Saturday, November 10, 2007

GM Meetings at Bohemian Grove

So the latest wacky conspiracy theory to come out of MLB is that baseball is conspiring to keep the price on Alex Rodriguez' services down by flooding the market with third basemen. If, the theory goes, there are enough Joe Credes out there, no one is going to want to sign A-Rod.

Which is, of course, patently ridiculous. Let's take a closer look at the so-called evidence:

Joe Crede, on the block in Chicago - Well, he's about to get expensive, his back is shot, and there's a prospect coming up behind him. Of course he's on the block - Kenny Williams would have to be an idiot not to see if he could get a useful part for him.

Garrett Atkins, expendable because of Jeff Baker - Except that the Rox have put the kibosh on this, and Atkins is off the market.

Mike Lowell, free agent - Nothing vaguely conspiratorial about this, and the Red Sox - one of the proposed landing spots for A-Rod - are fighting to keep him. Well, yes - he was the World Series MVP, last time I checked, with a swing made for Fenway. In fact, the rules of baseball are driving up a free agent's price here, not driving down A-Rod's.

Miguel Cabrera on the block in Florida - The man was born to hit, there's no doubt about that. He also plays for an insane cheapskate owner, eats everything in the postgame spread except the tablecloth, and plays defense like Gary Cherone played Van Halen. So, it's not entirely surprising that he's available, though both Marlins fans have to be disappointed.

Miguel Tejada is available - Miguel Tejada is also a shortstop, and has been available since roughly the middle of the 2004 season.

A more suspicious man than I would see the palsied hand of Scott Boras behind these rumors, hoping to spook Bud Selig into having someone make an offer just to kill the rumor. But there's no need because, let's face it, it's hooey.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Meet on the Lidge

The Philly-Houston trade is fraught with all sorts of intrigue. On one hand, it's typical - GM of new club ransacks the farm system of his old one. On another, it's a huge gamble for both teams, one with significant upside or crash and burn potential.

For the Phillies, the upside is obvious. With no starting pitching on the market this winter (and Kyle Lohse asking for $40M - Kyle freakin' Lohse!), the team's best option was to try to find a way to get Brett Myers back into the rotation. By picking up Lidge, they keep the back end of the bullpen strong and strengthen their rotation immeasurably. After all, there is literally no pitcher on the market this offseason who comes close to Myers when he's on. The one-two punch of Myers and Hamels at the top of the Phillies rotation makes them a much more dangerous team for 2008.

As for Lidge himself, a closer with home run issues going to CBP isn't going to see those get better. On the other hand, his raw stuff is still superb, and apart from LF and 1B there's going to be a solid defense behind him. So, there is some room for optimism there.

As for the Astros, they get Michael Bourn, who's been described as everything from the next Dave Roberts to the next Omar Moreno. What is dead certain is that he can absolutely fly, in a Joey Gathright sort of way, but with a little more pop in his bat. Whether he'll be able to step up to a starting role remains a question; he could be an above-average CF for five years, or he could be the latest in a long string of not-quite-good-enough-to-play-every-day Astros outfielders.

3B Mike Costanzo is another wild card. He's young, he hits the ball a mile, and he looks like he's finally figured out how to hit for decent average. On the other hand, he apparently bears the same relationship to defense that Bill Belichick does to fashion and he's only put together one really good year in the minors. So, he could be Steve Buechele, or he could be Brad Kommisk.

Geoff Geary's pretty much a non-entity, a middle-of-bullpen guy whom the Phillies will miss only when the rest of their arms start exploding again, and not through any special merit of his own.

So, in the end, the Phillies are gunning for the short term, the Astros the long. The Phillies' upside is limited but clear, the Astros' higher but far less certain. In other words, exactly the sort of thing that the Hot Stove League is made for.

It's that time of year...

...when traditional football powers can shrug off one loss as a fluke, while Cinderella teams taking one in the shorts are viewed as exposed, justifying their banishment from the BCS into the nether reaches of [Corporate Sponsor][Useless product] Bowl-bound misery.

Personally, I'm hoping against hope for a Kansas-Hawaii BCS championship game, in part because I cannot imagine a freakier collision of coaches than June Jones and Mark Mangino, and in part because I want to hear heads exploding from Baton Rouge to SoCal. It won't happen, of course - even if those two teams win out and every other team ahead of them loses every game on the schedule, enough writers for the Lower Sasquatch Times-Picayune will find a reason to rub his pen up against Tim Tebow's silky uniform pants to make sure we get OSU-LSU come hell or high water.

Which leads me to the BCS system. The favorite complaint around this time of year is that "the computers" are screwing up the rankings. Said complaints generally come from aged knights of the keyboard who don't know anything about computer other than that you can push the buttons and make porn come out, but hey, they've got airtime and column inches to fill, and facts are boring.
Fact 1 - The computers may spit out the numbers, but it's not like R2-D2 is sitting in there figuring out the best way to jigger things to screw over Auburn again. Yes, the formulae produce results, but all of those forumlae - not to mention all of those computers - had to be programmed by somebody. Somebody like...people. You know, human beings? Not computers? Right.
Fact 2 - 2/3 of the BCS formula comes from, you guessed it, voter polls. You know, the things that coaches have their caffeine-crazed assistants fill out for them at 3 AM Sunday morning because the gosh-darn thing's gotta get done somehow and hey, who has time to actually watch the games. In other words, if you don't like the numbers coming out of the BCS computers, that's probably because the numbers going in weren't too pretty either - and those polls are 100% human response. Well, except for Tom O'Brien's.
So the idiots complaining about "the computers" can kindly shut up and take their complaints where they belong, namely, to the offices of the poor bastard last-string assistant coaches who draw the short straw marked "ballot filler outer" each week.
That is, if they're not too busy hitting the button and waiting for the porn.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Irony

On ESPN.com, Gregg Easterbrook goes ballistic over Bill Belichick running up the score on saintly, revered Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.

On SI.com, Paul Zimmerman tells the story of a time Jerry Glanville went ballistic because he had the score run up on him by - wait for it - Joe Gibbs.

Presumably someone out there's pissed at Glanville, or by proxy, June Jones, who, with luck, will someday be able to run up the score on a Belichick defense and at last close the circle of psychic trauma inflicted on millionaire men by lopsided losses.

Over-under on when Bob Sanders decides to let Tom Brady know he didn't approve of last week's effort? 2:42, first quarter.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Notes from the start of the offseason

It's obvious that Scott Boras has at least one fish on the hook, otherwise he never would have done the high-profile opt-out on Alex Rodriguez' contract. That being said, the real intrigue here is over who leaked the story during Game 4 of the World Series, and why. John Heyman over at SI.com was the first to report it, but the question of who got him the info remains open, and interesting. The leak certainly hasn't helped Rodriguez' bargaining position any, and the fan backlash against Boras may make it easier for GMs to hold the line on Boras clients.

Speaking of the A-Rod debacle, can anyone else remember seeing Peter Gammons so visibly furious on-camera? That being said, why Der Commish took a swipe at "statheads in their garages" during his post-World Series rant over Dustin Pedroia remains a mystery. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Red Sox remain one of the most analytic-friendly organizations in baseball (four words: Bill James, on payroll), and durn near every "stathead" I know loves Pedroia precisely because he produces instead of just looking good in a uniform. (See: Braggs, Glenn). One explanation - Boras is fond of doing all sorts of dubious statistical projections to prove his clients are going to be twelve stories tall and made of radiation over the life of their exorbitant contracts. Then again, if more teams were analysis-friendly, they'd be able to call bullshit.

Renteria to the Tigers. The big win in this one, of course, is anyone who gets to listen to the Braves' announcers trying to pronounce the names of the players the Braves got back - Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. Both are young players with lots of upside, but Renteria is still an All-Star caliber shortstop, and the Tigers had strength at precisely the positions (young pitching, outfield) to allow them to deal. The real question will be how Carlos Guillen's production stacks up at first base, now that Tigers have moved him across the diamond to protect his health.

Joe Girardi is an interesting choice to manage the Yankees. While he was Manager of the Year in the NL for his job on the 2006 Marlins, let it not be forgotten that A)he fought against keeping some of the players who overperformed on the roster out of spring training and B)pretty much every young pitcher he touched blew a gasket this year. That can't make Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes, et alia feel good.

Torre to the Dodgers is also interesting, in large part because he'd be stepping into a situation where he'd have a GM who prefers vets to kids and a farm system full of kids ready to contribute (not to mention better than the vets on the roster). What this really does, however, is let the Dodgers grab at least some of the headlines this off-season, even if the Angels do nab A-Rod. For all of the "If Torre goes to LA, then A-Rod will follow" speculation, let's not forget that the two of them weren't exactly inseparable in the Bronx. It was Cap'n Jetes whom Torre let sit in Santa's lap all the time, not "the third baseman".

At this point, all things Steinbrenner are just sad.

Grady Little - zapped at the last minute by the Yankees, again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our First Guest Post!

