SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Did you miss me? The Pirates apparently did, posting a 5-7 record while I was on exile in Europe over the last two weeks.
But I have some good news: I’m back.
I’ve returned from my two-week tour of Europe and I’m looking forward to the second half of the season, which promises to be a compelling story regardless of what transpires. I returned to find a flooded basement and the Pirates hope their last two weeks are not a precursor to another second half of taking on water. We’ll see. But for now let’s talk some All-Star Game….
(Hey, I’m not the first person to return from an exile in Europe)
I’m back in time for the All-Star Break, but I gotta say the All-Star game doesn’t do much for me from a spectator standpoint.
It’s a great honor for first-time All-Stars like Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon, Jeff Locke and Jason Grilli. That the Pirates have four first time All-Stars is telling of just how special and unexpected the first half of the season has been. I’d argue the Pirates should have a sixth All-Star, in addition to Andrew McCutchen, in Francisco Liriano who has been one of the best lefties in the game.
My favorite elements of the break are the Futures Game and the derby. But as for the main event, interest and novelty has been eroded away first by cable television, which allows you to see the game’s stars every night, and by interleague play. The fact the game is now played to determine World Series home-field advantage is a desperate manuever telling of drying interest.
But perhaps the All-Star game can borrow from its younger sibling, the Futures Game, and one of the game’s more inventive platforms, the World Baseball Classic.
My modest proposal: ditch the AL vs. NL format, and give us the USA vs. the World.
(All-Star, no. Eurostar, yes.)
What the All-Star game needs is rooting interests that will captivate an audience. I don’t think the AL vs. NL has the same sizzle as it once did but I think a USA vs. World game would.
*This format would produce stronger rooting interests both within the U.S. and outside of its borders, particularly among the casual fan, those most responsible for TV ratings. We’ve seen how seriously, how much pride, the Dominican players have had in facing the U.S. in the WBC and I think there would be a similar passion if the format were adopted for the All-Star Game
*Baseball, like other U.S. major sports, is trying to grow its reach and brand internationally and this format would aid in that attempt.
*The game would also be novel at first, which would lead to an interest spike.
I’m not the first to suggest this format but with the success of the WBC and the dwindling interest in the current format, I think it makes more sense now than ever to attempt something radical.
ANOTHER REASON GREGORY POLANCO (COBRA 2.0) MATTERS
I’ve been catching up on some reading over the last 24 hours as I was essentially away from the Web for two entire weeks, which was my longest absence since Al Gore created the internet back in the early 90s.
Our own Dejan Kovacevic wrote about Gregory Polanco (choose your nickhame ‘Sick Giraffe’ or ‘Cobra II’) over the weekend and this quote from Pirates ace Latin scout Rene Gayo stood out to me:
“The guy (Polanco’s adviser) wanted $100,000 for Polanco, and nobody would give it to him. But the more I watched, the more I liked what he might do in the field. He had the long body, but you could see he felt the game. He had a nice, short stroke, he knew how to hit the other way, ran the bases … he just had fun. It was easy for him.”
Gayo paid $150,000 for the Pirates to land Polanco, perhaps his best signing since Starling Marte as Polanco ranked 13th on Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects released last week, second in the organization behind Jameson Taillon, ranked 11th.
Gayo and the Pirates were also in own Miguel Sano, which has been well documented. Everyone knew Sano had rare talent and he earned a $3 million signing bonus. But Polanco was an under-the-radar signing. And since baseball now has caps on international spending like in the draft, teams can’t simply outspend for top talent.
The scouting chops to identify and project talent is more important now than ever.
Polanco is a scouting success and a player development success. And the best teams going forward will be the ones that find the $100,000 Latin players that produce like the $3 million signees. Spending caps level the field and put pressure on your ability to scout.
THE COOLEST THINGS I DID WHILE I WAS AWAY
1. Night boat rides on the Seine in Paris. If you you ever venture to Paris I strongly recommend the Hop-on, Hop-off tours and spending an additional eight Euros for the boat.
2. The view from in Fiesole, an ancient Etruscan town founded 6th century BC, which rests in the mountains just outside of Florence. Da Vinci allegedly tested his flying device there … 20 centuries after its founding.
3. Everything at Lake Como. Small Italian towns on the northern border, awe inspiring views.
4. Late dinners at sidewalk cafes in Montparnasse, forming stomping grounds of expats like Ernest Hemingway.
5. Sharing drinks, improving international relations with natives on the sidewalks outside of at London pubs.