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka gets posted – his status remains in limbo – the $2 billion threshold is certain to be obliterated. Between his contract and the $20 million posting fee, teams expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 million for Tanaka. Beyond him are three pitchers who reason says will cash in for around $60 million each (Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza), an outfielder worth the same (Nelson Cruz), a shortstop a notch down from that (Stephen Drew), another starter sure to get multiple years (Bronson Arroyo), a bevy of relievers who will get papered (Fernando Rodney, Grant Balfour and Jesse Crain, among others) and the dregs of the class, who can fetch $5 million here, $3 million there and add up quickly.

For those surprised, don’t be. Baseball’s economic system, as presently constituted, guaranteed free-agent salaries ballooning to unfathomable levels. A number of factors conspired to turn it into even more of a money booth than in the past.

First are the revenues. Back in 2006, a year before the recession started, baseball’s revenues were around $5.5 billion. Today, they are nearly $8.5 billion. And only now is free-agent spending catching up; over the previous three offseasons, it fell somewhere in the $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion range.

More than that are the mechanisms in place that more or less force teams to spend their money on free agents. Simply put: They can’t spend it anywhere else. The league capped how much teams can spend on the draft and international free agents. Many of the best players in the game don’t even make $1 million a season because the system artificially depresses salaries for the first three years of a career. Plenty of the best would-be free agents forgo the open market by signing long-term extensions, which can be for big money, sure, but almost every time represent a discount against what the player would receive with his services available to all 30 teams.

Ells tries it on

For those, then, with the patience to wait for free agency and the luck to do so coming off even a decent walk year, the rewards are massive – enough so to make you wonder if there will be some sort of a market correction in which pre-free-agency extensions start to inch closer to the open market or players who might’ve been locked up opt instead to chance free agency.

Kershaw deliversThere is an expectation within the industry that at least a couple of the monster class of free-agent pitchers next offseason will sign extensions. The group includes Clayton Kershaw (who will command the first deal for a pitcher over $200 million), Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Homer Bailey and Justin Masterson. If each went to free agency, there’s a good three-quarters of a billion dollars among the six, more than making up for a hitting class that includes Hanley Ramirez and a group that is best referred to as Et Cetera.

It’s one of the biggest reasons the Rangers went so hard after Choo, giving him more years and money than they wanted: the outfield market next year is paltry, and they’ve got goo-gobs of TV money from local and national sources to cover it. Give the Rangers this much: They’ve long made a habit of being ahead of other teams in how they spend their money. They went bigger in Latin America than any other team before the spending cap, then blew by it when the penalties weren’t as severe as they are now. This offseason, they’ve committed more than a quarter billion dollars to Choo and Prince Fielder and helped spearhead the spending that left the American League West as baseball’s most munificent division and the AL spending nearly three times as much as its National League counterparts.

Cano presser

The five AL West teams have combined to heap $466.6 million on free agents – Cano and Choo account for 79.2 percent of that – while the AL East is at $399.25 million (with the Yankees at 79.1 percent of that). Next is the AL Central ($268.75 million), followed by the three NL divisions: East ($182.98 million), West ($148.25 million, not including the Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum deals because they signed before free agency) and Central ($77.95 million – and, without Jhonny Peralta, less than $25 million combined).

Thirteen players by themselves have signed for $25 million, and another seven have exceeded the $20 million mark. It’s almost exactly like 2006, with 15 at $25 million-plus and 20 at $20 million-plus. With the five starters, Cruz and Drew left to go, this year’s numbers should dwarf ’06 in all respects.

Welcome to baseball in 2014, which rewards free agency more than ever. Ask Robinson Cano. Ask Jacoby Ellsbury. Ask Shin-Soo Choo. Ask any of the middle relievers cashing in for $6 million a year, the back-end starters and utilitymen getting four-year guarantees, the fourth outfielders getting paid what used to be All-Star wages. The union sought free agency with such fervor 40 years ago because the brilliant men leading it saw this day, when owners would make money hand over fist and give players their fair share.

Even those brilliant men could not fathom just how big that number would be: $2 billion or bust.

Recent MLB Contracts That Became Nightmares…

With free agents cashing in big this off-season, it’s wise for teams to revisit some of the horrible contracts of the past. From extensions for franchise players to ill-advised free agent deals, there have been countless misfires by Major League Baseball general managers and owners in recent years. Here are seven contracts that quickly turned into nightmares for the teams in question.

Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

Ryan Howard downThough critics were horrified by the deal, Ryan Howard was all smiles when the Phillies offered him a five-year contract extension worth $125 million. Instead of waiting until the end of his contract, which expired after 2011, the Phillies locked up their aging slugger early in 2010.

This move became a case of how not to manage a franchise’s money. Age and injury caught up with Howard quickly, making the deal a major black eye for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro. Philadelphia still owes Howard $25 million per year through 2016 for what is likely going to be average production.

A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees

BurnettAs a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, A.J. Burnett made mincemeat of mighty Yankees lineups. When it came time for Burnett to hit free agency, it coincided with the Yankees opening their new stadium after missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. The Yankees pounced, inking the right hander to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.

Aside from a successful 2009 campaign — which culminated in the Yankees’ 27th World Series title — New York and Burnett were a disaster together. The Yankees eventually pawned off the right hander to Pittsburgh for a few no-name prospects, eating much of the remaining cash owed to Burnett in the process.

Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants

Zito farewellThe signing of Barry Zito may have sounded good in theory, but few baseball minds thought the southpaw was worth $126 million over the course of seven years. The Giants were dismayed early and often by Zito’s performance, though the lefty did contribute to one World Series win for San Francisco. Now that his contract has ended, we’re able to see what he delivered to the Giants for $126 million: In 208 appearances, Zito went 63-80 with an ugly 4.62 earned-run average.

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

PujolsToo early to call? It’s possible, but it looks as if the Los Angeles Angels have an albatross on their hands with the 10-year, $240 million contract they handed to Albert Pujols after the 2011 season. Pujols has had the two worst seasons of his career thus far for the Angels, with his 2013 campaign enough to depress even the most optimistic of fans. At $24 million per year, 17 home runs simply won’t do the trick. This may turn out to be the worst contract of all time when it terminates after the 2021 season.

Carl Pavano, New York Yankees

PavanoFour years for $40 million doesn’t sound like an awful contract. However, the Yankees got next to nothing from the underachieving, tabloid-starring whipping boy that was Carl Pavano in pinstripes. Pavano was victimized by one curious injury after another while under contract for New York, with a buttocks injury keeping him out of the rotation at one point.

In terms of sheer uselessness, it’s difficult to top the Pavano contract. The right hander pitched just 145 innings in 26 appearances over four seasons for the Yankees. That amounts to $273,972 per inning.

Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels

Hamilton frustratedHitting Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton behind Mike Trout sounds like the makings of a new murderers’ row, but it hasn’t panned out that way for the Angels. After signing a contract worth $125 million over five years, Hamilton hit a career-worst .250 with just 21 home runs in 2013. At $25 million per year, those numbers simply don’t cut it. The Angels will need both Hamilton and Pujols to return to form for the franchise to right itself.

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

Alex Rodriguez poutingAt 10 years and $275 million, there was really no way the Yankees could have gotten their money’s worth from the ill-advised contract they dished out to Alex Rodriguez at age 32. A-Rod went from MVP to PR nightmare for the Yankees, who have watched the once-epic player become an embarrassment to the organization, sport, and himself.

Both sides would benefit from a swift resolution to the pending lawsuits, suspensions, and other legal affairs hanging over Rodriguez. Once upon a time, he seemed destined to be one of Major League Baseball’s all-time greats.

Jack Clark Boston

I’m sure if went a little further back in the time machine, we’d find a good number of Tom Yawkey and later Lou Gorman inspired nightmares for the Sox of the 1970′s through the early 1990′s.  Jack Clark ring a bell?  Let’s not even get into Carl Crawford.

Swing and a Myth…

Finding the Real Ted Williams

The Kid in color

By: Scott Conroy

For a sports-obsessed kid like myself, growing up in what is arguably the nation’s most sports-obsessed city, Ted Williams’ very name conjured a mythic quality.

In the pantheon of historical significance, he placed somewhere between Joan of Arc and George Washington — and was just as unknowable.

I never saw more than a few seconds of archived footage of the legendary Red Sox left fielder in action, but I knew a few facts about the man, which were as ingrained in my mind as my own date of birth.

Williams was the last player to achieve a .400 batting average, which he pulled off during the 1941 season — a singular accomplishment in a sport that venerates individual statistics.

He hit a home run in the last at-bat of his 19-year career, every inning of which he played in a Red Sox uniform.

