Today we paused to observe Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, November 11th marked 100 years since the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. More than 15 million people, military and civilian, lost their lives during the four years the war raged in Europe.
The conflict broke out on July 24, 1914 following the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the July Crisis. The web of secret alliances and miscalculations by leaders on both sides led to all out war. The United States did not enter the conflict until the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram. Germany was encouraging Mexico to attack the United States if America entered the war in Europe. Germany promised Mexico support in regaining lost territories including Texas. The admission by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann of the authenticity of the telegram hastened American entry into the war on April 6, 1917.
The United States mobilized more than 4 million military personnel during the war. Among them were 788 former, current, or future Major League players. Players did not receive special treatment as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, George Sisler, and Branch Rickey were assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson contracted tuberculous and died from the disease in 1925 at 45 years old. Cobb, Mathewson, Sisler, and Rickey were among 28 future Hall of Famers who served during World War I.
Christy Mathewson (L) and Ty Cobb (R) while serving in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson died from contracting tuberculous while serving. (Frank Ceresi Collection)
The brutality of the war led to more than 8.5 million military deaths among the belligerents. The United States alone suffered 116,708 military dead in the 20 months it was involved in the conflict. Eight Major League players lost their lives: Eddie Grant (Killed in Action), Tom Burr (Died in Training Accident Plane Crash), Bun Troy (Killed in Action), Ralph Sharman (Drowned in Training), Larry Chappell (Spanish Flu), Harry Glenn (Spanish Flu), Newt Halliday (Tuberculosis), and Harry Chapman (Died from Wounds). Three Negro League players lost their lives: Ted Kimbro (Spanish Flu), Norman Triplett (Pneumonia), and Pearl Webster (Spanish Flu). 26 minor league players also lost their lives during the conflict.
When World War I came to a halt on November 11, 1918, the concussive noise of shells stopped and soldiers could hear the birds chirping. One year later, President Woodrow Wilson spoke in remembrance of the sacrifice and lose, and of those returning home. On June 4, 1926 the United States Congress adopted a resolution that President Calvin Coolidge issue an annual proclamation calling for observances on November 11th in remembrance of the end of World War I. More than a decade later, on May 13, 1938, November 11th becomes an American holiday to promote world peace. Following two more devastating wars, World War II and the Korean War, on May 26, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law that henceforth November 11th would be known as Armistice Day. Later that summer on June 1, Congress amended the law, changing the name to Veterans Day.
On Veterans Day we honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who served or are serving in the military. Their sacrifices are up to and including laying down their lives. Deployments overseas and the separation from family and friends. The physical, mental, and emotional tolls of their jobs. The military protects the nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic. The military is not a nameless, faceless entity. It is ordinary people giving their time, skills, and sometimes lives so their fellow citizens can live in peace. On this Veterans Day, 100 years after the war to end all wars, take a moment to reflect on those who have sacrificed for us all. We should not waste their sacrifice on petty squabbles, but work together to create a more peaceful nation and world so that war becomes a thing of the past.
Try as you might, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid politics. The polarization of American politics is steadily seeping its way into nearly everything, including baseball. The contentious Senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has even brought umpiring into politics.
Texas Senator John Cornyn along with the Family Research Council are supporting Judge Kavanaugh, saying he is someone who “calls balls and strikes.” This analogy seems to irritate retired Major League umpire Jim Evans, who wrote a prospective piece for the Washington Post titled “Sorry, judges, we umpires do more than call balls and strikes.” Evans argues umpires are not machines, they must interpret the rule book constantly. Was a collision interference or obstruction, or simply players running into each other? Umpires also constantly make judgement calls on catches, tag plays, force outs, and yes even balls and strikes. No two players have the same strike zone. Yes, the strike zone is spelled out in the rule book, but the size of the strike zone is larger for Aaron Judge than for Jose Altuve.
