Will Write for Beer

I just returned from a 10 day vacation in Fort Myers, Florida. In a way, my annual trip to hang out on the grounds of the Minnesota Twins spring training complex is a “working vacation.” I do, after all, spend a lot of time there watching this season’s prospective Cedar Rapids Kernels and having conversations with front office staff, coaches and former Kernels players, all of which, I believe, prepares me to do a better job of writing about the Kernels once the season starts in April.

1422057369395This year’s trip to Florida, however, started out on a bit of down note. While enjoying some lunch at a Sonny’s BBQ in Georgia on the drive down, I checked my email and discovered that the degree to which my Florida trek would be a true “working” vacation was perhaps significantly lower than originally thought. I received word that MetroSportsReport.com, for whom I have been covering the Kernels for the past three baseball seasons, was suspending operations and my services would no longer be required.

The news didn’t come as a complete shock to me, for a couple of reasons.

First, perhaps, is because it wasn’t the first time in the past year that I’ve been invited to cease working for someone. Last summer, my “day job” employer of some 38 years also decided they no longer needed me to show up for work. So, being told I no longer have a job is just becoming a regular thing for  me.

Second, and more importantly for the purposes of this discussion, it simply is no longer surprising when any sportswriter (or anyone involved in a journalism business) finds him/herself out of a gig. It may be because of staff cutbacks, financial belt-tightenings, or, as is the case of MetroSportsReport.com, an entity determining that it is just too hard to keep a journalism business afloat.

I’m grateful to Jim Ecker, the owner of MSR, for having given me the opportunity to help cover Kernels baseball the past three seasons. I not only got paid to go to ballparks and write about baseball, but I gained a significant appreciation for the work that regular beat writers do. If you think that it’s easy to find an interesting angle for game stories that will draw readers’ interest night after night, you only need to try doing it for a week or two to learn you are very mistaken. Covering a beat – any beat – can be difficult work and the people doing that work are facing some tough truths in their chosen profession these days.

One of those difficult truths is that sportswriting (and news reporting in general), as a business, is challenged to find a way to stay relevant and financially solvent at the same time. Newspapers are losing circulation as people rely more and more on the internet as their channel of choice for news and information of all types. If the employer experiences revenue challenges, it’s not good news for those working for that employer, no matter how well they do their jobs.

I confess that I’m part of the problem because I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in this millennium.

It used to be that when I wanted to buy or sell something, the first thing I did was open the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I’d look for local sales. Maybe I would check the personal ads for a used snowblower or place an ad to sell a set of golf clubs I no longer needed. When was the last time any of us did that? Everything I want is now available with a couple of keystrokes.

Of course, I still like to read about local sports. Fortunately, the Gazette has an online site where I can find the latest game stories and columns about the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Hawkeyes and, pretty much every day, several more stories about the Hawkeyes.

And I don’t pay a nickel for any of it. On the Gazette site, I read the work of Jeff Johnson, Marc Morehouse, Mike Hlas and Scott Dochterman regularly and they don’t see a cent from me.

Sure, I have to answer a survey (or at least indicate I choose not to answer a survey) to read the story I want, but I don’t mind that.

I read the St. Paul Pioneer Press coverage of the Twins and Vikings regularly and I don’t pay anything for that. Sorry, Mike Berardino, you’re getting none of my money, either.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune started charging a few bucks for full access to their online site a few years ago. I’m sure they experienced resistance to that policy, but not from me. I pay the monthly charge because I value their coverage of the Twins and Vikings enough that it’s worth it, to me. I guess that means that Phil Miller, LaVelle E. Neal, Howard Sinker and Matt Vensel are taking a couple pennies out of my pocket, but I think I’m getting good value for those pennies.

I read recently that one of the original Twins bloggers, Aaron Gleeman, lost his writing job with NBCSports.com. I paid nothing to find that information out. I read that information free on Twitter. I paid exactly that same amount to read Aaron’s writing work with NBC and, I suspect, that’s a big reason why Gleeman is looking for a new gig now.

We all know the various ways that organizations, big and small, have been trying to monetize online content. The surveys I mentioned the Gazette using are common. MSR tried (ultimately unsuccessfully) to rely on local advertising sales of static ads for each section/page of the site. TwinsDaily.com, where many of us in the Twins fan community spend a good chunk of our time, has used video ads in addition to the static ads. They also publish sponsored content.

Some online advertising is flat out annoying. I don’t care how much I enjoy your content, if you have ads that blast commercials at me any time my mouse happens to roll over the wrong point on your site, I’m not going to spend much, if any, time at your site.

The annoying ads are coming back to bite the online publishers, however. They led to what should have been seen as the inevitable development of “ad blocker” programs. I don’t use such a program, but my understanding is that they not only block the annoying ads, but even the unobtrusive ads. That’s a problem for anyone trying to make a living from publishing news online.

Some of the “big boys” in the business (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.) have fought back and will not allow users of ad blocking applications to access their sites. They can afford to do that. Most others are going to have to find another way to continue making some amount of money from their online content.

