The DH, Pete Rose and other stuff

OK, let’s just come out with it: I had one very specific goal when I created the latest baseball poll … I wanted to test one specific theory I have about the designated hitter. I figured that, as long as I’m doing that, I might as well ask a bunch of baseball questions just to test the weather. There was some interesting stuff in here, I think. Let’s start with the DH.

First of all, thank you to all who filled this out … more than 3,000 people responded in one day which makes this one of the bigger polls I’ve done. I fully understand there are all sorts of biases in here but, what the heck, let’s just go with it.

The designated hitter poll question phased like so: “The National League should add the designated hitter.” The possible responses were: Agree; Disagree; No strong opinion.

As you might have guessed, Disagree won but not by a huge margin:

No DH: 46.7%

Add the DH: 36.1%

No strong opinion: 17.2%

Nothing too revealing there. But in this case, I wasn’t really looking for an overall number … the first question I put in the poll was to ask whether your favorite team is an American League or National League team. As you no doubt guessed, I wanted to get a sense of how American League fans and National League fans differ on this subject. Most of the people who responded were American Leaguer fans.

AL: 55.1%

NL: 34.0%

Both: 10.9%

I was a little surprised that 11 percent of the people who responded that they liked teams in both leagues equally. That’s interesting; I don’t know many people who don’t connect more closely with one league. Of course, maybe they just saw through this charade of mine and didn’t want to be categorized. Anyway, here’s what they think about the DH.

Self-described American League fans with an opinion on the subject:

Add the DH in the NL: 59%.

Let the pitchers hit: 41%

So that’s a pretty substantial victory for adding the DH. Can’t say that’s a big surprise. More than 20% of the voters did not have a strong opinion so that says something also; American League fans are not especially passionate on this subject. Now, how about National League fans?

Self-described National League fans with an opinion on the subject:

Add the DH in the NL: 21.8%

Let the pitchers hit: 78.2%

Um, yeah. They ARE passionate. That’s a rout. That’s more than a rout — that’s a higher percentage than Yogi Berra got for the Hall of Fame his first time around. That’s a higher percentage than I have received on almost any question since I began these silly little polls. There was little doubt in my mind before but now there’s no doubt in my mind:

NATIONAL LEAGUE FANS BY LANDSLIDE DO NOT WANT THE DESIGNATED HITTER.

And National League fans, when it comes to this subject, should be the only fans that matter. American League fans, like myself, can yap on and on about how much better the game is when you’re not watching pitchers bunt and strike out, but that’s irrelevant. NL fans don’t want the DH. They have never wanted it. If it comes down to be a safety issue — which is to say that if it simply proves too dangerous for pitchers to hit — then baseball will have to do something,. But adding the DH will be over the strong objection of National League baseball fans, who very much like their game the way it is now.

I think about this because every argument about the DH — save for the safety argument — is very personal. It’s about nothing more than the kind of baseball you like watching. I did an informal survey of friends about the DH. One said the DH should be added to the National League because it’s a better brand of baseball. One said that the National League should keep things the same because he prefers National League strategy.

ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, a lifelong Cardinals fan, went on a long and passionate soliloquy about how much more fun baseball is with the pitchers hitting, how much more shape it gives the games, how boring and dry it can get when you just throw in some professional hitter. Joe Sheehan wrote in his newsletter that, “Pitchers are different, they have been for 130 years, and it’s long past time to accept that. Bring on the universal designated hitter.”

Michael Schur wrote to me: “I think they should (add the DH). Bunting is dumb. Pitchers hitting is boring. Double switches are only fun until you figure out in your head what happened. Good hitters are better than bad hitters.”

It was while surveying all this that I realized: Mike is an AL fan. Mechelle is an NL fan. Joe grew up a Yankees fan. My National League strategy buddy grew up with the Cubs. This argument is split right along league lines. Yes, there are a handful of NL fans who believe it’s time for the DH, but only a handful — a lower percentage, according to my polling, than Americans who believe global warming is not happening. And it seems ludicrous to me that NL fans should have the DH jammed down their throats by American League lugheads who believe that their way of playing baseball is better.

OK, let’s take a look at some of the other polling questions:

* * *

Pete Rose

Statement: Pete Rose should be allowed back in baseball.

Agree: 34.0%

Disagree: 22.0%

I think he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame but not allowed back in baseball: 38.5%

No opinion: 5.5%

Nothing too earth shattering here. This shows 72.5% of people think Rose should be allowed back in baseball or at least be made eligible for the Hall of Fame. There is some new momentum for Rose after he joined Fox as a baseball analyst (and after Baseball began getting more curious about the gambling business), and I hope he does get reinstated in the game as I’ve written many times before. I don’t think the Hall of Fame is a viable possibility, now or in the foreseeable future, but maybe there still can be something of a compromise here toward the end of Pete Rose’s life.

