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Giants Buy Out Edgar Renteria: If This Is the End, Then What a Swan Song

On Thursday, just three days after he was named World Series MVP, the San Francisco Giants bought out the final option year on Edgar Renteria‘s contract, making him a free agent.

While this may sound cruel on the surface, it should be noted that the Giants‘ postseason hero has been seriously pondering putting an end to his 15-year career.

If this is the end, Renteria will be remembered as an above-average shortstop whose career is defined by the heroics that bookend either side.

An early add-on for the Florida Marlins in 1996, he averaged .309 in 102 games and was second on the NL Rookie of the Year ballot. His numbers tapered off a bit in 1997, but he became a clutch player, hitting extra-inning walk-off hits five times in the regular season. He would repeat those heroics in the World Series, getting the series-clinching hit in the 11th inning of Game 7.

He’d survive the fire sale, and steal a career-high 41 bases in 1998, but was ultimately traded to the Cardinals in 1999. He would go on to lead the Cardinals to four postseason appearances.

Renteria had a career year in 2003, hitting .330 with 100 RBI. His best playoff season with St. Louis would come in 2004, when he hit .457 in the NLDS and .333 in the World Series, but he would be on the wrong end of the final out as they were swept by the Red Sox.

He was traded to the Red Sox in 2005, but the Boston media rode him hard for “underperforming,” even though he scored a career-high 100 runs. They, in turn, sent him to the Braves in 2006, where he repeated his 100-run performance. He hit .332 in 2007, but missed 38 games due to injury.

His last few years were marred by injury. He missed 24 games in 2008 with the Tigers and 38 games in 2009 with the Giants. He missed over half of this year, but recovered enough of his form to make the Giants’ playoff roster.

He got hits in two pinch-hit at-bats in the NLDS. He slumped against the Phillies in the NLCS, then turned it on in the World Series, hitting .412, including the series-clinching home run in Game 5. In fact, he hit two home runs in the 2010 World Series. Not historically a power hitter (135 regular-season HR in 15 seasons), he previously only hit one home run in the postseason.

Edgar Renteria may not have had the flashiest of careers as a whole, but he will be remembered fondly for his clutch moments, especially by the Marlins and the Giants. If this is the end, then it is a career he can be proud of.

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Tampa Bay Rays’ Attendance Woes: What is the Real Problem?

National pundits are piling on the Tampa Bay Rays after two of its star players, Evan Longoria and David Price, expressed displeasure at the team attracting only 12,446 fans to their Monday night game against the Baltimore Orioles, a possible playoff-clincher.

That’s pretty much the typical Baltimore Orioles game on a school-year Monday night at home. If the Rays were still a bad team, they’d be lucky to draw 9,000 on that day against that team.

But the so-called attendance woes of the Rays are really not as bad as they look. While average attendance is down 77 people per game (yes, that’s individual people; the percentage loss is about 0.3%), they still upped their rank in the AL to 9th out of 14 teams. That’s up from their 11th-place attendance finish in 2009. Even in 2008 they finished 12th out of 14.

The Rays haven’t ranked this high since their inaugural season, when they ranked 7th.

And just because people are not attending games as much as the national pundits claim they should, doesn’t mean fans don’t care.

This summer, an article from the Sports Business Journal showed the Rays at 7th among all 30 MLB teams in both radio and TV ratings at the 2010 All-Star Break, with a 14.4% increase in radio and a 70.9% increase in TV. In terms of total numbers of households watching games, the Rays were 8th overall with just short of 100,000 households tuning in on average.

Plus, give the numbers some historical context. Just 40 years ago, owners would kill for the 22,900 per game the Rays are drawing in 2010. Only one team drew more than that in 1970: the New York Mets, who drew 32,000 per game coming off their miracle World Series season.

In 1960, only two teams drew more than the Rays did in 2010. And the Yankees and Red Sox weren’t among them.

The reason why the Rays’ numbers look so bad now is because of the economics of sports today. With players’ salaries sky high, it takes selling out the stadium every single game just to pay their salaries. The situation would only be made worse if a new stadium were added to the mix, since that would put a premium on ticket prices.

Some pundits are even bringing up the draconian solution of relocation. And relocation, as in out of Tampa Bay, not merely to Tampa.

The problem with that is, relocation to where? Such a move would require three years’ lead time because nobody has an MLB-class stadium that doesn’t already have an MLB team. And Tampa Bay is among the largest media markets in America. Who can give the Rays a better situation at this current time?

