Baseball Will Keep Us Together

Roto Book

Whenever I cross paths with any long-time acquaintance after a decade or two and they find that the I’m still the Commissioner of the same Rotisserie / Fantasy baseball league that started in 1984, they find it hard to believe. It is genuinely surprising that in today’s age of people drifting away from group activities (summarized brilliantly in Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone”), this group has held together. Certainly, many of the participants have changed and just last year, we added a new owner, but in the end, the league is still strong and maybe even more competitive than ever.

 

Growing up as a prolific sponge of baseball statistics from books, magazines and baseball cards, I can still remember opening the March 1981 issue of the now defunct magazine called Inside Sports. The article by Daniel Okrent titled, “The Year George Foster Wasn’t Worth $36” was the first glimpse into what has become a vibrant industry intertwined with American sports. It outlined a baseball game developed by a group of New York writers that allowed fans to “own” their own team by having a pre-season auction and bidding on players whose stats would generate standings within the framework of the league. While the piece was exciting and interesting, Okrent and the others didn’t really detail the rules until 1984, when they published the book “Rotisserie League Baseball.”

 

Seeing that publication at the book store brought back the memory from the magazine article and I read the book cover-to-cover that night. The next day, I got on the phone and started calling friends saying only, “Go get this book and tell me if you’re in.” Within the next few days, they all said yes and we began this journey. That first season was so much fun, it can’t really be described to people who don’t play some form of fantasy sports and I even had numerous phone calls with author Glen Waggoner in New York as we ironed out questions regarding rules interpretations. The result is that we are at least tied for the longest-running Rotisserie League in the country and when people ask about the longevity, I respond by saying that we have very seldom changed any of the rules.

 

The newer generation of Fantasy players would probably feel that the book’s “old school” rules are too restrictive or that they require too much of a commitment to time and effort. For us, that is exactly why we love the game as it was originally developed. As with the U.S. Constitution, we refer to those pioneers of the first Rotisserie League as “Founding Fathers” and it is incredible how often we look back at what they wrote 30 years ago and realize the wisdom they showed. For a brief summary, here are the basics…

 

> 23 man rosters chosen auction-style with a budget of $260.

 

> Position eligibility guidelines must be met at all times…1B, 3B, 1/3, 2B, SS, 2/S, C (2), OF (5), Utility & Pitchers (9).

 

> Trading available from Draft Day to August 31st.

 

> No initial reserve list, but injured or demoted players can be replaced from the free agent pool. Replacements are “linked” if the original player is reserved.

 

> Statistics based on eight (4×4) categories…BA, HR, RBI, SB, W, SV, ERA & Ratio (WHIP).

 

> With minor exceptions, FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) is only used after the All-Star break.

 

> Each team is allowed three Farm (minor league) players that do not count toward the 23-man roster.

 

> You can keep up to 15 players from season-to-season, but in most cases, contracts expire after three years.

 

Over the years, many Fantasy players have asked me about our approach and the rationale behind rules decisions. Here are some of the things we haven’t changed.

 

> “Linking” players is something most leagues don’t want to deal with and there have certainly been a few complaints over the years about it being a pain in the posterior. The truth is that it’s only a pain for the Commissioner and the reasoning behind the idea is one that we hold dear from the 1984 book – the decisions you make on Draft Day should be meaningful and the benefit a team might derive from an injury should be minimized. So, if you replace an injured player with a good performer in April, you can’t just dump some bum you drafted when the injured player comes back.

 

> We’ve stayed with the 4 X 4 concept instead of going to currently popular 5 X 5 because while adding Runs makes some sense, Strikeouts never seemed to belong with the other statistical categories. Even in a later edition of the book, the authors suggested using Innings Pitched instead of K’s because it at least represented a Pitcher getting outs.

 

> By not having FAAB bidding early in the season, we assist the parity of the league because free agent call-ups are in reverse order of the standings and the lower teams have a chance to bolster their rosters.

 

> There are no restrictions on trading other than the salary cap of $305 for the active 23-man roster. That allows teams to replace low-cost draftees who get hurt or sent down and to make reasonable trades, but puts a damper on “dump” trades. We don’t have a committee to approve trades (how can anyone be objective when they have a team in the league) and even though every trade solicits whining from somebody, the Commissioner doesn’t pass judgment. The closest I came to voiding a deal was in 2003 when a team fighting for the pennant seemed to be taking advantage of a team that had just joined the league, but after speaking to the new team and getting perspective on their re-building plan, I backed off. The decision was verified when that new team won the league championship in 2005, 2006 & 2007.

