Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Steve Howe

I'm sure that the moralists in the media will have plenty of sermons in the next few days regarding this, but all we are going to say here is that we are sad to hear the news, and our sympathies go out to the Howe family.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Steroids In The NFL? No, Of Course Not

According to this analysis and others, Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson (hey, I don't make these names up), 6'6" and 313 pounds, is too skinny and needs to gain 15 or more pounds.

I can't imagine how he might do that. Extra Big Macs?

Angry, Angry Young Man

Here's one way to lose your status as the game's number one hitting prospect.

Seriously, there are ways to go from prospect to suspect which have nothing to do with playing ability, and getting a reputation as an uncontrollable hothead is one of them. I've seen Young likened to Albert Belle as a hitter; little did we suspect he'd emulate him in less desirable ways.

Unbelievably, Young's manager, John Tamargo, told reporters later that he hadn't "gotten his (Young's) side of it."

What side is there? He hit an umpire with a frickin' bat. There is no other side.

The International League and the Devil Rays organization don't live in the same fairy tale land as Tamargo. The league has suspended Young indefinitely, and D-Rays VP Andrew Friedman says that the team supports the league.

Young has issued an appology, as he well should. That puts him ahead of Ben Christiansen, but below anyone with the sense to not do something so stupid in the first place. Young got into the news in September of last year when he blasted the D-Rays for not calling him up after the minor league season ended. Based on this incident, they probably knew something.

Nutty the Athletic Cup

Oh, Lordy. It's no Sammy the Stem Cell, but it will do.

Slow News Week

Baseball Weekly hits a new low, as they waste valuable newsprint wondering if Johnny Damon will be booed at Fenway Park next week...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How To Walk The Plank

This started as a comment to Bob's earlier post, but got too big.

There is an easy explanation for how these two poor excuses for major league baseball teams have gotten so far out of first place already. They stink. They are the two worst franchises in baseball, and quite possibly the worst in American professional sports.

The Pirates in recent years have managed to trade Jason Schmidt for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios, and Aramis Ramirez for Bobby Hill. That's some bad tradin' there, son. A franchise run by guys who can't judge talent better than that isn't going to win many games.

Back in 2002, the Pirates had the first pick in the draft. They chose college pitcher Bryan Bullington. Bullington finally made it to AAA last year and pitched well, but had shoulder surgery in October and hasn't pitched yet this year. Taken after Bullington in that draft? B.J. Upton, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, Khalil Greene, Nick Swisher, Jeff Francoeur, Curtis Granderson, Jeff Francis, Scott Kazmir, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, and David Bush. I reckon the Pirates could use one or two of those guys.

In 2000 the Pirates drafted pitcher Sean Burnett with their first pick. Burnett actually looked pretty good, but injuries wiped him out. They picked Chris Young #3. Young is a good major league pitcher...for San Diego.

In 2001 their top pick was John Van Benschoten. Van Benschoten was a college home run champion, so the Pirates did the obvious thing; they made him a pitcher. He hasn't come close to reaching the majors, and now is hurt. They did take Zach Duke in round 20, so maybe that draft won't be a total waste.

The Royals have done even worse. Their 2001 draft is possibly the worst ever. At this point it looks like not a single player drafted will ever appear in a major league game. You almost have to be trying to fail that badly.

The Pirates and Royals are both very good at whining about their financial disadvantages. But other teams face the same disadvantages and still manage to find talent and compete. The Royals have recently joined the "build us a ballpark with public money" campaign, which MLB touts as a winning strategy for making a team more competitive. If anyone in Kansas City wants to believe that, please, take a look at the Pirates. Sure worked for them, didn't it?

Call the Waaaah-mbulance

I’m angry right now, you know what I mean? It’s almost funny. It’s almost funny...I’ve seen friends go through it. Sammy Sosa hit 60 home runs three years in a row, went into a little slump and...hey, like I said earlier, they have a right to voice whatever opinions they want to voice. But it’s not going to make me play any better. It’s not going to make me play any worse. I’m just going to go play the game the way I know how...Where I came from, they were passionate about baseball. We probably didn’t draw as many [in Minnesota], but they were there through thick and thin. [The booing] is something I’ve got to get used to. I’m blocking it out as much as I can.
** Cubs right fielder Jacques Jones, commenting on how Cub Fan is treating him

I remember a time when the game story in the paper used to tell you about what happened during the game in question. It seems those days are long past, discarded in the same dust bin as Ladies Day, doubleheaders, and 25 cent scorecards.

Jones’ little rant took up about half of Sully’s game story in today’s Tribune. Carlos Zambrano breaking a bat over his knee took up another quarter of it. The Cubs’ six run rally in the eighth inning was obviously not nearly as exciting as these occurrences, since Sully dispensed of it with a mere thirteen words.

Regular readers have heard this little rant of mine before, so I’ll leave it for now.

Jones is just the latest in a long line of people who are perplexed that Cub Fans have the audacity to voice their displeasure with players (or management) who aren’t meeting expectations. Some in the Chicago media have called it the “Philadelphia-zation” of Cub Fan, which might be a little harsh. As near as I can tell, Santa Claus is still on Cub Fans’ good side.

I find the issue mordantly amusing. I mean, the same members of the punditocracy who chide Cub Fan for being mean to Jones area the same folks who said that Cub Fan didn’t care if the team won as long as they could sit in the sun, drink beer, and watch Sammy hit home runs. So if we boo, we’re jerks. If we cheer, we’re idiots. Fortunately, logic is not a pre-requisite for joining the punditocracy.

That said, there is a vocal minority of Cub Fan that seems to be going out of its way to act like jackasses during the game. These yahoos seem to go out of their way to pick some poor schmuck and make him their whipping boy for the year.

