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BASEBALL NEEDS COMPETITION, NATS SIGN KING & SIMONTACCHI

[December 19th] -- It hasn't been very many months ago that the Nationals' future in the D.C. didn't seem particularly bright. Politicians and penguins in suits, each excercising there dominion and dominance over baseball in Washington, just about broke the hearts of two generations of baseball fans inside the beltway. The problem is - or at least it seems to be - that Major League Baseball has such a monopoly on their sport that Selig and his minions can do pretty much anything, anytime, anywhere. The other sports, however, have been pressured by other leagues at one time or another to act in a more professional way.

Years ago, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League were just like Major League Baseball. None of the leagues had any reason to concern themselves with the wants and needs of their fans. They were a monopoly. "Let them eat cake" was the attitude of many team owners. New leagues would soon change that attitude.


The NFL has had to beat back four different leagues over the past sixty years. The All-America Football Conference played from 1946-49. The Colts, Browns and 49ers joined the NFL following the league's collapse. In 1960, the American Football League came into being, eventually merging with the NFL in 1968. The World Football League in the mid 1970's, and the United States Football League in the mid 1980's helped change the shape of the NFL as well.

Prior to 1967, the NBA was a very boring basketball league that was centered in the Mid-Atlantic states. It was a defensive-minded league that featured a 40 second shot clock, set shots and very few blacks. The American Basketball Association was pure offense. It introduced the 30 second shot clock [although the game was so fast it was seldom used], the 3-point arc, dunks, behind-the-back passes and a style of play that came right out of the inner city. The ABA was the "Afro League" and the NBA the "Vitalis League." When the league finally folded in 1976, several of the ABA teams [Nuggets, Spurs, Pacers and Nets] joined the NBA. The remaining players went through a dispersal draft and forever changed the stodgy, slow-footed nature of the National Basketball Association.

The National Hockey League was little more than a Canadian organization with a few token American teams before the World Hockey Association came into existence in 1972 and transformed hockey into a national sport. WHA team's raided the NHL and signed some of its best players. The WHA teams didn't have the depth of talent of the NHL, but its front-line players were equal to their NHL counterparts. Several WHA teams [Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques] joined the NHL in 1978 and brought their fast, high scoring style to the older league.

Although none of these leagues enjoyed the competition, its aftermath left the NBA, NFL and NHL bigger, better, and stronger. Each league's fan base grew exponentially, as did the value of its franchises.

And then there is baseball.

Don't think that the era of dishonest baseball owners and shady back-room bargains began with Bud Selig and Jerry Reisendorf. In 1878, baseball owners made a secret agreement to not sign each others players as well as keep salaries artificially low. Each team gave the others a list of five players who were reserved from being signed or traded. This was the beginning of the "reserve clause" that lasted for nearly a century.

The "Players League" was formed in 1890 in response to baseball's draconian financial measures. The new league featured revenue sharing and no reserve clause. It lasted only one season. The Federal League debuted in 1914. League owners refused to acknowledge baseball's reserve clause and signed many stars from the American and National Leagues. The demise of the Federal league brought about several lawsuits against Major League Baseball. It was the suit filed by the Baltimore club that the Supreme Court eventually ruled that baseball was not involved in interstate commerce, and therefore immune from anti-trust legislation. The last affront to Major League Baseball was the Mexican League raids of 1946. Commissioner Happy Chandler was so angry at the players who signed with the Mexican League that he "black-listed" them for life. It took several years and many lawsuits before Major League Baseball ultimately lost in court. The Continental League was introduced in the mid 1950's as a logical response to baseball's refusal to expand into the western United States. The move westward of both the Dodgers and Giants, however, as well as the 1961-62 expansion ended the need for the new league. Baseball hasn't been threatened since.

Until now.

The time has come to stop baseball's arrogance before they run the game into the ground, and the only way to do that is to create a competitive league that will force their hand. We shouldn't have had to watch the Nationals continue to be castrated over the past two years so Bud Selig can show the D.C. City Council that "his is bigger."