 

So, what rules have we tweaked or added and have they been positive?

 

> The original book suggested paying four (4) places – 50%, 25 %, 15 % & 10%. We expanded that years ago so that finishing in the first division of our 12-team league was worth something – 45%, 22.5%, 13.5%, 9%, 6% & 4%. In other words, we took 10% from each of the first four spots to add 5th & 6th.

 

> If a team activates one of their Farm players during the season and he doesn’t exceed the rookie status levels (130 AB’s or 50 IP), the team can put him back on the Farm the following year if he isn’t on a major league roster. They do lose one year of his eligibility, but we didn’t want teams penalized when they had nurtured a prospect over time.

 

> The worst decision ever made in our league was to allow the trading of future Farm picks. While it seemed like a fun idea at the time, the rule had unintended consequences. In 2009, a long-time member of the league let it be known on Draft Day that he was not going to be able to participate beyond the current season. Needless to say, he played to win that year and made bold moves along with countless trades. Early in the season, he indicated that he wouldn’t be making any trades, as he didn’t want to “leave the cupboard bare” for a prospective new owner. Less than week later, he proposed a couple of trades that were to include his team’s Farm picks for the following year. I ruled that he couldn’t do that because those assets were being taken away from a future owner and weren’t really his to trade. My ruling applied to all teams and didn’t need to be retroactive, as no other trades of that nature had transpired since the Draft. He pontificated to all the owners about how selfish I was and that my decision was made to help my team (which was never in the pennant race and finished 6th). Of course, one could argue that he didn’t need to tell us he was quitting in the first place and while that’s true, it just confirms that the rule was a bad idea. He also made some outrageous FAAB bids late in the season, knowing that he wouldn’t be around to pay the penalties the following April.  He did win the league and I made a deal with him…I would pay the penalties myself for his promise to never speak to me again. 15 years earlier, I should have been smart enough to re-read the original book and the comment about trades…”Unless you want knife fights to break out among owners, prohibit all trades involving cash, players to be named later or future considerations. Trust us.” We no longer allow the trading of future picks.

 

> Another area that the book doesn’t cover is what happens in September. This has been a problem for many leagues across the country and of all the ideas we’ve developed, this one has been shared the most. The problem arises when major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters as of September 1st. For Fantasy purposes, the main area of consternation has to do with injuries. If a player gets hurt on 9/2, there’s a reasonable chance his MLB team won’t even bother to put him on the DL because they’re no longer limited to 25-man rosters. If that player is on your Fantasy team, what do you do? With today’s proliferation of baseball information on the Internet, you’ll see conflicting reports and inaccurate speculation. For a Commissioner, it is essential that the league have clear guidelines to handle these situations. Here are our guidelines for replacing a player in September…

 

1) Currently on the DL

2) Gets placed on the DL

3) Hasn’t played for at least 15 days

4) Is reported by MLB, ESPN or a team’s official website as being “out for the season” – this must take place at least15 days before the end of the season.

 

If a league doesn’t have something like this in place, the Commissioner will get e-mails with ten (or nine, or eight, or four) days left in the season from owners wanting to replace an “out for the season” player. Also, teams will get upset because some “report” on the Internet says a player is “probably out for the season” even though the writer has no specific knowledge of the injury. Having guidelines usually (but not always) keeps the rhetoric within reason. In the meantime, the Old Commish is the final arbiter.

 

Of course, every league will have members who try to push the envelope on rules and lobby for new interpretations. We have one original franchise that prides themselves in finding loopholes and our youngest owner has thrown down the gauntlet in an attempt to take away their title. Both teams are in contention as the calendar turns to September, so the Old Duck needs to be alert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve Been Framed

Flowers

Watching the D’Backs – Braves telecast earlier this week, the broadcast crew was talking about a stat that was so hard to believe, they had to check it twice. Atlanta’s starting Catcher Tyler Flowers was only 2-for-40 in throwing out baserunners during the 2016 season. An old-school fan would hear that number and assume that Flowers was a terrible Catcher and a detriment to his team.

 

This old-school / analytic fan didn’t jump to that conclusion because earlier this season, I took the time to read “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik. It is the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates resurgence starting in 2013 and how they got ahead of the curve regarding baseball analysis. This mid-market team with a limited payroll, found ways to win that confounded the experts. Defensive shifts, pitching adjustments and pitch-framing helped them turn around a 20-year losing streak. Possibly the most important move they made was signing a Catcher that had lost much of his appeal and was coming off a season where he batted just .211. His name is Russell Martin and the two-year $15 Million deal turned out to be life-changing for the Pirates & Martin.

