Disrespecting The Game Versus Giving It Your All

Let’s talk about “(dis)respecting the game.”

Jose Bautista SwingIt’s probably been a discussion around Major League Baseball as long as it’s been around. These last few years (basically since Yasiel Puig came into the picture) it’s been an especially big deal. If you weren’t paying attention, you might think it just depended on whether or not the guy who did the thing was on your team.  Anyways, it all came to a head during the 7th inning of last night’s Blue Jays-Rangers game, which was capped by a Jose Bautista blast. He admired the ball for a bit and then let loose the bat flip heard round the world. Some people thought it was a great moment while others were furious, comparing it to what someone might do in “backyard baseball.” [1]

Jose Bautista Bat FlipNow, I don’t think it was a coincidence that most of the folks policing this show of passion were on the losing side of things, as that’s what tends to happen. But let’s consider the situation: Game 5 of the ALDS, do or die for both teams, with the Blue Jays trying to make it to the ALCS for the first time in 22 years. After going down 3-2 in the top of the 7th following a series of unusual events, Jose Bautista (who is playing in the very first postseason of his 11 year MLB career, by the way) smacks a 3-run home run to essentially seal the deal for the Blue Jays and send Toronto to the ALCS.

Jose Bautista Mean MuggingSo my question is, if Jose Bautista isn’t allowed to express emotion after hitting a huge home run to lead his team to its first ALCS berth in 22 years, in his first postseason ever, then why even play baseball at all? The way some people talk about it, you’d think that baseball was founded by the Puritans as a way to keep those crazy kids in the streets and out of the sheets, rather than the general rabble that populated the game for its first few decades. The verbal refuge of these critics most often involves “(dis)respecting the game.” Of course, it’s impossible to tell what this actually means since they seem to make it all up on the spot, but it appears to have something to do with showing emotion during a game. So maybe if you show too much emotion in a game, you’re disrespecting baseball.

John Lackey YellingBut it’s definitely not that, because some pitchers (like, I don’t know, John Lackey and Jake Peavy, for example) who straight up yell at themselves/the umpire/the catcher/anyone who will listen every time they don’t get a strike called are absolutely praised for their “grit”, “gamesmanship”, or “competitive streak” (unless of course it’s Carlos Zambrano, whose immaturity really hurt his teammates.)

Carlos Zambrano YellingOr how some other players who get furious at umpires for calls and start yelling at them are lauded for “sticking up for their teammates”. People seem to love guys like this, so they must be respecting the game.

Yadier Molina YellingSo maybe you’re allowed to be emotional when something just went wrong, but not after something went well.

This may sound confusing and contrived, but anyone who loves and respects the game of baseball knows these things.

That can’t be it either, though, because teams get mad when other players get frustrated with themselves after a weak pop up, but only if their team is leading in the late innings when it happens. This may sound confusing and contrived, but anyone who loves and respects the game of baseball knows these things. So maybe you’re only allowed to show emotion after you do something bad when you’re probably gonna lose. Yeah, that must be it.

So that settles it: if you show passion while doing something good when you’re winning, you’re disrespecting the game and you really need to grow up. If you show emotion after doing something bad while you’re losing, on the other hand, then you’re giving it your all because of your love of the game, and you’re just a clubhouse leader. But it also depends on which player is doing it and what team he’s on. Alright, well you guys have fun with that. I’m gonna just keep enjoying another great MLB postseason.

[1] Let’s ignore for a second the fact that Pablo Sanchez and Kiesha Phillips are the only ones on the Backyard Baseball roster who have the raw power to go yard in the ALDS.

Reconciling Both Ichiros, And Why He Could Have Had 4,000 MLB Hits

Ichiro PitchingIchiro Suzuki just appeared in the likely last game of his long MLB career and his even longer professional baseball career. Playing for the Marlins, he even got to finish his career with an outing on the mound, where he showcased some nasty sliders. It seems like it will be his final season because he only hit .229, a full 30 points below his previous season low, and his contract with the Miami Marlins was only for a year. It was a great career regardless of whether or not it’s over, although he finished short of 3,000 hits (at 2,935.) He’ll still leave quite a legacy with a career .314 average over 15 great MLB seasons, most of them with the Seattle Mariners.

If Ichiro had been playing in MLB his entire career, he would have amassed over 4,000 hits.

He also left quite a legacy in Japan before most of us stateside had ever even heard of him, yet it’s hard to bring those two legacies together. We know he racked up 1,278 hits over in Japan, and that he had 4,213 hits altogether between the two leagues. If these were all major league hits, Ichiro would still be just short of Pete Rose’s all-time record of 4,256 (and a bit past runner-up Ty Cobb at 4,189), but coming even that close would merit automatic, unanimous induction into the Hall of Fame. Of course, they weren’t all in MLB, which is exactly why it’s hard to reconcile his overseas career with his Major League career, but that’s where I come in. I don’t need to tell you about his MLB legacy, or even his Japanese legacy, but let me try to combine them into one legacy. Allow me to convince you that if Ichiro had been playing in the Major Leagues his entire career, he would have amassed over 4,000 hits.

 

Ichiro JapanFirst of all, a note. I’m well aware that this is a ridiculous argument concerning a hypothetical situation, but those are what baseball is all about. Also, I’m not proposing that people accept this translation into Major League stats as fact, because that would lead to chaos as armchair baseball historians like myself attempted to translate Negro League statistics or tried to project season statistics for those who missed time while serving in WWII. By the way, if we did that, it would be clear that the season’s best pitcher should really be given the Satchel Paige award, but I digress. The point is I’m just doing this to see if Ichiro could have joined Pete Rose and Ty Cobb as hitters who have racked up 4,000 MLB hits, if things had gone a little differently.

