Figuring out Arizona Major League Baseball (and how it is doomed)

On Monday, it came out that Major League Baseball is considering a radical if not completely insane idea to make the 2020 season happen in this age of coronavirus: put everybody needed for the season in Phoenix, separated from as many non-baseball people as possible, and start the season there in empty stadiums normally reserved for the Diamondbacks, spring training, and perhaps other teams (presumably referring to Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University, the two Division I schools in Phoenix). Players, coaches, training staff, other personnel, and perhaps even families would be lodged in spring training facilities or bought-out hotels. Games would be played in the available stadiums, perhaps as many as three a day depending on scheduling.

It is, of course, a completely insane idea. Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk is right in calling it pure madness. There are so many things that could go horribly wrong with it. Perhaps not surprisingly, MLB is already stressing that it is only being considered and is in no way decided upon.

But, what the hell, let’s say that it actually does happen despite everything. How are they going to lay down the league?

It stands to reason that the usual Cactus League teams would keep their usual spring training facilities as their home bases, save for the Diamondbacks themselves, who would use Chase Field. It would also stand to reason that to make the “tripleheader of games” idea possible, they’d want to spread out the time zones of the “home” teams so that a East Coast team could still have most of their home games at a reasonable hour back in the home cities.

So, going through the available stadiums in Phoenix, I’ve assigned hypothetical places for teams. I used a rule of thumb as assuming that each site (with the exception of Chase Field) could ‘handle’ the number of MLB teams it usually does plus one. Teams in bold are the ordinary residents of those places during the spring.

Chase Field (3): Arizona Diamondbacks (are usually at Salt River during spring), St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (3): Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves

Sloan Park (2): Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox

Camelback Ranch (3): Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets

Goodyear Ballpark (3): Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates

Surprise Stadium (3): Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays

Tempe Diablo Stadium (2): Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays

American Family Fields of Phoenix (2): Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins

Peoria Sports Complex (3): San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles

Hohokam Stadium (2): Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies

Scottsdale Stadium (2): San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Arizona State): Houston Astros/Overflow

Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark (Grand Canyon University): Detroit Tigers/Overflow

 

You’ll notice that I have the two Division I college stadiums set as “overflow”. That would mean that they’d also serve as back-up locations in case a stadium is too overbooked for a day. Other stadiums would also act as overflows as necessary, but since the college stadiums would only have one assigned team they’d be the first ones used.

Also, it should be noted that I’d imagine that Chase Field would end up being a venue for all the teams (for reasons I’ll get to later), but for the sake of this article I’m going with the three teams I have assigned.

So, let’s just say that somehow this DOES happen. What would a hypothetical “opening day” look like? Just for fun, I’ve randomly picked out June 6th, a Saturday, and assumed that MLB just picks up the schedule where it was and figures out the rest later on.

The schedule for that day (Eastern Time/Mountain Time) could look something like this:

2 p.m. (11 a.m.) Cardinals at Pirates at (overflow) Chase Field

5 p.m. (2 p.m.) Tigers at White Sox at Camelback Ranch

Approx. 7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Rays at Yankees at Chase Field

7 p.m. (4 p.m.). Brewers at Red Sox at Sloan Park

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Mariners at Marlins at American Family Fields of Phoenix

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Phillies at Braves at Talking Stick

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Rangers at Blue Jays at (overflow) Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Astros at Orioles at Peoria Sports Complex

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Mets at Nationals at Scottsdale Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Angels at Twins at (overflow) Phoenix Municipal Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Indians at Royals at Surprise Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Cubs at Reds at Goodyear Ballpark

Approx. 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Rockies at Dodgers at Camelback Ranch

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Giants at Athletics at Hohokam Stadium

Approx. 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) Padres at Diamondbacks at Chase Field

So, looking at this schedule, you are probably going like: “Okay, this will be awkward, but it’s do-able!”

Well, yes, in theory. Except if it were to happen, it wouldn’t be theoretical any more. It’d be real, and that means a few VERY big issues.

Sure, there are the obvious ones that deal with logistical and moral dilemma: whether players would be willing to leave their families, what would happen if somebody tested positive for COVID-19, who and how everyone would be isolated, how teams would handle filling roster spots after injuries (presumably some type of slimmed down AAA team acting as a taxi squad), whether it is morally right to be doing this at all given that people are dying out there, the list goes on. Even if we were to magically wave a wand and make all those other issues disappear, there is one issue that makes the plan unworkable.

