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Time For Baseball to Align Geographically?

Wow. Still amazing that, going into tonight, the Rangers still have 10 games left against the Houston Astros.

And I don’t just mean that because it should mean at least seven more wins on this season.

I mean, it may still take some getting used to that now each year there will be three opportunities to make just that four hour trek down Interstate 45 to catch the Rangers in a venue other than Arlington.

The Rangers do now have it lucky that they finally have a division opponent within more than decent proximity to them after years of nothing but West Coast hell. But more than that, the inner state rivalry between these two teams takes on much new meaning (It might take on even more if the series was competitive, but there’s only so much we can do).

Major League Baseball first experimented with this when they debuted interleague play in 1997, finally allowing the Mets/Yankees, Dodgers/Angels and Cubs/WhiteSox to play in actual meaningful games. The rivalries between inner city/inner state teams was stoked further.

Except for the Rangers and Astros, who were prevented form such games because they weren’t in corresponding divisions (American League West vs. National League Central). Chalk up one more negative to the Rangers’ division.

Funny enough, it was supposedly years ago that MLB first gave them this opportunity by offering to move the Rangers to the National League; Tim Hicks turned it down in favor of giving

But in the end, it all worked out as it led to freeing up the chance to break baseball from the monotonous division-only interleague play, and now the Rangers get their state division rival while remaining in the better American League.

And now perhaps MLB should take the next step toward expanding this in it most radical change ever.

I can be very critical of the NBA, and likely will once its season starts up, but the one thing I do like is the basis for how they align the league. They definitely need improvement in their current alignment (stay tuned), but the fundamental principle of organizing everything geographically is there.

And the NBA is not alone in this. It’s the same format that the NHL uses and college sports… Well they USED to do.

Maybe it’s now time for baseball to consider this and look to a complete realignment based solely on regions and not an antiquated league format.

Don’t think I’ve always had this idea. When I was a kid, a Rangers/Astros World Series was my dream. (And believe it or not, there was a time when the Astros had a team with the potential to do this.) But now, the idea of the league having more opportunities for fans to travel to games looks like a much more beneficial option.

Can you imagine what Yankees/Mets or Giants/Athletics would be like if they got to play 18 times a year and were actually fighting for more than bragging rights?

How much would attendance and ratings jump if not only were there even more games with even closer proximity, but the fact that an entire region was battling for a single playoff spot?

And from our own perspective, how much better would it be to maybe, just maybe, have the Rangers in the same division as teams in their own time zone??

Baseball has always been the slowest to change, and that has hurt it in more recent years. Many purists would scream and cry against a change like this to the bitter end.

But 20 years ago, the prospect of inter league play was still unheard of. Even after that, the possibility of a team changing leagues was preposterous. Heck there was a time when divisional play was considered heresy.

But times change. And it may be time for baseball to get even closer, geographically speaking, to its audience.

Cruz and Others Should Stand Against Baseball’s Railroading

I can’t believe I actually have to say this.

I may actually have some respect for Alex Rodriguez.

Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t like how he acted upon leaving the Rangers. I won’t deny the many douchey things he’s done his entire career. I still gloat about how Juan Gonzalez beat him out for MVP all the way back in 1996. And yes, him taking strike three on Nefti in 2010 is the greatest moment of my life.

But still, part of me has to salute anyone who is willing to stand up against holier-than-thou bureaucrats trying to railroad their employees and force their moral hypocrisy on everyone – especially if he’s willing to have his career end to make his point.

That is to say, IF he stands up to the bullies in the league office. Every day I see new headlines saying yes or no to whether A-Rod is going to take a deal for a suspension from his supposed dealings with steroid supplier Biogenesis. The most popular stories are saying the MLB office is offering a suspension through the 2014 season and threatening to ban A-Rod for life if he doesn’t take it.

In theory, what exactly does A-Rod have to lose for saying no? His career’s practically over; he might have retired after 2014 anyway. Accept or not, his chances of getting voted into the Hall of Fame by the sanctimonious writers is non-existent. I don’t think he’s hurting for money, so it’s not like he needs what’s left on his Yankees contract. He could walk away, give everyone the middle finger and fade into obscurity with the knowledge he didn’t give in.