Speaking of the rule book. How many amateur umpires, disgruntled fans, have ever sat down and studied the rule book? My guess is not many. It is not their job to know the rule book, but it is also not an umpire’s job to make people happy. Do I get every call correct? No. Do I spend hours studying the rule book? Yes. The rule book for high school baseball per the National Federation of State High School Associations is 88 pages. The rule book for Major League Baseball is more than 150 pages. Have you ever seen a Major League umpire consult the rule book during a game? Nope. High school umpires do not consult the rule book during a game either. The rules of baseball, all of them, should be ingrained in the mind of an umpire. The analogy of Kavanaugh calling balls and strikes is that he knows the rule book, the United States Constitution, and makes decisions based on what the Constitution says. I doubt when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they foresaw every imaginable case the Supreme Court would hear. The Constitution and the various baseball rule books do not cover every possible scenario, judges and umpires must interpret how those rules apply to the case or play before them.
Calling balls and strikes is not black and white. There is plenty of gray. (www.larrybrownsports.com)
Obviously a judge sitting on any bench, especially the United States Supreme Court, has a more profound impact than an umpire. However, simplify umpires into machines is off base. Umpires must make decisions quickly, they cannot spend weeks or months reviewing similar plays and the text of the rule book before making a decision. If an umpire waits five seconds to decide if a borderline pitch is a ball or strike people would complain. Judgement calls are part of being an umpire and they must happen quickly, not slowly and after careful consideration.
There is dignity in all work, dishwashers, mechanics, lawyers, CEO’s. Honest work is dignified work. Do not simplify another person’s job to make a point. Good umpires make a sometimes difficult job look easy, the same way a good teacher makes teaching a class full of energetic First Graders look easy. You only understand how difficult someone’s job is when you walk in their shoes.
Little in life is black and white. On the diamond and in court, interpreting the rules is necessary and creates gray areas. Gray areas necessitate institutions like the Supreme Court to settle disagreements. In baseball the umpire is the judge. Working solo, or discussing a play with your partner on appeal, the umpire is the Supreme Court. Their decision is final. There is no reviewing previous plays, umpires must know the rules, interpret them for the situation, and the render a verdict. They do it all in the snap of a finger. Can you imagine the Supreme Court issuing a ruling in less than five seconds? Neither can I, so stop comparing Supreme Court Justices to umpires. One clearly has a greater impact than the other, yet both deserve respect.
The Texas Rangers have won the American League Pennant the last two years and they should compete again for the crown this year. Although they have fallen short to the Giants and the Cardinals in the World Series, neither of those teams appear to be as stable or as solidified as the Rangers appear to be. The reason for all of this can be traced back to three separate trades that Texas General Manager Jon Daniels made in a two year span.
The first trade occurred at the trade deadline in 2006. The Rangers traded Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero, along with minor leaguer Julian Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz. This move has paid huge dividends for the Rangers. First of all none of the major league players they gave up are in the same neighborhood as Cruz or Lee. They are all serviceable big leaguers, with the only All Star caliber player given up in the trade was Francisco Cordero who has gone on to average 39 saves since the trade. 39 saves a year is not easily replaced but at 36 Cordero is clearly in the twilight of his career.
The Rangers let Carlos Lee walk away as a free agent, which some saw as a bad move at the time. However, at 35, Lee is starting to slow down some and his big power numbers may be behind him. Keeping Nelson Cruz though has been a major asset to the Rangers and has proved to be a major cog in the team’s success. Cruz has provided the power to the Rangers lineup, while also providing solid defense in the outfield. Cruz and Lee put up similar numbers, although Lee hits for better average whereas Cruz has better defense. The five year age difference, Lee at 35 and Cruz at 30, is also an important factor. The Rangers held onto the guy who would be in the prime of his career once the dust settled and not the immediate impact player that Lee was. Nelson Cruz solidified the Rangers in Rightfield and in the middle of their lineup in the last two years and for several more years to come.
The second trade was with the Cincinnati Reds which brought Josh Hamilton to the Rangers. The Rangers gave up Danny Herrera and Edinson Volquez. The Reds waived Herrera; they felt the real prize was Volquez. This assumption was wrong. Since the trade in 2007 the careers of Volquez and Hamilton have gone in opposite directions. Volquez had the best year of his career in 2008, going 17-6 with a 3.21 era and being named an All Star. Since his magical year he has gone 13-12 with a 5.00 era. Volquez has since been traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the deal which brought Mat Latos to the Reds. Clearly the Rangers were following Branch Rickey’s advice of trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late.