 

In  both 2013 & 2014, Martin finished in the top ten for all MLB Catchers in the amount of runs saved through pitch-framing. If you think that statistic is a bunch of hooey, consider this…in 2015, the Blue Jays signed Martin (at age 32) to a five-year, $82 Million free-agent contract. The Pirates could no longer afford him, so they acquired Yankees back-up Catcher Francisco Cervelli to take Martin’s place. That season (2015), Cervelli rated out as the best pitch-framer in baseball and the Pirates locked him up with a three-year, $30 Million deal that starts next season…he’s making $3.5 Million in 2016. Who was a close second in the ’15 ratings? You guessed it…Tyler Flowers.

 

What does pitch-framing mean? With today’s video technology, it has become rather simple to determine the number of called strikes caught outside the strike zone. That isn’t the only criteria, however, as Catchers can be guilty of catching a pitch in the strike zone that ends up being called a ball by the umpire. All of this, and more, goes into the overall ratings. If you’d like to see the formulas and better understand the statistic, go to statcorner.com.

 

If you’re a real baseball fan and actually watch at-bats and how they play out, you can begin to understand how this unique ability can change the dynamic of the game. The difference in success when the hitter is ahead in the count as opposed to being behind in the count is something even old-schoolers understand.

 

So, who are the best framers for 2016 through August 22nd? Buster Posey of the Giants leads the way and he was 4th last season. Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal is 2nd and he finished 3rd in 2015. Jason Castro of the Astros and Miguel Montero of the Cubs are 3rd and 4th respectively. Both were in the top ten last season.

 

As for our friends Flowers, Martin & Cervelli, they’re all in the top ten again. Maybe this is a baseball skill after all.

 

 

 

Believe In The OPS

'61 Who's 001

On the shelf in my office is the 1985 edition of “The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract”. It wasn’t the first material of his that I read and certainly not the last, but it looks down at me with a reminder of the era in which this fan transitioned from old-school to analytic. After all, the inaugural “Rotisserie League Baseball” book had come out in 1984 and our home league (which is still going strong) started that April.

 

As a kid looking at the backs of baseball cards and reading Street & Smith’s preview issue along with “Who’s Who In Baseball”, the statistics we learned were the ones they gave us. Batting Average (BA), Home Runs (HR), Runs Batted In (RBI’s) were what we used to determine if a player was fair, good or great. The back of Mickey Mantle’s 1959 Topps card doesn’t even tell you how many Stolen Bases (SB’s) he had the previous season. The 1961 Who’s Who did include SB’s but nothing so exotic as Slugging Percentage (SLG) or On-Base Percentage (OBP).

 

So, now that at least 30 years has passed in the debate between tradition and analytics, maybe we can finally agree on the validity of one stat. No, I’m not going to try and sway you about Wins Above Replacement (WAR) because that glazed look in your eyes tells me it’s a hopeless task. As with Capt. Queeg in the Caine Mutiny, I’m going to “prove beyond the shadow of a doubt…with geometric logic, that a valid stat does exist”.

 

In his new book, “Ahead Of The Curve”, Brian Kenny writes that Bill James #1 revolutionary theory about baseball is that getting on base is the most important thing in offense. It seems to make sense intuitively, but OBP was never on baseball cards, in magazines or listed in the Sporting News. After all, how did Eddie Yost of the Tigers lead the AL in Runs Scored (115) in 1959 at age 32 with a BA of only .278? Simple…he led the AL in OBP at .435. No player was going to get benched if he got on base 40% of the time, but writers and broadcasters paid no attention because it wasn’t a mainstream stat. Over 40 years later, Billy Beane and the A’s, followed quickly by the Red Sox, found that OBP was under-valued in the game along with the players who provided those quality numbers. The 2002 Athletics had eight offensive players with an OBP of .348 or better and they won 103 games with a small-market payroll. The 2004 Red Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” with eleven (11) hitters having a .365 OBP or higher.

 

Old-school fans and pundits still weren’t convinced and argued that OBP diminished the contribution of power hitters because those HR’s they hit were worth three more bases than a walk. That brings us to a slightly more traditional stat – Slugging Percentage. SLG tells us how many total bases a hitter has accumulated compared to his amount of plate appearances. After all, Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle led the AL in SLG in ’60 & ’61, so what could be more fair to power hitters?

