Monday, June 30, 2008

On All-Star Selections

I'm afraid I must respectfully disagree with Joe Sheehan, of Baseball Prospectus.

Mr. Sheehan's take on the All-Star game is that the starters at each position should be the established, demonstrated best at their positions, as demonstrated over several years. No flashes in the pan for him, no first-half wonders, no good guys who've kicked it into overdrive, no nuthin'. Just the proven best, even if their performance this year isn't quite up to the level of some other guys who are hitting the bejesus out of the ball this time around.

It's an interesting take, and one with a lot to recommend it. On the other hand, there's something to it that doesn't quite jibe for me. Maybe it's the underlying notion of wait your turn, the spectacle of All Star Game voting as some sort of vast Confucian meritocracy where you can only advance through proper forms and examinations and the timely deaths of those ahead of you.

And that, to me, isn't what the All-Star Game is about. Yes, I want the best at every position, but at the same time I want the game to reflect some of the magic and unpredictability of baseball itself. I want to see the guys having that one magical year get rewarded because they've already rewarded us, as fans, by doing things we never would have expected them to do. I want to see the career year guy have his moment in the sun on the big stage, so he can tell his grandkids that he was there with the A-Rods and Pujolses and, for that one night, he absolutely belonged there.

This, then, is where the game of baseball and the sport of baseball intersect and conflict. The sport dictates the cold-hearted calculation of who'll give your side the best chance to win. The game suggests a blunter edge to Occam's Razor; which players' inclusion will make the game most enjoyable to watch for both on-field and off-field reasons?

For all the immense benefits of sophisticated performance metrics, there remains a cloak of myth and legend that must remain wrapped around the game for it to maintain its appeal. By all means, let's get better player evaluation metrics in place. Let's get to a place where rosters are built more efficiently, where worthy players get a shot based on merit, where we have fewer young arms shredded by ignorance and the insane desire for gumption. But let's not lose sight of the fact that there are times when it's the least likely guys, the Howard Ehmkes and Sandy Amoroses and Marty Bystroms of the world that give the game it's most memorable moments, its deepest and truest magic.

So by all means, let's run the best guys out there for the All-Star Game. But let's save a few spots for the guys having magical years, for those roman candle careers that are just as much a part of the game, for the unlikely faces we're cheering even harder for because familiarity with the Jeff Kents of the world does breed that little bit of, if not contempt, then at least ennui.

So maybe he shouldn't start, but let's save a place for Ryan Ludwick on the bench, and let him get an inning in. Save a spot in the American League pen for George Sherrill, because he's living the dream to the fullest and doing it as well as could be imagined. Maybe twenty years from now, scholars of the game will look at the Ludwick vs Sherrill AB in the archives of the sport and wonder what the hell those guys were doing there, but right now, we understand. We know. And we'll cheer, no matter how it comes out.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Interesting

In his take on the Ed Wade/Shawn Chacon situation, ken Rosenthal made reference to Wade's supposedly well-known temper.

When Wade was in Philadelphia, he was generally portrayed as a sort of mild-mannered bumbler, and the temper was nowhere in evidence in the local media coverage.

It's just interesting, that's all.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blucher!

Terry Bradshaw admitted using steroids while playing for the mid-70's Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with more pharmacological issues than a retirement complex in Boca.

And horse steroids are in the news, with Big Brown's owner getting suspended and his trainer vowing to get his horses off drugs.

There's a joke in there somewhere, but I'm not the one to make it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Asteroid Power

The NBA draft is losing its appeal, I think in large part because once you get past the top few picks, nobody knows who these guys are. The relentless marketing machine of NCAA basketball has narrowed the spotlight to a very few players, which means that the vast majority are unknown to rooters outside their teams' conferences. Throw in the mandatory Obscure European Player Picks(TM) that spangle the first round - guys we won't be seeing in the league for years while they hone their games in Spain or Croatia or France - and the interest, apart from macabre "how far will he fall" stuff, fades after the big names are gone early.