(My lovely wife, a razor-sharp college football fan in her own right, herewith holds forth with her perspective of The Season So Far. One of the many many reasons I'm lucky enough to be married to her, of course...)


A couple of Virginia Tech fans in my office were upset yesterday about their 14-10 loss to
Boston College. As I walked in they looked at me and screamed "Don't say a word; you are only a BC fan because you married into it." And while that might be true, I got to live through the hell of a bad season last year that on paper sounded better than it was with a 10-3 record. The coach last year, Tom O'Brien, was about as inventive as a worker ant. He gave away a win to NC State playing a very poor version of prevent defense. This year, with many of the same players, Coach Jags is undefeated and his previously unknown quarterback will at least be invited to the Heisman ceremonies at the end of the season.


Back to the VT fans: they were claiming that BC was overrated because they did not play consistent football the whole game, and they don't deserve that #2 ranking because VT supposedly "gave" BC that win. (Ed. note -- Hubby says thanks.) They also claim that BC wouldn't be ranked #2 if everyone else was consistent, and that now BC belongs in that crowd. But the difference is BC only played inconsistently for about 56 minutes, and then who they are came out with a vengeance and VT showed their typical weaknesses.



Everyone who watches SportsCenter or reads the internet knows this has been a crazy college football season. There is more parity in college football this year than there has ever been, and unfortunately the SEC, to its detriment, is beating itself up better than usual this year. While always being the best football conference in the country, t
he SEC is even better than usual. Kentucky and South Carolina are no longer gimme games and are actually at the top of their divisions. Hell, even Vanderbilt is beating people, and that never happens.


It is difficult to make a National Championship run when you are playing National Championship-caliber teams eight times a season. Because the fact is that if Ohio State or Boston College actually had to play in the SEC they wouldn't have winning records. So yes, my dear Hokie fans, BC is overrated, but that's only because no one will vote the 12 teams of the SEC 1-12 in the rankings. LSU cleaned VT's clock in September, and everyone says LSU doesn't look as good now as it did then -- maybe that is because they have been playing other good SEC teams for the last 4 weeks who most likely would kick VT's ass right back to Blacksburg.


Ohio State is no better. They know what it is like to get their asses handed to them by the likes of the SEC after losing their locked up National Championship to the underrated Florida Gators. I am quite sure they would prefer not to visit there again. The rest of the Big Ten is a joke; the PAC 10 has offense but no defense; and USC, the most overrated team in history, lost to Stanford (you know, the folks with a tree for a mascot). The Big 12 has a couple of decent teams, but they are big and slow and would not match up to the speed of the SEC. Everyone else would like to be able to play this game, but trust me, you really don't. No matter what their ranking, this year, don't mess with the SEC, because they will end up playing you in which ever second-tier auto-part bowl they get resigned to -- since they can't all go to BCS bowls but they travel well -- and they will win, and you will be shaking your heads in resignation.


I generally don't care about who plays for who and who had the better recruiting class; what I do care about is that those who show up, play. And this year, on any given Saturday a lot of young men are showing up, and proving to the world that any team can have what it takes to win. Thursday night, Boston College showed that to Virginia Tech, and on Saturday it will happen approximately 50 times around the country, and win or lose, it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hey, At Least VT Can Close the Deal in SOME Water Sports...








I mean, they really stuck it out to the end, there. It was in the bag from the get-go. Just look at the...the confidence in the post-game quotes:

"To come to a new body of water, find the fish and actually win it — it's just an awesome feeling," said Thompson, a junior is majoring in building construction. "We just won a national championship. It's just something I never thought I'd have a chance to do."

So earnest congrats to the Hokies. I mean, when it's that wet out, you really got to admire those teams that step up. Like the saying goes, Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

But teach a man to fish, him to fish, and...he wins some nondescript trophy that, I'm sure, more than makes up for, erm, deficiencies in other areas.

The secondary, for instance.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

We Would Like to...erm...Thank the Good People and...uh...Student-Athletes of the (Seriously?) State University of New Jersey...

...for their valiant and successful efforts this past Thursday. To wit, this:




1
2
3
4
Total



(2) South Florida 10 7 3 7 27 Final



Rutgers 3 10 14 3 30


has led to this:

The top five teams in The Associated Press poll:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

So all you Eagle fans do the right thing and hug a New Jersey-ite this week. (Unless we lose to Virginia Tech. Then feel free to punch them in their damn face.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Once upon a time, teams were heartily discouraged from making managerial and front office moves during the playoffs, under the theory that MLB didn't want anything distracting anyone from, you know, the baseball.

These days, not so much. Part of that is the fact that the playoffs now stretch longer than track 2 on your average ELP record, part of it is that no one seems to care. And so we have our Jockettys and our Stonemans and our God knows what else, and in the middle of it, all the speculation over Steinbrenner and Joe.

Well, not any more. Torre sensibly turned down, if turning down a job that pays $5.0M/year and does not involve shoving condoms stuffed with heroin into various bodily bits can be called sensible, the Yankees' one year offer. Now everyone's happy. Joe can walk without looking like he's cutting and running, the Steinbrennerlings can say "Hey, we tried" and promote their fair-haired boy Donnie Baseball, and the Red Sox can breathe easy knowing that whoever comes in will probably be worse than Torre was.

That Didn't Last Long

Rutgers 30, USF 27.

Oops.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Colorado Rockies, National League Champions

It's a truism that the team that's the best on the first day of the season often isn't the best on the last day. The Rockies are a case in point; saddled with utterly dreadful pitching through much of the season, they jettisoned the deadweight in the nick of time and brought up the kids. And damned if those kids can't throw lights out - anywhere else and they'd be talking about Ubaldo Jiminez in the same sentence with guys like Philip Hughes and Homer Bailey.

They've gotten this far with great fielding, with luck, with timely hitting, and with a bench that runs deep in guys who can actually get the bat on the ball. The Rox' end of bench guys are at least league average-type hitters with some pop, as opposed to the Abraham Nunezes of the world who populated the pine for their playoff opponents.

But most of all, they're getting it done with pitching. The numbers for their bullpen are absolutely sick. I don't much care that six of the seven guys down there are former/current "closers"; what does matter is that they're all hard throwers who go after hitters and pound it down in the zone, to minimize home run damage. Game after game, it's been the same story. The Rockies score a run or two and the other team's batters start swinging for the fences, trying to hit five-run homers in every at-bat. The end result, of course, is a lot of strikeouts and weak popups. Check Arizona's numbers with RISP if you don't believe me.

Right now, the Rockies are by far the best team in the National League. They hit, they field, and they pitch. And even last year, who'd have thought you could say that about Colorado?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your #2 Boston College Eagles

27-14, and really, it should have been a lot worse. What are the odds Coach J institutes pass-catching drills for the defense this weekend after more botched interceptions than the Syrian border patrol.

And with Cal and LSU losing, the only worry is USF leapfrogging BC after an impressive thumping of Central Florida.

Things are getting verrrry interesting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yankees blah blah blah

Blah blah blah Torre gone deserved better blah blah blah not actually fired his contract just ran out blah blah blah Steinbrenner wanted to fire but Cashman talked him out of it blah blah blah blah blah A-Rod choked never mind the actual numbers blah blah blah blah never mind Jeter's double plays blah blah blah A-Rod homer didn't count blah blah blah Old Yankees go bye-bye except the ones who won't blah blah blah.

And I think that sums up most of the writing on the Yankees' exit from the playoffs.

For my part, I'm impressed that Eric Wedge's gamble paid off, the only time a manager juggling his rotation for the next round/game actually paid off in the entire Division Series hootennany. Paul Byrd may in fact have pitched like his hair was on fire, and may have been one solid single from giving up about eighteen runs, but the fact is the Yankees never got that single, and he rope-a-doped his way through that lineup just long enough to turn it over to the bullpen.

As for Rodriguez, he had a decent series when nothing less than superhuman would have satisfied his critics. He actually outperformed most of his lineup-mates, but dogpiling on Hideki Matsui doesn't quite have the same ring as another "choker" column. The facts, well, they're inconvenient.

The real issue, as has been noted elsewhere, is that the Indians used Chien-Ming Wang as their personal speed bag, and once again Roger Clemens came up mysteriously lame in a big game once his team had fallen behind. No team, be it the Yankees, the Phillies, Babe Ruth's barnstorming squad or the Justice League's intramural softball team, is going to be able to overcome getting a shiv in the kidney from their starter in three out of four games.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Colorado Advances

In the end, it wasn't the pitching. Jamie Moyer threw the game of his life last night, battling Coors Field, an inconsistent strike zone and a red-hot Rockies lineup and only allowed one run.

No, the problem was the Phillies' bats. Overeager, they jumped on too many first pitches, rolled over too many weak grounders to second base, and gave away too many opportunities. Pat Burrell's at-bat in the top of the sixth is, in my mind, what sealed their fate. For a moment, the Phillies had looked like the Phillies. With one out, Jimmy Rollins worked a walk. He stole second, unhinging rookie pitcher Ubaldo Jiminez, who then gave the struggling Chase Utley a free pass as well. At a moment like this, when a kid pitcher is losing his control and his composure, the time-tested approach is to force him to get you out, to lay back and wait to see if he can throw strikes, and if he can't, to wait on the meatball coming down the pike once he digs himself into a whole.

