Are the Yankees on the verge of running away with the American League East?

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

The New York Yankees are en fuego. The rest of the American League East is going down in flames. This week’s sweep of Baltimore may have been a death kneel for the rest of the division.

That’s the simple explanation as to why the Yankees have built a surprising 5 1/2 game lead in the division after going 7-2 in their last three division series, capped by a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. They are now 12-4 in the month of July with everyone else in the East sinking. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 79.3% chance of winning the division and even a 26.4% of winning the American League pennant and going to the World Series (higher than Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Houston)

New York has returned Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller from the disabled list to bolster their already dangerous lineup and bullpen respectively. They are second in the majors in runs scored and fifth in wRC+. After six innings, they are 39-2. After seven, 44-2. After eight, 50-0. All thanks to their sturdy bullpen. They are just another piece from becoming serious World Series contenders.

The rest of the division is in dire straights. The Toronto Blue Jays are in second with pitching problems. The Tampa Bay Rays are 6.5 games back when they were in first just a month ago. The Orioles are now seven games back. The Boston Red Sox, after climbing to within 5.5 games ahead of their meeting with the Yankees at Fenway Park before the All-Star Break, have lost eight in a row and have fallen to 12 games back. The Yankees are the only team that has surged in July; the rest of the division’s pain is their own gain.

Obviously it would be foolish to call the race over, but the Yankees are sitting pretty while the rest of the division is scuffling and trying to figure out what to do before the trade deadline next Friday. The Yankees don’t need to make a move as much as everyone else does.

A sweep at the hands of the Yankees may have turned the Orioles from buyers to sellers. Now seven games back, they could look to deal several of their free agents-to be: LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2.86 ERA/4.06 FIP in 116.1 IP this season), slugger Chris Davis (21 HR, 119 OPS+, 2.8 bWAR), submarine reliever Darren O’Day (1.04 ERA and a 11.9 K/9 rate and an All-Star selection in 34.2 IP), and Matt Wieters (.683 OPS in 114 plate appearances but remains one of the best defensive catchers in the game coming off Tommy John surgery) could all be dealt in order for Baltimore to retool their scarce farm system.

Tampa Bay has also been in free-fall since the end of June. They peaked at 40-30 on June 20th, but since they are 8-19. They have an elite pitching staff led by Chris Archer, Nate Karns, and Jake Odorizzi; but the blatant lack of major league caliber hitting has finally come back to bite them. According to Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times, the Rays are already listening to offers for their relief corps, particularly All-Star closer Brad Boxberger (22 saves out of 24 opportunities with a  3.18 ERA) and LHP Jake McGee (1.19 ERA in 22.2 IP).

The Red Sox will also likely (once again) become sellers; for the third time in the last four seasons they sit in dead last in the division (and the entire American League as well!). They have the worst pitching staff in the American League, so they aren’t just one move from being relevant. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball, so it would be a bad move to use it up to make a foolish attempt to climb back from a 12 game deficit in the division and a 9.5 deficit for the second wild card.

The biggest threat to the Yankees is Toronto. The Blue Jays have the most dangerous lineup in all of baseball. They lead the majors in runs scored by a significant margin and their run differential is second only to St. Louis. However, they are just one game over .500 because of poor pitching, which ranks 12th in the AL in team ERA. Their only reliable starter is Mark Buerhle (120 ERA+/3.80 FIP), so they look to be active buyers before the deadline, actively looking for whatever starting pitching they can find, even if it isn’t an ace like Johnny Cueto. Just one starting pitcher with this offense will make the Blue Jays a much more serious threat to the Yankees.

The Yankees should look to make a move. They don’t seem to be willing to trade the team’s top prospects, RHP Luis Severino and 6’7″ slugger Aaron Judge for a rental like Mike Leake or Johnny Cueto.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, however, they will listen to offers for their other prospects, such as 22 year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is an expendable piece with Brian McCann signed to a huge contract and John Ryan Murphy established as his backup.