Of course, they have help in the matter. I’m not a mind reader, but I’m pretty sure that the “friend” Jones mentions is LaTroy Hawkins. Granted, Hawk did not pitch well for us last year. But he was a good guy, well-liked by his teammates, who didn’t malinger.

Didn’t matter, though. Once the media turned on him, Hawkins’ days were numbered. The vile things Cub Fans heard from the pundits tilted public opinion against the pitcher, and that was that for Hawk.

To any Cub Fans out there -- don’t rag on Jones the way you ragged on Hawk. No, Jones isn’t tearing the league up. But it’s only 25 April, for heaven’s sake! Give the guy a chance to fail before you decide he’s a failure.

And to Mr. Jones -- don’t complain about the fans to the press. It won’t work -- the fans who hate you the most won’t be swayed, and you just look like a whiner. And while the press might be sympathetic right now, they’ll throw you under the bus as a whiner if it suits their agenda. Check with LaTroy if you don’t believe me.

[Late update: Eyewitness reports of the Jones harassers indicate that these “people” (and I apply the term loosely) resorted to racial slurs and other vulgarity. I don’t care if Jones has a batting average and fielding percentage of .000, that kind of behavior is beyond the pale and should not be tolerated. The “people” who indulged in this, the lowest form of discourse, are a cut below the standard-version yahoos I refer to above. And, as such, they should be heaped with scorn, shame, and ignominy. Grow up, “people.”]

Trust Them – They’re Experts!

Tuned in to Baseball Tonight Monday. I knew I was in trouble when I saw that the assembled “experts” were Harold Reynolds, John Kruk, and Steve Phillips.

My fears were confirmed when Harold said that it was easier to hit if the team’s pitching was lousy. His theory was that if you know your pitchers are going to give up a lot of runs, you’re more focused on scoring runs and, as a result, will score more runs. If your pitching is good, you won’t score as much because you know you’ll only need to score one or two runs to win. Kruk rushed in to agree.

Phillips took another view. I’m not sure what it was. The chiron on the screen said something about how pitchers earn the run support they get, and I immediately muted the TV to spare my brain a full-on attack of stupidity.

Come on, Harold -- if teams with bad pitching have an easier time hitting, then why aren’t the Royals scoring nine runs a night?

I though that this discussion was perhaps the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen on Baseball Tonight. I was wrong. Later in the show, the panel discussed which non-baseball athletes of the past reminded them of today’s stars.

No, I’m not making this up. Viewers were treated to Harold talking about how Derek Jeter is like Roger Staubach, Kruk going on about Albert Pujols’ similarity to Larry Bird, and Phillips comparing Bobby Jenks to William Perry.

Jeebus help us. Is it possible for a sports show to jump the shark?

Nine Games Out

Took my first good look at the standings today. What I saw amazed me.

There were the Pirates at 5 and 16. No, that wasn’t shocking. What was shocking was that they were nine games out of first place already.

In the next column over, the Royals stand at 4 and 13, eight games out of first.

How in God’s name does a team find themselves that far out of the race three weeks into the season? Granted, the Astros and White Sox are off to strong starts. But if these teams continue to lose ground at their current pace, they’ll wind up about 80 games out.

That won’t happen, of course. But they do have a good chance of finishing 40 games out, which is only marginally better. It’s a testament to just how far these two franchises have fallen.

That Didn't Take Long

Memo to Tony Womack...a career is over when you're cut loose to make room on the 40-man roster for Cody Ross.

Want to make a good first impression? Driving in 17 runs in your first week on the new job will do it. This is exactly the kind of pickup a team like the Reds should be looking for, not the kind that brought Womack in for no good reason. Phillips had his chance once and blew it, and the Offensive Stereotypes found other options. Rather than waste time with Womack or Matt Kata, the Reds were smart to give him another shot and see if he's got a future.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Forbes Crunches Some Numbers

An obscure Marxist publication called Forbes Magazine released a new listing of the current values of major league baseball teams. It seems that, by Forbes' measurements, team owners aren't quite ready for food stamps, after all:

"Baseball owners continue to slam the ball out of the park. Team values increased an average of 15% for the second consecutive year, to $376 million, in our 2006 survey of Major League Baseball's 30 franchises. Overall operating income increased to $360 million ($12.1 million per team) from $132 million ($4.4 million per team) the previous year, as revenue increased faster than player salaries."

According to the report, all but four teams made money in 2006. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets, the three teams at the top of the value list, suffered losses in 2005, which only concerns George Steinbrenner if the Yankees don't win the World Series. The fourth team was the Florida Marlins, a team run by guys so stupid that they can't even win a rigged game.

Of course, the Yankees would certainly have made a profit if they weren't supporting human tumors like Carl Pohlad and David Glass through Baron Budhausen's idiotic luxury tax. It takes a lot to make Steinbrenner into a sympthatic character, but this is one issue in which he is.

The team that did the best in 2005? Suprise, surprise, it was the MLB-run Washington Nationals:

"The biggest winner was the Washington Nationals, whose value rose 42%. In March, Major League Baseball finally agreed to terms with the District of Columbia's local politicians that will have taxpayers foot most of the bill for a new $700 million stadium, which should open by the start of the 2009 season and add $40 million to $50 million to the team's revenue."

As is the case everywhere in George W.'s America, the Nationals' increase in value reflects the simple fact that the weathly will look at anything as a good investment, as long as someone else in paying the bill.

Of course, the report has its' critics:

“Once again, Forbes is not accurate in the information they are reporting on the Royals. We continue to operate as David Glass has directed, and that is to operate the club overall on a break-even basis (for the long term).” -- Mark Gorris, Kansas City Royals senior vice president for business operations.

"[Forbes makes] these numbers up. We just think it's important that people understand and realize these are not real in any sense of the word." -- Rob Manfred, MLB Executive of labor relations.