 

That brings us to the stat that really matters when analyzing major league hitters. If you take OBP and add it to SLG, a player is rewarded for both his on-base skills and power production. The result is On-Base + Slugging (OPS) and even though we never spotted it on the back of a baseball card, it is the number that tells the tale. How do we know? Because there are only seven players with a lifetime OPS over 1.000…Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg & Rogers Hornsby. Others in top 20 include Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout & Joey Votto. Even old-school fans have to admit that there aren’t any flukes on that list.

 

Votto seems to be the poster child for fans, writers and even the Reds own broadcasters, as he gets criticized for not driving in more runs. They feel that he should “expand the zone” and not walk as much. If you don’t seem to remember similar comments about Bonds & Williams, you’re correct. In 2015, Votto’s OPS was 1.000…the 3rd time he’s exceeded that threshold. As analytic pioneer Ron Shandler said earlier this year, “Critics of his approach are embarrassing themselves.”

 

So, in today’s game, you’ll see what is called the “slash line” for an offensive player. OBP + SLG = OPS looks like 321/417/738, which is the average production for all major league hitters through August 15th.

 

 

In mid-August of 2016, who are the best offensive players in the game based on OPS? Let’s look at the top dozen…

 

1) David Ortiz, Red Sox DH…404/621/1025 – Historic numbers for the 40 year-old slugger in his final season. He’s been over the 1.000 four previous times in his career, but this is amazing.

 

2) Jose Altuve, Astros 2B…427/572/999 – If you were 5′ 6″ tall, you could hit like this…right? He leads the AL in BA & OBP while hitting 19 HR’s and adding 26 SB’s. A definite MVP candidate.

 

3) Daniel Murphy, Nationals 2B…387/612/999 – Came out of nowhere late last season at age 30 and might be the best player in the game during the last 12 months.

 

4) Mike Trout, Angels OF…426/557/983 – At age 25, this player is so good, he’s almost taken for granted. Even on a lousy team, he still has the best WAR number in the game (7.6).

 

5) Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B…399/571/970 – The leader of the Cubbies juggernaut at age 27.

 

6) Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays 3B…400/562/962 – Last year’s AL MVP isn’t slowing down…and won’t be a free agent until 2019.

 

7) Ryan Braun, Brewers OF…390/569/959 – Will probably never remove the stigma of the PED suspension, but these numbers are almost equal to the juiced version.

 

8) Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 3B…405/547/952 – Last year’s HR total seemed like a fluke, but this is his best all-around campaign.

 

9) Joey Votto, Reds 1B…428/511/939 – Since the All-Star break, his BA is .455. Fantasy or reality, give me a guy like this.

 

10) Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies OF…373/566/939 – The numbers are always tempered by the fact that he plays half his games at altitude, but they still count.

 

11) Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 1B…384/550/934 – This future Hall-of Famer just keeps on producing. His lifetime OPS is .960, so even at age 33, he’s a dangerous man in the batter’s box.

 

12) Kris Bryant, Cubs 3B…382/545/927 – No sophomore slump for last year’s NL Rookie of the Year. In fact, his numbers are even better and he’s already exceeded the 26 HR’s he hit in 2015.

 

Now, of course, we could also discuss OPS+, which adjusts the figure based on the ballparks. OK, I see that “deer in the headlights” look, we’ll talk about it some other time.

 

 

Motivate This

Drook Seminar0002

When people hear that I was professional speaker during my working days, their immediate response is something like “you mean motivation and stuff?” I always wonder if the alternative they’re thinking of would be non-motivational speaking.

 

Motivational speakers have never impressed me. Their message is usually emotional and short-lived. Most people attending one of these programs during a convention or meeting are motivated for a few hours and have forgotten the experience by the time cocktail hour and the next morning’s hangover have arrived. Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer and dozens of others I’ve listened to over the years all have one thing in common. Even after collecting a nice fee, they’re trying to sell you something…books, videos, newsletters and the like. And then, there’s the occasional presenter like football legend Mike Ditka who received five figures as a keynote speaker and insult any group that wasn’t white and Christian. Guess he didn’t think any of us would be in the audience?

 

I always considered myself a “success speaker”, in the sense that the people in the room might take away something that could make (or save) them money in their business. In addition, through humor and example, they could also find some hints on how to get along better with people…that’s the real secret to success.

 

The complete antithesis of a motivational speaker was A’s GM Billy Beane. Two years after “Moneyball” became a best-selling book, he and I were both part of the same program at a business convention in Reno. His message was all about success in business. Innovation, out-of-the-box thinking, allocation of scarce resources and many other topics were relevant to every business person in the room. And, he wasn’t selling anything! Of course, there was some confusion in the audience during the Q&A session when I asked him if Huston Street would still be the Closer next season.

