Can Rules Fix the Shift in Baseball

The Shift

Baseball season is upon us and that’s good news for everyone but fans of The Shift. You see, baseball has new rules in place to prevent teams from using The Shift. Ah, the good old tried and true method of fixing of a problem by creating a complicated and almost unenforceable rule. Of course, by tried and true I mean tried and failed.

Will the new rules fix the problem or will they just create a myriad of other problems without really addressing the underlying issue? Is this, in fact, a microcosm of the overly ruled and regulated society in which we find ourselves?

What is the Shift?

In 2003 the Oakland A’s achieved success with an analytic based player analysis system. Since then, most of the other teams in the league followed along. This system heavily values power hitting, that is to say home runs and doubles. This resulted in several changes to the way baseball is generally played.

One change resulting from this is how hitters now swing. In order to get greater power numbers, players began to swing harder. This led to a great deal of what is called pull-hitting. A right-handed batter will almost exclusively hit the ball to the left and vice-versa for a left-handed player.

Teams began to clue in on this and instead of arraying their infielders in a traditional pattern, fairly evenly dispersed over the field, they began to align them heavily toward the expected position of the batted ball.

The Shift Rule

The executives in charge of Major League Baseball view the shift as too effective. The players who swing hard and get doubles and home runs were now grounding out far too often. Well, at least far too often for the league’s preference.

In order to rectify this problem, they created a new rule. Now teams are not allowed to have more than two infielders on either side of second base. The rule is a little more complex than that, but that is the gist of it.

The Response

Naturally, teams try to get around the intent of the rule. They place outfielders close in to the infield. The players crowd near to second base without quite going over the invisible line, adding to the burden of umpires who have plenty to do as it is.

I’m sure other ways to defeat the intent of the rule will be found as the season progresses. I’m sure MLB will institute tweaks to the rule in future season.

Why the Shift Rule is Stupid

The shift rule is dumb. If a team wants to play seven players on the infield near where the batter is likely to hit the ball, good for them. I doubt there are many cricket fans in my audience but those who follow the sport know that’s exactly how it works in that sport. The defensive team can position their players largely where they’re likely to succeed.

If a team thinks their hitters are grounding out too often, there’s a simple solution. Stop trying to hit a home run every time you’re at bat. Draft some players who spray the ball around the field.

The cat and mouse game that is professional sports largely polices itself. When a team has success doing something a particular way, other team follow. Then along comes a new way that defeats the old and round and round we go.


I’m not against rule changes categorically but I don’t think such changes should be based on a heavy-handed attempt to modify the strategy of the game.

Let game strategy police itself. You want to stop the shift, get players who pull the ball to the opposite field.

Tom Liberman

Joe West does Tony LaRussa a Solid

Joe West

The Situation

Umpire Joe West, owner of the Major League record for most games umpired, decided to confiscate St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos’s hat. There is a rule against pitchers using foreign substances and West wants to pretend he simply enforced that rule.

Major League announced at the beginning of the season they planned to crack down on such foreign substances. As of yet, despite record no-hitters, out of control spin rates, and many, many sightings of such material on gloves, hats, forearms, and everywhere else, this is first time we’ve seen a player’s equipment confiscated.

What Really Happened

Joe West and Tony LaRussa go way back. They are long-time associates and LaRussa’s team, the White Sox, were on the verge of sweeping the Cardinals whom LaRussa managed for many years. In the first two games of the series the White Sox pretty much led the entire game. In this third game the Cardinals were a run ahead when Joe West suddenly had his moral epiphany.

Joe West hoped to do his friend a solid by rattling Gallegos before he started pitching. It’s that simple. I’m certainly not suggesting Gallegos didn’t have a foreign substance on his hat. I’m saying every pitcher in the series did exactly the same thing and Joe West chose the most opportune moment to intervene on behalf of his friend.

Joe West now takes the morally repugnant stance that he attempted to do Gallegos a favor by not immediately ejecting the pitcher from the game. Ha. If Joe West had an ounce of moral integrity, a teaspoon of personal responsibility, he’d get up on the podium, announce he made a terrible error in judgment, retire from the game, and not speak again until he publishes his memoirs, which will remain silent on this particular subject.


I want to be clear that I’m of the opinion Gallegos likely had a foreign substance on his hat, probably suntan lotion, rosin, and who knows what else. I’m just saying that he isn’t doing anything different than almost every other pitcher in major league baseball. Joe West along with all the other umpires well know it.

It’s the timing of this incident that galls me. It’s clear to me it was an attempt to influence the game by the umpire and that’s a serious problem.

Tom Liberman

The Difficulty of Opioid Testing in Professional Sports

Opioid Testing

The recent death of Los Angeles Angles pitcher Tyler Skaggs from an overdose has led many people to call for Opioid Testing in Major League Baseball and professional sports in general. Most people seem to think Opioid Testing is a great idea. It’s my opinion those of such an opinion neglect to acknowledge the reality of professional sports and that’s what I’d like to discuss today.

The reason we sports fans get to marvel in the astounding performances of professional athletes across the athletic spectrum is because of pain management techniques including a large amount of opioid use. I well understand we’d like to believe athletes are able to put on these amazing shows night after night without the aid of pain management techniques but such is self-delusion. Top-level athletes push their bodies to the limit day after day and started doing so at a young age. They are beat up.