(Both quotes from www.baseballprospectus.com)

As you know, there is no more business-hating publication than Forbes, excepting possibly the Wall Street Journal. I'm not sure what their motivation would be for just making these numbers up, and Manfred and Gorris don't enlighten us on the this question. Why can't we just take their word for it?

The next time your local teams comes around cap in hand for a subsidy, why not try asking them to explain the numbers? I'm sure that they'd be delighted to.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

There Is a Mountain

There has been only one story this week about the Cubs -- we're doomed!



Well, maybe we are. But weren't we doomed from day one of training camp? Hell, some pundits had us pegged as doomed day one of last year's training camp.

As much as I hate to agree with the half-witted Rick Morrissey, I have to give him some credit for this:

If you already have said the patient is dead, as most observers had said about the team before the season even began, what's the point of declaring him even deader now? Without the services of Wood and Prior, optimism already had been at trace levels.

There were only a few of us who thought the Cubs were realistic contenders. So to turn around and blame the baseball gods or a billy goat for the Cubs' problems would be cheap, not to mention just plain illogical.
I'll give Morrissey a pass on his use of the word "us" for now. But he's right – [poop] happens.

So what next? The immediate future seems to be a Walker/Mabry combo at first, with Mike Restovich taking on some of Mabry's bench role.

There has been gab about a trade for another first baseman, but who's out there that's even worth the bother? Doug Mientkiewicz' name keeps coming up, to which I say no, no, a thousand times no! Also mentioned are Carlos Pena, Eric Hinske, and Hee Seop Choi.

There are three problems with making a trade for any first baseman at this point. How much are we willing to pay for a stopgap? Will any of the trade possibilities provide be enough of an upgrade over Walker/Mabry/Restovich to make a trade feasible? And what are we going to do with the guy when Lee comes back?

I don't think any of the available guys is worth the bother. And even if a top-tier (or even second-tier) first baseman was available now, the cost would be too dear.

Dr. Phil gets the award for dumbest suggestion of the week with this:

Personally, I would applaud [Jacques] Jones if he showed up with a first baseman's mitt for early work on Friday in Saint Louis, and give Baker a ton of credit if he was willing to experiment with Joes at first, if only for a few days.

Dr. Phil has an ulterior motive. He's hot for the Cubs to recall Felix Pie and install him in right field. With this perspective, it makes sense to advocate for moving Jones to first. In the short term, it opens right field for Pie. In the long term, it opens right field for Pie, because Jones will probably get killed while getting on the job training at first.

Idiocy aside, there are two ways Cub Fan (and the Cubs, if any of them are reading) can go about their business. We can wallow in self-pity. Or we can suck it up and keep going forward.

My Page-a-Day Zen calendar came up with this nugget of joy yesterday, from poet Daniel Ignatow:

I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is, and not as a comment on my life.
Lee's injury is a mountain that we have no choice but to overcome. As long as we keep our heads up and don't cash in, it won't be a scathing commentary.

Oscar Acosta

Word came this week that two members of the Yankees minor-league staff were killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic: field coordinator Luis Terrero and rookie league manager Oscar Acosta.

Acosta was the Cubs' pitching coach in 2000 and 2001, part of that dark time I refer to as "The Baylor Years." The notice in the Tribune remembered him as the coach who led the staff to a Major League strikeout record. I remember him most as the guy who chewed out a young pitcher during training camp for telling the team his arm hurt.

We offer our sincerest condolences and sympathies to the families of both men.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fun In The Sun

So, it was about 9 a.m. today, and I asked myself, "do I have a lot of things to do today?" I answered, "yes," than I asked myself, "is it a beautiful day outside?" And I answered yes again. "Then the hell with the things I have to do," I told myself. "I'm going to the Rivercats game today.

I do love minor league baseball. And here in Sacramento we are very, very lucky. We've got a lovely ballpark, and we've got a Pacific Coast League team that puts a great product on the field year after year since arriving in 2000.

Since it was a midweek afternoon game in April. there were plenty of good tickets available. That's not often the case here; the Rivercats have led the minor leagues in attendance every year since they set up shop. For $13, I found myself sitting in the third row from the field, just past the home dugout. That would be $34 at At&T Park, or whatever the Giants call it now.

And I got to see a pretty good game from that seat. The pitching matchup was a good one, Bobby Livingston for Tacoma against Shane Komine for the Rivercats. Komine is the type that is going to get little respect from scouts, a 5'9" righthander who barely touched 90 with his fastball. But he had everything working for him today, and going into the top of the eighth he had allowed just two hits and no walks, holding a 1-0 lead.

But Tacoma's Adam Jones, a pretty good center field prospect, homered off the left field fair pole to start the eighth, and a double and a single followed, putting Tacoma out in front. The Rivercats scored in the bottom of the inning to tie the game, but a walk, a nicely executed hit-and-run single by Jones, and a sacrifice fly gave Tacoma the winning run in the ninth.

Jones and Livingston were the best prospects that the Raniers put on display; the Rivercats featured the highly-touted Deric Barton and the infamous catcher from Moneyball, Jeremy Brown. Barton looked like exactly the hitter he's made out to be; a nice lefthanded stroke mixed with excellent strike zone judgement. He hit a line single, a triple into the rightfield corner, a lineout to center, and a grounder to second. Brown, who had been on track to prove right the scouts who said he couldn't play, came on with a fine year at AA last year, but didn't show much today. He looks at a lot of pitches, and Livingston took advantage and got ahead of him, forcing him to swing defensively.

And then there was Kevin Appier. Out of baseball entirely last year, Appier is attempting a comeback. It was odd to see him out there, struggling through one inning of relief. He still has the same horrible mechanics, but not the same fastball. It's a real longshot for him.

Besides Appier, there was a throwback to an even earlier era at the ballpark today. There was no obnoxiously loud music blasted over the PA system between innings. What, no Creed? No hip-hop? Nothing to rattle the ears and make conversation impossible? No, just someone playing the organ, as if we were back in the 1970's. Now there's a retro move I approve of. I don't know if this is permanent or just something special for today, but I can dream.