And, most importantly, Ted Williams was “the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

The Kid and The Babe

This laudatory and unnuanced appraisal was regarded — in my world, at least — as a matter of undisputed fact. Any peer who might have argued otherwise during an elementary school recess or a backyard Whiffle ball game would face ridicule as biting as if he had claimed that 1 + 1 = 3.

The Kid is the culmination of a decade-long effort by longtime Boston Globe reporter and editor Ben Bradlee Jr. to provide a comprehensive look at the man whose posters adorned his bedroom walls as a Boston-area child in the 1950s.

The result, an engrossing and exhaustively researched biography, applies plenty of ink across its nearly 800 pages in documenting Williams’ Hall of Fame playing career — the facts of which back up most of the legends about him.

While Bradlee eagerly touts Williams’ peerless attributes as the player who could hit for both power and average better than anyone in baseball history, he also engages in some welcomed myth-busting.

The Kid eyes itAmong the Ted Williams “facts” that youth baseball coaches like to trumpet in batting cages up and down New England: his vision was so phenomenal that he could actually see the seams of the ball as it hurtled toward him at upwards of 95 miles per hour.

As it turns out, Naval doctors determined that Williams’ vision was 20/15 — an excellent mark that put him in the top 95 percent of young men his age, though not quite in the realm of superhero acuity.

Though Bradlee’s recounting of Williams’ career is candy for any baseball fan, The Kid shines brightest in detailing the paradoxical character, cinematic life and sad circumstances surrounding the death of the Splendid Splinter.

That Williams spent much of his life either hiding or downplaying his half-Mexican heritage is perhaps unsurprising given the biases that permeated his southern California upbringing and the segregated sport in which he became a star.

But the extent to which his ethnic background has remained obscured is striking. If one were to gather a roomful of passionate baseball fans today, I’d confidently wager that more than half would have no idea that Teddy Ballgame was among the first great Hispanic ballplayers in the big leagues.

Bradlee is at his most compelling when detailing the circumstances surrounding Ted InductedWilliams being drafted into the Navy in World War II, just months after his .406 season — and a time when he was entering what should have been the prime years of his career.

After originally being granted a Class 3-A deferment, on account of being the sole economic provider to his mother, Williams quietly asked his attorney to challenge the U.S. government’s decision to change his draft status to Class 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) — an appeal that the Selective Service rejected.

Williams’ initial attempts to avoid leaving the batter’s box for the cockpit were catnip for Boston’s aggressive newspaper reporters in the post-Pearl Harbor patriotic melee.  In the months before he reported for duty, he received a bevy of letters in support of him and more than a few that questioned his courage.

One unidentified heckler mailed the All-Star left fielder two sheets of blank yellow paper — a message intended to remind Williams of the color of cowardice.

“I’ve noticed that the mud-slingers border on the illiterate side,” the famously prickly Williams, who often viewed himself as a victim of  overly aggressive media, said at the time. “The encouraging letters come from well-bred persons.”

Once he reported for duty, Williams took the hard road — becoming a commissioned second lieutenant in the Marines Corps. He did not see combat over the Pacific — a disappointment for a man who, once he was on active duty, envisioned “downing a Zero” (a Japanese fighter plane) as something of an all-time life achievement.

Instead, Williams spent the last months of the war as the U.S. military’s most famous flight instructor in Pensacola, Fla., where he was somewhat of a ringer while playing for the base’s recreational baseball team.

After returning to baseball and eventually entering the latter stage of his playing career, he did not mask his fury over what he considered unfair treatment: He was recalled to fly combat missions over North Korea in 1952.

Ted in Korea

During his very first engagement of the Korean War, Williams’ fighter jet was hit by small arms fire. He considered ejecting, but fearing that a crippling injury would make his return to the diamond impossible, he made a daring emergency landing.

In all, Williams lost five of his prime playing years to military service — a fact that makes his final stat sheet all the more remarkable and that has long been a centerpiece in any discussion of his greatness.

After all, who could imagine a pro athlete in the modern era giving up all of the money and privileges of sports fame to serve his country?

Well, Pat Tillman may not have been a star approaching Williams’ caliber when he left the NFL to join the Army Rangers after the 9/11 attacks, but the $3.6 million contract the Arizona Cardinal safety turned down in favor of fighting in Afghanistan, where he gave his life, dwarfed Williams’ 1941 salary of $30,000.