New York should look to add a starting pitcher, as their rotation has all-around been shaky: 19th in ERA, 12th in FIP. Although Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have overall been solid, their health and consistency is still questionable. CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi have pitched poorly all season, but the Yankees are still hoping for more consistency to come in the coming months.

On a more positive note, Ivan Nova has a 3.34 ERA in his five starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. He does have a 4.82 FIP due to a lack of strikeouts and command issues, so there still is some rust. His improvement will lessen the need for a trade.

While the rest of the AL East is figuring out where they go next, the Yankees have their sights set on October.

My 2015 MLB Seasons Predictions

American League East:

Toronto Blue Jays: 92-70

New York Yankees: 89-73*

Boston Red Sox: 84-78

Baltimore Orioles: 76-86

Tampa Bay Rays: 67-95

American League Central:

Cleveland Indians: 95-67

Chicago White Sox: 91-71*

Detroit Tigers: 86-76

Kansas City Royals: 83-79

Minnesota Twins: 71-91

American League West:

Seattle Mariners: 96-66

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 88-74

Oakland Athletics: 83-79

Houston Astros: 74-88

Texas Rangers: 65-97

National League East:

Washington Nationals: 102-60

Miami Marlins: 90-72*

New York Mets: 80-82

Atlanta Braves: 68-94

Philadelphia Phillies: 57-105

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: 95-67

St. Louis Cardinals: 93-69*

Pittsburgh Pirates: 86-76

Cincinnati Reds: 71-91

Milwaukee Brewers: 67-95

National League West: 

Los Angeles Dodgers: 101-61

San Diego Padres: 87-65

San Francisco Giants: 82-80

Colorado Rockies: 66-96

Arizona Diamondbacks: 61-101

Playoffs:

AL Wild Card: Yankees over White Sox

ALDS: Mariners over Yankees in 5, Indians over Blue Jays in 4

ALCS: Mariners over Indians in 6, MVP: RHP Felix Hernandez

NL Wild Card: Cardinals over Marlins

NLDS: Nationals over Cardinals in 4, Dodgers over Cubs in 5

NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers in 7, MVP: RHP Jordan Zimmerman

World Series: Nationals over Mariners in 6, MVP: RHP Stephen Strasburg

Awards:

AL MVP: OF Mike Trout (Angels)

AL Cy Young: LHP Chris Sale (White Sox)

NL MVP: 1B Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)

NL Cy Young: RHP Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)

AL Rookie of the Year: OF Dalton Pompey (Blue Jays)

NL Rookie of the Year: OF Joc Pederson (Dodgers)

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi (Yankees)

NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon (Cubs)

AL Comeback Player of the Year: DH Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)

NL Comeback Player of the Year: RHP Matt Harvey (Mets)

MLB Postseason and World Series Predictions

October Baseball is here. Eight teams enter the Division Series, but only one will be crowned World Series champions. So who will take home the Commissioner’s Trophy?

Playoff Teams:

American League:

East Division Champions: Baltimore Orioles, 96-66, Last World Series title: 1983. Second playoff appearance since 1997

Central Division Champions: Detroit Tigers, 90-72, Last World Series title: 1984. Fourth straight division title

West Division Champions: Los Angeles Angels, 98-64, Last World Series title: 2002. First playoff appearance since 2009

1st Wild Card: Kansas City Royals, 89-73, Last World Series title and playoff appearance; 1985

2nd Wild Card: Oakland Athletics, 88-74, Last World Series title: 1989. Third straight playoff appearance

National League:

East Division Champions: Washington Nationals, 96-66, never won the World Series. Second playoff appearance in three years after just one in franchise history (1981 while still in Montreal).

Central Division Champions: St. Louis Cardinals, 90-72, defending NL Champions, seeking fifth pennant in 21st century and third World Series title since 2006. Fourth straight playoff appearance.

West Division Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers, 94-68, last World Series title: 1988. Fourth division title in seven years.

