Stars and stripes: Sending baseball’s best to Washington
By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Baseball Writer
Friday, July 6
NEW YORK (AP) — Now that fan voting is finished, it’s a good time to take a hard look at All-Star Game selections.
Which players are worthy of participating July 17 in Washington, and who gets left out?
Let’s touch on this topic first: Shohei Ohtani is incredibly talented and fascinating to watch, but the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way Japanese star simply hasn’t been on the field enough to earn a spot. Not at pitcher OR designated hitter.
Ohtani just returned to the lineup from an elbow injury that’s knocked him off the mound for now. He’s only made nine major league pitching starts, and the Angels have limited his at-bats all season due to concerns about the rookie’s workload.
So while it would definitely be fun to see him in baseball’s summer showcase, there are several more deserving American League sluggers at DH. It wouldn’t be fair to deny one of them in favor of Ohtani. And he’s unavailable to pitch at this point.
Let him win his invitation next season with a fully healthy and productive first half. Or the year after that. Or whenever it happens.
Buzzkill, I know.
But even without Ohtani, there’s plenty to watch for leading up to the first All-Star Game in the nation’s capital since the Senators hosted at RFK Stadium in 1969.
Start with Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis. With more than 2,150 career hits, he’s poised to make an All-Star team for the first time in his 13th big league season.
Matt Kemp, Miles Mikolas and Mike Foltynewicz are enjoying feel-good comebacks.
Robinson Cano, the MVP of last year’s game, will sit this one out while serving a drug suspension.
Injuries may keep familiar stars such as Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager from returning, but in their place should be exciting newcomers like Aaron Nola, Ozzie Albies, Alex Bregman and Eddie Rosario.
The American League has won five times in a row and is 17-3-1 in the last 21 years.
“I want to win. I always want to win. It’s not playing for home-field advantage anymore in the World Series, but all these guys are competitors and they want to win for their respective league,” said National League manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
There’s a logjam at shortstop in the AL, and the NL bullpen is loaded.
That sort of thing is where it gets complicated: Each roster has 32 spots, with 12 going to pitchers. Every club must be represented, too.
Online voting for the starters at each position ended at midnight Thursday, and the teams will be revealed Sunday night.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a great experience,” said Houston’s AJ Hinch, who will manage the AL squad. “It’s as casual a game as you’ll play with the biggest names on the stage, and all the attention that comes with it. It’s a big deal.”
Disregarding fan and player balloting, here are our picks:
FIRST BASE — Jose Abreu of the White Sox gets the start, barely nudging out Toronto switch-hitter Justin Smoak.
SECOND BASE — AL MVP Jose Altuve from the World Series champion Astros is backed up by 34-year-old Oakland veteran Jed Lowrie, whose first All-Star nod is probably long overdue.
SHORTSTOP — Cleveland whiz Francisco Lindor is in the lineup. Top trade target Manny Machado from lowly Baltimore, and Jean Segura from Seattle are on the bench. Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons of the Angels is really tough to leave out.
THIRD BASE — Jose Ramirez gives the Indians both starters on the left side of the infield. Bregman backs up at the hot corner, from Houston.
CATCHER — Wilson Ramos is a big reason the Rays are holding their own. Perennial pick Salvador Perez represents the struggling Royals despite his subpar season.
OUTFIELD — Angels star Mike Trout plays center, with Boston’s Mookie Betts in left and Yankees masher Aaron Judge in right. Reserves include Rosario from the Twins, Mitch Haniger from the Mariners, and Nicholas Castellanos from the Tigers.
DESIGNATED HITTER — J.D. Martinez has been worth every penny during his first season in Boston. Texas’ Shin-Soo Choo and New York hulk Giancarlo Stanton, last year’s NL MVP, both still play the outfield sometimes, which helps. Seattle slugger Nelson Cruz is a very difficult omission.
STARTING PITCHERS — Luis Severino is in line to become the first Yankees pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Roger Clemens in 2001. Other right-handers include Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton from Houston, plus Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer from Cleveland. The left-handers are Boston ace Chris Sale and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell. Seattle lefty James Paxton is our top pick to replace Verlander, who doesn’t plan to pitch in the All-Star Game because he’s scheduled to start two days before.
RELIEVERS — Four filthy closers in the bullpen: Yankees lefty Aroldis Chapman, plus right-handers Craig Kimbrel (Boston), Edwin Diaz (Seattle) and Blake Treinen (Oakland).
FIRST BASE — Braves cornerstone Freddie Freeman starts over Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, who overcame a miserable May with a monster June.