 

All of this background filtered back while I was reading a recent Internet article about the “most motivating quotes from baseball”. It’s a matter of opinion if they are actually motivational, but most are entertaining. So, here’s today’s quiz – there are 10 quotes from the article and an additional 10 from the Duck archives. See if you can pick out the 10 on the list as opposed to the ones I’ve added.

 

1) “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” – Jimmy Dugan, A League Of Their Own

 

2) “Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection.” – Red Smith, Sportswriter

 

3) “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
4) “The difference between the old ballplayer and the new ballplayer is the jersey. The old ballplayer cared about the name on the front. The new ballplayer cares about the name on the back.” – Steve Garvey

 

5) “About the only problem with success is that it does not teach you how to deal with failure.” – Tommy Lasorda

 

6) “Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak sunrise past a rooster.” – Curt Simmons

 

7) “If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.” – Ted Williams

 

8) “You never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.” – Leo Durocher

 

9) “Watching other teams in the World Series is like watching somebody else eat a Hot Fudge Sundae.” – Joe Torre

 

10) “Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools that run it.” – Bill Terry

 

11) “There may be people who have more talent than you, but here’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you.” – Derek Jeter

 

12) “You can’t sweep a series if you don’t win the first game, and it’s tougher to win two out of three if you lose the first one.” – Todd Helton

 

13) “There is an old saying that money can’t buy happiness. If it could, I would buy myself four hits every game.” – Pete Rose

 

14) “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.” – Casey Stengel

 

15) “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth

 

16) “Willie Mays’ glove is where triples go to die.” – Jim Murray, Sportswriter

 

17) “Hitting is fifty percent above the shoulders.” – Ted Williams

 

18) “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

 

19 “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” – Babe Ruth

 

20 “The more no’s you get, the closer you are to someone saying yes.” – Don Drooker

 

To avoid keeping you in suspense, the answer is easy. The odd numbered quotes are from the article and the even numbered ones were added. #20 is a good all-purpose

Baseball Movies

Costner

The late Roger Ebert and I were probably equally talented on the baseball fields of our youth. That is to say, we certainly both selected the correct career path.  If you are a true baseball fan, movies about your favorite sport are irresistible. There have been numerous “top-ten” and “best-of” lists of baseball movies, but someone’s opinion doesn’t matter if you fell in love with a movie the first time you viewed it on a screen. When Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With The Curve” came out a few years ago, a baseball-loving friend of mine thought it was great. A mainstream baseball writer, however, took the film to task for its depiction of scouts as “grumpy and unfunny old men” instead of celebrating their contribution to the game. Which of them is correct? It doesn’t matter because for many of us, a movie about baseball is always worth the time.

 

For this visit, the Old Duck will ramble on about some of his personal favorites and delve into the archives for “Quacktoids” about the famous and obscure of the genre. Your favorites may be among them, but remember that opinions are like a part of your anatomy…everyone has one. Two top-25 lists from respected Internet sites each had nine movies that weren’t on the other list and film review site Rotten Tomatoes had five in their top-20 that didn’t appear on either of the other lists.

 

> 4 Stars

 

According to Leonard Maltin’s comprehensive movie guide, only one mainstream baseball movie qualifies as “****” and that is 1942’s “Pride Of The Yankees”. This biography of Lou Gehrig impacts even the Yankee haters in the audience and certainly belongs in the top five of all time. When Gary Cooper gives the famous, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, there’s not a dry eye in the house. One interesting side note is that Lou Gehrig once appeared in a movie playing himself but it wasn’t about baseball. In 1938, just prior to him being diagnosed with ALS, he starred in “Rawhide”, a “B” movie Western. The premise was that Lou had retired from baseball, moved out west and joined forces with a singing lawyer. Together, they worked against a racketeer who’s stealing money from ranchers. Sound corny? Of course! But watch a few 1930’s movies with John Wayne, Roy Rogers & Gene Autry and you’ll understand.

 

> Kevin Costner

 

This Oscar-winning actor, director and producer obviously has an affinity for baseball. He made two films back-to-back in the late 1980’s that show up on just about every top-five list you will find. The outrageous “Bull Durham” (1988), is a minor league story of the veteran Catcher “Crash” Davis mentoring the kid Pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh. Worth watching over and over again if only to hear, “Why’s he calling me meat? I’m the one driving the Porsche”.  And who wouldn’t convert to Annie Savoy’s Church of Baseball?

 

A year later, “Field Of Dreams” was the complete antithesis of the previous film. Costner’s character hears voices that convince him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn farm and the next thing you know, the 1919 Chicago Black Sox show up to play. As with many sports movies that depend on history, the audience must have some “suspension of disbelief”. After all, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson didn’t throw left-handed, but the movie is, after all, a fantasy. “If you build it, he will come”.