Or to put it another way, I have no idea who Marreese Speights is. My wife attends NC State, and J.J. Hickson barely registered on my radar. The first I heard of Kosta Kofous was watching OSU dismantle their opponent in the NIT semifinals. And Sergei Ibaka? Nicolas Batum? These are not names that people eagerly speculate about. They don't quicken the pulse of the casual fan, or even the semi-serious one. And so it's a question of where do the big stars go, followed by "how far will this guy I actually heard of" fall. Making it worse is the disconnect between the college and pro games, the near certainty that guys who excelled on the college level are no-hopers in the pros (Paging J.J. Redick, J.J. Redick pick up the white courtesy phone) and there's no reason to watch. The guys who are going somewhere are guys you never heard of; the guys you heard of are mostly staying home. And after the fifth or sixth pick the star power is gone.

Punch Drunk Love

We don't know what exactly set Shawn Chacon off tonight, though his version of the story he gives us a pretty good idea. GM Ed Wade and manager Cecil Cooper wanted to talk to Chacon in private, and he didn't want to. Wade then began yelling, which Chacon didn't take kindly to. Eventually, when Wade wouldn't stop, Chacon went all Kimbo Slice on his boss, eventually throwing him to the floor and jumping on top of him in best Squared Circle fashion.

This will no doubt make for great sports column fodder for days, no doubt heavy on the moralizing. It doesn't take an ethical genius on the level of Spinoza to come down against grabbing your boss by the neck, even if he has in fact asked you into an annoying meeting. Then someone else will do something stupid, most likely either Ozzie Guillen or Manny Ramirez, and we'll forget all about this.

Which, of course, leaves me wondering. What on earth could Ed Wade, described as a bit of a milquetoast in his days in Philly, have said to set Chacon off like that. What drove Chacon, who if memory serves, had no reputation as a hothead or troublemaker, react so wildly. I'm sure we'll have explanations soon enough, but in the meantime the possibilities and speculation are endless

Though if I really had to lay odds, I'd say Wade told Chacon that even if he were an aging middle reliever, there's no way Wade would sign him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One Used Pie, Half Off

If I'm going to sell something on eBay, I don't write in the item description that it's old, ugly, worthless, and painted chartreuse.

If' I'm trying to sell my house, I don't talk about the weird smells in the basement, the fact that a tribe of cannibal squirrels have carved out a generations-old fiefdom in the attic, and the AC gets cranking with a noise like an arthritic dimetrodon.

If I'm trying to sell my car, I don't run it through axle-deep mud before taking display photographs of it. I don't park it in the bad part of town with fifty bucks on the front seat, and I don't leave a bag of fish tacos in the trunk for a week during the summer.

It's bad business.

Why, then, do the Cubs insist on treating their tradeable assets this way? They're a good team, but not a perfect one, and their best hope of patching their few remaining holes is by flipping their tradable assets for something useful. Felix Pie. Matt Murton. Rich Hill. All of these were coveted assets at one point. All three have been buried by the Cubs, devaluing what they might possibly bring back, an approach that makes no sense whatsoever.

It's good for someone else, of course. Someone else might get Pie for pennies on the dollar, and help him harness his prodigious skills. Someone might get Hill on the cheap, and uncover the pitcher who was fifth in the NL in strikeouts last year. And Murton, well, Cleveland could probably use him right about now.

But they won't pay much to get him.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notes in a Minaya Key

It has been suggested elsewhere, most notably at ESPN.com by Rob Neyer, that Willie Randolph got his dead fish wrapped in newspaper at 12:15 local time, fairly standard for a post-night-game whacking. This, then, is putative proof that the fact that it hit the East Coast after everyone except infomercial fans had gone to bed is not evidence that the Mets weren't trying to get cute with things.

To quote the late Graham Chapman, that's as may be but it's still a frog.

at best, this argument suggests that the firing was a hastily thought out panic move. Surely an organization in the New York market should be aware of the perception certain to surround a 3:15 AM pink slip. Even if that wasn't the intention, the PR director should have been able to say "Whoah, guys, this is going to look bad. Can we wait until morning?" The fact that they didn't means that either the PR guys weren't consulted or they were overruled on their own turf, which just makes this look even more like management-by-overreactive-spasm.

Look, willie Randolph should never have been allowed to get on that plane with his job intact. If they knew they were going to fire him, they could have shown the grace of doing so before the trip started, saving him the aggravation and embarrassment. If they weren't going to fire him, what the hell could possibly have happened in that first game - a game that the Mets won, remember - to change Omar's decision?