That’s not to say that Williams’ wartime service was any less honorable, but Bradlee details the extent to which it was initially reluctant.

A hallmark of Williams’ post-playing career was his generous charity work on behalf of the Jimmy Fund, Boston’s leading foundation for cancer research support — time and money  that he insisted not be accompanied by media attention.

Bradlee’s painstaking efforts to recount the macabre details of the family struggle that led to Williams’ body being cryonically preserved after his death in 2002 are difficult to digest but nonetheless serve as an essential postscript to this “immortal life.”

Bill Weld and Ted open the tunnelIn 1993, Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld was tasked with naming the long-awaited tunnel that would connect South Boston to Logan Airport — a major component of the epically over-budget Big Dig project that would finally modernize The Hub’s traffic-plagued highway system.

After determining that there were already enough public infrastructure projects named after politicians, Weld decided to honor one of Boston’s sports heroes.

There were several more-decorated local candidates from which to choose.  No athlete in the history of sports, after all, is more synonymous with the words “winner” and “dynasty” than Bill Russell, who led the Celtics to an astounding 11 NBA championships during his 13-year career. And three-time consecutive NHL MVP Bobby Orr revolutionized the defenseman position during his 10 seasons with the Bruins and  scored one of the most memorable goals in hockey history in clinching the 1970 Stanley Cup.

Ted Williams, on the other hand, slumped his way through his Red Sox’s only World Series appearance, in 1946, and never won the fall classic.

But then again, neither did Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, or any of the other Red SoxTed and Yaz greats who graced Fenway Park during the team’s infamous 86-year World Series draught.

Despite never having brought home the big one, no sports hero’s legend shines brighter in Beantown than the man who liked to be called The Kid. And so the cane-wielding 77-year-old was granted the honor of opening The Ted Williams Tunnel in 1995.

Even if that landmark must one day share valuable downtown real estate with Larry Bird Drive, The David Ortiz Parkway, or Tom Brady Bridge, Ted Williams’ mystique will remain unparalleled in Boston lore — and The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams is now the definitive biography.

The Kid book cover

Boston native Scott Conroy is the national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. Follow on Twitter @RealClearScott.

Nieves & Pierzynski share Sox…

Although the Red Sox made their one-year deal with A.J. Pierzynski official on Dec. 4, it seems the free-agent catcher’s interest in Boston began much earlier than that.

Juan Nieves BostonHow early? According to Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves, about five weeks earlier — when the team was on the verge of winning the World Series.  “We spoke in St. Louis because he was there [working as a television analyst],” Nieves said Saturday. “He mentioned the fact, ‘I would love to come here and be with this group,’ because he saw the atmosphere in the locker room.

“The seed was planted there.”

Indeed, Pierzynski worked as an analyst during the 2013 postseason for Fox, his Juan Nieves Chicagothird year doing so. However, it was the five years Pierzynski spent working closely in Chicago with then-bullpen coach Nieves that led to the conversation the two had in October.

“He’s going to bring a lot of energy, a lot of will to win,” Nieves said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how he manages our pitching staff.”

Pierzynski served as the Chicago White Sox’ primary catcher from 2005 to 2012 before signing with the Texas Rangers a month after Nieves left Chicago to join the Red Sox staff as pitching coach. Pierzynski hit .272 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs for Texas last season.

“When you see A.J. as an opposing player you don’t like him, but when you see him on your team you’re going to see a guy that comes in every day and plays hard,” Nieves said. “He wants to be in that big situation.”
AJ riled up
Pierzynski spent the first five seasons of his major league career on the Minnesota Twins, playing with current Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz; he caught pitcher Jake Peavy with the White Sox from 2009 to 2012.
Jake and AJ
“For the experience and for the type of player he is, I think he will be a nice fit on the team,” Nieves said. “We’re going to embrace that, but that will start right after the beginning of January.”

Big Papi defined the term ‘sportsman’…

From: Scoop Jackson – ESPN

David Ortiz spoke with his bat, but it was his words that won the World Series

Boston Red SBig Papi Boston Strongox savior David Ortiz’s path to World Series MVP and my pick for sportsman of the year began on April 20. During a ceremony before a baseball game in front of his city, inside of his park, he grabbed a microphone and said these five words: “This is our fucking city!”

From that moment forward, David Ortiz became a symbol of hope, pride, strength and resilience for a city that was in need of something more than baseball to heal the pain it was struggling through.