Burrell swung at the first pitch and popped out. The next batter, Ryan Howard, tapped weakly to second. Rally over, season over. Everything else was anticlimax.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Manny Being Manny

Wow.

Maybe all that time to heal up his oblique was a good idea after all.

Kudos, incidentally, to Eduardo Perez on Baseball Tonight, for pointing out how rigorously Manny works on his hitting and how he attacks every at-bat with a plan. Manny may or may not be a world-class eccentric, but the notion that he's some sort of hitting savant who just magically, effortlessly knows how to do this is borderline insulting. The man works hard at his craft, and deserves respect for it.

And the sheer exuberant joy on his face as he headed for home? That's the best reason in the world to watch this stuff.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Legend Is Born

And his name is Fausto Carmona. Tonight was Carmona's "here I am" moment, an utterly dominating 9-inning performance against a stacked Yankee lineup in the middle of what looked like Biblical plague #11. While his teammates were flailing away against Andy Pettite, Carmona was a groundball machine. 19 groundouts out of 27 - add that to his 5 strikeouts and the 2 double plays he got and all of a sudden that's 26 out of 27 outs either on the down low or just plain missing bats. That's domination.
Don't forget that the last two outs he got were strikeouts. He made Derek Jeter look absolutely silly, then after his defense let him down on Bobby Abreu's grounder to short, he went to work on Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, to his credit, had a magnificent at-bat. He went down, guns blazing, against one of the best pitchers in baseball on a night when he had simply filthy stuff.
(Not that this will matter to the New York media, who will conveniently ignore Jeter's flailing swings to concentrate that A-Rod failed in the clutch. But that's a given.)

Meantime, heralded Yankees rookie looked like he might be following another post-season path: Rick Ankiel's. After a dominating seventh, he had the wheels come off in the 8th. Hit batsmen. Wild pitches. A visible loss of composure on the mound, and almost heartwrenching shots of him standing there, bugs crawling all over him as he visibly tried to pull himself together before throwing another one in the dirt.

All in all, it was a magnificent game, and absolutely riveting. Or, to put it another way, when Grady Sizemore sprinted home to tie the game, my wife the extremely casual baseball fan, noticed. When Jeter struck out, she put down her knitting and watched. And when Pronk ended it in the 11th, she cheered with me.

Now that's a game.

Sorry, Uncle Charlie

Charlie Manuel has done a lot of things right this season as manager of the Phillies. He's kept the team's head in it when it looked like they were drowning early. He came up with a way to turn a glut of below-average third basemen into a useful platoon. At no point did he throw a snowball at Santa Claus. Stuff like that.

But the one place his tactical acumen always failed him, and the main reason that serious Phillies bloggers always referred to him as Charlie "Needs A" Manuel, was his handling of the bullpen. Now, to be fair, Pat Gillick hasn't exactly given Manuel the Magnificent Seven out there, choosing instead to pick up every aged reliever who once saved an important game involving the Florida Marlins. There's El Pulpo Alfonseca, who can best be described as the second coming of Joe Table. There's Jose Mesa himself, so old that I saw a CGI version of him attacking a brontosaurus in the latest installment of Walking With Dinosaurs. There's Geary and Madson, both worked to death by Charlie in best pseudo-Yankee tradition. There's Clay Condrey, a reliever so bad his name literally is mud. You get the idea.

But none of that excuses going to Kyle Lohse as a reliever with the bases loaded, when he's basically never pitched as a reliever before. And none of that excuses pinch-hitting for him immediately thereafter, negating the innings-munching effect of using a starter as a reliever, and forcing a guy like Jose Mesa into the game. What's worse, burning Lohse for minimal work means that the Phils are forced to rely on aged soft-tosser Jamie Moyer, a guy who lives and dies by his breaking stuff, in an elimination game at Coors Field.

Yikes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I'm Betting You Didn't Even Clap Your Hands to Save Tinkerbell When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor, Did You?

...DID YOU?!
(Oh, and Bergmann, J., of the 3-3-3-3-1-2-good-enough-for-government-work line, is ready for his "You're welcome" any day now.)

NASCAR Does It Again

So let me get this straight. The guy who crossed the line first didn't win the race. Race winners are regularly checked after the race to see if they cheated (that's what "car failed post-game examination" means, folks) and if they did, they're docked points. No forfeits, no "hey, you cheated, so we probably shouldn't call you a winner," no nothing. Oh, and the rules change over the course of the season as the mysterious "Car of Tomorrow" and road tracks make their appearances.

(The fact that these "stock cars" are not in fact stock, well, we won't get into that.)

But in the end, you'd think there was one inviolable rule - the guy who crosses the finish line first wins. This week in Kansas? Not so much.

Why the Phillies, Why Not the Mets

In the end, the same thing won the NL East for the Phillies that doomed the Mets: pitching. The back end of the Phillies' bullpen - Tom Gordon, JC Romero, and Brett Myers - came together at the right time, shutting down opponents and taking the ball night after night. Meanwhile, the starters were better than expected (Kyle Lohse, Kyle Kendrick) or at least not utterly catastrophic (Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton), and the Phillies' bats kept on doing what they'd been doing all year - beating the living hell out of anything baseball-shaped. Whatever you think of the merits of Jimmy Rollins' MVP campaign, it's clear that he set the tone for this team, one that didn't give up even when they were couldn't get over .500, were friccaseed with injuries, or seven back with a mere seventeen to play. They did what they had been doing all year, with the addition of a shutdown pen, and in the end, that was good enough.

The Mets, on the other hand, can blame this one squarely on their pitching. Given a season-closing stretch of the soft underbelly of the National League, they instead found new and exciting ways to give games away. The culprit? Once again, pitching, though with an assist from a defense that suddenly went AWOL. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if 19 runs over 3 games doesn't buy you at least one win against the soft-swinging Nationals, something's wrong. And in this case, the something was the pitching. An old and fragile rotation that wore down by the end of the year, a bullpen that never jelled, and the late-season disappearance of All-Star blame dodger Billy Wagner all contributed to the Mets' pitching just not being good enough to win major league ballgames. Don't blame the bats for this one; for the most part, the hitters did their jobs. The pitchers just didn't bail them out.

Incidentally, one wonders when the blame for this will start settling on Wagner's shoulders. For years, he's been cruising on an undeserved reputation as a stand-up guy that seems mostly predicated on throwing his teammates under the bus to distract from his failures. It was his meltdowns against the Astros that cost the Phillies a playoff spot in 2005, after all, not the Pat Burrells of the world that he started blaming from a safe distance of 90 miles up I-95. Now he's got a hatchet job on his pitching coach and manager the day of the biggest game of the year to explain, not to mention his mysterious disappearances when the Mets first started to slide. Then there's the 9.00 ERA over the last seven games of the season. Small sample size, I know, but isn't that precisely when "proven standup guys" are supposed to excel?

In the end, blame for this one will no doubt be assigned to Willie Randolph's "poor managing and motivation" of the team, to Jose Reyes' disappearance in September, and to the mysterious power of the choke. That's the story that history will no doubt remember. For my part, however, I'd prefer to remember that the Phillies finally put it all together, right as the Mets' pitching fell apart.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

And Now, A Civilized Rebuttal...


You know, you give and give and give...




Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Phillies Fall to Braves. Again.

The last guy who had this much trouble handling Atlanta was John Bell Hood.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Astros Hire Wade, Middle Relievers' Agents Rejoice

Ed Wade was a curious beast as GM of the Phillies. He seemed to subscribe to the standard roto "studs and scrubs" theory of roster development, fimly convinced that a couple of stars could haul endless amounts of deadweight to the promised land. He was also deeply slow to promote top Phillies prospects (yes, they once had prospects) - check the ages of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard at callup if you don't believe me - and had the same sort of creepily obsessive fixation on aging middle relievers that Todd McFarlane had on Mary Jane Watson.

His penchant for handing out huge long-term contracts to slugging veterans will enable him to fit in well in Houston - see Berkman, Lance, and Lee, Carlos - and the Astros' willingness to let their major-league-ready talent rot in AAA or on the bench matches his philosophy with the Phils. But packing in middle relievers isn't going to put the Astros over the top; developing some starting pitching and putting at least average-level bats in the lineup will. At this point, you can basically put a fork in Jason Lane, Luke Scott and Chris Burke, all of whom got yanked to the bench or sent down at the first hint of struggle and replaced with veteran mediocrities like Orlando Palmeiro, Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb. One suspects that the sure knowledge that these guys were lurking in the wings didn't help the young guys establish themselves. The question is, will Wade allow the same to happen to the Mitch Einertsons of the world, or will he have learned from his time in Philly? Past history suggests not, and the constant meddling of owner Drayton McLane probably won't help matters.