1st Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates, 89-73, last World Series title: 1979. Second straight playoff appearance after 20 consecutive losing seasons.

2nd Wild Card: San Francisco Giants, 89-73. Seeking third World Series title since 2010.

American League Wild Card Game: #4 Kansas City Royals defeated #5 Oakland Athletics 9-8 in 12 innings after coming back from 7-3 and 8-7 deficits. Catcher Salvador Perez hit the game winning single in the 12th.

National League Wild Card Game: #5 San Francisco Giants defeated #4 Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 on Madison Bumgarner’s 4-hit shutout. Shortstop Brandon Crawford opened the scoring with a grand slam off Edinson Volquez.

American League Division Series:

#1 Los Angeles Angels over #4 Kansas City Royals in 5 games

Why: Going to a three-man rotation is a big risk for the team with baseball’s best record, but like the last playoff team to do so (the 2009 Yankees, who of course won it all) have baseball’s best offense led by baseball’s best player and a bullpen that improved substantially with the additions of Joe Smith, Huston Street, and Jason Grilli. Kansas City has the arms in the rotation and the bullpen to make themselves a tough out, but they won’t be able to keep up with Anaheim offensively

#3 Detroit Tigers over #2 Baltimore Orioles in 4 games

Why: Despite their star power, Detroit has underachieved in the regular season in the last four season and once again has to start the postseason on the road. However, their rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander (still an October threat even after a poor season), David Price, and a much improved Rick Porcello makes them a matchup to be feared in a short series. Despite their success, the Orioles’ roster has red flags as their starting pitching finished third worst in baseball in FIP (fielding independent ERA) and 17th in OBP despite finishing fifth in baseball in ERA+ and first in home runs. The Tigers will have the choice of Scherzer or Verlander in a potential Game 5.

National League Division Series:

#1 Washington Nationals (96-66, NL East champions) over #5 San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd NL Wild Card) in 4 games

Why: As the old adage goes, you can’t have too much pitching. The Nationals have the best in baseball and that’s why they are clearly the favorites to win the World Series. If they hit enough, they’ll be very tough to beat. The Giants got past the Pirates because of Madison Bumgarner, one of the better pitchers in the game, but not having Angel Pagan and Matt Cain are significant losses. Even with Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, they don’t have enough to beat the Nationals, especially with Bumgarner going just once.

#2 Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68, NL West champions) over #3 St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, NL Central champions) in 5 games

Why: The Dodgers, the team with baseball’s highest payroll, were many people’s favorites in Spring Training, and for good reason. A rotation made of Clayton Kershaw (perhaps the league’s MVP), Zack Greinke (also a former Cy Young winner), and Hyun-Jin Ryu will be very tough to beat. The Cardinals, however, counter with a terrific rotation of their own: Adam Wainwright (20 wins, 2.38 ERA), Lance Lynn (15 wins, 2.74 ERA), John Lackey (the winner in Boston’s championship clincher last year), and Shelby Miller. The Dodgers have the edge on offense to make the difference in what should be the toughest series.

American League Championship Series: 

Detroit Tigers over Los Angeles Angels in 6 games

MVP: 1B Miguel Cabrera (DET)

Why: The Tigers have the most talented rotation and a great offense, the Angels have the best offense and a dynamic bullpen. The Halos’ weakness will be starting just three pitchers (Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, and C.J. Wilson), which will be a road-block for them to even get to the ALCS.

National League Championship Series:

Washington Nationals over Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games

MVP: RHP Stephen Strasburg (WSH)

Why: Both are loaded on pitching and have offenses that can score. However, the Dodgers seem to be more top heavy than the Nationals, who seem to have absolutely no weakness on their whole staff.

World Series:

Detroit Tigers over Washington Nationals in 7 games

MVP: Max Scherzer

Why: This may be one of the lowest-scoring World Series in years; that’s how good the pitching is. However, the Tigers have a little more star power, especially on offense, and they will finally get the job done this year after three consecutive playoff failures

NBA Followed MLB’s Standard With Punishment of Donald Sterling

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Sadly, the case of Donald Sterling is nothing terribly new.

