At the break

Some baseball notes:

1) can you be a scrappy, over-achieving team when you have a $200 million payroll? Because that’s what the Yankees feel like. It’s something of a surprise that they’re in first place. The club has a lot of holes. Their three highest paid players are Arod, Mark Teixiera and CC Sabathia. No one expected anything from Arod this year, but he’s been very good so far. Tex had been injury-prone and in decline for several seasons. He’s having his best season since 2009. In other words, you could make a decent case that two of their highest paid players are their two biggest over-achievers so far this season. (CC is awful). The Yanks have two other 20-million dollar players, Masahiro Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both have spent significant time on the disabled list this season.

Their best players are the relatively unheralded Brett Gardner, the low-cost starter Michael Pineda and reliever Dellin Betances, who’s barely clearing the league minimum. . They’ve got lots of dead weight in the lineup and the starting pitching has been weak.

This isn’t a plea for sympathy, nor a call to laud their performance. It’s just an odd amalgam of a team, and a reminder that not all high-payroll teams look alike. When the Yankees were spending this kind of money 5-6 years ago, they were spending it on superstars in or near their prime. Now, to a substantial degree, they’re paying a very large premium to field an old team, supplemented with marginal players. All of this is a function of the team’s massive failures in player development over the past decade.

In that regard, of course, the Yankees still benefit enormously from their wealth. A less well-endowed team could not remain remotely competitive with a system that has produced as little as the Yanks’ has in recent years.

But relative to preseason expectations, they still count as a surprise.

2) I can’t remember who it was now, but someone on sports radio Saturday evening said, in a very straightforward way, that all baseball records have now been tainted. A generation ago, the prospect of a player making an assault on 60 home runs in a season, or the career record, would have quickened the heart of any real baseball fan. In no other sport is there anything comparable to the emotional experience of statistical records. And now, this host said, that’s all gone.

Despite my status as something of a PED-truther, or falser, or whatever, I found myself unable to disagree. An assault on a major baseball record, whether it’s the career hits record, or home runs, or some pitching milestone will never have the same psychic resonance it once did. And in a way that is untrue for any other sport – no one cares about how widespread drug use in the NFL undermines the “integrity” of their games – the diminished meaning of records is a serious blow to baseball’s resonance.

3) Greenie made a heartfelt plea this morning for Pete Rose’s reinstatement. OK, not exactly for reinstatement, but for sympathy for Rose. He recounted having seen Rose come out of a restaurant in Cincinnati last night – Mike and Mike are on hand for tomorrow night’s all-star game – trailed by several dozen fans. According to Greenie, Rose stopped to take a picture with every single one of them, as gracious as could be. And the scene made Greenberg feel sorry for Pete. Greenberg noted that Rose has already paid an extraordinarily high price for his transgressions – a now quarter-of-a-century long banishment from a game that is his life. He and Golic agree that, as Rose broke baseball’s cardinal rule – he bet on the sport, including on his own team- it’s not wrong that he has suffered the fate he has. And Greenberg noted that Rose has always been his own worst enemy, an assessment with which it’s hard to disagree. Greenie just wondered whether Rose has now suffered enough.

Leaving aside whether basic human sympathy – since Greenie and I come from similar stock and are similarly wired, I’m sure I’d have reacted in like fashion to the scene Sunday night – should bear on the question of Rose’s reinstatement, Greenie made a good observation. He pointed out that Baseball’s Hall of Fame presently excludes its all-time hit king (Rose), will keep out its all-time homerun king (Barry Bonds) and will also keep its doors closed for the foreseeable future to arguably the greatest pitcher of the post-WW II era (Roger Clemens). What is the meaning of the Hall of Fame, which was created to venerate baseball’s greatest players if, to a significant degree, it no longer serves that function? There would, of course, be every opportunity for the Hall of Fame to contextualize the performances of the likes of Bonds, Clemens and so on however they chose. But since baseball hasn’t actually stricken a single record, nor vacated a single win, it’s an oddity, at the very least, that the Hall of Fame fails to reflect fully the game’s history.


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