Still, in a brave new post-Biggio world, anything is possible. At least, until Wade signs Antonio Alfonseca to a 3-year $12M contract, that is.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Oh, That Wacky OJ

ESPN.com's Jemele Hill wonders if O.J. Simpson is getting railroaded because the justice system feels like he got a mulligan last time round. Her rationale seems to be, in part, that because the LVPD hasn't closed some high-profile cases where no witnesses will cooperate, they shouldn't be in a position to nab OJ when there's evidence against him - or something like that.

I don't think OJ should be arrested because the prosecuting attorneys botched it last time around. Instead, I think that he should be arrested because there's all sorts of evidence against him, even if some of it is in the form of testimony provided by less-than-sterling characters. That, after all, is what the courts are supposed to sort out. And I'm certainly willing to believe that a man who was let off the hook on multiple counts of domestic violence, who may or may not (depending on which verdict you believe) have brutally slaughtered the mother of his children and her friend, who authored a book on the murders that can only be described as a confession, who mock-attacked a talk-show host, and whose thirst for the limelight seems unquenchable might possibly have thought he could just stroll into a hotel room and take what he wanted, especially if he thought it was his to begin with.

Monday, September 17, 2007

L'Affaire Belichick

To me, the most interesting part of this whole mess is not the fact that the Patriots were systematically videotaping other teams' defensive signals and using them in their playcalling. It's the reaction to the whole thing, and the elements that have been sidestepped in favor of the fecal matter cyclone over the silliest bits of it all.

If Paul Zimmerman's allegations over at SI are true - namely, that the Patriots interfere with other teams' headsets at convenient times - then that's serious. That's an unfair advantage, and seeing as much of the NFL's momentum is built on legal wagering, the one thing the league cannot afford is the appearance of unfair games. Drug addicts, wife beaters, guys who try to run over cops with their SUVs, you name it - all of these are fine, but once the outcome of the games is seen to be in doubt, then the gambling money is going to dry up, and with it, a huge chunk of the interest. No wonder, then, that Dr. Z's allegations haven't been repeated much.

But most of the media squawking has been over either the punishment that Roger Goodell doled out, or other weirdness. For those calling for Belichick to be suspended, I suggest that you get real. Even if he were banned from the sideline and the complex for a week, is there the slightest doubt that he'd somehow find a way to be in constant communication with the team right up to and including gameday? A suspension might have eaten up a few of his off-peak minutes, but that's about it.

The real fun, though, comes from the good and loyal defenders of the Patriots, led of course by the now completely demented Bill Simmons. Simmons has been drinking his own Kool-Aid, made with water shipped out to his LA man-cave from the mouth of the Charles, and somehow has found a way to blame Eric Mangini for the whole mess. Mangini's sin, apparently, is failing to adhere to some weird Patriots code of omerta known only to grinning wannabes who've inhaled the Godfather trilogy too many times while wishing they could grow a colonial-style ponytail like the guy on the Sam Adams bottles. Bill, bubeleh, let me explain this to you. Mangini was the guy who got spied on. The one who got screwed. The fact that he shook Belichick's hand after the game - remember, something Bill initially refused to do back in the day - isn't a betrayal, it's a poker face. You know, poker. That thing you keep on bragging about playing in Vegas. In the end, it doesn't matter. At this point, you either read Simmons for the shtick that he's a real-life escapee from Everybody Loves Raymond, or you got tired of the one-joke routine a while ago and simply check him out for the train wreck factor.

The eloquent Chad Finn, over at TATB, takes the eminently more reasonable approach that no matter what, this is going to take the shine off the Patriots' accomplishments of the last few years, as well it should. Yes, Belichick is a great coach. Yes, they've been a great team. But the fact is, they got caught cheating, and one of the penalties of cheating is that you no longer get the benefit of the doubt. You burn your goodwill. It's that simple. That being said, Finn goes on to raise the classic schoolyard excuse of "everyone else is doing it. Or might be doing it. Or would do it, if they thought they could get away with it."

To which I say, well, maybe, but Belichick got caught. He got caught because he was arrogant, because he was obvious, and because he kept doing it even after a warning that might as well have come gift-wrapped and carried by a phalanx of saran-wrapped strippers. The NFL did everything in its power to avoid catching Belichick cheating, because they didn't want to have to do anything about it, but he forced their hand. There may be other cheaters out there, but they haven't been caught, and until they're caught, Bill's on the island by himself.

Hopefully, he'll stay that way, though I doubt it. There's too much money at stake in the NFL, and the league winks at too many serious infractions in favor of punishing the freakshows like Pac-Man Jones. I'm far more concerned with players being rushed back out onto the field with concussions, or Defensive Players of the Year who test positive for steroids but who win awards anyway than I am about the Patriots doing their own little version of The Echoing Green.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yet Another Reason to Love Minor League Baseball



Courtesy of the Reading Phillies, God bless 'em.

Derek Zumsteg Interview

A short interview I did with Derek Zumsteg, author of The Cheater's Guide to Baseball and contributor to USS Mariner (which I really need to get into the blogroll one of these days) is up over at my personal website, Snowbird Gothic. I do recommend checking it out, because Derek's smart, funny, and sharper than the piece of broken bat that Clemens threw at Piazza back in the day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Why The Phillies Are Dead Meat

Yes, I know they won today. They won yesterday, too. It doesn't matter. For all the many virtues of this particular Phillies team - and they are many - it's doomed. Dead in the water. It'll get close, the way the Phillies always seem to get close, and then it'll just miss. Doubt me? Look at the stumbles against Atlanta and Florida after the much-ballyhooed sweep of the Mets a couple of weeks back. They're a fun team. They're an entertaining team. But they're not a playoff team, not in the state they're in.

And when the season is over and they've missed the postseason again by a game or two, all of the discussion will no doubt be about injuries. About the injuries to all the starting pitching, and to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Shane Victorino and any member of the bullpen who had the vaguest semblance of a pulse. But that won't be the reason they fail to grab the brass ring. They'll fail because playoff teams don't let the Pirates come back on them from four runs down, two days in a row. They'll fail because they had their foot on the Braves' necks in the first couple of games of the season, and they let them up for devastating losses. They'll fail because they rolled into Kansas City during interleague play and absolutely failed to take care of business against one of the worst teams in baseball. Those are the games that playoff teams absolutely have to win, those are the holes that playoff teams don't dig for themselves.

Much has been made of this team's resilience, and about how they've come from behind to win 45 times this year. That's a remarkable statistic, and it says much about how good the core of hitters on this team (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Burrell, Victorino, Rowand, and Ruiz) is. However, there's a reason that this team h as come from behind 45 times, and that's because their kerosene-on-a-BBQ pitching staff has put them down in each and every one of those 45 games. At its best, their bullpen has too many ancient retreads - Alfonseca? Mesa? How many more Marlins-Indians World Series veterans do we need - and not enough strikethrowers and fireballers. The pitching staff was damaged goods from the word go, and even with Kyle Kendrick doing his best Marty Bystrom impression, there's just not enough there to contend with. Against the weaker lineups in the league, it might work for a while, but can you see a Moyer-Kendrick-Eaton-Durbin rotation going up against the big bats of the Yankees or Angels in the World Series? It's not a pretty thought. Realistically, all the Phillies can do to win these days is outslug people, and it's a tribute to the quality of their sluggers that they've been doing it more often than not. They won't do it enough, though. It's been a fun year, an interesting year, and an enjoyable year.

It's just not going to be The Year.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Memos

To: JaMarcus Russell
Re: Contract Negotiations
There are very few professions where you're likely to get paid umpty-zillion dollars right out of college. Might I suggest signing, and hiring a good investment banker? The other options are looking a lot less lucrative - ask Matt Bush.

To: The Oakland Raiders
Re: Contract Negotiations
Yes, you already have 3 quarterbacks on your roster, but none of them are any good. May I suggest signing the one guy you've drafted who might someday make a difference and sell a few tickets on your behalf?

To: Rick Ankiel
Re: HGH
Stop hitting home runs before you get to the 70s in a single season, and as far as the media goes, you'll be fine.

To: Lloyd Carr
Re: Job Security
I hear western North Carolina is lovely this time of year.

To: Joey Harrington
Re: The Georgia Lottery
May I suggest playing the Pick Six tonight? You seem to be on a roll with that.

To: Michael Vick
Re: Contrition
After seven years, it's no longer a "mistake" or a "bad decision". It's a lifestyle and a multi-state business operation with an extensive physical plant. Just so we're all clear on that one.

To: Sportswriters
Re: Michael Vick
When he inevitably comes back - and he will be back - can you get all of the Steve Howe comparisons out of the way in the first couple of weeks? Thanks.

To: Alex Rodriguez
Re: True Yankee Status
You still haven't got it, you know, and you won't until a Yankee team you lead wins the World Series - at which point all of the credit will go to Derek Jeter, anyway. But if you leave after this season, you'll be pilloried for it.