The way trainers get the athletes back on the field is through pain management and opioids are a big part of it. This is not something limited to professional athletes. I played baseball as a ten-year-old and I wasn’t given opioids but I got injured even then. By the time an athlete reaches high school their bodies have already been subject to enormous stresses. Team doctors give them opioids so they can get on the field and entertain us, me, the sports fan. That’s reality.

This being true, how exactly is a plan to implement opioid testing in professional sports ever going to work? If many, potentially the majority, of players are taking opioids then it becomes impossible to implement a program to test for them. There is no test that can tell the difference between heroin purchased illegally from Oxycodone prescribed by a team doctor.

It is entirely possible Skaggs got addicted to opioids because trainers started giving them to him when he first suffered significant pain from pitching and that might have been at a very young age. I have no knowledge of such a thing but it’s not difficult to imagine quite a number of professional athletes have been taking prescription opioids for a long time.

This is the price they pay to entertain us, me. So, before I get on my high horse and start calling for Opioid Testing, perhaps I should examine my role in all of this, my responsibility in their pain, addiction, and even death. Pain that will follow them throughout their lives.

I understand it is their choice to play sports, it is their choice to follow the advice of team physicians and take opioids to begin with, to potentially become addicted. I do not absolve them from responsibility but I refuse to shriek from a pretentious moral high ground.

Let’s be adults and face the reality of the situation.

Tom Liberman

Why Call it an All-Star Game when Fans Vote?

All-Star Game

The title of the blog pretty much sums up my question. If we’re going to call it an All-Star Game, then why are we letting fans vote for the players? This is a situation that caught my attention even when I was a young boy while filling out All-Star Ballots at Busch Stadium for my beloved home town St. Louis Cardinals. I would vote for who I thought was the best player at each position but most of the people around me voted for all Cardinals.

It comes to my attention again because in the International League, a Triple A affiliate of Major League Baseball, an outfielder with an average of .155, 1 home run, 14 runs batted in, who is at the bottom of the league in four offensive statistics, and is also a pretty poor defensive player has a chance to make the team. His name, you won’t be surprised to learn, is Tim Tebow.

I don’t mean to pick on Tebow here. It’s certainly not his fault people are voting for him. Nor am I particularly upset at the fans who are doing so. They want to see Tebow in the All-Star game and are making their decision known. This is the same reason Paige Spiranac keeps getting invites to LPGA events. My question is that which I’ve stated already, why call it an All-Star game when it’s a popular election?

If the fans want to see Tebow and Spiranac, more power to them. There’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. The fan votes in the International League are not the final arbiter but count only as a percentage of the final decision as to whom to include. In the Major League All-Star game, the fans only choose the starters, the managers pick the rest of the lineup.

Still, the fact we call it an All-Star game bothers me. All-Star would specify the best players in the league, the stars. Anything that includes a fan vote is most likely going to be more of a popularity contest than an actual showcase of the league’s most talented players. Not to say there isn’t a great deal of overlap, just that the two are clearly not the same.

Every year older players in the twilight of their career make the team instead of their younger and statistical superior counterparts. This observation of mine is nothing earth shattering.

The Most-Popular Game doesn’t quite have the mystique of the All-Star game but has the advantage of being closer to the truth.

What do you think?

Should we call it the Most-Popular Game instead of All-Star Game?

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Tom Liberman

Harrison Bader and the Easy Five Star Catch

RFive Star Catchecently a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Harrison Bader, made a game ending catch that was rated as a Five Star catch although it didn’t appear, to the eye, to be particularly difficult. It gives me good reason to discuss the difference between a metric based analysis and the eye test. The eye test says: If it looks like a difficult catch, it must be one. If it looks easy, then it probably was. The eye test has merit but statistical analysis should always triumph.

First a quick look at how Statcast derives their rating system. They look at four factors. How far the outfielder has to travel to get to the ball. How much time that outfielder has. The direction the outfielder must run. The proximity to a wall in which the catch is made. Basically, Statcast feeds every ball hit into the outfield into a database and applies a calculation to see what percentage of the time the outfielder at that position would make the catch. Anytime the number drops to 25% or less, it is considered a Five Star catch.

When Bader made his catch the other night it certainly didn’t pass the eye test. It looked like a good play at best. This is where metric based analysis is decidedly better than most subjective opinions. Bader is extremely fast and seems to have an excellent feel for the flight of the baseball immediately off the bat of the hitter. This means he gets started in the correct direction very quickly and arrives at the intersection point with the ball rapidly. It’s true that Bader certainly makes that play more than 25% of the time. I’d hazard a guess that he makes it more like 80% of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that 75% of the time a ball hit with a similar trajectory goes for a base hit. That’s the power of metric based analysis.

Remember, Bader’s own catches are part of that mix. Because he catches a lot of balls of this nature that drives down the difficulty rating of the catch. If you take Bader’s catches out of the equation the catch becomes even less likely.

Statcast and its outfield defensive ratings is a relatively new statistic. There will certainly be some adjustments going forward and the larger the data set, the more accurate the percentages. That being said, it was a Five Star catch by the best measurable rating currently available. I’ll take that over the eye test any day of the week.