Things have worked out better for Josh Hamilton. He has averaged over a 162 schedule a batting average of .310 with 25 HR and 94 RBIs. This includes the 2009 season when he only played in 89 games. He has also been an All Star in all four season, winning two Silver Slugger Awards (2008 and 2010 respectively), and being named the 2010 AL MVP. As feared as Hamilton is as a batter, he is able to play respectable defense in all three outfield positions. This trade clearly favors the Rangers in every way.
The final trade which has cemented the Rangers recent success was the result of a trade with the Atlanta Braves. The uniqueness of this trade is that the Braves have been renowned for their steadiness and always looking towards the future while continuing success. However, the Braves broke from tradition and made a trade for the present. The Braves landed Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trade deadline from the Rangers. Along with Teixeira, the Braves got Ron Mahay who would eventually leave as a Free Agent. Teixeira stayed with the Braves through the end of 2007 and until the trade deadline in 2008 when he was traded to the Anaheim Angels.
What the Braves gave up has not been of the same star power as the first two trades that GM Jon Daniels pulled off, but it has proved to be equally important. In return for Teixeira and Mahay, the Rangers received Beau Jones who has risen to AAA and will likely pitch in the Majors soon or be used in trade by Daniels. The Rangers received their starting shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is becoming a solid Major leaguer. Texas also got Neftali Feliz. He has been a dominant closer with back-to-back seasons of 40 and 32 saves. He also won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2010 with a 4-3 record, 40 saves, and a 2.73 ERA. Now the Rangers are converting him into a starting pitcher, with good results thus far in 2012 (2-0, 2.25 ERA). Matt Harrison has become a solid starter for the Rangers going 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA, and 126 Strikeouts in 2011. The final piece to the trade was Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Aside from having the longest last name in Major League history, Saltalamacchia was a catcher without a home. The Braves were set with Brian McCann and the Rangers appeared to have their catcher in Gerald Laird which made Saltalamacchia expendable. Ultimately he would be traded to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2010 for three minor leaguers and cash.
Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers have pulled off three trades which have paid huge dividends in the past two seasons. The Rangers have avoided the pitfalls that many teams, including the Rangers earlier in their history, have stumbled into. Instead of signing established stars to monstrous contracts, the Rangers have gone about making smart trades which brings young and relatively cheap talent to Texas. The Rangers have built their team up the right way with an eye to the future and not just for the here and now. Jon Daniels has replaced Billy Bean and Theo Epstein as the hot GM in baseball, although with less fanfare. He is Billy Bean with money, but he is also the anti-Epstein for not simply buying hit team out of trouble. Will the Rangers get back to a third straight World Series? Can they finally win a World Series? Only time will tell. However, Jon Daniels and these three trades have made the Texas Rangers a team worth watching now and into the future.
In his second Spring Training start Yu Darvish struggled. Rangers’ fans should not start worrying about Darvish…yet. They should remind themselves “It’s only Spring Training”.
Watching the game and looking at the box score there wasn’t anything too alarming, but it was the way in which Darvish got around his mistakes that should cause concern. In the 1st inning he issued back to back walks to the first two Cleveland batters, in which Darvish was not even close to the strike zone. Both were subsequently thrown out by catcher Yorvit Torrealba while trying to steal second. Darvish was later helped in the 3rd inning when Shin-Soo Choo grounded into a double play.
In the end, Darvish pitched 3 innings giving up 3 hits, 2 runs, 4 walks, with 3 strikeouts. He threw more balls than strikes, which is never a good sign. Ultimately he got 4 of his 9 outs through the good play of his defense. The first inning should be the main concern. The Rangers can’t rely on Torrealba to throw out runners every time Darvish gets into trouble. The Indians were running to work on their base stealing, not trying to win the game in the 1st inning, so don’t expect a repeat performance by Torrealba once the regular season starts.
The Rangers and Darvish have some work to do between now and the start of the season if they want their prized off season acquisition to continue to be the dominant pitcher he was for the last 7 years in Japan.