Now all it needed was a hero.

Bats speak louder than words.

That’s what true baseball historians, aficionados, legends and lifers will tell you if you ever get into a real conversation with them about the importance of the game and the role it’s played in this country.

The game’s association with apple pie and Chevys is minimal and almost degrading. The game, when put in proper perspective, is so much larger. Pies get eaten, cars get driven. Bats create sounds and produce runs. They feed souls and drive spirits. And those who swing bats — and swing them well — have always had voices that have the power to go beyond the impact their hits can have inside the diamond.Ortiz Celebrates WS 2013

Somehow, Ortiz used the six months following the Boston Marathon bombing to let his bat speak. To back up the words he spoke on that horrific day.

He was able to take a team (and organization) that had just had one of the worst seasons in its 112-year history and ignite a resurrection rarely seen in modern-day sports.

At 37 years old and in his 16th year in baseball (11th with the Red Sox), his .309, 30 HRs, 103 RBIs, .395 OPB stat line was the omphalos, the center point, of a remarkable turnaround. In 2012, the team finished with 93 losses. In July, the Sox were 20 games over .500 and took back first place in the American League East by the end of the month. They never looked back.

Ortiz looks on 2103 WS

His numbers in the World Series did more than speak for themselves. Still two months after the fact it is difficult to comprehend what Ortiz did between the Wednesdays of Oct. 23 and 30.

Before the final game of the World Series, Ortiz was hitting .733 with a slugging percentage of 1.267 in the first five games. His 11 hits at the time were two shy of the most ever in a World Series and he still had two more possible games to play; they accounted for a third (11 of 33) of the total team hits. And this is without the first-at-bat grand slam that St. Louis’ Carlos Beltran robbed him of in Game 1. Add that to the list and Reggie Jackson loses his “Mr. October” nickname and his legacy is no longer as mythical and untouchable as it’s been made out to be.

The media dubbed Ortiz “King of October,” while his teammates began calling him “Cooperstown.”Papi WWE Champion

Ortiz’s final World Series math added up to him having a .688 BA, .760 OBP, 1.188 SLG with eight walks (a Series record), two HRs and six RBIs. His final postseason math for 2013 was .353, .500 OBP, .706 SLG. More telling: His World Series OPS was 1.948 while the team’s was .484.

When a player hits almost .700 in a championship round and the rest of his team hits below .179 and that team still wins it all, it becomes appropriate to for that moment spell team with an “i.”

“I would be doing him a disservice trying to put it into words,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told reporters after the World Series. “He just keeps writing new chapters. I know great players are great, are more likely to be great in any moment, but it’s hard to see him in those moments and not think that there’s something different about him. He’s locked in. We’ve seen him locked in before, but to do it on this stage, and do it in so many big moments, I can’t add anything more to the legend that’s already there, but he keeps writing more chapters on his own.”

But it was the chapter he wrote in the dugout of Game 4 that elevated his team, Red Sox Nation and his own stature. It was a pivotal, Series-changing moment. With Boston down 2-1 in the Series, Game 4 was tied at 1 going into the sixth inning and Ortiz — not his bat — decided to speak.

“It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher,” said teammate Jonny Gomes, who moments after Ortiz’s speech hit a three-run game-winning homer. “He got everyone’s attention, and we looked him right in the eyes. That message was pretty powerful.”Ortiz and Koji

In his own way, as only he could, Ortiz told his team to just do what he was doing: Play ball. Simple. “I know we are a better team than what we had shown. Sometimes you get to this stage and you try to overdo things, and it doesn’t work that way,” he remembers saying.

And afterward, whether it was sitting with his son, the World Series MVP trophy and Chris Berman on the field or in a studio chopping it up with David Letterman, Ortiz came off as the one athlete for whom moments like this were born.

A marriage of performance and personality. The mastering of craft and class. All along, when everything was supposed to be about him, about what he had just accomplished, Ortiz never ventured or leaned away from keeping this entire experience about — and for — Boston.

He put the victims and people affected by the bombing ahead of himself. He reminded us all along the way that while the game itself cannot change lives or save them, a sense of freedom can come through the swing of a bat. It can lift the souls of fans and in this case a city.

$120K Celebration

I’m not the first to suggest Big Papi as sportsman of the year. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci suggested it as well. I hope we are not alone.