SECOND BASE — The unexpected starter at a competitive position is Scooter Gennett from the Reds. Right behind him are flashy Javier Baez from the Cubs and 21-year-old igniter Ozzie Albies from the surprising Braves.
SHORTSTOP — San Francisco pro Brandon Crawford is backed up by Colorado bopper Trevor Story.
THIRD BASE — Nolan Arenado is sensational with his bat and glove for the Rockies. Eugenio Suarez is blossoming into a big run producer for the Reds, and St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter can play both corner infield spots — even second base if needed.
CATCHER — A changing of the guard, with Miami’s J.T. Realmuto starting and Chicago’s Willson Contreras second string. St. Louis stalwart Yadier Molina barely beats out familiar rival Buster Posey of the Giants for another bench spot.
OUTFIELD — Milwaukee newcomer Lorenzo Cain is expected back from a groin strain in time to start in center, flanked by Markakis in right and Kemp from the Dodgers in left. Despite a low batting average, slumping slugger Bryce Harper of the Nationals starts at DH in his home ballpark. Also available are Christian Yelich (Brewers), Odubel Herrera (Phillies) and Gregory Polanco (Pirates).
STARTING PITCHERS — Washington ace Max Scherzer, who won his second consecutive Cy Young Award last year and third overall, gets the ball to start on his own mound. The other right-handers are Nola from the Phillies, Foltynewicz from the Braves, Mikolas from the Cardinals, and Jacob deGrom of the Mets. Cubs lefty Jon Lester rounds out the group, with Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks next in line as a potential replacement for someone.
RELIEVERS — So many to choose from, and not only closers. A bevy of NL setup men are putting up dominant numbers. In the end, this bullpen features Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, Arizona setup man Archie Bradley and San Diego’s Kirby Yates from the right side, complemented by Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, Milwaukee strikeout artist Josh Hader and San Francisco’s Tony Watson from the left side.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Arlington, Texas, and Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
Cleaning Up College Basketball
March 30, 2018 by Len Elmore
The indictment and arrests of four assistant college basketball coaches, a shoe company executive and other periphery individuals are a shock to the system of college sports. One Hall of Fame coach was terminated. Other coaches are lawyering up. Institutions, shoe companies and even families of high caliber prospects are circling their legal wagons.
The pro-social value of college sports and its education mission renders it worthy of protection by the courts. The corruption of college sports has caught the eye of the Department of Justice. The potential remedies should now draw the attention of Congress.
Thus, the most critical reform measure needed is an NCAA antitrust exemption.
Conditioning that exemption on a number of necessary reforms will tip the scales in favor of college athlete health, safety and education benefits. Failure by the NCAA to make measurable progress implementing those improvements should result in the loss of the exemption and the consequential death by a thousand litigation cuts the NCAA currently experiences.
Under the exemption, enforce limits on capital expenditures for facilities and athletic department administrative spending, thereby reducing runaway commercialism needs. University administrations must negotiate and control shoe company agreements, not athletic departments.
NCAA enforcement needs teeth, as in subpoena power. With subpoena power, the NCAA can regulate agent and participant conduct through conclusive investigation. The current scandal involves agent and financial services that young athletes as professionals will need from those already serving current pros.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the NBA and its union, the NBPA, to join the NCAA in action. Initially, eliminate the troublesome one-and-done rule. In the real world, we prosecute both the givers and takers of bribes. With NCAA subpoena power and law enforcement interest, every player-agent relationship can be effectively investigated. If the jointly approved sanction of losing even a year’s draft eligibility or sitting out a season for violations were a reality, what prospect would assume that risk?
If enforced earnestly and vigorously, current NCAA rules and state laws can shield athletes and their families from the slick-talking agent, runner, coach or financial adviser. Removing those protections simply broadens the playing field for the exploiters. A significant number of victims would result, as they currently do on the pro level, where shady representatives exploit even the brightest professional athletes.
Greed is the only snake that cannot be charmed. If any of the parties involved possess the propensity for breaking the rules, human nature dictates that enough is never really enough. Agents should never enter the process until a college athlete’s eligibility has expired.
Eradication of rules designed to protect college athletes will not make the greedy less so. No amount of money paid to college athletes can halt the slither of greed.
Proponents of “pay for play” use this sad chapter to somehow justify paying college athletes, as if that would end the shenanigans. There is no statutory or natural right to play college sports. Options exist for those who would rather not comport with NCAA rules and have no inclination to advance their academic opportunities.
In the advocacy for payment of college basketball players, usually not one word is spoken regarding the value of education. Playing experience should be a dynamic part of leadership development, the number-one purpose of higher education.
