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Spring Training kicks off the MLB season

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After every long, cold offseason, major league baseball clubs reconvene in mid-February to begin prepping for the upcoming season. Fifteen of the 30 major league teams head to Arizona to participate in Cactus League play, while the other 15 spend their spring training in Florida for Grapefruit League play.

Although Cactus and Grapefruit League play is merely a warm-up for many seasoned veterans, there are also many younger players and older players past their prime battling it out to earn a roster spot on Opening Day.  

Although stats and highlights during Spring Training rarely make the front page, there have been some noteworthy stories coming out of Arizona and Florida.

The first is Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. After being labeled the “Babe Ruth” of the Nippon Professional Baseball, Ohtani is unanimously agreed among scouts as the best non-American baseball player on the planet.  After a long drawn-out process where Ohtani met with nearly half the teams in major league baseball, the two-way outfielder and pitcher decided to take his talents to Orange County and sign with the Angels.

Ohtani has been labeled the number one prospect in all of baseball, being able to launch balls out of stadiums in batting practice, as well as flirt with triple-digit fastballs.

While scouting reports rave about him, Ohtani’s performance in Spring Training has been notably horrendous. Ohtani has slashed an abysmal .107/.219/.107 while striking out nine times across only 28 at-bats. His outings on the mound have been equally unimpressive. Across only 2.2 innings, Ohtani’s surrendered eight earned runs and has given up the long-ball three times. This is not a product of bad luck, as his opponent’s average currently sits at .529.

Although discouraging, scouts aren’t worried. Transitioning from foreign baseball to American baseball is no easy task, and it is something with which players coming from other countries have always reasonably struggled. Ohtani is fine; his fastball is still showing the velocity he previously exhibited and scouts are still pleased with his power potential.

Spring Training numbers are hardly ever indicative of a player’s future, but if Ohtani does not adjust in time, he will likely begin the season in the higher levels of the minor leagues, until the Angels deem him as adequately prepared for major league baseball. Still young, the 23 -year-old still has plenty of time to develop into a superstar.  

The second biggest story coming out of Spring Training is Ronald Acuna of the Atlanta Braves. Acuna spent the 2017 season as a 19-year-old. He began the year at A+ Florida where he posted strong numbers across 28 games. The Braves felt he was ready for the next level and bumped him up to AA Mississippi, a risky move on the Braves’ part, given Acuna’s age. The Braves’ risk paid off; Acuna rewarded them by absolutely breaking out in AA, batting .326 and blasting nine home runs across 57 games. The Braves felt the game was still too slow for Acuna, and they bumped him up to AAA Gwinnett, where he hit .344 and was 7.8 years younger than the average player.

Acuna was invited to the Arizona Fall League, a prestigious league to which only top prospects get invited. Acuna continued his dominance, batting .325 with seven home runs in only 23 games, earning the league MVP award.  Acuna ended up winning Minor League Player of the Year in 2017.

The confidence and respect that scouts have for Acuna mirror those of Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in 2010 MLB Draft and current superstar, when he was a prospect. Some place him among the top tier of baseball players, noting his comparison to Mike Trout, said by many to be a number one position player in all of baseball.  

Acuna has yet to slow down. At just 20 years old in Spring Training, Acuna smacked four home runs, 11 RBIs, four stolen bases, and slashed .432/.519/.728.

There is no doubt that Acuna is not only ready, but has earned a shot at the big leagues. However, Acuna was recently re-assigned from major league to minor league camp, indicating that he will begin the season at AAA Gwinnett. This is a strategic move on the Braves’ part. By delaying Acuna’s call-up, the Braves can limit his service time, which in turn extends his contract, so the Braves can hold on to him for an extra year.

As I mentioned before, Spring Training statistics are rarely predictive of long-term performance. Many players have struggled in the minors and sprint training, only to breakout in when they reached the majors. Ten years from now, it is possible that neither Ohtani nor Acuna will pan out, but it is equally possible that they could blossom into modern-day superstars. Being only 20 and 23 years old, both have plenty of time to both showcase their abilities and hopefully reach their potential.

The relationship between greek life and athletics at Swarthmore

in Opinions/Sports by

Swarthmore students that engage in Greek life on campus come from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with their own academic and extracurricular endeavors. Swarthmore Greek members are anything but a monolith, despite the negative attention that Greek organizations have received on a national scale. While Greek organizations may consume the lives of students at other schools, here at the college, they simply complement the ongoing educational experience of each student individually. In some ways, then, it is surprising that the fraternities at Swarthmore have a long-standing history with specific sports teams on campus. However, in other ways, the teamwork and similar skills developed on a sports team directly and logically translate to the brotherhood of fraternity life. Thus, the relationships between these sports teams and Greek organizations on campus speak to the philosophies and character of those same Greek organizations.