In fact, the NBA may have just followed a set standard in banning the Los Angeles Clippers owner for life for racially charged comments about African Americans. Major League Baseball set this standard in the late 1990s in dealing with a similar case. Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott made similar racial remarks throughout her life and tenure as owner.

Just like with the NBA and Sterling, MLB knew what they were dealing with in Schott. Sterling’s comments should have come as no surprise given a history of racially charged remarks and a 2006 lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice for housing discrimination in using race as a factor in filling some of his apartment buildings. The suit charged that Sterling refused to rent to minorities in certain neighborhoods. The suit alleged Sterling was quoted as saying “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” and that “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

Much like Sterling, Schott had a history of vile comments. She made positive comments about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1996 in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly.

Major League Baseball suspended Schott for three seasons following her comments. When she made further controversial comments about Asian Americans and African American players, she faced a third suspension in 1999 and sold her share of the Reds for $67 million

“What she said was egregious, but what he said was probably worse,” former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent told Bloomberg News. “There’s a question of where you draw the line. In this case with what this guy did and probably in Marge Schott’s case, you’re well over the line.”

Sterling faces the same fate as Schott. NBA commissioner Adam Silver went further from what MLB did and banned him for life, fining him $2.5 million. The new commissioner also has put the ball in the other 29 owners’ hands in forcing a vote to attempt to ouster Sterling from ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.

There are some more implications of Sterling’s ban. The NBA took a strong stand against racism and made it clear that comments like Sterling’s will not be tolerated. More importantly, however, will his own banishment set a new standard in how professional sports leagues deal with their owners?

Look at a man like Indianapolis Colts’ CEO Jim Irsay, who was arrested for suspicion of DUI and drug possession last month. According to the Indianapolis Star, Irsay has had drug problems for a long time. Could the NFL step in and do something about his antics in regards to his duties with the Colts?

Donald Sterling’s exile from the NBA is only following a standard set by Major League Baseball with Marge Schott, and it may have set some new standards against racism as well as the accountability of bosses of pro sports.

2014 American League East Preview

 

I recently did a series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and the rest of the American League East, which is arguably the toughest division in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox won it last year with 97 wins and went on to win their third World Series in 10 years. The Tampa Bay Rays won a crucial Game 163 in Arlington, TX to sneak in the playoffs and disposed of Cleveland in the Wild Card game before falling to Boston in four in the ALDS.The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles won just 85 games a year after taking it to the limit in the division race and in the Division Series in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays, last year’s paper champions, were major disappointments and finished dead last.

This season, just about any of these five teams can make the playoffs or even win the division. The Yankees have made improvements but also have their problems. The Red Sox are the defending champions and have young talent on the way, but they did lose some important pieces. The Blue Jays and Orioles whiffed on some major free agents, but Baltimore managed to salvage the offseason with some late pick-ups.

Who will win the division? Will there be more than one playoff team out of the East? Well, as John Sterling says, “you just can’t predict baseball”, but I’ll try.

Division Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)

USATSI

The Rays have been contenders just about every year since 2008, but they have not been out of the ALDS since that 2008 season when they won the pennant after 10 years of struggle. After months of speculation, they did not trade ace David Price, so they remain serious contenders, perhaps good enough to win it all. Along with Price, they have one of the deepest rotations in the league with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer. Their offense looks to improve with a healthy Evan Longoria and a full season of Wil Myers. They also brought back Grant Balfour, who is an improvement over Fernando Rodney, so their bullpen is rock solid. They have enough to make the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, and will take their third AL East crown.

Wild Card Qualifier: New York Yankees (94-68)

Associated Press

You may have heard: The Yankees are too old. The Yankees are overpaid. The Yankees are very injury-prone. The Yankees have to get younger. Big deal. The point of them losing Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Andy Pettitte has been made to death without regarding what they did do: They improved big time at catcher with Brian McCann and twice over in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are better than what they had at short and first last year.