To: Derek Jeter
Re: Alex Rodriguez
You are aware that when he picks up and leaves after the season, your defensive metrics are going right back into the crapper, right? Just checking.

To: Yankee Fans
Re: Alex Rodriguez
Enjoy him while you've got him, because it won't be for much longer.

To: Billy Beane
Re: Undervalued areas
The rest of the league seems to have caught up to you in terms of OBP and defense. May I suggest looking at "health" as the next undervalued area you invest in? Your team's training staff clearly is not getting it done.

To: Auburn
Re: South Florida
Yes, it counts as a directional school. The "it has the fifth largest campus in the country" excuses should start shortly, however.

To: Pirates Fans
Re: Dave Littlefield
See? There is a God. He's just not real good with deadlines.

ACC Football - Catch It! ('Cause It's Falling)

Miami gets murdered by Oklahoma. Nebraska beats Wake Forest. LSU thumps Virginia Tech like Ringo Starr's bass drum. Virginia gets its head handed to it by Wyoming. On successive weeks, UNC and NC State get beaten by directional schools, and Duke gets clobbered by UConn, from a state technically too small to have directionals.

At this point, it's clear that the bold move the ACC made to turn itself into a football power hasn't quite worked as planned. Right now, the ACC is inarguably the worst "major" football conference out there, and at this point I'd seriously consider putting it behind a few of the "mid-majors" as well. Boston College and Georgia Tech are looking like the class of the league, but the league itself isn't looking that classy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I couldn't make this stuff up

The Steelers' new mascot is named Steely McBeam.

I'd say "insert your own joke here", but that's really making it too easy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Yanks Are Coming!

So the Yankees have gone 20-8 after the All Star Break, to close within 6 of the Red Sox. Bravo, except that they've spent the month playing:

Tampa Bay
Toronto
Tampa Bay (again)
Kansas City
Baltimore
Chicago (AL)
Kansas City (again)
Toronto (again)

Not too hard to run up your record against that lot, really. If they survive their upcoming stretch against teams with a pulse, then maybe they'll have something. But lots of these mid-summer "surges" are a product of a decent team chewing into the soft underbelly of their schedule, and the 2007 Yankees are no exception.

Elbow Sex! Elbow Sex! Elbow Sex!

(and a big thank-you to Patricia Quinn and Richard O'Brien for that one)

The latest Barry Bonds tomfoolery has a cartoonist-slash-"motion consultant" claiming that Barry's elbow brace is in fact secretly a Transformer from the planet Cybertron, which straightens, levels, and powers Barry's swing to the tune of 75-100 extra home runs. Will Caroll over at BP has already taken the cole slaw shredder to this far more effectively than anyone else could, taking the radical step of interviewing the guy who makes Barry's brace. And according to him...

...Barry's arms haven't changed size in twelve years.

Interesting, isn't it?

Of course, if you really want to look at a player whose career statistics were wildly enhanced by an elbow guard, I suggest pointing your peepers at Craig Biggio. Big's massive elbow guard allowed him to lean over the plate without fear of damage (Many of his historic plunkings show him making as much effort to evade the ball as Terrell Owens makes for a pass in traffic over the middle), taking away the inside half of the plate for the pitcher and giving him extension over the outside half of the plate. In other words, it was a huge benefit to his hitting and his OBP...almost sort of a performance enhancer.

Nothing against Biggio, mind you. I've always enjoyed watching him play, and he's clearly a superior talent. But at this point the baseball meta-narrative doesn't allow us to attribute success by a player of his ilk (read: short, white, scrappy, middle infielder) to anything other that scrappiness and indomitable will. At this point, it seems likely that Biggio received far more benefit from his elbow guard than Bonds did from his.

And if David Eckstein, Joe McEwing, David Newhan and Scott Podsednik start showing up in the batters box in +4 plate mail, well, you know where it started.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Neifi Perez Suspended...

...80 games for a third strike on the performance enhancing drugs policy. This, of course, begs the question - what would Neifi Perez hit like without PEDs?


(According to Will Carroll at BP, it's actually on the amphetamine side of the ledger, but work with me here.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Trade Deadline Analysis, Part II

Braves get Texeira for Most of Their Farm System
Winner: Tied
Years from now, this has the best chance of being seen as 2007's version of Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz. Tex is a huge upgrade on the various Scott Thormans, Craig Wilsons, Julio Francos, and Mumm-Ra The Destroyers who have been manning first base for the Braves this year. About the only first baseman the Bravos have trotted out there who hasn't been noticeably worse than Texeira is...Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the centerpiece of the very tasty package that went back to Texas. Throw in the fact that Texas now has an abundance of elite catching prospects, they also got three of Atlanta's other top prospects, and they'll control Saltalamacchia for years yet, and it becomes clear they got an elite haul for the elite player on the market. With the Mets' rotation in a shambles and the Phillies going down like they're charging Marye's Heights, Texeira could conceivably be the piece that puts the Braves over the top. But the price may be a half-decade of hearing about the success of Salty, Elvis Andrus, and the two live arms they gave up to get him.

Braves trade Kyle Davies for Octavio Dotel
Winner: Royals (and do you have any idea how hard it is to write that?)
With Bob Wickman doing his best impression of Frank Langella in The Ninth Gate (sorry, should have been a spoiler warning there), the Braves needed more bullpen help, stat. Dotel is a great rental, a power arm who wasn't doing the Royals much good but whom the Braves can use as either a strong setup guy or a replacement for Wiki when he finally goes kaboom once and for all.
Meanwhile, Dayton Moore does the standard new GM-shtick of looting his old organization. Sometimes it works (Dallas Green & Ryne Sandberg), sometimes it doesn't (Pat Gillick & any former Mariner), but it keeps happening. In this case, Moore pillaged the Braves for iffy starter Davies, a former top prospect who'd never made a dent in the Majors. Whether or not Davies pans out is, ultimately, almost immaterial. Dotel was a rental, a short-timer at best, and getting anything for him is a win. Dave Littlefield, pay attention - this is what you do with mediocre-to-solid-vets at the trade deadline. Davies still has a high ceiling, Moore knows and likes him from his days with the Braves, and it sure as hell beats letting Dotel walk for nada at year's end.

Phillies Acquire Lohse for Maloney

Winner: Phillies
Insofar as that Kyle Lohse has not yet gotten hurt, this one is a win for the Phillies. It's a case of "decent now vs. possibly decent down the road", and considering the fact that the Phillies have been reduced to looting Ottowa's rotation, "now" sounds good.

Pirates Acquire Morris and Massive Debt Service for Davis
Winner: Zoltag, Psionic Overlord Of the Ninth Galaxy, who has demonstrated that he can project his consciousness into Dave Littlefield at Will
Rajai Davis could spontaneously combust tomorrow and this deal would still work for the Giants.

Morris is old, expensive, and lousy, and if there is a single area where the Pirates have something vaguely approaching depth, it’s starting pitching.
And for the record, “He eats innings” is not a valid reason for picking up a terrible pitcher. If a guy is closing in on an ERA of 5 in San Francisco, he’s not going to get out of the fourth inning a lot in Pittsburgh. At best, that's an inning-light-snack.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Trade Deadline Analysis, Part I

Behold! The Phillies' Season!

Padres trade RP Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee for 3 prospects

Winner: San Diego
While the prospects that the Padres got back for Linebrink aren't all that great - only Will Inman was on BP's Top 100 Prospects list, and he's the sort of control-artist righty who gets compared to Greg Maddux up until major league hitters start sitting on his fastball - but in Petco, they don't need to be. What they do need to be is reasonably effective and cheap, which is how Kevin Towers likes to build a bullpen, and how he'll continue to be doing so for the forseeable future. Linebrink's decline has been well documented just about everywhere else, though the real issue is what exactly the Brewers need him for. The one weakness in their bullpen lately has been Francisco Cordero's sudden exposure to Kryptonite/reversion to form, and Linebrink can't help with that. He makes an already-deep middle relief corps deeper, but surely the free-falling Brewers had other, more pressing needs than yet another sixth inning guy.


White Sox trade 2B Tad Iguchi to Phillies for tasty snacks
Winner: Phillies
"Stand" Pat Gillick moved quickly on this one. When Chase Utley went down, thanks to the Nationals' using one of their less accurate peanut vendors as a starting pitcher and drilling Utley in the hand, it looked like you could stick a fork in the Phillies' season. Well, another one. They already look like Toshiro Mifune at the end of Throne of Blood, but that's neither here nor there. But Gillick acted swiftly and reeled in Iguchi for the low, low price of minor league slinger Michael Dubee. Iguchi is the definition of "rent-a-player" in that he's in his walk year, he's needed for a specific time, and apart from one horrific month he's actually been pretty good this year. Also, by his mere existence he keeps Abraham Nunez out of the batters' box, and that's a good thing. Getting Iguchi is actually a double benefit, as the Mets are looking for second base help as well, and with Iguchi (and Jorge Cantu) off the market, they're stuck looking at guys like Mark Loretta. So Gillick filled a need on the cheap, blocked a rival, and shored up what could have been a devastating loss - none of which makes up for the awful winter he had, but it's a nice change of pace.
As for the White Sox, one gets the feeling that Kenny Williams is trying to save his pennies for the off-season, and getting Iguchi off the books for a couple of months helps a little bit with that. This also lets him take a look at Danny Richar, the spoils from an earlier trade with the Diamondbacks, so it's a case of addition, or at least opportunity, by subtraction. The guy actually involved in the trade, Dubee, is by all accounts going to be lucky to make it to organizational soldier status. That makes it clear that this deal was simply about getting Iguchi out of the way.