You probably saw this a few months ago: John Dowd, who investigated Rose and put out his scathing report in 1989, remains vigilant that Rose should never be let back in the game. Former commissioner Fay Vincent remains equally rigid on the subject as do many baseball fans. Those two in particular seem to believe their best argument against Rose is that the deterrent of a lifetime ban is working (nobody has been caught gambling since) and that the deterrent would be compromised if baseball let Rose back in the game after more than 25 years. Like people would say: “If it’s a lifetime ban, whew, I definitely will not gamble. But, hey, if they’ll actually let me back in when I’m 74 years old, maybe I ought to lay down a bet.”

Anyway in that Cincinnati Enquirer story, Dowd says something that I think has been overlooked: In 1989, Bart Giamatti wanted to suspend Rose, not ban him. He just wanted Rose to admit that he gambled on baseball and get professional help for his addiction. If he had done that, Dowd suggests, Rose might have been suspended for six months or a full season and be allowed to return. Unfortunately, Rose was not a man to be negotiated with then; he was overbearing and narcissistic and certain that he could beat the rap. His lawyers turned down the offer. “We never got a chance to finalize the deal or figure anything out because Pete got in his own way and his lawyers shut us down,” Dowd said.

That was stupid and arrogant, and Rose has paid a heavy price for that stupidity and arrogance.

But I don’t see how people can miss the bigger point: Giamatti himself did not believe that Rose’s gambling, when combined with his contributions to baseball, merited a lifetime ban. He wanted to settle with a suspension. Even after Rose and his people were so self-destructively short-sighted, Giamatti still gave Rose and his lawyers every indication that, after a year, a petition to have Rose reinstated would be taken seriously if he shaped up. Then, sadly, Bart Giamatti died. The hard-liners have been out ever since.

My point is this: Rose is not serving his 26th year as a baseball pariah because he gambled on baseball. He’s serving his 26th as a baseball pariah because he was too egotistical to admit his mistakes. And that, in my opinion, is too long a sentence for being dumb.

* * *

Balls and strikes

Statement: Balls and strikes should be called by the newest technology and not umpires.

Agree: 22.7%

Disagree: 36.3%

I am for a system that blends technology with human umpiring: 37.0%

No strong opinion: 4.0%

I was once doing a panel discussion with Bill James and Bob Costas. Bill, best I remember, brought up the idea that the umpire should wear an earpiece that would beep if the technology called a pitch a strike. But, Bill insisted, it would still be up to the umpire whether or not to call the pitch a strike. He could overrule the machine any time he wanted. Bill saw this as a good compromise.

Bob, best I remember, so hated this idea he said something to the effect of it not being a kind of baseball he would want to watch.

A couple of years ago, I wrote that baseball would soon have instant replay, not because it would be good for the game — people will disagree on that — but because technology would FORCE baseball to add instant replay. My feeling then was that you can’t fight reality for very long. Once instant replay became so good that it could conclusively prove umpires wrong, the inevitability clock to instant replay had begun. Human error in an age of irrefutable evidence cannot stand for long. Then a pitcher lost a perfect game, there were some high-profile embarrassments in the postseason, the league dipped its toe into instant replay with home run calls … and it happened.

We are now on the same inevitability clock toward ball-strike technology being a part of baseball.

Again, we can argue about how good or bad it would be for baseball, but it seems to me those arguments have nothing to do with technology. Is the Internet good or bad for the world? This is such a complex question with so many different variables, there is no real place to start. And, more to the point, it’s a pointless discussion. It just doesn’t matter because the Internet is all-encompassing and overwhelming and it changes the landscape on an almost daily basis completely oblivious to whether or not the results are good or bad. The Internet and technology are amoral.

These days, ball-strike technology is good enough that we SEE umpires miss ball-strike calls all the time. We don’t THINK they are missing those calls. We see it. They call balls 6 inches outside strikes, and the television box shows it conclusively. They call balls waist high over the middle of the plate balls, and we all are aware of it. We see these things with high definition clarity, and the technology will only get better and more conclusive. Years ago, I implored Baseball to be proactive and creative about instant replay before their hands were forced. They did not, and baseball now has a replay system that is essentially just a copy of football’s. It’s fine, I guess. It could have been a lot better.

Now, I would hope they would get ahead of the curve on ball-strike technology before they are forced to make bold moves. I think Bill’s idea is one they should pursue; find a way (taptic technology?) to alert the umpire if the cameras saw the pitch as a ball or strike. I get Bob’s point of view: Baseball with umpires calling balls and strikes is all we have ever known; it’s the game so many of us have fallen in love with. But technology will not wait. And change is inevitable.

