Clarion Calls

Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010

Jeff's call: Grimes' snub shows flaws in ABL balloting

Actually, this week should be called Dan's call, because I relied heavily on the informed opinion of Oilers broadcaster Dan Gensel for the following opinion piece.

I called Gensel after getting a look at the complete list of the 2010 Alaska Baseball League All-Star Selections.

An initial look at the list revealed two curiosities -- one general and one specific.

The general -- The Oilers did not have as many players on the list as the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Miners.

Those three teams were the class of the league, all bunched within two games of each other entering Thursday play. The Anchorage Bucs, Athletes in Action Fire and Anchorage Glacier Pilots were all at least 14 games out of first.

The Goldpanners put five on the first team and six on the second team, the Miners put six on the first team and three on the second team, and the Oilers put three on the first team and just two on the second team. The Oilers finished 4-5 against the Panners this year and 4-5 against the Miners.

Meanwhile, both the Pilots and AIA had a total of four players honored on the first and second team -- just one behind the Oilers' total of five. The Oilers finished 8-1 against the Pilots and 6-3 against the Fire this season.

The specific -- Shortstop Tyler Grimes did not make the first team or the second team. This shocked me because if I had to name a most valuable player for the Oilers, I would have thought long and hard about Grimes and Stephen Piscotty, and picked Grimes.

Grimes was invaluable at shortstop with his quick hands, quick feet and strong arm. His fielding percentage as of Sunday was .965. Fairbanks shortstop DJ Crumlich, who won the Gold Glove Award and made the second team at shortstop, had a fielding percentage of .939 through Tuesday. The Miners' Bret Schwartz, on the first team as a shortstop, had a fielding percentage of .942 through Wednesday.

Grimes also sparked the Oilers attack from his leadoff position. As of Sunday, he was hitting .289 with 17 RBIs, a league-leading 33 runs and 21 stolen bases.

Schwartz leads the league with a .432 batting average, but Grimes has him in runs (Schwartz had 31 as of Wednesday), RBIs (Schwartz had 13 as of Wednesday) and stolen bases (Schwartz had five as of Wednesday).

A good case could be made for either to get first team. Gensel, who saw every game the Oilers played this year and also served as Grimes' host parent, made the case that Schwartz should have gotten the Silver Slugger, which went to Piscotty, and Grimes should have been first-team shortstop because of better all-around play.

As of Tuesday, though, Crumlich was batting .260 with 27 runs, 15 RBIs and five stolen bases. Gensel doesn't understand how Crumlich beat out Grimes. I don't, either.

Gensel said the exclusion of Grimes shows there are flaws in the balloting. For one, Gensel said the balloting happens way too early.

Ballots go to three coaches on each team and a media member of each team -- Gensel in the case of the Oilers. The ballots go out with three weeks left in the season and were due this year by July 24, with one week left in the season. Keep in mind that the ABL season takes place in less than two months.

Gensel said that in the electronic age, ballots could go out much later and be due much later. This would allow the voters to account for players like Oilers slick-fielding third baseman Garrett Wittels, who was hitting .193 on July 7 but went 15-for-47 (.319) to raise his average to .250 by Sunday.

This would also help players like Oilers first baseman Patrick Wisdom. Wisdom, the league's leading home run hitter with seven, became the Oilers' regular first baseman in the second half of the season, but Gensel said Wisdom was not even on the ballot as a first baseman.

Another change Gensel would make is to have coaches nominate which players get on the ballot, and to have the ballot be more general by listing infielders and outfielders, and not specific positions. More general voting would have allowed Grimes, Schwartz and Crumlich to all make first or second team. It also could allow a Grimes and a Schwartz to both make the first team.

The exclusion of Grimes from the first or second team -- representative of an overall lack of Oilers representation -- shows there are some flaws in the ABL postseason balloting process. Gensel gives some common-sense solutions the ABL should consider.

Mike's call: Butler named coach of the year

American Legion Twins head coach John Butler was recently named coach of the year. He led a young squad to an 11-9 conference record and a 2-2 showing at the state tournament. I could list what I consider to be Butler's best attributes, but no one knows better than his players.

"I thought it was great that he got that," said Sam Bowler, who's played three seasons under Butler. "He deserves it."

Bowler said Butler focuses a lot of time and energy on the team.

"He's always the first one at the park," he said.

Butler is also a big proponent of giving his younger guys playing time.

"A lot of coaches go for the No. 1 seed," Butler told me prior to the team heading to state. "I just go for improvement each game."

That fact is not lost on his team.

"He'll put players in that are young, who don't have a lot of experience," Bowler said. "That helps a lot for them."

The team's growth throughout this season is a result of Butler, Bowler said.

"He's definitely the reason for that for a lot of kids on the team," he said.

Butler isn't all baseball all the time, though.

"He tends to care about more than just baseball," Bowler said. "He tries to be involved in what's going on off the field."

Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak work in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at

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