Author: Randy Page 2 of 15

The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 8: No Sleep ‘Till Quarantine

Randy and Derek join forces to discuss some movement on potential plans for the 2020 MLB season and the punishment levied upon the Boston Red Sox. We discuss all of the complicated machinations for staring the season laid out in the latest Jeff Passan article. Then we move on to break down the fallout from the Red Sox cheating investigation.

We are adhering to the shelter in place guidelines of New York State and recording remotely. We will be doing so for as long as the “shelter in place” order remains. We’re talking on Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. Here are the episode notes:

[Introduction]: Will we ever return to our normal sleep patterns?

[3:15]: We discuss the NFL Draft going on without a hitch and what that could mean for MLB moving forward.

[8:10]: We jump into the details of the Jeff Passan article.

[30:56]: A World Cup style tournament?

[44:30] Those cheating’ Red Sox. There may be a rant involved. Maybe.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and spread the word.

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy. See you again next week.

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The Rob Manfred Conundrum

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Rob Manfred is the perfect embodiment of sports in 2020.

There has never been a time in American professional sports when the intent of owners and league executives is more clear. Similar to the office of President in the minds of some men, sports are an incredible avenue to generate profit. Team owners laugh and scoff at the idea of winning championships. Their grins spread from ear to ear at the thought of the earnings their shiny toys generate. These are savvy businessmen who largely view the franchises we love as nothing more than an additional stream of income. And despite being totally unable to increase the popularity and relevance of his sport, Rob Manfred makes his bosses very happy. He has secured lucrative TV and licensing deals among other revenue-producing ventures. In some ways, Manfred’s reign is a rousing success.

Life would be great if all of our jobs were that simple. We make our bosses happy and sometimes we reap the rewards (at least during “normal” times). The issue for Manfred is his responsibility extends beyond making money hand over fist for billionaires. The commissioner is the steward of competitive integrity for the league. In order for business to maintain public trust, he or she needs to ensure that the product on the field is fair. The Apple Watch offense, the Houston Astros’ scandal, and the Boston Red Sox sign-stealing scheme are clear demonstrations that Major League Baseball has a cheating problem. The league is like the Ashton Kutcher of pro sports. The foundational integrity of the game is at stake. And yet, Manfred is seemingly content with doing the absolute least to protect it.

It is hard to imagine someone dropping the ball in two significant investigations. At the very least, the first probe should have been a roadmap for the second one. Instead, the Boston “punishment” is impressively weaker than the Houston punishment. In fact, the details of the Red Sox investigation slightly suggest the players were in some way victims of the cheating scheme. This is a quote from Manfred’s statement:

I feel bound by the agreement not to impose discipline on Red Sox players who testified truthfully in this matter. Even if I were not so bound, I do not believe that the Red Sox players who suspected that Watkins used game feeds to decode sign sequences should be held responsible for his conduct. Watkins knew of the rules and was responsible for not utilizing the replay system to decode sign sequences. Some players may have suspected that Watkins was using the replay system improperly, but they did not know that with certainty. Others had no idea how Watkins obtained the sign information. 

Rob Manfred

In Rob Manfred’s absurdist world, the video replay system operator is a bigger culprit than the players on the field. The idea that some players “suspected” Watkins was up to something but didn’t know for sure is laughable. Was Watkins simply a connoisseur of sign stealing? Was he building up his resume to be the future manager or general manager of the Houston Astros? Are we really to believe the video replay system operator wasn’t in partnership with at least one Red Sox player in a sign-stealing scheme? As my grandmother likes to say, I was born at night, but not last night.

The commissioner can’t help but view his decisions through the lens of labor. I’ve said this in a previous column, but it bears repeating. Manfred will do everything he can to limit the leverage of the players union. He granted the Astros and Red Sox players immunity in exchange for open testimony so the Players Association didn’t have a rallying cry for future collective bargaining. Despite their collective public denouncement of the Astros cheating scheme, there is no way the players would accept the precedent of historical player suspensions. It wouldn’t bode well for the future of their union members. As it currently stands, the owners are in the driver’s seat when it comes to CBA negotiations. The union has weak leadership. Manfred doesn’t want to give the players a lifeline. The rationale makes total sense, but it comes at the cost of the game he leads.

