Tuesday, February 28, 2006

As soon as it began...

Ed McElvain

What had been some bitchin' and moanin' by Frank Thomas turned into a five alarm bitch fight on the Southside of Chicago over the weekend. Oh yeah, there is nothing better than a prolonged public word war and round one of this one looked like a classic.

It seems the Big Hurt got his big feelings hurt when the White Sox didn’t offer him a new contract this offseason. He’s been a making a few comments to the papers about it, saying he was disrespected by the organization he spent 16 years with.

But Sox GM Ken Williams wasn’t having any of that! To paraphrase, he called Thomas a "whining" "selfish" "idiot" (his words) who isn’t man enough to talk face to face to someone he has a problem with. Williams said the Sox didn’t miss him and that he was "the A’s problem now."

Oh, smack! It’s on!

But just when I’m digging in for a good public scrap…it’s over. Thomas reportedly has called Williams and the two had it out on the phone...to each other...in a private conversation...not in the papers where we could read it and laugh.

Now they’re both being selfish.

All we have left is the hope that this escalates into a classic bench-clearing brawl when the Sox and A’s meet this season.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

9 Rules for Attending Baseball Games

Mike Popelka

With spring on the horizon and players trickling into camp, it’s time for us, the fans of professional baseball, to begin our own preparation for the upcoming season. Athletes are required to learn the rules of their sport as well as comply with some sort of team code of conduct. Fans should also have to follow certain rules if they’re going to attend a ball game. I’m not talking about rules everyone should be expected to know, like “Don’t beat up the Kansas City Royals coach with your son,” or anything like that. I’m talking about simple guidelines to follow at the ballpark so that the game can be enjoyed by everyone. Well, when I mean everyone I mostly mean me, I guess. Here is a list of 9 rules for attendees of Major League Baseball games in 2006:

1. Do not go to a ball game to “hook up” with a hottie. Yes Cubs fans who overpay to sit in the bleachers, I’m talking to you. There are plenty of crappy bars to find some action, many of which are near baseball stadiums. Try to score there. While at the ballpark, watch the game.

2. Leave your baseball glove at home unless you meet one of these conditions: (a) you are 12 years old or less, or (b) you are an ass. Few things are more infuriating than watching a physically fit 24 year old with a softball mitt the size of Arizona snatch a foul ball from the waiting hands of a kid. Who’s going to get more joy out of catching a ball off the bat of Henry Blanco? My guess is that kid will. Self-respecting adults are expected to barehand a ball or dive out of the way—no exceptions.

3. Don’t encourage the guy carrying around a stack of 9 empty beer cups. Why would you advertise that you’re a big enough moron to spend $70 on beer? Power drinking should be done in the parking lot before the game, not during the game.

4. If there is a kid sitting near you when you catch a foul, give them the ball. This one is self explanatory. See rule #2 if you need more clarification.

5. Do not start “the wave”. I hate the wave.

6. Clap for brilliant plays made by either team—even if the other team is the Yankees. Displays of baseball skill should always be appreciated, no matter who you’re rooting for. I hate Derek Jeter, but that relay play to nail the runner at the plate in the playoffs a few years ago was awesome. Come on, admit it.

7. Leave your iPod at home. Why go to a live ball game if you’re going to bring your own soundtrack? Part of the experience is in the sounds of the crowd and the other ambience attending a game provides. If you want the soundtrack of a baseball game to exist entirely of downloaded “Trapped in a Closet” remixes, stay at home and watch the game on TV.

8. Always boo Julian Tavarez. This guy is one of the most classless individuals in baseball. Karate kicking Giants players is pretty cool, though.

