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Sunday, March 26, 2017

"The Perfect Ballplayer"

I started this blog six years ago out of impulse.  Major League Baseball was seeking volunteers who wanted to spend the entire 2011 baseball season living in a "fan cave" in New York City watching baseball games and blogging about them.  The occasional baseball player would stop by and hang out at "the cave" with the residents and you and your "cave-mates" would be on TV and the Internet talking baseball.  What red-blooded die-hard baseball fan wouldn't love that opportunity?  All you had to do was apply online and submit a writing sample.  Knowing full well that I could not conceivably (and in good conscience) leave my husband, kids, and job for six months, I applied anyway.  But a writing sample?  I hadn't written anything since my graduate thesis on the history of baseball litigation, and even I thought that was too much of a snoozer to submit.  So I created this blog so I would have some baseball stuff to submit, and of course I wasn't chosen (surely not because of the caliber of my writing - probably because it wouldn't look cool for a forty-something-year-old female to live with some twenty-something-year-old men). 

I started out writing almost daily, reporting scores from the previous day's games and piping in my opinions on certain occurrences here and there.  Then life got busy, my job got more demanding, and I blogged less frequently, focusing on baseball in general - the rules, the players, and of course, my opinions on just about anything baseball-related.  Now that I own my own business (a kitchen store in Frederick, Maryland called "The Kitchenette" - stop by and say hello if you're in the area!), I barely have time to cook a decent meal, let alone write a well-thought-out blog post.  But just because I write less frequently doesn't mean my passion for baseball has faded - I still scour the sports pages daily, check the MLB app on my phone constantly, and count the days until the start of the regular season (just seven more to go!).  But if something majorly important, super-exciting, or rather controversial is happening in the Majors, I will certainly find some time to write about it and give you my take.

The most recent blog-worthy event in baseball was the World Baseball Classic, which ended last week with Team USA beating Puerto Rico 8-0 in the final of what was an exciting and much-talked-about series that started out with 12 teams from all over the world - a true "World Series."  Unfortunately, long nights spent watching WBC games and busy days tending to my business and family did not allow me the opportunity to share my excitement with you (good thing, because I was downright obnoxious rooting for "Team PR"), and many news outlets have already reported on the WBC's playoff-like atmosphere, the national pride, and the fact that blond hair color was sold out all over Puerto Rico because all the PR players (and most of the residents of the island) chose to color their hair blond as a sign of team and island unity).  Even The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck, whom I have criticized here in the past, wrote a nice piece about how the WBC games brought so much enthusiasm to fans and players from all over the world.  In media standards, the WBC is old news - why keep talking about it when Gonzaga is going to the NCAA Final Four and the Washington Wizards and Capitals will both be in their respective playoffs?

But today's blog post is not about the WBC - I want to talk a bit about baseball history (please don't yawn!) and what makes "the perfect ballplayer."  When you ask a non-baseball fan to name a famous baseball player from the past, they may come up with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or Joe DiMaggio (around these parts, people may mention Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson, or Earl Weaver).  Ask someone who follows the game and they might name Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Roger Clemens, or Derek Jeter.  Then of course there's Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier and is deservedly one of the most respected athletes of all time.  Ask any Puerto Rican, whether or not they currently live on the island, and he/she will inevitably mention Roberto Clemente.

Now, I've mentioned Roberto Clemente many a time in my blog - in seventeen different posts, to be exact.  But like current Houston Astros outfielder Carlos Beltrán mentioned in a 2016 article he wrote for "The Players Tribune," Roberto Clemente's legacy is something that is taught as part of the history curriculum in all schools in Puerto Rico.  Unfortunately, as baseball continues to evolve and the years pass, more and more people (including baseball players) go through their entire lives without knowing the impact that Clemente had both on and off the baseball field.  As more players reach the 3,000 career hits milestone, Clemente gets pushed lower and lower down the list of all-time hiters, now sitting at 30th with Adrián Beltre surely pushing Clemente to 31st sometime this season.