All of this begs the question, what are Rob Manfred’s intentions? Is he just an extension of the owners’ desire to cash in on the game? Does he genuinely care about the health of the sport? Is he at all interested in moving the game forward? It is becoming painfully obvious that Rob Manfred lacks vision. The obsession with pitch clocks, mound visits, and three batter minimums is nothing more than window dressing for an utter lack of progressive thinking to make the game better.

Under Manfred’s watch, we’re experiencing the major league version of corporate profit margins, downsizing, and lack of awareness. We’re witnessing a broken free agent and arbitration system. Minor League baseball will soon lose multiple affiliations. The amateur draft, under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic, will almost certainly cut down its rounds in the years to come. The sport has yet to make inroads in black communities and it severely lacks mainstream stars.

And yet, financially the game has never been healthier. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the revenues were pouring in. The business side of baseball is booming. The bottom line is a great smokescreen for a stagnant game. The frustrating part is a lot of us know it’s stagnant, but we keep coming back for more.

And that is what makes Rob Manfred great at his job. He can feign being tough on baseball crime knowing that baseball fans will really be the judge and jury for teams like the Astros and Red Sox. He just needs to do the bare minimum because he knows the fans will do a lot of the heavy work. Fans will continue to watch on tv and pay for tickets. We’ll keep buying apparel. Some will keep creating gifs for social media consumption so MLB doesn’t have to spend more money on marketing. And others will write blog posts complaining about the commissioner’s unimpressive performance. All the while, Manfred continues to make his bosses happy.

Rob Manfred is the perfect embodiment of sports in 2020.

The Views From 314ft CPBL Journal

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During normal times, we would be settled into our routines of watching Major League Baseball every day. The Yankees would be undefeated and running roughshod through the early part of their schedule. As we all know, these aren’t normal times. We don’t have domestic baseball right now. We need a baseball fix. Luckily, there is one available and it is the CPBL.

The CPBL is currently the only professional baseball league playing its regular season. The KBO will begin their pre-season on April 21 with an expected opening day sometime in early May. The NPB has pushed the start of its season back multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan has been able to control the virus well enough to allow the CPBL to begin their season in stadiums without fans. The stadiums aren’t totally empty as we will get to in a moment.

It is pretty great to experience something for the first time. Major League Baseball is something I know like the back of my hand at this point. I don’t know anything about the CPBL other than it exists. With no MLB baseball for the foreseeable future, I figured why not jump into the CPBL, learn about it and share what I’ve learned. Obviously, the game is the same, but finding out about new players, style of play, customs, and culture is really exciting.

The CPBL is Taiwan’s professional baseball league. Many people believe the CPBL plays its games in mainland China, but that is not the case. The professional Chinese baseball league is the CNBL. The CPBL regular season is 120 games. The league is split into two sixty game half seasons. The rules for postseason entry are a little different from the MLB rules. The winners of the first and second half seasons are eligible to make the postseason and play in the Taiwan Series. You can think of them as league winners. There is a catch though. This is where the wild card rules come into play.

There are two ways to gain a wild card spot. If the same team wins both the first half and second seasons, the teams with the second and third highest winning percentages will play each other in a best of five wild card series. The winner advances to the Taiwan Series to play the regular season double champions. In this scenario, the regular season champs enter the Taiwan Series with an automatic 1-0 lead in the series against the winner of the Wild Card series.

The second route to a wild card is even more interesting. If a non-half season winner has a better overall winning percentage at the end of the year than a half-season winner those two teams will face off in a Wild Card series. So a team can win the first half season, but end up in the Wild Card round because they struggled in the second half. It creates a great incentive for a first-half winner to compete in the second half so you don’t lose a direct trip to the championship round. It also gives teams incentive to compete all year because they can sneak into the playoffs despite not winning one of the two regular seasons.

To give a point of reference, the CPBL is akin to Double A. The team rosters are filled with players from MLB, MiLB, the KBO, and the NPB along with Taiwanese high school and college players. The CPBL is largely a hitters league. If you like offense this is the place for you.

CPBL teams are beginning to spend relatively big bucks to bring in foreign players. The contract lengths for foreign-born players generally range from three months to a half-season. There are some players who get full season or multi-year deals. There are some familiar names to come through the CPBL. Yankees legends Jose Contreras and Sweaty Freddy Garcia along with Manny Ramirez have all spent time in the CPBL.

