Resolute about these best wishes for 2014
Postseason for the Royals, healthy seasons for Jeter, Harper top the list
So we've arrived, hopefully intact, upon a New Year, replete with all the promise and potential natural to newness.
In that vein of thought -- and possibly in vain thought -- here is a non-comprehensive list of wishes for 2014 and all it entails in the game of ball.
A playoff berth for the Kansas City Royals. Pittsburghians born the year of the Pirates' last pre-2013 postseason appearance reached legal drinking age last year, and they could raise a cold one in honor of the Bucs' win in the Wild Card round. There are 28-year-old Royals fans well past their due date for a similar celebration, and here's hoping this is the year.
Truth is, it had better be the year, because the Royals' massive investment in James Shields, who is a free agent at year's end, pinned the utmost importance upon the here and now. In drafting and development and in recent investment, the Royals have been building for this season for years. And on the heels of an 86-win effort, they could be suitably set up to take the next big step, given the strides made by Eric Hosmer and the additions of Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante. But nobody in the Kansas City front office would complain if Ervin Santana's fractured free-agent market compels him to come back in some capacity.
Hall of Famers in the Hall of Fame. No matter what else happens from here, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre will all be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer and, with all due respect to the families of Deacon White, Hank O'Day and Jacob Ruppert, that's a far more captivating class than what was rolled out last year.
But at the risk of sounding outrageous, it would be nice to see a few -- well, more than a few -- players get plaques. Living players, as Montgomery Burns would say.
One can only hope the overloaded ballot and the rule that limits voters to 10 choices doesn't cause another clog that nets no newbies. Thankfully, there seems to be enough consensus about Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to get them in the door. Yet the moral-arbiter assemblage remains strong enough to cloud the candidacies of many others with sure-fire Hall of Fame stats.
My far-fetched wish is that the assumed omniscience among many voters about performance-enhancing drug use will be dropped and players will be judged by their accomplishments within the confines of their era.
My realistic wish is that this stacked ballot will prompt the end next winter of the 10-vote limit, which has done nothing but hinder the process.
Health for Derek Jeter. One of the most prolific careers in baseball lore is nearing its end, one way or another, and you'd have to be a cold-hearted grump (or maybe a Boston Red Sox fan) to wish for it to end anything but gracefully.
The 2013 season was basically non-existent for Jeter, who was limited to just 73 plate appearances. But, obviously and understandably, that didn't stop the Yankees from making a (final?) one-year investment in their storied shortstop. What will they get for that investment? No telling, given the state of his surgically repaired ankle. Hopefully they'll get a full season of availability and productivity from a class act who, like Mariano Rivera before him, deserves to go out -- be it this year or further into the future -- on his own terms.
Health for Bryce Harper. Jeter is probably the most recognizable face of baseball to the casual sports fan. Harper is mesmerizing, tantalizing and polarizing enough to carry that flag one day (and, yes, Mike Trout, between the MVP-worthy performance and Subway ads, among other endeavors, is doing a darn fine job of raising his own profile), but only if Harper's body doesn't betray him along the way.
It betrayed him in 2013, when Harper got up close and personal with a couple of outfield walls and screwed up his knee. Perhaps the all-out method to Harper's pace of play makes injuries unavoidable, but hopefully he'll find a physical formula that works for him as he matures as a Major Leaguer.
A healthy Harper, after all, could lead a loaded Nationals team to the Promised Land. And if he reaches his full potential, he's the kind of kid who can turn a casual baseball fan into a not-so-casual one.
A few more runs, a few more hits, a few less strikeouts. Look, masters of the mound, I've got nothing against you. I appreciate the thrill of a well-pitched tilt as much as anybody.
But in the wake of a 2013 season that saw the fewest average runs per game since 1992, the lowest league-wide batting average since 1972 and the highest strikeout rate in history -- part of a four-season stretch of pitching prominence that harkens back to before baseball lowered the mound to help hitters -- it would be nice to have a little more action on the basepaths and the scoreboard. Would you mind leaving a few up in the zone?
An MVP for Trout. Given the history of the voting, I suppose this wish is tied to AL West contention for the Angels, and that's a tall task as they repair their pitching staff in a daunting division. But it's not out of the question, and Trout has given us every indication that his talent knows no limits.
As I've said before, I think Trout's MVP case was significantly stronger in 2012 than '13, but the bottom line is that he's inserted himself, at an astonishingly young age, onto the list of great players without MVP hardware. One assumes that will change eventually, though Trout will probably need some assistance from his teammates on that one.
Seamless integration of the new replay system. Count me among those skeptical about a challenge system that seems to put the onus on the managers, more than the umps, to enforce the rules. But, no matter its quirks or qualifiers, a more widespread adoption of readily available technology is long overdue.
As demonstrated in an incident in Cleveland last spring, when umpire Angel Hernandez cost the A's a ballgame by improperly assessing video of an Adam Rosales home run, replay won't erase all the realities of human error. Such is life. So while outright seamlessness might be unlikely, let's at least root for a greatly improved sense of fairness.
Resolution to the A's stadium issue. They've waited long enough. And speaking of waiting long enough . . .
A Cubs-Indians World Series. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?