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  1. Photo Credit: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer —"Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” Semisonic In life, we all will face the point where we will be replaced. It’s never easy. If we are lucky, it’s on our own terms and we can retire when we want to. At other times, life dictates the ending. Whether it’s a business closing, an illness affecting us, a life event happening to someone else, a global pandemic, it will happen. That’s an unfortunate certainty to life. If baseball is anything, it is brutally honest about when it’s time to go. Injuries and age take their toll. Whether one is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a regular player, or just up for a cup of coffee, players with more ability and skill will eventually force the issue. It may be hard for the player to accept it, but the game doesn’t lie about it. There are a lot of ways to analyze the end of the Pujols era with the Angels. As a baseball decision, it is an easy decision. His performance on the field wasn’t good enough to justify the playing time. The emergence of Walsh and Ohtani playing everyday made the team better offensively. There wasn’t going to be much playing time for Albert going forward. Additionally, after a shortened season last year, the concern about pitching is very real. The Angels aren’t the only organization to be struck by injuries to pitchers. Teams are carrying more pitchers for a reason, and that meant that keeping Albert in a bench role didn’t make sense. The Angels needed someone with more defensive versatility and better offensive performance than he could provide. Baseball, though, isn’t just a game of numbers. While fans may care most about numbers, those inside the business know that the people are just as important as the numbers. If I learned one thing from all of Tim Mead’s dugout talks with AngelsWin, it’s that how people are treated is of great importance in life. Right now, there’s a ton of speculation online of what happened prior to the Angels designating him for assignment. We have the statements from the Angels Front Office that the meeting with Albert ended with Minasian giving him a hug. Hopefully, the meeting went well and Albert didn’t feel “disrespected” as Pedro Martinez tweeted. Many fans have a hard time understanding the importance of respect for players. They focus on the money the players earn and the lifestyle and conclude that that should be enough for them. To those fans, I would say, everyone deserves respect, whether they make millions or hundreds. And, at some point or another, we will all feel disrespected. It may be how a doctor delivers bad news to us in an unfriendly manner, or a judge rushing us through a traffic ticket violation, a boss giving an unfair performance review, etc. At some point, we will all be treated with disrespect and would not want others telling us to just accept it because they envy our position As fans, we will never know the whole story. I have every reason to believe that Albert will continue to be as classy as he can about the situation and won’t divulge all the details of the meeting. While I do expect him to talk about it at some point, I don’t expect him to reveal much more than what we already know. The Angels Front Office won’t issue more statements about it, so, as fans we have about as much information on the subject as we are likely to get, at least in the short term. We will have no way of knowing how this may affect the Angels in future negotiations with other players. If there is more to the story (not assuming that there is more to the story), those inside the industry may learn about it. How this affects future players signing with the Angels remains to be seen. If this changes the perception of the Angels as a franchise within the industry, it could have long-term consequences as players and agents may steer players away from the Angels if they perceive the team as disrespectful. This could be a case where those fans gloating over Albert’s release should be cautioned to be careful of what they wish for. What does this mean going forward for the Angels in 2021? Honestly, not too much. Releasing Albert won’t solve the pitching and injury problems that are hampering the team. It won’t help with many of the shifts from the analytics department that didn’t work. Until those issues are resolved, the team will struggle. There is one way, though, that releasing Albert will help the Angels in 2021. It will alleviate a potential issue for the future. As noted above, from a baseball standpoint, the move made the most sense. At some point this season, a Minor Leaguer such as Adell or Marsh would likely emerge and force the issue by performing so well that the Angels would need to promote him to play the outfield and move Walsh back to first base. At that