The Greatest?

I really hate these West Coast road trips. Not only are my heroes playing well past my bed time, but up here in the hinterlands, the regional version of the Tribune doesn’t have the late box score.

As a result, instead of a game story, I’m left with puff pieces. Like the one Paul Sullivan wrote the other day about how Greg Maddux is slowly catching up with Roger Clemens on the career wins list. Sully postulates that if Maddux does get the twenty or so additional wins to move him past Clemens, Maddux just might be the best pitcher of our time.

Sadly, no. Maddux is a terrific pitcher. But Clemens is, by almost every measurement, better. And, as Jim and I were discussing the other day, Clemens just might be the best pitcher of all time.

That’s not a knock on Maddux – he’s probably Top Twenty. And that’s still really, really good.

Put It on the Board...NOOOOOO!

The Cardinals have a fab new feature at their yard where you can send a text message to the scoreboard. We can only hope that they get the bugs worked out of the system soon...

A Hairy Situation

Jim may think it's a silly story, but it's big news in Chicago!

Look -- two more Sox get busted in Folliclegate!

And Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey feels compelled to ask Oscar Gamble what he thinks of the situation.

Someone call the Pulitzer committee...

A League Of Their Own

The pitching matchup in tonight's Dodgers/Cubs game is Penny vs. Marshall.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hair Club For Men

This is too minor a story to comment on, but too silly to pass up.

What are they teaching in journalism schools these days?

Now I Understand the Cristian Guzman Contract

It may be overly harsh to say so, but this would certainly explain a few things.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Glass House Gang

Damn, the Royals are terrible. Off to a 2-10 start. Last in the AL in runs scored. A 7.45 team ERA. No Royals starter has won a game yet this year.

Good thing they spent all that money this year on guys like Joe Mays, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Mark Grudzelanek. I'd sure hate to think about what a bad team they'd have if they'd just put a bunch of young players out there.

I feel sorry for the fans of the team, but this is what is deserved by a franchise owned by a miserable SOB like this guy. But Bud Selig knows what will cure the ails...begging for a public handout for stadium improvements.

What a miserable situation. Now I know what the St. Louis Browns must have looked like. The more I see this, the better contraction looks to me.

Just Wondering

What the Fair and Balanced folks in the national sports media would say about Barry Bonds if he announced his retirement, came back to sign a large contract with another team, announced his retirement again sort of after a year with them, spent the winter waxing and waning about re-signing, told everyone he was probably done, then made it known that he was still thinking about playing, making it obvious that he was waiting until the playoff picture became clear.

I'm pretty sure that the resulting scene would look something like this. But it's Roger Clemens doing it, so it's ok.

But He Really Wasn't Joking

"I was on the mound in the bullpen, warming up, when they announced the lineups. I heard Redmond was in the three hole and said, 'Are we even trying to win?' I was joking."
--Twins pitcher Kyle Lohse, after hearing backup catcher Mike Redmond was hitting third (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, as quoted on baseballprospectus.com)

Mike Redmond's career record. This guy was hitting third? Lohse was serious.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wound Up Tight

I’ve always thought that it’s goofy to take the stats from pivotal week 1 or 2 of the Major League season and try to draw any meaningful conclusions from them. Would we pull the stats from, say, June 14 through 28 and, using only those stats, try to call the pennant races or top performers?

And yet, the debate on Baseball Tonight and on the sports web sites center on: Are the Mets for real? Are the Tigers for real? Will Schilling win 30 games? Will Bronson Arroyo hit 32 homers?

But perhaps even goofier than this gab is when people take two week’s worth of data and extrapolate a conspiracy theory. People like Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune, who puts forth the opinion that the baseballs must be juiced this year.

His “proof?” Through games of Tuesday, 11 April, there were 108 MLB games, with 273 home runs. That’s an average of 2.53 homers per game, which is the highest average for April since 2000 (2.56 per game). And since MLB’s new tougher steroid testing is “taking the juice out of the players,” it stands to reason that MLB has done something to the ball to keep the offense rolling.

Van Dyck offers this empirical evidence that the balls are corked, or wound tighter, or juiced, or whatever you want to call it:
But the got-to-have-a-reason conspiracy theorists still believe something funny is going on. How else to explain Michael Barrett hitting two of his three homers when the wind was blowing in? Ditto for Derrek Lee?
How else, how else...? Boy, that’s a poser...

Here’s a thought -- maybe Lee is a real good hitter. Maybe Barrett had a hell of a week. Stop me if I’m getting too far into X-Files territory here...

[A brief aside: Thank God that the editors at the Tribune have no sense of irony. On the facing page of the paper, not twelve inches from van Dyck’s insight, the headline from the White Sox story read “Thome hits his 5th HR in 8 games.” No mention of juiced balls in that story, of course...]

To be fair, van Dyck might not be the only one peddling this stuff. From what I’ve heard on the radio, the theory has been floating around. To be honest, I haven’t tried very hard to find other citations.

Fortunately, this weekend featured many games with normal scores (you know, 4-2, 5-1, 2-1...even a 1-0 game at Coors Field). So hopefully this is the last we’ll hear about it.

Another sort of conspiracy theory comes courtesy of the Trib’s Rick Morrissey. Where van Dyck sees jackrabbit baseballs, Morrissey sees something darker:

I’m worried about human growth hormone, which baseball doesn’t test for yet. I’m worried about designer steroids that can’t be detected. I’m worried about cutting-edge masking agents that make performance-enhancing drugs invisible. I’m worried that Bonds still looks like a linebacker.

We all would like to believe baseball has put the clamps on cheating, but that would be naive thinking...Just because Congress has pressured baseball, just because MLB has gotten serious about testing and just because a recently released book seems to have caught Bonds with the goods doesn’t mean players have been scared straight.