Pitching wise, they got the best arm available in Masahiro Tanaka, who should be at least half as good as advertised. CC Sabathia has reinvented himself and the rest of the rotation looks great. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have looked fantastic this spring and could play a huge role moving forward. Even without Mariano, the Yankees’ bullpen has a backup plan with several pieces in the minors. The Yankees are a much better team than the one that somehow won 85 games last year. That is a fact. They will make the playoffs for the 18th time in 20 seasons.

Just A Bit Short: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images North America

Let’s just get this straight: Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last season. Everything. They set themselves up to be a solid but not serious team and it all came up pay-dirt. The acquisitions of Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, Stephen Drew, and Shane Victorino all paid off big time. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia stayed healthy. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John freaking Lackey all pitched great again, and a 38 year-old Koji Uehara became the savior for their bullpen.

This isn’t to say the Red Sox were a fluke. If anything, the 2012 season was a fluke for them. They still have a solid team that should be considered a serious threat, but they will not be as good. They downgraded significantly at catcher with a 37 year-old A.J. Pierzynski replacing Jarrod Saltlamacchia (118 OPS+ last year). They replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with Grady Sizemore. If Boston fans think Ellsbury is injury-prone, look at Sizemore, who has not played in three years and barely has any knees left. With no other significant moves this offseason, the Red Sox are counting on everything to go right again. That will not happen. They will miss the playoffs for the fourth time this decade.

Not Quite: Baltimore Orioles (80-82)

Carlos Osorio/AP

The O’s had a mostly disastrous offseason. They traded Jim Johnson to Oakland to sign Grant Balfour, but Balfour failed his physical and signed with the Rays. Thus, they’re forced to go with Tommy Hunter as their closer. It wasn’t until February where they made some serious moves. They improved their pitching with Ubaldo Jimenez and Korean Suk-Min Yoon and also brought in Nelson Cruz on the cheap after he was embroiled in BioGenesis. Their lineup looks loaded, but do they have enough pitching? Not likely.

In the Cellar, Again: Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)

The Blue Jays were supposed to be great last year after acquiring Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey, but they were anything but, finishing dead last. They whiffed during free agency, specifically on Ervin Santana. They have a very deep lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but can their pitching go from an Achilles to a strength? Their bullpen is solid, but their rotation is old and thin. They will finish  dead last again in 2014.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

My MLB Predictions for the 2014 Season

Derek Jeter (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As winter dies and spring is born, baseball once again rises from the ashes like the legendary phoenix. The 2014 season had already really begun last weekend in Australia as the Los Angeles Dodgers took two from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but it gets into full swing this week. The Dodgers again are in the spotlight tonight in San Diego against the Padres for the Sunday Night game on ESPN. Everyone else kicks off Monday and Tuesday.

There are a lot of running storylines for the 2014 season, none bigger than the last ride for the captain of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. It’s also commissioner Bud Selig’s last year as well (thank the Lord Almighty). But there’s also the new era of instant replay and the rise of a new generation of superstars, many from abroad.

Many teams have improved, some got worse, some stayed the same. Baseball has reached probably its highest level of parity in history, so just about any team can win it all. But only 10 teams can play in October, and only one can become World Series champions.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Eastern Division:

Tampa Bay Rays 96-66

New York Yankees*: 94-68

Boston Red Sox 89-73

Baltimore Orioles: 80-82

Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

Why: The AL Beast is probably the toughest division in baseball, producing a wild card team every year since 2006. Even with questions in their lineups, New York and Tampa Bay have two potentially dominant rotations.

Central Division:

Detroit Tigers: 95-67

Kansas City Royals: 90-72

Cleveland Indians: 78-84

Chicago White Sox: 71-91

Minnesota Twins: 66-96

Why: Even after dumping Prince Fielder, losing Jose Iglesias, and trading Doug Fister for basically nothing, Detroit remains the most talented team in the Central. The young Royals will continue to get better and will have a go for their first playoff appearance in almost 30 years.