By now, if you’re still reading this, you are probably wondering why this is so interesting to me that I’m writing about it. The answer is pretty simple. Have I mentioned that I’ve lost two jobs now in the past few months?

I’m much more fortunate than most of my fellow suddenly unemployed writers. I’ve got a pension and retirement account sufficient to assure I’ll have a roof and food and I’ve reached the age where I can tap those accounts without tax penalties.

I’ll survive. But I’d like to do more than just survive. I’d like to continue generating a little income from any time I spend somewhere other than on the golf course (I’m sure as heck not going to make any money ON the golf course, with my game).

When you “retire,” as I have, you get one consistent piece of advice: “Now you can look for ways to earn some money doing the things you enjoy doing.” What’s often, but not always, left unspoken is the last phrase of that sentence, which would go something like, “… instead of spending 50-60 hours a week enduring the soul-poisoning BS you’ve been putting up with at your job all those years.”

There’s certainly some truth to that sentiment in my case. I haven’t missed my old day job for one second since the day I walked out of the office. Missed some of the people, but not the job itself for a single moment.

But I’m still dealing somewhat with the, “what do I do now?” thing.

I’ve got one particular project lined up that I’m really looking forward to. For now, anyway, that would fall into the “volunteer work” category more so than “gainful employment.” If it goes well, that could eventually change, however, and it will definitely be something I’ll enjoy doing.

But I really do enjoy writing and it would be nice to at least make enough money from it to support my developing craft beer consumption habit and, just maybe, a bit more than that, so that my retirement income sources stretch a bit longer. Is that too much to ask?

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be. But my interest, in this case, happens to coincide with an environment in which people who are much more experienced and talented at the work are losing their jobs every day because the people who pay them can’t figure out how to get consumers to pay them enough to support the costs of providing content. And that sucks.

For now, I’m going to continue writing, even if my material only appears here at Knuckleballs and, possibly, also over at Twins Daily, at least occasionally.

We at Knuckleballs have never received a cent of revenue from the site. We don’t include advertising of any kind and we have rejected all offers of sponsored content. Our content has remained the very essence of free content. That may continue or it may not.

I believe that it is (or should be) reasonable for us, as consumers, to expect to pay something for the information, opinions and other content we want to enjoy. People who go to the effort to provide that content, even an old part-timer like me, should rightfully expect to receive some form of remuneration for the work put in if the content we provide is deemed worthy of being read.

Unfortunately, smarter people than I have failed, thus far, to come up with a reliable system that accomplishes that.

A small operation like Knuckleballs, in the hands of someone who has some financial flexibility, might be able to experiment a bit with new options.

Ironically, that would require a lot more research and work on my part, for which I would continue to be uncompensated.

It’s a vicious circle, I tell you. Maybe I need to go to my favorite neighborhood bar while I contemplate things. Anyone want to buy me a beer?

-Steve

Knuckleballs Fantasy Baseball League

24250_383241156685_4432115_nOk, folks, it’s that time of year again! Knuckleballs (more precisely, me) runs an EZ League each year. We have 4 open slots for teams to join up.

It’s a FREE Yahoo head-to-head league with an autodraft so you don’t HAVE to know anything in advance but you still have the option to preset your draft rankings according to your own wishes too. That means if you have a friend or loved one that doesn’t know as much about baseball as you do but you’d like to see if you can’t get them to join you in something related, this could be your chance!

I’ll be setting the league to draft at 9 am CT on Monday, March 28.

Use the “contact us” link above to let me know if you want to join in but it’s first come, first served so act quickly!

Sunday Morning Comic Relief

Yeah, this could very well be why I’m primarily a baseball fan…

Minnesota Vikings fans express their displeasure with a proposed domed stadium during a snowy NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. on Dec. 3, 1978. (Pioneer Press: Mark Morson)
Minnesota Vikings fans express their displeasure with a proposed domed stadium during a snowy NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. on Dec. 3, 1978. (Pioneer Press: Mark Morson)

yeah, it’s currently -14 degrees as I sit in my cozy warm house making cinnamon rolls.. -25 degree windchill. Of course, it’s supposed to warm up.. to +2, maybe, with -15 degree windchill.

Dear LORD why wouldn’t you just watch that on TV?!? but you know there will be devoted fans out there dressed warmly or stupidly, depending on their level of consumption, and hoping that the Vikings can do something against the Seahawks.. of course, this is NOT the Bud Grant Vikings of old.. I don’t think they have the same home field advantage in this cold because our boys don’t really play in this that often either. Entertainingly, they are using the U’s HOCKEY ARENA as a “warming house” for fans for today’s game.. seriously.. the place they keep ICE COLD. *shakes head*

But yes, I’ll be watching just like the rest of Minnesota because when you’re a Minnesota sports fan, you’re a glutton for punishment.. how else could I still be a Twins fan?! 😉 – BS

PS – there’s a fun write-up in the Pioneer Press about cold games – this one is likely to be in the top 10 coldest we have played here.. go figure.

PPS – Vikings Journal just posted this on facebook.. LOL

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Via KARE 11: It is so cold right now at TCF Bank Stadium that the Gjallarhorn has shattered.