Besides, it was a road trip, it was the West Coast - a great time and place to make a clean break and let the interim guy get a running start. But they bungled that, too, fumbling away any advantage that could have been wrung out of the situation. Ultimately, all the way this was handled did was reinforce the image of Mets-as-bumblers, and make the stone-faced Willie Randolph a sympathetic figure - surely not what was intended.

So, I'll cut Omar slack on the 3:15 thing, but not on the rest of it. Any way you slice it, the way the firing was handled stinks. You just don't handle your people that way, not if you want to continue to attract good people. You don't deliberately bring controversy onto your organization, you don't put yourself in a position where you look worse than you need to, and you don't put the organization on the hook for the ridiculous fees that come with changing transcontinental plane tickets on short notice. The best thing Minaya and the Mets can do now is admit that they bungled it and move on. The second best thing they can do is to get the hell out of Jerry Manuel's way for the rest of the season while avoiding the temptation to trade Fernando Martinez for a quick fix.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Am John McLaren of Clan McLaren, And I Am Immortal

Then again, maybe not.

It’s the silly season for managers, the time when GMs of fading teams recall the adage “you don’t have to outrun the wolf if you can throw someone out of the sleigh”. Managerial firings several purposes. If a GM’s feeling the heat, he can throw the manager overboard to distract attention from his performance. If the team is a no-hoper, then the shift in managers might distract fan attention away from the dismal, Willie Bloomquist-flavored product on the field. And if the team is underperforming, swapping out managers might actually jump-start the team by adding a little motivation, or replacing the last guy’s lousy player usage patterns with better ones.

(For all you anti-sabermetrics folks out there “player usage pattern” is a fancy way of saying “who plays and where”. It’s all very mathy, you know.)
There were three casualties this week, a rather high body count for in-season. Willie Randolph went first, and one can’t help but feel that Omar Minaya did it as a panic move to save his own job. Ordinarily, this would be a classic “shake up the underperformers” firing, except for two things: One, Jerry Manuel’s managing style is a lot like Willie’s, and two, there’s not a lot of shaking up that can be done on this team. There was no depth before injuries hit, and now, well, the bench talent is beyond risible. You can’t threaten to sit guys down unless their proposed replacements would be replacement level for the New Orleans Zephyrs. The Mets can’t afford to shake things up by, say, sitting Jose Reyes, not when the alternative is running Damion Easley out there day after day. No, the only reason this move was made was to buy Omar Minaya a little time for his expensive, aging bats and thin rotation to find themselves before the hammer comes down again.

John McLaren, on the other hand, was a no-hoper filing. In theory the Mariners were supposed to be contenders this year, but that’s a non-starter. By now, this team wouldn’t voom if you put four million volts through it, and changing the guy who writes the lineup card isn’t going to do much to change that. A new manager can’t catch the ball for Raul Ibanez, can’t move Jarrod Washburn’s fastballs off Broadway, can’t magically inject 300 points of OPS into Kenji Jojima’s line. Mind you, McLaren didn’t exactly cover himself with glory. The game I attended at Safeco featured Willie the Wonder Bloomquist batting second, and Miguel Cairo at first base – think about that for a minute. Miguel Cairo, light-hitting second baseman, at first base –which is like taking six outs, wrapping them up with a nice frilly bow, and mailing it to the other team with a card asking if they’ll be Howard Lincoln’s valentine. McLaren’s ouster, like that of his boss, was designed to tell the fan base “we’re making changes. Really, we are. Pay no attention to the washed-up catcher behind the curtain.” They’re not going to be good the rest of the way, but hey, at least they’ll be different.

And then there’s John Gibbons. This is a combo platter. I won’t go out there and say that J.P. Ricciardi’s bizarre anti-Adam Dunn rant inspired the firing, but stranger and less suspicious things have happened in Diebold voting machines. Ricciardi certainly needed a story to take the public’s eye off his refusal to consider adding exactly the sort of power bat the Jays desperately need, and replacing Gibbons with franchise hero Gaston certainly did the trick. For another, he can’t trade the players. They’re not that good. There’s nobody on that team who’s got obvious upside, and they’re all playing…all right. A little above average. If Ricciardi were a fantasy baseball manager, he’d be the sort who comes in seventh out of ten every year because he stocks his roster with guys who do a little bit of everything and nothing really well. The fact that they don’t have a particular outstanding skill means that there’s no room for obvious and huge immediate improvement. It also means that none of their players, excuse the Roy Halladay, are particularly appealing on the trade market. They’ve got little to offer, which means they’ll get little back, which means there’s little point to making a trade. So the only thing that can be shaken up is the manager’s seat, which is why John Gibbons is now scrounging cardboard boxes from around the Jays’ clubhouse to put his bobblehead collection in.