So let’s get to it. To begin, let’s review some of Ichiro’s relevant Japanese statistics. In 9 seasons in his home league, Ichiro played 951 games and recorded 3,619 at bats. He ended up with 1,278 hits, good for an astounding .353 batting average. To compare to his career MLB totals, Ichiro just finished his 15th season, where he saw 2,356 games and 9,360 at bats. His 2,935 hits in those at bats left him with a career .314 average in MLB. An important thing to notice is that they only play 144 games a season in Japan, 18 fewer than they do here in the United States. This means that Ichiro missed out on 18 games a season in Japan, which would have given him at least 50 more at bats each season if he had played in every one of those games. Considering that, it’s not ridiculous to think Ichiro could have totaled over 4,000 MLB hits, even after accounting for his lower batting average in MLB than in Japan.

Anyways, if we just sum his time in both leagues, we’re looking at a 24-season career encompassing 3,307 games and 12,979 at bats. His 4,213 hits would leave him with a very impressive .325 batting average, but like I said before this is not a satisfactory method. Mine is not much more satisfying, but I’ll attempt a simple translation of his 9 Japanese seasons into what they might have looked like in the Major Leagues. If you find yourself skeptical, just think about the fact that Ichiro’s Japanese career occurred when he was 18-27, while his MLB career saw him from a 28-year old to a 41-year old. This means that Ichiro’s prime was probably fairly evenly split between both leagues, and he spent many declining years in the United States. If anything, I’m underselling the guy here.

Ichiro MarinersSo let’s take Ichiro’s career .314 batting average in MLB, and just assume if he had spent his first few seasons in the U.S. instead of Japan, he would have averaged .314 over those seasons. As we know, Ichiro came to bat 3,619 times in Japan, but this was in 144-game seasons. In Japan, he only averaged 3.81 at bats a game, while in MLB, he averaged just under 4 at bats a game. In Japan, he averaged 106 games a season, while in the United States that jumped to 157 games a season. Of course, if he was in the United States, he probably wouldn’t have started in the Majors as an 18-year old, so let’s say he spends those 3 years in the minors instead and actually starts as a 21-year old in MLB, as plenty of phenoms have in the past. This leaves us with 6 seasons of 157 games each that Ichiro would have played in the Major Leagues instead of in Japan for a total of 942 (just 9 fewer than he actually played through 9 years in Japan.) Based on his 4 at bats per game (more like 3.97) average in MLB, this would give him 3,742 more MLB at bats than he actually has.

Now comes the easy part. Based on his career .314 average, we can expect Ichiro to have safely hit 1,175 times in these 6 hypothetical seasons and 3,742 at bats. This is just under the 1,278 hits he actually racked up in 9 seasons in Japan. Add these 1,175 hits to his true MLB total of 2,935, and we find ourselves with 4,110 hits over 21 MLB seasons. This would leave him a little farther behind Pete Rose and drop him behind Ty Cobb, but still securely in 3rd place all-time, and only the third hitter in over a hundred years of MLB to surpass 4,000 career hits. While it’s impossible to claim that this exactly would have happened if Ichiro had started in the Major Leagues instead of in Japan, this translation is based on his real-life performance through 15 MLB seasons, so it’s not completely unrealistic.

Two Different Ichiros

While Ichiro should and probably will get into the Hall of Fame pretty easily, it really should be a no-brainer. This is one of the greatest hitters of all-time, and here in the United States we got to watch him dominate at the plate for 15 years. If it had been 21 seasons, we might be talking about him in even more revered tones than we already do. Let me know if you think this sounds about right, or if you don’t, hit me up and tell me how my methodology could be better. Thanks for reading, and have a good postseason!

Ichiro Yankees

Welcome Back, Starlin Castro

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while.

Starlin Castro Curtain CallWhat better time than after Starlin Castro’s game Friday against the Cardinals? The Cubs now second baseman started the game with an RBI single before his long 5th inning 2-run HR, which he followed in the 6th inning with a 3-run HR. If you were scoring at home, that made 6 RBI for Starlin, tying his career high which he set in his MLB debut 5 years ago. That’s not to mention that his performance has pulled the Cubs to within one game of the Pirates for that top wild card spot and only 6 games behind the Cardinals for the NL Central lead. The thunderous Wrigley crowd demanded a curtain call from the star they have a love-hate relationship with, and after the events of this season, he was more than happy to oblige. It was hard not to watch this and get the feeling that something had changed, both in the mechanics of Castro’s game and in the way the Chicago fans view their longest-tenured star.

Let’s just say that Castro’s early to mid season performance made it an easy decision for the Cubs to slide Addison Russell into the infield at shortstop.

I won’t get into the details of Castro’s much-publicized mega-slump and benching (and I definitely won’t get into deep stats or anything), but a little background is necessary for those not in the know. Let’s just say that his early to mid season performance (both offensive and defensive) made it an easy decision for the Cubs to slide Addison Russell into the infield right away, first at second base and then to short once Maddon had had enough with Castro and outright benched him on August 6th. Castro was clearly disappointed in himself but took the benching well, and by August 11th Joe Maddon gradually began introducing him to game situations again, mostly in pinch-hitting roles and increasingly at second base.

Since then Castro has made it impossible for Maddon to leave him out of the lineup, hitting .356 with 5 HR and 14 RBI. Any Cubs fan who has been paying attention knows that Castro seems to have made some sort of adjustment (particularly to his stance), but Friday was his reintroduction to the good kind of limelight against the first-place Cardinals. Castro absolutely launched his 5th inning HR, and sensing that the crowd was finally behind him, he sat back and admired it for a second while the crowd roared. He would top the moment only one inning later with a HR that counted for one more run than the last, before stepping out of the dugout for (what was shockingly) his first-ever curtain call at Wrigley field. With the curtain call request, Cubs fans confirmed the pivotal nature of the moment, and perhaps indicated a turning point in how Starlin Castro is viewed by the only fanbase he’s known.