PPPS – This is how Jim Crikket is preparing for today’s Vikings game – fireplace, recliner, Vikings blanket.  SKOL!

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Seeing Into the Future (and not liking it much)

Make a list of the top three things you think are wrong with professional baseball today. In fact, make it five things, if you wish.

A year from now, the landscape regarding those issues is likely to be quite different than it is today. Things may be better, from your point of view, or they may be worse.

I take that back. Unless you’re a Major League ballplayer, they’re almost certainly going to be worse.

Major League Baseball and the players’ union (MLBPA) are about to begin hammering out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the result is likely to have a direct or indirect effect on just about every aspect of professional baseball that any of us care about in the least.

Yes, this is going to be that big.

mlb and union600The thing is, we already know which side is going to win. It will be the players. We just don’t know the final score, yet.

There will also be more than one loser. It won’t be just the owners, though they will certainly be losers, some of them much more than others (that would be you, Minnesota Twins).

Owners/operators of some minor league teams are also possible losers (some of them potentially big losers).

Minor league players will be losers (as they always are in these CBAs).

Amateur ballplayers, in the United States and elsewhere, will be losers.

On the other hand, I’ve looked into my crystal ball and the future looks very, very bright – if you’re Mike Trout. In fact, the future also looks pretty good if you’re swimming anywhere in the top half of the MLB player talent pool.

For the rest of us, though, it could be a very bumpy ride.

In the early 2000s, estimates placed the percentage of MLB revenues paid out in Major League salaries at about 55%. Current estimates have been reported at something close to 43%. The players are clearly going to want to see those numbers project closer to 50% in the new CBA and they have enough leverage this time to get what they want.

You always want to be cautious about speaking ill of the dead, but the former head of the players union, Michael Weiner, who passed away in 2013, arguably gave away the farm to Bud Selig and the owners in his first, and only, CBA negotiation back in 2011.

In his defense, he wasn’t exactly dealt a strong hand going into those negotiations. Players’ reputations were continuing to be tarnished by the image among fans that they had all built their careers on Performance Enhancing Drugs, making it certain that any work stoppage resulting from a failed CBA negotiation would be blamed on the players. Regardless of the reasons, though, the final result was a contract in which the owners got most everything they wanted.

Current MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, the first former player to lead the union, should carry a much stronger bargaining position into this round of negotiations.

As a group, baseball’s owners are making money by the boatload, thanks to incredible increases in local television revenues in many markets. That’s a double-edged sword, however, when it comes to negotiating a new CBA.

It makes it impossible for baseball to contend that they can’t afford to give a bigger share of the financial pie to the players, yet those revenues are anything but evenly distributed. As a result, increasing salaries across the board would adversely affect the competitiveness of teams who have not been able to cash in on the local TV bonanza (see: Twins, Minnesota).

On top of that, the owners with those huge TV deals stand to lose a lot of money in the event of a strike or lockout that results in games not being played, as do owners who rely on revenue sharing from those teams. Wide public awareness of the enormous revenues also makes it likely that ownership will be viewed by fans as being primarily at fault for any such work stoppage, should it occur.

The result is a players’ union with a very strong negotiating position and plenty of motivation to take advantage of it.

Here’s how the union could attempt to go about increasing the share of revenues that go to players’ salaries:

Significantly increase the minimum salary for Major League players

The minimum player’s salary was $507,500 in 2015. That may not immediately increase to $1 million in 2017, but it won’t be surprising if it’s closer to that number than where it currently sits.

This is important to the union because significantly increasing the minimum would potentially result in fewer players signing early team-friendly extensions that buy out arbitration years and, in some cases, free agency years. These extensions are viewed by the union as a drag on average player salaries.

Elimination of the Qualifying Offer/draft pick compensation system for teams that stand to lose free agents

Despite changes that have been made to lessen the market-dampening effect for many free agents, the players still hate this system. It’s seen as being particularly hard on the union’s “upper-middle class” of players – those who aren’t in the elite category, but for whom having to settle for merely $15 million or so on a one year contract is “unfair.”

Significantly reducing the number of years a player is “under team control”

This refers to the total number of years that a club can restrict a player’s ability to shop his services to the highest bidder on the free agent market. It consists of a three-year (usually) period of essential “serfdom,” during which the player has no alternative but to accept whatever salary (subject to the Major League minimum) the team offers and another three-year period of years during which the team must decide whether to offer the player binding arbitration or grant him unconditional release.

The result is a total of six years (in most cases) of team control before a player can become a free agent, meaning that currently a player who makes his MLB debut on or after turning 24 years old will be at least 30 by the time he’s eligible to file for free agency if his team exercises every year of control they have over the player.

In combination with the increased minimum salary, reducing the number of years of team control could make it far more likely that players would forego the additional security of an early team-friendly contract extension, in favor of playing out their arbitration years to reach free agency as soon as possible. It could also make it much more likely that young superstars hit free agency right at their peak, in terms of productivity, rather than somewhere at the beginning of the downside of that curve.