So why is a guy who has 29 other guys ahead of him on the all-time hits list considered to be "the perfect ballplayer?"  This is not a quote from a regular Puerto Rican person - it was actually said by a former player, an African-American Hall-of-Famer by the name of Willie Mays.  I know Willie is super-old and may not currently have all his faculties, but he said this a while ago, and the fact that he picked Clemente instead of his godson (Barry Bonds) says something.  Sportscaster Bob Costas likes Clemente too, but I don't like Bob Costas, so he's not worth mentioning further.  And if you ever visit Pittsburgh, those fans know their baseball history, and they know the former Pirate like he was one of their own.

Need some numbers to convince yourself that Roberto Clemente was the best baseball player ever?  Here are a few numbers to note: 1966 Most Valuable Player for the National League, NL batting champ (1961, 1964, 1965, 1967), World Series MVP in 1971, eleven-time Gold Glove winner, 12-time All Star, and National League leader in triples in 1969.  Oh, and he has an award named for him - the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given every year to a player with outstanding baseball playing skills who is personally involved in community work.

Oh, this Clemente guy did stuff for charity?  Don't many baseball players do that?  Yes, they do (and they should).  But Clemente went above and beyond to help those in need throughout his career, providing sports equipment to the needy, offering free batting clinics in his native Puerto Rico, and taking relief supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake on New Year's Eve, 1972.  Well, actually, he and the supplies never made it to Nicaragua, because the plane carrying Clemente was overloaded with too many supplies, had an incompetent flight crew, and crashed into the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico.  So yeah, poor Clemente died without finishing his baseball career - had he played for another year or two, he would probably be between Tony Gwynn and Alex Rodriguez at 19th of all time. 

So was this guy better than Ruth, Rose, or Rodriguez (Iván, not Alex - you all know I truly dislike A-Rod!)?  Yes.  Not only did Clemente have impressive career numbers and was a great humanitarian, but he demanded respect, let his bat and glove do the talking, and made a permanent impact on the game and how to play with intensity, discipline, and dedication.  He's the type of guy who, when mentioned to baseball experts, elicits an instant sigh of admiration not given to current stars.  They use words like "hero," "legend," and "class act" to describe him.  They don't argue that he was the best right fielder ever.  And his legacy needs to be explained to all current baseball players - this is how you play, this is how you behave, this is how you help others (except for the plane crash part). 

Alright, friends; thank you for letting me rant about "the perfect ballplayer."  Some people think I'm too "rah rah Puerto Rico," but this is my blog and I can write about whatever I choose.  But seriously, the 2017 season is getting ready to start, and I'm looking forward to writing about great baseball players - whatever country they're from and whatever team they represent.  Watch out for the Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox, and yes, the Chicago Cubs (again!).  This promises to be a season of milestones, magic, and lots of home runs (Trout, Stanton, Machado...).  So keep checking in - I will do my best to keep you updated on all things 2017 - including Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in July (gee, did I mention who is being inducted?), Adrián Beltre's chase for 3000 hits, and maybe the coming of a new "Perfect Ballplayer."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Slow down! You move too fast!"

Over the past 35 years, the length of a regular-season baseball game has increased by 30 minutes.  This is mainly because batters spend way too much time “adjusting things” when in the batter’s box, managers make way too many pitching changes (one of my pet-peeves), and pitchers sometimes make way too many throws to first base whether the baserunner has ever stolen a base in his life or not.  Major League Baseball is aware of fans’ short attention spans and is proposing all sorts of wacky ways to shorten the game, and you know me, I just have to put my two cents into this discussion.

One thing MLB is proposing is to start the tenth inning of a game with a runner already on second base.  Seriously?  I have sat through many an extra-inning game, and while they can be frustrating because you have no idea how many total innings it will go, starting extra innings with a guy on second is idiotic.  Do you put the guy who was supposed to bat next?  What if he was going to hit a home run?  You just ruined it by putting him on base instead of giving him a chance to hit.  It’s like starting an overtime in football by automatically putting the ball on the 20-yard line.  Plus don’t you have to play the bottom of the inning anyway?  Just dumb!