Miguel Montero Hugs Starlin Castro

Since that stellar debut in 2010, Starlin Castro has consistently done two things: collected base hits at the plate and racked up errors at shortstop. He was the youngest player ever to lead the National League in hits at 21, and he was a well-below average defensive shortstop throughout his career to this point. Although he certainly had range and instinct, and showed glimmers of hope fairly often, he made a lot of errors and his fielding percentage suffered. At bat, however, Castro hit .307 in 2010, .300 in 2011, .283 in 2012, and .292 in 2014. In 2013, he hit .245, which had been by far his lowest average until this season. The point is, for most of his career, Starlin was a below-average defensive shortstop but a hit machine who made up for his defensive errors.

This didn’t mean he was without his detractors, though, as Cubs fans criticized him for perceived laziness and absentmindedness , ignoring his pace for about 2,000 hits by age 30. Criticism was not unwarranted, as Castro consistently had defensive woes at short, and although he had a lot of hits he also had a lot of strikeouts, double plays, and not a lot of walks. While Castro certainly made more than his fair share of errors at short and to a lesser extent at the plate, he seemed also to get more than his fair share of targeted outrage, considering he was the lone bright spot (at the plate, at least) on several Cubs teams pre-MVP-level-Rizzo. This season, however, with his disappointing sliding average (.236 by the time he was benched), his offense was only hurting the team more than his defense, if anything, and Cubs fans had had enough. As the trade deadline approached, many clamored for him to be traded, and while it seemed a few times like that was going to happen he ultimately stayed with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro

Joe Maddon was done with Castro at short, though, and ready to move Russell over from second. He was almost ceremoniously benched, and it was clear that not only was the shortstop role no longer his (after a 5+ year reign), but he was no longer guaranteed a place in the Cubs lineup (again, after a 5+ year reign.) Despite being a 3-time all star used to pacing the team’s offense, he didn’t complain, kept his head down and worked on his game. The move seems to have done the job, and Castro is now a big part of the Cubs late-season push to improve upon finishing in the second wild card spot. Since he was the best player for several Cubs teams, he might have been putting too much pressure on himself at the plate, and maybe he realized it’s not all up to him anymore. Maybe the same happened at short, and he’s more comfortable at second with the extra time he’s afforded to get the ball to first base. Whatever it is, it seems to be working, and the Cubs are happy to be able to rely on him again as the postseason nears.

By the way, don’t look now, but Castro has worked his average up to .257, which is actually the third-highest qualifying average on the Cubs! He’s not only getting hits again, he’s also found some power in his bat (as evidenced by his 2 HRs against the Cardinals), making his bat even more valuable in the lineup. Furthermore, he seems more comfortable at second than short, making as many spectacular plays as errors so far. His fielding percentage on the season is now actually better than Kris Bryant’s, who is sometimes deservedly praised for his defense. That’s not at all to say that Castro has helped the Cubs more than Bryant or anything, but it’s just to point out that Castro’s defensive performance this season has been far from inexcusable. It’s clear that Castro is determined to leave 2013 as his worst MLB season, because 2015 is shaping up to be much more respectable. Some might say this is because the Cubs have a lot of good bats in the lineup now, and I say that’s exactly what it is. Now that it’s not all up to Castro, he can contribute to the team without trying to be the team.

A guy with this much talent who can also handle playing second fiddle is the type of guy you should definitely want your team to keep.

Starlin Castro ShhSome Cubs fans still can’t let go, though (source: two seconds on Twitter), and won’t just celebrate the resurgence of Starlin Castro. You can spot them easily because they say things like “more trade value, can’t wait till he’s gone!” when he has a good game and helps the Cubs win, and they just won’t accept the fact that he might be good at all. This bewilders me. Let’s be clear: it was more than justifiable to be impatient or upset with Castro before August 11th, because he actually was just not helping the Cubs win at all, on either side of the ball. However, he has since shown that not only can he rebound from a major slump, but he can respond to a fairly major demotion with class and hard work. If he had whined during his benching, demanded a trade, or flat out kept failing to perform, I would understand people wanting him out, but he’s made it clear that he wants to succeed in Chicago. Pair this with the fact that Castro is still only 25 (25! He has 975 hits!) and the Cubs have him signed through 2019 with a 2020 option, and it becomes clear that Cubs fans may be better off accepting Starlin Castro for all his flaws. I say he’s a great option for the Cubs second baseman of the future. A guy with this much talent who can also handle playing second fiddle is the type of guy you should definitely want your team to keep.

Okay, okay, I’ll address the elephant in the room when I talk about Castro at second: 22 year old Javier Baez. Let me conveniently sidestep that by putting him at third base, where he has excelled in admittedly limited time this season. Why not? The Cubs don’t really have a committed third baseman, that was just the easiest place to put Kris Bryant in the lineup. Anyways, 25 year old Anthony Rizzo (signed through 2019, 2020-2021 options) and 21 year old Addison Russell round out that young infield. That of course leaves 23 year olds Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler (signed through 2020) for LF and RF, respectively, once 22 year old Schwarber takes over as catcher (but I love Montero, so hopefully that doesn’t happen too soon.) Dexter Fowler is 29 and only signed for one year at almost $10 million, making it unlikely that he is the Cubs center fielder of the future, so I guess that’s the biggest Cubs question mark after this season. I hope it goes without saying that the Cubs pitcher of the future is Jake Arrieta, who will start every game. That’s the Cubs dream lineup for years right there, if they just lock up Russell, Baez, Bryant, Schwarber, Arrieta and a center fielder long term. Since all those guys are so young, it should be financially realistic (at least for a few years.) If I’m just dreaming, please don’t pinch me.

Starlin Castro Rally Bucket

Anyways, as the season winds down and the playoff races heat up even more, just remember that Starlin Castro is your friend if you’re a Cubs fan, and he’s completely turned his season around in just over a month (which is a small but not insignificant sample size.) Furthermore, he’s in a position to help the Cubs for a long time coming, and he seems happy to do that whether or not he’s the main attraction. It’s been a good season for Cubs fans, and it’s finally starting to look like a good season for Starlin Castro, too.