Western Division:

Texas Rangers: 97-65

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim*: 91-71

Oakland Athletics: 89-73

Seattle Mariners 72-90

Houston Astros: 57-105

Why: The Rangers will finally get it together and avoid another September collapse with acquisition of Prince Fielder. The Angels will finally live up to the billing thanks to resurgence from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (and the continued brilliance of Mike Trout) and will beat out a tough race for the second wild card. 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Eastern Division:

Washington Nationals: 97-65

Atlanta Braves*: 93-69

New York Mets: 82-80

Philadelphia Phillies: 68-94

Miami Marlins: 65-97

Why: The Nationals’ rotation is deep and downright terrifying, and Bryce Harper will lead the way in a breakout season for the 21 year-old. Atlanta will survive this injury catastrophe  and will make it back to the postseason without Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. The Mets could use this season as a bridge to a very bright future.

Central Division:

St. Louis Cardinals: 98-64

Cincinnati Reds*: 95-67

Pittsburgh Pirates: 85-77

Milwaukee Brewers: 76-86

Chicago Cubs: 61-101

Why: St. Louis remains a deep club, probably the deepest in the majors at just every facet of the game. The Reds could have an answer to their leadoff woes in the form of Billy Hamilton, and they have some of the best pitching in the game. Pittsburgh takes a bit of a step back, but their future remains bright thanks to Gregory Polance, Gerrit Cole, and of course, Andrew McCutchen.

 Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers: 102-60

San Diego Padres: 84-78

San Francisco Giants: 81-81

Arizona Diamondbacks: 76-86

Colorado Rockies: 68-94

Why: The Dodgers should easily run away in this weak division. Resurgence from Matt Kemp will make them even more dangerous come playoff time.

PLAYOFFS:

AL Wild Card: New York over Los Angeles

ALDS: New York over Texas (3-1), Tampa Bay over Detroit (3-2)

ALCS: New York over Tampa Bay, 4-2

NL Wild Card: Cincinnati over Atlanta

NLDS: Washington over St. Louis (3-2), Los Angeles over Cincinnati (3-1)

NLCS: Los Angeles over Washington, 4-3

World Series: New York Yankees over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2

Why: Two big market superpowers will collide for the first time since 1981. The Dodgers have the star power to stand out in a loaded NL. The Yankees have enough pitching depth and a good amount of seasoned veterans to make up for the losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. Also, don’t underestimate the Jeter factor this season. This may be a homer pick, but I think the Yankees will be serious contenders this year and send the Captain out a champion for the sixth time.

AWARDS:

American League:

MVP: Mike Trout (Los Angeles)

Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka (New York)

Cy Young: David Price (Tampa Bay)

Manager of the Year: Ned Yost (Kansas City)

Comeback Player of the Year: Derek Jeter (New York)

National League:

MVP: Joey Votto (Cincinnati)

Rookie of the Year: Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh)

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles)

Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez (Atlanta)

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp (Los Angeles)

Enough With the Silly Comparisons Between Jason Collins and Jackie Robinson

BART YOUNG/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Jason Collins has played in the NBA for 13 seasons and he has averaged 3.6 points per game on 41% shooting and 3.8 rebounds per game. The seven footer has played for six different teams in the last six years, including a second go-around with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. I bet you didn’t even know who he was, even if you’re a basketball fan, until April 29, 2013.

That’s the day that Collins came out as a homosexual, becoming the first open, active person in sports, disputably. Since then, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park, received phone calls from the President, and he was invited to the State of the Union by the First Lady. He has returned to the NBA after signing a 10 day contract with the Nets, and his jersey is somehow the current top seller in the league. The media attention itself has been much.

Maybe because of the Brooklyn parallels, but he has been hailed as this generation’s Jackie Robinson by the talking heads on ESPN and MSNBC by becoming the first openly gay player in the NBA.