What I’m talking about here is a more physical one. As Elliot Gould’s character of Reuben says in Ocean’s Eleven, even if you get past all of the casino’s security, rob it, and get out of the front door… you’re still in the middle of the desert!

And, make no mistake, Phoenix is a goddamn desert. Take this opening day that theoretically is June 6. On June 6, 2019, the high temperature in Phoenix was 103 degrees. The low was 77 degrees. If you were to bring this to 2020, it would mean every game save for the Chase Field games, the two outdoor 10 P.M. games “hosted” by West Coast teams, and possibly the 8 p.m. local games would be taking place at least partly in heat that could be charitably described as “the devil’s jock-strap.” Never mind the coronavirus, players would be in danger of dying from heatstroke!

(This, by the way, is why I imagine that Chase Field would end up being a rotating venue without a “home” team, as rotating it would allow every team at least the occasional chance of air-conditioned relief.)

The obvious way, of course, to get around this is to play only night games aside from  some games in Chase Field. However, that means games starting late on the East Coast, which wouldn’t do well with TV, which without fans is basically the only way the owners are supposed to make money and pay salaries. In other words: that ain’t happening.

Now, there could be a way around this, but it’d require them to take the MLB quarantine bubble to somewhere else.

Greater Los Angeles, for example, is the site of two MLB stadiums (three if you want to go full freaky and frankenstein the LA Coliseum again), 10 Division I baseball programs, the MLB Urban Youth Academy, and a few other high-quality amateur or semi-pro fields. What’s more, the weather in LA is usually in the 70s during that time!

Of course, the thing is that Greater Los Angeles is a lot bigger than Phoenix,  has (so far) been hit harder by COVID-19 than Phoenix, has worse traffic, doesn’t have the spring training facilities that can used for conditioning, housing, etc.

Okay, then how about the Gulf Coast of Florida? After all, that is also spring training territory. While using the entire Grapefruit League wouldn’t make sense given that the coasts of Florida are three hours away from each other, putting it just on the western side would put 10 spring facilities as well as Tropicana Field all within at most two hours from each other. Throw in Al Lang Stadium (a former spring training facility now partly converted for use by Tampa’s soccer team but which still seems to have enough of a diamond shape to be used for baseball with some work), Jack Russell Stadium (the former Phillies spring home that is still well-maintained and even was used by the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2019 due to renovations in Dunedin), Henley Field (a classic old ballpark now used for D2 baseball which was once used by the Tigers and which has occasionally been taken over by them again during renovations at their usual spring place), Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven (former Indians training site), and the D1 ballfields at USF and FGCU and you have 17 possible places for games- even more than Arizona!

Even if you were to cut it down to just the Tampa Bay area itself, you’d get Tropicana Field plus five-to-seven spring training facilities (depending on whether you’d count Bradenton and Sarasota as the Tampa Bay area). Add in USF and the former spring facilities and you’d have 11-to-13 possible places, or roughly around the number that Phoenix has.

So what’s the issue with Tampa? For one thing, some of those old ballparks I included in the count aren’t used for spring games anymore for a reason. Having everyone on eastern time would mean that west coast  “home” games would have to start around 10 p.m. local, which may not work depending on certain ordinances in Florida.

Another reason? Rain. That’s probably the biggest issue with Tampa (besides all the other issues about holding this enterprise in the first place). Every year during spring training, there’s a day or two (or three) where seemingly every Grapefruit League game gets rained out. Well, guess what, it rains more in the summer in the Tampa area than it does in the spring.

So… what does all this mean?

It means, basically, that baseball is stuck with lots of bad choices. Even if they somehow miraculously get everything else in order (and I doubt they will) and if it is deemed appropriate to move forward (which is highly up in the air), the fact is that holding essentially an entire season in one city is tough to do while still making it feasible financially and physically to do so. So ultimately, the question is… how far are Major League Baseball and its players willing to go to have a 2020 season of any sort of meaningful length?

I suspect that, as the crisis continues, we’ll sooner or later get the answer.