You’d be wise to the do the same and that applies to other aspects of life as well. It’s easy to be fooled when doing the eye test. Look at the numbers, trust the numbers. Do you know in the United States, violent crime is at its lowest point in over fifty years? Can’t argue with the math.

Tom Liberman

Are Super Nerds Ruining Baseball?

Jayson Werth Super NerdsFormer Major League Baseball Jayson Werth claims baseball is being ruined by hard-core statisticians he calls Super Nerds. The basic idea behind Werth’s claim is that advanced statistical analysis, Sabermetrics, have changed the way the game is played with home runs becoming more valuable and thus increasing strike outs. Certainly, it’s more complicated than this quick explanation but what I’d like to examine is the general idea that statistical analysis is causing harm to the game of baseball.

Sabermetrics came to the forefront of baseball decision making when Billy Beane incorporated the ideas of Paul DePodesta into the day to day operations of the Oakland Athletics. The movie Moneyball was based on these events. The Athletics were very successful with these techniques and soon the Boston Red Sox incorporated them and won the World Series. Not long after this most teams embraced the ideas of the so-called Super Nerds.

The idea is that men and women with advanced understanding of statistics make better baseball decisions than the people who have played the game for their entire lives. It’s no wonder people like Werth and Goose Gossage have come out with scathing comments about the change in baseball and the generation of largely Ivy League educated men who brought about those new methods.

The proof is in the pudding. The methods employed by the Super Nerds work. Sport is a result orientated business and if ideas are failing they are generally discarded. That doesn’t really address the claims Werth is making. He isn’t saying the Super Nerds are making bad decisions that hurt teams, he’s saying they are making the game boring, something no one wants to watch.

I suspect he’s making that claim because attendance is down this year by about 6% although major weather factors early in the season account for much of this. Over the last twenty years attendance statistics are relatively flat with about as many people, 72-73 million, attending games each season. It’s neither up or down. This seems to put Werth’s statements to question.

I strongly suspect great athletes like Werth feel their territory is being usurped by statistically minded men and women with advanced degrees and no experience with the game of baseball. I can understand that attitude. It seems fairly normal to resent newcomers telling you how to do your job.

The evidence suggests the new methods are superior in producing winning teams and have not had any effect on attendance as a whole.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that nothing stays the same. If baseball has changed to focus more on home runs, that will alter the underlying statistical base and a new metric will eventually be adopted to counter the trend.

The lesson, if there is one, is that change is inevitable, like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Mo’ne Davis Misleading Headline

Mo'ne Davis Misleading HeadlineAnd we have a winner in the Misleading Headline of the Week contest!

I usually find my Misleading Headline on Yahoo which conglomerates from other places but today the story is actually from the desk of Yahoo Sports.

Mo’ne Davis, and why no one should laugh at the idea of a woman in Major League Baseball screams the banner rolling across the top of the story about the young girl who is pitching well in the College World Series. She’s grabbed the attention of America and this was demonstrated the other night when my niece and mother were extolling how this girl was beating all the boys.

I had to remind them that a thirteen-year old girl is often times bigger and stronger than her peers.

As is often the case with my Misleading Headline of the Week the story itself is very rational. It explains that girls of this age not infrequently excel against their male competition but then puberty hits. Mo’ne is likely not going to be getting bigger than her already 5′ 4″ frame. The boys she will be playing against will soon be well over six-feet tall and weigh 200 lbs.

It’s great that Mo’ne is doing well. It’s a neat story and I wish her the best. She’s may get invited to throw out the first pitch at a Phillies game this year but she won’t be taking the mound in a competitive game at the major league level. There are a few young women who throw a decent knuckleball and it’s just possible they’ll play in the minor leagues but I don’t see any conceivable way a woman is going to be a major league pitcher.

As I said, the article covers all these facts quite nicely. It’s a really well-written article. The headline used to generate interest? Not so much.

Go get ’em Mo’ne!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
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Jack Clark Apologizes!

Clark PujolsThere was a fairly big story here in St. Louis last summer when former player Jack Clark said he knew for a fact that Albert Pujols used Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Pujols filed a defamation lawsuit and there is now a resolution.

Clark has offered an apology.

I would like to address Albert Pujols’ pending defamation lawsuit and re-confirm that I have no knowledge whatsoever that Mr. Pujols has ever used illegal or banned PEDs,” Clark said in a statement that was initially reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I publicly retract my statements that Albert Pujols used such substances. During a heated discussion on air, I misspoke and for that I sincerely apologize.

Pujols has accepted the apology and dropped what would have been a difficult lawsuit.

End of story!

Moral of story? Two adults are actually capable of coming up with a resolution to a problem without federal intervention. Nobody tell Congress, they might make a law against such behavior.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

The Best Fans in Baseball – or Not?

Best Fans in BaseballIt’s a good time to be a St. Louis Cardinal fan as we head back to the World Series for the fourth time in ten years. We have a bevy of strong young pitchers and a good mix of veteran players that would seem to bode well for our future.

The Cardinals just emerged from a tough series with the Los Angeles Dodgers and there’s a lot of talk about Mickey Mouse, disrespect, and the Best Fans in Baseball.