The problem with firings like that, however, is that they’re widely recognized as the last act of a desperate GM. There are no more excuses and no more sacrificial lambs. They built these teams, they put their guy in the dugout, and they made the midseason move that some would say matters. If they can’t put together a winning team after doing that, the logic then suggests that they may have been the real problem.

And that’s when John Gibbons calls up J.P. Ricciardi and asks if he needs to borrow any cardboard boxes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Great Blog Controversy of Ought-Eight

There are times when it really is better not to seek quite so avidly after The Last Word. Consider, for example, Buzz Bissinger. After his histrionic meltdown on Will Leitch over the evils of blogging, Bissinger had made a series of carefully worded, genuine-seeming retractions that indicated that perhaps he'd figured out that tarring all blogs with the same brush was a bit hasty. He even said nice things about a couple of them. Detente broke out. Bloggers came out of their basements and stared in wide wonder at the sun and the daily newspaper in the driveway. Old-school newspaper reporters dared see what this "googly" thing those damn kids down at the water cooler were talking about might be. Dogs and cats lived together.

Until Mr. Bissinger decided he needed the last word, and hoo boy, was it a doozy. In so many words, he suggested while a few single-topic blogs are all right, the general nature of blogginess is such that, had they known about it, the founding fathers would have never included Freedom of Speech in the Constitution.

Because, let's face it, the fact that they like to use naughty words on Kissing Suzy Kolber is the sort of thing that, if left unchecked, could destroy our society, allow the British to take us back over, and lead to moral turpitude of some degree or other.

With that in mind, I think it's worth looking at what Mr. Bissinger thinks he's saying, and then seeing if those arguments hold water.

For example, he says that while a few single topic blogs are useful and factual, the vast majority are evil, mean, and snarky. Now, I for one was unaware that good writing had to be restricted to a single topic, or that it had to be "useful" to be of quality. I occasionally enjoy writing that is "fun", "amusing", or even "thought-provoking" without necessarily being "informative" all the time. If informative is the only measure of value, then, yes, many blogs fail on that particular score. On the other hand, I don't know anyone besides Buzz Bissinger who reads blogs strictly for the factoid content. I read FJM because it amuses the hell out of me. I read The Anomalist because it provides great idea stimulus for my fiction writing. I read Joe Posnanski's blog because the guy can make words laugh, cry, and sing, often at the same time. I read Rob Neyer's blog over at ESPN.com in the vain hope of someday seeing Sportsthodoxy mentioned there. And so it goes. "Informative" is just one particular wavelength in the blogging spectrum, and setting it up as the only measure of quality is rigging the table, a rhetorical cheapshot. Or, to misquote Eddie Izzard, "If you don't have a flag, then by these rules I just made up, I win."

Furthermore, Bissinger's argument doesn't even hold water when applied to his own particular medium. Let's look at print periodicals, shall we? The last time I checked, not all of them were entirely informative. The National Enquirer, for one. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for another. You get the idea. Other print mags have been known to be full of misinformation, disinformation, wild speculation, political partisanship, unfounded editorializing, and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, none of which is strictly "informative" (unless you're in touch with your inner Duelmaster, of course). The goofiness of an US magazine, however, does not detract one iota from the value of Discover; the fact that Asimov's prints mostly fiction in no way affects the merit of US News and World Report.

Or, to put it another way, just because some blogs suck - and a great many blogs do in fact wallow in innuendo, bad spelling, and uninformed cheapshottery - doesn't mean most or all blogs suck.