9. Stay until the game is over (this means bottom of the 9th, folks). I have to admit, I’ve left a few games early for various reasons, but I always feel really guilty about it. Who wants to watch ¾ of a movie and leave before the resolution? Some fans are more at fault for this than others. Take Angels and Dodgers fans for example. Is there something in the water in Los Angeles? Are people incapable of waiting for the game to finish before heading for the exits? Art Spander once wrote in the San Francisco Examiner, “You know that scene in the movie Gandhi with a cast of thousands marching to the sea? It was filmed outside Dodger Stadium in the bottom of the seventh.” En Garde, Angelenos.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A sham by any other name

Ben Godar

If a recent court ruling stands, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will keep its cumbersome name. Fans and writers have already called out owner Arty Moreno, but in this case there is more unsavory business than what’s in a name.

In fact, this whole name thing has been blown way out of proportion. There are many professional sports teams that actually play in a city other than the one for which they are named. Both New York football teams play in New Jersey, for God’s sake. Not to mention that for the first 4 years of its existence, the team was called the Los Angeles Angels.

The Anaheim Civic Fathers like to boast that they are their own community, not part of Los Angeles. My own two cents, having lived in both areas, is that Anaheim is part of the broad Los Angeles area. If nothing else, the city’s identity is more that of Orange County than its own. In fact, I think many would agree Orange County Angels might be the most appropriate name. But this isn’t about what’s appropriate.

The point is that Los Angeles and Anaheim are both reasonable places to associate with the team. What’s unreasonable are Moreno’s subversive intentions and posturing throughout this debate.

Moreno has to retain that "of Anaheim" tag because in 1998 the city footed some of the bill for stadium renovations in exchange for putting the city’s name alongside the team. So changing the name is yet another example of a pro sports team grabbing public funds without honoring its responsibility.

But the slap Moreno is giving City Officials is nothing compared to the backhand he’s hitting fans with. The supposed "People’s Owner" is dangling the threat of moving the team if he doesn’t get his way. Has it really come to this?

I know LA is a bigger name than Anaheim, and I don’t doubt there’s value in all that branding, as the corporate swine say. But I also know that the Angels’ attendance figures are among the best in the game. They have a loyal fan base and a great team. So it’s hard for me to believe that, without an L and an A in the name, the team would be better off in Las Vegas.

Threatening to take your ball and go home is childish in the sandlot. Doing so with a Major League team, over something so trivial as a name, is an insult to the very people who pay your bills.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Carl Crawford, My Only Favorite Devil Ray

Mike Popelka

Although an ardent supporter of the National League and an avid critic of the wisdom of placing a baseball team in Tampa, I did some soul searching and realized that I can unequivocally say the most exciting lead-off hitter in baseball today is Carl Crawford. My evidence is based solely on the two Devil Rays games I’ve been to in person, as well as a couple of D-Rays games I accidentally watched on TV. Crawford can influence the outcome of a game with his speed like nobody since Vince Coleman (late 80’s Vince, not firecracker throwing Vince).

Crawford hits for average, is a gap hitter with some pop in his bat, can bunt, drive in runs, and most importantly of all, he can run the bases like nobody’s business. At PETCO Park in San Diego a couple of years ago, I watched Crawford bunt for a hit and then tag up from first base on a fly ball to right field. RIGHT FIELD! Brian Giles, playing at middle depth, was caught totally off guard and had no chance to throw out speedy Carl. The very next play he stole third base. Add a couple of triples to the box score and Crawford finished the day 4-5 with 3 runs scored. How often does your team’s lead-off guy do that? I know my Cubbies haven’t had a guy who ignites the offense from the #1 hole since. . .well. . . never (Lou Brock doesn’t count—I wasn’t born yet; and Juan Pierre needs to be tested before I’ll believe he can get the job done).

I know, being a Seattle resident I’m supposed to agree that Ichiro Suzuki is the best baseball player in the game. He did break the hits record in 2004, and he is considered to have one of the best throwing arms in the league, but he’s missing that explosiveness that Carl Crawford brings to his team. Ichiro is on the way down. He’ll still be an all-star for a few more years, but he’s getting older on a team that is treading water in a boring division. Crawford plays for the most unremarkable franchise in professional baseball in a division where he has no hope of ever winning a pennant, but he’s still learning the game. I can’t wait for this guy to hit his prime. Hopefully when that happens the Devil Rays will have been contracted and Carl Crawford will be signing with a National League team, where his vulgar displays of baserunning prowess can be appreciated.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Albert Belle and other Lovers

Ben Godar

Even with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, the most amusing story to come out of Scottsdale this week had Albert Belle playing James Bond.