Tampa Bay trades a whole bunch of guys to a whole bunch of teams in order to restock their bullpen
Winner: Tampa Bay
While the Flatfish have a plethora of starting pitching prospects coming through the system (some of whom did not attend Rice and thus have a chance at actually pitching in the majors before their shoulders flee to Canada for political sanctuary), their bullpen has been historically bad this year. And by "historically bad", I mean Franco-Prussian War kind of history. No matter who they've run out their, the Rays relievers have gotten pounded like Peter McNeely. So, swapping some of their infielder spare parts and ineffective arms for, respectively, Dan Wheeler, some minor leaguers, and Grant Balfour is a win all the way around.
Getting Wheeler for Ty Wigginton in particular is a win, as the Yankees had apparently already said no to a Wiggington-for-charred-remains-of-Scott-Proctor deal. Being able to snag one of the most coveted relievers on the market - and fill a need - for a surplus corner infielder with massive platoon splits and mediocre defense is a win. The Rays already have Pena, Iwamura, Upton, and Gomes to fill the slots that Wiggington played, so they lose nothing by dealing him and get a valuable commodity back. The Astros, on the other hand, already had a bunch of Wigginton types (Ensberg, Lamb, Loretta, you get the idea) and had no real need for another one. Dumping Ensberg and losing Wheeler to get a guy who's, well, Ensbergian, isn't the sort of move a team on the fringes of the wild card race needs to make.
Ditto the Jorge Cantu trade to Cincinnati. Cantu had already dumped accelerate all over his bridges with Tampa Bay, and his position(s) were being ably filled by a plethora of guys. They had no need for him, and they dealt him to address an organizational weakness. If Cantu puts it together, he allows the Reds to move whipping boy Edwin Encarnacion, but that's a big if. In the meantime, he's at Louisville.
Meanwhile, Seth McClung was part of the Rays' long-running legacy of failure in the pen - superb at Durham, dreadful in Tampa. (See: Salas, Juan). Getting him out of their system, even if he's second all time in saves by a West Virginia native simply removes the temptation to try again. Getting Grant Balfour back is an unexpected windfall, even if his extremely small showing with the Brewers was horrific. His track record indicates he's got better things in store, and so does the Devil Rays' pen.

D'oh!-naghy

How serious is the referee point-shaving scandal in the NBA? So serious that Bill Simmons wrote about it without referencing Hoosiers, The Godfather, Swingers, or watching Larry Bird with his father. There was one Entourage reference, but from Simmons, this is like the Mourner's Kaddish.

Oddly enough, Simmons also failed to reference any of his numerous trips to Vegas with his buddies, another one of his frequent column staples. Perhaps he felt it would be in poor taste.

Monday, July 16, 2007

ARod Redux, With a Side of Scotty

Note - as a card-carrying nerd, I always find the nickname that's been hung on Alex Rodriguez to be mildly amusing. Arod, for those who do not wander deep in the nerdly forests as I, is the name of the horse given to Legolas by the Riders of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings. And so, the noble but expendable steed Aron goes trotting off all over Middle Earth at the bidding of his magical master. Occasionally, he is burdened by a second passenger, a dwarf who, while named Gimli, bears a suspicious resemblance to Joe Torre - that is, if Joe wore chain mail and carried a battle axe. Then again, the way things are going these days, he might.

Watching the latest round of ARod drama play out is deeply unpleasant on a number of levels. For one thing, it takes away from the enjoyment of watching the guy have what could be one of the monster seasons of all time. But nobody's talking about the homers or the RBIs or the defense; they're talking opt-out and $40M/year and everything except baseball. Come on, people, you crucified him enough for on-field stuff last year, why not put a little attention where attention is due this year.

Then, there's the Scott Boras factor. Watching Boras angle for top dollar for his clients is a lot like watching your creepy middle-aged uncle who insists on making out with his 21 year old dental hygienist girlfriend at family gatherings, just to reinforce to all and sundry how virile he is (hair on back notwithstanding). We get it, Scott. You want to get Alex a lot of money. You want to get you a lot of money. And you want everyone to know you're the agentest agent of them all. Fine. Whatever. But as a fan, I can hope that this focus on the contract blows up in your face, that nobody's going to be quite as interested in the ARod circus because they won't be able to dig through the mischegas to get to ARod the ballplayer. Here's hoping that the owners learn that they can trust Boras's pronouncements as far as they can spit a wildebeest, and that his tactic of using creative assessments of the truth to get owners to bid against themselves doesn't work this time. It's not that I particularly don't want Rodriguez to get his money - on that account, I don't care one way or the other. It's that I want Boras' negotiating tactics to fail, utterly and spectacularly, so I don't have to endure endless news cycles discussing them any more.

And that 9-game neutral site World Series idea? Dreadful.

10000 Losses

Not on the current roster, and running hard to get off the old one

As you no doubt know, the Phillies just suffered their ten thousandth loss as a franchise, to which, as a Phillies fan, all I can say is "Big deal." The team has been around for a hundred and twenty five years, including a short and unfortunate stretch as the Blue Jays, and over that many years, you're bound to rack up a lot of Ls, even if you're a good team. And, let's face it, for most of their history, the Phillies weren't very good. That being said, most of those losses were racked up by guys with names like Jack Baldschun and Ted Kazanski and Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy, not to mention the odd Steve Jeltz or two. It's ancient history, and while it's fun for ESPN et alia to run with the whole "city of losers" angle - gawrsh, no wonder they boo! - what's really more important this year is not an record-setting entropic inevitability. What matters is the fact that the starting pitching is running on double-A fumes, the bullpen is ragged and wounded, and there's no production out of anybody left of shortstop. Loss 10001 will come, and 10002 and 10003, and God knows how many else. What matters is getting the pitching healthy and the 3B/LF black hole rectified so they come a little more slowly in the future than they did in the days when Solly Hemus, Clay Dalrymple or Heinie Sand were household names.

Why is this man smiling? He's not on the current roster, either.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dan Patrick to Leave ESPN

Listeners to his radio show wonder how they're supposed to tell the difference.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tony, Albert, and Aaron

Let's face it. The second Aaron Rowand stepped up to the plate in the 9th inning of the All Star Game with two outs and the bases loaded, you knew it was over. You knew he wouldn't come through, that the NL was doomed once again despite a stirring ninth inning comeback.

You knew this for two reasons. One, Aaron Rowand is a Phillie, and the last time a Phillie came up big in a clutch situation like that, it was Roger Mason in the 1993 NLCS. Two, he's Aaron Rowand. Moments like that - two outs, bottom of the ninth, K-Rod on the mound, bases loaded, down by one - aren't made for the Aaron Rowands of the world.

Nothing against Aaron Rowand, mind you. He's a fine player having a fine year. He plays hard, plays great defense, and has that all-important "willing to set himself on fire to catch a ball" quotient that Philly fans love. But, a fine player is all he is, and there was a much better than fine player sitting on the bench. You know, some guy named Pujols.

Now, forget about the conspiracy theories that Tony LaRussa wanted to put the NL manager after him at a disadvantage in the World Series. Forget about Pujols supposedly metamorphosing, Hulk-like, into an incredible jerk over the last couple of years. What his outburst sounded like to me was the squawking of a guy who wanted to win, who thought he gave his team the best chance to win, and who wasn't allowed to help his team win.

Because Albert Pujols, arguably the best hitter on the planet, is made for moments like that. Forget worrying about who would play where in the 10th if they tied it. Odds were, it wasn't going to be a tie. A single would bring home two runs - game over. An out, and it's over. The only way Pujols gets just one run home is if he bunts, and even Tony LaRussa isn't dumb enough to do that.

At least, not most of the time.

But as much as watching the NL lose again grinds my tooth enamel when they could have had a better shot to win, that's not what really grinds my tooth enamel. No, the All-Star Game is an exhibition. A show. A chance to see the best against the best. And we could have had that - K-Rod against Albert, bottom of the ninth, all the marbles on the line. That would have been an All-Star moment for the ages.

Instead, we got Aaron Rowand.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Posh and Becks

In the wake of their recent all-out media blitz, I find myself asking one question:

Who cares?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

BB, AS

Regardless of your take as to whether Barry Bonds "should" be an All-Star, can we at least get away from the nonsensical carping about how he's not having a good enough year to go?