It means that some of them might have turned to more sophisticated means of cheating. It means baseball needs at least to try to keep pace with science, even if it’s a losing battle...I still wonder, a lot, whether performance-enhancing drugs are alive and well in baseball. And it’s going to take a long time to stop wondering. That’s what getting burned does to you.

While I can understand Morrissey’s “fool me once...” attitude, I find it quite sad. It is foolish to assume that no MLB players are using. But it’s exceedingly cynical to take two homer-laden weeks and see nothing but users. In its own way, Morrissey’s position is as futile and pointless as van Dyck’s.

Footing the Bill

The Sporting News’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Marlins might get some financial help for their new stadium from a surprising source: Major League Baseball.

Marlins president David Samson said, “To imagine baseball getting involved is not far-fetched. How the involvement will end up looking is not yet determined.”

Interesting idea. With the hopes for a Florida taxpayer-funded stadium fading by the day, an MLB subsidy seems to be the most likely way the Marlins would remain in Miami. However, that assumes that (1) Loria the Destroyer wants to keep the team in Miami and (2) MLB is interested in keeping the team around.

MLB will look at contraction again when the CBA expires at the end of the year. Many observers (including Palatial Baseball Blog co-host Jim) think that the Marlins are an obvious contraction target. Which would give the Destroyer the dubious distinction of being the guy who destroyed two franchises as a Major League owner.

Say a Little Prayer

One hesitates to make sweeping generalizations this early in the year, but the Padres’ NL West title defense took a largish hit last week when Shawn Estes hit the DL with a strained elbow.

It’s bad enough that part of the title defense involves Shawn Estes. But it boggles the mind that losing Estes could put them in a hole. But that hole is gaping in front of them, as they Pads are forced to move Woody Williams and Chan Ho Park into the rotation for the time being.

Estes is expected to be out four to six weeks. But as Dr. Phil has taught us, those strained muscles can be especially tricky to figure out.

After a rough first week, a lot of pundits were writing off the Padres. Should we feel better about their chances with Williams and Park being forced to shoulder a greater load? Perhaps they’ll step it up. But Padre Fan better hope Kevin Towers can come up with a Plan C pretty quick.

And, if I may be so bold: Mr. Towers, I’m pretty sure that you can get a lefty from Jim Hendry pretty cheap. The guy’s the second-best pitcher whose last name is pronounced “Rush” in Cubs history!

Show Him the Money

The Clemens Watch seems to be in full swing, with the punditocracy waiting with bated breath over where Clemens will pitch this year -- or even if he will pitch.

The conventional wisdom is that Clemens is biding his time, waiting to see if any of the teams he might want to play for are serious contenders (rumored, so far, to be the Yankees, Red Sox, and both Texas teams). Or perhaps he’s waiting to see if his body is able to take the stress of even another half-season of pitching.

Baseball Weekly’s Paul White sheds light on another factor Clemens is taking into consideration: the size of the contract. White quotes Clemens as saying, “If I was offered arbitration, we probably wouldn’t be taking about this right now.”

So he’d be willing to come back to Houston if he was sure he’d get $10 or $12 million? I’ve got no quarrel with Clemens for wanting to get paid. But he should be honest and say that he wants the ka-ching to go with the ring.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Passing the Torch

I passed an important milestone in every father’s relationship with his son this week. Yes, this week I taught my son to score a ballgame.

Not to get all Burns and Costas on you, but baseball really is a game for parents to share with their children (hopefully without getting all “Back in My Day”). I learned about the game from my father and my grandfathers. And now I can pass along that lore to the next generation.

Besides, more people need to learn to keep score. There’s just something…I don’t know…Zen-like about keeping score. You know, the circle of life and all that…

Wrong Again

Man, you give a guy the benefit of the doubt, and this is how he repays you. Yesterday, I said we could expect Dr. Phil to start griping about Derrek Lee’s new deal at the All-Star Break. The “unders” win big time on this bet, because it took the good Doctor two days to get it on:
Lee’s new deal with the Cubs, announced as $65 million over five years, is really better than that. It’s $56.25 million over four years when you subtract his original 2006 salary. That’s more than $14 million per season, which puts Lee above guys like Paul Konerko and Richie Sexson, whose deals once seemed like a reasonable target.

Only 16 players entered this year making more than $14 million. None of them are as minimally decorated as Lee, and several of them – including Jason Giambi, Jeff Bagwell, Andy Pettitte, Chan Ho Park, Mike Hampton, Lance Berkman, and Jim Thome – turned into dubious investments for the teams signing them because of injuries or diminished performance.

In these two short paragraphs, Dr. Phil takes his Rogic to an extreme. First, he uses some creative math to inflate Lee’s average sale. Then, he goes out of his way to point out that Lee isn’t as good as the other guys making the same (inflated) average salary. Just to put the “slam” into slam dunk, he finishes by mentioning how many of those other, better players have been decorated by many, many trips to the DL (or aren’t as good as Lee, even though they are much more sumptuously decorated than he is).

And, in classic journamalist fashion, Dr. Phil has it both ways. After calling Lee overpaid and minimally decorated, he hastens to add that “Lee is also the right man” who is a “dependable leader in the clubhouse.” Yes, Dr. Phil might be hack, but he knows he can’t burn all his bridges with Lee. After all, he might need to get a sound bite from Lee to build a column around sometime this season…

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Extended Engagement

Derrek Lee agreed to a five year contract extension, and all over Chicago sports columnists are cursing under their breaths. It’s nothing against Lee, mind you. It’s just that they hate to see a perfectly good script go to waste like that.

Perhaps the most frustrated of all the scribes is our old friend Dr. Phil, who had set all of his Cubs columns for the rest of the year up so nicely with this piece of journamalism. I must admit that my chuckling was even darker and more mordant when I read the ominous subhead on the story: “Lee contract debate festered too long.”