Another suggestion was to make the game only 7 innings instead of nine.  Really???  Aren’t these guys making MILLIONS of dollars to play a full game?  Do they have to stop selling beer after the fifth inning?  And w ill a beer at Nationals Park cost $15 because there will be less beers sold due to games ending faster? Are they going to have the “Fifth Inning Stretch?”  This one has definitely not been thought out very well.

Here’s one that is actually being implemented this year, since it was approved by the Players Union:  Instead of throwing four pitches way off the strike zone to a batter who is being intentionally walked, managers can now tell the home plate umpire that he wishes to intentionally walk the batter, and the batter can just walk to first base without facing any pitches.  Now you all know how much I DESPISE the intentional walk – I may have mentioned that a time or two before – but I have seen many occasions where a pitcher is trying to intentionally walk a batter, the pitch gets away from the catcher, and a baserunner is able to advance.  Just letting the runner go to first base without seeing a single pitch affects pitch counts and really only speeds up the game by a few seconds.  Last year there was one intentional walk every two-and-a-half games.  So if you’re expecting this new rule to make a big difference. Don’t hold your breath.

So what can be done to make the game a little shorter (the current length doesn’t bother me, but most people aren’t as “baseball nerdy” as me)?  I thought you'd never ask!  Here are some bullet points to consider:

·        Stop letting players step out of the batter’s box after every pitch.  You had time to stretch while on the on-deck circle – once you step up to bat, quit dilly-dallying.  Hank Aaron agrees with me – he says players spend way too much time adjusting their batting gloves and helmets and making all sorts of unnecessary movements.  And if Hank says it’s unnecessary, I believe it.  He's like John McCain talking about waterboarding - the guy knows his stuff!    

·        Don’t let catchers have meetings on the mound.  If a pitcher is stressed out, he needs to learn how to calm himself down; he doesn’t need a catcher to say “There, there, my friend – it’s going to be OK!”  Again, these guys are millionaires – they don’t need to be babied.  And if you have your signals mixed up because there’s a runner on second base and you forgot what the signs were in that situation, then you’re an idiot.

·        Get rid of instant replay, or at least have an extra umpire in each park who can check the replay way faster than the dudes who sit in an air-conditioned office in New York.  And don’t allow managers to stall while his coaches are viewing the replay to see if the manager should challenge or not.  Pitchers are being instructed to stall so the managers can have time to decide whether to challenge a call or not, and this is just silly.  Baseball players and managers are terrible actors.

·        Stop putting in a pitcher to pitch to one guy.  The whole “lefty lefty matchup” or “righty throwing to lefty” thing is something I have never understood.  Yes, you’re now getting into the strategy of the game, but if the starting pitcher was able to pitch to both righties and lefties, why all of a sudden does a reliever have to be put in to face one particular batter?  It infuriates me when a pitcher is credited with a win when he only pitched to one guy.  It’s one thing if a reliever is struggling; but using seven “specialist” pitchers in one game just so they can pitch to one or two guys at a time is ridiculous.

So there you go, Commissioner Manfred – this is one of the reasons I wanted your job before you took it from me.  Let’s see how this “intentional walk” thing goes this season – surely I will have some insightful opinions about the matter.  In the meantime, we have a couple of things to look forward to before Opening Day:  Former Red Sox/Cubs catcher David Ross participating in “Dancing With the Stars,” and the World Baseball Classic, where I turn into a lunatic fan rooting for my Puerto Rico team.  We have Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Carlos Beltrán, and Francisco Lindor – watch out Dominican Republic; we’re going after you! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Felicidades, Iván!"

Despite having a population of over 3 million people, Puerto Rico can sometimes seem like the small island that it is.  When someone from Puerto Rico is famous, you inevitably know someone who was that person's neighbor, Little League coach, or hairdresser.  I alone can say that my mother taught a former Miss Universe, my former doctor also treated the wife of Carlos Baerga, and a relative of mine lived next door to a former member of Menudo.  It's also safe to say that every Puerto Rican has run into a famous person at one time or another - I remember seeing a local actress in the pharmacy once, a TV personality was a former client of my father's, and let's not even get into my many run-ins with Ricky Martin!  Needless to say, most Puerto Ricans are just a few degrees of separation from someone famous.