Let's go to the tape:
16 HR - 8th in the league
1st on OBP
2nd in SLG
1st in OPS, even if Joe Morgan doesn't know what that means
BA - .304
BA with 2 outs and RISP - .400

Yes, the RBIs are down, mainly because nobody else on the Giants could get to first base at a prom, much less against major league pitching. Yes, the defense is moderately awful, but Mike Piazza made an awful lot of All-Star games while doing his best impression of a sieve behind home plate.

If you want to argue whether Bonds should be in based on off-the-field stuff, that's one thing. But pretending that the on-the-field stats aren't there just doesn't hold water.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Trade Jon Lieber! Ooops.

I'd say it's a good thing that the Phillies didn't succeed in trading one of their starters during spring training, but I'm not sure it matters. Even the so-called depth they had going into the season hasn't prevented them from having multiple cases of Zach Segovia and a chronic case of Kyle Kendrick, who sounds like a 50s DC superhero sidekick.

Barretts in your hair

Nate Silver has an interesting piece over at BP on the Cubs' habit of grinding down the value of players they're about to trade, making it impossible to get decent value back. Silver ascribes it to a lack of confidence of decision-making ability, and suggests that the Cubs are relying heavily on "What did you expect me to get for these guys?" as a defense for the lousy return they've gotten on trades in recent years.

I'm not so sure. From my admittedly jauniced viewpoint, it looks more like the Cubs are more interested in winning PR battles with their fans than games on the field. Rather than get blasted - or risk ticket and merch sales - by shipping a popular player out of town, the TribCo behemoth instead devours its own like Kronos snacking on his offspring. If everyone is convinced that Michael Barrett, or Todd Walker, or Corey Patterson, or anyone else is a worthless bum by the time the club finally trades him, then nobody gets upset when said worthless bum leaves.

Clever, fellas. Very clever. Now, if only it helped you win games.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why the AL Will Always Win Interleague Play

Much is made of how AL teams are at a disadvantage when they play in NL parks because they generally have tell the lumbering Solomon Grundy-types at DH to have a seat. Conventional wisdom states that this is somehow unfair, because they're playing "with less than their full lineup."

Hogwash.

The real disadvantage goes to NL teams when they have to play in AL parks. In an NL stadium, they sit down the DH and have 8 hitters and a pitcher in the lineup - just like the NL teams. While I'm sure some slight advantage accrues to NL teams because their pitchers are at least more familiar with which end of the bat to hold, even the best-hitting NL pitchers still, frankly, stink. Or, to put it another way, Carlos Zambrano gets mad props for bashing as many homers as Jack Wilson.

On the other hand, when an NL team goes to an AL park, they need to find a DH, and most NL teams don't have a Big Papi-level masher just sitting on the bench to take the role. If you're lucky, it's your fourth outfielder - the Michael Bourns and Endy Chavezes of the world. Now match the drop in productivity from Hafner/Ortiz/Thome/Thomas to the Olmaedo Saenz/Brad Eldred/Ryan Doumit extravaganzas to the dropoff you get from Zambrano to Andy Pettite, and I think there's a significant tilt one way in that equation. (And yes, a lot of NL teams were using big name hitters as DHs, but that just means they put the lesser lights in the field. The net result on the lineup was the same.)

So the next time you hear a whinge about how Sheff has to sit, and woe be unto the Tigers as a result, bear in mind - Sheff sitting is less of a negative than most NL "designated hitters" hitting.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rod Beck, In Pace Requiescat

We'll miss the mullet. And the fu manchu-gone-Muppet moustache. And the stories of the Winnebago parked in the stadium lot. And the 51 saves for the Cubs - the Cubs!

Thanks for the memories, Shooter.

Monday, June 18, 2007

So Let Me Get This Straight..

Kobe meets with the owner of the Lakers in Barcelona because Dr. Buss is on his way back from vacationing in China, in order to demand a trade out of Los Angeles to a team that is ready to win now. This, of course, after the Lakers threw Shaq under the bus in order to keep Kobe happy.

As a writer of fiction, I can only shake my head in admiration. If I came up with any of this stuff, they'd tell me I'd gone from writing horror to fantasy.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Wormkiller General In His Labyrinth

Some thoughts on last night's drubbing of the Bulls by the not-exactly-loaded Indianapolis Indians...

Mitch "Wormkiller General" Talbot went 4 2/3 shaky innings, escaping having only given up two runs (both on solo homers). However, he was in and out of trouble most of the night, admittedly with an assist from Durham's up-and-down defense. A great pitching performance, it was not, and there's a visible difference in Talbot's approach when he gets into trouble. Simply put, he....slows.....down. And when he slows down, he overthrows and gets the ball up, which is exactly what a guy who lives and dies on sinkers ought not to be doing. When Talbot was on, the strikeouts and the groundouts were both there. But when he wasn't, well, Brad Eldred hit that ball a looooong way.

If the Devil Rays want to ensure that uberprospects Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria to have a hope in hell of hitting at the major league level, they need to do something about the hitting instruction at Durham. Now. The entire team's approach is swing from the heels, swing at everything, and devil take the hindmost. Eliot Johnson is hitting below the Mendoza Line (note to Eliot - until you crack .200, you're not allowed to use that for your at-bat music. It's like Pete LaForest using "Thunderstruck".) and it's easy to see why - he's swinging at pretty much every pitch and he's taking a mighty power hitter's hack from the heels. I was half-expecting him to corkscrew himself out of his shoes each swing. And so, what do you get? Second and third, one out? hack hack done. First and third, one out? hack hack done. I don't know whether it's the influence of hitting coach Gary Gaetti, himself not known for his patient approach during his playing days, or the notion that these guys are trying to earn a promotion with one swing, but either way, the Durham offense is dire, and these guys are rapidly whiffing away any hint of hitting prospect-dom.

Or, to put it another way, 11 strikeouts, including 10 against the immortal Shane Youman.

And Tampa Bay needs to stop farting around with Edwin Jackson, and call up Jon Switzer for their bullpen toot sweet. It was nice of them to give Jackson every chance to resurrect his prospect label, but right now they need someone who can get people out from the pen, and dumping Jackson, moving Jason Hammel into the rotation and elevating Switzer seems like the best way to do that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Memo to NASCAR Nation

This man drives for Jack Daniels. Or Cobra Commander. Take your pick.


Your sport is just like everyone else's (except that in everyone else's sport, you have to make a right turn once in a while). The talent goes where the money is, which means that the gent yelling on the local sports talk radio station about how there's no loyalty left now that Junior (Ernhardt, not Griffey) has gone to Hendrick Motorsports needs to get over it.

First of all, NASCAR has always been the most heavily commercialized of the American sports. Doubt me? Then ask a fan about which car their favorite driver's in. It's the "#88 Snickers" or the "Jack Daniels car". They're driving brands. The cars don't have names, they have bar codes and SKU numbers. And I may be old-fashioned, but I'd rather root for, as Seinfeld put it, laundry, than for an endcap filler. It's about the money, it's always been about the money, and the drivers are finally waking up to that.

Sooner or later, the fans will, too. Just like baseball fans did, and then football and basketball fans. At this rate, we'll get the great NASCAR steroid scandal around 2036, when Tony Stewart's helmet splits in two and shotguns off his suspiciously swollen noggin, and Cale Yarbrough refuses to attend a record-setting performance at Lowe's Motor Speedway as a result.

We can only hope.

When They Hit A Ball That's Moving, That Will Impress Me

Kvetching continues over the course conditions for the US Open, where, if you believe the players, the greens have been replaced with linoleum, the fairways are narrower than Nicole Richie, and the rough is tall enough to hide sasquatch and his extended family.

At the risk of revealing my utter indifferent to the game of golf, I must say: who cares? These are supposed to be the best players in the world. This is supposed to be the toughest course in the world, so who better to challenge it? All of this yakking about how nobody was getting the ball 30 feet out of the rough is simply Tiger and Phil's version of working the refs before a playoff series, hoping that they can make the coursekeepers nervous enough to make things more favorable the first time someone bounces a three-wood off a squirrel.

Suck it up, ye men in plaid pants. The ball just sits there, you don't have to deal with hostile crowds (imagine Tiger trying to three-putt in Fenway some time around the sixth inning), and someone else is doing the heavy lifting for you. The least you can do is play the game.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Some Kid Tanked the National Spelling Bee Last Week on This Very Same Word

And it's a humdinger, too. Awful Announcing alerts us to the following example of people with too much time on their hands...
Taking a cue from the Arte Moreno school of marketing [Sweet galloping Kierkegaard, no - Ed.], the Long Beach Armada has changed the team's name.

It's now the Long Beach Armada of Los Angeles of California of the United States of North America Including Barrow, Alaska.

Or for short, LBALACUSNAIBA. [Which is not that portmanteau that Tiger Woods calls himself; we checked.]

It's not a hoax.