The league is comprised of only five teams: the Rakuten Monkeys, the CTBC Brothers, the Fubon Guardians, Uni-Lions, and the Wei Chuan Dragons. The Dragons are an expansion team. Here are the team logos:

courtesy of CPBL Stats

Originally the Lamigo Monkeys prior to the sale of the team, the Rakuten Monkeys have won five of the last six league championships. They are the league’s version of the dynasty Yankees. In terms of lineup prowess, they are also similar to the Yankees. They mash. They led the league in every team offensive category and overall they hit .318/.377/.493 as a team. On the flip side, their pitching isn’t very good. And they are very much the anti-Yankees in that their bullpen is comically bad. The adage no lead is safe is a way of life for the Rakuten Monkeys.

The Fubon Guardians are the perplexing team of the CPBL. If you look at their roster, they should be the top team in the league. But year in and year out the team folds in the biggest moments. This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but they are similar to the Dodgers. A talented team that can’t get over the hump to snag the big one. The Guardians made a managerial change in the offseason and brought in Hong I-Chung. Those that follow the CPBL closely consider Hong I-Chung to be the best manager in the league.

The Rakuten Monkeys have cheerleaders and a mascot, but now they are joined by mannequin fans and a robot band. You should watch and support the CPBL for this alone:

CPBL Stats is a great site to learn more about the league and the teams. This guide is a good place to start and is the main source for the information I provided earlier.

To be fully transparent, I am not entirely sure what the format of the journal is going to be. It may be in the form of a thoughts post like we and others normally do. It may be in the form of a game recap although that is less likely since there isn’t any data to track the players. I don’t even know the players yet. These posts most certainly won’t be analytically based. They will be more anecdotal and narrative-driven, which is more than fine. I will cover the games that are broadcast in English. The next one is scheduled for this Friday, but Simone Kang of Eleven Sports Taiwan hints more English broadcasts may be available in the near future. We’re looking to have some fun while the MLB season remains in suspension.

Waiting For The Yankees

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I love sports as much as anyone.

Sports consume me. They are on my mind the majority of every day. Honestly, I love them more than anything outside of my family. This has been the case since I was a baby watching Yankees games with my grandfather and having no idea what was going on. Sports are a part of my identity. I dearly miss them.

I am also not in a big rush to have them come back.

We are experiencing a global human crisis, unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. At this point, it would be difficult to find someone who isn’t directly or indirectly connected to this virus. There is no need to recount the harrowing numbers. Many of us have felt the long-reaching impact of the pandemic for over a month now.

There is a natural tendency to find and hold onto things that remind us of normalcy. The quarantine has thrown our routines for a loop. When things are in disarray we look for anchors. Sports are that anchor for many. So it makes sense that we want them to return as quickly as possible. I share that desire, but not at the expense of health and safety.

In a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said there is a way to bring baseball back this summer. Fans wouldn’t be able to attend the games. It would require weekly testing, strict quarantining, and detailed surveillance. On the surface, this is encouraging and hopeful. And we all need hope nowadays. We also need a context that extends beyond the sports world. Taking a step back, is the country really in a position to handle a return to sports in the immediate future?

There are endless stories about our brave medical professionals fighting on the front lines with inadequate protection. In New York City, there are nurses wearing garbage bags while treating sick patients. Doctors are wearing empty salad containers over their faces. Medical staffs have to repeatedly disinfect N95 masks for re-use. Without getting into the politics of why this is the case, it is patently absurd that weeks into the pandemic hospital staff must resort to YouTube level DIY solutions to protect themselves and others during a pandemic.

Understanding the larger picture, is it appropriate to bring sports back under these circumstances? Boredom pales in comparison to matters of life and death. Unfortunately, our collective idea of normalcy no longer exists. Those days of normal are now apart of the lore of yesteryear.

The need to experience a distraction or an escape during trauma is valid. One issue is a return to sports reminds us of that trauma at every turn. We will see empty stadiums. The dugouts may be empty because the players may sit in the stands six feet apart. The announce teams will constantly tell us about the weird context we’re all consuming these games in. We aren’t going to escape anything. We’ll have to actively disconnect from what we’re seeing and hearing just to attempt to suspend reality. That is a tall task.

Of course, there are arguments for an immediate return to sports. Some will say if the medical experts deem it safe to play than what is the issue. Why should I read a “rando blogger” and his silly complaints? I get it. But it is important to point out that the leading medical experts still don’t fully understand how the virus behaves. They are still in the process of learning all of its characteristics. As a result, the recommendations for protection are constantly evolving. One week we’re told it’s ok to go outside without masks. The next week wearing a mask in public is a requirement. The potential distance at which the virus could travel in the air changes as more research is done. Even in places where social distancing was enacted relatively early, the rate of infections remains scary.