Since its inception at the college in 1894, Delta Upsilon has held close ties to various sports teams on campus, more specifically the football team before its disbandment in 2002, and now, the baseball and golf teams. Before this, however, the baseball team actually tended to join Phi Psi, including four famous former MLB players. It is worth noting that, particularly in the early 20th century, Swarthmore had a far more prominent Greek influence on campus, with more options for potential members to choose between. By the early 1990s, the number of fraternities had been reduced to just two, Delta Upsilon, and Phi Psi. Thus, athletes and regular students have fewer Greek organizations to choose from today.

After the baseball team’s migration to Delta Upsilon following the disbandment of the football team, the lacrosse team began to make up more and more of Phi Psi’s constituency. This trend continued so much so that now Phi Psi is commonly associated with the men’s lacrosse team, although it also includes many members of the men’s rugby and golf teams. Although Kappa Alpha Theta, the recently established sorority on campus, also has many athletes and members of different interests, their athletic-participating members come from a variety of sports teams, particularly the softball, basketball, and swim teams, among others. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that female identifying students only have one sorority to choose from, while male identifying students can pick between Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon.

On the other hand, not all members of the teams choose to participate in the fraternity and the fraternities do consist of members from a variety of interests, not necessarily just sports. It is by no means a hindrance to decline to join a fraternity, nor is it a requirement for fraternity members to be athletes.

“I think the amount of varsity athletes in the fraternity is largely overstated.” said Dimitri Kondelis ‘20, a DU brother, who is not participating in NCAA athletics at Swarthmore.

Max Kassan ‘18, a baseball player and Delta Upsilon brother, noted that his roommates for his final year consisted of a mix of DU brothers, baseball players, and any combination of the two, representing the wide community that members of DU represent.

Delta Upsilon highlights four main pillars in its education of members, two of which are particularly pertinent to athletics as well: the development of character and the promotion of friendship. The comradery built on the baseball and golf teams carries over to fraternity meetings and the converse as well, thereby strengthening the bonds and relationships between members.

“I actually wasn’t planning on joining DU when I got to Swarthmore. Coming into college, I had a negative perception as to what fraternities were … the more time I spent with my teammates, the more I began to realize that DU was not at all what I envisioned a college fraternity would be,” Kassan said.

Kassan pointed out a particularly poignant anecdote when multiple members of the baseball team that were also in DU helped him with the tough academic transition to Swarthmore.

“DU has helped me bolster my friendships with the DU members, but it hasn’t limited me in any way.” Kassan emphasized.

Delta Upsilon accepts any student who shows interest during their rush period. One example of this is DU’s large presence of international students, adding to the cultural perspectives and exposure of its members. In this way, both the athletes and other members take great pride in their relationship, as it not only builds the individual, but the greater community as well.

Members of the baseball and golf teams not affiliated with the fraternity also enjoy its presence and influence on campus.

“Sometimes I may be out of the loop on a couple jokes, but beyond that I don’t feel a division [in the baseball team]” said Frank Sammartino ‘20, a pitcher for the baseball team who frequents DU events despite not actually being a member himself.

He would go on to explain that he did not ever formally join the fraternity because of “the time commitment” and that “…[he] would be friends with the guys regardless.”

DU brothers that do not play for the baseball team shared the same sentiment.

“As a non-baseball brother, I have found that DU is about half non-baseball, half baseball. It certainly has positively affected my experience in DU by introducing me to a great group of guys that I would not have known otherwise.” said Kondelis.

In the same way, Phi Psi’s strong relationship with the men’s lacrosse team also builds the strong sense of character and dignity within both groups’ members. The fraternity’s basic foundational tenets highlight “integrity, intellect, and community involvement,” all of which closely align with member’s opinions on the benefits of Greek life. To this end, Phi Psi actually first relinquished their charter to the international parent organization, Phi Kappa Psi, after becoming one of the first Phi Kappa Psi chapters to accept African-American and Jewish members in the early 1960s. The fraternity operates as Phi Psi, a local chapter now.

One member and lacrosse player, Zander Levitz ‘20, emphatically backed Phi Psi in an interview.

“I joined Phi Psi for many reasons, but one that stood out to me when I was deciding was the network. At such a small school … the network is more closely knit and everyone wants to help out.” said Levitz.

Levitz also emphasized the willingness of alumni, both former lacrosse players and not, to help out in professional and post-college life. Additionally, Levitz expressed his desire to change the stigma of being a member of a fraternity on campus.

“Being a part of Phi [Psi] has made me more aware of how I conduct myself on campus… we hope our recent positive actions on campus galvanize more interest in joining!” said Levitz.

To Levitz’s point, the fraternities build this awareness and respect in their members. Swarthmore fraternities maintain a non-secret and non-residential status — except for one brother from each fraternity a year — as a result, fraternity life is not as all-encompassing as it is at many bigger schools. To this end, these fraternities not only provide resources to students in their academic, professional, and personal lives, but also teach intangible skills, like teamwork, leadership, respect, and responsibility.

The athletic and Greek communities continue to work closely here at the college. Swarthmore Greek life, although small in comparison to the student body, shows a striking overlap in demographics with the athletic community as well. Nevertheless, both fraternities have made it clear that varsity athletics are not a prerequisite to join a fraternity, and hope to work for the betterment of the social scene at Swarthmore, creating equitable and fun environments for years to come.  