More time off for players

The MLB schedule is a gauntlet. Between the day games after night games and, perhaps worse, the night games followed by cross-country overnight travel to begin another series the next day, the 162-game schedule is more than merely grueling and players want more than the three or so days off each month they currently get. The problem is that, with the extra postseason games resulting from the Wild Card era, the season already is starting and finishing during time periods where no sane person should be trying to play meaningful baseball in many northern big league cities.

One idea often floated to address this problem is to cut the schedule back to the 154 game levels that existed before the leagues expanded from eight to ten teams in the early 1960s. This would result in each team losing four home dates, however, and that would cut into revenues, not only with regard to attendance, but also in programming for those local TV partners that are shelling out big bucks to show the games.

Another possibility would be to expand active rosters. If you have 27 players, for example, instead of 25, it would be easier to give everyone an extra day off occasionally. It probably sounds better in theory than it would work in practice, however. Still, it would increase union membership by 8%, so don’t be shocked if the union pushes the idea pretty hard. In a worst case scenario, it gives them something they can “give up” when it comes time to finding a way to allow the owners to save some face.

Each of these would have the net effect of increasing the share of MLB revenues that go into the pockets of the players, collectively. Since the owners really cannot afford a work stoppage, if the MLBPA is willing to play hardball, we shouldn’t bet money against the players’ chances of getting some version of these changes. All of them.

What the owners will get

Of course, the owners won’t just cave on those issues while getting nothing in return – and that’s where things can turn bad for the rest of us.

The owners might get more drug testing. After all, the union has gone down this path already, so what’s the big deal about going a bit further? On the other hand, this “give” doesn’t put even a dime in the pockets of the owners, so they aren’t likely to push too hard for it.

The owners want an international draft, to further dampen costs of acquiring new talent. Since giving in on this issue costs the union membership absolutely nothing, they may posture about how unfair it is, but they will capitulate to the owners.

If the owners want further restrictions on bonuses paid to players subject to the draft, both foreign and domestic, the union can give on that issue, too. Again, it doesn’t cost their membership anything, so why not?

Of course, at a time when fewer parents are allowing their sons to play football, giving MLB an ideal opportunity to come up with ways to attract kids back to baseball, this is exactly the time when MLB should be adopting a system that encourages the best athletes in this country and around the world to choose baseball as a potential career over other sports, not discourage it.

But that might cost money and owners, by the time this subject gets addressed at the negotiating table, are probably going to be ticked off about the extra money they’re having to shell out to players already in the big leagues, so we shouldn’t expect logic to win the day.

Indirect side effects on the rest of us

Unfortunately, none of the ownership “wins” are going to even come close to making up for the money the owners are going to lose to their players in this deal, so they’re going to end up looking elsewhere to recoup some of those bucks.

This is where minor league players, teams and fans should start feeling nervous.

Minor league players, you can forget about seeing your pay go up to anything close to a living wage. Consider yourselves lucky if they don’t lower your base pay. After all, neither the union nor the owners are looking out for your interests in this negotiation.

You might find yourself with less competition for that low paying minor league roster spot you’ve got, though.

The number of minor league teams with MLB affiliations hasn’t changed significantly in decades. The current working agreement between MLB and MiLB assures owners of current affiliated minor league teams of having a MLB affiliation every year, but that agreement expires after 2020. Renegotiation of that agreement is just one of many things that is waiting for the completion of the new CBA.

If owners decide they have been terribly abused under the new CBA, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see them propose elimination of some affiliated minor leagues.

That would mean fewer communities with affiliated minor league teams, fewer jobs for minor league staff, fewer spots for minor league players and fewer games for minor league fans to attend.

Is this a Doomsday scenario that can’t possibly happen? Maybe. But neither MLB nor the players’ union has ever been shy about screwing over minor leaguers in CBA negotiations. After all, minor league teams and players are not represented in those negotiating sessions, making it easy for both sides to sacrifice minor league interests if it means getting something of even moderate value in return. It’s not unlikely that minor league baseball could look a little bit different in 2021 than it does today if Major League owners determine it’s in their best financial interests to impose significant changes.

A year from now, we’ll likely know a lot more about the changes coming for professional baseball going forward. Unless you happen to be a big league ballplayer today, you have a right to feel very uneasy about those changes.

-JC

Wednesday and Thursday in Scottsdale

A not-so-funny thing happened Tuesday night.
CrackedSurface Yeah. It’s bad enough that the screen to my Surface smashed when it fell off the worktable in my hotel room, but I haven’t been able to get the cursor to remain steady enough to do anything with it, either.

Now, this was a 3-year old Surfac, one of the original models, so it was due to be updated soon, but honestly, it did pretty much everything I needed this kind of device to do, so I wasn’t planning on spending the money on a replacement quite yet. Plans change, though, I guess. So, now I have a new Surface.

I’m writing this at a place called Duke’s Sports Bar and Grill in Scottsdale on Thursday night. My flight home leaves at 6:45 in the morning, so this may be quick.

As I posted Tuesday night, I don’t have a cable with me to upload pictures from my camera, so I’ll try to post a bunch of those pictures Friday after I get home.