Some parts of the country may re-open if they meet certain criteria while others will remain in lockdown. Federal, state and local governments remain at odds with one another on how to properly and safely move forward. We are hardly seeing a consensus amongst the people in charge.

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of the medical experts. They have been tremendous. They are in a really difficult position and their incredible efforts do not go unnoticed. Instead, this is acknowledging that our understanding of this novel virus changes with more information. Recommendations from the medical community are fluid so there is no guarantee they will give the green light at the first sign of improvement. Their primary responsibility is to mitigate the spread and protect our healthcare system until a vaccine is found.

There are some who will argue that certain places in the country are less impacted than places like New York City, Philadelphia, and Detroit so it’s ok to start sports up again. I’m glad many people aren’t living in these hot spots. It sucks living in this country’s ground zero. The reality is you don’t have to live in a hot spot to be at risk. We are all at risk right now. The simple point is we don’t want this thing to spread. The lower number of cases in specific areas isn’t protection from the virus. Social distancing, testing, and protective equipment protect us from it.

Speaking of those things, there is also the issue of test, PPE and medical equipment availability. There is a nationwide shortage of tests. Contact tracing isn’t available. States are competing against one another for ventilators. Everyday citizens are volunteering to create masks for medical workers. It looks pretty selfish and tone-deaf to have sports leagues command so many resources when there is a such a startling finite amount of resources available.

I have a close friend who most likely had the virus. Despite showing all of the core symptoms, he wasn’t give a test because the symptoms weren’t extreme enough. He didn’t fit the qualifications to get a test simply because there weren’t enough to go around. They sent him home. He had to ride it out not knowing if he was carrying the virus. This reality is a tough one to reconcile.

Keep in mind, the quarantine plan for players has very real challenges. In order for baseball to return, MLB has to account for team staff, medical staff, clubhouse staff, stadium employees, tv crew, transportation staff, kitchen staff, maintenance staff, and hotel staff. You aren’t going to quarantine everyone. If tests and safety equipment are readily available for everyone involved to play games, shouldn’t these precious supplies first be available for our medical professionals and citizens who are immediately at risk?

I’m pretty sure some of you are reading this looking for anything to tell you things will quickly return to the way it used to be. Trust me, I wish I could provide that for you. But it is important to stress how crucial of a time we’re in. We’re talking about life and death. Sports are an important piece of our lives, but first, we need to ensure that we all have healthy lives to live. We also need the athletes, coaches, and staff to be healthy. It just feels like sports should return when it is appropriate and safer to do so.

The good news is we will get sports back. We will see our beloved Yankees again. They are going to win the World Series when the season starts up. The season may start in June. It may start in July. We may have to wait until next year to see them win it all. But they will be back. Sports will be back. We just need a little patience to see this through.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

We’re In This Thing Together

All of us here at Views hope that you and your loved ones are well. I want to take a quick break from all the Yankees news and analysis and check in on all of you. Beyond the loss of sports, this is a tough time for all of us. Some of you may be fighting the virus itself. Some may be dealing with the reality of job furloughs or loss of income (like myself). There are others who may be struggling with the reality of being alone at home.

One reason I love Views is because of the community we’re building. We may not know each other personally, but there is something that unites us. It is our love for the Yankees and our love for baseball. Through that shared passion, relationships are formed. Now feels like the right moment to lean on those relationships. During times like these, it is important to use this space to encourage, uplift and support one another.

So, I am asking all of you that read this post to use the comments section to let us know how you are feeling, if you are in need of help or if you just want to talk to someone. The comments section is normally a place where we debate our various perspectives on the Yankees, but let’s use it as a community resource now. Something as simple as saying you’re ok or you’re not ok is important. If you aren’t comfortable sharing your feelings that is totally fine as well. The point is we want to use the space as an opportunity to be there for one another.

It is also important to point out that there is the potential for some good to come out of this. Maybe we needed more time to spend with family. There is nothing wrong with taking a few extra naps throughout the day. It’s pretty cool to hear the birds chirping instead of hearing car horns all day. There are some silver linings if we search for them. We need them now more than ever.

Hopefully, we will get back to a time where we can argue about what we think is best for our favorite team. In the meanwhile, let’s come together to support our own team: our Views community.

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