MLB Hall of Fame inductees announced

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On Wednesday, January 24, the MLB and Baseball Writer’s Association of America announced the 2018 MLB Hall of Fame Class: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman. These four legends will be joined by Alan Trammell and Jack Morris in an induction class rivaled by few others in terms of talent and character. Each player undoubtedly had their own unique career and personality, but also continues to make a lasting impact on their respective fanbases and the overall game to this day.

Each year, the BBWAA collectively votes on choice candidates for the honor with final inductees receiving 75 percent of the vote. However, a separate Modern Era Committee, formed by the MLB, attempts to find any potential reputable candidates who may have slipped through the cracks since the first vote in 1936. Thus, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris joined the class for their significant contributions to the game throughout the 70s and 80s, despite having failed the BBWAA’s ballot standards for years. This year’s Modern Era ballot seemed to particularly highlight the 70s and 80s decades, a move potentially emphasizing the achievements of players during a time before the prevalence of steroids.

Especially with the inclusion of performance-enhancing drug users on the ballot, the voting process tends to draw particular scrutiny as of late. Both all-time home run leader Barry Bonds and 7-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens missed out on the honor by slim margins. In this way, the selection committee has persisted in their statement against rule breakers, continuing to disallow confirmed PED-using players into the Hall. However, there are still players that many would argue have the credentials and the character to join the Hall of Fame despite the committee’s reluctance to accept them.

In recent years, the BBWAA has followed particular statistical analytics, mainly Wins Above Replacement to determine the quality of the player, along with character, reputation, and award considerations. WAR only became popular in recent years after the Oakland Athletics organization first developed the tool to identify talent under heavy financial stresses. Essentially, a program compares annual statistics and production of individual players with a convoluted average MLB player at that specific position. The final result is then purely the number of wins that the player contributed to their team. This comparison then allows programs like the BBWAA to properly determine the efficiency and true value of a player to the team. On account of the BBWAA’s usage of WAR, many popular players miss out on the Hall because of the statistic’s ability to see past societal, media, and human influence. These unfortunate cases are commonly referred to as “snubs.”

One of these snubs, Edgar Martinez, a pillar in the Seattle Mariners organization for years, missed out on the vote by less than 5 percent. Similarly, Mike Mussina, a long-time starting pitcher for the Yankees and Orioles, failed to receive the 75 percent standard, despite his 270 career wins and 82.7 aggregate WAR. Rumors of induction also surrounded first-year, flashy shortstop Omar Vizquel for his elite defense, highlight reel plays, and lengthy career. However, none of these players ever won a World Series, potentially signifying a desire on the committee’s part for players with lasting legacies across the league, not just in their individual fanbases. Vizquel, many have argued, is a textbook example of WAR’s power, looking past the stellar defensive plays and pure athleticism to see the actual statistical benefit of the player’s influence and career. Nevertheless, each player has 15 years of voting to attempt to make the Hall of Fame, beginning five years after their retirement, meaning that both still have some time to make it in the coming years.

That being said, the ballot will continue to receive more qualified and equally valid candidates as they become eligible in the coming years. To name a few, the all-time leader in saves, Mariano Rivera, and the late Roy Halladay top the first-years on the ballot next year. On top of these newcomers, many believe that the BBWAA voters have trended towards leniency for PED-using players, meaning that they could have an even greater chance and draw even more votes away from these long-tenured players on the ballot. With usually only about four retirees receiving the highest honor in baseball each year, the likelihood of making it into the Hall of Fame unfortunately appears bleaker and bleaker for these borderline cases.

This year’s class though, without a doubt deserves the highest congratulations for their achievements throughout the years both on and off the field. Chipper Jones, a career-long Atlanta Braves third baseman, led the vote with an astounding 97.2 percent, on account of his dedication to the Braves organization, his achievements as one of the greatest third basemen of all-time, and an 85 career WAR. Although few ever doubted Chipper’s place in the Hall, there is an unfortunate belief amongst some BBWAA voters that no inductee deserves the fabled 100 percent vote from all ballots. Thus, a few voters every year vote against shoo-in candidates in spite of the system and the elusive 100 percent honor.

The two sluggers in the class, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, each received 92.9 and 89.9 percent respectively. The speedy Guerrero joined the esteemed “30-30 club” multiple years after amounting 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, a rarity in baseball for requiring both immense physical strength and agility as well. Local Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians legend Thome, on the other hand, sits at eighth all-time in home runs, and even more notably, succeeded in a time when most power hitters used PEDs. This trend seems to again highlight the dignified nature of Thome’s career successes, along the likes of Frank Thomas, Guerrero, Ken Griffey Jr. and other substance-free super sluggers in recent years.

