Pulling for baseball’s underdogs is on the money - The Buffalo News

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Pulling for baseball’s underdogs is on the money

Pardon me for violating the code of journalism that essentially calls for objectivity when reporting on sports. It actually depends on your job description. Beat writers are assigned to cover daily operations and stick with the facts. Columnists are encouraged to share their opinions and bring perspective.

You’re not going to hear me cheering or booing the Bills or Sabres or any other team in town so much as giving an honest assessment of them. Sometimes it comes in the form of praise and, in case you haven’t noticed, often it does not. Their wins and losses have little bearing on my personal life or mental stability.

It doesn’t mean I don’t pull for or root against certain teams, however, especially when watching from afar.

Forgive me, but I was pulling for the Athletics over the Tigers in Game Five on Thursday night. I was hoping the Pirates would beat the Cardinals on Wednesday. I wanted the Rays to beat the Red Sox and every team since the early 1970s to beat the Yankees. And even though the Cardinals beat the Pirates, I now want them to beat the Dodgers.

My tendency, I guess, is pulling for teams that spend less to win more. On a personal level, it’s a natural affinity for the underdog. But from a professional standpoint, it supports my long-standing argument that teams spending the wisest in sports can overcome teams that spend the most.

Billy Beane turned that logic into an art form literally and figuratively, the former in how he managed the A’s payroll and the latter in how he was portrayed in “Moneyball.” The movie made him a target for critics because it was littered with inaccuracies born from dramatic license. It didn’t change the fact he was getting the most bang for his buck.

In fact, there is no greater example of how a bright spot can break through baseball’s dark financial cloud than pitcher, and phonetic contrast, Sonny Gray. The rookie right-hander with the $480,000 base salary was sent to the mound Thursday for a rematch after beating veteran Justin Verlander, and his $20.1 million haul for 2013, in Game Two.

Gray, 23, emerged this season with a 96 mph fastball and a filthy curve from a 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame, although he looks two inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. He also sports a cheesy mustache that looks like he’s making a lame attempt to appear older. Verlander, 30 years old, 6-5 and 225 pounds, is straight from central casting.

C’mon, you had to be pulling for the kid, who was outpitched in Detroit’s 3-0 win.

I felt the same way with Pittsburgh, a city that outlines what Buffalo could be if our leaders had the same vision after the steel plants closed. The Pirates patched together a lineup that included 14 players who made less than $1 million this season. Pedro Alvarez had 36 homers and 100 RBIs this season while making $700,000.

According to baseballplayersalaries.com, four of the six most efficient teams – Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Pittsburgh – reached the postseason. The Indians were the only team that didn’t play in the ALDS, losing in the wild-card game to the Rays. The A’s spent about $688,000 per win, the Tigers about $1 million more.

Of course, money matters but no more than wasting money.

The Dodgers’ $224 million payroll was second in the big leagues behind – who else? – the Yankees’. They had 10 players making $11 million or more, including four making $20 million or more. Remember, their surge toward the postseason didn’t begin until Yasiel Puig and his $2 million salary arrived from the minors.

Los Angeles’ six highest-paid players who were there all season – Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Josh Beckett and Hanley Ramirez – are making $116 million combined. Kemp is the only one among them who came through its system. The Dodgers wouldn’t be able to field a team if given the Cardinals’ budget constraints.

It’s not as if the Cards are poor, either. They had the 10th-highest payroll in the big leagues this season at $115 million. The Cardinals have 17 players on their roster making less than $525,000. Each of them came through their farm system, which best explains how the Cardinals keep winning for a reasonable price.

Four of the aforementioned 17 made up an infield that finished off the Pirates after third baseman Daniel Descalso entered for David Freese. The others were shortstop Pete Kozma, second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Matt Adams. They had a combined average salary of $498,750 this year.

The Cardinals wouldn’t be in the ALCS if not for Michael Wacha allowing one hit over 7∑ innings in Game Four. He was taken with the first-round pick that was awarded after Albert Pujols bolted for a $240 million deal with the Angels. You couldn’t blame Pujols for leaving, but you certainly couldn’t blame the Cardinals for letting him.

Pujols has batted .274 with 47 homers and 169 RBIs in 253 games over two seasons with the Angels. They were the two worst seasons of his career. The Angels finished in third place in the AL West this season, 13½ games behind in the wild-card race. Last year, they were worse. Pujols, 33, has collected $28 million over that span.

The Yankees are considering whether they should meet Robinson Cano’s demand for a 10-year contract worth some $310 million. It could depend on whether they can escape from Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year deal worth $275 million. In my professional opinion, the Yanks would be crazy to sign him for that much dough.

From a personal standpoint, here’s hoping they do.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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