Wednesday, I made about a 45 minute drive to the other side of Phoenix to the Peoria Sports Complex (spring training home to the Padres) to watch Scottsdale play there. Adam Brett Walker II was in left field for the Scorpions and Mitch Garver DH’d. Scottsdale jumped out early and never looked back, winning 8-2.

Garver had another nice day. He was 1 for 2, with an RBI double, and worked three walks. He now is sporting a .423 batting average and a 1.224 OPS in seven AFL games.

Adam Brett Walker II hit what I’m pretty sure was the longest home run I’ve seen this season. He launched a solo shot over the left field fence, over the bullpen behind the left field fence and over a couple more fences that were well beyond the bullpen. For good measure he added a triple to the opposite field later in the game. Walker is hitting .283 with a .998 OPS in 12 games.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t shooting video when Walker launched his blast. I’m pretty sure I got a picture of his HR swing with my camera, but you’ll have to wait for the next post to see that.

Adam Brett Walker II before Wednesday's game
Adam Brett Walker II before Wednesday’s game

On Thursday, the same two teams played again, this time at Scottsdale Stadium. The results were similar, with Scottsdale winning 5-2.

The only member of the Minnesota Twins contingent in the starting lineup was catcher Stuart Turner. He contributed an RBI single in two at-bats and added a pair of walks. He also scored a run. Turner is hitting .231 in six games for the Scorpions.

Here’s a video of his RBI single.

I also got a look at relief pitcher Nick Burdi, who pitched the 7th inning for Scottsdale. He needed only 12 pitches (9 of which were strikes) to strike out all three batters he faced.

I had Burdi with six fastballs among his pitches. According to the radar gun I was sitting behind, he notched one at 97 mph, four at 98 and one at 99 (the strikeout pitch to the second batter he faced).

Here’s some video I shot of Burdi’s inning (does not include every pitch, unfortunately).

I wasn’t expecting any of the rest of the Twins’ farmhands to appear, but Jake Reed came out of the bullpen to work the ninth inning (he had also thrown Tuesday, though he only threw six pitches that afternoon).

Like Burdi, Reed had a perfect 1-2-3 inning. It took him seven pitches to get his first out (a strikeout) Thursday, but only four more pitches to finish his work – a one-pitch line out to left field and three straight strikes to record his second K of the inning. The gun I saw had him with one 93 mph fastball, one at 94 and three at 95.

Again, you can see the results for yourself.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures with my phone, so most of the pictures will be in Friday’s post, but here’s a couple I snapped with the phone.

Peoria Sports Complex
Peoria Sports Complex
Mitch Garver doing the autograph thing before Thursday;s game.
Mitch Garver doing the autograph thing before Thursday;s game.
Jake Reed signing for fans before Thursday's game.
Jake Reed signing for fans before Thursday’s game.

That’s it for me from Arizona. I should be back in Cedar Rapids by noon. I’ll try to get the photos uploaded and posted sometime in the afternoon.

-JC

Halloween Frights and Flights

The New York Mets and Minnesota Gophers had frightening nights on Saturday. The only thing more frustrating than being a Mets or Gophers fan on Sunday morning would have to be if you have some sort of allegiance toward Duke University because what happened to the Blue Devils on Halloween is several levels of hell worse than “frightening.”

Sport-Jack-O-LanternsAfter scoring a touchdown to pull ahead of the Miami Hurricanes with just seconds left in the game, Duke kicked off and eight laterals later, Miami crossed the goal line to snatch the win from the Blue Devils. Sure, you could say one of the Miami players’ knee was on the ground when he contributed his lateral and, yes, there appeared to be at least one block in the back, but, hey, it’s Duke and we all hate Duke, so who cares? Right? (Not that many of us love Miami, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

(Late edit: The ACC announced Sunday morning that the entire officiating crew, including the replay official, that worked the Duke-Miami game has been suspended for two games.)

So let’s move on to Saturday Shenanigans that at least some of us care about.

The Mets stare into the abyss

Daniel Murphy’s life has been interesting the past two weeks, hasn’t it?

You remember Murphy. He’s the guy that set a new Major League record for consecutive playoff games with a home run, jacking dingers in six straight postseason games while almost single-handedly providing the necessary offensive punch to propel the New York Mets in to the World Series.

Murphy has not had a good Fall Classic, however. Not only has he thudded back to earth with his bat against Kansas City pitching, but on Saturday he chose the worst time possible to perform his Bill Buckner imitation and allow a slow ground ball to get beneath his glove. The Royals tied the game on Murphy’s error and went on to score two more runs in the same inning, ultimately beating the Mets 5-3 and taking a 3-1 lead in the Series.

Aside from Murphy’s “oops” and a few other defensive faux pas by his teammates, the most intriguing thing about Saturday’s game was New York manager Terry Collins’ bullpen management. (Or is that mismanagement?)

Collins inexplicably chose to use his closer, Jeurys Familia, in Friday night’s blowout win over the Royals in Game 3.

The few pitches he threw in the game Friday certainly weren’t enough to keep him from being effective 24 hours later and you can’t blame Familia for Murphy’s booted grounder. After all, the reliever got the ground ball you would have wanted him to get if you are a Mets fan.