That’s not the same situation for everyone else who’s on the dreaded “list.” Around 20 other players who are actually in their prime are also facing suspension, though reports now say MLB may only seek punishment on about seven. Among those is, of course, the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz, looking at getting kicked out at the worst possible time – right as the Rangers seem to have found their spark again in a pennant race.

Cruz and the others are reportedly being threatened to accept a 50-game suspension – the maximum for a first time failed drug test – or be hit with a 100-game ban, the max for a second-time offense. This is without any of them even failing a drug test once, save those like Bartolo Colon, who reportedly ISN’T among the ones MLB is looking to suspend now.

I don’t even want to know how in the world MLB can get away with this, circumventing their own collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union. And I still feel that if enough players appeal, an arbitrator could very well strike down these punishments harder than the NFL’s Bountygate.

But no. It looks like most of the players, including Cruz, will kowtow and accept the 50-game bans on the fear that an appeals process that goes into the off-season and possibility of losing will wreck their chance at the big free agent payday. It isn’t occurring to any of them that the 50-game suspensions will also likely come with getting slapped on the Barry Bonds blacklist and their careers might be over anyway. (Don’t give me the word “collusion” – our country neutered that law a long time ago.)

So if all this happens, Bud Selig can puff out his chest and claim to stand with Judge Landis for getting rid of a great evil in the sacred game. When it’s just as much his fault as anyone else’s that it was allowed to infest the game.

Therein lies my gripe. I am not an advocate of steroid use. I wish we lived in a world where athletes didn’t feel they had to put their bodies at such a medical risk to succeed at the game and career they love.

But while in theory, they should take the responsibility for making such a decision, it shouldn’t absolve the others that are responsible. And many of them are getting absolved.

In a world where the owners, media and fans demand that athletes do WHATEVER IT TAKES to succeed, where players receive DEATH THREATS for failure, who in the hell are we to come back and chastise those players for doing what they thought was necessary?

If you’re gonna yell “You suck” at someone for hitting a 390-foot drive that got caught at the warning track, don’t call him out for doing anything at all to make sure that thing gets the extra 30 feet it needs next time.

Baseball could have taken steps to eliminate the PED issue 15 years ago. They didn’t. Don’t tell me they didn’t know what was going on. They turned their backs because of what all of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s bombs were doing to their ticket sales, TV ratings and bottom line. And only now are they trying to play the morality card and claim they’re doing what’s in the best interests of the game.

There isn’t that much bull crap on all of Nolan Ryan’s ranches combined.

And the sanctimonious is right there with them, led by hypocrites like Mike Lupica saying they’ll never put the likes of McGwire in the Hall of Fame. Wonder if Lupica’s returned a dime of the money he made off the book he wrote praising that glorious 1998 season.

So I wish that Cruz, A-Rod and all these other athletes would stand up against the moral crusaders trying to throw them under the bus. They simply played the game they were allowed to, and now all of a sudden the so-called “moral guardians” of the game are changing the rules to make them look better.

But sadly, most of them may fall in line with MLB’s efforts to railroad them. And Selig will try to look like the patron saint when he had the keys to Hell’s gate this whole time.

Juan May Be Missing, But He Won’t Be Forgotten

The extreme disappointment of the Rangers getting swept at home at the hands of the Former Rangers, AKA the Baltimore Orioles, had only one silver lining. And that was the celebration of one other former Rangers.

Ivan Rodriguez took his place in the Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday night. We can only hope now that soon number 7 will be off David Murphy’s back and on the Ballpark’s left field facade where it belongs.

But if there is one downer to the ceremony, it would be that one other Ranger great was not there to be enshrined with Pudge.

While The Magnificent Seven was being honored, his longtime fellow Puerto Rican, known to his countrymen as Igor, seems to be fading into obscurity. Some younger fans might not realize just what an unbelievable player Juan Gonzalez was in his prime. He wasn’t putting up the power numbers the likes of McGwire and Sosa were, which many wanted to blame on The Ballpark’s deeper left field power alley compared to Arlington Stadium’s, but he was still one of the most feared hitters and RBI men in the game. Having Chuck Morgan play the Star Wars Imperial March when he came to bat just fit; He was simply intimidating when he stood in the box during those years in the 90s.

