Here's an All-Black Team For Next WBC

ALSO: WILL PANDEMIC PRECLUDE SCHEDULED STARTS OF TRAINING, SEASON?

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Ernie Harwell was once the paperboy for Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell . . .

Dick Enberg once earned a dollar an hour working as a janitor at Central Michigan University’s radio station . . .

The first voice on the first live World Series broadcast, Tom Cowan, didn’t know the score at the end of the game . . .

Plagued by late starts, poor announcing, endless commercials, and a steady diet of night games, the World Series television audience slipped from 44.3 million in 1978 to 12.7 million in 2012.

Leading Off

What would an all African-American WBC Team look like?

By Matt Whitener

Back in November, MLB.com hosted a roundtable program entitled the “Culture & Journey of the Black Baseball Player.” Hosted by Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims, the program brought together a handful of current African-American ballplayers, along with former manager Charlie Manuel, to discuss the unique situation facing the modern-day black baseball player.

During the hour-long program, a variety of topics were delved into, including the lack of black presence in the contemporary game, ways to inspire more young African-Americans to take up the game, as well as the unique social challenges the fall on the shoulders of the few chosen players in the position in the MLB today. Overall, it was a very engaging, truthful and enlightening conversation and one worth revisiting on the website today.

At a point during the program, Manuel brought up the idea of allowing an entry into the next World Baseball Classic consisting of just African-American players, to showcase the talents that are still both present, relevant and impactful in today’s game. The idea of that immediately sent my thought process going 1000 miles per hour; what exactly would that team look like? There certainly are enough black ballplayers to fill it out, but just what would the entirety look like together?

So, that is exactly what is set before you here: a 2021 version of a WBC-style African-American All-Star team. There were some tough cuts to get here (especially in the outfield), but the final result is a formidable one.

Catcher: Bruce Maxwell, New York Mets

All things being equal, this is a bit of a cheat to fill out the roster, as Maxwell recently signed with the Mets, but was out of MLB since 2018. But it also highlights a massive issue of a lack of African-American catchers throughout the upper tiers of pro baseball. For the last black All-Star catcher, you have to go all the way back to Charles Johnson in 2001. It is a position where the black presence is tremendously underserved.

Bench: We need to work on this, obviously.

First Base: Dominic Smith, Mets

Although it was an abbreviated year, Smith had the type of season that had been awaited for a handful of seasons. He produced a .993 OPS over 50 games, with 10 home runs and 21 doubles, outdoing his cumulative numbers over the exact same number of at-bats in 2019 in nearly 40 fewer games.

Bench: Josh Bell (Nationals)

Second Base: Marcus Semien, Blue Jays

Semien will switch over from shortstop at his new stop in Toronto, a location where his value could get even greater with an easier defensive load. His 14.1 WAR ranks second among all shortstops since 2018, just 0.1 behind Colorado’s Trevor Story. He finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019.

Bench: Tony Kemp (A’s)

Third Base: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates

Hayes made the most of his first taste of MLB action in 2020. Over 24 games, the former top prospect and son of hot corner veteran Charlie Hayes stroked to a 1.124 OPS, with 43 percent of his hits going for extra bases. His presence adds a nice dash to the bright future for African-Americans around the game.

Shortstop: Tim Anderson, White Sox

Anderson has become one of the most exciting players in the game. In 2019, he captured the American League batting title, hitting .335. Last summer, his 45 runs scored led the AL, while he won his first Silver Slugger Award. Anderson is also one of the most outspoken, unapologetic presences in the game and would thrive in a spotlight like the WBC.

Reserve: J.P. Crawford (Mariners)

Outfield: Mookie Betts, Dodgers; George Springer, Astros; Aaron Judge, Yankees

This is where this collection gets especially devastating. Between the trio of Betts, Springer and Judge there are: the 2018 AL MVP (Betts), the 2017 World Series MVP (Springer) and a slugger in Judge who reached a host of records owned by Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Reggie Jackson as a rookie. Add in five Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers between them all and this is by far the powerhouse portion of this lineup.

Bench: Michael Brantley (Astros), Byron Buxton (Twins), Kyle Lewis (Mariners),

Utility: Ian Desmond, Rockies

While he opted out of the 2020 season, Desmond remains an accomplished and versatile talent. After starting his career at shortstop, he has shifted between first base and center field over the past few seasons. To his credit, he is a two-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

Bench: Dee Strange-Gordon (Free Agent)

Starting Pitcher: Jack Flaherty, Cardinals

He didn’t have the all-universe showing in 2020 (4.91 ERA over nine starts) that he finished 2019 with, there are few pitchers on earth as talented as Flaherty. Over his first three full seasons, Flaherty owns a 3.20 ERA, while his .198 average against is the third-lowest in baseball among starters. He also places in the MLB top 10 in WHIP (1.04) and strikeout percentage (29.7 percent) over the same time span.