But I had two thoughts about this situation that still make me wonder whether using Familia on Friday may end up costing the Mets the Series and perhaps may have cost them Game 4.

The first thought is relatively obvious. If Collins ends up needing Familia again on Sunday night, he’ll be making not his second, but his third straight appearance. Yes, his number of pitches on Friday were minimal, but you have to take into account the pitches thrown to warm up in addition to those that actually count.

If Familia is called on to close out Game 5 and blows another save, Collins is going to get a lot of heat for how he handled his top bullpen asset, and it will be warranted.

Even if you feel Familia was not too tired to pitch effectively Saturday after throwing on Friday or even that he actually threw perfectly fine (and those are both perfectly valid views, I believe), that’s not really the point.

You see, the Royals had a couple runners on base already when Familia entered the game in the eighth inning because Collins elected to have Tyler Clippard start that inning on the mound for the Mets.

If Familia had not pitched on Friday, would Collins have called on his closer to begin the eighth inning, instead of Clippard? If so, would the Royals have had the same scoring opportunity?

We’ll never know, of course. But the question of whether Collins chose Clippard, rather than Familia, to begin the eighth is a perfectly fair question to pose.

If that was a factor, then the decision on Friday has quite possibly already cost the Mets one game. And if the fact that Familia would be working three consecutive nights affects how Collins uses his closer on Sunday, as well, that would just add to the magnitude of the blunder.

The Gophers’ brainfart

I didn’t see a lot of the Minnesota-Michigan football game Saturday night because I was primarily focused on the World Series game, but from the bits and pieces I saw, it looked to me like Minnesota outplayed the Wolverines most of the game and deserved a win.

And then the final 19 seconds of the game happened.

After replay determined that the pass originally ruled to be what would have been the winning touchdown for the Gophers had actually ended a half-yard short of the goal line, Minnesota had 19 seconds and one time-out to manage to get that final 18 inches of fake turf.

The clock started as soon as the ball was deemed by the officials to be ready for play.

After reading postgame quotes and seeing video of interim coach Claeys’ meeting with the media, it’s still unclear to me whether nobody on the field or on the sideline for Minnesota knew that clock was ticking or whether they knew and didn’t care. Regardless, at least half of their remaining time expired before the Gophers got off one snap.

As a result, Minnesota ran one play before facing the decision of whether to kick a game-tying field goal with just two seconds on the clock, to send the game in to overtime, or run one final play and go for the win.

Claeys elected the latter and, while I don’t personally fault that particular decision, I’m sure plenty of others do.

In any event, whether you believe the final 19 seconds reflected panic, miscommunication or simple ineptitude, the results didn’t do anything to help Claeys’ case for removing the “interim” label on his coaching position with the Gophers. There’s absolutely no reason Minnesota shouldn’t have had time to run at least three plays, and possibly four, in those final 19 seconds. That wouldn’t have made victory certain, but I think four plays would give you approximately twice as good a chance of scoring as two plays did.

The Perfect Iowa Hawkeyes

Perfect! As in, 8-0 record.

A lot has been made about Iowa’s “soft” schedule and I’m not going to argue that the Hawkeyes have been beating top-tier teams this season. There are reasons I did not renew my Iowa season tickets this year and one of those reasons was that I didn’t feel the home schedule was worth the time or money necessary to go to seven games at Kinnick Stadium.

The non-conference schedule that Iowa typically puts together leaves something to be desired, as a fan. They play Iowa State every year. They schedule one other major conference opponent. The other two non-conference games are almost always cupcakes. This year, that included Texas State and Illinois State, a couple of squads typical of teams the Hawkeyes usually bring in to take a beating for a payday.

If it turns out that Iowa runs the table, finds a way to upset the B1G’s East Division champion in the conference championship game, and still ends up on the outside of the NCAA playoff bracket, so be it. The football program can do nothing other than learn the same lesson their men’s hoops program learned a couple years ago: schedule stronger opponents or expect to be left out of the dance.

That said…

The first College Football Playoff rankings are due to be released this Tuesday and if what we’re told is true – that these weekly rankings are based on what teams have accomplished against the strength of the schedule they’ve played to this point, not the strength of the teams that remain on their schedule – then Iowa should be ranked ahead of defending national champion Ohio State.

This season, Iowa defeated Pitt at home and both Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road, en route to their 8-0 record.

Here are the teams that Ohio State has vanquished so far:

@ Virginia Tech (4-5, 6th of 7 teams in ACC, Coastal Division)

Hawaii (2-7, 6th of 6 teams in Mountain West, West Division)

Northern Illinois (5-3, 4th of 6 teams in MAC, West Division)

Western Michigan (5-3, 2nd of 6 teams in MAC, West Division)

@ Indiana (4-4, 0-4 in B1G games)

Maryland (2-6, 0-4 in B1G games)

Penn State (7-2, 4-1 in B1G games)

@ Rutgers (3-5, 1-4 in B1G games)

Both Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) and Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) are arguably as strong as Penn State, the one respectable conference win so far for the Buckeyes and Pitt has proven stronger than any non-conference foe on Ohio State’s schedule.

