Politics & Policy

Cue the Boys of Summer

2015 edition: As a new campaign begins, a look back at the off-season.

Come clean: You were starting to think April would never get here, that maybe it was somehow possible that the evil groundhog had predicted six more months of winter. Well, we somehow persevered through the seriously freezing temperatures, as well as the despair-inducing “best shape of his life” stories that otherwise mar the thrill when pitchers and catchers report.

Last night, the 2015 regular season got underway when the Cardinals and their fans invaded a Wrigley Field sans bleachers, and that’s how we knew that spring had finally arrived. So what might have you missed since the Giants took home their third world championship in five years?

By the time Pablo Sandoval, now a member of the Red Sox, had caught the final out of the World Series, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight was already attempting to determine whether the Royals’ Alex Gordon should have attempted moments earlier to score the tying run of Game 7 instead of stopping at third base.

RELATED: Time to Test Your Baseball Knowledge

The Baseball Writers Association of America announced its big-time awards soon after. Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom (whose name would be “Legroom,” were the stubborn Pages auto-speller to get its way) were named the AL and NL Rookies of the Year, respectively; Buck Showalter and Matt William, Managers of the Year; Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw took home Cy Young hardware, and Mike Trout and Kershaw snapped up Most Valuable Player honors.

Meanwhile, the top scorer in this year’s Fielding Bible Award class was again Andrelton Simmons.

In addition to Kung-Fu Panda and Hanley Ramirez heading to New England to help the Sox make a go at another worst-to-first comeback, this free-agency period saw Max Scherzer sign with the Nationals, Jon Lester with the Cubs, James Shields with the Padres, Victor Martinez remaining with the Tigers, Nelson Cruz sign with the Mariners, Russell Martin with the Blue Jays, Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas with the Diamondbacks, Brandon McCarthy with the Dodgers, Ervin Santana with the Twins (who subsequently got suspended for the first half of the season after testing positive for a banned substance), Billy Butler with the A’s, David Robertson with the White Sox, and Andrew Miller with the Yankees.

SLIDESHOW: Presidential First Pitches

The trade market was quite lively, and positively head-spinning if you root for the Friars. San Diego acquired an entire starting outfield in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers, with Derek Norris to catch and Will Middlebrooks to man the hot corner. Even yesterday, Padres brass were still working the phones, pulling off another big trade, acquiring a lights-out closer, Craig Kimbrel, from the Braves.

Other noteworthy trades featured, in alphabetical order, Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers, Tyler Clippard to the A’s, Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, Nathan Eovaldi to the Yankees, Evan Gattis to the Astros, Dee Gordon to the Marlins, Yasmani Grandal to the Dodgers, Shane Greene to the Tigers, Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, Adam Lind to the Brewers, Wade Miley to the Red Sox, Shelby Miller to the Braves, Brandon Moss to the Indians, Rick Porcello to the Red Sox, Boog Powell (sorry, no relation) to the Rays, Martin Prado to the Marlins, Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers, Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, and Ben Zobrist to the A’s.

Another player dealt this offseason, Didi Gregorius, probably won’t share his predecessor’s knack for giving away gift baskets to the ladies but may show Yankee Stadium’s Bleacher Creatures how a shortstop ranges to his left.

On a related note, questions being asked in the Bronx at the moment include:

‐Will the decent Grapefruit League numbers of 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez carry over into April?

‐Will the other altacockers in the lineup and fragile pitching rotation bounce back from injury-riddled seasons?

‐Why is the Steinbrenner family no longer spending money like drunken sailors?

‐Will the crosstown Amazins, led by their healed No. 1 starter Matt Harvey, finish with a better record than the Yankees’ for the first time since 2000?

#related#On another related note, at a time when MLB is so concerned about public safety that fans will now have to pass through metal detectors before entering the ballpark, why did Mets ownership reportedly slash the budget for Citi Field security over the past few seasons?

Giancarlo Stanton’s 2014 came to an abrupt end in mid-September, courtesy of a fastball to the face, but the Marlins’ super-slugger found a way to enjoy the offseason, courtesy of a $325-million, 13-year contract featuring both no-trade and post-sixth-year opt-out clauses.

Halos fans will not see the oft-injured Josh Hamilton until at least May, but that’s not why the team is furious. The outfielder, who has had narcotics-addiction issues since his days as a prospect, is again seeking treatment for cocaine and alcohol abuse. To add insult to injury, an arbitrator held that he would not have to serve a suspension by which he would have forfeited a not-insignificant portion of the $83 million remaining on his contract.

For the first time in 60 years, four former players were voted into the Hall of Fame: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio. However, no one on the Veterans’ Committee Golden Era ballot — Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, and seven other fine candidates — received enough support for induction. Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports chalked up the goose egg to “bad math,” meaning that the statistical formula devised for the process was flawed.

Countdown timers and other pace-of-play tools have been brought in to keep fans stimulated, but David Ortiz isn’t too keen on new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s actions:

It seems like every rule goes in the pitcher’s favor. After a pitch, you got to stay in the box? One foot? I call that bulls***.