There are two fixes to this, and they’re really quite simple.

First, the Rays need to run a string of consecutive playoff appearances.

What made the Atlanta Braves a power in the 1990s was the fact that they were a virtual lock for the playoffs every single year for 14 straight seasons.

Atlanta is really not much bigger than the Tampa Bay area. In 1990, the last of the “Rotten Years”, they drew only 12,000 per game. In 1991, it doubled to 26,000. That was followed by consecutive year-over-year increases of 10,000 per game in 1992 and 1993.

One of the reasons that didn’t happen in Tampa Bay is a perfect storm of bad economics (the housing bubble hit Florida particularly hard) and not making the playoffs in 2009. If the Rays can build a winning tradition, which will be difficult in the American League East, it will attract permanent business. 

Second, the team needs to move to Tampa.

The fact of the matter is, the biggest problem with the Rays is the location of their stadium, Tropicana Field. That was a big issue with the MLB’s expansion plans.  Although many claim they hate Tropicana Field (which has really improved in appearance considerably under Stuart Sternberg’s ownership), the biggest problem is its location.

The unique geography of Tampa Bay makes getting around very difficult. It’s 20 miles from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg, where Tropicana Field is. And downtown Tampa is the closest place to its side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, the main link between the two.

If you’re from the larger population bases north and east of Tampa, it’s an additional 10+ miles. People who live on the other side of the bay are faced with a 45-minute drive. This is complicated by the traffic bottleneck on the Tampa side of the bridge. A fix is expected to be opened in 2011.

To the pundits who say the drive doesn’t matter, I challenge them this: You try driving through Tampa at 5:30 PM on a weekday.

The best place for the Rays to be is on the Tampa side of the metro area. This goes against what I said about a new stadium being a problem, but cutting 30 minutes each way–and a minimum of two gallons of gas–out of the drive to the stadium will attract a large bump in attendance by itself, bringing more fans from Tampa and Orlando.

Add a retractable roof, and people will be even more likely to come. The Minnesota Twins got an attendance bump of over 11,000 per game at their new open-air stadium, Target Field, a bump that will likely stick with the team’s new-found success. This is also the bump the Florida Marlins are hoping for when they open their new stadium in 2012.

The smell of real grass will do that.

The Tampa Bay Rays do have fans. They are just unable or unwilling to make the sacrifices that are necessary given the reality of the team’s location. This had been compounded by the fact that the previous ownership spent their first 10 seasons not investing in a team worthy of the fans’ commitment.

But when the team is good, the fans do come. The Rays’ situation is a far cry from being the worst in the sport anymore. And if 2008 proved anything, it’s that the fans will come when the title is at stake.

It will take time, and perhaps a little help, but Tampa Bay can and will support baseball.

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Don’t Lie: If You Had Money, You’d Do What George Steinbrenner Did, Too

If I win the lottery, I want to buy a sports team.

Be it the Orlando Titans, the Orlando Predators, an MLS franchise or, if I had the money, the Orlando Magic.

And I would invest all my money to make them the greatest team ever.

Just like George Steinbrenner.

In 1973, George Steinbrenner did what every die-hard sports fan wishes they could do. He used the fortune he made in his father’s shipping business and bought his favorite team. That team happened to be the New York Yankees.

Not by himself initially, but eventually, he would own it all.

He got to work on building a team that would live up to the then-20 championships it already owned.

He did it by spending money. He made it cool and exploited the new concept of free agency to hire the best players and staff money could buy.

Wouldn’t you do the same if you had the money?

37 years and seven World Series Championships later, the New York Yankees are at the top of the sporting universe yet again.

It certainly wasn’t foolproof. If it were, the Yankees would’ve won closer to 25 titles under George’s ownership. And not everybody liked the changes his way of doing business brought. But if he hadn’t have done it, somebody else would have.

Plenty of people hate the Yankees—and, by extension, hated George—because of their success. But no matter how they try to pass it off as something else, you have to be honest. The primary factor is jealousy.

You want your team to have what the Yankees have. You want what George had.

It’s the same reason why many people hate the Red Sox now as well, because they decided to try to beat George at his own game. It’s the same reason many people hate the biggest European soccer franchises.

George made winning at all monetary costs cool. That is his legacy.

Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t say he didn’t make things interesting.

And you can’t say you wouldn’t do the same thing if you had the ability.

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Jim Joyce’s Blown Call on Armando Galarraga Not the Only One That Day

While Jim Joyce’s blown call that ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game is becoming the poster child for expanding instant replay in Major League Baseball, it was hardly the only major blown call that day.

