Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 22, 2020

Squandering A Career And Disgracing A Namesake

What’s in a name? The question has been pondered for at least four centuries, since Shakespeare, through the voice of Juliet Capulet lamenting the family enmity that kept her apart from Romeo Montague, suggested “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Of course, her soliloquy is early in Act Two, and by the end of Act Five Ms. Capulet learns in the harshest possible way that a name can mean a very great deal indeed.

In part because it is a story without a happy ending, but mostly because of that famous speech, the “Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet,” as it was styled when first published, came to mind this week when news came of a star ballplayer being suspended after testing positive for performance enhancers. When the player who made headlines on Wednesday was born thirty-eight years ago in San Pedro de Macoris, a city on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic that has been the birthplace of scores of major leaguers, he was given the first name of Robinson to honor the man who battered down baseball’s color barrier when he took his position at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Robinson Cano’s father Jose was also a ballplayer, one who had made it to The Show, albeit ever so briefly, as a pitcher for the Astros after spending years in the farm systems of the Yankees and Atlanta. That experience left Jose with an understanding of the history of the Great Game and the importance of Jackie Robinson, and in choosing a first name for his new son he passed on both his aspirations and a heavy responsibility.

As detailed in this space two and a half years ago, some children might have staggered under the weight of the lofty expectations conveyed by that name, perhaps even renouncing any interest in the sport, but the young Cano met them head on. Growing up mostly in his native Dominican Republic, with a three year interlude in New Jersey, Cano played both baseball and basketball. Early in 2001 he followed in his father’s footsteps, signing an amateur free agent contract with the Yankees, for which he received a $100,000 bonus. He arrived in the Bronx early in 2005, and over nine seasons in pinstripes became a favorite of Yankee fans. He was runner-up in the American League Rookie of the Year voting that first season and went on to represent New York on five All-Star teams while winning five Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves.

When he reached free agency after the 2013 campaign, the Yankees offered Cano $175 million over seven years, and sought to entice him with the prospect of being the first Dominican player to have a plaque in Monument Park. But it was widely believed at the time that Cano was interested in cash, not sentiment, and that was confirmed when he inked a ten-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners.

Cano found his way into On Sports and Life in May 2018 when after four-plus solid seasons with Seattle that included three more All-Star appearances, he was suspended for eighty games after testing positive for the diuretic Furosemide, which is used as a masking agent to make it harder to detect steroids. As is too often the case, the news was not entirely surprising. Despite his popularity while serving as one-half of the Yankees’ double play tandem, Cano’s work ethic often stood in sharp contrast to his teammate on the other side of second base, shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter. When an at-bat produced a routine grounder hit right at an opposing infielder, Cano would sometimes barely nod in the direction of first base. And while he had good range and was capable of dramatic plays in the field, on occasion he was content to simply wave his glove at a ball that looked to be within reach. When his 2018 suspension was announced those moments, along with close relationships with Melky Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez in the New York clubhouse, both of whom had by then been the subject of PEDS-related suspensions, could all be seen in retrospect as early indicators of a player willing to accept shortcuts.

In the thirty months since that suspension, Cano returned to the Mariners late in the 2018 season, and then was traded to the Mets during the ensuing winter. In Queens he appeared to be well into decline in 2019 before putting up significantly better numbers during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But then came this week’s news, of a positive test for Stanozolol – no masking agent this time, rather one of the most common and easily detected steroids – and, as mandated by baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, a suspension for the entirety of the 2021 season. Perhaps in keeping with his history of sometimes not even trying, this time Cano hasn’t even bothered with the ritual public apology.

At Citi Field this story is being treated as good news, since it frees up $24 million in new Mets owner Steve Cohen’s budget for the coming season. But before Mets fans get too excited, they should remember that a year from now, when a 39-year-old Cano returns with what little he then has to offer, he’ll still be due the same amount from Cohen’s very fat checkbook for two more years. On the other hand, an owner who recently proposed the brilliant idea of turning Bobby Bonilla Day, the Metropolitans’ long-running annual exercise in ignominy, into an actual day at the ballpark complete with an oversized check being handed to Bonilla at home plate, seems capable of absorbing those blows when they come.

As for Robinson Cano, he has secured his place in the long story of the Great Game. It is not in Cooperstown, where he once appeared to be headed, but in the dark chapter of the game’s transgressors, one more among far too many players who squandered the precious opportunity they were given. In that nether world Cano’s case is especially egregious, for in his shame he has sullied one of the Great Game’s most hallowed names. What’s in a name, Robinson? Everything.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 19, 2020

Winning, In All Its Glorious Complexity

Winning. As fans, this is what we hope to see our heroes achieve, this is the result we stand ready to cheer. We learn from an early age to exult when the outcome, be it of a game or a career, is victory. Winning is, as the hoary maxim most often incorrectly attributed to Vince Lombardi goes, not everything, but the only thing. And yet so very often the attributes that we most admire in the stars of all our games are seen most clearly not at a time of triumph, but during adversity. It is in the furnace of setbacks and trials that resilience and character are forged.

Tiger Woods made the short walk from the 11th green to the 12th tee at Augusta National last Sunday afternoon 2-over par for his round and more than a dozen strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson. While a flame of hope had briefly flickered in the hearts of millions of fans when Woods opened the tournament with a 68, his best Thursday score ever at the Masters, it had since become obvious that the pandemic-delayed final major of the year was not going to produce a sixth green jacket for the greatest golfer of his generation.

But no one, certainly including Woods himself, could have anticipated what happened next on the shortest hole on the golf course. A tee shot, caught in the swirling winds of Amen Corner, landing short of the putting surface, and rolling back down the bank into Rae’s Creek. After the penalty, a second ball struck from the drop area with so much spin that it rolled several yards backwards on the green and down the slope, into the water. Another penalty stroke and then a fifth shot, predictably too hard and into the bunker behind the green, from which Woods was forced to swing from an especially awkward lie. That shot, his sixth, sailing across the green and into the water, adding yet another penalty. Finally, with his eight stroke on the hole, once more from the bunker, a ball left dry and puttable. Two putts to cover the remaining distance, and Woods had recorded a 10, his highest score on any hole in any tournament since turning pro in 1996.