When the Ranger strafed Juan primarily for Justin Thompson and Gabe Kapler (plus others), my gut feeling said they were going downhill. I was sadly proven right. Thompson never stared a game for Texas, Kapler did absolutely nothing outside of homering in his first two Ranger at-bats and setting the team’s hitting streak record, and the Rangers would be out of the postseason for 10 straight years.

Even I could tell Juan just never seemed to fit in within the United States. His thick accent always stuck out. He always seemed to be a loner. And because of that, he perhaps received the most criticism for things like not wanting to be an All-Star in 1999 if he wasn’t starting or sitting out of the Hall of Fame game because his baseball pants didn’t fit.

And so, just as I suspected, Juan has chosen to go his own way with his baseball career behind him. He has gone back full-time to his native island, reportedly teaching youth baseball while leading a pretty quiet life.

And even though multiple representatives of the Rangers contacted him about induction, including Eric Nadel, he turned them down.

We may never know if there is any specific reason why Juan has chosen to distance himself from the organization that helped make him a star. The common assumption is that he became permanently soured when The Large Rodent, AKA Tom Hicks, accused him of using steroids in a supposed tirade about Juan’s lack of production when the Rangers brought him back in 2002.

I get the feeling a large number of fans and media members will more remember the gripes and controversy. Me, there will always be one moment I’ll remember above all else.

It was the last game of 1998 before the All-Star break, when he hit his second home run of the game off Randy Johnson to hit the 100 RBI mark for the year. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and then another one when he came out to right field the following inning. He could not hold back the tears.

But maybe that’s just me – trying to remember the good times above all else.

I also remember TR Sullivan’s column when Juan won the 1996 AL MVP over Albert Belle, saying, “That shows you there is justice in the world. Character should count for something.”

I never got to meet Juan Gonzalez, but I don’t think he was ever a bad guy – just one who struggled to fit in and had his own way about him. So maybe in that way, I can relate.

I wish that one day, Juan will have his plaque in the Rangers Hall of Fame. Time ca heal all wounds, we can only see.

But if this is what Juan truly wants, then I can step back and accept that. And choose to remember the good times of Igor knocking balls all over the Ballpark.

Finally, Pudge Gets His Day

Most people have that one personality that they remember being able to see more than anyone else.

For me, it was the short, stocky Puerto Rican who manned the plate for the Texas Rangers for more than 12 years.

And that’s why it’s going to be an honor tonight to see Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame.

Hopefully it will soon be followed by David Murphy accepting a new jersey number so #7 can hang from the left field facade where it belongs. But that’s for later.

For now, it’s time for North Texas to show appreciation for one individual who’s greatness wasn’t truly appreciated when it was there.

Pudge was known more than anything for that Howitzer of a throwing arm that made him they guy simply no one wanted to run on. Teams that relied on base stealing – yes, there were still some that existed even in the power ball times of the 1990s – would come to Arlington and find themselves effectively shut down.

It was more than just the arm, however – it was the reflexes. He would get the ball, and within a split second, he was up and in perfect position to throw. Maybe this is just my own nostalgia goggles, but I can almost remember him regularly going crouched position to cannon fired in about half a second, whereas most catchers would take close to a full second.

And the defense was only part of the game. I doubt anyone can fully understand how hard he worked to become one of the best pure hitters of the game.

The term “contact hitter” usually describes someone willing to take borderline pitches to force an even better one. But Pudge was the type of guy who would go after this outside pitches – not because he was undisciplined, but because he could hit them.

I’ll always remember two at-bats above all else when it comes to Pudge. The first was in a June 1995 game with the winning run at third. After swinging and missing at two high fastballs from Lee Smith, you knew he was getting another in the same location, and logic dictates he should hold back. But instead, he finds a way to get the bat up high enough and knock the third fastball at the letters into center field to win the game.

The second was back around 1998 when he hit a line drive shot into right center field for a home run. That was the deepest part of the park at more than 407 feet. And going the opposite way for him.