For those of you who are new to baseball, there is a theory that St. Louis is home to the “best fans in baseball”. Best seems to mean that we treat other teams with respect, we understand the game from a fundamental level, and turn out to support our Cardinals in astounding numbers despite the relatively small size of our metropolitan area.

This moniker is a source of pride to many Cardinal fans and a red flag of outrageous hubris to those who do not like the Cardinals or their fans.

I’ve been a Cardinal fan at least forty-four years and possibly longer than that although my memories before my fifth birthday are fairly non-existent. I can say without hesitation that the people of St. Louis love the Cardinals. That they turn out by the millions to cheer on their team, that many fans are knowledgeable about the game, and often applaud opponents who make astounding plays.

I can also say without reservation that there are plenty of idiot fans who yelled at Hanley Ramirez for being a cry-baby after Joe Kelly broke his ribs with a fastball. I know that San Francisco Giant fans filled their park to a higher capacity than did the Cardinals despite finishing in last place. I saw Chicago Cubs fans standing in respectful silence after the death Darryl Kile.

I’ve been to Philadelphia and seen their great fans firsthand. While attending Cardinal games over the years I’ve spoken with respectful and knowledgeable fans from probably every team in the National League .

As a Cardinal fan I pose a simple question: Would the Best Fans in Baseball feel compelled to call themselves the “Best Fans in Baseball” with nauseating regularity?

I say no. I find the whole thing bothersome, an ego stroking exercise in stupidity. Stop flashing it on the video screen, stop writing it in every comment, and stop believing it to be actually true.

St. Louis has had tremendous success in baseball thanks to ownership, management, the fans, and mostly the great players that take the field and win the games.

As a proud Cardinal fan I suggest that we stop telling people we are the best fans in baseball and instead show them.

Cheer the team in victory, support them in defeat, and respect our opponents. Should we lose the game or the series act dignified in defeat. If we are fortunate enough to win, be magnanimous in victory.

When we respect each other we make the world a better place.

There are great fans in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and everywhere else teams play baseball.

Fans are a collective. I alone cannot make the fans of the Cardinals the best fans in baseball. No one can. I can only be the best fan I can be. So should we all.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length novel)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (Out very soon!)

Pujols Files Defamation Suit Against Clark

Clark PujolsI wrote a blog a while back about how a former local radio host in St. Louis, Jack Clark, claimed that he knew “for a fact” that Albert Pujols used steroids.

Pujols vowed to file suit against Clark although most people felt this was merely bravado because proving that Clark knowingly lied with malice is difficult. That Pujols would face something called discovery in which the defense gets to interview many people associated with Pujols about his past.

Well, Pujols went ahead and filed anyway.

I find this interesting because Pujols is opening himself up to a lot of scrutiny. If in the discovery process it is found that he did use steroids he will certainly lose the suit and a great deal of respect in the baseball community. It was clearly in Pujols’ best interest to let the matter simply fade away. This is the strategy that almost ever other athlete accused of PED use has done in the past with the notable exception of Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong strongly denounced those who accused him, filed suits, won money, destroyed lives, but eventually admitted that he was using PEDs all that time. This effectively ended his career and has him embroiled in multiple lawsuits to this day.

Pujols faces the same situation. If it turns out he did use PEDs his long-term contract with the Los Angeles Angels might well be voided. His future reputation in baseball is on the line. This is the reason that Ryan Braun never filed suit against his accusers. He was guilty and knew filing suit would open him to tremendous danger.

On the other hand I empathize with Pujols if he has been falsely accused. I’m glad that he filed suit because it’s wrong when someone lies about someone else in order to gain publicity. We see it all the time in the news about politicians and celebrities. Lies are told with reckless abandon because the US court system is set up to protect the defendant and proving such cases is extremely difficult.

In this case I do think the fact that Clark said that he “knew for a fact” that Pujols was using PEDs is clearly a lie. Therefore I think Pujols has a chance to win the case.

Why is it a lie? Let’s imagine that Clark actually did have a conversation with Pujols trainer some thirteen years ago and that trainer did tell him Pujols was using steroids. This still doesn’t rise to the level of “know for a fact.” It is hearsay at best. Clark has no first hand knowledge of PED use.

In the radio show where Clark made these accusations his co-host agreed that he thought Pujols was using PEDs but carefully avoided such language. The co-host is a lawyer and long-time radio broadcaster who is well aware of the laws regarding defamation and slander.

I’ll be an interested follower as this case makes its way through the system.

I know for whom I’ll be rooting . I hope Pujols is able to prove his case and Clark is ordered to pay a fine, which Pujols says will go to charity, and apologize.

If evidence arises that Pujols actually did use PEDs, I’ll be saddened although not particularly surprised.

Stay tuned!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Foul Language Ejections

Justin UptonThere was an incident in the baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and my beloved St. Louis Cardinals last night that got me thinking. A player for the Braves, Justin Upton, was ejected, supposedly for arguing. Upton says he was merely mad at himself for grounding out and cursed.

This sort of incident happened earlier in the season to Yadier Molina when he was called out on a close play at first base and slammed his helmet into the ground. He was frustrated that he didn’t run harder out of the batter’s box, he is a catcher and nursing sore knees, but the umpire saw it differently and ejected Molina.

