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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien.


From The Dugout

Plenty to argue about in baseball

By Keith LeClair

Old parks loaded with nostalgia

With all the talk around major league baseball these days about building new parks, I could not help but think back to my first trip to Fenway, home of the Boston Red Sox. I remember the first time I stepped into the stadium and saw the big Green Monster staring me in the face. You couldn't help but think back of all the Hall of Famers who had played balls off that wall for so many years. It was a feeling that gave me goose pimples all down my arms like no other stadium I have ever been in before.

The same also can be said of Yankee Stadium as well, although I have never been there before. But when you talk to people who have, they will say the exact same thing I said about Fenway. It's just the feeling of reliving some of baseball's greatest moments of the past. Sure, the parks may not be the nicest structural designs in the modern day world, but who cares? I would rather sit behind one of the steel beams in Wrigley or Fenway than watch a game in Pro Player stadium in Florida. It's about tradition and mystique that most baseball purists crave.

That's why so many people wanted to see the Cubs and Red Sox in the World Series. Yes, it was about their storied past, but many folks, like myself, just wanted to see Fenway and Wrigley on TV. Can anyone honestly say that they enjoyed seeing the World Series being played in Pro Player Stadium. This has nothing to do with the Marlins and their team, but how many people will ever look back and see the Marlins historic two World Series and say you got to go see a game in that stadium? It's a football stadium with baseball being played for crying out loud! Nobody wants to watch a game in a place like that unless it's a playoff or World Series. Tha'ts why they averaged 16 thousand in a 60 thousand seat stadium during the regular season.

If you look at the Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees, you will notice they are always sold out no matter if they are good or bad. Why? Because of the tradition and the electricity you feel when you step into the parks and smell the grass that Ruth, Williams, Yaz, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Mantle, Ganks, etc., all once walked on. You feel connected to the past in which you may never have ever seen before. Even when you see those places on TV, you still can get that same feeling. Can you imagine the history and tradition the Marlins would be building for years to come if they had invested in a cozy 30 or 40 thousand seat traditional ballpark? In 50 or 60 years, people may be saying the same thing about their park that I have talked about with Fenway, Wrigley and Yankee stadium.

Look at all the billions of dollars that have been wasted over the years building these dual stadiums that support both football and baseball, only to tear them down and start all over. I hope Major League baseball and cities around the nation learn from this and start building pure baseball parks to begin with.

Inter-league play: Keep it if...

I personally like inter-league play if Major League baseball would make some changes to the system. First, we have got to get rid of the DH in the American League and go to National League rules. I just don't understand how we can have two sets of rules and call it Major League baseball under the same name. And now we are putting the two leagues together and having them play one another, using the DH in American League parks and not in National League ball parks. I am sorry, but tell me one other professional sport that has two different rules under the same name.

If we keep the DH, I say don't play inter-league games. It's not fair from the standpoint each team builds its team around the rules that the league allows. National League teams are not going to spend millions of dollars on a hitter alone to sit on the bench, as I have stated before. So when they walk into an American League park, they in my book, are at a disadvantage. Just in the same way American League pitchers are at a disadvantage when they go hit in National League parks.

Maybe I am looking too far into all this, I don't know. But the DH has to go or either allow the DH in the National League. It doesn't make sense for baseball to have separate sets of rules for each league. I say bang the DH and save some money and cut down on the bean ball incidents around the league before somebody gets seriously hurt.

Second, if you're going to play inter-league games, allow the team that has the best record during the regular season to have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If two teams are tied at the end of the season, use inter-league play records to decide home-field advantage. For example, if the American League has the best record head-to-head against the National League, they have home field advantage and vice-versa. Don't let one all-star game decide who hosts Game Seven of a World Series. That may have been the most mind-boggling decision Bud Selig has ever made. All because the all-star game ended in a tie in his home ballpark the year before.

Other than these two factors, I enjoy the idea of the Braves playing the Yankees and Boston going to Chicago to play the Cubs. It's great for the fans and baseball if we would all get on the same page concerning the DH. That's my take on it. Whether it's right or wrong, baseball needs to make some adjustments in the near future to strengthen the game.

Braves rotation lacking

I am afraid the Braves' rotation, even with the addition of Paul Byrd back from the DL, doesn't look very promising. They most likely will lose Greg Maddux and Shane Reynolds to free agency, which is close to 400 innings and 28 wins.

That leaves the Braves' rotation with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, Horacio Ramirez and Paul Byrd. If you look at it closely, they will be depending on Ortiz to have another career year and hope that Hampton steps up big. I don't think they can count on Byrd coming back from an arm injury to step in and take Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux's place. Ramirez is an up-and-coming lefty that certainly has a lot of potential to win games. I don't see any impact coming immediately from the farm system which could make a huge difference for next season. Hopefully, Jason Marquis could get back on track and become more consistent with throwing strikes to help out as a fifth starter.