One such encounter I had back in the day (the summer of 1990, to be exact), was with Iván Rodriguez.  He was in the Minor Leagues at the time - a virtual no-name visiting the sports facility where I worked that summer as a camp counselor.  I remember impressing Iván with my baseball knowledge, and a teammate of his saying to me "Remember this guy; he will be famous someday!"  Well little Iván turned out to have a pretty good career - 14-time all-star, 13-time Gold Glove winner, 1999 MVP, and as of today, member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Today's nod comes as no surprise - despite having been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs by former teammate and obvious "juicer" José Canseco, Iván never failed a drug test and vehemently denied ever using PEDs.  His career numbers as a catcher are unparalleled, and his knowledge of the game and control of his battery mates earned him the respect of coaches, reporters, and players alike.

 But something else that sets us Puerto Ricans apart is our sense of family.  We all feel like "Pudge" is that distant cousin that despite only seeing rarely at weddings and funerals, you beam with pride at his every accomplishment and triumph.  We followed his career closely for twenty years, memorizing his statistics and talking about him like if he was Norm and you were Cliff and you had just recently shared a drink at a local bar.  When my father saw Iván walk by him a couple of years ago in Old San Juan, they greeted each other and waved like if they had gone to school together.  Wave your Puerto Rican flag or yell the word "Boricua!" in a baseball stadium, and Carlos Beltrán will give you a baseball, Alex Cora will sign it, and Sandy Alomar will wave at you (speaking from personal experience in all three situations!).  That one-starred flag can be spotted by Puerto Rican athletes and other celebrities no matter where they are, and I bet you there will be hundreds of those flags being proudly waved this coming July in Cooperstown, New York, when Iván Rodriguez is formally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Having blogged about baseball for so many years and being such an ardent "Pudge" fan, you'd think it was pretty obvious that I would be one of those attending the Hall of Fame festivities this summer.  Unfortunately, it is not the prudent thing to do at this time, since my husband and I started our own retail business last year and just can't justify spending so much money on one weekend (especially since we would have to bring the 12-year-old - YOU try telling him that he can't come along!).  Part of me was secretly hoping that Iván would not be selected into the class of 2017, so I wouldn't feel bad about not going to enshrinement weekend.  But I'm over that, and at this point, my Puerto Rican pride has grown tenfold, and I look forward to watching Iván, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines become Hall of Famers from the comfort of my own couch.  Besides, it's usually dreadfully hot on that day; you always see Willie Mays wiping his brow and Dennis Eckersley taking swigs from a water bottle.  My poor fair-skinned husband would surely get a sunburn!  And what if it rains?  I don't want to be in a Woodstock-like setting being trampled by sweaty, muddy, smelly people!  Really - why spend all that money when there are so many variables you can't control and you have to pee in a porta-potty?  No thank you!  (See how hard I'm trying to make myself feel better?)

So whether you'll have a front-row seat at Cooperstown (Iván's Little League coach might!) or you'll be like me watching from home (waving the flag that Iván signed for me a few years ago), the pride that will be displayed for "Pudge" Rodriguez will be like nothing seen before.  Cooperstown will be rocking with boisterous Puerto Ricans and other fans alike, and the Hall of Fame will have a new inductee:  A guy who caught two no-hitters, a player who got called up to the Majors on his wedding day, and a distant "cousin" who has made every Puerto Rican proud.  Felicidades, Iván!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Shut Up, Pete Rose!