point, the issue of Pujols’ playing time would become a distraction for the team. It would take a toll on players, the coaching staff, and the Front Office as Albert got less and less playing time and reporters asked about that issue more and more. In many ways, biting the inevitable bullet now prevents a future issue and team distraction from arising. How this affects the team in the future remains to be seen. There’s no doubt that the Pujols contract had wide ramifications on the baseball industry. Paying older players large sums for many years is not likely to happen often again. Teams now know that paying players more money in their prime years is less risky and less detrimental to the franchise than spreading the money out over more years. So, if the Angels are at the end of an era with Pujols, I hope this means that the Front Office is going to move ahead fully with the notion of paying players more money for prime years. There’s no need to repeat the mistake of jumping onto a new idea with one foot, like they did when they signed Roberto Baldoquin and no other major international free agents. There are signs that this may be the case under Perry Minasian with the recent contract for David Fletcher. Hopefully they will lock up their own players earlier in their careers and find ways to sign free agents for more of their prime years. But again, I will caution fans who want this approach to be careful of what they wish for from the Front Office. Not all those future contracts will work out, even for younger players in their prime. The Angels, like all teams, will get burned eventually on a deal with a player. Injuries and aging still happen, and at some point, the team may get hampered by a shorter-term deal with a higher salary. It is the nature of the industry. So fans wishing for this approach need to understand that there are risks to these deals just as there are risks to signing players for longer term contracts. Personally, I would like to think of the Pujols era for what it meant to the franchise. When we signed him, it was the third largest contract in MLB history. I remember the buzz online and at the stadium for the press conference announcing the signing. The national perception of the Angels dramatically changed as a result of signing him. Suddenly, the Angels were on the map as a destination for players—not just some players, almost all players, especially the best of that year’s free agent class. Signing Albert changed the way the Angels were seen nationally—much in a way that signing Vlad did not. The Angels went from being a scrappy team that won the World Series in 2002 to one of the larger payrolls in baseball. During every offseason for years, we were the rumored “mystery team” involved in negotiations, and that made being an Angels fan special. Our payroll has gone up quite a bit since we’ve signed Albert and doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy of shrinking. I get that many fans are upset because the Angels never got the performance from Albert that they paid for. That is truly regrettable as he was such a joy to watch in St. Louis. The fact that Albert didn’t perform so well wasn’t due to a lack of effort on his part. Age and injuries take their toll on everyone, and baseball is brutally honest about that. He is still, a no-doubt first round Hall of Famer, and he should go into the Hall of Fame with a unanimous vote. As for the contract that he signed—that was the result of the way baseball operated at the time. The Angels were freely negotiating with him, and was later revealed, the Marlins had a higher offer for his services. The fact that the Angels never won a postseason game with him was not entirely his fault. That had more to do with the lack of pitching and lack of depth in the organization throughout his time with the Angels. According to Matt Birch, the Angels had a 590-591 record in games in which he appeared. Albert was and is a class act on and off the field. He never whined to the press or complained about the team or its record. I saw him personally interact with fans in meaningful ways, often not in ways that the public could see. He gave us some great moments (my favorite being when he and Trout fired arrows back at Fernando Rodney on July 20, 2014). He hit many milestones with the Angels and ranks in the top-10 in many all-time records for Angels offensive categories. Now that it’s closing time on the Pujols era with the Angels the endless debates about his contract and performance will come to an end. We can and should appreciate him for what he was throughout the entirety of his career, and hope that as we move forward, that the end of his era leads to a better new beginning—one with Walsh at first base and Ohtani as the full-time DH. I wish Albert Pujols all the best in the remainder of his career and look forward to seeing him inducted into the Hall of Fame.