Cancel (almost) Everything

On Tuesday, I said that Opening Day will not take place. At the time, it was mostly figurative, at least in America, and it seemed that while the big importance of Opening Day (capitalized) wouldn’t take place it seemed likely that the season would still start on time, albeit in a more depressing manner than usual thanks to the coronavirus.

Now, though, I think that we won’t even be seeing an opening day (not capitalized) as scheduled, much less an Opening Day. In fact, I think it would be malpractice to have it.

This realization came last night. I’m not sure when, but it was probably when a NBA game inexplicably postponed at the last second, a player tested positive for COVID19, and the entire season was suspended all in the space of what felt like a half-hour. Oh, and Tom Hanks announced he tested positive as well.

The average NBA arena holds between 15 and 20 thousand fans. Even the smallest MLB stadiums (Tropicana Field with tarps up, for example) holds thousands more people. Public Health experts in cities seem to differ on what level of crowd is too big, but even the largest estimates are around 1,000 people, or WAY WAY less than any major league stadium. Even a fan-less game may break the level of a safe gathering, given the amount of support staff, journalists, and security.

Yes, it is true that most COVID19 cases are minor, and even those in dangerous categories are more likely to live than not. But think of it this way: you are also more likely to get Christian Yelich out more often than not, but nobody would want to give him the opportunity to bat in the ninth against them.

So what I’m saying is: shut it down. Shut it all down. Unless it is either something  something essential or something that can be done entirely over television or the internet without any large amount of human interaction, it can wait.

It is said that baseball is life. That is true, but you also need life to have baseball, so there is no sense in putting anyone’s life at risk.

So shut it down. Cancel everything, and perhaps we can try again in a month or two.

Opening Day will not take place (Or: Baseball in the Time of Coronavirus)

Opening Day will not take place in 2020.

Oh, sure, an opening day (uncapitalized) will take place. The Major League Baseball season will take place, and there will be a day where the first games take place.

No, I’m talking about Opening Day (capitalized), the holiday where the long winter is finally truly banished on a joyous late-March-or-early-April day full of ace-on-ace pitching matchups, red-white-and-blue bunting, and a sense of hope for everyone. Yes, even the Orioles… at least for a couple of innings.

That Opening Day will not take place. You know the reason, if you’ve paid any attention to the news. I won’t say it here right now for at this point it would be redundant. The reason why Opening Day won’t take place, especially in places like Japan or Korea.

Opening Day might not happen in San Jose, depending on how long the crisis lasts. The A-ball Giants don’t have their home opener until April 17, but given the scary projections from epidemiologists, we have no idea what the world may be like on that day.

It is entirely possible that in the coming days and weeks Seattle, New York City, or other great cities may have the same rules then as San Jose has imposed now. Perhaps those may come before opening day, definitively cancelling Opening Day in those cities.

Ultimately, though, Opening Day has already been cancelled. For even if the gates are open and the people can come, the feelings of the day have been lost this year. For instead of hope, optimism, and rebirth from the long winter, there will instead be worry and fear.

Questions will race: Can I shake the hand of the person in the seat next to me, who I haven’t seen since last season? Did the person selling the hot dog wash their hands correctly? Should that old-timer who has been coming to games for as long as anyone can remember even be here?

Yes, Opening Day is cancelled, and we can only fathom when the long winter will truly end.

Random question: Will we soon have a MLB player with a last name starting with X?

In 1949, writer Ogden Nash wrote “Line-Up for Yesterday”, a poem that paid tribute to some of the greatest ballplayers in history up to that point by going through the alphabet. Three letters did not have representation:

  • I, which was used as a joking reference to himself writing the poem.
  • Z, for zenith, as a way of saying that these players were the top of the game.
  • And, of course… X, because there weren’t any ballplayers with a last name starting in  X. To make up for it, he just paid tribute to Jimmie Foxx.

Time has gone on, and, well, there still isn’t an MLB ballplayer with an X starting their last name. But, I was wondering- are there any candidates for it? After all, there are a lot of baseball players, and those players come from an increasing number of countries, some of which have different languages where having an X at the start of your name is more common.

So let’s go through the history of X-named ballplayers and see who has come closest so far, and see if there is anyone who may have a shot in the near-future.

