101 baseball questions to debate

Willie Mays, left, of the San Francisco Giants, Willie Mays, left, of the San Francisco Giants, and the Yankees' Mickey Mantle check over their lineups before the start of the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. (Oct. 12, 1958)

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This is not a test, it is a course. Welcome to Baseball 101, which this season consists entirely of unanswered questions. They are offered to provoke thought, debate, understanding and amusement -- just as baseball itself does. Socrates taught using questions.

In that vein, consider this a takeoff on one of baseball’s philosophers, Yogi Berra, who once reportedly said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

In this case, you can tell a lot by asking. Here are the questions:

1. Will Barry Bonds ever get into the Hall of Fame?

2. The same for Roger Clemens: Will he get in someday? And for both of them, should they get in?

3. How about Pete Rose? Does he remain barred from the Hall because he bet on baseball?

4. Will the expanded playoff format mean we never again will see an immensely exciting final day, as we had at the end of the 2011 season, or will it finally restore a true pennant race feeling?

5. Mariano Rivera is generally considered the best relief pitcher of all time. So who is second?

6. Considering that players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever, and that equipment has grown much more advanced, why is it that 90 feet is still just the right distance from home to first to ensure lots of close plays?

7. Which is harder to do: win 20 games or hit 50 home runs?

8. When is it safe to allow a young person to start throwing a curveball?

9. What is the precise difference between "command" and "control?"

10. Who is the best all-around player (non-pitcher) in the history of the game?

11. And the best pitcher ever?

12. Is the sacrifice fly really a legitimate statistic? (The batter wasn't intentionally trying to give himself up.)

13. How should Jose Reyes have handled the final game of the 2011 regular season when he was trying to win the National League batting title?

14. How many games will Andy Pettitte start for the Yankees this season?

15. Which is better, "Baseball Tonight" on ESPN or "MLB Tonight Live" on the MLB Network?

16. Does team chemistry promote success, or does success translate into team chemistry?

17. Did Babe Ruth really "call his shot" in the 1932 World Series against the Cubs?

18. What would baseball look like today if the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York City agreed on either the Dodgers' plan to build a stadium at Atlantic Yards (site of the new Barclays Center) or Robert Moses' plan to build the team a home in Flushing (site of Shea Stadium/Citi Field)?

19. What is the best way to break in a new glove?

20. Why didn't the Giants ever win when they played at Candlestick Park, and was it smart for them to have moved there from New York?

21. Which is the better way to determine home-field advantage in the World Series: by whichever league wins the All-Star Game, or by the previous method of having the National League host in even-numbered years and the American League host in odd-numbered years?

22. What is the best baseball town in America?

23. Have the Cubs been held back and worn out all these years by playing so many day games at home?

24. Will there always be a designated hitter rule and will it ever be universal, throughout both leagues?

25. Which is better, Stickball or Wiffle ball?

26. As much as Citi Field is an upgrade, in what ways was Shea Stadium better?

27. Same thing with the new Yankee Stadium: As nice and spacious as it is, what do you miss about the old place?

28. Babe Ruth shaped modern baseball, so should his No. 3 be retired by all teams?

29. What was the most important postseason hit of all time? (Remember, Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" was technically a regular-season home run.)

30. "Moneyball" was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, so is it the best baseball movie ever? And if not, what was?

31. Which is the better performance: Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series or Harvey Haddix's 12 innings of perfection in 1959?

32. Pete Rose taking out Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game, and ruining Fosse's career: Good hustle or unnecessary excess?

33. Should a pitcher ever win an Most Valuable Player award or should that be reserved for an everyday player because pitchers have the Cy Young Award?

34. Who was the best hitter: Felipe, Matty or Jesus Alou?

35. Who is the best catcher: Bengie, Jose or Yadier Molina?

36. Should baseball expand the use of instant replay to review close plays on the bases?

37. The knuckleball has historically proven to be an effective pitch. So why is R.A. Dickey of the Mets the only starter in the major leagues now using it?

38. Why does spring training have so much more allure than training camp in the other sports?

39. Which was the greatest collapse, the 1964 Phillies, 2007 and/or 2008 Mets, 2011 Braves or 2011 Red Sox?

40. Where is the best place for youngsters to get autographs?

41. Will baseball ever go the way of the NBA and allow loud music during the actual playing of the game, rather than just during breaks?

42. Which is the better fantasy baseball format: Head-to-head or roto?

43. With the hundreds of Tommy John surgeries having been performed since the first one in 1974, why has no pitcher, according to ESPN The Magazine, won more games after the operation than Tommy John himself (164)?

44. What is the best baseball novel ever written?

45. What is the best baseball biography ever written?

46. Given that starting pitchers do not go as deep into games as they did 40 years ago, why is it unthinkable that they work on three days of rest, as they did back then?

47. Which is the better mascot, Mr. Met or the onetime Mets dog Homer?

48. Who was the best-fielding first baseman: Vic Power, Wes Parker, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly or someone else?

49. How would it have worked out for each side, and for each player's legacy, if the Yankees and Red Sox really had pulled off that fabled trade of Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams?