Earlier this week, the Miami Marlins' Ichiro Suzuki raised his career hits total to 4,257, passing Pete Rose's record Major League Baseball total.  The issue here is that 1,278 of those hits came while Ichiro was playing professional baseball in Japan; therefore, "only" 2,979 of those hits were while playing Major League Baseball here in the US.  No one really seems to care where his hits came from, because we all love Ichiro and we know that professional baseball in Japan is serious business with top-caliber talent - except for Pete Rose.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pete Rose, he was a very very very good baseball player.  He was known for his hustle, his competitiveness, and for betting on baseball.  Now, I actually read Pete Rose's autobiography, where he admits to betting on his team while he managed the Cincinnati Reds (and he also went into great detail over his time spent in prison, including how his wife snuck in a Whopper for him during a visitation), so I consider myself an unofficial authority on Pete Rose and his betting habits (which allegedly still continue, mainly with horse betting).  It was because of this betting on baseball that Rose has been banned from being inducted into the Hall of Fame, even though his name is there several times due to his impressive hitting career (and deservedly so, statistics-wise).  Rose is also kind of an ass, lacking basic decorum and always sounding like a brash redneck (though his comments are sometimes quite humorous).  So it came as no surprise to me when I read an Associated Press article in which Rose was quoted as saying "I'm not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he's had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they'll be counting his high-school hits."  Just shut up, Pete!

So what would have been a better thing for Rose to say?  Gee, let's see, how about something gracious like "I'm not sure if I would count the hits that Ichiro got while playing in Japan, but hey, he's a great baseball player and I'm so glad that he has had such a long and illustrious career," or "Good for Ichiro - I've never met the guy because I was banned from baseball for so long, and I envy the fact that he will someday be in the Hall of Fame, but it's a great accomplishment that I am happy to share with him."  Rose could have even declined to comment on the matter and that still wouldn't have sounded as whiny and sore-loser-ish as what he said.   Let's face it - Pete Rose is an idiot.  

So what's so great about Ichiro that makes him such a likable guy?  The Washington Nationals' first baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, has said that Ichiro has been his favorite player to meet at first base, because he's always friendly and chatty and has nice things to say.  At All-Star games, Ichiro is the player whom other all-stars flock to and want to meet.  For Ichiro, it's always been about his teammates and about his fans.  He is known throughout the world as a model athlete who has transcended demographics and race.  And he's a damn good baseball player.  So don't listen to Pete Rose complaining about Ichiro's Japanese hits counting towards his professional career total.  Personally, instead of worrying about what a washed-out has-been who uses way too much Grecian Formula thinks, I'm going to focus on Ichiro's next 21 hits - the amount he needs in order to tie Roberto Clemente in the all-time Major League Baseball hits list with 3,000.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It's Opening Day - Time to Multitask!

Hello, my friends! It might be 40 degrees outside here in Maryland,  but it's time to play some baseball!   Opening Day "light" is today (only three games are on today's schedule), and as always, I am thrilled.

It was a long winter for us, having dug ourselves out of three feet of snow after a record-breaking blizzard. But Easter has passed, the snow has melted,  and the Boys of Summer are ready to play.

In our house,  this is an extremely busy time of year. My daughter has outdoor track, my son has baseball, and my husband and I are taking classes in addition to our busy work schedules. So here I am typing this on my tablet while watching the Cardinals-Pirates game, running downstairs to the computer in between innings to finish my class assignment, and periodically checking on the laundry. It's definitely time to multitask even more now that baseball is starting.

So what do we have to look forward to this season?  Well as far as my Washington Nationals, they had a very good spring training and are all starting the season healthy. They have a decision to make as far as having Michael Taylor or Ben Revere in center field (I would go for Taylor), but that's a good problem to have.  Personally, I just need to get used to manager Dusty Baker always having that darn toothpick in his mouth and I'll be fine. I think Dusty is a good addition to the Nationals - the mostly-white organization was definitely in need of some diversity.

We can also look forward to the retirement of Alex Rodriguez (good riddance! ).  While he's not 100 percent sure if this is indeed his final season, we can be certain that his retirement won't have the season-long fanfare that Derek Jeter's had last year.

Then there's 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. If you don't love Ichiro, you're an idiot.  Ichiro has 2,935 hits (5 million if you count the hits he got playing pro ball in Japan).  With 65 more hits, Ichiro will join the elite 3000 hit club. We know you can get it done, dude!

Before I go (gotta move clothes from the washer to the dryer and finish that darn assignment for tomorrow night's class), I wanted to advise that you keep an eye on Francisco Liriano and the Pirates. You all know I don't like to make predictions, but Pirates fans may want to keep their calendars clear in October. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's Almost Time! It's Almost Time!!!