It would be understandable for Woods to have been stunned by what had just unfolded. Certainly everyone watching the CBS Sports broadcast was in a state of slack-jawed shock. It’s also very possible that his fragile back was tweaked by the contortions of his stance in the sand trap. And no matter what happened over the remaining six holes, he was not going to finish anywhere near Johnson. Given all that, no one would have judged him badly had Woods simply knocked the ball around for six more holes, finishing as quickly as possible with whatever score resulted.

Instead, he striped a drive around the corner of the dogleg par-5 13th hole. From there an iron to the green set up a two-putt birdie. Then, after a routine par at the next, Woods hit another long drive down the hill on the 15th. His approach from the fairway finished just off the green at the par-5, and a chip to tap-in distance gave him another birdie. At the short 16th, which featured an unusual Sunday pin placement on the upper right shelf at the back of the green, Woods’s hit his tee shot to three feet. Yet another birdie, followed by one on 17 and one final emphatic under par score at the last. Five birdies in six holes, from a golfer who, more than anyone in the field, had absolutely nothing to prove and after a catastrophe that would have led many of his fellow competitors to, if not exactly quit, at the very least show little concern for their performance.

Two days prior to that demonstration of will, a long day’s drive south of Augusta National, the Miami Marlins announced a hiring that was at once groundbreaking, long overdue, and very much a product of will. After three decades in the Great Game, beginning with an internship for the Chicago White Sox, Kim Ng was named general manager of the team that surprised fans everywhere by making the playoffs last season for the first time since 2003. Ng (pronounced “Ang”) is the first Asian-American GM in MLB, and the first woman to serve in that role in any of the major North American men’s sports leagues.

To understand the transcendent power of her appointment, one needed only look at the social media posts of other women who work in baseball. From women who are coaches in the minor league system of various clubs, to scouts, front office personnel, and, perhaps because they tend to have an active social media presence, especially among women sportswriters, like Emma Baccellieri and Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated, Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports, and Molly Knight and Lindsay Adler of The Athletic, came a tidal wave of joy mixed with “pinch me so I know I’m not dreaming” incredulity.

That latter emotion was in ample supply because for Ng, the setbacks were not sudden and unexpected as with Woods at the Masters. Rather her trials were persistent and entrenched, playing out repeatedly over long years as she built an ever more impressive resume of accomplishment as a baseball executive. Ng turned the White Sox internship into a fulltime position in Chicago, eventually becoming assistant director of baseball operations. Then, after a stop in the American League’s headquarters, she worked with Brian Cashman as assistant general manager of the Yankees. Next it was across the country to L.A., initially to oversee scouting for the Dodgers before eventually expanding her duties. While in Los Angeles she worked closely with Joe Torre when he served as the team’s manager, and when he moved on to MLB’s front office he wasted no time in recruiting Ng back to New York, where for the last decade she has been senior vice president of baseball operations.

With all that experience it was only natural that Ng would be interviewed for general manager positions, and she was – repeatedly. But every time she went through the recruitment process, it ended not with opportunity, but disappointment. And, of course, every time Ng was passed over, the chosen candidate was a man. It would have been easy to become bitter, or defeated, or resigned. Instead Ng kept enhancing her experience and seeking her chance. Finally it was Marlins’ chief executive Derek Jeter, who first knew Ng when he was a young shortstop emerging as a superstar in the Bronx, who saw Ng not as the most talented woman, but simply as the best person to lead his team’s front office. When the news of her hiring broke several of her former bosses called Ng the most qualified person ever to become a first-time GM.

Winning. If the definition is limited to the story told by numbers on a scoreboard or words in a press release, then the easy conclusion is that Tiger Woods lost at the Masters, and Kim Ng won a new job. But dedicated fans know that the full story is rarely so simple. As these two champions of two vastly different sports demonstrated this week, the most personal victories aren’t always reflected in the final score, and the most meaningful triumphs seldom come easily.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 15, 2020

A Dominating Performance, But Not By DeChambeau

One assumes many sportswriters whose job includes covering professional golf already had their tournament wrap-up stories written before Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus struck the ceremonial first tee shots of this year’s pandemic-delayed Masters early Thursday morning. After all, in the wake of his victory at September’s U.S. Open the conventional wisdom was that Bryson DeChambeau would simply overpower venerable Augusta National with his gargantuan tee shots, turning the classic old course into little more than a pitch-and-putt layout. Early in the week other golfers who had seen DeChambeau playing practice rounds reported he was launching drives of nearly 400 yards. Surely the rest of the field was making the trip to Georgia for the sole purpose of being extras in the story of DeChambeau’s changing the game of golf forever.

Any doubts this was the tale that was about to unfold were dismissed when the demigod himself announced that he viewed the course as a par 67, five shots lower than its scorecard, because of his superior length and overall greatness. But golf is no different than any other sport in that there is a reason why they actually play the four rounds of a major championship rather than proceeding directly to the trophy – or in the case of the Masters, the green jacket – presentation. DeChambeau’s workout and protein shake regimen apparently left him no time for reading anything other than predictions of his imminent victory, or he might have stumbled upon the ancient words of the Old Testament that “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

His promised dominance of Augusta National ended before it began on Thursday, when after starting his round on the back nine with three straight pars, an errant drive into the trees on the par-5 13th hole led to a double-bogey 7. Because fate has a sense of humor, the disaster struck on the shortest par-5 on the golf course, a hole that DeChambeau had been expected to make look antiquated and sad. He would add a triple-bogey on Friday and, after barely making the cut to advance to the weekend, another double during Sunday’s final round. The three “others” in PGA Tour scoring parlance were offset by just one eagle, which came in the final round when DeChambeau was far from contention. But surely the harshest blow to a player whose ego is the size of the Goodyear blimp came when he was outscored in that Sunday walk by his playing partner, 63-year-old Bernhard Langer. The 1985 and 1993 Masters champion who became the oldest player to make the cut in tournament history when he did so with a shot to spare, turned in a 1-under par 71, two strokes better than DeChambeau for the day and one better for the week, despite finishing with the shortest average driving distance in the field.

The second lesson to be drawn from this, after the obvious one about learning when to shut up, is that, as every weekend hacker knows, golf is a multi-faceted game. Success, especially at the highest level of the sport, requires achieving relative mastery over all aspects of it in the varying conditions one can face over the four days of a tournament. In the end, Langer did that better than DeChambeau despite the latter’s distance advantage, and no one in the field did it better than Dustin Johnson.