Whether the Braves try to pick up a quality starter in the free agent market is doubtful since they are cutting payroll salaries. Plus, signing Sheffield looks to be a big priority for the Braves. They do have an ace in the hole with the possibility of bringing Smoltz back in the rotation, which would immediately make their rotation one of the better ones in league. Smoltz has also expressed his interest in starting, rather than being a closer. This could allow the Braves maybe to pick up a closer on the free agent market that wouldn't break the bank, compared to signing a quality starter.

So, I think the Braves have a lot of questions to answer in the off-season concerning their pitching staff. But if anyone can fill the needs to make another championship run, it's John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox. Just don't look for the Braves to break the bank to do it. Owners just saw the Marlins win the World Series with a third of the payroll the Yankees had. Look for other organizations to follow suit, including the Braves.

Bat debate an ugly one

This is a hot topic every single year as the college season approaches us. It's hard to believe that in three months the Pirates will be opening up their 2004 campaign. This bat debate has turned into an absolute fiasco inside college baseball. It all started about six or seven years ago, between Bill Thurston of the NCAA rules committee and the bat manufacturers. I have been at some NCAA conventions when it got downright ugly.

The debate is over the velocity exit speed off the bat and the reaction time a pitcher has to get out of they way. This is controlled by the weight of the bat and the bat speed a hitter can produce. This is where the great debate begins between the two sides. The rules committee, led by Thurston, implies that the exit speed off the bats has to be reduced to ensure safety and integrity to the game. Whereas the bat manufacturers argue baseball is one of the safest sports and there is no problem.

What happened in college baseball is that aluminum bats got caught up in the new technology wave about six or seven years ago. They realized that new material could be used to make a bat the same length, but much lighter by using the same material used to make airplanes. I don't know all the scientific junk that goes into the making of a bat. But for example, ten years ago, a 34-inch bat would weigh 32 ounces. Now with the new technology and material, they can make the same bat weigh 29 ounces. This resulted in some ridiculous offensive numbers across the board, so the NCAA said wait a minute and made certain specs the bat companies had to abide by. They wanted two more ounces added to the weight of the bat to decrease exit velocity and bring down the offensive numbers, along with making the game a little more safer.

This infuriated the manufacturers because they spent millions in the production of this new bat and had their warehouses full. Here is where it got sticky for college coaches. Just as basketball coaches have shoe deals, college coaches have bat deals, so the coaches were stuck in the middle. They very well couldn't stand up and argue about the bats that were being given to them at no cost, not to mention being paid to use them. If you get the picture, college baseball was in a mess over the use of aluminum bats.

What did the manufacturers do to solve this problem? They were very clever and added two ounces in the handle of the bat, which may have slowed things down a little bit, but not a whole heck of a lot. That's about where we are today except for a few more variations to the bat. Again, I am no scientific expert on the making of bats, but I do know it was a heated scandal that is not going to end soon.

To this day, we still have people asking why college baseball doesn't go to wooden bats. That seems like a logical decision, but economically it's not feasible. Wooden bats are forty to fifty dollars apiece and from the fall through the spring season would take close to three hundred bats. Unless Major League baseball would step in and offset the cost, there is no way college baseball could ever go to wooden bats, nor do I think it would be good for the game.

Here is my take on this issue that confronts college baseball with its bat dilemma. First, wood is out for not only financial reasons, but the fact most college players are not ready to swing wood at age eighteen and nineteen. I would feel differently about this issue if kids used wood bats all the way up from little league to college, but that's not the case and I don't see it ever changing in the near future. So what should college baseball do to address this issue? First of all, the bats made today are pure junk, case closed. You pay $200-$300 for a bat today, only to have it dent after ten swings. I bet we spent a thousand bucks a year in postage sending dented bats back. Believe me when I say the bats you buy today are junk.

I have an easy solution to this whole problem if somebody would listen. All that has to be done is to go back to the early 80s and start using those aluminum bats again. Remember the green Eastons and Black Magics? Those bats lasted until you wore the labels off them, with no dents. If that's not good enough, go back to the 70s with the Tennessee Thumpers and Worth bats. Nobody complained back then about an unfair advantage for the hitter or dents in the bat. The only complaint might have been someone's ears ringing from the ping when the ball hit the bat.

Let's make this easy on everyone and just go back in time if we want to use aluminum bats in college baseball. We don't need technology to improve the game, but rather just stay out of the way. Well that's my defined take on aluminum bats and college baseball. And by the way, did you know I truly dislike the DH

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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