50. Who was the fastest player you've ever seen, going from first to third?

51. It's been 43 years since the last 30-game winner (Denny McLain, 31-6 in 1968). Will anyone win 30 again?

52. Is Ryan Braun truly "innocent" or simply "not guilty" because of a technicality?

53. Why is Opening Day in baseball such a special occasion? (Cincinnati has scheduled a pregame downtown parade for the 93rd year.)

54. What will the next wave of new stadiums look like? Specifically, a half-century from now, will there be a retro movement to replicate Shea, Veterans, Three Rivers and Riverfront Stadiums?

55. How should baseball honor Roberto Clemente for having opened so many doors for Latin American players?

56. Who would you want in Game 7: Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax?

57. What actually makes a curveball curve, and how much of it is an optical illusion?

58. Now that Banner Day is back, which, if any, of these baseball artifacts is worth reviving: doubleheaders, Astroturf, organ music, Bat Day?

59. How many current big-leaguers know what "playing pepper" means, and how much are they missing by not playing that old hand-eye coordination game?

60. If baseball is ever forced to adopt a contraction plan and fold two franchises, which teams should go?

61. With the Wilpons having received good news in the Madoff settlement, when can Mets fans look forward to good news about the ballclub?

62. How would The Boss have responded to having spent nearly $2 billion on payroll during the past 11 years and winning only half as many titles as the Red Sox and Cardinals?

63. Why do players sometimes dive into first base when studies show it is quicker to run?

64. Is the total of on-base percentage and slugging percentage the best measure of a hitter's value?

65. Can a team possibly get anything close to an equal return if it trades Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver or any other icon at his peak?

66. Will Derek Jeter eventually move to another position or will he just retire when he can't play shortstop anymore?

67. Is it a good idea to expand rosters to 40 on Sept. 1 or is it unfair to have minor-leaguers in big games?

68. In the draft, should you go with the most talented player no matter what his age is, or play it safe and take a college guy?

69. Why is there caterwauling every year about which players aren't chosen for the All-Star Game, followed by complaining that the game is meaningless?

70. Billy Martin or Joe Torre? Gil Hodges or Davey Johnson?

71. In 1972, there were nine African-American starters in the All-Star Game. In 2011, there were four. In 1964, the Cardinals had four African-American players in the lineup for Game 7 of the World Series. In Game 7 of 2011, the Cardinals had none. Sixty-five years after Jackie Robinson's breakthrough, how can baseball again attract top black athletes?

72. Has a player ever presented a more honest question to a sitting President than when Babe Ruth, upon being introduced to Calvin Coolidge on a sultry Washington day, said: "Hot as hell, ain't it, Prez?"

73. Where does Citi Field's Shake Shack rate among the best ballpark concessions, and what else is on the short list?

74. Should you sell your Honus Wagner baseball card now or hold on to it?

75. Who has the best starting rotation in baseball? (Fangraphs.com lists the Angels first).

76. What record is least likely ever to be broken?

77. Given that Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp had the highest WAR rating (a statistic measuring how much more he meant to his team than a hypothetical Triple-A replacement), shouldn't he have been the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player?

78. Why is stealing signs from the bases or dugout considered part of the game, while peeking from the batter's box to see the catcher's signal is considered cheating?

79. Is it fair game to call for a squeeze play in the ninth inning of an exhibition game?

80. What is the bigger obstacle to the Orioles snapping their 14-year streak of losing records: their ownership or their brutal division competition?

81. Are six Mets-Yankees games every season three too many?

82. How would you rank Duke Snider, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during their heyday as New York's superstar centerfielders in the 1950s?

83. When the Astros move to the American League next season and there is an interleague game every day, will interleague play cease to have whatever special appeal it does have?

84. How often will Nationals manager Davey Johnson be asked to compare Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

85. Why do they rubmud on every major-league baseball? (Hint: check out baseballrubbingmud.com).

86. Should Major League Baseball shut down for a couple weeks at midseason to allow for the World Baseball Classic, as the NHL does for the Olympics?

87. Does Marvin Miller belong in the Hall of Fame for the way he revolutionized baseball through collective bargaining?

88. With statistical and video analysis having become so sophisticated, what does the future hold for bird-dog scouts?

89. Fenway Park is celebrating its centennial season this year, but is it time for a new park in Boston? (A plan in 1999 that proposed a new stadium was scrapped.)

90. Who has more influence in baseball than agent Scott Boras?

91. Is it fair that teams compete for the same wild-card spots when they play considerably different schedules?

92. Why, 51 years after Hal Richman introduced the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game, do middle-aged men still drive to Long Island from as far as Ohio and Ontario to buy the new season's cards?

93. Who was the best athlete ever to play professional baseball: Jim Thorpe, Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan or someone else?

94. What sort of mentor will the new, outgoing Manny Ramirez be to A's teammate Yoenis Cespedes, the heralded free agent from Cuba?

95. If you didn't know Dodger Stadium will turn 50 on April 10, how old would you say the sparkling place looks?

96. What makes Vin Scully standout among announcers, even now, in his 63rd season?

97. Can any full-time, big-salaried player do worse than Adam Dunn's .159 batting average in 2011?

98. Other than your favorite team, who has the best uniforms?

99. What chance does Kansas City have of ending a 26-year playoff drought (the longest of any city in the bigs, considering the Expos/Nationals have split their 30-year hiatus between two hometowns)?

100. Which team was the greatest in baseball history?

101. Who's on first?

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