Next up is the accusation that blogs are mean-spirited, vicious slimepits where the worst of humanity gathers to fling mud at unsuspecting victims. To that, all a rational human being can say is, "Well, some of them, sure." Some bloggers do enjoy tearing down sports figures, using ad hominems, printing damaging rumors, and generally acting like a thirteen year old with his first copy of Playboy. (Print edition, of course.) Then again, anyone watching the coverage of our election cycle may be able to postulate that a lack of civility from commentators is hardly restricted to the blogging rabble. Bill Plaschke's hatchet job on Paul DePodesta out in Los Angeles - for God's sake, he even resorted to schoolyard namecalling, or have we all forgotten "Google Boy"? - was at least as mean-spirited as anything ever to run on Fire Joe Morgan, while being less funny, worse written, and less coherently composed. If you're going to condemn blogs for this, then the blame needs to get spread equally to other media, or the charge becomes baseless.

Then there's the suggestion that the community that gathers and posts comments on a blog is the blogger's responsibility, and that the commenting rabble's rudeness, crudeness, and lewdness is the blogger's fault. If that's the case, then someone needs to explain to me the level of venom and idiocy found in the comments sections on blogs like Jayson Stark's over at ESPN.com, or Ken Rosenthal's at Fox Sports. Surely Jayson isn't posting pictures of David Wright in a hot tub with a trio of scantily clad hotties. You can't say that Peter Gammons is quoting W.A.S.P. lyrics verbatim on his blog. But both of them, and many others, gather a community of commenters that is poisonously vicious, vituperative, and as profane as anything you'd find on a "basement" blogger's site.

So those three arguments, the big ones, don't hold water. What, then, is Bissinger going on about? I think there are a couple of things going on here. For one, he's completely missing the point of blogs, and holding them up to an absolute standard: blogs vs. New York Times/Boston Globe/Pulitzer Prize Committee. Which, grammar aside, is arrant nonsense. The point of blogging is for folks to put their thoughts and ideas out where people can read them, or not. Their nature is to be compositional, not factual. The fact that some are reliable sources of information is a tribute to the particular bloggers who compose on those sites; their success is theirs alone, and not part of a greater mandate that bloggerdom should be compelled to uphold.

For another, he's bought into the sad stereotype that blogs and bloggers are homogenous, that they're all the creation of socially inept nerds who work in comics stores and live in their parents' basement. This is, again, lousy logic. Judging the whole by the worst examples would get you thrown out of any freshman rhetoric course on the grounds that it's complete hooey. The other is just a tired ad hominem, thrown out there to rile up the yammering classes so that they go after the red flag ("Hey! I live on the third floor, thank you!") and not the dodgy premise Bissinger presents.

As an aside, I find the "nerds in basement" trope to be the worst sort of jock-sniffing. Sportswriters are not jocks, but they're the closest thing to jocks in the writing community, and they're jealous of that fact. They may not be able to play the game, but they get to hang out with and talk to the guys who do, and that confers coolness-by-proximity on them. Declaring that all bloggers wear fake Vulcan earswhen posting is nothing more than schoolyard bullying, and the reflexive "I actually TALK to the athletes" that follows demonstrates how insecure they really are in that role. Better yet, watch that old Warner Brothers cartoon with the bulldog and his yappy sidekick a few times. You'll get the idea.

Hell, my house doesn't even HAVE a basement.

Third, Bissinger posits a false dichotomy between blogs and "real journalism". When Pat Jordan posts on Deadspin and Baseball Analysts, when Paul DePodesta starts a blog, when venerable publications like Premiere go online only, there is no "us versus them" any more. We're all writers, some writing for pay, some simply to express our thoughts on the things that we care about, our words appearing in whatever format we can get them into. And the market will win out in the end. For-pay writers who can't cut it will no doubt find their material unread. Bloggers whose work holds particular appeal will find ways to monetize their efforts. The lines are blurred and disappearing. Bissinger is standing sentry on a dotted line that's already fading.

Yeah, some blogs suck, including quite possibly this one. It doesn't matter. They bring their creators joy, which is what they're all about. Holding them up to any other standard, particularly ones as artificial as those Bissinger postulates, is just plain silly. And meanwhile, the real winners are readers, whose options as to good writing are increasing every day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

If I'm a Young GM Candidate...

...I move heaven and earth to try to get the Seattle Mariners job.

Yes, the last place, worst-in-the-majors, my-God-they-still-play-baseball here Mariners.