There’s Still A Place For Baseball On The Radio

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Ahh, the radio. One of the most important inventions of all time, yet people my age not only take it for granted but think of it as a relic. Sure, it might be good for making short car rides a bit less boring (oh who am I kidding, we all have aux cords now), but I feel like us younger folk don’t really appreciate what the radio still has to offer us. While radio has some general advantages over TV (like more compelling storytelling because the speaker’s ability is their only limitation), I’m gonna focus on why we should still cherish baseball on the radio. I can’t pretend that I even almost remember the hey-day of baseball on the radio, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a crucial part of my MLB fan experience. Let me tell you why you should make it part of yours, if it isn’t already.

MLB At Bat Gameday Audio

First of all, when I say baseball over the radio, I pretty much just mean live audio broadcasts of baseball games, whether it’s through an actual radio, MLB At Bat or somewhere else on your computer. The list of options shows you right away how accessible this is. Anyways, much like an announcer has to give you the lineup before the game so you’re not confused, let me break down why baseball on the radio is so great. It’s pretty simple, it comes down to: nice pricing, convenience no matter your situation, and of course, quality. After all, convenience and affordability wouldn’t really matter if baseball on the radio wasn’t so good.

Radio Planet

Photo: directhitcreative.com

One immediate benefit to baseball on the radio over baseball on TV is that it’s almost always cheaper. For example, paying for a premium MLB At Bat subscription gives you unlimited MLB games on the radio for less than 1/10 of the price of subscribing to MLB.TV. By the way, in case you don’t want MLB.TV on your phone because the local games are blacked out, spring for the radio broadcasts on At Bat because those aren’t locally blacked out. Of course, if you’re local, you can probably get at least some games for free on TV and radio, but even then radio will still probably get you more games. So yeah, baseball on the radio is an affordable option for any MLB fan.

Radio announcers, on the other hand, know that it’s up to them to not only explain the game but describe it too.

Now that we’ve established that listening to baseball on the radio is nice on your wallet, let’s talk about convenience. I’m talking about one simple thing here: the fact that you only have to listen to the radio, and can do something else with your eyes. Of course, you can put a game on TV and listen to it while doing something else, but TV announcers operate under the premise that you’re not only listening to them but also watching the game yourself. Radio announcers, on the other hand, know that it’s up to them to not only explain the game but describe it too. This means that while baseball on TV may allow you to do something else with your eyes, radio is built for you to be able to do something else with your eyes. If this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to you, that’s because your daily schedule probably doesn’t involve long car rides, paperwork or manual labor.

Baseball Radio

Photo: goingwiththepitch.com

If your day does involve things like that, you know the value of having some good podcasts, albums or audiobooks to fill your time. Why not bring your favorite baseball team into the mix? Sometimes people claim it’s hard to follow a team through all 162 games of a baseball season, but I think that’s because they’re thinking of how they watch football games or something. That is, people act like they have to invite all their friends over for nachos and beer for each game, but that’s just not true. You can sneak a few innings in whenever your ears aren’t occupied, and easily catch at least some of every game. That’s the beauty of baseball, even if you can only catch snippets of a lot of games, you’ll know your team pretty well by the time the all star break approaches. When you realize that you can bring some baseball into your life every day even without a TV and a couch, your April-September (at least) will start being a lot more enjoyable. That makes baseball on the radio very convenient, on top of affordable.

Baseball Diamond

Photo: clker.com

But who cares if something is cheap and convenient if it’s not any good? Let’s talk about what makes listening to baseball on the radio so great. To bring back the comparison to football, let’s look at player positioning. When you’re listening to football on the radio, the play-by-play guy has to describe to you how 22 players are positioned in about 7 seconds pre-snap (which, don’t get me wrong, is incredibly impressive when done well.) When it comes to baseball, on the other hand, you know roughly where the 9 defensive players are positioned (unless there’s a shift, in which case the announcer will describe it for you), and you definitely know where the players up to bat or on the basepaths are positioned. That makes it much easier to envision the situation in a baseball game when you’re listening to it than pretty much any other sport.

Since it’s easier to describe baseball, that leaves more time for baseball announcers to tell stories , making it like talk radio at bits. This also means that you don’t have to be paying rapt attention at all times, so if you need to focus on something you can tune out the game for a second. Once you’re done concentrating, you won’t be too confused by the time you get back to the game since the announcers will probably catch you up on baserunners and outs. If you think of baseball games like this rather than something you have to plan each day around, it all of a sudden seems less imposing to track a team through the MLB season. In fact, you’ll soon see the benefit of having a game just about every day to look forward to when you don’t worry about necessarily having to catch the first pitch or every single inning.

On The Radio With Pat & Ron

So stop being afraid of baseball season and start embracing it. If you already catch a lot of games on TV, get even more innings from the radio when you’re away from your couch! Now I am by no means trying to claim that I’m some sort of purist, nor preaching against games on TV. I catch a lot of Cubs games on MLB.TV, and it’s nothing against TV announcers or anything because Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies are great. I’m just saying that you can use the radio to get that much closer to your favorite baseball team, and it’s neither hard on your wallet nor on your schedule to fit in a few radio innings here and there every day. The radio’s been going strong for a while now, and it should keep kicking for a long time yet.

 

Essential Apps For Any MLB Fan

Dugout Thoughts Home of Baseball Cards

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably had MLB At Bat on your phone for a few seasons now. There’s a few other apps, though, that are gonna be necessary if you really wanna supercharge your phone for baseball. Once you’re done reading this, you’ll feel your phone is more ready to maximize the end of the season and through October. From games to contests to scouting reports, let me walk through some apps (some free, some paid) you might want to go download. By the way, I don’t play fantasy baseball, so I can’t suggest an app for that, so let me know what the best one is and I’ll improve this list.