As the good Doctor notes:

…[C]ontractual questions about Hendry, Baker, and the team’s best player, Derrek Lee, are drawing attention away from the field. It’s the second time in three years that MacPhail’s management team has allowed off-season business to intrude into the season…Lee, for one, seems tired of the lack of direction.
Oh, fickle human nature! Have you no regard for the well-crafted scripts of the press? Lee may have seemed tired on Friday, when the Doctor first put fingertips to keyboard. But by Monday he was more than happy to sign up for another five years of directionlessness.

But Dr. Phil is crafty – so crafty, in fact, that he left himself an out for this very eventuality:

Lee wants to be paid like the MVP candidate he was in 2005. But his batting average dropped from .378 in the first half to .287 in the second half, which makes you wonder if he truly has joined the elite or remains merely above average.
Well played, sir! Now the only question is how long does Dr. Phil wait to start bashing the Cubs for overpaying for Lee. I give him until the All-Star Break.

[Lee’s signing also robbed the Chicago media of another old chestnut. There have been plenty of comparisons between Lee’s negotiations and those of Greg Maddux back in 1992. Would the Cubs botch Lee’s contract – just like they did with Maddux? How tragic would that be?

[Unfortunately, the story about the botched Maddux negotiations is just that – a pleasing story that people just can’t get enough of. Journamalists can’t get enough of it because it makes their job so easy – what could be easier than a simple story of a noble hero (Maddux) and a wicked villain (then-Cubs GM Larry Himes) that serves to reinforce their world view (boy, those Cubs sure are stupid, aren’t they?).

[As pleasing as this myth is, anyone who was paying attention at the time knows it’s not true. But that’s a story for another time…]

At any rate, Lee is a Cub for the next five years, and I guess it’s a good thing. Someone said to me after news of the signing broke, “All your worries are over now.”

I don’t remember being all that worried about it one way or the other. Even so, I’m a little uncomfortable with the five-year deal, just as I would be with any five-year deal. I’m of the firm opinion that anything more than one year plus an option is begging for trouble. But if we have to roll the dice on a long-term deal, I’m glad we took the chance on Lee. He may be merely above average…but that’s still better than Mark Grace (snarky, snarky, snarky…).

** I would be remiss if I did not mention our famous three-game sweep of the Cardinals. The naysayers are already doing their best to “pish-tosh” the stunning events last weekend. But to them, I say “phooey-kablooey!”

Because they are our Honored Adversary, and series against Saint Louis carries more import than, say, some crummy inter-league series in May, no matter when it happens, no matter our relative positions in the standings.

Besides, would it have been better to roll over and get swept ourselves? I think not.

** Finally, the early favorite for Journamalism Moment of the Year came on Sunday, after Michael Barrett’s pinch-homer tied Saturday’s game in the seventh inning. The good folks running the Tribune’s web site might want to make sure their web guys know enough to delete the subhead when they enter the new one.

But that’s the hopelessly biased Tribune for you…

Grumpy Old Men Revisited

Last week’s Baseball Weekly featured a cover story focusing on Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth, asking the burning question: Whose 700 home runs are more impressive?

Jeebus help us. Can’t we just agree that they’re both pretty damned impressive and move on?

Just another example of how baseball fans will do anything to keep its grip on the ghosts of its glorious past at the expense of the living. Did NHL fans put up such a fuss when Wayne Gretzky surpassed Gordie Howe? Did basketball fans wail and gnash their teeth when Michael Jordan blew past Bob Cousy and Rick Barry? No – they said, “Damn, we’re lucky we’re here to see these great players play.”

Why can’t baseball fans do that? As Jim pointed out, Joe DiMaggio won’t be any less great if someone breaks his hitting streak record. Babe Ruth won’t be any less great when Bonds gets his 715th home run. Maybe I’m just naïve, but I think it’s possible to enjoy the feats of contemporary players without dishonoring those who came before them.

In the Cards

While I was watching the various Opening Day festivities last week, I couldn’t help but notice the reports on the “Trade Barry” billboard situated next to Pac Bell Park. Mostly because ESPN mentioned it every twenty minutes or so. Speculation was rampant that some fan(s) had gotten so fed up with Evil Barry’s evil ways that they bought the ad space to vent their fury.

Made for a fun SportsCenter piece. Alas, it wasn’t true. The billboard was actually part of an ad campaign by the Topps Company, the venerable trading card manufacturer.

For some reason, I didn’t see anything on ESPN with the rest of the story. I didn’t see anything about it, actually, until this AP story found its way onto the Chicago Tribune’s web site.

Anyway, as a long-time collector, it’s good to see MLB is trying to make some sense of the baseball card market, which has been an utter train wreck since sometime around 1993. I don’t want to go back to the days when you’d get a horrid piece of pink something with your cards (did anyone actually chew that stuff? Ick!). But it would be nice if we could get back to card collecting as a fun hobby, and not an investment fund to pay for your kid’s college education or your retirement.

Rotten Fish

I'm watching the Marlins home opener at Dolphin Stadium. I don't think that it's typical for seats to be open in the front rows of the lower boxes for an opening day game. Especially in the VIP seats behind the plate. But there they were, in all their teal glory. Another bad sign for the future of MLB in South Florida.

Between innings, the Marlins ran a house commercial promoting ticket plans. The commercial centered around a pair of young punks who come across a red convertible in the parking lot with "Go Phillies" written all over it. In a display of good sportsmanship, the duo goes off-camera, comes back with a cooler full of dead fish, and dumps it onto the seats of the car. Oh, what fun! Marlins Baseball 2006: Vandalism Is Cool!

Any franchise that would even consider running an ad like that doesn't deserve to exist. The people of Miami are merely showing good judgement by telling Loira and Samson to go to hell.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame, Take Me Out With The Crooks

It seems that Dick Cheney was not the most popular person at RFK Stadium yesterday.