The sublimeness of sports rests in the fact that no one sees something like this coming. No one at the beginning of 2013 could have told you that David Ortiz would elevate himself and the Boston Red Sox and the city of Boston (almost) single-handedly within a span of eight months. Especially someone who started off the season on the disabled list.

“Baseball deludes us,” Cal Fussman once wrote. “The crack of the bat, the majestic flight of the ball, the slow, regal trot around the bases. We rise to our feet and roar. We think we are seeing power.”

He started the next paragraph to open the final chapter of “After Jackie” with, “But we’re not.”

But sometimes, even in baseball, we witness something more.

Ortiz flashes his Treasure

After Ortiz released his infamous and FCC excused and approved “f-bomb” on Boston’s field of hopes and dreams, the words that followed were this: “And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Sometimes, even when a bat is making a historic amount of noise, words can speak louder.

HOF Double Standards? Who’d have thought….

From: Ann Killion of the SFGate

The Baseball Hall of Fame ballots are due at the end of the month and the process just got more confusing than ever.

Steroid players? Still unlikely to be voted in.

Steroid managers? That’s a different story.

LaRussa

The Boys of Steroids are still on the Boys of Summer ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are among the 36 players on the 2014 ballot. They’re all there to be accepted or – more likely – rejected by the majority of the 500-plus Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters who participate (I’m one of those voters).

Last year, none of the players who come with substantial evidence that they used steroids received more than 37.6 percent of the vote. They need 75 percent of the votes to be inducted. Last year not a single player was voted into the Hall of Fame, making for a muted ceremony that probably contributed little to the Cooperstown economy.

Players stay on the ballot for 15 years, so this issue is far from over. However, it takes a lot of mind-changing – and a long time – for a player to jump almost 40 percentage points in balloting.

So all of those players must look at what just happened with the Expansion Era Committee voting last weekend and feel puzzled. Three of the best, most successful managers of the steroid era were elected unanimously: Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and – most notably – Tony La Russa. Easy, quick, no fuss.

Tony's A's coreIf there were an all-steroid baseball team (Bonds in left, McGwire at first, Clemens on the mound – we can keep going), there’s no doubt who the manager would be. It would be La Russa, who managed the A’s in the late ’80s and early ’90s Bash Brothers era, widely considered Ground Zero for rampant steroid use. Then La Russa went on to manage the St. Louis Cardinals, where McGwire made it fashionable to use steroids to break baseball’s most hallowed records.

Along the way to this week’s Hall of Fame vote, La Russa has been a hypocriticalLaRussa n Mac steroid-era bully, pointing fingers at and calling out players he didn’t like, even ones he managed, such as Canseco, while simultaneously angrily defending McGwire and others. He eventually hired McGwire as his hitting coach in a transparent attempt to improve the slugger’s Hall of Fame chances. That backfired: McGwire’s vote tallies actually continue to drop. La Russa has both claimed that everyone knew Canseco was on steroids and to have no knowledge that McGwire was juicing. La Russa has attacked every reporter or outsider who dared to raise the issue.

But he, along with Torre and Cox, was unanimously elected inside a hotel room in Orlando by 16 voters on the Expansion Era Committee. The Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins was one of those voters and is sworn to absolute secrecy about the details of the process. But he did describe a closed-door environment where “everyone spoke the same language,” and held old-school values, removed from “the complex lingo of new-age stat devotees.”

I’m sure that the discussion of how the candidates benefited from steroids, if it was raised at all, took a back seat to all the other accomplishments in the candidates’ resumes. The managers elected were certainly helped by the belief that everyone was looking the other way. Of course those same arguments could and have been made on behalf of the steroid-era players on the ballot, and – for now – have been rejected by voters.

So would the steroid-tainted players benefit from getting into that exclusive kind of Expansion Era Committee environment – which they eventually may if they aren’t inducted while on the active ballot? Don’t be so sure. The most vocal opponents of steroid use are the men who have made it into the Hall of Fame. They believe their game and legacy has been tainted (and probably want to keep the Hall of Fame as exclusive as possible). Men such as Frank Robinson, Rod Carew and Andre Dawson who were on this year’s committee all have publicly damned steroid use. A 75 percent threshold would be hard to reach without the former players.

And the committee isn’t likely to embrace the old argument for letting in steroid users, that “you can’t write the history of baseball without them.” After all, they just rejected union leader Marvin Miller, whose contributions are significant to baseball history. Miller, of course, was instrumental in keeping drug testing out of the game for so long.