MLB At Bat (Free, Paid Subscription Options)

MLB At BatEven though I just said you probably have this, I can’t write this article without referring to the basics. MLB At Bat is basically the best way to follow the MLB season day-to-day on your phone (or tablet.) It’s a free download to start, which gets you their classic gamecasts (follow pitch-by-pitch), along with schedules, projected Starters, game wrap-ups, news around the league (and especially regarding your favorite team) and more. Depending on how much money you want to drop, you can pay a little to listen to games live (definitely worth it, if you do manual labor or something that lends itself to listening but not watching), or pay a lot to subscribe to MLB.TV and never miss a pitch. You can decide if you want to pay anything later, but for now just go download it and set your favorite team.

Topps Bunt (Free, In-App Purchases Available)

Topps BuntI’m legitimately surprised if you’re reading this and unfamiliar with Topps Bunt, but just in case I have to tell you about it. Topps Bunt is how you collect digital baseball cards on your phone, and it’s pretty much why this site exists. It’s also a game with a fantasy sports-type framework. While real money can definitely get involved, the initial download is free and you can get a pretty solid collection with free coins if you’re a little patient. If you’re skeptical about collecting digital baseball cards, go ahead and read this. Once you have, go download the app and you’ll start enjoying this site a lot more.

R.B.I. Baseball 15 (Paid)

R.B.I. Baseball 15R.B.I. Baseball 15 is where you’re gonna get some fun, casual MLB gameplay on your phone. This is the 2nd year since R.B.I. Baseball has been reincarnated and it looks great and plays pretty nice. If you want to switch between a more casual arcade experience and a more difficult game, toggle fielding assists so that the CPU either does or doesn’t do the heavy lifting for you. R.B.I. Baseball 15 is by no means an in-depth baseball simulation game on your phone, but it’s a lot of fun and you can pick up and play whenever you have a minute to burn.

MLB Manager 2015 (Paid)

MLB Manager 2015If you want more depth and prefer managing to the actual gameplay, go with MLB Manager 2015 instead. This is the mobile version of Out Of The Park Baseball, which is basically the Football Manager of baseball simulation. The mobile version isn’t as in-depth or as old as the computer version, but it’s a great mobile package. This is also a great game for playing a few minutes here and there while you have free time, but you can still micromanage to your heart’s desire. When you’re feeling a little more mindless, you can just run through a standard-managed game, so it’s nice because you can choose to be as in-depth as you want.

MLB Beat The Streak (Free)

MLB Beat The StreakMLB Beat The Streak is a different kind of mobile game, and you’ll only need to check in a few minutes a day. It’s pretty simple: you try to pick a player who will get a hit that day (and you can double up if you’re feeling lucky), and once you beat Joe DiMaggio’s streak of 56 games, you win a lot of money! Of course, that’s extremely unlikely (but that’s why it’s fun, right?) so there are some smaller prizes along the way. This is a good way to get just a little more invested in the MLB season beyond just following your favorite team.

Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Assistant ’15 (Paid)

Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Assistant '15Finally, Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Assistant ’15 is where you go if you need serious, in-depth, up-to-date information on every professional baseball player there is. Whether it’s for Bunt, fantasy, sports writing or just extreme fanhood purposes, Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Assistant will make sure you never miss a trade, promotion, injury or anything else that could possibly effect a baseball game. If it seems pricey, then it’s just not for you (which is fine, not everyone needs to dive into AAA rosters), because this is a no-brainer for anyone who lives, eats and breathes MLB.

Once you’ve got these apps on your phone, you’ll be ready for any situation, whether you need to catch a game with no TV in sight, set your fantasy lineup or just kill a few minutes playing some baseball. Download them and let me know what you think! This list is probably not comprehensive, so if you think I missed anything, make sure to let me know in the comments so I can make this list even better. Thanks for reading, and let’s enjoy this lead-up to the postseason.

The Ultimate Topps Bunt Guide: Tips and Tricks

Dugout Thoughts

Do you mainly have a smartphone just for Topps Bunt? Whether you do or you’re just starting out and want some help, you’ve come to the right place (and if you’re still on the fence about the whole digital baseball card thing, let me rid you of your fears with Why Collect Digital Baseball Cards?) This is the ultimate Topps Bunt guide, where I will teach you how to carve out a nice collection for yourself if you’re a beginner, and if you’ve already got a solid collection, I got some tips for you too. Overall, the app is pretty straightforward, but while it’s easy to learn the basics of collecting and playing for points, there’s a lot that you basically only learn by experience. I’ll start with some pointers for the beginners reading this, so if you feel like you don’t need that feel free to skip ahead. Otherwise, hop in the dugout and learn the basics of Bunt!

UPDATE: Topps Bunt has undergone some big changes for 2016. The core app is the same, so everything here should still mostly apply, but scroll down to the bottom for a detailed description of the new changes!

Bunt Home Screen

Bunt News TabLet’s start with the bottom of your screen, from left to right! This is your main navigation throughout the app. News (renamed Info in 2016) doesn’t seem super relevant to the app experience, but it’s very helpful to look at least once a day. Among other things, News (now Info) tells you about what cards you can get in the newest packs, upcoming contests, probable starting pitchers to help you in the contests, a few tips and general Bunt news. If you keep track of this tab, you’ll never miss a chance to snag that card you really want.

Bunt Contests TabNext up is the Contests tab, which is a points player’s home. Speaking of which, a points player is someone who is most interested in scoring points in contests while a collector is someone who wants the rarest card. Knowing the difference between the two can be useful when you’re trading with someone. Anyways, the Contests tab is split into contests you can join, contests you’ve joined that are starting soon, contests you’ve joined that are in progress, and previous contests you’ve joined. When looking for a contest to join, note the entry fee which is on the right side. Some are free, but some can be pricier, generally because they have better prizes.