It all amounted to a total package that was sadly taken for granted. To many in the area, none of what he did on the field mattered as long as he couldn’t somehow guide the team’s young pitchers into Cy Young candidates. It was why so many begged the Rangers to trade him in 1999 to bring in the Great God Roger Clemens. And why when they finally let him go after 2002, newspapers quickly praised the supposed leadership abilities of Einar Diaz.

But as the Rangers headed to another last-place finish in 2003 while Pudge helped carry the Florida Marlins and its young pitching staff to a championship, that claim that he couldn’t work with pitchers was thrown right back in his critics’ faces. Turns out maybe lack of talent on the mound was more to blame in Texas.

Only then did the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” truly sink in. And while the Rangers ultimately managed two pennants with Bengie Molina and Mike Napoli behind the plate, the revolving door of catchers goes on.

Sadly, Pudge may never be remembered for being the best at what he did perhaps in history. Historians want to be locked down on the past and treat certain individuals, like Johnny Bench, as untouchable in that regard. And of course, there is the likelihood that baseball’s “moral guardians” will try to lump Pudge in with everyone in the so-called “steroid era”of the 90s and keep him out of the big Hall of Fame for as long as possible.

But for now, Ivan Rodriguez will be honored among the people who will appreciate what he did. Finally.

For Many Rangers Fans, The Seaon Might as Well Be Over

The more things change, the more new Rangers players take part in the All-Star Game, the more they stay the same.
The Rangers prepare for the second half sitting just two back of the Oakland A’s at 54-41. But to hear the cries of the “fandom,” that record might as well be reversed with them being 22 games back.
Hit the panic button! Rangers aren’t in first! Season’s over! When does Cowboys training camp start?
Forget the fact that the Rangers have the second-best ERA in the American League despite having to run multiple rookies into starts due to injuries. With Rangers fans, it’s always about how bad Justin Grimm has been instead of how great Yu Darvish is.
Heck, I’m surprised the cries of “Yu Darvish isn’t a true ace after all,” haven’t started all ready. After Darvish inexplicably went more than a month without a win, talk hosts, writers and pundits scrambled for a reason and latched onto the fact that Yu had been throwing more breaking balls recently instead of trusting in his fastball. Yu’s response was to basically say he doesn’t listen to what the media tells him to do.
I knew there was a reason to like that guy.
Thus, despite having broken through and made the World Series in consecutive years, nothing has changed among the observers in Arlington. This, to just about everyone, is a team doomed to failure and thus nothing more than a novelty meant to keep us briefly entertained and distracted until the REAL athletes show up in Oxnard. (I’m still trying to figure out exactly who on the radio said that.)
And of course, if the inevitable collapse of their pitching staff doesn’t get them, the inevitable implosion of their lineup from Nelson Cruz’s certain drug suspension will.
Never mind that, as I pointed out earlier, these suspensions are not definite – especially since no player will immediately miss games upon filing a grievance. In fact, the players union is now suggesting that, given the time the MLB office has taken and the time a grievance hearing would then take. it likely won’t be until next year that any penalties would actually come, even IF MLB wins its case.
If there’s one thing I’ll admit I’ve liked since giving 1310 The Ticket one more chance, it has been Norm Hitzges, the calming presence of the media. Constantly bringing up the ungodly amount of injuries and how this team has still managed to weather the storm for the most part, Norm has steadfastly begged Ranger Nation to do one thing: Enjoy the ride of a team that has been constantly in the picture since 2009, which seemed impossible at one point.
Sadly, that won’t cut it with the sports market that’s only happy when it’s dominating.
I doubt even the wisdom of Norm will be enough to calm the whining masses. While they point to the fact that the Cows were just a few inches away from making the playoffs multiple times last year and thus are certain to break through this year, the near misses the Ranger shave are proof positive to them that they have no chance of coming out on top.
That’s the most frustrating thing about this whole situation. There is truly nothing this team can do to make people satisfied. Heck, even if they were 12 games up at this time, the social media would be loaded with the likes of “Does the collapse begin now?”
It’s the same old story. If they aren’t dominating, their support shrivels up.
The Rangers’ drop in the standings from where they were in May has already caused those top-ranked attendance figures North Texas was trumpeting to plummet. If they’re even a single game out by the time training camp rolls along, the turnstile count could get even worse.
Until, hopefully, they get everyone healthy, steamroll their way through September and lo and behld, find their way in the postseason for a fourth straight year.
And then everyone will say they knew it all along.