Indeed, all of that is about to change. OSU should have no problem with Minnesota and Illinois the next two weeks, but finishes up with Michigan State and Michigan. But at the time the College Football Playoff committee announces their first rankings this Tuesday, Iowa will have the better resume of the two.

In fact, if you look at Michigan State’s schedule, you’ll find a similar story. Their big win, so far, was over an Oregon team that is no longer ranked among the top 25 teams in college football.

The story could be very different by December, but it will be interesting to see what the playoff committee’s view will be on Tuesday. Nobody in the Big Ten should be in the top 4 teams of the country at this point.

-JC

Canadian (will be) Mist

You may or may not have noticed this, but Minnesota Twins fans tend to complain a bit.

We complain about home grown players who have MVP and batting titles to their credit.

We complain about managers and coaches who don’t guide the team the way we think they should.

We complain about General Managers because we don’t like the deals they make and, even more, don’t like that they don’t make the deals we think they should.

And we complain about owners. We complained about Calvin Griffith and Carl Pohlad. We still complain about Jim Pohlad.

But if the information being reported out of Toronto is accurate, it’s quite possible we should embrace Mr. Pohlad and thank the baseball gods that our Twins are not in the hands of Rogers Communication, owners of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Blue JaysOn Thursday, Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was announced that his fellow baseball executives had voted him the winner of Sporting News’ Baseball Executive of the Year Award for the work he did before and during the season to assemble the best team Toronto has seen in over 20 years. It was well-deserved.

The timing of the announcement was more than a little ironic, however, given that it came shortly after Anthopoulos announced he would not be continuing to serve as the Toronto GM.

Anthopoulos has not been perfect. He’s made good deals and bad deals, just like every Major League GM. But he’s certainly been on a roll over the past year.

He added Marco Estrada, Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson last offseason. He traded for Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere and David Price before the trade deadline this season.

Did he pay too much, in money, years and/or talent, for some of those guys? It’s certainly possible that, over time, we will concluded that he did. We just don’t know, yet.

What we do know is that the Toronto Blue Jays roster he put together was 40-18 after the calendar tuned to August and came within a whisker of being the American League representative in the World Series.

The owners hired Mark Shapiro to be their new team president and, it appears, Shapiro isn’t a fan of some of the deals that the GM he inherited made and envisions his role as more than just running the business side of the team the way he had been doing with Cleveland since their ownership bounced him upstairs and took away most, if not all, of his authority to make player personnel decisions for the Indians.

Now, say what you will about Anthropolous’ wins and losses at the bargaining table, but I’m pretty sure any objective observer would tell you his record stacks up pretty favorably against his new boss’ record.

So the Jays made Anthopoulos an insulting low-ball extension offer they knew he wouldn’t accept. Then, after they torched the relationship and he told them to take a hike, they came back with a five-year offer – again knowing very well there was no way Anthropoulos would forgive and forget and accept that offer.

To top it all off, when everyone in the game is trashing them publicly (everyone EXCEPT Anthropoulos, who has remained above that kind of behavior), the Jays go to the media to make sure everyone knows their GM turned down a five year extension (without mentioning any of the other pertinent details, of course).

I don’t agree with everything the Twins ownership and front office does but, yeah, right now I certainly would not trade my team’s group with those still in Toronto.

-JC

 

Rebooting

Welcome back, Knuckleballs readers. Long time-no see.

My contributions here have been sparse, at best, lately. I’m hoping that’s about to change.

I took a little time off, for a couple of reasons. I think they were good reasons, but then I’m biased, obviously.

After completing my third season of covering the Cedar Rapids Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com and contributing articles to TwinsDaily.com, I simply needed time away from writing on a regular basis.

Oh, I also lost my “day job,” so that’s taken a bit of getting used to, too.

RebootI got a decent “separation pay” deal from my employer and by officially “retiring,” I’m also able to keep most of the most important benefits (health insurance, etc.), so there are certainly worse ways to lose your job.

I’m not looking for sympathy here. I was ready to move on and, as it turns out, my employer was ready enough to have me move on that they’re willing to pay me for quite some time NOT to work for them. Not a bad situation, at all.

Still, it leaves me in a position to essentially reboot my life, or at least significant aspects of my future. I make a lot of “old man” jokes at my own expense, but I’m really not all that old. I haven’t reached the big six-oh yet, though I’m certainly closing in on it. The point is, I feel like it’s far too early for me to simply do nothing with my day.

The nice thing is that my financial situation allows me to take some time to examine my options and find something that I feel I’ll really enjoy doing with my time going forward. That will be a nice change.

In the meantime, I think I’m ready to get back at the keyboard on a more regular basis. For now, that means, hopefully, posting more frequently here. I realize that, when you take the kind of hiatus I’ve taken, it will be difficult (and, possibly, impossible) to get readership levels back to what they used to be.

That’s OK (for now, anyway).

I couldn’t decide on one topic to write about today, so I’m going to just touch on a number of issues.

World Series Game 1

Wow. How are they going to top that?