Bunt Contests

Click on a contest and you can see the prizes, your eligible cards, and the games which will count towards that contest. Some contests require you to make decks of roughly 50-100 cards, while others let you choose from as many as you have. When you’re starting out, even if you have just 9 cards (the max amount of cards you can have in play), you might as well join some free contests and see what happens. I’ll talk more about contest strategy later, but I’ll just stop with the basics for now.

Bunt Home TabFittingly, the middle tab is your Home tab. From here you can see how many coins you have, any pending trades, your trader rating, any ongoing contests, the awards you’ve earned, quick stats on your card collection, upcoming MLB games and the social component including the fan feed, which is where you’ll make trades.  The fan feed is your best friend for reaching out to other people playing Bunt, and it’s by far your best bet for making trades. I’ll say more on trades later. Anyways, it’s always a good idea to check out your Home tab to see if anyone has made any trade offers for your cards. The top left corner of the tab brings up the bulletin, which you should keep up with in case there are free cards up for grabs, as there sometimes are. The top right corner of this tab brings up options, like the tutorial and settings.

Bunt Store TabThe Store is where you buy packs or coins. They give you 5,000 coins a day just for checking into the app, and 50,000 for every week you keep up your streak of checking in (by the way, the Bunt day resets at 6 AM ET/5 AM CT/ 3 AM PST.) You can definitely buy some nice packs and build a solid collection with these daily coin offerings. When buying packs, check out what kind of cards you can get from it (which the News (now Info) tab can help you figure out), along with the odds of getting the rare card you really want. Some packs are 5,000 coins, one is only 1,500, and they can get up to 75,000, depending on the cards inside and the odds of getting rare ones.

Bunt Store

Just a small sampling of the ever-changing Bunt Store.

From the Store you can tap “Coins” on the top right corner(while the top left corner shows the amount of coins you have) to enter the coin store. Here you can buy coin bundles, from cheap ones to more pricey ones. You don’t need to buy the most expensive one, but it’s not really worth it to get the cheapest ones if you decide to spend some money. From the coin store you can tap “Free!” on the top right corner to get free coins by completing tasks like downloading apps and watching videos. You can get a lot of coins which translate to a lot of cool cards before spending a dime in Bunt.

Bunt Cards TabFinally, saving the best for last, we end with the Cards tab. This is the shoebox, because it holds your collection. From this tab you can scroll through your cards sorted in many different ways, whether you prefer by parallel, by team, by average points scored or a few other sorting options. You can search through your cards, and you can even sort by date acquired. That last one is helpful in case you ever open a pack and accidentally slide up instead of right, so that you don’t see the rest of the cards, which happens to the best of us. Anyways, the Cards tab is the collector’s favorite, because it never gets old looking through all the cards you’ve managed to pick up.

Bunt Limited

Start reading here if you skipped the basics.

This concludes the section of this guide which covers the basics, as now you know how to navigate around the app. Let’s dive in to some of these topics, now, so that you can get on the road to having a collection anyone would be proud of.

The first thing I’ll expand on is Contests. Again, you should be entering at least a free contest every day you start playing, so you can start getting used to it and getting some wins. Bunt has a solid little tutorial on how to play cards, but it’s a little confusing. Anyways, once joining a contest, you’ll either have to trim your playable cards by making a deck, or you’ll be able to play any active player in your collection. From there, you set your lineup of 9 players, which in most contests does not require every position to be filled.

Playing Bunt cardsThe main thing to know about Bunt contests is that starting pitchers are almost always who you should be playing (as you can see by the fact that they dominate my highest-scoring card ranks.) Since there’s a short delay between MLB games and Bunt, you can watch a game and put in a player immediately after they hit a home run to get those points. It’s hard to watch so many games at once every day, though, so your best bet is putting your starting pitchers in to rack up passive points. Before making a deck or playing cards, go check the probable pitchers for the next games on MLB At Bat or something so that you know who to play. Once the games are getting later and starting pitchers are out, you can put in some position players and hope for some home runs or something. If you’re watching MLB.TV and you have a card of a player who just hit a home run, you better go put them in for the points to score and then you can put back whoever you just bumped out once the points are in.

All base cards are not made equally, thanks to the parallel system of White then Green then Red then Blue then Gold. This translates to a 1x, 1. 2x, 1.5x, 1.7x and 2x scoring multiplier, respectively. So a Mike Trout Gold card will score twice as many points as a Mike Trout White card will when Mike Trout hits a home run (as he has been known to do.) Keep this in mind when you’re playing your cards, although a White Clayton Kershaw will probably still do better than a Gold mediocre starting pitcher’s card. Besides that, Bunt tells you your highest scoring cards so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out your lineup. Just make sure whoever you put in is playing that day, especially if it’s a starting pitcher.

Bunt New TradeThe next thing you need to know about is Trading, which is the core of Topps Bunt. If you’re just starting out, you might think blind trades are the way to go, because they’re kind of the default in your Home tab. Blind trades are just trades that you make from the Home tab by pressing “New Trade”, because you set the card you want and the cards you’ll give up without seeing the other player’s cards. This means that they might already have the cards you want to trade, so you could just be wasting your time. If you have to blind trade because you can’t find a card on the fan feed, be ready to put up some nice cards in return, and include a message with the trade that says it’s a blind trade, so they know you couldn’t see their cards. Friendlier traders will deal with blind trades by countering, but many people ignore them all together.

Bunt Fan FeedThe fan feed is where the magic happens, even though it just looks like a basic message board. This is where people post the cards they’re willing to trade and the cards they’re looking for. Essential to navigating the fan feed is the knowledge that FT means For Trade, and LF means Looking For. Also, Sig means signature and people will often refer to sets by their initials (for example, Play Hard would be PH.) Sometimes people say “dupes for dupes”, which means they want to swap their duplicates of cards you don’t have for your duplicates of cards they don’t have of roughly equal value. People use color emojis for base parallels, particularly when offering deals like “take 3 of my blues and leave 1 of your golds.” It’s mostly common sense, but it can look overwhelming at first glance. Once you start posting on the fan feed, feel free to post about every minute or so a few different times so that your post isn’t buried under all the others. Don’t overdo it, but luckily the app stops you from reposting if its been less than 30 seconds, so you should be fine.