Baseball has become a world-wide sport, so a new league should reflect the global aspects of the game. Call the league the "Global Baseball Association." Instead of having to deal with the daunting task of building a league from scratch, simply add an American component to what's already available. There are many quality teams right now in South America and Asia.
Choose 16 existing teams from those regions, or create new ones that would play in Mexico City, Havana, Tokyo, Soul and Taipei. Create eight teams in the United States and another two in Canada [and YES! .. put one in Montreal]. Twenty-four teams playing in a league with an international flavor. ESPN would jump at the chance to broadcast league games. So would the sports cable channels in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Taiwan. The foreign teams would be stocked primarily with local talent, but could sign players from any nation. Here in America, teams could be built initially with free-agent minor leaguers with talent who have never been given the chance to play [Rick Short for example] and middle level major leaguers [the Hector Carrascos and Marlon Andersons of the world]. Slowly, over several years, the combination of amateur signings and major league free agents will allow the new league to be very competitive.

I'm not suggesting that this new league would replace the American and National Leagues. Far from it. But it would bring a sudden stop to Bud Seligs antics. No longer would cities have to build half-billion dollar stadiums with baseball providing no assistance. The American component of the league could become a player development league similar to NFL Europe. The World Series would be truly a world series. Franchise values would skyrocket. Players would be more in demand. The "country vs. country" feel of soccer's World Cup would be integrated into baseball.

But most importantly, Bud Selig would be scared for a few years. That alone would be worth the price of admission to the Buffalo Bison or Tidewater Tigers or Portland Sabre Cats. I'll be happy to be the commissioner if any of you have $20 or $30 billion dollars handy.

Or maybe someone has Bill Gates email address? The Tacoma PowerPoints has kind of a nice ring, doesn't it??

Nats sign King: The Nationals announced the signing of Ray King and Jason Simontacchi to minor league contracts on Tuesday. When asked why he signed with the Nationals versus trying to get "big money" out of some of the other teams this off season, King seemed upset as he said that several teams bristled at his "poor" season with the Colorado Rockies. He said that first and foremost, he pitched for the Rockies, which in and of itself skewes a pitchers' statistics.

Is he right?

Last season, pitching in Denver, King had a record of 1-2, 5.21, allowing 30 hits in just 19 innings. On the road, King faired much better, going 0-2, 3.86 with 26 hits allowed in 25 innings. Considering his previous three seasons were strong ('03: 3-4, 3.51 -- '04: 5-2, 2.61 -- '05: 3:38), It would seem that his abnormally poor numbers were indeed the result of pitching at Coors Field. I guess the question I have is this: is this part of the "plan?" A 32 year old pitcher signed to bolster the only part of the team that is already strong? Don't get me wrong; I'm happy to have another lefty coming out of the bullpen. I just wonder if the Nationals really needed him.

As for Jason Simontacchi, the 33 year old will compete for a spot in the starting rotation. He is an interesting character, to be sure. A starter for the Cardinals in 2003 & 2004 , Simontacchi went 20-10, 4.77 during that period. He was released by the Cardinals in November, 2004 and wasn't picked up by another club until the Cubs signed him to a minor league Contract in March, 2006. He was released a month later (what does that say?). I can't find any injuries that would have kept him out of baseball for two years(though there have been hints of a shoulder injury), so I can't say what that was all about. He did pitch for Bridgeport (Independent) in 2006, going 1-0, 0.84 in 10 innings.

Without question, Simontacchi is not part of "the plan." I don't care how barren the Nationals' starting pitching staff may be, if Jason Simontacchi is the answer, I don't want to know the question.

If Simontacchi makes the starting rotation, then the Nationals' "we're not signing free agent pitchers because we're going younger -- not because of finances" mantra will ring a little hollow, won't it.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in spring training.

Harper Outrighted: Catcher Brandon Harper was outrighted to 'AAA' Columbus to make room on the 40 man roster for the slew of new players. Harper, one of those guys never given a chance in the major leagues, did an outstanding job for the Nationals, batting .293 as Brian Schneider's backup.

On Being 'outrighted:' Several things happen when a player is outrighted. First, he is removed from the team's 40 man roster and then is placed on waivers, giving the other teams three days to claim him days -- the teams with the worst records get first "dibs." If nobody claims him, he goes to the minors. If the team wants to call him up again, they have to purchase his contract and put him back on the 40-man roster.

It would be my guess that Harper showed enough with the Nationals in 2006 that someone will take a chance and pull him off of the waiver wire, and that's too bad. Everyone loves a player who, after years in the minor leagues, plays well at the big league level. That said, it seems playing well in D.C. dooms a player. Just ask Rick Short.

Makes you wonder who the backup catcher will be, doesn't it?

Comments:
I guess they plan to make Flores the back-up, experience be damned. As a #3 he would get virutally no game time - so I guess it's the better option.
 
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