Arguably the most surprising of the elected members was San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who managed to make it into the Hall, despite the BBWAA’s neglect of closers in general. Since the significance of the closer role did not really come into play until the 70s, few reside in baseball’s hallowed annals and until recently the Hall of Fame as well. However, Hoffman did sit second to Mariano Rivera’s save record with 601, not only an impressive accomplishment in its own right, but also paving the way for Rivera’s prospective induction next year. Furthermore, Hoffman played for the Padres organization, who have never won a World Series, potentially exonerating him from the BBWAA’s stingy parameters around awards and league legacy.

Finally, the Modern Era committee inductees, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris both made it into the Hall of Fame after receiving the necessary 75 percent minimum from a much smaller committee of 16 experts on baseball during their era. Each won the World Series at least once, with Trammell playing for the Detroit Tigers his entire career and Morris proving himself as one of the most durable and consistent pitchers of his time while mostly a Tiger as well. Both played under legendary Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson in their tenure in Detroit, paying homage to the sustained success and continued legacy of the organization during that time. As the Modern Era committee transitions between eras and purposes, it will be interesting to see how the legacies of these two individual players holds up against the credentials of other timeless inductees.

All six inductees of the class will formally be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer in Cooperstown, N.Y. Next winter the BBWAA will meet again to determine the next class at length. With this honor, each man is enshrined as one of the greatest in his craft, as a ballplayer, a representative of the game, and a first-class man in his own right. It is an honor bestowed upon few but recognized by many.

To whom do we afford grace?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Amongst the many structural and ideological flaws I found in Conti’s op-ed is that, despite what we commonly consider to be the nature of op-ed pieces, the article in fact fails to make a strong claim. In the hopes of not repeating the mistake, I will state my opinion as clearly as I can: although it is true that the sexual offender registry should be part of the equation in our discussion of criminal justice reform, Luke Heimlich’s case is not representative of the problems with the way we treat sexual offenders, nor should we have any sympathy for his situation.

I would like to begin by addressing possible objections to the very nature of an op-ed written in response to another op-ed. It appears to be an opinion held on this campus that if someone responds negatively to a political belief held by one individual, they are perpetuating the silencing of certain voices. This is an unbased claim. There is a necessary distinction between making a moral judgement on the permissibility of an action (in this case writing an op-ed) and making a moral judgement on the action itself. In this particular case, my moral and critical judgement falls into the latter camp.

Conti’s article devoted, by my estimation, about 270 words to Heimlich’s athletic capabilities. It devoted one sentence to describing the crime he committed. I do appreciate the idea that describing the details of sexual assaults, molestations, and harassment can be insensitive to the victim. I also believe that it is nonetheless often necessary to make these details as public as the victim would allow in order for the public to cast a more accurate moral judgement. Yes, all acts of sexual violence are heinous, but some are more heinous than others. In the research I’ve done, it seems that the victim’s family seems willing to have this information disclosed. Heimlich sexually molested a family relative for the first time when she was four and the last time when she was six. The first time this happened, court documents state, “she told him to stop, but he wouldn’t.” She is also quoted as saying, “it hurt.”

Conti’s article also failed to mention what the victim’s family feels about Heimlich’s opportunity to continue playing baseball. All that was necessary was a quick Google search to find out that victim’s mother has stated, “I’m appalled that the college he’s going to would even have him on their team.” I take it to to not be a controversial opinion that we should value the sentiments of the victim’s family on whether someone has been rehabilitated enough to continue participating normally in society over our own.

I hope that the details of the molestation and the opinions expressed by the victim’s family will help dispel any possible assumption that the molestation was an isolated incident whose consequences are no longer relevant to the victim and her family. So long as the victim, now 11 years old, continues to suffer what I can only imagine to be incredible psychological trauma, I am utterly unwilling to devote any time or energy to dwelling on the end of Heimlich’s baseball career. I cannot imagine any point in my wholehearted condemnation of Heimlich at which I would, as Conti puts it, “become no better than he.” Perhaps my imagination is lacking, but I cannot envision a situation in which overzealous and unforgiving punishment of a child molester makes us no better than a child molester.

None of this is to say that I do not fully appreciate the fact that the criminal justice system has large room for reform in all areas, including the sexual offender registry. In Washington law, any minor in possession of consensual sexting with a person of any age is obligated to register as a sex offender. This is a far less serious offense than child molestation and yet results in the designation of the same societal qualifier. These laws also disproportionately affect persons of color and low-income people who are then faced with limited job prospects and ostracization by society. To put the racialized elements of the registry into perspective, Brock Turner, the last white college athlete to make national headlines for sexual assault, now gives talks on college campuses about the dangers of excess drinking. Luke Heimlich is not representative of the registry’s problems or of the room society does or does not allow for rehabilitation. He is a white man who molested a child and went on to play college baseball.

Sexual molestation undoubtedly differs from other acts of violence that we punish by law. It is a loss of autonomy; it is a loss of humanity, it is a profound degradation. Acts of sexual violence are inherently different from other acts of violence and deserve to be evaluated differently. This does not justify the racially and socioeconomically biased implications of the sexual offender registry or the uniquely aggravated ostracization that many sexual offenders face. Rehabilitation has great value, but why is it that we only seem to allow for white athletes to be rehabilitated?