When I sat down to write this blog post I was going to call out overly sensitive officials for ejecting players and altering the course of the game unnecessarily. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about the rules I played under as a young boy. I began to realize there is a better solution. Stop throwing your equipment, cursing, and being disrespectful in general.

When I played sports as a kid, if you abused a piece of equipment the coach would put you on the bench. If you said anything argumentative to an official you’d be ejected from the game. Those days are sadly over.

I’m not saying that official don’t make mistakes and I’m certainly on record saying that I think some outright cheat. I’m not saying that those who make mistakes, those who cheat, those who lie, shouldn’t be called out. I’m just saying let’s try to do it with some decency.

I am saying it would be great if players acted like gentlemen and ladies. This screaming and yelling at every perceived slight, this flopping to gain an advantage, this boorish behavior is something that pervades sports, media, comment sections, essentially society itself.

This rudeness is everywhere, not just sports, and certainly characterizes  political debate. Everyone thinks its okay to call someone they don’t like an “idiot!” A “moron!” A “Repukelican!” A “Libtard!” This lack of decency, of simple manners, hurts cooperation, hurts society, hurts our (yes, our) nation.

We have become a rude, nasty lot. We will say horrible things about other people and words hurt. When our actions show a complete disregard for civility, for kindness, for tolerance, then we simply encourage the worst sort of people to take things even further. When the best of us, the role-models, cannot restrain ourselves the worst are emboldened.

Back to the topic at hand, a ballplayer thrown out for cursing at himself. It wouldn’t have happened if all baseball players were ejected at the first curse word, at the first disrespectful action towards an umpire. I’m not just haranguing ball players here. Fire the umpire that shows disrespect to a player.

I don’t think what I’m suggesting will happen because of money. If John McEnroe yells something at an umpire during the finals of Wimbledon and the match is declared over that will cost people a lot of money. If Tiger Woods curses after a bad shot and is escorted from the course that will cost sponsors a lot of money.

That being said, if there are strictly enforced rules, the athletes and  officials will eventually learn to follow them. It might be a little painful at the start but I think we’d all be better off.

And before you like this post and tell me how right I am, examine your own life, your own actions. You’re a role-model for someone out there. Act like it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a very good read)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Jack Clark Accuses Albert Pujols of Steroid Use

Clark PujolsThe Situation

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri and a huge sports fan. Yes, that means I barrack (Australian for root) for the Cardinals. There is a moderately big story in Cardinal-land today.

Jack Clark recently mentioned on his radio show that Albert Pujols used steroids. Clark claims he knows this because Pujols trainer told him so thirteen years ago. The trainer denies this conversation took place.

Jack Clark History

Clark is a former player who came to the Cardinals late in his career and helped the team to two World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987. He retired in 1992. Pujols was the star player for the Cardinals from 2001 to 2011 after which he signed a large contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

I’ve mentioned my belief that most players are using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in a number of blogs. I would not be at all surprised to find that Pujols was among those doing so.

That being said, Clark’s story raises a number of red flags in my mind. Clark claims Pujols’ trainer, Chris Mihlfeld, and he worked together in 2000 and that Mihlfeld asked Clark if he wanted to use steroids. According to Clark, Mihlfeld at that time told him that Pujols was using them.

Red Flags

My first red-flag is that Clark had been retired for eight years and was forty-four years old at that time. It’s certainly possible Mihlfeld was just looking for a new customer but it seems odd to ask a player retired that long if they wanted to use steroids. Pujols was a minor league player that year.

My second red-flag is that Clark waited for thirteen years to reveal this information. He says, “I really never thought too much about it because steroids were really not on my radar screen at that time.” Possibly true, but five years later in 2005 Jose Canseco wrote his tell-all book, Juiced. Pretty much from that moment forward PEDs have been on everyone’s radar. For the last eight years Clark has been keeping this conversation secret. That just seems very odd to me. Particular so because in 2010 Clark had strong words for Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmiero, Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa. Not a word about Pujols, the reigning MVP in the National League.

My third red-flag is that Clark recently became host of his own radio talk show and when it comes to radio talk shows; outrageous statements that get you noticed are almost a requirement for success.

My fourth red-flag is that Clark also accused pitcher Jason Verlander of PED use based on the “evidence” that Verlander lost velocity on his fastball after signing a big contract.

On the other side, Mihlfeld did work with a pitcher named Jason Grimley who admitted to steroid use. Mihlfeld was thought to be part of that case and but this proved to be false.


As to Clark’s character there isn’t a lot good to say. He said some awful things about Tony Gwynn in 1990. He likewise said terrible things about San Diego Padre manager Greg Riddoch.

I’m certainly not saying Pujols didn’t use steroids, I’m just saying Clark is not a trustworthy source of information. As much as I think most of the players are using PEDs; I don’t think it’s right to call them guilty without evidence. To let hearsay destroy a career.

To my mind, there is no way Clark could have gone thirteen years without mentioning this to people. PEDs have been big news for a long time. I’d like to see if anyone comes forward confirm that Clark has told this story before. If not, I think it’s pretty scummy of Clark to make such an accusation to promote his radio show.

Tom Liberman

The One Pitch Strikeout – Vinnie Catricala

Vinnie CatricalaJust when I thought I’d seen everything!