 

A decade later, the star returned to the baseball diamond with 1999’s “For Love Of The Game”. Not up to the standard of the first two, it still gets points for the realistic end-of-season baseball game that provides the backdrop of the story and the brilliant decision to have Vin Scully do the play-by-play.

 

> Based On A True Story

 

This term usually means that the screenwriter and producer had some level of poetic license in the depiction of true events. Movies are infamous for creating a “Hollywood” ending that might be a real stretch. With that caveat, there have been many baseball movies that didn’t need much fabrication because the stories stood the test of time.

 

One such example is “Eight Men Out” (1988), the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and their attempt to throw the World Series. Director John Sayles was meticulous in creating the era on screen and Eliot Asinof’s book was the basis for the film. A wonderful ensemble cast made the players believable and the movie easily belongs in the top ten.

 

Even though it wasn’t a theatrical release, “61*” (2001) was an amazing film directed by lifetime Yankee fan Billy Crystal. The story of Mickey Mantle & Roger Maris chasing Babe Ruth’s record in the Summer of 1961 was brought to life beautifully without a major star in the cast to detract from the story. How could you not love a movie that casts knuckleball Pitcher Tom Candiotti to portray knuckleball Pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm?

 

A heartwarming entry in this category is “The Rookie” (2002), which tells the true story of high-school baseball coach Jimmy Morris, who makes it all the way to the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Be careful not to look through the bargain bin and accidently pick-up “The Rookie” (1990), the buddy-cop movie with Clint Eastwood & Charlie Sheen, as you’ll be very disappointed.

Speaking of heartwarming, don’t miss “The Stratton Story” (1949) with Jimmy Stewart playing White Sox Pitcher Monty Stratton, who lost his leg in a hunting accident. Major leaguers Jimmy Dykes & Bill Dickey appear in the film.

 

Turning a book about advanced baseball analytics into a mainstream success may sound like a stretch, but Director Bennett Miller, along with star Brad Pitt, put it all together in 2011’s “Moneyball” based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book. It is rated as the #2 baseball movie ever by Rotten Tomatoes.

 

“A League Of Their Own” (1992) celebrated the professional woman baseball players who helped keep the game alive during the 1940’s. Lots of laughs and a few tears too, especially the final scene in Cooperstown. But, don’t forget, “There’s no crying in baseball”.

 

Even though it is in the documentary category, don’t miss finding “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” (2000). It tackles two difficult historical topics…prejudice in the sport and how World War II impacted the lives of baseball players and fans.

 

After you’ve seen “42”, find “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), where Jackie plays himself. It was a “docudrama” before the term was invented.

 

Jimmy Piersall wasn’t a superstar player but his story was unique and you get a dramatic glimpse into an athlete recovering from a mental breakdown in “Fear Strikes Out” (1957).  Three years before “Psycho”, Anthony Perkins portrays the Red Sox outfielder.

 

> Consensus Classics

 

These next three movies seem to pop-up on just about every top-ten list. “The Natural” (1984) tells the story of Roy Hobbs, who goes from obscurity to stardom in the twilight of his baseball years. Bernard Malamud’s novel was written in 1949, the same year major leaguer Eddie Waitkus was shot by a deranged female fan. Some say the event inspired the book, but no matter the back story, the film has some of the best cinema photography and set pieces in any sports film. And, of course, Robert Redford chose #9 as a tribute to Ted Williams.

 

“The Sandlot” (1993) is a charming little film, essentially for younger viewers, that follows a 1960’s sandlot baseball team through their trials and tribulations in the neighborhood of their small town.

 

“Major League” (1989) followed closely on the heels of Bull Durham and took the characterizations to a comic-book level. Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert and especially Bob Uecker, created the necessary atmosphere to make the rag-tag Cleveland Indians a pennant-winning team.  Haysbert also played a baseball player in Tom Selleck’s “Mr. Baseball” (1992).

 

> Under The Radar

 

If you first became aware of Robert DeNiro’s acting chops in his Oscar-winning performance as young Vito Corleone is 1974’s “Godfather II”, you may have missed “Bang The Drum Slowly” (1973). Michael Moriarty plays the star Pitcher of a mythical New York baseball team (patterned after Tom Seaver?) and DeNiro is his slow-witted Catcher with a terminal illness. While accepting the actor’s skills as major leaguers might be difficult, the story is true to the sport.