Conti characterizes Heimlich’s case as a “fall from grace.” I take it that Conti intended to use grace’s denotation as the condition of being favoured by someone. Ironically, in the Christian theology which popularized the aforementioned denotation, Grace is the often unmerited favor God bestows upon the human race as a whole, sinners and innocents alike. Within this context, we should evaluate how modern society has cruelly co-opted this notion. White men with athletic ability are indeed bestowed Grace by society as a whole: their perceived heroism perseveres against all odds. Others are not as lucky. They were never afforded grace, so they cannot fall. Luke Heimlich has indeed fallen, dragged down by his own atrocities. We should devote our care and energy to those who do not have the opportunity to rise, not to whether someone like Luke Heimlich deserved to fall.

 

MLB Postseason Preview

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October is here, and with it comes the MLB playoffs, one of the most exciting times of the year. Last year saw an instant classic play out in the World Series as the Cubs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series in extra innings in Game 7 and shattered a 108-year streak without a World Series title, the longest in history. Will the Cubs repeat as World Series champions? Will the Red Sox win for the fourth time since 2000? Will the Indians snap their 68-year streak without a title, the current longest active streak?  

The American League:

Cleveland Indians:

The Indians, last year’s AL pennant winners, come surging into the postseason possessing the second best record in baseball, and tops in the American League. In one of the best storylines of this season, the Indians won a record 22 games in a row between August and September, cementing their spot atop the AL Central and all of baseball in the eyes of many. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor led an offense that ranked in the top 10 in the MLB in most hitting stats (second in On Base Percentage and Slugging). The Cleveland pitching rotation was buoyed by breakout performances from Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco as they posted the best Earned Run Average and strikeouts of any team, along with the ever dominant trio of starter Corey Kluber, reliever Andrew Miller, and closer Cody Allen. With a pitching staff that deep, Cleveland looks poised to make a deep run in October, and they stand only 11 wins away from breaking that 68-year title drought.

Houston Astros:

Jose Altuve has been the one of two or three of the best players in baseball this year. The leading candidate for American League MVP has led a team that until two years ago no one thought anything of, a team that only a few years ago had a payroll less than Alex Rodriguez’s salary, to an AL West top finish and a second seed in the playoffs. Dallas Keuchel, whose workload has been carefully managed all year, has put in a fantastic season a year removed from a wholly mediocre one (admittedly, he won the Cy Young Award the season before). It could be the year for the Astros to win their first-ever World Series title. They face off against the Red Sox in the AL Divisional Series, beginning today.

Boston Red Sox:

There were high hopes placed on the Red Sox coming into this season as they traded for Chris Sale to bolster their rotation that already contained $217 million man David Price, now pitching out of the bullpen, and 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. And while Sale has been masterful all season, leading the MLB in strikeouts, Price has struggled through injury while Porcello had a performance similar to, and maybe worse than, Dallas Keuchel’s last season. However, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Doug Fister have all emerged as solid members of the rotation, and that has helped to carry the Red Sox into the postseason as they’ve struggled with inconsistent hitting. They lost David Ortiz to retirement, and Mookie Betts has regressed from last year’s MVP-caliber season, but Andrew Benintendi has become a young star in left field, and the Red Sox will hope to get hot as they face off as against the Astros.

New York Yankees:

No one thought the “Baby Bombers” would be this good this soon. But Aaron Judge has looked incredible at times, shattering the rookie record for home runs in a season. Luis Severino posted a sub-3.00 ERA in his first full season in the majors. Gary Sanchez posted a solid year after tearing up the majors with 20 home runs in 53 games last season. The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They have star power coming out of the bullpen in Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, maybe the best closer since Mariano Rivera. They’re poised to win now and win later, and they look to get that started off against the Indians after beating the Twins Tuesday night.

The National League:

Los Angeles Dodgers:

When the Dodgers were 91-36, all anyone could talk about was whether or not they’d break the all-time record for wins. Those folks who said no were surely in for a treat as the Dodgers went 1-16 over their next few games before a 12-6 “rebound” to finish the season 104-58, well below the record. Clayton Kershaw looks as good as ever, and they picked up Yu Darvish, the former Rangers ace, midseason. Alex Wood has been a breakout star in the rotation while Cody Bellinger has lit up opposing pitchers almost as well as Aaron Judge. The Dodgers have the roster to advance to the World Series. But do they have the composure to go all the way?

Washington Nationals:

Max Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s the kind of guy you wish you could start everyday. He’s also the guy who could potentially make no starts as he deals with an injured hamstring. The Nationals do still have Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, who have put up stellar numbers this season in the rotation. Add to that the hitting abilities of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman, and you’ve got yourself a potential juggernaut in this postseason. Can they come together to win Dusty Baker his first title as a manager?