Wait, what?

REED SAXON/AP

Yup, there are plenty in the media that have gone on to compare Collins’ coming out to Jack Roosevelt Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Honestly, this comparison is really silly, and downright insulting to Robinson. It brings down everything Robinson went through and stood for quite a bit. Yes, Collins has had plenty of courage to come out and try to play in the NBA, and it is very significant, but his experiences aren’t that similar to Robinson’s.

It’s one thing if Collins came out in the 1980s or even the 1990s, but this is the 21st Century, and we as a society in the western world have become more accepting of gay people. Collins’ revelation has been applauded everywhere from Kobe Bryant to George Takei. The media has covered him positively and his return to the NBA was a top story on SportsCenter for days. But let me ask: How much is Collins REALLY contributing to the LGBT movement by just coming out and playing in the NBA?

Jackie Robinson hit .311 in a ten year career in Major League Baseball, winning NL MVP in 1949. He helped the Dodgers win their only World Series championship in Brooklyn in 1955. He could have played even longer in the big leagues, but he, like every other African American player, was outright BANNED from playing because of a gentlemen’s agreement. Collins has been nothing more than a career scrub who has played for six different teams. His numbers make Kwame Brown’s look like Shaquille O’Neal’s.

hollywood.com

Maybe you think their respective career numbers don’t really matter as much, and you may be right. But the other problem is this: Jackie Robinson faced discrimination that was very, very real at the height of the Jim Crow era. Despite being an All-American in several sports at UCLA and serving in the military in World War II, Robinson was, at first, denied to play in Major League Baseball, like every African. His entry into the game was very controversial. Fans would spit on him, shout slurs at him, send him death threats, and that was just at the ballpark. Throughout the country, he wasn’t even allowed to stay in hotels or dine with his team. His own teammates petitioned to Leo Durocher and Branch Rickey to get him off the team or request a trade for themselves. Many of the teams, particularly the Philadelphia Phillies, threatened to refuse to take the field.

Just watch last year’s film 42, starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. It may not be totally accurate, but it’s a great depiction of what America and baseball were like in 1947.

Jason Collins has come out in a time where LGBT people have become more accepted. Yes, there certainly is homophobia in this country, as we’ve seen time and time again, but it isn’t the level it used to be. The times, they are a-changing. Nobody in the NBA has stopped Collins from continuing his career. You’ll find a lot of sports fans that will not consider a player’s sexuality a big deal. Yes, there certainly are those bigots out there, many who will throw their slurs at him. But most fans are more concerned if a person can play ball. Collins can’t, as you see by his career numbers.

If he was any better of a player than he is, he probably would have signed with a team before now. The fact that he is a marginal player at best was the reason why teams didn’t sign him for seven months, not homophobia. He has been accepted in his locker room and embraced by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, his teammates in Boston and now in Brooklyn. The First Lady invited him to Capitol Hill. The Red Sox had him throw out the first ball. His jersey is the top seller in the NBA!

AP

The real story should be just how he has been accepted, and that is reflective on how our country has progressed in the last 20-30 years. But he is not Jackie Robinson because he has not gone through what Robinson went through, not even close.

In order for LGBT to make an turning impact on sports, they have to be a star. If Robinson was a marginal player, he would have been out of the league after a few years. The fact that he became an all-time great player was one of the biggest reasons baseball and in fact the entire country began to change in the 40s and 50s. Jason Collins is not that guy, a true star athlete coming out would really change things.

If you really want to make comparisons to Jackie Robinson, look to the NFL, where homophobia is certainly alive amongst teams. The Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could be that guy, as we’ve already seen questions of how his outing will affect locker rooms. Like Collins, he has been supported by his peers, the media, the elite, and many others. If he blossoms into a star, he, not Jason Collins, could very well be the guy who becomes this generation’s Jackie Robinson. His success in the NFL would be the true turning point in sports.