Rotation: Marcus Stroman (Mets), David Price (Dodgers), Justin Dunn (Mariners)

Bullpen: Devin Williams (Brewers), Amir Garrett (Reds), Jeremy Jeffress (Free Agent), Jordan Hicks (Cardinals), Mychal Givens (Rockies), Triston McKenzie (Indians), Touki Toussaint (Braves), Taylor Hearn (Rangers), Demarcus Evans (Rangers), Chris Archer (Free Agent).

Led by the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year in Williams (one earned run over 22 appearances), and amplified by the plus arms of Garrett, Jeffress, Hicks and McKenzie, the bullpen offers a deep and diverse set of arms capable of cleaning up most any situation later in affairs as well.

Matt Whitener is a columnist for Yardbarker and Sports Fan Journal. Reach him at @CheapSeatFan or Whitenersp@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Will Pandemic Prevent Spring Training (And the Season) From Starting On Time Again?

By Dan Schlossberg

A week ago today, Ron Blomberg asked me on his national podcast whether I thought we’d have a 2021 baseball season.

I predicted that spring training would be delayed by a month, lopping the first month off the 12-game season and that teams would just resume playing games scheduled for May and beyond.

Only days later, the Cactus League Association sent the exact same suggestion to Major League Baseball, pointing out that Maricopa County in Arizona had one of the highest covid infection rates in the country.

That drew a negative response from the players union, obviously worried that fewer games would mean lower pay, as it did when the 2020 season was shortened from 162 to 60 games.

The union also rejected the owners’ bid to retain the universal designated hitter, 16-team playoff tournament, and other vestiges introduced as experiments last season.

Exactly what the players want – other than to be totally obstructionist – is unknown, especially since keeping the DH in the National League would double the potential market of free agents like Marcell Ozuna, Nelson Cruz, and Edwin Encarnacion, among others.

Owners have an obvious problem: how to meet payroll without game-day revenue. With fans barred from ballparks, as they were in 2020, some teams might not be able to pay their players.

That’s why the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds, to cite three examples, have spent the off-season shedding high-salaried players.

The Brad Hand case is a prime example. The left-handed closer led the majors with 16 saves, converting every one of his opportunities, but the Indians placed him on waivers rather than activating a $10 million club option in his contract.

Then something even more amazing happened: every one of the 29 other teams let him go, meaning he was still the property of the Cleveland club. The Indians reluctantly paid a $1 million buyout, allowing Hand to become the best lefty reliever in the free-agent market.

And he sat for two months anyway before the Washington Nationals, desperate to plug a pen more porous than the dikes of the Netherlands, got him for $10.5 million – just $500,000 more than his Cleveland option.

But the Tribe wasn’t through, dumping the contracts of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco on the suddenly-wealthy New York Mets, and virtually guaranteeing an also-ran finish in the American League Central this summer.

Just about everybody in the National League Central has also kept a tight grip on their pocketbooks this winter. The Cubs non-tendered Kyle Schwarber, let Jon Lester leave for Washington as a free agent, and placed both Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras on the trade market. When Wrigley Field is full, all is well with the world but when it is deserted, it qualifies for federal aid.

That’s why the spend-thrift activities of the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Mets, and Nationals make no sense. What happens to these teams if there’s no game-day revenue again?

With infection rates spiking and the death toll approaching half-a-million, can baseball justify exposing players, coaches, and managers to the fatal, highly-contagious disease? Not to mention vendors, grounds crew, journalists, bus drivers, and others vital to the game’s operation?

Even if the mass vaccination program succeeds and baseball is safe enough to allow at least limited ballpark seating, there’s also the dark cloud of the Basic Agreement, due to expire in December. If players and owners can’t agree on the DH, which they both want, how can they agree on anything?

If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I would bet we’ll have a shortened season this year because of the virus and next year because of greed by those who got rich from the game.

In a country with a definite political divide, nothing seems so wide as the chasm between the two sides. If history is any indication, even the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are more likely to hammer things out.

It would be nice to look forward to February 17, the date spring training is supposed to open. But like the groundhog, I wonder whether Rob Manfred and Tony Clark will see their shadows and scurry back into their lairs for another six weeks of slumber. Let’s hope they don’t snore.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg is the author of The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists and Legends From Our National Pastime. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Before their 2020 NL Division Series defeat by the Braves, the Marlins had won seven straight post-season series . . .

Dodgers catcher Will Smith had a playoff batting average of .042 (1-for-24) before becoming the first man in franchise history to get five hits in a post-season game . . .

Trevor Bauer of the 2020 Reds was the only pitcher in post-season play to collect 12 strikeouts, yield two hits, and walked none in 7 2/3 innings without winning the game . . .

Vin Scully began his broadcast career as a news, weather, and sports sub on Washington radio station WTOP, now an all-news outlet.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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