Despite being sidelined for a time with COVID-19, the 36-year-old Johnson had enjoyed a resume-boosting 2020 even before driving down Magnolia Lane at the start of the week. He won the Travelers Championship in June to extend his streak of consecutive PGA Tour seasons with a victory to thirteen. He blew away the field at the Northern Trust, the Tour’s first FedEx Cup Playoffs event, shooting 30-under par and winning by 11 strokes. He then finished the 2019-20 season with a victory at the Tour Championship, all of which was more than enough to propel him to the top of the world rankings.

But major championships have brought Johnson more than a little heartache over the years. He missed a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship when he incurred a penalty on the 72nd hole for grounding his club in a fairway bunker. A three-putt on the final green at Chambers Bay cost him another playoff chance and handed the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth. Even when he won the following year at Oakmont, he had to absorb a draconian penalty when USGA officials determined that his ball had moved as he addressed a putt during the final round. At this year’s Masters though, Johnson was the class of the field from tee to green and from start to finish.

He was part of a three-way tie for the lead after opening with a 7-under 65, a Thursday score matched by Paul Casey and Dylan Fritelli. He was one of five golfers atop a crowded leader board at the tournament’s midpoint, before another 65 on Saturday sent him into the final round alone in first and four shots clear of his closest competitor. A couple of early bogeys briefly cut his lead down to a single stroke, but a brilliant tee shot at the par-3 6th set up a birdie that steadied him, and four more birdies over the final dozen holes steadily enlarged his lead. When he tapped in for a par at the last Johnson had finished the tournament at 20-under par, two shots better than any previous Masters champion. While softer course conditions in November left Augusta National more accommodating than is usually the case in April, Johnson demonstrated that all aspects of his game were in top form by recording just four bogeys, also a tournament record.

Long known for his unflappability and stoicism on the course, Johnson revealed just how important winning his second major and first Masters was when he dissolved into tears during his post-tournament interview with Amanda Balionis of CBS. It was a reminder that even without fans present, something that was especially noticeable at a tournament famous for the roars echoing from Amen Corner up to the clubhouse, the Masters remains a holy grail for every golfer good enough to make the field. Had they been there eight and ten deep as usual, fans would have seen a record-setting performance. In fact, Johnson played Augusta National as if par were only 67. Only he didn’t boast about it, before or after.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 12, 2020

Awards Season Brings Irrational Exuberance To Queens

As always, the Great Game’s awards season led off last week with the colorful honors – Gold Gloves to those deemed the best fielders at all nine defensive positions in both leagues, followed by Silver Sluggers to the top offensive players by position. This year only one player took home both shades of hardware, as Mookie Betts of the Dodgers was recognized for both this glove and his bat for the fourth time in five seasons. Despite that, Betts finished a distant second in the voting by select members of the Baseball Writers Association of American for the Most Valuable Player in the National League. That award went to first-time winner Freddy Freeman of Atlanta, after a campaign in which he led the NL in runs scored and finished second in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, with career highs in all three statistics.

The announcement of Freeman’s award was the last of the BBWAA honors, which as usual were parceled out over multiple days this week. The announcements started Monday, with Seattle’s Kyle Lewis and Milwaukee’s Devin Williams being named Rookies of the Year, followed the next day by top manager trophies going to the Rays’ Kevin Cash and the Marlins’ Don Mattingly. Then on Wednesday the BBWAA named Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer as the best pitchers in the big leagues, before Freeman’s name was called shortly after Jose Abreu of the White Sox was announced as AL MVP Thursday evening.

Of course, the pandemic-shortened regular season led to some unusual numbers in the statistical rundowns of each award winner’s 2020 performance. Freeman achieved his league-leading mark of runs scored by crossing the plate all of 51 times, a result that would have just barely kept him in the top 100 among National League hitters in 2019. Similarly, Bauer recorded exactly 100 strikeouts to finish third in the majors, behind Bieber and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom. But that was less than one-third of the punchouts amassed one campaign earlier by Gerrit Cole, the major’s 2019 strikeout king. And while Mattingly richly deserved the NL Manager of the Year honor after shepherding the young Marlins from a clubhouse-wide COVID-19 outbreak that upended Miami’s schedule almost as soon as the season’s first pitch was thrown, all the way to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 17 years, he did so while his team won 31 games, a number that in any other campaign would look nice right around Memorial Day.

But based on reactions from fans and sportswriters, the big winner of this awards season wasn’t any of the individuals chosen by the writers, nor was it Betts or one of his fellow Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honorees. Clearly pride of place belongs to the Great Game’s MBO – baseball’s Most Beloved Owner. By something approaching acclamation, that award goes to the new boss at Citi Field, Steven A. Cohen.

The 64-year-old hedge fund manager, who is so fabulously wealthy that his personal art collection is worth as much as some major league teams, became the richest owner in the sport when he closed on his $2.4 billion purchase of the Mets from Sterling Equities, the investment vehicle controlled by Fred Wilpon. The sale brought four decades of Wilpon’s involvement with the Metropolitans full circle. It began when he purchased a one percent stake in the team in 1980, which expanded to fifty percent just a few years later and eventually to sole ownership in 2002. A decade later, in the wake of huge losses from participation in the Ponzi scheme run by Bernard Madoff, Wilpon, through Sterling Equities, sold off multiple minority stakes, including a small piece to Cohen, a lifelong Mets fan. Now, with Cohen assuming control, Wilpon is reduced to owning a five percent share in the franchise.

The Mets faithful will deny it, but there was a time when most of their number did not rise each morning thinking ill of Fred Wilpon and his family. That was before the Madoff debacle, which led the team’s ownership to start acting like the franchise was based in some small market with limited revenue potential, rather than in the second most populous borough of the media and entertainment capital of the world. Year after year of penny-pinching, coupled with the club’s history of general ineptitude punctuated by occasional flashes of improbable brilliance, long since turned the name Wilpon into an expletive for Mets fans.

Now along comes Cohen, not just a new owner, who would certainly be welcomed with enthusiasm, but also one with unfathomably deep pockets, thus instantly inspiring fantasies of top free agents clamoring for the chance to make the long ride on the number 7 train from their high-rise rentals in Midtown out to Flushing Meadows. Although at $25 or $30 million a year, they’d probably eschew the subway in favor of a car service. The ecstatic reaction to the team’s new owner has already led the New York Post’s seasoned writer Ken Davidoff to start referring to Cohen simply as “the savior.”

