As many of you sports fans in New York know, Michael Kay, lead play by play announcer for the Yankees on the Yes network, has his own radio show in the afternoon weekdays on ESPN radio, 1050 in New York. I listen to Michael Kay most of the time on my 10 minute drive home (a wonderful thing). And while the show is often interesting, very enjoyable (I am a big fan of Don LaGreca) and Kay definitely knows sports, Kay lately has taken opinions on various sports current events that I think are wrong. I am going to take two of them on.
A) The World Baseball Classic, otherwise known as the WBC. I was driving home one day when Mr. Kay had Jon Heyman of Newsday on discussing the WBC. Heyman is for the WBC and Michael Kay is against it. Heyman's opinion (which I agree with) was that the WBC was a great thing; a great marketing showcase for major league baseball and would feature great baseball. Kay thought it was the worst thing ever. He kept harping on the fact that players could and in his view would get hurt, especially pitchers whose arms weren't ready for the season. But also, Kay kept bringing up the idea that Derek Jeter might get hurt or Alex Rodriguez might get hurt.
There are three things here.
1) It often seems to me and to many others that Michael Kay often takes the Yankee corporate line. Listening to Michael Kay at that moment was like listening to George Steinbrenner, another opponent of the WBC. Also only bringing up players like Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will only reinforce the perception that Kay is biased to the Yankees.
2) Kay is wrong on the idea that players might get hurt in the WBC because they will try to be so competitive while still rounding into shape and this will lead to injuries, especially among pitchers. Many players play winter ball in the caribbean, Latin American, and South American leagues, so they basically play all year round. Also, players can just as easily get hurt in spring training as they might in the WBC. Next, most of the players playing are established major league veterans, not rookies trying to make the bigs. So the veteran pitchers such as Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Bartolo Colon know how to take care of themselves and know the limits of their arms in what they can do in March as opposed to July, August and September. Finally, for the most part, all these players make a lot of money. They will not risk extending themselves too much for risk of losing extended contracts and bonuses.
3) Kay also fails to realize how big of an opportunity this is for baseball to grow its markets. In the US, baseball is behind football and perhaps now even NASCAR as the most followed sport in the country. In the world however, besides soccer, there is opportunity for baseball to grow in popularity. To stage a contest with the best players from Japan, Australia, Cuba and many of the Latin American countries gives MLB a chance to gain merchandise revenue from expanding their markets. The Olympics never featured the best players from the US, Japan or Canada for that matter. Baseball needs this contest and as long as they only do this every say 4 years, the idea won't get stale. Hey, Mike Piazza is playing for Italy! There's a matinee idol that you can market on the streets of Rome!
B) The Kris/Anna Benson Saga - As many of you know, the Mets recently traded starter Kris Benson to the Orioles for reliever Jorge Julio and minor league pitcher John Maine. Speculation was that the Mets traded Benson so that would no longer have to deal with his controversial sexpot former stripper wife, Anna. Perhaps the final straw was when Kris played Santa Claus at the Mets charity Christmas party and Anna wore a very revealing Santa's helper outfit. I must say, she looked great in it. :-)
Kay and cohorts correctly spoke about how stupid it was for the Mets to have Kris and Anna at the Christmas party, but they incorrectly talked about it being the reason for his departure. They mentioned her ongoing negotiations with Playboy among other things. Kay then even went further saying that Benson was a good pitcher.
That's where I disagree with Kay on this. Kris Benson was not traded because of his wife. Trust me, if Kris Benson had an ERA of 3.00 or lower in 2005 for the Mets, they would gladly put up with his wife. In fact, I am willing to say that Omar Minaya would have gone to bat for Anna with Playboy if Benson were a #2 quality starter. Kris Benson is a very mediocre starter. He had an ERA in 2005 of 4.13, pitching half of his starts in Shea Stadium, a pitchers park. Second, he is not a workhorse starter. He only threw 174 innings and had various ailments. There is concern that his elbow/arm is still not right after his surgery of several years ago. Being a Mets fan, I watched a lot of Kris Benson's starts last year. After the 6th inning, Benson was spent and then the extra base hits/long balls would come in the seventh. More importantly, the stat that Rob Neyer and the guys at Baseball Prospectus would tell you is the clear indicator of a mediocre pitcher is strikeouts to innings pitched and strikeouts to walks ratio. In 174 innings, Kris Benson struck out 95 and walked 59. That's not even a 2-1 strikeout ratio. For a supposed power pitcher, that's terrible.
Benson also has $15.5 million over 2 years remaining on his contract. For all the complaints Mets fans have about Victor Zambrano, Zambrano threw 166 innnings, only eight less than Benson. What was Zambrano's ERA? 4.17 only four one hundreth's lower than Benson Zambrano also struck out 112, 17 more than Benson in 8 fewer innings. What's Zambrano's salary for 2006? $3 million. So if you are a Met fan, and you are going to complain about Zambrano, you should have really complained about Benson. Well that complaint is gone and rightfully so. The Mets saved about 13 million on the deal (Julio makes somewhat over 2 million) and it can be money spent on a real starting pitcher. I hate to tell you Matt Bodie, but you are going to get a mediocre long ball throwing overpaid starter for your Orioles. The bright side is you might get to see Anna and Kris christnening the Camden Yards parking lot.
Michael Kay needs to do a little more homework before making his comments. I expect better from a veteran New York sports columnist/talk show host.
A heads up for this evening. I will be posting on The Sports Roundtable blog this evening an article on why Omar Minaya, GM of the Mets, must resist the temptation of trading Lastings Milledge for Manny Ramirez.