Game 1 had all the usual stuff (good pitching, good defense, good hitting) and then some:

  • Human interest (Volquez pitching after his father passed away earlier in the day)
  • Network difficulties (What the hell, FOX?)
  • A totally unexpected defensive lapse that threatened to cost the Royals the game.
  • A deep home run in the 9th inning off a shut-down closer to tie the game.
  • Five extra innings, before the guy who made the aforementioned error drove in the walk-off run with a sacrifice fly.

On Twitter, I went on record as picking the Royals to win the Series in seven games.

That’s probably less of a prediction than it is a hope. I’m an American League guy so, as long as it’s not the Yankees in the Series, I’m almost always going to be pulling for the AL representative. Mostly, though, I just want to see a great Series and that would include a deciding seventh game.

Torii Hunter’s Retirement

Hunter made the right call. There’s no way to look at his work on the field this season and objectively say that it looks like he still has enough in the tank to be a regular contributor on a team that expects to be a contender and, let’s face it, Torii Hunter is not cut out to play a reserve role. It’s not in his personality.

I give credit where I believe it’s due, however. His presence on the team was a net-positive for the Twins and, without him, I do not believe they have as much success in 2015 as they did.

It sounds like he’ll get an opportunity to join the Twins’ front office in some capacity. I have mixed feelings about that and I suppose where I come down on the subject will depend on what role he’s given.

On the one hand, clearly Major League Baseball needs more African-Americans in front office positions and Torii Hunter has the background and personality that one would think might make him successful in some kind of front office role.

On the other hand, given some of Hunter’s stated views on certain social issues, I would have a difficult time trusting him to make any sort of personnel decisions that call for inclusion of staff from diverse backgrounds and beliefs.

In the end, nobody really should care all that much what a professional baseball player believes, with regard to racial, religious or any other social issue. I know I don’t. But if/when that player is being considered for a position in a professional business organization (which is what the front office is), now we can and should care about those views because they can impact who that team hires and how employees are treated in the workplace.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. In the meantime, I would congratulate Hunter on a terrific Major League career and thank him for what he contributed to my enjoyment of Minnesota Twins baseball during his years in a Twins uniform.

Big Ten Football

Yeah, I know this has been primarily a baseball blog since we opened the doors here going on six years ago. It will probably stay that way, for the most part, but I do have interests outside of baseball, so sometimes I’m going to write about those things. This is one of those times.

I gave up my Iowa Hawkeyes football season tickets this season for a number of reasons. I’m not sorry I did so. Surprisingly, even though I now have a lot more free time on my hands, it would have been very difficult for me to make it to many games at Kinnick Stadium this year and the home schedule, frankly, was not something to get too excited about.

I'll be there Nov 14 when Floyd comes home.
I’ll be there Nov 14 when Floyd comes home.

Fortunately, the Hawkeyes have rewarded my lack of financial support by going 7-0 so far this season and, thanks to a pretty weak B1G West, they have a reasonable shot at being undefeated in the regular season and heading to Indianapolis for the conference Championship Game.

I have probably jinxed the Hawkeyes, however. I bought Championship Game tickets on Stubhub last week.

I also have tickets for the November 14 game against Minnesota.

That should be an interesting day, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a night game at Kinnick and that’s always a good time. The Hawkeyes and Gophers usually battle one another pretty hard, so it shapes up as being perhaps one of the few really good games left on the home schedule.

Iowa will also finally join the “alternate uniform” trend that night with all-black uniforms on tap for the game with the Gophers.

As a warm-up for the game, Hawkeye wrestling has a meet with Oklahoma State scheduled for 11 am that Saturday – in Kinnick Stadium. Yes, an outdoor college wrestling meet in Iowa in November. What could possibly go wrong?

The plan is to break the college wrestling meet attendance record set at Penn State last season. Based on initial demand for tickets, the old record won’t just be broken, it will be obliterated.

So on the 14th, I’ll need to get to Kinnick for wrestling by 11, then tailgate a few hours before the Hawks and Gophers tee it up at 7 pm. It’s quite possible that I’m too old for that, but we’ll see how it goes.

On a much less pleasant note, I think everyone who’s a fan of college football was sad to see Minnesota coach Jerry Kill step down from his job with the Gophers for health reasons. It’s impossible to watch the video of his press conference and not feel heartbroken for the man, his family and, by extension, the U of M Community.

Despite seeming to take a bit of step backwards this season, Kill appeared to have the Gopher football program moving in a positive direction, but regardless of what you feel about the program, he has always come across to me as a genuinely good man with his heart in the right place.

I’m confident he will successfully transition in to other roles that he will find fulfilling, eventually. I wish him all the best.

That’s it for today.

I’ll do my best to be back with more regular postings and you can look forward to on-site reports (and photos) next week from the Arizona Fall League in Phoenix. I’m looking forward to spending a few days down there because there are several Twins prospects (most of them also former Kernels) playing and – well – it’s Arizona in November.

JC

Sunday Morning Comic Relief

I really couldn’t be happier by what the Twins were actually able to pull together this year – it was an amazing season accomplished by a bunch of mostly young guys that makes you really look forward to next spring..

But I can’t deny that there is a part of me very sad that this is the last day of our season.. (which wouldn’t be true if it had sucked ..)

charliebrown1