There were two other blown calls that, if not for the blown perfecto, probably would’ve been forgotten by now.

The first one happened in Toronto.

In the top of the sixth inning with one out, Sean Rodriguez of the Tampa Bay Rays hit a double. In the following at-bat, Ben Zobrist hit a single that apparently scored Rodriguez. However, on an appeal play to third, Rodriguez was called out, being ruled that he did not touch third base.

Replay showed that the back heel of his left foot did indeed touch third base.

Third-base umpire Angel Hernandez, who made the call, was already having a bad series. He was chewed out over not giving Carlos Peña time in the previous game by Rays manager Joe Maddon. He had no comment after the game. Crew chief Joe West restated the claim that Rodriguez didn’t touch third.

Obviously he hadn’t heard about Jim Joyce’s blunder yet.

At least the Rays didn’t lose in the end. A Carl Crawford grand slam in the top of the ninth allowed them to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-2.

But the next one did, in fact, screw somebody and turn the result of a game.

There were two on base and two out in the bottom of the 10th inning when Ichiro Suzuki stepped up to the plate in Seattle. After several fouls, Ichiro hit a dribbler up the middle to Minnesota Twins second baseman Matt Tolbert, who flipped it to J.J. Hardy to force out Josh Wilson for what would’ve extended the game to the 11th inning.

Wilson was called safe. Ryan Langerhans scored from second, winning the game for the Seattle Mariners, 2-1.

In that case, replay showed that Hardy did indeed get the ball in time for the force-out. There was no comment after the game by second-base umpire Dale Scott.

While being the least talked about of the officiating gaffes yesterday, this one is the most damaging. A team actually got screwed by a blown call, losing when the game should’ve continued. If the Twins end up losing the American League Central by one game or end up in a one-game playoff, they can look back at this as the game where they were screwed.

This should be a literal case of, as the song goes, “One, two, three strikes, you’re out!” Proponents of expanded instant replay have more ammunition than ever. Although the error against Armando Galarraga will be the most glaring because it messes with history, the other two blown calls of the day show that its time has come.

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How Major League Baseball Could Implement Instant Replay…Right Now

Everybody’s seen it by now, how Armando Galarraga got stiffed out of a perfect game by one of the worst calls in MLB history.

We need to make sure this never happens again. By now, even baseball purists are calling for the expansion of instant replay.

That expansion could happen today if Major League Baseball and the World Umpires Association wanted to get it done. We already have the technology in place with replay implemented for “boundary calls” (i.e. whether or not a ball is a home run).

I have come to believe that a model similar to the NFL is doable for MLB. Distribute replay flags to every manager, and give each team two replays per game on non-boundary calls. The following calls would fall into this category:

  • Whether a catch for an out is “on the fly” or a “trap”
  • Whether a ball put in play is fair or foul
  • Who beat who to the bag on force-out plays
  • Whether a tag was made in time or not on tag-out plays
  • Whether a pitch hit a batter or not

Boundary calls for possible home runs will remain unlimited, and not affect the number of non-boundary replays a team gets.

The following would not qualify for replay, and would not be reviewable:

  • Balls and strikes
  • Whether or not a fan interfered with a ball in a non-boundary call
  • Balks
  • Catcher’s interference
  • Whether an individual play was a hit or an error

A flag must be thrown before the first pitch of the next plate appearance is made. If a flag is thrown inappropriately, that team will be assessed a ball (if it’s the team on defense) or a strike (if it’s the team up to bat). If it is thrown for balls and strikes, it’s grounds for ejection under the “arguing balls and strikes” rule.

Replays on boundary calls have tended to range three to five minutes normally. An initial time limit of five minutes from the umpires leaving the field can be implemented, and adjusted accordingly as the system is put into practice.

Umpires may feel a bit offended by having to defer more to instant replay at first. NFL referees felt the same way. But I’m sure if any umpire wants instant replay expanded, it’s Jim Joyce. He’s a well-respected game official who has seen two World Series (1999 and 2001), and has been involved in a host of historic moments, including Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout. And now he’ll be remembered as the umpire who blew “that call.”

Armando Galarraga may not officially have his perfect game. And whether or not he should get it anyway is a discussion for another time. But his moment may, at least, be remembered as the watershed that finally brought a more complete implementation of instant replay to Major League Baseball.

Hopefully, we won’t see history get robbed from us like this anymore.

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