To be sure, Mets fans have earned the right to dream, and in his first forays in front of the press and on social media, Cohen has hit all the right notes. An owner who loves and respects the sport and who can readily fund his vision for a franchise is what every fan base deserves. Perhaps the Mets now have one. But the Great Game is still played on a field between two long white foul lines, and not on Twitter. Fans being fans, those who swear their allegiance to the Metropolitans will remember that soon enough, most likely no later than next Opening Day. That’s when the real test for Steve Cohen will come. It’s easy for a new owner to be loved because of who he is not. But in a year, or three, or five, will he be loved because of what his team has done? If the answer is yes, Cohen’s Mets and their fans will share in the Great Game’s ultimate award.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 8, 2020

The Breeders’ Cup Didn’t Need Baffert’s Big Day

As major horse racing events go, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, fourteen races run over two days in late autumn, designed as a rich season-ending showcase for the very best thoroughbreds in the world, is still a precocious child. After all, the Belmont Stakes, the oldest of the three races that comprise the Triple Crown, was first run in 1867, with the Preakness and Kentucky Derby following in 1873 and 1875, respectively. The Gold Cup, the two-mile-plus marathon that is the feature attraction of each year’s Royal Ascot meet in England, has been held since 1807. With a history that traces only to 1984, the story of the Breeders’ Cup is little more than a short story compared to the rich sagas of these and other notable races in a tradition-bound sport.

Perhaps that’s why the late John Gaines, the thoroughbred breeder and owner who wanted to boost his chosen sport, encountered so much resistance when he first proposed the idea at the 1982 Kentucky Derby Festival awards luncheon. The pet food heir realized that interest in racing was steadily decreasing, and that for most casual fans the only races that mattered were the three comprising each spring’s Triple Crown. Gaines saw a multi-race festival held late in the year as a way to make those fans aware that there was much more to the sport than just the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.

Tradition can be a strong roadblock to change, but in sports, as in life, money has the power to overcome many obstacles. As the Breeders’ Cup quickly grew from eight races on a single day to its current format, with $28 million in purses including $6 million for the mile-and-a-quarter Classic, resistance quickly turned to enthusiasm. The clamor to participate from horsemen has led to the creation of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, in which the winner of more than eighty races around the world, from January through October, automatically qualifies for one of the Breeders’ Cup stakes races.

Despite all that, racing remains on the fringe of most sports fans’ attention, a fact that made the lead storylines of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, run at venerable Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, so very complicated. The good news was that the event was held at all, no small feat during the pandemic. COVID-19 turned the 2020 racing calendar on its ear, with the Belmont Stakes run as the first Triple Crown race rather than the last, back in June, just a couple weeks later than originally scheduled. But then there was a gap of nearly three months until the Kentucky Derby, which turned several summertime races that normally come after the Triple Crown in Derby preps. The Preakness, in turn, wasn’t run until early October, pushing it up against preparations for the entire Saturday Breeders’ Cup card, for which three-year-old’s are eligible. Yet after all that disarray the two days of racing came off as planned, with even a smattering of fans allowed into the stands.

But if the coronavirus had a big impact on horse racing’s schedule, the sports’ longstanding problems proved immune to the disease. In March, just as the first wave of the pandemic was gathering force, more than two dozen trainers, veterinarians, and drug dealers were indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to dope horses and cheat bettors. The most notable name on the list was Jason Servis, trainer of Maximum Security, the horse who had been first under the wire at the 2019 Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for interfering with other horses in the stretch.

Fast forward to November, and Maximum Security was at Keeneland, in the field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. By itself, the presence of the horse would have been no more than a mildly uncomfortable reminder of its previous tie to Servis, but Maximum Security’s connections had chosen Bob Baffert as the four-year-old’s new trainer. Baffert is quite possibly the only person in horse racing immediately recognizable to most sports fans, thanks in arguably equal parts to his enormous success as a trainer and to his shock of snow-white hair, usually found directly above an electric blue suit. The former Servis-trained mount was just one of three horses Baffert saddled for the Classic, along with Improbable and Kentucky Derby winner Authentic. He also sent Gamine to the post in Saturday’s first race, the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint.

Baffert began his training career on a part-time basis while still in college, and in 1976 he was called before California regulators for doping a horse. In an early autobiography he wrote that he had done so out of ignorance and desperation. Without dwelling on how exactly those two coexist, the incident was largely forgotten as Baffert became his sport’s most decorated trainer. But now, having trained Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, and with sixteen wins in Triple Crown races and fifteen more at previous Breeders’ Cup weekends, everything Baffert does is in the spotlight. And this year, when horses in his barn have failed drug tests four times in the last six months, the glare has been harsh.

All of which made it seem almost inevitable when Gamine, whose win at Oaklawn Park in May was set aside because of one of those four bad test results, overtook Serengeti Empress with a stunning burst of speed in the stretch and won her race by six lengths. So in turn, it came as no surprise when Authentic, the third choice of bettors, broke sharply from the gate to claim the lead in the Classic, and then spent the rest of the race daring any other contender to come and catch him. There was a moment at the top of the stretch when it looked like that might happen, but Authentic found another gear and pulled away to win by two and a half. Baffert just missed a Classic trifecta when Improbable finished second and Maximum Security fourth.

The NBC coverage and most of the media reporting after the race focused on jockey John Velazquez, who for all his many accomplishments had never won the Classic. Even Joe Drape in the New York Times, one of the most vocal and frequent critics of Baffert, chose to write mostly about Velazquez. But that left an “elephant in the room” feel to the stories. To be fair, Baffert’s violations don’t approach the premeditated larceny of which Servis and his fellow conspirators stand accused. But they are not minor, and, obviously, they are not isolated.