 

I’m always surprised at how few baseball fans have seen “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Movie Kings” (1973). An homage to the barnstorming days of the Negro League players, it includes Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones & Richard Pryor in the cast. Look for former Angel slugger Leon Wagner as the 1B.

 

While not really a baseball movie, “The Naughty Nineties” (1945) must be included on the list for one reason. It contains the best recorded version of Abbott & Costello doing their “Who’s On First?” comedy routine. This is the film clip shown at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

 

> Rock Bottom

 

Every movie category has its clunkers and baseball in no exception. Stay away from sequels including Major League II & III as well as any of the Bad News Bears follow-ups and Sandlot 2 & 3. “Ed” (1996) is about a chimpanzee playing 3B in the minor leagues and “Talent For The Game” (1991) would have us believe a scout could put on catching gear and sneak into a televised major league game without anyone noticing.

 

Was one of your favorites missed? Maybe you’re a fan of musicals and feel “Damn Yankees” (1958) belongs in the discussion. Or Dizzy Dean’s biography, “The Pride Of St. Louis” (1952). Or either version of “Angels In The Outfield” (1951 & 1994). How about Tommy Lee Jones as “Cobb” (1994) or John Goodman’s version of “The Babe” (1992). As a Red Sox fan, I’d be remiss not to mention “Fever Pitch” (2005).

 

Whatever you decide to watch, save me an aisle seat.

 

 

Clyde McPhatter & Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong

For those of you under a certain age, the answer is no, these aren’t two sleeper prospects for your 2017 Fantasy roster. One of the favorite pastimes of smart asses like the Old Duck is to put a song in your head that you can’t remove for at least 24 hours. In 1953, Clyde McPhatter was the lead singer of the Drifters when they recorded “Money Honey” (later covered by Elvis Presley). Not to be confused with the Lady Gaga song, it’s lyrics include…

 

Well, I learned my lesson and now I know–

 

The sun may shine and the wind may blow–

 

Women may come, and the women may go,

 

But before I say I love ’em so,

 

I want–money, honey!

 

Money, honey

 

Money, honey,

 

If you wanna get along with me.

 

The fledgling Motown Records was provided with important capital when Barrett Strong hit the charts in 1960 with “Money, That’s What I Want” (later covered by the Beatles).

 

The best things in life are free–

 

But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees,

Now give me money, (that’s what I want), that’s what I want.

 

As we continue to marvel at MLB’s endlessly deep wallets, let’s look back at a list I complied in January of 2013 hoping to give the readers an opportunity to once again be a General Manager. Based on some minimal research, it appeared that there were almost two dozen major league players who were scheduled to make at least $20 Million for the 2016 season. The task 3+ years ago was to determine which of these players you would really want on your roster in 2016 at these prices. Some figures represent the actual salary for ’16, while others are an average of a long-term deal. We won’t quibble over a million here or a million there. The player’s age for that season was listed to help with your analysis.

 

> Zack Greinke, age 32, $26 Million

 

> Ryan Howard, age 36, $25 Million

 

> Albert Pujols, age 36, $25 Million

 

> Josh Hamilton, age 35, $25 Million

 

> C.C. Sabathia, age 35, $25 Million

 

> Prince Fielder, age 32, $24 Million

 

> Joe Mauer, age 33, $23 Million

 

> Mark Teixeira, age 36, $22.5 Million

 

> Cole Hamels, age 32, $22.5 Million

 

> Jose Reyes, age 33, $22 Million

 

> Matt Kemp, age 31, $21.5 Million

 

> Jayson Werth, age 37, $21 Million

 

> Carl Crawford, age 34, $21 Million

 

> C.J. Wilson, age 35, $20 Million

 

> Alex Rodriguez, age 40, $20 Million

 

> Adrian Gonzalez, age 34, $20 Million

 

> David Wright, age 33, $20 Million

 

> Jered Weaver, age 33, $20 Million

 

> Joey Votto, age 32, $20 Million

 

> Ryan Braun, age 32, $20 Million

 

> Troy Tulowitzki, age 31, $20 Million

 

> Matt Cain, age 31, $20 Million

 

In 2013, what percentage would you have picked to be on your team in 2016? Possibly 50% or more? Three years later, even with inflated salaries, how many would you have kept this past April 1st if you had an opt-out clause in their contract? With all due respect, the Old Duck would keep Hamels & Votto…that’s it! The next time your favorite team signs a free agent to a contract that takes that player into his mid-30’s, think about this list and temper your expectations.