If you see someone you want to trade with, tap their profile and offer a trade. If you have a card someone wants you can ask for a lot because they can always counter, just don’t overdo it. People often instantly decline offers they think are insulting. If you’re trying to get a rare card, feel free to counter as much as you want while still offering a reasonable deal. Finally, it’s customary to rate 5 stars after completing a trade if the experience was pleasant. It takes a while to get used to figuring out relative card values, but you’ll figure it out. Also, sometimes if you post on the fan feed that you’re new, people will help you out with your collection. If you feel like you had a great trading experience with someone, feel free to add them as a friend and tell them so they can add you back. That way you can see a friend feed filled with offers from people you trust more. If you have any other questions about trading, or anything else, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Example Duplicate Trade

In this case, I was offered 5 greens and 3 whites for 6 greens. Since 3 whites are roughly equal to 1 green, this is regarded as a fair trade. This is also a typical trade involving duplicates.

Let me give you a quick exchange rate for base cards while I’m at it. If base cards are roughly equal in point-scoring, people will exchange like colors 1-to-1. You can also generally expect people to want 3 whites for 1 green, 3 greens for 1 red, 3 reds for 1 blue, and 3 blues for 1 gold (especially when you’re dealing with duplicates.) This also means that you can probably get 1 gold for 3 reds, unless the gold is Madison Bumgarner and you’re offering some bench-riding reds. If you stick with these rates when trading for base cards, people will usually respect your offer and counter even if they don’t like your offer, rather than outright declining.

Keep in mind that not all inserts are created equal, either. Some cards can look equally cool, but it all comes down to card count. A card which only has 150 copies floating around is much more valuable than a card which has 10,000 copies floating around. Award cards are also more valuable than their counts may indicate, since the owner had to complete some task (usually collecting a full set) before they could get that card. Just don’t expect all cards to be objectively valuable based on card count, age, or anything else, since all sorts of factors can go into someone deciding to accept or decline a trade.

Coins Free

Finally, let me just tell you a little bit about Coins and how to make the most of them. Again, you get 5,000 free coins a day and 50,000 every week that you’ve been checking in daily, so you definitely have some fun money without needing to open your real wallet. When you’re starting out, you’ll want to invest in Deck Builders. The 10,000 coin one is a great purchase very early on, when you need all the cards you can get, because it’s 50 cards but they’re all White. This is fine to start with, and you can buy it on your 2nd day if you don’t spend your free coins that first day. The 75,000 deck builder is great to save up for if you really want to get some Gold cards quick, because you’re guaranteed 1 Gold card along with 5 Blues (though in my experience you usually get a few more of each.)

Speaking of free coins, you can also get more free coins than the daily allowance Topps gives you. By simply downloading apps, doing some short surveys or even just watching videos you can rack up a good amount of free coins. Once you’ve done a bunch, you’ll have to wait for more offers you can do to show up, but when you just start there’s a lot of free coins waiting for you. You can also complete offers that aren’t free, like buying something or subscribing to something while getting coins in exchange. You often get a better deal here than in the coin store, along with coming away with an extra product, so even if you want to spend money you should check out the free coins.

Roberto Clemente Die-Cut Signature

My personal pride.

Once you have a nice collection of base cards for contest, you might want some more unique cards. For example, I seriously wanted a signature card early on, because I thought (and still think) that they’re the coolest cards in the game. I started saving my coins and stopped buying packs except for packs that could get me signatures. Since they don’t pop up constantly, you can just sit on your coins, collecting more every day, until you can spend them all trying to get that signature from that pack. Whether you’re looking for a sig or otherwise, only spend your money on packs that can give you the type on insert you really want. By the way — signature (and other rare card) packs often come in a cheap version and an expensive version. If you can afford it, go for the expensive ones because the odds are better than buying an equivalent-costing amount of the cheaper packs. Anyways, once you get that first pride for your collection, you can go back to trying to get generally cool cards without being so focused. Also, make sure you lock it so that no one bothers you with trade offers you won’t accept.

Topps Bunt 2016 Upgrade:

The 2016 Major-League season is coming up folks! With it, Topps Bunt has undergone some changes. First of all, you get 10,000 daily coins now (along with 100 experience daily… see below for more on the new experience system)! For your weekly reward, you get 25,000 coins (and 500 experience). That’s an exciting change, but much bigger changes have come to Bunt for the 2016 season.

There is now an experience system, equipment cards, an exchange system and FIVE new card parallels! I don’t fully understand these things yet myself, but let me try to break it down for you.

Topps Bunt 2016 Interface

The new experience system and card exchange on display.

The experience system tracks pretty much everything you do in Bunt, from opening packs to placing in contests to exchanging cards. This seems like a fun way to track your progress, along with a way to get rewards every time you level up!

Equipment cards include cleats, gloves, helmets, batting gloves, baseball bats, rosin bags, hats and baseballs. These come in seven different parallels, and are used to exchange cards.

The exchange system is probably the biggest change to Bunt for 2016. The basic idea is that you can use duplicates of base cards and equipment cards to upgrade a base card’s parallel. For example, if you had two blue Bryce Harpers along with the appropriate orange parallel equipment cards (cleats, glove, helmet, batting gloves,  and baseball bat for a position player, cleats, gloves, rosin bags, hats and baseballs for a pitcher), you could exchange all seven cards for an orange Bryce Harper (the next parallel up).

By the way, there are now five new card parallels! The order for 2016 is, from lowest to highest:

  • White
  • Green
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Orange
  • Teal
  • Purple
  • Black
  • Silver
  • Gold

That about covers the changes to Topps Bunt for 2016, but if you’re confused check out the Info tab (formerly the News tab) for detailed updates. If you’re still confused, feel free to comment here or hit me up on Bunt and I’ll try to help you out.