Oh my goodness - are you all as tired of the cold weather as I am?  Well Spring Training for Major League Baseball is just around the corner (pitchers and catchers report to camp starting February 17!), so warmer temperatures should soon follow (I hope!).  What do we have to look forward to in the 2016 baseball season?  Plenty!

  • For starters, David Wright only needs 18 more home runs to pass Darryl Strawberry as the New York Mets' all-time home run leader.  I followed the Mets back in Strawberry's day, but I'm OK with Wright passing him - Wright is a quiet yet consistent player - let's just hope none of those home runs come against the Nationals.
  • Also worthy of note this season is Ichiro Suzuki, who is only 65 hits away from reaching 3000 MLB hits (he already reached that milestone if you count the hits he got while playing professionally in Japan).  Everyone loves Ichiro (including me), so hey - go for it.
  • Speaking of old guys, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz are very close to reaching the 500 home run/600 doubles club (joining Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron).  Pujols needs 17 more doubles (doable), and poor "Papi" needs 16 (not so doable).  But it's Ortiz's last season, so he'll enjoy all the attention and gifts he'll receive when he visits each city one last time even if he's too slow to steal any bases.
  • And as much as I don't like Alex Rodriguez, I have to mention that he only needs 13 more home runs to reach 700.  Whatever.  On a brighter note, my man Miguel Cabrera only needs 8 doubles to reach 500.  There's that.
  • And what about the switch hitters?  Well Carlos Beltrán (392) and Mike Teixeira (394) are looking to become only the fourth and fifth switch hitters to reach 400 home runs.  Any idea who the other 3 are?  Some guy named Mickey Mantle, a former Oriole by the name of Eddie Murray, and cutie-patootie Chipper Jones - not too shabby of a list, huh?
  • What is WRONG with me - I still haven't mentioned any catchers!  Well Yadier Molina (if he can stay healthy) will break the record for most games caught by a Cardinal.  But "Yadi" is still recovering from thumb surgery, so we'll have to see how many times he can get behind the plate.  Getting old, Yadi!
  • And of course there's this year's Hall of Fame inductees - Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr - who will have their jersey numbers retired by the Mets and Mariners respectively.  I was never a big Piazza fan, but you just couldn't help but love Griffey - his smile, his dedication, his commitment to the fans and the game.  Cooperstown will be lucky to have him.
  • As far as the young guys, last year's AL Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa, needs 36 more home runs to pass A-Rod as the hitter with the most home runs at short stop at the age of 21 or younger.  Yes, it's an obscure statistic, but since Correa is Puerto Rican, I had to mention it.
  • Finally, it's important to note that the Dodgers' veteran broadcaster Vin Scully will be retiring for real at the end of this season.  Scully has significantly cut back on the games that he does (home games only), but he is truly a broadcasting legend who will be deeply missed by Dodger fans (I'm not going to miss him, because I don't get Dodger home games in my neck of the woods).
Then there are the questions surrounding the upcoming season:
  • Will the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton have his first 40-home run season ever?  (I hope not!)
  • Will the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw have his third career sub-2.00 ERA season?  The last pitcher to do that was Sandy Koufax, and that was a LONG time ago!
  • Will Nolan Arenado win his fourth Gold Glove award?  If so, he would be the first player since Ichiro to do so in his first 4 years in the Majors.
  • Will the Chicago Cubs have their first 100-win season since 1935?  I hope so!
  • Will the National's Bryce Harper (last season's NL MVP) win the Triple Crown?  I highly doubt it, because RBIs have been hard to come by for the Nationals, but it will be fun to watch him try.  Let's hope he stays healthy and continues to grow up (he matured nicely this past season, so hopefully the tantrum days are long past).
  • Will my husband and I visit more ballparks this season?  Well we're at least going to Philadelphia, so there's that.  My quest to visit all 30 ballparks is taking way longer than expected!
So there you have it - plenty to look forward to this baseball season, which means I'll have a lot to blog about throughout the upcoming months.  Stay tuned, and for the love of Pete, get rid of all this snow!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stop Being so Darn Sensitive!