As my readers well know, I’m an avid sports fan and when I saw this item in the news at Yahoo I had to check it out.

A minor league baseball player struck out on a single pitch. That’s right. It wasn’t some crazy circumstance where he came to bat for another player with an inherited two-strike count. Nope, there was one pitch.

The umpire called a strike on a pitch that looks low and outside. Vinnie looks back at the umpire and argues the call, even going so far as to gesture as to the location of the pitch.

I’m going to step away from the story to give my non-baseball fans some information. What Vinnie did there is a huge no-no. It’s one of those unwritten rules in baseball. You can complain to an umpire about a strike call a little bit but you cannot look back and start talking to him while you’re still at the plate. Let alone start gesturing with your hand.

It seems like one of those tyrannical situations where the arbitrator of a game, in this case the home-plate umpire, is being far too sensitive. However, there is actually a pretty good reason for this unwritten rule. If players are allowed to turn around and argue every strike call, if catchers and pitchers are allowed to do the same for every ball, then the pace of the game is destroyed.

Generally speaking what happens when an umpire makes a bad call or repeated bad calls at home plate is that the players in the dugout start to yell. The batter or catcher might complain but without looking back at the umpire. This is tolerated to some degree although eventually will result in ejections.

Anyway, back to the story.

Catricala continues to argue with the umpire who motions him to get ready for the next pitch. Catricala then steps out of the batters box completely. The umpire motions for him to get back in the batters box. Catricala essentially thumbs his nose at the umpire and starts to adjust his batting glove.

Now, the umpire calls on the rule I did not know existed, 6.02c. This rule allows the umpire to start calling strikes if the batter refuses to step up to plate. The umpire calls a strike. Catricala was only out of the batter’s box for about three seconds but his attitude is clearly dismissive of the umpire telling him to get back in.

After the umpire calls strike two he motions for Catricala to get back into the box. Catricala continues to ignore him and fiddle with his equipment. Another four seconds pass. The umpire calls strike three. Catricala starts to yell at the umpire who then kicks him out of the game!


When I first read the story I was on the player’s side but after watching the video I find myself sympathetic to the umpire. If he allows any player to act this way then the umpire’s authority is in question. The umpire is going to have a very difficult day from that moment on. Every player will complain about every pitch, there will be endless delays, it will become an insanely boring game.

Watch the video, tell me what you think. Egotistical umpire out of control or strong umpire doing what he had to do.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Ryan Braun's So-Called Mistake

Ryan BraunThe big news in sports this morning is Ryan Braun’s suspension for PED use. The reason it is such big news is that Braun tested positive for PED use over a year ago and defended himself with strong words. I want to examine two things: the so-called rage of fans and the idea that he made a mistake.

First a quick look at why everyone is so upset by this particular suspension. Braun was exonerated in another case thanks to the fact that the sample was not mailed immediately to Major League Baseball because it was collected on a Sunday. This was a technical violation of the rules for storing samples. It was never disputed that the sample showed PED use.

There is a lot of hate for Braun this morning because previously he lied and blamed other people for his predicament; even now he tells us how difficult the situation has been for he and his family. It is quite similar to the Lance Armstrong story. It’s a combination of PED use and lies told with absolute conviction.

First to my complaint with Braun has nothing to do with his PED use or even the lies he told. This was his statement late yesterday after the suspension was announced:

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

I’m tired of people claiming they made mistakes only after they are caught. They calculated the various advantages of action A and action B and willfully chose one or the other. This is not a mistake. This so-called mistake has served him very well. He signed a contract extension worth $105 million over the next five years. If he hadn’t taken PEDs and allowed players of lesser talent to have better statistics than him he would not make nearly this amount.

He won the Most Valuable Player award in 2011 and the Rookie of the Year award in 2007. He won these in part thanks to PEDs. His choice to use PEDs was anything but a mistake. That choice gained him adulation and riches.

This is the choice almost all athletes in the sporting world today face. One of the most decorated young players in the NFL, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, faces a four-day suspension for his first PED violation, which means his third positive test.

If the modern athlete does not take PEDs they fall behind players who do use them. Players without as much talent. The masking agents make it extremely difficult to be caught using PEDs. The doctors and masking agents are far ahead of the detection techniques. Braun was caught not by a failed test but by notes taken at the laboratory where he received his treatments. Many baseball players are facing suspension from these notes made at a company called Biogenesis.

The fans of Braun, Armstrong, Miller and others are actually thrilled by the so-called mistake these players make. They love the performance. Well, that performance is brought to you by PEDs. If you’re mad at Ryan Braun, if you somehow pretend that Braun’s lies fooled you, frankly, you’re stupid. He was clearly guilty the first time and you wanted to believe his lies.

If you choose to believe obvious lies then I have as much time for your so-called outrage as I do for Braun’s so-called mistake.

If Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina test positive for PEDs next week I won’t be surprised. I won’t be outraged. It’s the culture that we the fans have helped create.

Ryan Braun can claim that his choice to use PEDs was a mistake but I, for one, know better. Fans can scream, shout, and pretend outrage but they are doing the same thing Braun did. They were caught in a lie and are now feigning outrage to cover their culpability.