My Topps Bunt fan profileThis concludes the ultimate Topps Bunt guide. I hope that you learned something reading through here, no matter your experience level. Just remember that at the end of the day, Topps Bunt is a beautiful digital translation of our favorite hobby, and we can all help each other collect some great cards. Hit me up on the app @ HoboOsito and we can make some trades. If you’re just starting, I’ll probably even help you out with some free cards. If you have any questions or suggestions for other things I should cover, let me know in the comments so I can make this guide as useful as it can be for Bunt users. I know this guide isn’t comprehensive or anything, but I figure it’s a good start and I’d love to build it up into something great. Happy pack-opening/collecting/trading/free-coin-getting!

Why Collect Digital Baseball Cards?

Dugout Thoughts

Whenever you start talking digital baseball cards, some people come in with skeptical questions, mostly dealing with the fact that digital baseball cards aren’t physical cards you can rummage through a shoebox of. I get it, there’s something nostalgic about ripping open a pack and sliding the back of every card to make sure you’re not missing any. That doesn’t mean you can’t open up your phone to the joy of digital cards, though. I was skeptical at first too, but let me give you a few reasons to get over your hesitation to try digital baseball cards.

Cubs Triple Sig

One of my prized possessions (hence the trade lock.)

The first and foremost reason is that Topps Bunt is free to download and you can get a pretty sizeable collection going in just a few weeks without spending any money. They give you enough coins (5,000) to buy a pack every day, along with a weekly bonus (50,000) that gives you enough for either a few packs or a more expensive pack to get something really cool. That’s just for checking in for 5 seconds every day, which you won’t have a problem doing once you get going and start looking for trades and such. Of course, you can also spend money to beef up your collection as much as you want, but you can quickly get enough free cards to impress the collectors and the points players equally (although I admit I’ve been tempted enough to open my iTunes wallet on more than a few occasions.)

Gold and Blue Parallels

The parallel system has a similar function to physical card condition.

Speaking of playing for points, Topps Bunt brings fantasy baseball to card collecting, so your cards can earn you points real time in contests. Maybe you even did something like this as a kid, but now you can do it with thousands of fans, and the app keeps track of the stats for you. The rarest/most expensive cards in Bunt are limited cards that don’t necessarily score any better than other cards (if they’re even of a current player.) This means that you’ll want to buy a bunch of packs if you’re in it for collecting, but if you just want to try out the scoring side of it you can quickly become competitive without spending anything beyond your daily free coins. With the contest aspect to Bunt, it’s pretty hard to say that digital baseball cards are just pixelated versions of physical baseball cards that don’t capture the feel of the real thing.

This begs the question, why do people have such a problem with digital cards? I imagine that a hundred years ago people were questioning why anyone would want to pay money for a picture of a baseball player on a card (then again, maybe not, considering that some started coming with bubble gum in 1933.) What’s really the difference between your favorite player on some paperboard and your favorite player on your phone? I’ll tell you what the difference is — your phone can hold way more cards than your pocket can and they come with daily updated stats. I’m mostly kidding, because I do love my collection of old baseball cards I’ve had since I was just a young Cubs fan, but you can take all your digital cards everywhere you go, no matter how many you have. Not to mention that as long as you have the cards to tempt someone, you can trade for pretty much anything, anytime, since it’s all online. If you like obsessing over baseball cards, the fun never ends on Topps Bunt.

In Topps Bunt, cards can be valued higher or lower based on how many points they can score, which makes the value of a digital baseball card less arbitrary than the value of a physical baseball card, if anything.

Limited Cards

Some of my favorite/most valuable cards.

But seriously, why are people focusing on the fact that digital baseball cards are made up of pixels? It’s not like the reason physical baseball cards are valuable is because of the paperboard they’re printed on. The value of a physical baseball card and the value of a digital baseball card are both based on their rarity and their desirability. Furthermore, in Topps Bunt, cards can be valued higher or lower based on how many points they can score, which makes the value of a digital baseball card less arbitrary than the value of a physical baseball card, if anything. Let’s also remember that you can look at a digital baseball card all you want without damaging its condition, no sleeves necessary. Bunt does a good job of simulating a card’s condition with parallels, so that there are fewer Gold versions of a card out there just as there might be fewer mint condition cards of a certain type.

If you’re not a gambling man and prefer seeking out individual cards rather than trying your luck on packs, you can do that too. Digital Card Marketplace is a collection of a bunch of different online shops run by Topps Bunt users like you and me (though they also have marketplaces for Topps Kick, Huddle and Star Wars.) Before digital cards, if you wanted access to this many cards from this many different people, you’d have to organize a convention or something. Digital Card Marketplace does all the hard work for you, so you can just look up a card (along with its count, etc.) and get it right away if you decide you want it. Did I mention that you don’t have to worry about any shipping with digital cards, because it’s all done through the app? Anyways, if you have a second, go check out my shop there, The Dugout. Digital Card Marketplace is an excellent resource for people just starting to collect who need a little boost, and it’s also a great resource for people who have more cards than they know what to do with and want to spread the joy.

Topps Bunt Digital Card Marketplace

A sampling of the more luxurious cards at Digital Card Marketplace.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I love physical baseball cards, but I just think more people need to give the digital version a chance. The Bunt community is already thriving, but it’s easy to jump in at any time and start getting some good cards. All I’m saying is give it a chance, and join me (HoboOsito) on the hunt for ever-cooler cards.

Welcome to Dugout Thoughts!

Dugout Thoughts

Dugout Thoughts is a site dedicated to baseball and especially baseball cards. If MLB.TV is your favorite channel, you’ve come to the right place. If Topps Bunt is by far the most-used app on your phone, you’ve come to the right place. If you just love the game of baseball, you’ve come to the right place, so stick around a while.