Friday, September 5

Reforming MLB

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.


Isn’t that what we should be hearing from the Bronx right now?

Come on guys, show some heart. It’s September, the Red Sox have a healthy lead on the Yankees; shouldn’t you guys be telling us how it’s 1978 all over again?

Please? It just doesn’t feel right without it. And it makes Jose worry that something terrible is going to happen. Jose needs you folks to tell him how the collapse is imminent, how Ron Guidry and Bucky Dent are coming to get us. Can’t you please tell Jose how Don Zimmer is going to ruin everything?

Jose knows, Jose knows. You don’t feel like you can, what with the Yankees being terrible and all, but don’t you worry what will happen if you don’t? Sure, everything COULD be fine. But will it? How do you know?

If you don’t start talking about 1978 soon, will the harvest ripen or will the locusts descend? Will we freeze in the winter or snuggle safe and secure? If you don’t start talking about it soon, Yankee Stadium may be razed to the ground. Don’t laugh; it could happen.

We don’t know, because every time the Red Sox are in playoff position at this time of year, and the Yankees aren’t, you guys start talking about 1978.

So please, for Jose, can you give it a try? Jose will get you started.

This is just like 1978. Boston choked then and they’ll choke now. They suck. The Red Sox are chokers and they always will be. They haven’t even won a World Series in almost a year. Losers.

2. When Jose went off to graduate school, the main reason he cited in these very pages was that he had simply run out of bullsh*t from his undergraduate days, and needed brand new bullsh*t to fill his intellectual gas tank. (Note: Does bullsh*t count as biodiesel?)

Three weeks in, Jose is happy to say that he is already topping off, squeezing the meter toward 00, if you will.

After just two weeks of studying global policy, Jose is prepared to offer a compelling vision of how Major League Baseball should be restructured in order to learn the essential lessons of the United Nations.

For starters, it should be apparent to anyone now, that the governing structure of baseball does not reflect the underlying power dynamic in meaningful way. One team one vote on League decisions? That’s crazy talk. What we need is a “Security Council” led by the five most powerful teams (note: Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers and Cardinals) who can take the lead in deciding for everyone what is best for the game. Of course, it is possible, that in 30 years the Red Sox might recognize the White Sox as the legitimate representatives of Chicago and remove the Cubs from the seat and perhaps even the league.

“But what about the small market teams?” fans in Pittsburgh and Oakland will say. “What about us?”

Well, you guys can elect a member from each of the six divisions who will get to join the Security Council, where your representative will look pretty and fetch coffee. Occasionally, they will be allowed to nod their head in agreement or say “Good idea.”

In addition, it’s not like we are going to get rid of the old MLB Board of Governors, or whatever it’s called. We’ll just strip it of all its responsibility. Do not worry; there will still be complementary lobster tails at meetings. Also, you can play a role in determining what teams get recognized as parts of the Major Leagues. For instance, if the Durham Bulls want to secede from the Rays and form their own major league club, you would get to vote on that. Of course, if you vote no, the Red Sox will just recognize the Bulls anyway, thereby stripping the Rays of a valuable source of talent. On the downside, this might prompt the Yankees to lay claim to the entire Cincinnati Reds outfield. But do not worry if you are a Reds fan. Jose is pretty sure Dick Cheney wants to give the Reds NATO membership, which is good, because Jose is absolutely prepared to fight and die to defend Corey Patterson.

But governance is not enough. Major League Baseball needs strong and vital institutions as well. They need organizations to coordinate trading policy, labor policy and environmental issues leading to the decline of the ash bat. (Note: Can the Red Sox bring that absurd Nady/Marte trade before the WTO? That’s got to violate a dumping treaty or something, doesn’t it?) Also, someone needs to order the lobster tails. To manage this formidable bureaucracy, Jose proposes that the Office of the Commissioner be abolished and replaced by the office of the Secretary General of Baseball, whose primary qualification be that he has an awesome name. (Note: Every UN Secretary General has had a cool name except Kurt Waldheim. U Thant may be the coolest name ever.) While this would make Bud Selig ineligible for the office, past commissioners like Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Bowie Kuhn would have been eligible. Jose’s recommendation for Secretary General would be Ugueth Urtain Urbina. Sure he is a dangerous criminal, but so was Kurt Waldheim. The Secretary General would be in charge of a set of bureaucracies called The Secretariat, which, Jose imagines, would be staffed entirely by horses.

Another nice thing about the new system is that baseball could implement all sorts of important rules and then not enforce them. Take the new instant replay policy. Under Jose’s proposal, if there was a home run in question, umpires could simply refuse to call it “a home run in question,” thereby making it ineligible for review… sort of… like… now.

Obviously the system is not perfect, but Jose thinks it is well worth a try. After all the United Nations has a decent track record at replacing failed Leagues.