The closest so far: Joe Xavier.

The closest baseball has ever come to having a Major Leaguer with an X at the start of their last name came in the late 1980s and the 1990 season, when Joe Xavier reached AAA. An infielder with the Oakland, Milwaukee and Atlanta organizations, Xavier later told “The Greatest 21 Days” blog that he may have had a shot at the big leagues if not for being traded to Milwaukee, which had a glut of infield prospects at that time. Alas, the fact that he never was able to crack the big league roster meant that the X portion of MLB reference material would remain empty.

The most recent one: Gui Yuan Xu.

Technically, Xu is his first name, but under western naming convention his family name of Xu comes last and therefore if he were to make the big league that is where he would be found in the index of baseball history.

Putting aside that, though, Gui Yuan Xu is the most recent minor leaguer who would have broken the “X” barrier if he made the bigs. A rare pro ballplayer signed from mainland China, Gui Yuan played three years in the Orioles organization before being released this past spring.

Anyone coming up in the college ranks?

The outlook for X-named ballplayers right now is not looking good. A look at the Baseball Cube (which is better than even Baseball Reference when it comes to college ballplayers) shows no current or recent prospect-level college ballplayers with names starting with X, at least at the Division I level. While there surely must be some high school players with surnames that begin with X, I am not a big enough expert on the prospects at that level to say if any of them may have a shot of one day breaking the “X” barrier.

Chinese Dreams

Ultimately, the best hope of one day having a ballplayer with a X at the start of their surname may lie in mainland China. While many ballplayers in Taiwan transliterate names with the “shoo” or “choo” sound into English with “Ch” instead of “X”, on the mainland the X seems far more common.

To see how that is, you need only look at the Baseball Reference page for players who have had their surname begin with “Xi”. Most of them are Chinese players who were on the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association either last year or this year. The AirHogs entered an agreement before the 2018 season to more-or-less give most of their roster over to China’s national team, as China prepares for the return of baseball to the Olympics in 2020 and likely then 2028. Six of those Chinese players on the 2018 AirHogs had names starting with “Xi”, and at least one of them has returned in 2019.

Now, the stats for them don’t exactly impress, with only one of the “Xi” (reliever Qi Xin) having statistics that I’d call “good”, but who knows? Perhaps one day a Chinese player with a surname that starts with X will catch somebody’s eye, just as Gui Yuan Xu once briefly caught the Orioles’ eye. And perhaps one day they will make the big leagues, breaking the “X” barrier once and for all.

So will we have a MLB player with a last name starting in X anytime soon? Probably not, but you never know…

“No Explanations Given” MLB predictions for 2019

Here it is- 25 predictions for the 2019 MLB season with NO EXPLANATIONS GIVEN. You want to know why I think some of these? Too bad! In some cases, I may not even be sure myself.

  1. Boston will win the AL East.
  2. Cleveland will win the AL Central.
  3. Houston will win the AL West.
  4. The Yankees and Twins will get Wild Cards.
  5. The Yankees will win the Wild Card game.
  6. The Astros will win the American League.
  7. The Phillies will win the NL East.
  8. The Cubs will win the NL Central.
  9. The Dodgers will win the NL West.
  10. The Nationals and Brewers will get Wild Cards.
  11. The Brewers will win the Wild Card game.
  12. The Phillies will win the National League.
  13. The Astros will win the World Series.
  14. Mike Trout will win AL MVP.
  15. Trevor Bauer will win AL Cy Young.
  16. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will win AL Rookie of the Year.
  17. Alex Cora will win AL Manager of the Year.
  18. Ronald Acuna Jr. will win NL MVP.
  19. Max Scherzer will win NL Cy Young.
  20. Victor Robles will win NL Rookie of the Year.
  21. Dave Martinez will win NL Manager of the Year.
  22. The Baltimore Orioles will have the worst record in MLB.
  23. The “Opener” will become more common.
  24. Giancarlo Stanton will lead MLB in HRs.
  25. Worries about a work stoppage at the end of the current CBA will increase.

Just for the record…. (2018 Baseball Predictions)

For the record…

The Houston Astros will repeat as World Series champions, beating the Washington Nationals in 6 games.

The Miami Marlins will have the worst record in baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles will trade Manny Machado by the deadline.