Because all the pieces are there for a turnaround, and with that turnaround the next GM is going to be a hero. (Unless, of course, the next GM is Steve Phillips, in which case the lahars coming down off Mt. Rainier might be seen as a more appealing alternative.)

Consider that the team has money, great gobs of it. Plus, ownership is willing to let other people spend it, an important distinction from spending it themselves. One nets you the 2004 Red Sox, the other gets you the Ed Whitson-era Yankees.

Consider also that the worst of the Bavasi-era contracts, Richie Sexson's subluxation of financial sanity, is about to go *poof* as the team kicks him to the curb. Even if they decide not to, his contract still wraps up at the end of the year. So, too, do the overpriced deals given to Raul "Fire Bad!" Ibanez and Jose Vidro. That's a lot of money coming off the books. In 2009, Batista and Washburn are done. Even if a bunch of that money goes to, say, resigning Erik Bedard, that's still a whole lot of money for the new GM to play with.

Consider also that the Mariners are so bad that whoever comes in next will likely have carte blanche to do anything he needs to. There's no move that could be made that any fan could really muster an argument against, unless it's switching J.J. Putz to handling a server station for garlic fries. That means it's finally safe to jettison Eckstein manque Willie Bloomquist. The team is so terrible with him that there's no longer an argument that can be made for keeping him. Even the shopworn "fan favorite" line can go now - fans' favorites are players who win games. And very, very few people on that roster are helping the Mariners win games.

Then there are the kids. With Bavasi gone and the somewhat eccentric lineup management of John McLaren shortly to follow, the new guy can mandate that they play the kids. And by kids we're talking monster prospects like Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balientin, guys who've gotten their feet went and experienced their growing pains, and who are now looking ready to step up bigtime. Just allowing them on the field regularly will be an improvement on the Ibanez-riffic Ancient Mariners, and they're only going to get better as they play more. The same can't be said of usual substitution faves like Miguel Cairo. This team almost can't help getting better.

Plus, the possibility exists to take over the town again, and fast. Consider the other sports options in Seattle. The Seahawks are poised for a down cycle. The Sonics are either leaving or litigating. UW football is, at best, meh. All of which means that even modest improvement will make the Mariners the toast of the town, and the man who engineered the almost-inevitable revival the toastiest.

Are there downsides? Sure. If there weren't, Bavasi would still have his job and the team wouldn't be in last place. There are still long-term contracts tied to overrated players, ones that will *cough cough Kenji Jojima* continue to haunt the team *cough cough Carlos Silva* for the next few years. The roster is mostly old, slow, and allergic to catching the baseball. Ichiro Suzuki clearly no longer has his heart in playing for this team, and it may not start winning soon enough to re-light his fire. Putz is injured, there's the looming spectre of free agency for Bedard, and the middle infield combo of Lopez and Betancourt seems to be regressing annually. That's a lot to overcome.

But with the advantages the Mariners have - money, the ability to blow the deadwood out the door, kids on the way - they seem like a good bet to overcome it.

And to make their next GM look very, very good.

When New Yorkers Say Nice Things About the Phillies, Run For It.

I love the Phillies. They are, bar none, the most exciting team to watch in the National League this year. When that offense gets going, forget it - they're going to mash, and mash, and mash. They play good defense, they've got cannon arms in right and center, their bullpen has been mostly lights out (excuse Tom Gordon of late), and their starting pitching has been at the very least, consistent. New York sports talk radio hosts are talking about them as a potential World Series team, and mentioning about how they could be about to go run and hide in the weaker-than-expected AL East.

But I can't help thinking they're not quite that good.

They feast on mediocre pitching. At the plate, their approach is Red Sox/Yankees lite. Be patient, wear out the other team's starters, and then beat the living hell out of the soft underbelly of the bullpen. It's a great strategy...if you can maintain it. The problem is, against good pitching, the Phillies can't. They get behind, and they press, and they chase, and they strike out a lot instead. Take another look at last year's playoff loss to the Rockies and you'll see it. And if they get to the playoffs, they're going to see good pitching. Maybe against the Cubs, maybe against the Diamondbacks with Haren and Webb and Johnson. The point is, they'll run up against it, and their weakness at the plate will be exposed. At the same time, their starting pitching is mediocre, and as Joe Sheehan at BP pointed out, their bullpen can't possibly be this good all year long. And their starting pitching just isn't that good. The Manny Ramirezes of the world salivate at the thought of standing in against guys like Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton in October, soft-tossers who can be waited out until they're forced to throw their sub-optimal fastballs right down Broadway.