Early in the week Baffert released a statement saying he would “do everything possible to ensure I receive no further medication complaints,” and detailing plans to hire a staff veterinarian whose sole job will be ensuring rules compliance across the massive operation that is Baffert’s training empire. Still, the one certainty is that for horse racing, the weekend’s story would have been so much simpler, and so much more positive, had it been almost any other trainer cheering his horses home in the Filly and Mare Sprint and especially in the Classic. Only time will tell if Bob Baffert has really learned that being the poster boy for an entire sport means being so much more than just a pretty face.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 5, 2020

For The Great Game, Winter Is Coming

Now for the hard part. Of course, to those who had a hand in Major League Baseball pulling off its 2020 season, from players and coaches on the field and in the dugout, to front office personnel and scores of support staff who toiled behind the scenes, the job of navigating a truncated sixty-game regular season followed by an expanded postseason tournament in the midst of a pandemic surely never felt easy. Against considerable odds, the Great Game’s thirty big league clubs played 898 of 900 scheduled contests despite serious disruptions to the calendars of several clubs, especially the Marlins and Cardinals, after virus outbreaks spread through the Miami and St. Louis clubhouses soon after games began in late July. But just as the short season, which was only put in place by commissioner Rob Manfred after bitter negotiations between owners and players ground to a halt, looked like it was about to be derailed, toughened safety protocols and a renewed commitment by everyone resulted in many weeks with no positive coronavirus tests, right up until L.A.’s Justin Turner was pulled from Game 6 of the World Series after the Dodgers learned of his infection.

Yet by this time next year, when MLB may very well be just weeks away from its first work stoppage in a generation, the Great Game’s shortest season since 1878 may be remembered fondly compared to what the sport will be facing. If that proves to be the case, if baseball after the 2021 World Series stands on the brink of a strike or lockout, the roots of the mutual distrust that is a prerequisite to such a dismaying state will go back years. But the ultimate catalyst may well be what happened over the preceding twelve months, a period that starts right now.

Dodger fans will continue to celebrate for a bit, and deservedly so. Thirty-two years was a very long time between championships for one of baseball’s classic franchises. But fans of the other twenty-nine franchises are already focusing on the offseason that is now underway. This week free agency began, though one would hardly know it. There have been no announcements of player signings. Instead, the movement has been in just the opposite direction. Prior to Sunday, when players not under contract for next season officially became free agents, multiple clubs chose not to exercise contract options on some notable players.

Pitcher Brad Hand was placed on waivers by Cleveland after the club decided that both his $10 million option for next season and the $1 million buyout in his contract were too expensive for a 30-year-old reliever. This after Hand posted a 2.05 ERA with a 29-4 strikeout to walk ratio. Even more telling was that not one of the other twenty-nine franchises put in a claim on the three-time All-Star who led the majors with 16 saves during the short season.

While Hand’s fate was extreme, he wasn’t alone in having his contract option declined. Charlie Morton in Tampa Bay, Adam Eaton in Washington, and Kolten Wang in St. Louis, among others, became free agents because their clubs deemed options costing between $10 and $15 million were too expensive. Even Mitch Moreland’s relatively paltry $3 million option was more than the Padres were willing to pay.

They all join a free agent class that is almost certain to have a long wait into the dark winter months before any major deals are negotiated. That’s in part because budgets have been slashed following the losses of an abbreviated season played without fans in the stands. There’s no question the balance sheets of all thirty teams suffered, but because owners steadfastly refuse to open their books to the Players Association, it impossible to know if claims of losses in the billions are legitimate.

The other reason this winter’s hot stove may never be kindled is because on top of whatever losses teams have incurred, there is, at least right now, nothing but uncertainty about next season. MLB has released a 2021 schedule, complete with the usual complement of spring training games in Florida and Arizona, and then a full, 162-game slate for all thirty clubs. But that schedule is nothing more than dates on a calendar. No one knows what the state of the pandemic will be when it’s time for those games to start. Will there be a widely available vaccine? Will packed stadiums be possible? Will it be feasible to have 2,430 baseball games take place over the long, unfolding six months of a standard season? Will there be a minor league system in place to anchor the large supporting cast needed to make a full season possible? While it’s fair to recognize that no one can answer those questions today, what’s disheartening is the apparent willingness of clubs to lean heavily on that uncertainty in negotiations with free agents, as if it described conditions that will be permanent.

The possibility of a rancorous offseason is very real. If that’s what happens, the ill feeling will inevitably carry over to the 2021 campaign, because every player and each owner will know that the current collective bargaining agreement expires next December 1st. And a bitter winter followed by a season filled with angry sniping are hardly the ingredients for productive and peaceful negotiations. Twelve months is a long time, and the bleak path outlined here is not the only one the Great Game might follow. But as the warm glow of the World Series fades everywhere but in the hearts of the Dodgers’ faithful, the early signs are that for the Great Game, the next year may make the last one look easy.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 1, 2020

An Encore Fans Didn’t Know They Wanted

Last Tuesday night, when Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash stuck to the analytics-driven process that got his team to the World Series, pulling starter Blake Snell in the 6th inning of Game 6 rather than allow him to face the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup for a third time despite Snell’s dominant performance to that point, social media lost its collective mind. Twitter feeds across the country lit up with sportswriters, players on other teams, and fans excoriating Cash for not trusting his own eyes. When reliever Kevin Anderson promptly allowed the Dodgers to seize a lead that would ultimately prove decisive, the criticism of the Rays manager redoubled. A few even went so far as to declare the death of the Great Game’s heavy reliance on advanced metrics, surely an exercise in extreme wishful thinking by a shrinking minority who presumably look back fondly on the dead ball era and insist the designated hitter rule ruined baseball.

A mere two days later, when the Chicago White Sox surprised almost everyone by announcing the hiring of 76-year-old Tony La Russa as the team’s new manager, social media once again went berserk. But this time, much of the torrent of complaints directed at Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was for the exact opposite reason, namely that La Russa, whose last decisions in a dugout were made in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series when his St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers to win the franchise’s eleventh title, was too old and had been away from managing too long to possibly understand the analytics that a modern bench skipper must embrace. There being no prizes for consistency on social media, it should come as no surprise that some of Thursday’s carping and Tuesday’s complaints were from the exact same sources.

It would be useless to suggest these posters can’t have it both ways, since at times doing just that seems to be their whole point. It is also extremely unlikely that either Cash’s ill-timed signal to the bullpen or La Russa’s return to a dugout will have any lasting impact on the commitment of every major league team to mining increasingly detailed statistics that go light years beyond the old standards of batting and earned run averages, and then using that data to inform everything from free agent signings and trade decisions to which pinch hitter to use in the bottom of the 7th with one out and a slow runner at second base in a one-run ballgame in mid-June. Welcome to the Great Game, early 21st century edition.