Baseball’s Crusade May Get Backlash From the Union AND Fans

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The problem with preaching on top of the mountain is that there are a lot of people looking to knock you down. And that may be the problem those in charge of baseball may soon face.

ESPN reported yesterday that Major League Baseball plans to suspend more than 20 players they have been investigating for months in connection with the Biogenesis clinic supplying them performance enhancing drugs – after the All-Star Break, that is.

In other words, wait until after their Mid-Season Classic so nothing disrupts it and then throw under the bus the players it just triumphed during the game.

Okay, maybe that’s a cheap shot, especially since league spokesman Pat Courtney declared the report premature and would only say “We are still in the midst of an active investigation.”

Still, while Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are definitely the two players MLB is targeting the most in this investigation, reportedly searching for a way to hand them 100-game suspensions despite them not being convicted a first time (Braun had a suspension overturned), Rangers fans are definitely eyeing this with fear, as All-Star Nelson Cruz is reportedly on the list.

So many baseball fans in North Texas are already declaring their season to be over (which they rarely need much of a reason to do anyway). But they might want to hold the phone on Mister Boomstick definitely being out for at least 50 games.

It should be noted that NOTHING is definite at this point. While ESPN tries to break the story first (while possibly shilling for the front office of its MLB partners, because that’s what that network does), we have to constantly remember that no hard evidence has been leaked at all. We don’t even know if they have the same amount of evidence on every individual player other than a name on a list. Many just assume for now that MLB has all the dirt it needs to lower the boom, and when you ASS-U-ME…

But no matter what, it seems clear MLB more than ever is trying to set itself up as the holy savior of decency – but instead may be setting itself up for the same humiliation its football brethren suffered last year.

The NFL tried to take the same path when it laid the hammer down hard on the New Orleans Saints for the infamous “Bountygate” scandal, when Roger Goodell suspended coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, coach Sean Payton for a year and numerous players for taking part in a “pay-to-injure” program. Goodell was hailed by many, including myself, for trying to bring humanity into a game that desperately needs it. And then he ended up with egg on his face as his own predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, declared he did not have enough evidence to convict the players and vacated those suspensions.

Thus it was established once again that in the modern age, a sports commissioner does not have complete autonomy. And that may come back to bite Selig here.

Selig and MLB are desperate to land a big win in their crusade against PEDs, especially after the U.S. Attorney’s office has repeatedly failed in nailing the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and even wrestling czar Vince McMahon two decades ago. And if Selig isn’t careful, that desperation could be his undoing in this crusade.

No one has failed a drug test, at least not in reference to this current investigation, and that is key. While we don’t know who all the league office is talking to, the main sticking point is that the key witness in the whole thing, Tony Bosch, is someone they said months ago was a completely unreliable source. Yet now they have accepted his agreement to cooperate with them just as they were on the verge of buying the services of Biogenesis investor Porter Fischer to give them the dirt on Bosch.

Thus, if and when such suspensions come down, expect the players union to strike back with extreme ferocity. If it’s not written in stone in the collective bargaining agreement that MLB can definitely suspend players with just circumstantial evidence, the union will fight – and could very well win.

MLB’s best defense perhaps lies in the fact that 1. Definite proof wasn’t needed in 1920 when Judge Landis banned the Black Sox for life for fixing games, and 2. No official failed drug tests were needed for U.S. Cycling to strip Lance Armstrong of everything he had built. But the thing to remember here is that nether Armstrong or the Black Sox had a group as strong as the MLBPA behind them.

Some holier than thou experts might say if the union knew what was best, they’d throw these players under the bus for “the protection of others and the good of the game.” That’s not how a union works. The MLBPA’s job here is to ensure due process is upheld, or else a governing body like the MLB office can eventually flex its muscle and just discipline players with no real evidence whatsoever.