 

 

Drafting Without Roger Goodell

'16 Trout BR

Despite being a pro football fan for over 50 years, the Old Duck is pretty much fed up with NFL / ESPN “Hooker – Pimp” relationship that has evolved over the years. From the Brett Favre comeback to the Ray Rice elevator cage match to Tom Brady’s deflation issues, one ugly perception emerges…instead of reporting the news, ESPN is very often attempting to create the news. The ultimate example is the annual NFL Draft, which draws a huge audience and generates lots of dollars for the league and the network. Maybe the most telling fact is that when they moved the Draft to Chicago for the past two years, people were paying scalpers $1,500 for a ticket to get inside the venue. Think about that for a moment. Paying an exorbitant amount of money to sit in an auditorium for a couple of hours to hear 64 names being called. If that is considered exciting, imagine going to your child’s High School graduation with hundreds of names being called. And guess what? You’ll recognize more names at the graduation. Seriously, after Goff, Wentz & Elliott, the average fan would have been stumped by the other 61. So, in my small way, I’ve started protesting this school of sports reporting by boycotting the NFL Draft…and any other ESPN football programming prior to at least one exhibition being played. It might not seem like much in the big picture, but at least the TV in my house won’t add to the ratings.

 

These thoughts lead to baseball’s “First Year Player Draft” held this past month. While MLB certainly would like to have the same level of fan enthusiasm as the NFL, the harsh reality is that it never will because the players chosen won’t have an immediate impact on a fan’s favorite team. The advent of the MLB Network, however, has now made the Draft a little more relevant and for Fantasy Baseball players, it has become worthwhile viewing. If you play a keeper league format, especially with deep rosters, the names announced could be important to your success. If you like looking toward the future, the names Mickey Moniak, Nick Senzel & Corey Ray could be meaningful to you in 2017.

 

Let’s take a look at some picks from the past decade and how they’ve panned out for Fantasy players.

 

> 2006

 

If your current pitching staff is based on this Draft, you’re in pretty good shape. 1st round selections included Clayton Kershaw (#7), Max Scherzer (#11), Andrew Miller (#6), Jeremy Jeffress (#16) & Ian Kennedy (#21). Of course, other hurlers taken in the 1st round included Greg Reynolds (#2), Brad Lincoln (#4) & Kasey Kiker (#12).

 

> 2007

 

David Price was the #1 pick and he’s turned out OK. So has the #10 choice Madison Bumgarner. Everyday players from the 1st round include Mike Moustakas (#2), Jason Heyward (#14), Ben Revere (#28), Todd Frazier (#34) & Josh Donaldson (#48).

 

> 2008

 

#1 pick Tim Beckham is still trying to make it but Eric Hosmer (#3) & Buster Posey (#5) are household names. Lots of marginal major leaguers were sprinkled throughout the first round like Pedro Alvarez (#2), Yonder Alonso (#7), Gordon Beckham (#8), Justin Smoak (#11) & Brett Wallace (#13)

 

> 2009

 

All things considered, the top selections from this Draft haven’t been top-notch. Stephen Strasburg went #1 and after that, many of the names are forgettable…Dustin Ackley (#2), Donovan Tate (#3), Tony Sanchez (#4) & Matt Hobgood (#5). There was one fairly good player named Mike Trout, who was taken with pick #25.

 

> 2010

 

Starting a Fantasy squad with Bryce Harper (#1), Manny Machado (#3), Drew Pomeranz (#5), Chris Sale (#13) & Christian Yelich (#23) would make you smile.

 

> 2011

 

Some good results already with Gerrit Cole (#1), Anthony Rendon (#6), Francisco Lindor (#8), George Springer (#11) & Jose Fernandez (#14). The jury is still out on Dylan Bundy (#5) but Danny Hultzen (#2) & Bubba Starling (#4) look like wasted picks.

 

> 2012

 

Carlos Correa (#1), Addison Russell (#11), Corey Seager (#18) & Michael Wacha (#19) have already had success while time will tell on Byron Buxton (#2) & Lucas Giolito (#16).

 

> 2013

 

Kris Bryant (#2) was the first to emerge at the major league level by winning the NL ROY in 2015, but watch for Clint Frazier (#5), Austin Meadows (#9) & J.P. Crawford (#16)

 

> 2014

 

Only a year removed from amateur status, Carlos Rodon (#3) and Brandon Finnegan (#17) had already pitched in “the show” during 2015. Now, we’ve also seen Aaron Nola (#7), Michael Conforto (#7) & Trea Turner (#13).

 

> 2015

 

Lots of potential stars in this group and the top three picks were all SS…Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman & Brendan Rodgers.

 

Check the results for 2016 and target the prospects now for future success.