After another lengthy hiatus, I’m back to continue to fight my way through this countdown. I have been able to write a Saturday List most weeks though, so it’s not like I have completely slacked. You’ll find in writing, whether it be for school or anything else, that one of the most difficult aspects of the process is beginning. Especially when one has a great deal of reading to do for classes, a team in the Elite 8, and any number of other worthy distractions (well, and some that are not so worthy).
The countdown continues with the return of Major League Baseball. Since I had this subject slated for Number 4, my hand has been a bit forced to finally get around to writing this entry with the season now beginning.
So who are The Exiles? They are the remnants of last year’s disasters that have somehow all ended up on the same two teams. The Miami Marlins, entering 2012 as one of the most exciting teams in baseball, complete with a fantastic new stadium (ruined by a horrendous statue/fountain/stolen piece of “It’s a Small World” ride) and a new manager (ruined by racially insensitive ramblings concerning an ailing dictator). They ended the season as one of the worst teams in baseball, and by trade and free agency a thorough purging of the roster ensued. Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramirez, who have combined for thirteen All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, two batting titles, and three Silver Slugger Awards, are all on different teams in 2013. Johnson, Buehrle, and Reyes are now on the revamped Toronto Blue Jays roster, while Hanley Ramirez joins the remnants of another failed superteam to play for a new superteam in Los Angeles.
The new Dodgers playing alongside Ramirez are those once-prized players of the disastrous Boston Red Sox. With such a loaded roster, great things were expected of Boston, who disappointed in tremendous fashion. Chicken and beer, injuries, underwhelming play, Bobby V, and by the start of this season Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford had all joined the Dodgers. Their resume is also very impressive: eleven All-Star appearances, one World Series MVP, four Gold Gloves, and two Silver Sluggers. (Additionally,among both sets of exiles, hundreds of bases have been stolen).
The final exile, who does not quite fit the same mold of the cast-aways from Miami and Boston, is Melky Cabrera, former outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, now also with the Toronto Blue Jays. At one time an MVP candidate last year, Cabrera was suspended for using Performance Enhancing Drugs.
The result of these exoduses? Two loaded rosters, full of accomplished, established stars and once-greats who must again prove they are worth millions of dollars. Look at these names:
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Cy Young Winner R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Grienke, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez.
Yes, the San Francisco Giants are defending champs, and the Los Angeles Angels are loaded silly (how do you pitch through Trout, Pujols, Hamilton, Trumbo?), but these two teams have more stars than Ophiuchus.
The creation of these two teams illustrates a lot about Major League Baseball. First, the creation of teams in baseball differs from other sports. Players move about with frequency, and most often the rich get richer. Yet the key to success is contingent on so much more. Secondly, super-teams in baseball, although more of a “sure thing” than those created in basketball and football, can fall short because of a number of factors. Third, the steroid problem is still not solved. It could get worse before it gets better. And finally, as I have written many times, baseball is on the way out. Here’s the part where I elaborate on those statements.
True: teams with the big dollars are generally playing in October. The Yankees and Phillies contend every year for a reason. But baseball is an interesting sport because teams can quietly build up a roster and surprise the league. A late-season trade can take that team from good to great. Part of the reasons teams can surprise us is that all but diehard baseball fanatics do not follow along with farm systems, college baseball, the draft, and foreign rookies. In the NBA, we can see the next superstar a mile away. The NFL Draft has become the most over-hyped and over-analyzed event in sports. Conversely, most people do not follow along with who defects from Cuba, which Triple-A players are having big years, and which college players look ready to enter the big leagues. Bryce Harper has been a big name for a while, but even Mike Trout took us by surprise.
Consider the Orioles: awful year after year, and then suddenly Adam Jones emerges as a star, Matt Wieters is the next big thing at catcher, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy mysteriously re-enter baseball relevancy, some guy named Chris Davis hits the ball really far, and Manny Machado becomes a talented project. Playoffs.
The Baltimore Orioles, however, are not the best example. They weren’t really that good; they found ways to win despite having a run differential of only +7. The Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, and Colorado Rockies are just a few teams in recent history that have made surprise runs or built solid franchises in surprising fashion.
Now for my second thesis, about super teams. In theory, teamwork in baseball is much less important than in basketball, football, baseball, soccer, or pretty much any other team sport. So getting talented players to work together to win games shouldn’t be difficult. As long as pitcher pitch well and hitters hit well, a team is going to win. Yet baseball defies this simple logic. Batters go into slumps greater than any that a three-point shooter ever faces. Pitchers lose their mojo in a worse way than a quarterback loses confidence. Injuries steadily pile up. Inferior teams hang around in the game long enough to win games in the 8th and 9th innings. While superteams in the NBA sometimes take some time to come together, they generally end up dominating. Yet basketball is a strange game that requires finding not the five best players, but the five right players. In baseball, the more talented team should be able to always win, and usually they do. Then a team like the 2010 Giants comes around and throws that all out.
The steroid specter won’t go away so easily. Melky Cabrera is proof of this. Had he not been caught, he would have maybe won the NL MVP, a World Series ring, and been given a huge contract. As it is, he got a pretty decent contract. In short: it may be worth it to cheat, especially if what the BALCO guys says is true and only idiots get caught. If I was told that only five percent of MLB players use PEDs, I’d believe it. I’d believe it if that number was 75 percent, too. It will still be years before baseball is finally rid of the steroid era, and there will be more cases like Cabrera’s.
And finally, The Exiles are further proof that baseball is inching closer and closer to hockey, losing sight of basketball and football, with soccer zooming past it in the opposite direction. The unbelievable collections of talent in Toronto and both Los Angeles teams is barely making a stir in the national sports media. What about baseball is in the news? Anything besides how mediocre the Yankees might be? The weariness created by the steroid era, the ascension of soccer and basketball, the length of season, and the slow pace of games all contribute to the gradual demise of America’s pastime.
So, The Exiles are part of this countdown for two reasons. First, they fit the criteria, as they are a talented bunch of players who have fallen out of the spotlight but now have a chance to do great things on their respective teams. Secondly, they help to illustrate some of the best and worst things about Major League Baseball today.
It’s still their turn, but does anyone care?
It’s Still Your Turn Countdown
10. John Wall
9. Tim Tebow
8. New York Knicks
7. Derrick Rose
5. Wayne Rooney
4. The Exiles
3. Coming Soon
Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at email@example.com. Thank you for reading!
Soli Deo Gloria