And Broadway is often one swing of the bat from Lansdowne Street.

So I'll enjoy watching the Phillies this year. But I don't think they're going to win it all, more's the pity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gone, Willie, Gone

3:15 AM is not when you get fired.

3:15 is when the secret police come pounding on the door, the dogs barking to let you know there's no way out. It's when the phone rings and it's always real bad news, the call coming from a hospital or the side of the road. It's when cheating lovers try to sneak in the back door, listening for floorboard creaks as they make their way in dread to the darkened stairs.

It's not when you fire the manager of a baseball team, particularly not a team that just flew out west, just won its game, just went through yet another round of "is the manager going to get fired?" questions. If the Mets thought they could downplay the whole thing by waiting until the team was out of New York and most WFAN listeners were asleep before lowering the boom on Willie Randolph, well, that's the sort of thinking that would have worked in 1974. These days, not so much.

Did Randolph deserve to get fired? Probably. His team wasn't responding to him and the talented players weren't playing up to their potential. But you can't blame Willie for a thin bench, for a roster constructed of aging and injury-prone veterans without adequate replacements waiting for their inevitable breakdowns, for the annual Billy Wagner finger-point-and-melt-down. If he'd gotten more from Jose Reyes, Randolph probably wouldn't be in this position right now. If he hadn't had to try to get more from Endy Chavez, Marlon Anderson, and suchlike, if his roster hadn't been constructed that losing Ryan Church was actually a major blow, then he probably wouldn't be in this position now, either.

All of which means that Omar Minaya has used his last bullet. He's out of cover, and the next body to hit the floor will be his. And if Jerry Manuel doesn't somehow take this mismatched collection of parts and start winning immediately, then the call will go out on the airwaves for his head, too.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Math, Sporting News Style

If the Bulls select Derrick Rose, it could be the first step in fulfilling the NBA's dream scenario of its three most exciting individual stars - Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade - in its three biggest markets - Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
-NBA writer Sam Smith
Except, of course, that Kobe is already in LA, so this scenario would be the second step. Or maybe the third.

I'll leave uncommented the notion that the NBA wants to actively steer certain players to certain markets, which must be heartening to fans in cities that are not LA, Chicago, or New York.

Dodgers Trade for Angel Berroa

That's Rob Neyer over on the left.


I'll just let that one sink in for a moment.

Or, to put it another way, someone actually wanted Angel Berroa. As in, gave up more than a bag of casaba melons and two Bob Stinson-model bats to get him.

Somewhere, Rob Neyer & the Poz & Rany Jazayerli are doing their own little recreation of the "celebratory Ewok village dance" from Return of the Jedi. You know, the original one, before George Lucas re-cut it and added new and exciting CGI completely unrelated to the plot. Jub jub.

Of all the indictments that can potentially be made of the Coletti regime, this may be the one that even Bill Plaschke can't defend, the thing that ten years from now still causes the readership of Dodger Thoughts to go into apoplectic shock. Yes, I know that Berroa won the RoY award, back in the day. So did Ted Sizemore, and I don't think you want him on your team now, either. Actually, at this point Sizemore is probably better at going to his left than Berroa, and he's definitely got more stick.

The worst part, though, is not that the Dodgers acquired Berroa. The worst part is that they actually paid something for him, and on top of that they're paying his full salary. If Coletti can't convince someone to open their wallet, even for beer money, to help get Angel Berroa off their roster, then he's got worse negotiating skills than Neville Chamberlain.

But hey, it's good news for the Diamondbacks.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Deadspin Loses Chief Spinner

So Will Leitch is hanging up the blog, moving out of his parents' basement, and getting a "real" journalism job.

Buzz Bissinger either feels very stupid right now, or is preparing a marriage proposal.

In Other Sports News...

...the convicted steroid dealer who'd named NFL names has been found shot dead in his home, along with his sometime girlfriend. The fact that an anonymous caller suggested the dead man's father call the Plano, TX police would seem to provide some indication that this wasn't, say, a gun-cleaning accident.