They knew Braun was guilty and willfully chose to believe him despite all evidence to the contrary.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 buy it today!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Mike Trout vs Albert Pujols – Salary Wars

Albert Pujols Mike TroutThere is an interesting story occurring in Major League Baseball in regards to the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. The reason I find it fascinating is because it parallels quite nicely with a situation we had here in St. Louis with my beloved Cardinals. I think it is instructive from a human resources point of view.

Essentially the story is that the Angels have a player by the name of Mike Trout who had a spectacular rookie season and won the Rookie of the Year award. Because of the way baseball salaries are structured, players with less than a certain number of years of major league experience have very little power to bargain over their pay. After they reach a certain point these restrictions are removed and the players are free to seek a rate of pay their play deserves.

I’m not here to argue  the benefits and drawbacks of such a system but merely to compare how the St. Louis Cardinals handled a very similar situation with Albert Pujols after his own astounding rookie campaign.

In the year 2000 the rookie minimum wage was $200,000 and Pujols was given this salary. He had an astounding season hitting .329 with 37 home runs, 130 RBI, a slugging percentage of .606 and an OPS of 1.013. You don’t really need to be a statistical guru to understand that he had a spectacular year. One of the most useful modern statistics is something called Wins Above Replacement which shows how many games the Cardinals won because Pujols was better than the average player at his position. His WAR in 2000 was 6.3

In the year 2012 the rookie minimum wage was $480,000 and Mike Trout was paid $490,000. He also had an astounding season hitting .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, a slugging percentage of .567, OPS of .963, and a WAR of 10.7. Trout missed the first few weeks of the season before being called up so played about twenty fewer games than Pujols and is better than him in most defensive comparisons although they play different positions.

Major league teams are not obligated to give second year players any particular percent raise for their second season. The Angels agreed to give Trout a $20,000 pay raise so that he will make $510,00 this season. The Cardinals voluntarily gave Pujols a $400,000 raise to give him a second year salary of $600,000.

That’s what I find interesting. This was not just a one time thing. The Cardinals gave Adam Wainwright an $80,000 raise in his second year and a further $260,000 raise for his third when they were under no obligation to do so.

From a human resources perspective the question becomes what is it worth to make a valued employee happy. If you are under no legal obligation to give a larger raise then why would any company do so? I’d love to hear from HR people out there on the topic!

Personally, I’m of the opinion the Cardinals did the correct thing although Pujols eventually did leave to join the Angels. He played for eleven seasons in St. Louis when the reality is that after his sixth season he could have simply taken a much larger contract from a wealthier team like the Yankees. Instead he stayed in St. Louis and the Cardinals won the 2006 and 2011 World Series and made the playoffs almost every year.

Now, it’s entirely possible Trout will remain with the Angels for many years. They are a large market team with a great deal of money although much of that is tied up in the lucrative contract they gave Pujols to entice him away from St. Louis. The future is unpredictable. Still, I think that spending a smaller amount to make a key employee happy is almost always a good idea. Good employees, be they baseball players or computer software programmers, are not easy to find.

I think most people enjoy a good working environment where they are valued. Certainly for a talented individual there will be offers of more money and at some point they cannot be refused. But, a little proactive generosity can go a long way.

In any case, I’m glad the Cardinals were generous with Pujols in the early years because I got to see him play and lead us to two World Series victories. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if we hadn’t given him those early pay raises but I stand by my opinion that it was not only a nice thing to do, but the right thing to do. What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (it’s really good, I promise!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

St. Louis Cardinals – Relationship between Team and Fan

Today is about my baseball team, yes, I said it, “my team”. I don’t own them. I don’t make any personnel or management decisions. But, the Cardinals are my team and they will be until the day I die.

The question I ask today is what motivates me to call them “my team”. What motivates sports fans the world over to reference their team in the same way and why this is a good thing?

There are many great fans out there who root for their team. I’m even willing to concede that their might be some, semi-rational, people who feel that way about the Chicago Cubs. A sports team gives us something to passionately cheer. We hurt when they lose, darn you Don Denkinger, we go mad when they win, hurrah Pete Kozma. We have memories that last a lifetime.

I was born and raised in St. Louis and my mother is a huge Cardinal fan from her own childhood. My earliest memories are sitting around the living room listening to the games. I think many a fan has a history not dissimilar from that. They grow up rooting for a team and never change allegiances. There are others who come to sports later in life and find a team to cheer but it’s all relatively the same. In the end, whatever the team, whatever the town, it’s “my team”.

The reason I think it’s a good thing is because as much as I dislike the Chicago Cubs and their fans; I recognize that they are just like me, fans, not enemies. Sports is war without the death and maiming. That’s a good version of war as far as I’m concerned. I’m quite certain there are Washington National fans out there who are pretty angry with my Cardinals right about now but I don’t think any of them are going to do anything violent. They’ll cinch down their caps and think about next year. As a Cardinal fan I’ve been fortunate these last few years but I’ve tightened up my Rams cap and Blues cap many, many times. I know the pain. All fans do.

I’ll go to work next week and teach class to someone who roots for the Cubs or Nationals and I’ll do my best without reservation, without hesitation. I’ll help them accomplish whatever they need to do. Our team at work will build a website for a San Francisco company. Our network engineers will solve a major problem for a company owned by a Yankees fan.