Racism is a terrible thing.  Saying racist comments or doing certain actions that denote racism are signs of ignorance and intolerance (along with domestic abuse and kicking pigeons).  Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, there are still many Americans who do not welcome the diversity and cultural differences that make this melting pot of a country a very nice place to grow up in and raise a family.  However, the problem of race issues is aggravated by the over-sensitivity of some, especially when the media takes someone's statement and immediately makes a racial issue of it.

Yes, this is a baseball blog, so naturally I'm referring to a specific baseball-related issue here (because you REALLY don't want to get me started on Donald Trump!).  It's not about Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, or Roberto Clemente (though they are pioneers in their own right).  This latest issue involves the Washington Nationals' new manager, the veteran-of-the-game Dusty Baker.  Dusty is one of those old-school guys who has been around a long time and is well-respected in baseball.  He is going to give the Nationals that spark and competitive fire that they've been lacking lately, and I'm perfectly OK with him taking over as manager (I was actually surprised when he was hired, because I have always thought that the Nationals' General Manager, Mike Rizzo, was a bit racist).  So yeay for Dusty and the Nats!

Well during this year's Winter Meetings (where players are dealt, traded, and signed), Baker made two statements that immediately got the media in a tizzy.  First, he said that the Nationals need more speed, so he wants more African-American and Hispanic players on the roster.  How is this racist?  Really, people - chill out!  Baker finished by saying "I'm not being racist, that's just how it is."  Who has the record for the most stolen bases?  Rickey Henderson, who is black.  Whose record did he break?  Lou Brock's, and he's black.  Who is the fastest baserunner currently (in my opinion)?  Lorenzo Cain, who is black.  Dee Gordon, who stole 68 bases in 2015?  Black.  Who is the fastest man in the world?  Usain Bolt, who is Jamaican (and black).  It's no secret that blacks are pretty fast, whether on the base pads, the football field, or the track (Oscar Pistorius was pretty darn fast, but with aerodynamic blades as legs, I would be fast too.  And don't accuse me of being insensitive to the disabled - not only am I legally blind, but I know many people who agree with me about Pistorius).  Anyway, back to Baker's comment, I have been saying for years that the Nationals need more minorities on their staff and on their roster, and I don't see anything wrong with his statement.

Baker's second faux-pas was regarding Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman.  Baker said Chapman "is a heck of a guy.  I'll go on record and say I wouldn't mind having Chapman."  Well you see, Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and shooting a gun during an incident in October.  Not cool.  But Baker, who managed Chapman for three seasons after Chapman defected, was purely speaking of Chapman as a player.  Yes, he's a heck of a pitcher; I will second that.  Is he an idiot?  Probably.  Should he suffer a consequence for choking his girlfriend?  Yes.  Should he be banned from baseball for being a jerk?  No.  Unless his actions directly affect his performance or the outcome of a game (Pete Rose!), Chapman (who had 33 saves and a 1.63 ERA this past season) should be allowed to play (once he has served whatever consequence he deserves for being a woman-beater (not cool AT ALL!).  Baker said he does not know the details of Chapman's offense and has not seen the police report corresponding to the matter, so he was speaking of Chapman purely as a baseball player.  Nothing wrong with that.

So yes, the Nationals need more speed.  They also need reliable left-handed pitching and they need to stay healthy.  Whether that "speed" comes from Michael Taylor (who is black) or from a player acquired during the off-season will be interesting to see.  And if there's a white guy out there who can fly, then by all means sign him and give him the red light.  But regardless of how fast a guy is or what race he is, he needs a good first-base coach who is aggressive and a manager who encourages base stealing.  Or do like the Chicago White Sox, who have their own baserunning instructor (Vince Coleman).  So as you can see, it's not just a matter of black vs. white - there are many factors that make a team "fast."  So let's stop bringing race into it and stop being so sensitive.  Good luck to Dusty Baker and the Nationals in 2016 - may they get their pitching needs met (by signing Johnny Cueto or Chapman himself?) and may they get some fast guys who can steal some bases (be they Black, White, Hispanic, or from Mars).