Among those scheduled for first-pitch ceremonies later this season are Benedict Arnold, Heinrich Himmler, and the head of Richard Nixon.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hanging Knucklers Dig The Long Ball


We've always said that if you're going to give up a homer or two, it's better if they are solo shots, but five solo shots might be a bit over the top.

The Rangers demoted Dickey to Oklahoma City almost immediately after the game, which seems a bit harsh, but hey, it's only R.A. Dickey, after all.

Joltin' Joe, Safe Again

This should make the DiMaggio fans happy.

I have never understood the kind of thinking that needs to slight the accomplishments of one player to preserve the glory of another. If Jimmy Rollins, or anyone else, were to hit in 57 straight games, it would not diminish the greatness of Joe DiMaggio the ballplayer one bit.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Answer Is "Yes"

The question is "Has the Chicago Tribune officially abdicated its position as a serious news source?"

Proof positive is in this piece by our old friend Sully. The Trib has printed a lot of horse[poop] over the years, but this goes beyond horse[poop]. This piece has no redeeming qualities, not even as a puff filler.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Well, Good For Them!

Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo, trying to discuss the success of the new crop of general managers:

"Young general managers have had sex..."

An inning later, his broadcast partner, Jerry Remy, told him, "I think you had a good point about those young general managers."

Both spent about an inning trying not to break into laughter. I wish that NESN was one of the networks that didn't cut away to commercials between innings on the MLB feed; I'd have loved to have the mike open during that break.

Question Of The Day

Ozzie...why do you bring Neal Cotts into the seventh inning of the game Tuesday when you're behind 7-1, and Boone Logan into the eighth inning of a game you're leading 3-2 today?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Not Taking The Bait?

The mayor of Charlotte, N.C. isn't much interested in being a part of the Marlins extortion plot.

"I want to make sure we're not being played." I've never heard of such a thing. I can't imagine anyone involved in MLB ever even considering something so dishonest. Can you?

Grumpy Old Men

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s humanity’s unfortunate propensity to diminish the accomplishment of others. Case in point: Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins, as you no doubt are aware, ended last season with a 36-game hitting streak, the longest since Paul Molitor’s streak back in the day. Naturally, as we do when any hitting streak reaches such lofty heights, thoughts of 56 start to dance in our heads.

Alas, there seems to be a sizeable group of people who can’t bear the thought of one of these new-fangled players eclipsing the great DiMaggio. Especially when that new-fangled player has the audacity to actually think he can hit in 56 straight games.

During the off season, there were plenty of reminders that, even if by some miracle Rollins did hit in 21 games to start the year, he still wouldn’t have the record because Joltin’ Joe’s streak was all in one season, and thus (by definition) is a more impressive accomplishment.

This is a minor quibble. But ESPN’s John Kruk took the “Rollins has it easy” argument to a new and ridiculous extreme on Monday.

During the pre-game Baseball Tonight, Kruk said that Rollins would have tough time extending his streak because all the pitchers would be well rested – not like the dog-tired, rag-armed staffs Rollins took advantage of last September.

Jeebus help us.

And just to prove that no fault is too small for retired players not to carp about, Ron Santo had to add his two cents during Monday’s Cubs broadcast.

When informed that Rollins extended his streak by hitting 3-0 pitch for a double, Ronnie expressed shock that anyone would swing at a 3-0 pitch with his team down by a ton of runs.

I hate to disagree with the old third baseman, but I’m pretty sure the Phillies don’t consider Rollins a selfish jerk for swinging away like that.

Is this merely a symptom of a larger problem? Comparing today’s players unfavorably to the heroes of yesteryear is a pastime in itself. Are fans so wedded to the idea of a Perfect Past that we can’t accept any threat (real or perceived) to our icons or their hallowed records?

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1941, the accepted script read that DiMaggio was unworthy of breaking the great Willie Keeler’s mark. Hard to believe, but the “things were better back in my day” crowd was alive and well 65 years ago...

One Game in April

Finally. After what felt like a million years, proper baseball games are back. Spring training games are fun, and baseball of a sort. But it’s not “real” baseball; not when the games are taken so lightly a manager can exhaust his bullpen after calling on two relievers.

One does not like to draw conclusions based on one game, but there were aspects of the Cubs’ Opening Day victory against Cincinnati that made me feel a little better about the upcoming season.

Like Juan Pierre’s leadoff triple. That’s a pretty good way to start the year. And, as Cub Fans around the net have pointed out, that kind of stuff is why we traded for Pierre in the first place.

Seeing Todd Walker in the lineup was a good thing, too. Walker had been the subject of trade rumors all winter; whether any of that was real or just the fever dream of a writer on deadline is a mystery. Baker has said that Walker will be the “primary” second baseman, with Jerry Hairston as the defensive replacement. Good. Walker is a middling fielder (to be generous). But I’ll take my chances with Walker’s glove the first six or seven innings. Bring in Hairston or Neifi Perez in the late innings – hopefully after we have a lead to protect.

And how ‘bout Matt “Orange Guy” Murton? A couple hits, a three-run bomb to cap off the first, and a great catch to end the Reds threat in the first. The jackals in the Chicago media turned on Murton this off-season, when it became clear that he would get the left field gig. Maybe now they’ll stop carping on the fact that Murton isn’t Billy Williams and will focus on the things he can do.

On the other hand...Carlos Zambrano didn’t get the job done. The bats gave him a big lead, and he couldn’t make it through five.

Was he too pumped up? Was it too cold? Did he just not have his A game going? Or maybe some combination of the three?

God only knows. After his performance the last three years, I think he’s earned a pass. And, as you may have guessed by the 16-7 final score, he had plenty of company on the “bad pitcher” list. I won’t write him (or anyone else) off after pivotal game one of the season.