But Chicago’s decision to bring an apparently extremely willing La Russa out of managerial retirement is questionable beyond his understanding of, or commitment to, modern metrics. In his own antediluvian way, in fact, La Russa at his previous stops demonstrated an almost slavish devotion to the precursor of the analysis that now goes on. During a decade in Oakland that began in 1986, and half again as long in St. Louis starting in 1996, La Russa was known to make multiple pitching changes during a game to ensure the most favorable matchups between opposing batters and his chosen hurler. His repeated calls to the bullpen were based on the age-old “lefty versus righty and vice versa” mantra, not the most sophisticated analysis ever created. But the basic idea is not all that different from what’s now gleaned from pages of spreadsheets.

The approach didn’t always endear him to fans, who were forced to adapt to a pace of play that has since become all too familiar across major league baseball. Although most in both the Bay area and on the banks of the Mississippi doubtless felt that was a small price to pay for regular trips to the postseason and a total of three championships, one with the A’s in 1989 and a pair with the Cards, the first coming in 2006 before what fans and the media assumed was La Russa’s swan song in 2011.

After seven straight losing seasons that included a hundred-loss campaign in 2018, the White Sox snuck into this year’s expanded playoffs as one of the American League Wild Card teams. While Chicago lost to Oakland in three games, they were one of just two first round losers to avoid being swept, and they finished the truncated schedule with thirty-five wins, just one game behind the Twins in the AL Central and tied with Cleveland. It was a young team that showed great promise, and when manager Rick Renteria was fired it seemed like the franchise was ready to do whatever it could to take the next step. Renteria’s dismissal was accompanied by a promise that the White Sox would look for a replacement “with recent championship experience.”

Fans were probably thinking of A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora, both available with the conclusion of their suspensions from the Astros cheating scandal. But Reinsdorf apparently had a more expansive view of “recent.” He had previously stated that he regarded the firing of La Russa during the 1986 season as the biggest mistake of his ownership, and the two men have remained close. That latter fact combined with the available candidates who were passed over makes this seem like an act based on emotion rather than reason.

There’s also reason to question how well La Russa will relate to a roster that skews young, and whether he can accommodate the way the game has changed outside the lines since he last managed. Players have become more demonstrative, in ways that someone steeped in the Great Game’s traditions may find excessive. And while major leaguers are far less outspoken on social issues than their counterparts in the NBA or NFL, this season saw a level of activism that would have been unheard of a decade ago. Given La Russa’s previous negative comments on everything from Fernando Tatis Jr. homering on a 3-0 pitch to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, the answer may not be one players will be interested in hearing.

Still, there are those three titles as well as a winning record at each of his previous managerial stops, including the first time on Chicago’s south side. The White Sox will be the first team ever managed by a skipper who already has a plaque in Cooperstown. Perhaps this time next year fans in Chicago will be talking about Reinsdorf’s brilliant decision as they make their way home from a championship parade. But for now, at least, it seems far more likely that they’ll be sitting in their living rooms facing another long Chicago winter, and if they speak of the White Sox owner at all, it will only be to ask “what the hell was he thinking?”

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 29, 2020

The Dodgers Restore Order To A Season Of Turmoil

Thirty-two years. There have been and still are longer title droughts in sports, but few felt so acutely by a team’s fans. In part that’s because in 1988, when Kirk Gibson homered to right off Dennis Eckersley to stun the Oakland A’s in Game 1, and Orel Hershiser turned in a pair of masterful pitching performances in Games 2 and 5, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to the franchise’s sixth World Series title, the Dodgers’ faithful quite reasonably felt that partaking of late October baseball at Chavez Ravine was as much a part of being a fan as listening to Vin Scully doing play-by-play. That Series was the fifth in just fifteen years in which L.A. was the National League’s representative, and two other times in that span the team had made it to the NLCS before exiting the postseason.

What those fans could not have known, on the night they celebrated that ’88 title, was that their team would not play another postseason contest for seven years, would not win a single playoff game for more than a decade and a half, and would not advance past the first round until twenty seasons had passed. Before players in Dodger Blue again took the field to play for a championship, old rivals like the Yankees, Giants, and Cardinals notched multiple titles. Championship droughts of truly historic length ended in Boston and Chicago. Even fans of very young franchises in places like Miami and Phoenix, who could only watch major league games from afar in 1988, experienced the joy of a World Series triumph.

In recent seasons Los Angeles has once again – finally – been regarded as an elite franchise, included in every Spring Training discussion of teams that could still be standing come time for the World Series. The Dodgers were there in 2017, at the time unknowingly playing the role of easy mark to the cheating scheme of the Houston Astros. The following season L.A. was again denied, this time by a Red Sox franchise managed by one of the architects of the Astros’ crime. With a long run at the top of the NL West but no ring to show for that regular season dominance, thirty-two years hung like a lead lanyard around the necks of pitcher Clayton Kershaw, manager Dave Roberts, and all the others who comprise this generation of Dodger baseball.

Now, after the shortest regular major league campaign since 1878 and the strangest one ever, with one run through a unique postseason that weight has at last been lifted. In its place is the lighter than air feeling of unbridled joy at winning a title, an accomplishment players, coaches, and everyone associated with the 2020 Dodgers will carry with them forever. At 43-17, the Dodgers were the best team during the truncated regular season. Then L.A. swept through the first two rounds of the expanded playoffs, easily dispatching the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres. The Dodgers’ stiffest challenge of the postseason came in the NLCS, where they faced Atlanta, champions of the NL East. Down three games to one, and behind 2-0 early in Game 5, L.A. could have folded its tent, and perhaps other recent editions of the franchise would have done so. But this team seemed remarkably unfazed by adversity. The Dodgers rallied in that contest and then after holding Atlanta down in Game 6, again came from behind – twice – in the deciding Game 7.

Perhaps it was a product of the calm resolve displayed in the NLCS comeback, but against the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, no matter the score of a game or the standings in the race to four wins, L.A. almost always seemed to be clearly the better team. That was most true in the aftermath of easily the club’s worst moment of the postseason, the final thirty seconds of Game 4. In a contest that had already seen five lead changes, the Dodgers were one strike away from taking a commanding three games to one lead in the Series. Then light-hitting Rays reserve Brett Phillips hit a liner to right-center field, and for one decisive play the best team in the game did a convincing imitation of the Bad News Bears before Morris Buttermaker recruited his ringers. Two errors on the scorecard and one of the mental variety later, the Rays had an 8-7 walk-off win, and the Series was tied at two games apiece.