Mike Trout will be MVP… but only because Manny Machado will have been traded to an NL team.

Giancarlo Stanton will not hit 60+ HRs, but will hit 50+ HRs.

Same goes for Aaron Judge.

The Yankees will win the AL East

The Indians will win the AL Central.

The Astros will win the AL West.

The Nationals will win the NL East.

The Cubs will win the NL Central.

The Dodgers will win the NL West.

The Red Sox and Twins will be the AL Wild Cards, the Red Sox will win that game.

The Brewers and Diamondbacks will be the NL Wild Cards, the Brewers will win that game.

Shohei Otani will not win AL Rookie of the Year.

Otani will contribute more on the mound than the plate.

Ronald Acuna will be NL Rookie of the Year.

Michael Kopech will be AL Rookie of the Year.

Clayton Kershaw will win NL Cy Young.

Chris Sale will win AL Cy Young.

There will be three no-hitters this year, but only two of them will be by a single pitcher.

The AL will win the All-Star Game.

Many of these predictions will be wrong.

Peter Angelos’ specter of mortality is keeping the Orioles from doing what must be done

The following are true:

1. Peter Angelos, majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles, is 88 years old. This coming 4th of July, he will be 89.

2. The Baltimore Orioles’ current window for contention is almost entirely closed. Barring a miracle or a sudden change of heart, this will be the last season that Manny Machado, their best player, will be on the team. Adam Jones may also soon be gone. Chris Davis is still in for the next few years, but is no longer the slugger he once was. The pitching continues to be uneven at best, although Dylan Bundy still has some promise. The bullpen is better, but is still hurt by injuries and free agencies. The farm system, while not as bad as some say, is still poor, especially compared to most of the Orioles’ AL East rivals. Oh, and those AL rivals, especially the Yankees and Red Sox, seem to be headed towards another one of those 5-10 year stretches where they will be fighting for the top spot while all other teams fight for third.

3. The Orioles are doing nothing to set the groundwork for another run. They haven’t traded Machado, they haven’t had any significant talks with Jones, and to the best of my knowledge they haven’t stepped-up scouting or tried to get any top international prospects.

Those preceding points are, again, all true. And they are all related. To be more specifically, they all have to do with point number one: Peter Angelos is 88 years old. Every owner in sports dreams of two things (although the order may differ depending on the person): to win a championship, and to make a ton of money.

Angelos has succeeded in the latter. He is a billionaire, and the value of the Orioles has skyrocketed since his group first bought them in the 90s. No championship has come, and Angelos, in his old age, no doubt recognizes his chances of seeing one are numbered. It does not take a psychologist to recognize what is happening in his psyche: he wants to win one before he goes, and he has decided that he has a better chance if he stays the course, as opposed to committing to a long rebuild that he may not be alive for the end of.

It isn’t completely insane. To be sure, the Orioles aren’t anyone’s pick to win the World Series in 2018. Or even win the division. Or even the wild card. However, it isn’t totally insane to think that maybe Buck Showalter can work his magic one last time and that the team could overachieve its way into some type of Wild Card spot. And then, it’d be the playoffs, and who knows? Maybe they could somehow get hot at the right time and come home as champions. It isn’t likely at all, but it isn’t totally impossible.

However, it should be noted that there is an error with this theory: if indeed this was a case of wanting to win now before Machado leaves, the Orioles would be doing a lot more. To the best of my knowledge, they have made no major overtures to any of the top free agents still left on the market. They outright admitted they made no serious attempt to get Shohei Ohtani, citing organizational philosophy. With the exception of a few minor moves, they have made no indication that they are going for it, no-holds-barred.

Perhaps this is because of the climate of baseball this hot stove season, where the movement has been so slow that some are speaking of collusion and flaws in baseball’s financial structure. However, it seems unlikely that Angelos, probably the most pro-labor owner in baseball (during the 94/95 strike he refused to try out scabs), would go along with collusion, at least explicitly. No, more than likely it is just that the other part of being an owner: the money. Quite simply, Peter Angelos is trying to have it both ways: he wants to win a championship before he dies, but he also doesn’t want to put the money in the game that would let him do it.

In other words, he is trying to do two things at once, and in the end, he may end up with nothing at all.