* * *

Barry and Roger

Statement: The following best expresses my view or Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds regarding the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They should both be elected immediately: 57.1%

They should both be elected eventually but not now: 15.9%

Neither should ever go to the Hall: 16.0

I have different opinion about Clemens and Bonds: 4.3%

No strong opinion: 6.7%

Well, it look like 73% of the voters think Bonds and Clemens should go into the Hall of Fame either now or later. Of the people with strong opinions (and who do not separate Clemens and Bonds), 64% would put them in right now and another 18% would put them in later, I guess after they have served a proper penance or are no longer with us.

I have obviously heard a lot from people about my Roger Clemens post the other day, one where I make the case that based on the performance in the books, Clemens is the greatest pitcher of all time. Many people have made the point that it’s a ridiculous statement because you simply cannot separate Clemens from PEDs, that what he did after age 34 was so unnatural and ludicrous that it ends all comparisons.

But is that really so? Let’s look at a few pitchers after age 34 with their comparative ERA+, how many strikeouts they had, and their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which you will recall is like an ERA based only on strikeouts, walks and home runs.

Pitcher A: 2,140 innings, 140 ERA+, 2,082 Ks, 3.21 FIP.

Pitcher B: 2,401 innings, 141 ERA+, 2,875 Ks, 3.23 FIP

Pitcher C: 3,312 innings, 137 ERA+, 1,562 Ks, 2.15 FIP

Pitcher D: 2,461 innings, 113 ERA+, 2,605 Ks, 3.21 FIP

Pitcher E: 2,810 innings, 111 ERA+, 1,299 Ks, 3.20 FIP

Pitcher F: 3,735 innings, 112 ERA+, 2,301 Ks, 3.53 FIP

OK, I think you see the point.

Pitcher A is Clemens.

Pitcher B, with more innings, a better ERA+ and more strikeouts is Randy Johnson.

Pitcher C is not a particularly fair comparison, but that’s Cy Young.

Pitcher D is the one I think has always been the best comp for Clemens: Nolan Ryan. Both were country strong Texans who put themselves through intense workouts and seemed to be ageless.

Pitcher E is Gaylord Perry.

Pitcher F is Phil Niekro.

A few good pitchers always have found ways to pitch well into their late 30s and 40s. Tommy John did. Early Wynn did. Steve Carlton did. Greg Maddux did. They threw knuckleballs or spitters or split-fingered fastballs or whatever they could to get hitters out. They might not have been quite as successful as Clemens, and maybe Clemens did get an unfair edge because of PEDs. But how much of it was an edge and how much of it was that Clemens was simply a fantastic pitcher?

One more thing: This idea that he was done in Boston before he left for Toronto is myth; in his last year in Boston he threw 242 innings, led the league in strikeouts and posted a 139 ERA+. And before that? Well, he was injured in 1995. In 1994, though, he led the league in ERA+ and gave up just 6.5 hits per nine innings. Clemens still had plenty left, and he furiously redoubled his efforts after Boston gave up on him — even the official anti-Clemens story seems to be he was NOT using steroids when he had his extraordinary year with Toronto in 1997. I know it always seems like I’m coming up with reasons to defend the steroid users, and maybe I just am … maybe I think that Baseball happily looked the other way when it was convenient and good for the game and then shoved all the blame on those players when the tide of opinion had turned.

But, more than that: I think too many people simply look at PEDs as a black-white thing, like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds would have simply disappeared as legendary players without some help. I believe that it was wrong for players to use steroids, it was cheating, and I have no problem at all with people not forgiving steroid users or not voting them into the Hall of Fame. But I simply don’t believe steroids had the earth-shattering impact on Clemens’ career that so many seem to accept as fact.

* * *

Length of game

Statement: The following best expresses my viewpoint on baseball’s longer games:

The longer games are a major problem that are driving me away from baseball: 11.6%

The longer games are an annoyance but my enjoyment of the game is essentially unchanged: 63%

The longer games do not bother me in the least: 22.6%

No strong opinion: 2.8%

I don’t think the longer games have much impact on big baseball fans. Are they keeping mild fans or potential fans away? That’s a different issue … I doubt many mild or potential fans took this poll.

* * *

Alex Rodriguez

Statement: When Alex Rodriguez passes Willie Mays on the home run chart …

… I will not care at all: 39.4%

… I will be deeply offended: 9.2%

… I will be reminded just how good a player A-Rod has been: 40.7%

… it will go unnoticed by me: 10.7%

I was surprised how many people went with the one positive option here. I said at the beginning of the poll that I was looking for people to click the answer that BEST reflects their viewpoint, not the one that they feel FULLY reflects their view. I think, against all odds, A-Rod has won back some fans by the way he’s played (he’s slugging .500 early in the year) and by the generally subdued way he’s handled things since his return.