Of course it's not. It's the Arte Moreno School of Marketing -- you know, the people who sold you Thunder Stixx. The Rally Monkey. Darren Oliver as a viable option out of the bullpen. That school.
"It's the real deal. We've got merchandise on the way," said David Kaval, owner of the Armada and chief executive of the Golden Baseball League. "The abbreviation is great, especially on a hat. It wraps around."

Yes, well, so did "ANNETTE" on Ms. Funicello's sweater during the heyday of the old Mickey Mouse Club, and you could actually spell that within 3 tries. So unless Messr. Kaval's going to roll out a line of baby-doll T's with this marketing ploy-cum-printing press accident across the goods, we're not too terribly interested.

The Armada, which opens its season June 13 at Blair Field, will host "Barrow, Alaska Day" on July 30 to honor the team's sister city. "Everyone knows what the Angels did," Kaval said, adding that "being a real Los Angeles County team, we wanted to extend our reach as far north as possible."


Which is true. We all know what the Angels did. No one of reasonably sound mind liked it; we all justly ignored it; to this day we're surprised that Gene Autry The Singing Cowboy His Own Bad Self didn't claw his way up from the grave and wrap his six-string around Arte Moreno's neck for it. But now, the bright side...
By the way, Kaval said city of Long Beach officials are not upset. Their name's still first.

A perfectly cromulent attitude, I'd say.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

5 Things I Want To See From the NBA Finals

1 - Manu Ginobili flopping so hard when LeBron James drives the lane that he A)sprains something and B)gets picked for the next round of Dancing With the Stars.

2 - Robert Horry missing a big shot at the buzzer. Hell, make it 2.

3- Zydrunas Ilgauskas posterizing Tim Duncan. Yeah, I know, it will never happen, but with all that Big Z has gone through in his career, you can hope for it.

4 - Bruce Bowen to lose his mysterious power to cloud referees' minds. Either that, or for him to admit that he is in fact the reincarnation of Lamont Cranston, and to abandon the NBA to....(wait for it)....fight crime.

5 - All of the NBA conspiracy theorists who have decided that Flip Saunders' lousy rotations are proof that the NBA fixed the series to get LeBron into the finals (No, I won't capitalize it. That's silly.) to give it a rest already. If they really were into that sort of thing, then Phoenix would have been allowed to stomp the Spurs in peace. Bigger market, more marketable players, and nary a whiff of controversy to them - they and their uptempo style would have been perfectly telegenic. Instead, it's the Spurs. Again. Yes, I'm thrilled, too.

Spurs in 6.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Clarifications

  • The 1-game suspensions of Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw did not cost the Suns their playoff series with the Spurs. The non-suspension of Bruce Bowen did.
  • I have no patience for sportswriters who praise Jason Giambi for his "honesty" when he, on the advice of counsel, he hasn't actually admitted anything. Until he A)uses nouns and B)gives back some of the money that PEDs won him, the heck with him.
  • The Devil Rays' stance that the most important thing is to make sure both Elijah Dukes' family and the man himself receive the help they need is admirable and appropriate, and of course not getting much play. If it is in fact the Players' Association that is preventing the Rays from taking disciplinary action against Dukes, then they should perhaps re-examine their priorities for the benefit of all - including one of their members - concerned.
  • If Derek Jeter had pulled the "mine!" stunt that A-Rod did the other day, it would be held up as an example of gamesmanship. The big difference, of course, is that Jeter would have put his head down and talked about how he was just doing anything to help the team win, while Rodriguez' smirking body language made it easy to villify him. And for all the furor over this, can we please get some Bonehead Merkle-like disparagement pointed at Howie Clark for actually falling for that old trick?
  • Barrett beats Pierzynski. Zambrano beats Barrett. Anyone else sensing an AJ vs Carlos smackdown in the squared circle anytime soon?
  • Speaking of which, it doesn't look like that extension for Carlos is going to happen after all, does it? Someone at TribCo gets a raise for delaying that signing...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why They Oughtta...

Bud Selig oughtta stop waffling and announce he's going to be at the ballpark when Barry Bonds cracks #756. The longer he waffles, equivocates, and generally says nothing at great length on the issue, the more of a story he is. If he wants this to go away, he should say he's going there. Period.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays ougtta do two things with Elijah Dukes: Make sure he gets help, and get him off the field. If half the allegations against Dukes are accurate, then he's one dangerous, messed-up dude, and exactly the wrong sort of person to be representing the Tampa Bay franchise as it attempts to redefine its identity in a tough market. I saw Dukes play at Durham last year, and his talent is obvious and immense...but it's just baseball. If he really is threatening his wife's life, then baseball should be the last of anyone's concerns. Yes, Dukes is most assuredly innocent until proven guilty. That being said, right now he is at very best a distraction and a lightning rod for criticism, and it would be in both his best interest and the interest of his employers to get him out of the spotlight.

The New York Yankees oughtta be very, very worried, because the Red Sox are running away with the AL East despite the fact that Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew are hitting like Lou Merloni with a hangover. Sooner or later they're going to heat up, and then the Boston lineup is going to get really, really scary. On the other hand, the Yankees' offense is being carried in large part by their 35 year old catcher. That sort of thing tends not to work terribly well over the long term.

Various members of the Texas Rangers oughtta be picking up cardboard boxes and address labels, because one way or another this team is going to be blown up, real soon. For all of the promise of players like Texeira, Blalock and the like, they've never jelled into a winning team (see: Phillies, comma, Philadelphia) and they've already slipped over the hump into diminishing-returns-land. Expect the big names to be gone while GM Jon Daniels tries to remake the team to save his job - or get it ready for his successor.

Rod Barajas oughtta learn that the key word in "getting the tag down" is "down".

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Celtics Fans...

Get over it. The NBA lottery worked exactly as it was supposed to - as a lottery, and as a deterrent against teams deliberately tanking their seasons to get higher draft picks. You didn't get #1 or #2? Such is the bounce of the ball. You also didn't get #12.

Next year, try harder.

And as much as I love The Sporting News, whoever green-lit that Simmons-esque phantasmagoria on "What if the Celtics had gotten Tim Duncan?" really needs to get outdoors and watch some baseball. "What If" barely worked for Marvel Comics; there's no real place for it in the world of sports.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hardball Notes

  • Jason Giambi is an idiot. One can applaud his "desire to come clean", if that's what you want to call it, but to me it seemed like the finger-wagging of the teacher's pet who thinks he's gotten away with one. Surprise, surprise, he hasn't. Let's run through the timeline here - Jason apparently does PEDs, Jason signs a huge contract that's suspiciously devoid of PED language, Jason gets mysteriously sick, Jason starts hitting better but not as well as he did, Jason is beloved because he sorta kinda admitted he might have done something he ought not to have. Follow that with "Jason thinks he can get away with the moral high ground" and "Jason doesn't look like he's going to give back any of the money," and you can see why I'm at least mildly suspicious of his motives. Of course, the Yankees are now looking to sever his contract for that non-admission of steroid use, in which case he'll have only gotten away with an $80M fast one, and not a $123M fast one.
  • Sunday night, Joe Morgan confidently announced that the reason the Yankees aren't scoring runs is because Gary Sheffield is in Detroit. With apologies to the fine gents at FireJoeMorgan, No. The reason the Yankees aren't scoring runs is that Johnny Damon is hitting like Bob Zupcic and Bobby Abreu is hitting like Zupcic's anemic little sister. The middle of the Yankee's lineup isn't suffering. It's the top of the order that's not extending at-bats or getting on base, and without that, you face better pitchers longer and you don't score runs. Gary Sheffield can't drive in Abreu and his .246 BA if Bobby's butt is on the bench after another weak grounder to third.
  • Incidentally, I wonder how the WEEI crowd is feeling about all those calls for Theo Epstein's head when he refused to break the bank for Damon. Working in sports talk radio means never having to say you're sorry.
  • Personally, I'm just waiting for Ozzie Guillen to call in to Dr. Laura. That, I would pay good money to listen to.
  • Thousands of little kids are going to do serious injury to their rib cages trying to imitate Tim Lincecum's pitching motion. Either that, or they're going to add a pop, lock, and robot to their followthrough, because his motion is the closest thing to breakdancing on the mound that I've seen.
  • Who the heck is Greg Dobbs, and why is he starting at first base for the Phillies? Never mind that, the answer is "because the alternative is Wes Helms".
  • To future generations, 2007 will go down as "the season of the overprivileged aging veteran". Clemens gets to do whatever it is he's doing - nobody seems able to agree on that, though Jayson Stark's piece on the contract negotiations was a bit more pollyannaish than I'm used to reading from him. Any attempt to spin that contract as "not that bad" runs aground on the rock of "$18M for part of a season".
  • Yes, Gil Meche is pitching well so far. However, there's plenty of time left for him to turn back into, well, Gil Meche.
  • Funny how the guy keeping the Dodgers' rotation afloat was the one whom Paul DePodesta traded for in a deal that the local media pilloried. Chirp, say the crickets. Chirp, chirp.
There was an error in this gadget