Olbermann

The process is muddied on so many levels. ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann had an interesting rant about La Russa’s election, noting that Pete Rose is banned from the ballot for betting while managing, which might have caused an unfair and illegal advantage to opponents, while “Tony La Russa was manager of the Founding Fathers of modern PED use who, because of their unfair and illegal advantage, doubtless won games they were not supposed to win.”

Sigh. It’s an honor. It’s a puzzle.

An MLB return to Montreal?

Montreal Expos logoNamed after the Expo 67 World’s Fair, The Montreal Expos (French: Les Expos de Montréal) were a Major League Baseball team located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from 1969 through 2004, holding the first MLB franchise awarded outside the United States. After the 2004 season, MLB moved the Expos to Washington, D.C. and renamed them the Nationals.

The Expos started play at Jarry Park Stadium under manager Gene Mauch. The team’s initial majority owner was Charles Bronfman, a major shareholder in Seagram. Following the 1976 Summer Olympics, starting in 1977 the team’s home venue was Montreal’s Olympic Carter and the ExposStadium. After a decade of losing seasons, the team won 95 games in 1979, finishing second in the National League East. The Expos began the 1980s with a core group of young players, including catcher Gary Carter, outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, third baseman Tim Wallach, and pitchers Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson. The team won its only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981, ending its season with a 3 games to 2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

Pedro and FelipeIn May 1992, Felipe Alou, a longtime member of the Expos organization since 1976, was promoted to field manager, becoming the first Dominican-born manager in MLB history.  Alou would become the leader in Expos games managed while guiding the team to winning records, including 1994, when the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in the major leagues until the strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, Expos management began shedding its key players, and the team’s fan suppoPedro Export dwindled. Brochu sold control of the team to Jeffrey Loria in 1999, but Loria failed to close on a plan to build a new downtown ballpark, and did not reach an agreement on television and English radio broadcast contracts for the 2000 season, reducing the team’s media coverage.

In November 2001, MLB’s owners voted 28–2 to contract by two teams—according to various sources, the Expos and the Minnesota Twins, both of which reportedly voted against contraction.  However, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of Minnesota’s Metrodome, received an injunction requiring the Twins to play in the Metrodome during 2002, so MLB could not eliminate the Expos alone while preserving its 162-game schedule. In December, the Boston Red Sox accepted a purchase bid from a group led by John W. Henry, owner of the Florida Marlins, and so Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, and MLB bought the Expos from Loria. In the collective bargaining agreement signed with the players association in August 2002, contraction was prohibited through to the end of the contract in 2006.

Pete Rose Expo

On September 29, 2004, the date of Montreal’s last home game of the season, MLB announced that the Montreal franchise would move to Washington, D.C. for the 2005 season.The Expos played their final game on October 3, 2004 at Shea Stadium, losing by a score of 8–1 against the New York Mets, the same opponent that the Expos first faced at its start, 35 years earlier. The Washington team was named the Washington Nationals, and retained all the Expos’ records, player contracts, and minor league affiliates, as well as their spring training complex in Viera, Florida.

The rebirth of the Montreal Expos might look like this: a relocated ball club bought for $525 million playing in the American League East, its new home a $500-million open-air downtown stadium, an average attendance sitting at roughly 28,000 keeping it healthy.

The Hawk ExpoThat’s the vision described by Ernst and Young in a feasibility study conducted for the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Montreal Baseball Project, concluding that a new team “would be financially viable under a set of realistic assumptions, including a modest but competitive payroll.”

The findings were unveiled Thursday and a copy of the impressively thorough 62-page report was forwarded to Major League Baseball, where officials were reviewing it. Last month, commissioner Bud Selig said “I am paying close attention to it, it’s great,” when asked about the study.

Big Unit ExpoStill, by no means is a return of “Nos Amours” to La Belle Province imminent – far from it actually – but the document offers a potential starting point for the pursuit of a team, and a baseball-only venue to house it.

“What we’re looking for in the next weeks is to see if the private sector is up to the task,” Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the board of trade, said in an interview.

That this is being discussed seriously at all as the 10th anniversary of the Expos’ departure to Washington nears is remarkable, underlining exactly how much the environment has changed in a decade.

As the study notes, the business of baseball is much different now with increased revenue sharing among owners plus new revenue from national TV deals, advanced media and merchandising, not to mention a much stronger Canadian dollar, which ranged from 62-84 cents against the American dollar from 1994-2004 (the study is based on exchange rate at par but adds a decline to 90 cents “shows little impact on the viability of the study”).