The outcome could have fundamentally changed the momentum of the World Series. Instead, the following night Mookie Betts led off the game with a double, the Dodgers scored before recording an out, and Kershaw produced his second strong outing of the Series, as L.A. bounced right back with a 4-2 win. One game later, they were champions.

In time this Series will be remembered, as it should be, for the Dodgers clear dominance. But even as MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was learning just how loudly even a pandemic-reduced crowd can boo, the baseball moment that was the center of attention (a qualification that purposely excludes Justin Turner’s selfish, reckless decision to take part in the post-game celebration after being pulled before the 8th inning following a positive COVID-19 test), was Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s lifting of starter Blake Snell with one out in the 6th. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner had struck out half the eighteen batters he had faced while yielding just a pair of singles.

Cash’s call was the object of derision by everyone from casual fans to seasoned sportswriters, especially when the Dodgers immediately jumped on reliever Nick Anderson. The move was scorned as clear evidence of overreliance on advanced metrics since it was made simply because Snell was about to face the Dodgers lineup for the third time in the game.

With the advantage of perfect hindsight, it’s of course easy to say that Cash should have ignored the statistics and trusted what he could clearly see with his own eyes, namely that his starter, who had only thrown 73 pitches, was having an outstanding night. But asserting that the Rays call to the bullpen cost the team the Series assumes an exceedingly long list of subsequent events had it not been made. More importantly, it ignores the fact that the Dodgers were every bit as reliant on the Great Game’s modern math. In both of his two Series starts Kershaw was pulled after facing just twenty-one hitters, the same number that Walker Buehler was allowed to pitch to in his sole outing, and three more than Julio Urias got to face when he started Game 4. The only one of those pitching changes that was even arguably based on the starter becoming ineffective was manager Roberts’s decision to pull Urias.

Replacing Snell was an awful move, but the process that led Cash to make his walk from the dugout to the pitcher’s mound was what got both the Rays and the Dodgers to the World Series in the first place. So if that moment showed the hazards of relying too heavily on analytics, the Series as a whole was proof of how modern metrics are fully imbedded in the Great Game, forming the basis for decision-making no matter the size of a franchise’s budget.

These days a gimpy Kirk Gibson, who could barely walk much less swing a bat, and who was hitting a paltry .154 in the 1988 postseason, would almost certainly never be sent to the plate to face the game’s top closer. Nor would Orel Hershiser have any chance of tossing two complete games in the World Series. The Great Game has changed in thirty-two years. But as the incomparable Scully might have updated his ’88 call had he been at the mic this time, “in a year that has been so improbable, the inevitable has happened.” For just like in that long-ago season, this year’s champions wear Dodger Blue.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 25, 2020

Not All Falls Are Created Equal

They were two moments in the world of sports, identical at their essence, and yet the reaction to them could not have been more different. Two days apart, at two stadiums separated by the better part of two thousand miles, at crucial moments of two games in which their teams were trailing, two young athletes, both emerging stars with the seemingly unlimited potential that is part and parcel of a bright future as a hero to adoring fans, fell down. These were not allegorical stumbles, falls from grace or revelations of some character defect. Rather both suffered literal pratfalls, the kind that show up on blooper reels played on stadium jumbotrons during lulls in the action for season upon season to come.

Thursday night, with his team trailing the Philadelphia Eagles 10-7 midway through the third quarter, Daniel Jones, the second year quarterback of the New York Giants, brought his team to the line of scrimmage for a first down play from the Giants own 12-yard line, 88 long yards from the promised land of the Philadelphia end zone. The call was for a play action pass, and the Eagles defense bit hard at the fake handoff. Jones then rolled to his right, and with virtually all the players in black uniforms otherwise occupied, saw nothing but green turf ahead. Covering 88 yards never looked so easy as it did in that moment. Jones took off, and once tight end Evan Engram blocked the sole Philadelphia defender still loitering in the area, it looked for all the world like he would sprint all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. On a night when the New York offense had done little, during a season in which the Giants have been woeful even by the sad standards of the NFC East, it had all the earmarks of a game-changing play.

But even as Joe Buck told the TV audience “he is gone,” Jones’s steps suddenly seemed out of synch. At the Philadelphia 30 he was visibly wobbling. At the 20 he tripped, as if stumbling over an invisible dangling shoelace. Jones went down at the 15, rolling forward to the 10 even as he tried to get up. But before he could rise one of the Eagles defenders who had been doing little more than getting some exercise by chasing Jones down the field managed to catch up to him and touch him down, eight yards short of a score.

Saturday night, with his team trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-6, Randy Arozarena, the rookie outfielder turned playoff phenom for the Tampa Bay Rays, came to the plate with Kevin Kiermaier on first and two outs in the bottom of the 9th of World Series Game 4. Five innings earlier Arozarena had set a new major league record with his ninth homer of the playoffs, so Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen was understandably careful, eventually walking the Rays’ young hero. That brought up Brett Phillips, who promptly laced a line drive to short right-center. L.A.’s Chris Taylor charged the ball even as Kiermaier and Arozarena raced around the bases.

While it was shallow, the hit to the outfield probably would have scored the lead runner, but then Taylor failed to field it cleanly. In a game that Tampa Bay had to win to avoid falling into a very deep one-to-three deficit in the Series, suddenly a far more dramatic outcome loomed. Arozarena never broke stride, rounding third intent on scoring and giving Tampa Bay a walk-off win. But just as Jones had done forty-eight hours earlier, the baseball player couldn’t keep his feet underneath him. Arozarena went down, tumbling forward and seemingly doomed to become an easy third out, sending the contest to extra innings.

In the end, the immediate outcomes of both falls were all that fans of either the Giants or the Rays could want, despite the ill-timed imbalance of the two protagonists. While Jones’s run to glory came to an unexpected end on the Eagles’ 8-yard line, New York punched the ball in for a go-ahead TD four plays later. And with a mighty assist from the Dodgers defense, Arozarena was able to get up and stagger home when L.A. catcher Will Smith committed the second error of the play by mishandling the relay throw to home from Max Muncy, and pitcher Jansen was inexcusably out of position, not backing up his catcher.