There are also people who would like A-Rod to play well because it will put the Yankees in the clearly uncomfortable position of having to deal with that.

A-Rod was an all-time great player. Like with Clemens, what part of that was real and what part illusion will remain the stuff of talk radio and blogs like this for a long time. But A-Rod could really play.

* * *

Wildcard

Statement: The one-game wildcard playoff is …

… great for baseball: 25.7%

… a silly gimmick: 25.8%

… fine, but I’d prefer to see them make it a three-game playoff: 35.9%

… not something that I think about much: 12.6%

Several people pointed out that this wasn’t a well-framed question because you could think all of these things at one. You an think it’s great for baseball AND a silly gimmick AND you’d like for them to make it three games AND not something you think about much. That’s true.

I think it will become a three-game playoff sooner or later, by the way.

* * *

Unanimous Hall of Famers

There will probably never be a unanimous Hall of Famer, but of the great players becoming eligible soon which one is most worthy of unanimous Hall of Fame recognition:

Ken Griffey Jr.: 40.7%

Chipper Jones: 5.6%

Mariano Rivera: 27.4%

Derek Jeter: 21.2%

No player should ever be elected unanimously: 5.1%

Several people pointed out that this wasn’t a well-framed question either, but I disagree with them. Their point was that you might think that the RIGHT player should be elected unanimously but none of these four deserves it.

But that’s not what the question says, it says which one is MOST worthy.

The unanimous Hall of Fame question is a funny one to me because, if you think about it, any slam dunk Hall of Famer should be elected unanimously. I simply have not met a single person who thinks that Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Honus Wagner, Steve Carlton, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Rickey Henderson or Cal Ripken should not be in the Hall of Fame … and honestly that just 20 players right off the top of my head as I thought of them. I could probably could up with 20 more in the next five minutes.

Those players are CLEARLY Hall of Famers; it would take an absurd argument of the sort I’ve never heard to make the case that any of those 20 do not belong. And, the next group of 20 might have a cockamamie argument against them, but I’ve not heard a VIABLE argument against, say, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Pedro Martinez, Warren Spahn, Wade Boggs, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Oscar Charleston, Eddie Collins or Jimmie Foxx. There … another 20.

To me, if you are a serious baseball fan who loves and understands the game, you would vote those players into the Hall of Fame. Unanimous? Damn right it should be unanimous.

Then there are players who inspire disagreement. Should Craig Biggio be in the Hall of Fame? Well, he had 3,000 hits and he was a really good player in the mid 1990s. But was also stuck around a very long time to get those 3,000 hits, and he wasn’t an especially good player for the last eight years or so years of his career, and his peak wasn’t that long …

That’s a real argument, you can see why someone WOULD vote for Biggio and why someone WOULD NOT vote for Biggio. That to me is a legitimate reason why the vote would not unanimous. It is not because a player is only 99% Hall of Fame worthy. It is because there is a viable reason or numerous reasons that a voter believes the player IS NOT a Hall of Famer. Warren Spahn got only 83.2% of the vote in his induction year. Are you telling me almost 17% of a knowledgable base of baseball fans honestly believe that WARREN FREAKING SPAHN is not a Hall of Famer? This stuff is so stupid.

Take the four players I listed. My history with Derek Jeter is pretty well known; I coined the word “Jeterate.” I am no fan of Chipper Jones. I readily acknowledge the lack of innings Mariano Rivera pitched and am generally skeptical of the value of closers. And Griffey was never a great player after he turned 30 — absurdly his total WAR after age 30 is 7.5. Yeah. That’s over 10 years.

That said every one of them is a no-doubt Hall of Famer for me. Should they be voted in unanimously? I really don’t see a particularly good argument why they SHOULD NOT be unanimous, except that no player ever is.

* * *

Changing the game

If I could change one thing in the game it would be to …

… reduce intentional walks: 6.9%

… make extra inning play more interesting: 0.9%

… reduce pitching changes: 18.2%

… speed up the game: 28.8%

… create more offense: 5.1%

… further clamp down on steroid use: 9.9%

… alter the umpiring system: 13.9%

… do nothing; I wouldn’t change the game at all: 16.3%

I’ll admit … this question was kind of a throwaway. I didn’t want just nine questions and I kind of threw this one together to make it an even 10. With more time I probably should have come up with better ideas for changing the game. Not surprisingly, 71% of the people who said that the longer games are major problems for them voted to speed up the game.