3. Among the subjects Jose is studying this semester is statistics, and as a part of its curriculum, Jose is using a program called STATA to run various kinds of statistical analyses. The program is useful, Jose supposes, but it is also immensely frustrating. After two weeks of working with it, Jose has still not found the command to calculate slugging percentage. He won’t even talk about range factor.

Another problem is in Jose’s microeconomic theory class. In studying preference and consumer choice, Jose’s professor keeps talking about WARP, and Jose cannot, for the life of him figure out what Wins Above Replacement Player has to with anything. The best Jose can come up with is that if a player has a better WARP than a competitor, a general manager, as a consumer of baseball talent, would chose the player with the better WARP. That makes sense right?

Another thing that bothers Jose is that his economics professor keeps talking about Jacobian Matrices, which makes no sense to Jose. Jose had no idea that Jacoby Ellsbury was a mathematician, and it wouldn’t have made any sense for him to be in The Matrix. Of course, it didn’t make any sense for Cornell West to be in The Matrix either, and that didn’t stop him.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Monday, September 1

Vestigial Belts

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. It has come to Jose’s attention recently that baseball players are the only athletes in any major U.S. sport who wear belts. Jose thinks that football players may wear belts too, but he thinks those are built into their pants, so they don’t really count. What Jose is talking about is an honest to God, ass whippin’, Michael Huthcence-style autoerotic asphyxiation belt. Hutchence never could have killed himself with the belt in a pair of football pants. Even boxers, who are forbidden to hit below the belt, do not, technically, wear belts.

So baseball players are unique among American athletes in wearing a proper belt. The question, as always, is why?

The answer is clearly not “to keep their pants up.” A significant percentage of major leaguers are of sufficient girth that having their pants fall off is not an issue and they still wear belts. Another counterpoint to the “keep their pants up hypothesis” is Manny, who wore a belt and yet constantly seemed to have his pants falling off.

So Jose has come to a conclusion. The belt on baseball players is a vestigial structure dating back to when players needed them in the old days of baseball before nuclear science gave us the elastic waist. It is something left over from a distant past when it had use, like the appendix or Mike Timlin.

So, we have established that the belt on baseball players serves no purpose. This troubles Jose. It strikes him as wasteful. Isn’t there something that could be done?

Yes. Yes there is.

While attending a minor league game last week, Jose had an idea. He became frustrated with the fact that he could not tell which players were former major leaguers and which had yet to visit the show. And then it him… belts were the answer, and for once he was not talking about belts of scotch.

Baseball should take a cue from karate. Each player should wear a belt reflecting his highest level of baseball achievement. Little leaguers would wear white belts, high school players yellow belts and rookie leaguers orange belts. A ball gets a green belt, AA a blue belt and AAA players would wear brown belts. Only a major leaguer would have the honor and esteem of a black belt. Once in the majors, a player would get a degree for each All-Star Appearance. For instance, Scott Cooper would be a second-degree black belt.

Wait, scrap the whole idea. Jose is pretty sure that the karate equivalent of Scott Cooper is not a second degree black belt, but Daniel LaRusso before he met Mr. Miyagi.

2. As the Red Sox come down the stretch run, Jose has to confess that he feels remarkably confident despite the Sox having only a slim lead for the wild card and approximately three quarters of the team on the disabled list. Jose isn’t exactly sure why he feels confident, but he’s been thinking about it, and he has developed a theory.

Here’s what Jose’s come up with: Jose feels completely confident because the Red Sox now have Jonathan Van Every on the team.

At first Jose didn’t really feel that way, after all was there any evidence that Van Every would make a difference? Had he made a huge difference in AAA? Had he demonstrated any real aptitude for Major League Baseball? Was there any evidence that he was ready to succeed DJ Dru in right field right now should the need arise? After all, his experience was mostly in center and left, which is totally different from right. The answer to all of these questions is no.

A week ago this would have unsettled Jose profoundly rather than elating him, but not anymore, not after the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President. What the joyous reaction to Gov. Palin’s nomination among social conservatives has shown Jose is that preparation and aptitude are irrelevant, provided you belief in the right things and represent a critical interest group.

So does Van Every believe in the right things and represent a critical group? Well, Van Every believes in both hitting the ball AND catching the ball. Moreover, he is guaranteed to capture the critical demographic of Mississippians of Dutch extraction. That’s huge. And who cares if prior to making the majors, his only real success was in AA?

Sure, Jose was supporting the Red Sox prior to Van Every’s call up, who else was he going to support, Tampax Bay? But his support was wan and unenthusiastic. Now that we have Van Every, Jose feels confident and fired up. Besides did you know that Van Every has exactly as much Major League experience now as Ted Williams had after his first four At Bats? Of course, Ted Williams probably didn’t strike out in three of them.

Ready to Lead?

3. Instant replay begins Thursday in all Major League ballparks and Jose for one, says it’s about time. Jose is sick and tired of having to go through the laborious process of getting a “conventional” replay. It will be much nicer to just add water to the replay, toss it in the microwave and get it back in 45 seconds.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.