Chicago Cubs:

The reigning World Series champs got off to a rough start. The roster put together by wunderkind Theo Epstein was still intact, but they just couldn’t find their spark. Kyle Schwarber had a rough year after his World Series heroics. Jake Arrieta struggled with his command and velocity through the first few months before turning it around in spectacular fashion after the All-Star break. Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant still combined to hit 90+ home runs. This is a team with a very high ceiling, but also a pretty low floor. Their chances to repeat as world champions all depends on which of those teams takes the field against the Nationals come Friday.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

Greinke rebounded for a 17-win season with a 3.20 ERA to help propel the Diamondbacks to the first wildcard spot in the National League. Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen should be applauded for his midseason acquisition of J.D. Martinez, who hit 29 home runs in only 62 games in the desert. Paul Goldschmidt remains a perennial MVP candidate with a .297/.404/.563 slash line to go along with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs. Robbie Ray looks like he might just be the next Randy Johnson (just a tad bit shorter). The Diamondbacks have great depth which might just give them an edge in the playoffs.

Colorado Rockies:

It’s rare for a team to have two legitimate MVP candidates in the way the Rockies have Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, though if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’ll happen in Colorado (the high altitude has notoriously helped hitters pad their stats). And it’s even rarer for a Rockies team to have a top 10 ERA as a staff when they spend 81 games at Coors Field. But manager Bud Black has done an exceptional job managing his pitching staff to do just that. The Rockies had only one pitcher, German Marquez, throw more than 150 innings, but they made it work with no real ace. They’ll have to travel to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks Wednesday night.

My Predictions:

The Indians advance out of the American League after beating the Yankees and the Red Sox in the Championship Series. The Nationals beat the Cubs and then use their hitting prowess to overpower the Dodgers in the Championship Series. The Indians beat the Nationals in six games to claim their first World Series title in 68 years after last year’s heartbreaking loss.

Gilbert Mustin, Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum, and Fleer Baseball Cards

in Sports/Uncategorized by

Needless to say, the summer is the best time of the year. There’s no better feeling than completely forgetting about the rigors of college for three months and getting to enjoy doing whatever you want. While summer is great, it means different things to different people. Some people choose to spend their summers traveling the world, fishing, working, reading books, or watching Netflix in the comfort of their home. For me, after I finished up my internship at the Department of Recreation and Parks in the City of Los Angeles, I picked up a hobby I once spent all summer doing when I was a kid – collecting baseball cards.

As far as I know, I’m the only person at Swat that seriously partakes in the hobby (reach out to me sometime if you do too). As such, it never dawned on me that Swat could have any connection to the baseball card world. Apparently, I must have had too much free time over the summer, as any busy person would not have had time to Google this. I searched “Swarthmore baseball cards”, thinking that the athletics website would be the first listing. I found something unexpected. It turns out Swarthmore’s ties to the baseball card industry were closer than I could have imagined.

Frank Fleer founded the Fleer Corporation in Philadelphia in 1885 with the intention of manufacturing bubble gum. Fleer himself struggled to create a successful product. Blibber-Blubber was his first attempt, but the product never hit the shelves. Fleer died in 1921 and never got to see his company come to fruition. The next year, Gilbert Mustin, husband of Fleer’s daughter Alice Fleer, took over as head of the company. In the late 1920s, Mustin’s accountant Walter Diemer began experimenting with different formulas himself.

Diemer was an accountant, not a chemist. Thus, it is reported that he spent countless hours testing random formulas before finding success. He referred to his finding as an “accident.” The gum was named Dubble Bubble, the first ever bubble gum with a name that still stands today.  The only coloring available in the building at the time was pink, thus Diemer was forced to add a pink food coloring to his formula, which is why bubble gum is still pink today. Unlike Fleer, Diemer was able to successfully create a bubble gum that was blow-able, tasty, and easy to chew.

Although the corporation had already produced a set of trading cards in 1923, they began packaging the cards with sticks of Dubble Bubble bubble gum in 1938. Gilbert Mustin died in 1948. However, his sons, Frank and Gil Barclay Mustin Jr., were named treasurer and secretary. By 1959, Mustin Jr. had risen to the top of the company.

Frank and Gil Mustin Jr. have strong ties to Swarthmore College, with a classroom and professor positions named after them. Gil Mustin Jr. graduated from Swarthmore in 1942 and later came back to teach in the Engineering department. After college, he worked for DeLevall Corporation, a company building turbo superchargers for the Navy. Frank Mustin graduated from Swarthmore in 1944. Together, they are one of eighteen endowed chairs at Swarthmore, meaning that the Gil and Frank Mustin Professorships have been permanently endowed for positions across all departments.  

By the time Mustin Jr. inherited the company, the Fleer Corporation was competing with Topps in providing collectors with trading cards and chewing gum. Topps was signing players to exclusive contracts, preventing other companies such as Fleer from printing trading cards of those players. Fleer stole the idea and signed Hall of Famer Ted Williams, among others, to an exclusive contract.

The Federal Trade Commission felt that Topps had unfair control over the market and took it to court. It was ruled that Topps’ contracts, which allowed them to produce cards with players, were only valid when the trading cards were specifically sold in packs of gum. Thus, Fleer could produce trading cards of current baseball players but only with other items that weren’t gum. Instead of trying to sell their cards without gum, Fleer chose to sell their contracts to Topps in 1966. After years of legal fights, Fleer finally received authorization to print and sell baseball cards with gum for the 1981 season.