When you come out of the box, they don’t understand you’re thinking about what the [pitcher] is trying to do. This is not like, you go to the plate with an empty mind. No, no, no. When you see a guy, after a pitch, coming out of the box, hes not just doing it. Our minds are speeding up.

I saw one pitch, I come out, Im thinking, “What is this guy going to try to do to me next?” I’m not walking around just because there are cameras all over the place and I want my buddies back home to see me and this and that. It doesn’t go that way.

When you force a hitter to do that, 70 percent you’re out, because you don’t have time to think. And the only time you have to think about things is that time. So, I don’t know how this baseball game is going to end up.

Twenty-three-year-old phenom Kris Bryant excited already optimistic Cub fans and the club’s new skipper, Joe Maddon, by blasting spring-training pitching but will spend at least the first couple of weeks of the season in the minors, presumably so that the front office will take advantage of the current rules and delay his free-agency countdown clock by one season.

Meanwhile, fans on the South Side are excited not only about their suddenly stacked White Sox but also about the mere thought of eating ribs out of a commemorative batting helmet while taking in a game at the Cell. Not to be outdone, the Astros are introducing their backers to chicken in a waffle cone, fans in the Twin Cities will be subjected at Target Field to the $19 College Daze Bloody Mary, and the Phillies, no doubt seeking desperately to help Philadelphians cope with the club’s sorry state of affairs — yup, Ryan Howard remains, and just yesterday we learned that the indefatigable Jeff Francoeur made the 25-man roster! — agreed to sell wine and spirits on the main concourse of Citizens Bank Ballpark.

Baseball’s youngest fans won’t be denied precious nourishment either: The Reds are opening inside Great American Ballpark a lounge, sponsored by Pampers, where Stewie Griffin and that ilk may get milk.

In Pittsburgh, Andrew McCutchen finally had enough of his trademark dreadlocks. Subsequently, the Bucs superstar expressed hope that MLB will remove John Fogarty’s song praising his position (“Centerfield”) from the big-league ballpark playlist.

Jayson Werth, spending ten days in a Virginia jail cell, contemplated the consequences of racing past the state’s no-nonsense reckless-driving statute.

In contrast, Blue Jays rookie pitcher Daniel Norris spent his entire offseason going mobile in his 1978 Volkswagen microbus:

“My road to the big leagues was fast; that was the plan,” Norris said. “But every time I travel in this, I don’t have plans. I’ll put in $20 in gas, and wherever I run out, I stop for the night.”

And when he stops for the night, there’s music, but no television or 24-hour sports channels. In other words, no distractions.

“When I can simplify outside of the fair and foul lines, that’s so much less to think about off the field,” he said. “Then all of my focus is put on the baseball field.”

I’m not sure about forever, but in 2015 the Pirates will be twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom with the signing of Korean middle-infield standout Jung-Ho Kang. Meanwhile, Yu Darvish, another import from the other side of the Pacific, did a little too much spinning. He injured his elbow and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery, meaning that the Rangers won’t see their ace pitcher again until 2016.

But cheer up, Texas fans: “Rangers sign Rougned Odor’s younger brother . . . who is also named Rougned Odor.” (Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl were unavailable for comment.)

Will Farrell had a busy day in the Cactus League a few weeks back in a bid to raise money for cancer research and do some filming for an upcoming HBO special. The 47-year-old rookie made an appearance in an Angels uniform as a “defensive replacement” for Mike Trout and took the field for nine other teams over a five-game stretch. Baseball-Reference celebrated the occasion by creating a player page for the Anchorman star, and it’s most definitely worth a look.

On a far sadder note, MLB lost several greats, including Ernie Banks, Alvin Dark, Stu Miller, Minnie Minoso, Al Rosen, and Ray Sadecki. Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez died of injuries suffered in a boating accident.

May all of their memories be for blessings.

* * *

Now you may consider yourself all caught up, more or less. So shuck off the winter coat, get your sorry tush to the ballpark, and have a heckuva spring, summer, and (unless you’re a degenerate Yankee fan) fall watching the action.

As for predictions:

AL East: Red Sox

AL Central: White Sox

AL West: Mariners

Wild Card #1: Tigers

Wild Card #2: Angels

AL Pennant: Mariners over Angels

NL East: Nationals

NL Central: Cardinals

NL West: Dodgers

Wild Card #1: Pirates

Wild Card #2: Padres

NL Pennant: Nationals over Cardinals

AL MVP: Robinson Cano

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale

AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza

AL Manager of the Year: Lloyd McClendon

NL MVP: Ruben Tejada Andrew McCutchen

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly

The Diamondbacks will secure the No. 1 selection in the 2016 amateur draft by overtaking the Phillies in September for the regular season’s worst record. Not only will the Giants and Royals not return to the postseason, I suspect that neither team will finish above .500.

(Which reminds me: If my postseason picks hold up, we may conclude that the holographic screen in Hill Valley announcing a Cubs World Series victory was merely a scheme to mercilessly toy with Jim Belushi’s emotions.)

And after Seattle and Washington, D.C., battle it out in the Fall Classic, in which the Mariners triumph, paying the iron price in six games, try not to let your unhealthy addiction to pigskin tune out baseball altogether.

But yeah, I’ll be back this time next year, just in case.

Play ball!

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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