  2. By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer With the MLB offseason moving at a glacially slow speed, a lot of time, columns, and commentary has been devoted to which players, if any, might be voted into the Hall of Fame. As of the time this article was written, there are 57 public ballots and 5 anonymous ballots. There’s even a Hall of Fame vote tracker, where fans can see which players are likely to gain admittance into the Hall of Fame. Again, as of the time of this article, it appears that 2021 may not produce a single Hall of Fame admittance for a player. With all the public ballots known, representing about 16.4% of the eligible voters, that presents a problem for the Hall of Fame and for Major League Baseball, as the induction ceremony is where baseball has a chance to celebrate and glorify its past and connect it to its present. Rather than debating the merits of which players deserve enshrinement, I’d like to debate the question of who gets to vote for the Hall of Fame. More specifically, should some baseball bloggers be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame? The immediate answer would appear to be “no” to that question. However, with all due respect to those writers that I know who can vote for the Hall of Fame, I’d take issue with that response. I get it that “any idiot with a keyboard” is a “blogger”. I want to be clear that I’m not at all advocating that all bloggers be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame. Not all baseball writers are eligible to vote, so I can certainly see some need to create criteria for bloggers who would be eligible to vote. Since 1936, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) has had the exclusive privilege to vote for those players to gain admission into the Hall of Fame. At that time, that made a lot of sense. Most baseball fans did not “see” most of the games, and instead heard the games over the radio or read about the games in the newspaper. The beat reporters were the ones who saw the players on a daily basis and were in the best position to determine those players who played at a level far above their peers. However, times change. With cable TV, fans today can watch as many games as the beat reporters. In fact, there are plenty of fans who may watch more games than reporters. More importantly, by watching the games on TV, with multiple commentators, fans will be exposed to multiple opinions about the play of individual players as they hear different broadcasters call the game whereas a beat reporter may only hear the same opinions from reporters on the same beat. The days where the members of the BBWAA serve as the sole or main “eyes” of the game are no longer upon us. Therefore, it is fair to ask if they should be the sole “guardians” of the history, the lore, and the mystique of the game (I would also argue that radio and TV announcers should also be given a vote for the Hall of Fame along with some bloggers). More importantly, the Hall of Fame is exactly what the name implies, the Hall of Fame. It is not the Hall of Stats. It is not the Hall of Personality. It is the Hall of Fame. If it were the Hall of Stats, then there wouldn’t be a need for a vote on eligibility for players, as the stats would speak for themselves. And, if it were the Hall of Personality, then several players presently in the Hall of Fame would need to be removed for what we now know about them, whereas others may deserve admission but did not receive it because they were not well liked by the voting members, or held ideological/political views that differed from the voting members. With all due respect to the members of the BBWAA that I know, while they are all fans of baseball, many of them are not fans of the team that they cover. They may like the team that they cover, but, in many cases, their beat doesn’t encompass their truly favorite team. While this may help them with their coverage for the team(s) that they write about, their experience is not what fuels and funds the game of baseball. It is the fans who do that. It’s truly the fans who determine “fame”, not the writers. Enshrining a player in Cooperstown essentially asks a question that the voting members of the BBWAA cannot truly answer. Essentially, it asks, which players over a prolonged period of play, were with the price of a ticket. Since the voting members of the BBWAA generally do not pay to attend games, and instead are paid to be at the games, that’s not a question that they can answer. Only fans can truly answer which players were worth paying to see. And, today’s fans are best represented by bloggers, not the BBWAA. That creates a real problem for the Hall of Fame. Having been there several times, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the overwhelming majority of people who visit it are there to visit and see things about their favorite team and players. One of the most crowded and slowest moving sections of the Hall of Fame is at the beginning, where every team has its locker full of memorabilia specific to that team. Fans stop for long periods to study their favorite team(s)’ lockers before spreading out to see the exhibits on baseball in general. That’s because they want to see the fame and glory for their team. They will stop to look at all displays for their favorite players, most of whom played for their team. They will take pictures with the plaques for their favorite players because that is fame for them. The Hall of Fame doesn’t exist just for the BBWAA; it exists for the fans and is attended by the fans. If it is truly supposed to be a hall of “fame” then the fans deserve to have a voice in the process of selecting those players enshrined within it. While the members of the BBWAA will have the factual knowledge of the best players of an era, and may recall which players played the most prominent roles in their stories over the seasons, they don’t always share the same passion and feelings towards players like dedicated fans. While they will have written about the plays and wins, it doesn’t always carry the same sting to them as knowing that a certain player is coming in for a homestand did to a diehard fan. Bloggers do know those pains, and are in the best position