However, this was quickly reversed. By then, people weren’t buying the gum, they were buying the cards.  Topps and Fleer settled in 1982.

The 1980s could not have been a better time for Topps and Fleer to settle. The baseball card industry hit a huge boom in the 1980s as kids and adults alike couldn’t wait to collect their favorite teams and players. Under the guidance of Swarthmore grad Gil Mustin Jr., Fleer Trading Cards became one of the most successful trading cards businesses in the ’80s.

Unfortunately, trading card companies such as Fleer and Topps met high demand with equally high supply. With absurd demand for baseball cards in the ’80s, these companies produced millions of copies of each individual card. The exact print runs are unknown even to this day. What was once thought of as a better investment than stocks became virtually worthless. When the bubble popped, baseball cards from the late ’80s became absolutely worthless and are still worthless today. The late ’80s is known to card collectors as the Junk Wax Era.  

In the middle of the Junk Wax Era, Mustin Jr. sold his grandfather’s company in 1989 for around $70 million. Fleer Trading Cards was absorbed by Upper Deck Trading Cards in 2005. Its final set of cards was printed in 2007.

I began collecting baseball cards in 2007. Funnily enough, my first ever pack was a value pack of 2007 Fleer cards from Target. As a 10-year-old, little did I know that one day I would attend the same school as the man who put together that pack of cards.

Celebrating Our National Pastime’s Opening Day

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Although the Philadelphia Phillies did not get to start Opening Day with a home game on Monday, 12 other teams got to experience the joys of playing with a rowdy and passionate fan base behind them at home for the first day of baseball season. I know players at any level get those butterflies in their stomachs before the first games of their seasons. But not all of us get the pleasure of having thousands of fans on the edge of their seats, with same butterflies, cheering on their teams.

Opening Day is a two-part event with three games on Sunday and 12 on Monday, making for quite a baseball-packed weekend.  Each team will get to play 162 games in their regular season, so the outcome of this one game does not hold a lot of weight in season statistics. However, it is a great opportunity to revitalize the fanbase’s energy and an opportunity for some players to show that this is going to be their year to shine.

In a few shining moments of Sunday and Monday’s games, we got glimpses of greatness from the classic stars like Madison Bumgarner, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw. Bumgarner became the second pitcher in history to have multiple home runs on Opening Day. With 16 career home runs, Bumgarner is a player often talked about as a dual threat with pitching and hitting. Even though his batting average (.187) may sometimes fall flat in comparison to position players, among pitchers he still stands as an impressive hitter. Maybe this year he will make an even bigger name for himself.

Then, of course, Mike Trout had to remind us all that he is the best of the best. For some of us, myself included, we have to get the perfect pitch and then rotate into a mechanically stunning swing to even have a shot at a home run, but for others — namely Mike Trout — a mistaken swing can lead to a home run. I guess that’s just how it works when you’re exceptional. As not to be left out, Bryce Harper hit his fifth Opening Day home run, setting high expectations for the season for himself once again.

Opening Day had numerous other home runs and was a pretty packed sequence of  terrific baseball overall, but there was plenty of stellar pitching as well. Bumgarner was just about as good on the mound as he was at the plate, tossing 7 innings while striking out 11.  Another huge name in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, left Dodgers fans with a lot to be excited about this season. In his seventh consecutive Opening Day start, Kershaw came out after seven innings having only given up two hits. Not a bad way to start the season.

Of course, the big names and their successes are not all that matter about Opening Day. In fact, some of the ridiculous stats that are reported out are almost laughable. For instance, though Kershaw’s ERA on Opening Day games and Bumgarner’s record number of home runs for a pitcher on Opening Day are impressive feats, they are not that relevant to overall outcome of the season. However, the creation of arbitrary measures for Opening Day just proves the significance of the day for the league and all those baseball fans who were quite ready to move past spring training games.

As teams return to their hometowns, it is almost disappointing that there is not a bigger uproar over the day. I would be overjoyed to spend a day at the ballpark with friends and my favorite team (regrettably, the Phillies did not get a home opener) to relish in baseball’s return to center stage.

All being said, Opening Day 2017 had some amazing performances and plenty of enjoyment for those who attended. Baseball is the ultimate American pastime and hopefully more of us will pay attention to the triumphant return of teams to their home stadiums, while basking in the wonderful weather and interacting with the spirited fans. If you ever get the opportunity to go to an Opening Day, I highly recommend it for whatever team you support. But if you’re missing baseball in general, there are always some Phillies games right down the road!

World Baseball Classic Takes Center Stage

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This March, people around the world have been tuning into an exciting tournament full of great players, upsets, passionate fanhood, and superstar performances, as players from across the globe compete to be the best team in the world. I, of course, am talking about the World Baseball Classic (WBC). The premier international competition of baseball is often overlooked by a lot of the sports-watching public. However, this year’s competition, coming on the heels of a historic World Series that concluded with the most-watched baseball game in 25 years, has brought baseball back with a bang this spring.