Plus, the metropolitan Montreal area’s population of 3.8 million makes it the 15th largest market in North America, and the biggest without a baseball team.

Montreal Expos Canadiens

Those and other factors – like an ownership that won’t alienate the fan-base – led the study’s authors to draw a parallel between a new team and stadium in Montreal and the Minnesota Twins and Target Field, describing both as “a good model” for the endeavour.

Both franchises were once pegged for contraction by Major League Baseball, but a new stadium and better business conditions have helped the Twins become stable and profitable. The same could happen for a new team in Montreal under similar circumstances.

Some of the key numbers underpinning the viability of a new club include the $525 million purchase fee, based on various valuations and conversations with eight current clubs to test ideas, the $500 million cost of an open-air stadium (a retractable roof adds $150-$180 million to the price) and an average paid attendance of 28,742 with a season-ticket base of 60 percent.

To anyone who remembers the dismal crowds in the Expos’ final years, those last figures seem particularly ambitious, but Leblanc says “Ernst and Young experts are convinced that number is realistic for Montreal.”

An online survey conducted by Groupe Leger of 1,589 Quebecers (with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.5 percent) and a telephone poll of representatives from 392 Montreal-based corporations gave credence to those projections, predicting an average attendance of 27,600-31,600 with a willingness to pay $25-$75 for tickets.

Expo farewell

Additionally, 69 percent of Quebecers favoured baseball’s return to Montreal while 11 percent were opposed, 81 percent of businesses approved and 24 percent of businesses expressed interested in buying advertising, along with season tickets.

A downtown stadium near the corporate core is key to that, explained Leblanc, a lifeline the Expos couldn’t tap into because of the inconvenience of getting to Olympic Stadium.

Funding for the entire project would be a hybrid of private and public funds and a baseball-only venue is crucial because the study notes that Major League Baseball “has made it clear that a team returning to play at the Olympic Stadium would not be acceptable.”

The study envisions the club’s owners contributing 67 percent of the projected $1.025 billion cost to buy a team and build a ballpark, with governments providing the remaining 33 percent, while retaining ownership of the facility.

How the government receives the study will be worth watching.

Leblanc said preliminary discussions with various levels of government urged him “to do the work thoroughly” and then “they said, ‘We’ll look at this seriously.’”

Still, the plan is to start with business engagement before pursuing the political track and finally, trying to work with Major League Baseball. Leblanc explains the plan is to put every step in place progressively and for the moment, “we’ve got more homework to do.”

“We need to have a project that unites Montrealers and Quebecers in a positive way,” he added. “We want this to be something that gives Montreal some oomph.”

All those various pieces must be in place to get baseball officials onside, something that must happen since the stadium plans and the team acquisition must go hand in hand. No one’s building a baseball-only stadium without a real commitment.

There is no shortage of people in baseball who’d like to see it happen, and super-agent Scott Boras weighed in Wednesday at the winter meetings, naming New Jersey and Montreal as two possible homes for teams.

“I think Montreal would be a tremendous environment for baseball,” he told reporters. “I remember in 1994 — when you look at the attendance rates and the Canadian rivalry in baseball, I really think baseball was in a good place. Players enjoyed playing there. It’s a beautiful city.”

Last month, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston told Sportsnet that he’d “love to see baseball back in Montreal. It’s good for us, it’s good for Canada and the fans would really love it.”

Canada Day 1997

Later he added, “The timing has to be right – if a team wants to leave, OK, or the league wants to expand. To be honest, 30 isn’t the ideal number of teams, 32 is a much better number. Because you play every day, 32 would really make it nice. And Montreal is a big market and a great city, it’s a world-class city and it’s got a history of baseball.”

The Blue Jays will play a pair of spring games against the New York Mets in March, the first action at Olympic Stadium since the Expos’ 9-1 loss to the Marlins on Sept. 29, 2004. It will be yet another chance to spur the process along.

“We heard about those comments (from Beeston) and were happy to hear the positive signals from him,” said Leblanc. “The two spring games are a great opportunity for Montrealers to show their love for baseball.”

The goal of having a team of their own once again remains way, way off in the distance, but maybe the feasibility study is the guide that helps get them there.

Hmmm… sleep with one eye open Tampa Bay Rays fans.

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