to represent the interests and beliefs of the fans who fuel the game. More importantly, in some cases, the members of the BBWAA may at times become too close to the players to always be entirely objective about it. It is easy to see that when players like Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3%), Nolan Ryan (98.8%), Ted Williams (93.4%), Jackie Robinson (77.5%), etc. did not achieve 100 percent of the vote for their admission into the Hall of Fame. It seems quite plausible that in some members of the BBWAA may have been swayed by personality conflicts with players and did not vote for those players or other players simply for reasons other than those that were part of the game. Personality conflicts appears to be the reason why one candidate on this year's ballot may not be enshrined in Cooperstown even though his stats would argue otherwise. Several members of the BBWAA have openly discussed this problem and their difficulty detaching his play on the field from their ideological conflicts with the player. Similarly, the members of the BBWAA may be a bit too close to some scandals in baseball, such as the steroid scandal, to truly be the objective and sole voters for the hall of “fame”. To fill in the time for the lack of movement this offseason, many voting members of the BBWAA have appeared on shows such as MLB Now and MLB Tonight to discuss the schism between older voting members and younger voting members when it comes to the steroid scandal. In both cases, though, both the more senior and the more junior writers may not share the same feelings about the steroid scandal as the fans do. In both cases, those members of the BBWAA may not understand the impact that those scandals had on the passion for the game because it was their job to watch and report the game, rather than making the choice to dedicate time and money to following the sport like fans did. The last point I would make about why some bloggers should be allowed to vote for membership in the Hall of Fame is the recognition of the obviously changing economics of sports coverage. To say that the legacy media is on the ropes is an understatement. The number of baseball writing jobs and positions in newspapers is shrinking annually. Again, with all due respect to the current voting members of the BBWAA that I know, at some people, they may become extinct. There may not be that many writers left who meet the voting eligibility requirements for the Hall of Fame to truly make it or their vote relevant. That would be a serious blow to the sport, the coverage, and the Hall of Fame. It would be far wiser to develop new criteria to reflect the times and realities by letting some bloggers be eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame than to wait for a foreseeable crash to happen and have no plan for how to proceed. If Major League Baseball truly wanted to capture the younger, more diverse audience, then it needs to adapt with the times. Baseball coverage and thought is not the same as it was in 1936 when the BBWAA became the official voting body of the Hall of Fame. Not only do some bloggers represent a way forward for continued baseball coverage, but they also represent a diversity of opinions. Bloggers are more likely to challenge the orthodoxy on certain viewpoints, such as whether or not a pure DH should be in the Hall of Fame, how to recognize the most outstanding middle relievers, etc. (focusing just on issues concerning Hall of Fame voting). By allowing some bloggers to vote for admission into the Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball will ensure the diversity of opinions continue to matter and will continue to carry the history and legacy of the sport forward. Again, I want to be clear that I am not advocating for all bloggers to be given a vote. Just as there are eligibility requirements for baseball writers to be eligible to vote, so too should there be eligibility requirements for bloggers. What those eligibility rules should be, and how those rules would be balanced out can be discussed once the idea of allowing some bloggers to be able to vote becomes acceptable and official. Until then, the question needs to be continuously asked: should some bloggers be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame?
  3. Interview Conducted by David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer Right about now, I'd do anything to hear baseball. Any baseball. While the coronavirus is nothing compared to what previous generations went through with wars, diseases, etc. I would just like some sense of normalcy during these trying times. I am sure I'm not alone in this feeling. While this situation is affecting us all, it is affecting us in different ways. For baseball, there are a lot of issues to work through. For the players, the teams, the stadium employees, etc. That includes the broadcasters. To help us all get our fix for baseball, and to get some insights into how the coronavirus is affecting people, I reached out to Victor Rojas to get an update from him and to get his perspective on how this disease is affecting him and the baseball season. What I love about Victor is that he's a straight shooter and calls it how he sees it. I find him to be one of the top announcers in the game who regularly reviews and refines his craft. This is a great interview. You may need to turn the volume up a bit (I found out afterwards that the cable and telephone companies were working on service issues in my area afterwards--I apologize for that). We were scheduled for about 5-10 minutes, and Victor and I talked for nearly 30 minutes. Frankly, I would love for it to go more. If, after reading this, you'd like to feel normal by wearing some BigFly gear, you can click here to get some. Right now they are running a 25% off special until MLB plays its first game. While we might not have new baseball games to watch, we can still feel connected to our team and our friends with our gear. And, if Victor does come up with something to do to keep baseball fans going, he will let me know, and I will pass along the message. Be safe and healthy everyone. Victor Rojas Interview March 20 2020.wav
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