The WBC matches up 16 teams in four pools that compete in South Korea, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. In order to qualify, teams must either finish in the top three in their pool at the previous WBC, which was held in 2013, or teams must win a qualifying tournament held prior to the start of the WBC. This allows newcomers to have access to the tournament while keeping around the traditional powers of international baseball. This year, Colombia and Israel made their first appearances in the tournament.

The MLB founded and heavily promotes the WBC with the goal of spreading baseball around the world, and this goal has shaped the rules of roster eligibility for national teams. Players can be a citizen, be eligible for a passport, be born within the borders, or simply have parental heritage in the nation that they play for. This allows nations that do not have a strong basis in baseball development to still field competitive rosters, with the goal of increasing interest in the sport within the nation’s borders. For example, the Netherlands’ roster is full of players from their Caribbean constituent nations, such as Aruba native and Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and Israel’s roster is full of Jewish-Americans like White Sox pitcher Brad Goldberg.

The first round of action brought some surprises. In Pool A, Israel was the surprise champion, going 3-0. The Netherlands followed behind, finishing 2-1, with their sole defeat coming to Israel. South Korea was eliminated, coming as a shock to the baseball world. They were the runner-up in the 2009 WBC, were the third ranked team in the world, and were playing all their games in the home nation. Chinese Taipei, the fourth ranked team in the world, lost all of their games and were eliminated as well.

Pool B was relatively devoid of surprises. Two-time champion Japan swept their pool, and former Olympic powerhouse Cuba finished behind them at 2-1. Newcomer Australia managed their first WBC win, and China went winless in the pool.

Pool C featured some exciting baseball and was a hard-fought opening round. The defending champion Dominican Republic went 3-0, but their pool victory did not come easily. They were down 5-0 against the United States in the sixth inning before rallying and winning 7-5. Against Colombia, they nearly lost on a walk-off, but outfielder Jose Bautista threw out Colombia runner Oscar Mercado at the plate as he tried to score on a flyout, sending the game into extra-innings. In extras, the Dominican Republic scored 7 runs in the 11th inning to seal their win and advance to the next round. Colombia also came close to defeating the United States, but the US pulled out a win with an Adam Jones walk-off single. The US advanced to the next round with a 2-1 record, and Canada was eliminated along with Colombia.

Pool D came down to a controversial finish. Puerto Rico was the unquestioned champion, sweeping the competition in a decisive manner. However, Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy all finished 1-2, so to decide which two teams advanced to a play-in game, a tiebreaker of runs allowed per inning played was used. Mexico believed that a win against Venezuela by more than one would be sufficient to advance; however, they were mistaken in the math calculating the tiebreaker. In their opening game against Italy, they failed to record any outs in the bottom of the ninth, and allowed five runs. They believed this counted as an inning played, but instead, it was scored as five runs scored without an additional inning completed. This pushed their runs per inning above Venezuela, and they were therefore eliminated. As a result, Adrian Gonzalez, one of Mexico’s best players, said that he would never play in another WBC. Venezuela and Italy played a tiebreaking game and Venezuela won, allowing them to advance.

In the second round, in Pool E, Japan and the Netherlands rolled through their competition, finishing 3-0 and 2-1, respectively. Israel’s Cinderella run ended, as they finished 1-2, and Cuba was also eliminated after losing all of their second-round games.

The other second round group, Pool F, was more closely competed. Puerto Rico was the champion, finishing 3-0, although not without close calls. Against the US, Puerto Rico held a three-run lead heading into the top of the ninth, but a two-out Brandon Crawford triple brought the US within one run. However, the US’s Josh Harrison struck out to end the game, sealing the win for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico also ended the Dominican Republic’s eight game winning streak, which set up a decisive United States-Dominican Republic finale. The US, in, perhaps, their biggest win in international baseball history, shocked the star-studded Dominican Republic team 6-3, allowing them to advance to the semi-finals.

The semi-finals featured two thrilling contests. The first game, featuring Puerto Rico and the Netherlands, was an extra-innings classic that ended in a rather anti-climatic fashion due to the WBC extra innings rules, which start every inning after the 10th with runners on first and second base. Puerto Rico was able to execute small ball in the bottom half of the 11th, as they started the inning off with a sacrifice bunt, followed by an intentional walk, and ended with a walk-off sacrifice fly. The second game featuring the US and Japan was a battle against the elements, as both teams had to deal with the rare Los Angeles rainstorm. The US took advantage of the soggy conditions, and scored both of their runs as a result of the soaked field. Two runs were enough for the win, and the US was able to advance to their first WBC final.

The finale looks like it will live up to all of the hype the preceding games have brought. Right now, Vegas gives the slight edge to Puerto Rico, who seem to deserve it. Will Puerto Rico win one more game and complete a sweep of the whole WBC? Or will the US finally silence the critics and win their first title? We’ll see what happens on Wednesday night, but I think the US will be able to pull out the win and make their country proud.

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