Of course, it would be nice if the staff could kick it up a notch for tomorrow’s game...

A few other random notes, as I review my scoresheet:

** The Cubs sent nine guys to the plate in the sixth before the Reds recorded an out -- way to ruin the rally by hitting into a double play, Barrett!

More incredibly, there was nothing in this inning that even could be classified as a hard hit ball. There was a walk, two infield singles, a bunt single, a looping liner that Adam Dunn misplayed.

Let me reiterate that – two infield singles and a bunt hit. By the Cubs. Great lion of Zion! I can’t remember when my heroes put together two infield hits and a bunt single in a week, let along the same inning.

Our cause was helped along when Dunn fell down on the warning track trying to track down Derrek Lee’s deep fly ball. That was probably the best hit ball of the inning -- a high fly ball that got caught in the gale blowing out. Fortunately for us, Dunn is a klutz.

** For good measure, we played small ball in the ninth, too. Pierre beat out a bunt single. Hairston dropped a sac bunt ad reached when Incarnation booted it. Finally, fleet-footed Neifi beat out Lopez’ relay to avoid an inning-ending double. All three would score in the inning.

Intriguing, this new style of ball...and it seems to be more effective than hoping D-Lee or A-Ram can hit a three run dinger.

** We pulled of a 3-5-3 double play, thanks to the Griffey shift. With Lopez on first in the fourth inning, Junior hit a grounder right to Lee. Fortunately, Ramirez was standing right on second, so it was an easy toss there and back for the out. Even thought it worked, I still think these odd defensive alignments are more trouble than they’re worth.

** I know Ozzie Guillen keeps track of this stuff, so I’ll put it on the record:

Tribune White Sox Opening Day coverage – 4 pages.

Tribune Cubs Opening Day coverage – 1 1/2 pages.

Tribune White Sox World Series Ring coverage – 1 page.

** Last, and certainly not least, Jim owes me a Coke. Jim was dead certain last October that Neifi would be our Opening Day shortstop.

Oh, ye of little faith! I’ll take a Diet Coke with Lime. Mmm...lime....

One Last Opener

Opening night at Toronto. Johan Santana versus Roy Halladay. Is this a great game, or what?

Put A Sock In It

Anyone with the kind of loose change in their pocket to bid on something like this really should consider finding a suitable charity to donate to.

Here are some handy hints to get you started:

Habitat For Humanity
American Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
American Cancer Society
American Heart Association
Humane Society of the United States
Amnesty International

Or any other group that is close to your heart. I'm betting that a donation will give you a better feeling about yourself than buying a baseball player's dirty laundry.

Monday, April 03, 2006

More Channel Surfing

Is that Horrible Gelatinous Blob pitching Opening Day for the Angels? Geez, Bartolo Colon looks like he ate David Wells. He looks like John Goodman in a baseball hat.

I said I was going to watch at least part of every game today. I missed the Cubs/Reds bloodbath, figuring that Bob would handle that one, but so far I've seen pieces of everything else. The networks broadcasting the games continue to hold open mike night between innings but so far no one has said anything naughty. Matter of time.

Pirates versus Brewers. Pirate reliever Matt Capps hangs a pitch to Carlos Lee, who hits a rope in the stands in left about 10 feet foul. Encourged, Capps hangs another one and Lee, not believing it, gets under it and hits it high and far but well foul down the line. He'll never expect another hanger, so Capps gives him one. Lee doesn't hit this one foul. He hits it well back over the fence in left center.

Steve Henderson is singing a silly little ditty between innings of the Mariners/Angels game. Sadly, it's not "Barnacle Bill the Sailor." Keep trying, guys...you'll bring the FCC down on this yet.

Fox Sports Detroit just plugged Red Wings/Flames. Sounds like the appetizer menu at the local sports bar. I almost forgot that hockey exists.

Iron Man Nomar Garciaparra was a scratch from today's Dodgers game. Shocking. Speaking of Iron Men, why is Sandy Alomar Jr. the Opening Day catcher for the Dodgers? Or for anyone?

This is too much fun. And three games haven't even started yet.

My Religious Holiday

No, I'm not going to go all Ryan Church on you.

Opening Day is my annual day off, with a morning trip to 7-11 for a big heaping pile of crappy ballpark-type food followed by hours of MLB TV. This year I'm skimming from game to game, getting a peek at every team that I can.

It didn't even take one full inning to hear two examples of BS. Both came courtesy of Expos/Nationals color man Tom Paciorek. He started by talking about how Mets shortstop and inexplicable leadoff man Jose Reyes stole 60 bases last year and how when he gets on ahead of the big sluggers, he's really a threat. Since Reyes had a .300 on-base percentage last year (.303 for his career), he's more a threat to his own lineup.

Paul LoDuca followed Reyes to the plate, prompting Paciorek to launch into the "I just don't know what the Dodgers were thinking, trading this guy away." Because LoDuca is a Scrappy White Guy(tm), and a clubhouse leader. What he isn't is an above-average ballplayer. He's a guy with one offensive skill, hitting for average, with no speed, no power, and few walks. The Dodgers traded him because they understood this and got something back for him that they needed.

On the other hand, kudos to Devil Rays color man Joe Magrane, who pointed out the futility of players who try to slide into first base to beat a throw. As anyone with half a brain would understand, it's faster to run through the bag than to try to slide, but most broadcasters can only yammer about the great hustle any idiot who tries to slide is showing. What a gamer he is! Magrane is one of the few I've ever heard getting it right.

Should someone tell MLB TV to watch out between innings to make sure that the broadcasters' mics don't stay on? So far I haven't heard anything off-color, but they really should be more careful.

Good Start

Unfortunately I missed the second half of the game, after the rain delay. I really didn't think that they'd come back and finish it.

Brandon McCarthy is going to have a lot of impact on how this season plays out, whichever role he winds up in.