We cheer for our team but recognize that life, unlike sports, is about trying to get that win/win scenario. If we all work together we can achieve amazing things. Sports gives us that black and white outlet and then we can return to the normal, shades of gray, daily routine.

I guess I’m just saying that if a Cubs fan and a Cardinal fan can get married, can’t Republicans and Democrats try to pass legislation that will help us all? Can’t we root for our team during the game but work together afterwards?

But, I don’t want to slip too deeply into politics because there is something much more important going on … Cardinals v. Giants!

Tom Liberman

Home Team Blackouts

BlackoutIt was a happy day for me when my Uverse was finally installed after much bickering with AT&T. I gave up my television years ago and streaming sports on ESPN3 was choppy and Hulu television troublesome on my old DSL connection.

My beloved World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are in Spring Training as I write this and I haven’t been able to watch most of their games for the last couple of years. I certainly got my high-speed connection for a number of reasons and watching the Birds on the Bat was one of those.

Major League Baseball offers an internet package where, for $124.99, you can watch every game of every team streaming on your computer, tablet, phone or other device. Imagine my joy. I get to watch my World Series Champion Cardinals play every game! Then I clicked on the little blackout link and read this:

All live games on MLB.TV and available through At Bat are subject to local blackouts. Such live games will be blacked out in each applicable Club’s home television territory, regardless of whether that Club is playing at home or away.

It goes on to mention the blackout applies even if the game isn’t televised. Home or away? Televised or not? Sold-out or not? I can’t watch the Cardinals!?

I’ve got $124.99 burning a hole in pocket to watch the 11 time World Series Champion Cardinals. Take my money, please?

Ok, wait, catching breath, bulging eyes recessing, fist pounding abating, let’s look at this rational, from a critical perspective. Perhaps MLB is justified in this policy. Think, Tom, don’t scream and rant like a radio talk-show host who would sell his mother into slavery to get a ratings point.

First stop, MLB Blackout policy page of Wikipedia. Have I mentioned my love of Wikipedia? Calmly reading. Keep blood pressure under wraps. Learn rational reasons behind policy. Keep calm … calm … soft music … calming waves … soothing … EXCLUSIVE TERRITORIAL RIGHTS! What? What? What?

Do we live in Communist Russia? Wait, stop , be rational, Russia isn’t communist any more … Do we live in Communist China? Socialism? Media control? Freedom Revoked?

Ok, breath slowly, long breaths, I mean, technically, television broadcast in St. Louis city could somehow be seen to be owned by the local team … the ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA blacked out for Cardinals, Cubs, Twins, Royals, White Sox and Brewers. HEAD EXPLODING!

Freedom being taken away, grab rifle, oh wait unarmed, maybe good thing, calm, calm, soothing sounds, ocean, babbling brook.

I know, let’s look at the easy to understand map of blackouts … ARGHHH … BUNNIES MUST DIE … DIE … DIE!!

Wipe frothing away from mouth, think happy thoughts, don’t kick cat, it’s going to be all right. There has to be a rational explanation, doesn’t there?

What is the idea? Ok, here we go, a broadcaster pays for the right to exclusively show the games on their channel. That’s capitalism, NBC shows, CBS shows, FOX shows. But, wait, don’t they stream on Hulu? I mean, the idea is get as much revenue as possible, isn’t it? Isn’t my $124.99 lost revenue? There are plenty of World Series Champion Cardinals fans all over from the great states of Iowa, Arkansas, Tennesse, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, isn’t that a lot of $124.99s? Wouldn’t it be easy for MLB to distribute a percentage of that money to the broadcasters? I mean, that’s a lot of lost revenue.

If you think I’m a diehard Cardinals fan you haven’t been to Germantown, Illinois! You haven’t been to Busch Stadium after a Cardinals win to see a family of four, kids decked out in Cardinal gear, taking pictures for their once a year trip to St. Louis from Lawton, Oklahoma to see the Birds on the Bat.

This policy is denying all those fans the opportunity to watch the Cardinals. It is denying the children of die-hard Cardinals fans from all over the midwest the chance to learn, like their parents, to love the best team in baseball (Shut yer yaps, yuse Yankee bums). It is killing marketing, it is throwing money away! Do you not want more fans?

Why are the Cardinals so beloved all over the midwest and beyond? Because KMOX radio was a clear channel signal that broadcast the games to all those areas, that’s why. Now, we live in the television era and you want to LIMIT BROADCASTING of games only to areas nowhere near the actual team? Where does that make any sense? MLB, broadcasters, work out a deal, there is money on the table. There are millions of fans waiting to be made. This is capitalism! This is marketing. This is America! Isn’t it?

Why does Fox Sports Midwest care where anyone watches the game? My tv, my computer, my phone, my tablet? It doesn’t make any sense! You want more audience, do you hear me, MORE AUDIENCE! Not less. More. Do you see? Hands shaking … must calm down.

Shower, must have cold shower, brain exploding, stupid, morons, idiots, more audience, spasm-spasm, more audience, more revenue, spasm-spasm, can’t understand, does not compute, spasm-twitch-spasm-twitch-twitch-spasm … more audience … more revenue … twitch-spasm-spasm.

Tom Liberman