Notwithstanding the need for greater improvement, in the 15 years of NCAA measured graduation rates, the rate for black basketball players has risen from 46 percent to a high last year of 77 percent. This progress occurred without paying athletes a dime of compensation.
Some have nonsensically equated unpaid labor or slavery and the provision of an education opportunity in exchange for playing a sport. To illustrate the absurdity of that argument, we need only recall there was a time and place when teaching slaves to read was a capital crime.
Education is resistance against an environment that otherwise renders aspects of success unattainable without education, particularly for young black men. Value education fairly, and then quantify that value and the current benefits received. It adds up significantly.
Other reforms can increase the benefit of the bargain for college athletes. Enforce the practice hour limits imposed under NCAA supervision. Support individual athlete advocacy for their field of study choices and end involuntary academic tracking for athletes.
When the Wild West needed cleanup, an entity was empowered to do what was necessary. It is time government stepped in and deputized a newly committed NCAA to clean up the college game.
About the Author
Len Elmore is a former basketball All American high school player, a collegiate All American (University of Maryland), and professional basketball player. He is also an attorney (Harvard Law) and television personality.
College Hoops, Heal Thyself
March 30, 2018 by Neal McCluskey
I’m a pretty big college basketball fan — not paint-my-chest big, but big — and I know one reform I’d make were Supreme Commissioner power bestowed upon me: My team would always win. But I don’t have such power, and there are good arguments for all sorts of college roundball reforms.
In light of all these reasonable ideas, no decisions should come from hypothetical college sports dictators. They should evolve from the free interplay of schools, athletes, fans, broadcasters and everyone else with a stake in the game.
The biggest threat of imposed problem-solving comes from the federal government. In part, this is because the FBI is in the midst of an investigation into under-the-table deals delivering money from shoe companies, through coaches, to the families of top players and prospects. But even before this, Washington politicians have threatened intervention when college sports haven’t gone their way.
In 2009, with many senators upset that their state flagship schools were kept out of football’s Bowl Championship Series, the Senate antitrust subcommittee held hearings about the BCS. In the midst of feverish conference realignment in 2011, Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, called for “hearings regarding antitrust and due process issues relating to intercollegiate athletics, with a particular focus on the impact of recent realignments and legal disputes on smaller, minority conferences and athletes.”
Of course if you are a fan of the smaller guys who don’t often get to compete for championships, you’d like to see rules changed so they can contend more often. And who but a Wahoo didn’t root for UMBC? But what if that meant less compelling games, and sports lost big bucks as TV viewership dissipated? The little guys would do better but the sports as a whole would suffer. Is either clearly the right outcome?
How about paying athletes?
People often can’t help but titter when NCAA ads come on in the midst of gleaming, made-for-TV, money-raking game broadcasts that emphasize “student” in “student athletes.” It’s not a knock on the athletes, but recognizing the reality of big-time college sports.
For one thing, many players spend 40 hours a week on their sports; basically, a full-time job. The conceit is even more dubious given the one-and-done phenomenon in college hoops, in which it is understood by all involved that top prospects will depart for the pros after their inaugural college year. Finally, a lot of athletes, at least in top-level football and basketball, generate big bucks. But except for the cost of tuition, fees, room and board that redounds to them, the revenue all accrues to coaches — often the highest paid public employees in their states — and schools.
But if players got paid it could blow up the whole notion that big-time college sports is about education, and could seriously undermine support for college athletics. And thinking about those smaller schools again, paying athletes would stack a whole lot more gargantuan linemen on the side of big institutions, tilting even further a playing field already heavily slanted their way. Only the really big schools — the Alabamas (football) and Kentuckys (basketball), not the Akrons and Kennesaw States — would likely have the revenue to pay numerous, top-flight football and basketball players lots of money.
Pay the athletes from whom others are profiting, or level the playing field? What a choice!
What all these competing values and concerns tell us is not what reforms to impose, but that there is no one, clear answer. From a public policy perspective, that means reforms should come from the bottom up — lots of people with numerous vantage points freely negotiating with each other. Schools deliberating with other schools; athletes with institutions; broadcasters with schools, conferences and umbrella groups like the NCAA; and fans with their eyeballs and wallets choosing what they’ll watch.
This may even include shoe companies working with schools to send money to players’ families. The NCAA or any other governing body that schools voluntarily join could prohibit that, but how college sports is managed should not be imposed from above. Indeed, right now companies legally spend lots of money to get their swooshes and stripes on uniforms, in locker rooms and on coaches’ outfits. The only meaningful difference is that the bucks stop right before players’ pockets.
That might be the right or wrong thing for college sports, but it should not be a federal issue.
About the Author
Neal McCluskey is the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.