Somehow, this makes the gum-flapping over Rafael Palmeiro look very, very silly.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Smoltz

A shredded shoulder's not easy to come back from when you're 21, let alone 41. I don't think we'll be seeing him scowling down off the mound again.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Baseball: Hearts and Minds

There is much squawking about how we're losing a generation of baseball fans because the sport is A) on too late at night B) not attracting African-American athletes and C) not football.

Here, then, is my thought on how baseball can stop that yammering, attract a wider youth demographic, and increase its popularity.

Attract More African-American Players/Northern Players
A broader, more diverse talent base within the US means more fans of those players within the US. While baseball has by far the most ethnically diverse makeup of any of the major sports, the conventional wisdom is that the sport has lost its grip on inner-city African-American kids. Furthermore, kids from northern climes don't get to play year-round like their peers in southern California, Florida, and Texas. So entire regions of the country don't have their own favorite sons to root for, dampening involvement.

The question, then, is how to get these athletes playing baseball. The answer is...

More College Baseball Scholarships
One of the reasons cited for baseball's losing ground to basketball and football in competition for African-American athletes is that there are a whole lot more football and basketball scholarships to hand out, relatively speaking, than baseball ones. Football has 85. Baseball has 13.5 per team, and they're divvied up in fractions and slices amongst the entire team. Simply put, it makes more economic sense for a two-sport athlete to choose college football or basketball.

So, there need to be more scholarships. More scholarships = more athletes on scholarship = more chances to develop kids who haven't been playing in traveling teams since they were six, or who can't afford school on a partial scholarship. The problem there is simple: football and basketball get the big perks because they're the big revenue sports. The trick, then, is to turn baseball into a big revenue sport so that it can support more scholarships. To do that, baseball needs to...

Make the Draft Matter
The NFL really didn't cement its stranglehold on the US until it made the draft An Event. It provided a shot of football in the offseason, got fans talking about their teams throughout a larger chunk of the year, and provided a talking point and a ray of hope for fans of the Arizona Cardinals (and other sad-sack franchises). Not coincidentally, this also amped national interest in the college game, as NFL fans started paying attention to whom their teams might draft.
This was done in part by making picks tradeable, in part by encouraging the development of the Kipergentsia, and in part by hyping the kids.

Hype the kids, and the fans will want to see the kids. If more people want to watch the kids, that's more money that the NCAA can demand for college baseball rights and more paying customers in seats. More money means more scholarships to offer, which means more of the top kids playing college baseball.

It is, I think, no coincidence that this year we've heard more about the MLB amateur draft than ever before. That it got a two-page spread in The Sporting News, and a ton of Keith Law-flavored coverage over at ESPN.com. That people who normally wouldn't know a super-regional from Krypto the Super-dog know who Justin Smoak and Buster Posey are. The men who run baseball are not stupid. They know where this path leads, and they're actively encouraging it. And, as a fan, I say more power to 'em.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Why does it always have to be apocalyptic?

"CAN SID THE KID SAVE HOCKEY?"

Err, no. Even if he were the greatest player ever, he'd still have to play against someone, still need challengers and nemeses and opponents so that the game was worth watching. And by setting up this artificial crisis - hockey's doing quite well since the strike, thank you, with higher TV ratings and attendance - the sensationalist wing of the sports media sets Crosby, and hockey, up for failure if he's not utterly transcendent this first time on the national stage. Oh my God, he didn't score nine goals in the first three minutes, he must be a failure. Oh my God, the Penguins are getting stomped by a better, more experienced team, in much the same way the Rockies got stomped by the Red Sox? Call the riot police, Crosby's career is in ruins and the NHL is in flames.

It's ridiculous, inappropriate, and wrong, and it cannibalizes the very product that sportswriters should be celebrating. Crosby is a transcendent talent; the story ought to be about his showing off his skills in prime time and playing up all the other marketable aspects of this series, not a contrived doomsday scenario. And if they shout "hockey is dead!" enough times with nonsense like this, well, someone might start to believe them...which would then put a whole bunch of sportswriters out of work.

I'm not suggesting that journalists need to be senseless pollyannas. But if they love and respect the sports they're covering, they need to recognize the potential effect of the stories they choose to promulgate, and to think about, just maybe, not making it apocalypse now, every time.
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