But that doesn’t mean the twin stumbles were treated the same. After the Giants went on to lose to the Eagles 22-21 thanks to a late game touchdown drive engineered by Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, Jones’s inability to stay upright while running in the clear was picked on by pundits as symbolic of the hapless state into which the franchise has fallen. Despite the 80 yards Jones did manage to cover being the longest run from scrimmage by a NFL quarterback in five years, it seems certain that until some indeterminate time in a future season when the Giants are again relevant in the league’s standings, his pratfall will serve as a convenient reminder of all that is wrong with a team that has played just a single postseason contest in the nine seasons since its victory in Super Bowl XLVI.

In contrast Arozarena has quickly become the biggest name of a rather anonymous Rays roster, understandably so given his postseason hitting exploits on top of a compelling backstory that goes from escaping Cuba as a teenager right through recovering from a protracted battle with COVID-19 earlier this year. That, plus Tampa Bay’s role as the proverbial David of the playoffs, doing battle with Goliaths like the Yankees in the ALDS, the Astros in the ALCS, and now the Dodgers, doesn’t leave much room for criticism. So Arozarena’s tumble was little more than an aside in most accounts of the ending to Game 4, a fillip that added dramatic tension.

Is that fair to Daniel Jones, or for that matter, if one desires objectivity rather than hero worship, to Arozarena? Of course not. But it is one more reminder of the old maxim that applies to all our games. Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 22, 2020

Ideas For Change – Good, Bad, And Dreadful

In just a few days – by the middle of next week at the latest, and possibly as soon as Sunday night – the strangest baseball season ever will be over. Sports fans in one of two cities will celebrate their second championship of this pandemic year. Either the Dodgers will join the NBA’s Lakers in bringing a title to the people of L.A., or the Rays will match the Stanley Cup won so recently by the Lightning to the delight of the faithful in Tampa. Either way, fans of the Great Game on one coast will finally end a long, long period in the baseball wilderness. It was 1988 and a World Series forever remembered for Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 home run sailing into the right field seats at Dodger Stadium as the rear lights of an unlucky fan who left too soon glowed in the parking lot beyond the stands, when the Dodgers last captured a title. And while the wait at Tropicana Field has been a decade shorter, that’s only because the Rays, one of six franchises to have never won a Series, didn’t come into existence until 1998.

Even as the two World Series contestants battle it out in what is now a best-of-five, fans of other teams have already begun the annual ritual of speculating on the changes that the coming offseason will bring to the roster of their favorite club. The guessing game is even more fraught than usual this year, with the losses incurred by owners during an abbreviated season played without fans in the stands certain to impact the budgetary decisions of every franchise. The vitality of the free agent market and the willingness of clubs to actively engage in trade discussions will surely be affected, but the extent of a financial pullback remains unknown.

But this year other potential changes await beyond the usual ones involving the movement of players. The just concluded shortest season was played with a variety of different rules, and now MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, team owners, and in some cases the Players Association as well, must decide which of the alterations to a game that typically changes only slowly will morph from one-time, pandemic-induced experiment to permanent shift in how the Great Game is played.

The easiest bet is that the number of at-bats taken by National League pitchers will henceforth be counted on one hand, even under a full 162-game schedule. The application of the designated hitter rule to both leagues has been coming for years, and now that it’s in place the likelihood of the DH being dislodged is negligible. Less certain are the futures of expanded rosters and the gimmick of starting extra innings with runners on second. The latter has its boosters, including Manfred, but it seems fair to ask if placing a base runner halfway to home in every extra frame is an improvement, why was this 2020 rule change abandoned for the most consequential games of the year, those played in the postseason?

Then there is the very structure of the playoffs, which were expanded this year to include more than half of big league teams. Here too, the commissioner has expressed his fondness for a postseason field larger than the three division winners plus two Wild Cards that have qualified for each league’s bracket since 2012. Manfred’s giddy support, coupled with the lure of television revenue from more postseason play, may well be enough to make expanded playoffs inevitable, despite the fact that some of the first round contests this year had ratings no better than those of a regional cable network broadcasting a weekend series between division rivals during the regular season.

Hopefully, the eventual structure of baseball’s season-ending tournament will at least be more carefully thought out than this year’s wide-open free for all. For sports’ longest season to remain meaningful, for fans to want to continue to head to the ballpark in April and June and August, the standings that result from all those games must be rewarded. Giving more than half of all clubs a ticket to October greatly lessens the value of striving for many months to win a division, and, as shown in this short season, it opens the door to clubs that can’t even manage to post a winning record during regular season play finding themselves just a two-week hot streak away from playing for the Great Game’s ultimate glory.

But the worst idea of all has been advanced by player agent Scott Boras, never one to be shy with unsolicited advice. As all fans know, after the opening round, this year’s playoffs were staged at neutral sites, with the American League bracket contested at the two southern California ballparks normally home to NL franchises, while the two AL stadiums in Texas were used for the National League division and league championship series, with the Rangers new ballpark also hosting the World Series. Now Boras, who first made the suggestion privately to commissioner Bud Selig more than a decade ago, has publicly proposed making a neutral site World Series a permanent fixture of the Great Game.

This season’s setup was designed to limit travel and make it possible to play the DS and LCS without days off, both goals occasioned by the pandemic. But Boras envisions a week-long World Series extravaganza, replete with corporate parties, major entertainment, and assorted other diversions, presumably with some baseball games squeezed in for anyone who might be interested. His model is of course the Super Bowl. But from its first staging, before it had been given its superlative name, the NFL’s season-ending contest has always been played at a neutral site. So football fans have never been told, as Boras would happily tell baseball partisans, that they must sacrifice the chance to see their team play for a title on their home field for the greater good of corporate sponsors and momentary fans who arrive on private jets. And the super-agent’s grand vision ignores the minor detail that the Super Bowl is one game – the clearly defined climax – while the World Series can be anywhere from four to seven. How appealing will those grand shindigs scheduled for the end of the week be if the two teams that are supposedly the center of attention have already finished their business and headed home, one to lick its wounds and the other to plan a parade?

It’s an old idea, one that Scott Boras would no doubt have trouble grasping, though that does nothing to diminish its validity. Sometimes, less is more.

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