Think something like that wouldn’t happen in major sports? Just ask those who remember the late race car driver Tim Richmond, who NASCAR banned for a failed drug test that was completely bogus just so they could get an AIDS-infected person out of their sport.

But the biggest question in all of this is “Just how much do the fans care?”

Therein lies perhaps the biggest similarity between Selig and Goodell. They are putting forth all their efforts to supposedly “save” their sport for a fan base that doesn’t seem to want it to be saved.

If you approached a casual NFL fan on the streets and brought up the subject of players intentionally abusing and hurting each other, you’d probably get a shrug and a “So what?” After all, wanton violence and abuse is what almost everyone watches football for.

Meanwhile, as the baseball reporters with keyboards and microphones go on and on about the sanctity of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron’s game being destroyed, most casual fans continue to buy their tickets and high-priced beers and shrug it off with the attitude of “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” for lack of a better term.

We as an audience have long demanded that our athletes do whatever it takes to win. Wouldn’t it then be hypocritical for us to then chastise them for doing whatever it took?

It seems maybe, just maybe, a lot of fans get that. And if the union wins this fight, the majority of fans will likely be there tho throw the eggs at Selig. They usually stand by the players as long as they don’t go on strike.

Whether Selig can lower the boom on someone like Nellie Cruz has yet to be seen. But even if he can, it won’t stop him from likely receiving a standing ovation from the Ballpark crowd when Cruz is able to step in the batter’s box again.

Rangers Apparently Still Aren’t Good Enough for This Town

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A record start. The most wins in the American League. The signs that this team finally has a true ace pitcher.

All should seem well in Ranger Nation, right?

Not to hear the so-called fans say so.

We’re a third of the way into the season, and already the doom and gloom sayers are making the the preparations for the supposed collapse of the team that to them is preordained. Because these are the Texas Rangers. They HAVE to fail in the end. They MUST fail in the end. Success is not an option, because if they were to actually come out on top, what would we do?

We don’t know how to think positive about this team! It’s IMPOSSIBLE!! We’re supposed to do nothing but complain, complain, complain!!

Yes, this is the image I begin coming to when I hear all the griping and grousing on my Facebook and Twitter posts about how what was a seven-game lead in the American League West isn’t quite so large any more.

But is it correct for me to believe that? Maybe not. At least, upon further review, perhaps it’s not exclusive to their opinions of the RANGERS.

Come to think of it, Dallas sports fans do a LOT of griping about every single team. Rangers, Mavericks, Cowboys – every single loss by every single team is met with cries that the sky is falling. Why?

And this is the conclusion I have come to.

DFW doesn’t want winning. They don’t want championships.

They want DOMINATION.

They want their teams to win every single game by absolute blowout every single time. Nothing close, nothing tense, nothing where they don’t definitely know by halftime or the fourth inning that the game is in the bag.

I still remember a listener poll taken from one of the radio stations here a few years back (don’t ask me what station it was; I truly don’t remember), and the majority hands down voted that they preferred blowout wins to close ones.

Got to have a good reason to head for the car by the seventh inning/fourth quarter, right?

The way the Mavs won the championship in 2011, coming back from down 2 games to 1 and pulling it off despite trailing in the fourth quarter of each of the first five games? Still not good enough. They want results like the Cowboys steamrolling over the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl 27. All the better to brag to everyone when they can put up that big honking score, right?

So yeah, the Rangers leading the AL West with an AL-best 35-21? Still not good enough, because Oakland’s recent surge has brought them to within less than two games. It was supposed to be 12 games by now, so we could just lay back, talk trash and throw our “Don’t Mess With Texas” arrogance.

But now, the Rangers might have to actually… EARN their trip to the postseason? That’s it, it’s over. They’ll be in second place once the Red Sox deliver the sweep here in Fenway that’s guaranteed. If it doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come.

I guess such is the attitude that comes when you win five Super Bowls and only one was by less than two touchdowns.

Sad that the people of this area can’t enjoy the ride instead of worrying and assuming it’s gonna end in a crash.