The former slugger was arrested on suspicion of stalking his girlfriend with a GPS system, which he allegedly fastened to the bottom of her car. Stalking and making threats are no laughing matter, but I couldn't help but chuckle at the image of Belle on his back attaching the device to the car. And the fact that it reportedly fell off suggests Belle's rigging consisted of chicken wire and Elmer's glue.

Coming on the heels of Hallmark's St. Valentine's Day, the whole incident got me thinking about ballplayers who have been unlucky in love. In a world where pretty young things seem to rain from the sky, I guess it just stands out when an athlete goes down in flames. But at least it provides some entertainment.

In 1978, Red Sox officials learned Dennis Eckersley's wife was having an affair with the center fielder, also Eck's best friend. As the story goes, the team chose to diffuse the situation by shipping Eckersley out of town. Perhaps the whole thing could have been resolved amicably if Rick Manning had traded a lady friend as well. That's what happened in 1973, when Yankee pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekitch traded catchers, moving in with each other's wife and children.

Then there's Red Sox Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, who had a taste for more than just fried chicken on the road. The married Boggs was sued by a woman who claimed she was his "road mistress" for four years.

While Boggs kept on playing long after admitting he was a "sex addict," Poor Denny Neagle's career came to an end over a $40 hummer. Even more unfortunate than the involuntary retirement are the published photos of the trailer court queen Neagle solicited.

But as embarrassing as Neagle's pay-for-play scandal, it's nothing compared to when Dave Stewart pulled to the curb. The former A's ace was arrested in downtown LA in 1985 after picking up a tranny named "Lucille." Stewart claimed he had no idea that she was a he, apparently assuming it was just another 6' 3" lady with a pronounced adam's apple.

But unlike Neagle, Stewart went on to pitch for ten more years and lead the A's to a World Championship. Which just goes to show that for all the "morals clauses", what really matters is what happens on the field.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 17, 2006

No talent? Here, have some cash!


There's a brief in today's Times that back-up catcher Josh Paul lost his arbitration case to the (Devil) Rays, collecting $475K rather than $750K. Paul, who had a hand in losing the '05 ALCS (whoops), feels his '05 performance entitles him to paycheck over sixteen times the national median household income (whereas MLB determined he is worth only ten times that median).

I don't have a problem with Paul, really, but this guy averaged just .189 at the plate last year (.189 BA in 34 games - and that's only 37 ABs, Zeke). That was, to throw yet another link/stat your way, 79 points below the league average. What is his true value? Can he call a good game? Is he a mentor? A team-chemistry kinda guy? Good in the clutch? I don't know. I also don't care.

I may be knee-jerking here, and we can all point to a plethora of more deserving targets for a salary-related rant, but c'mon! I have a lot of annoyances and hatreds towards this game, but the stratospheric salary levels among pro athletes is right up there with owners and tax-supported stadium construction. Even if Paul doesn't play past this season, this dude--along with every other unremarkable back-up with minimal skills--will still have managed to make a hell of a lot more in his short and ultimately forgettable career than the average Joe Salaryman (say, me) will make in his entire life.

Son of a bee-sting!!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Baseball, Weakly

Ben Godar

A once great baseball publication continues to slide. Here's a copy of my letter to the editors of what used to be Baseball Weekly.

Dear Editors,

There was a time when Baseball Weekly was required reading for baseball fans. I have long been one of those readers. We felt slighted when you added football a few years back. Now that NASCAR is also in the mix, the message seems clear: You no longer have any interest in the true baseball fan.

I could complain about the choice of NASCAR specifically. It seems anyone who roots for an internal combustion engine covered in advertisements would be satisfied reading an auto parts catalog. But believe me, this isn’t about NASCAR. I would be just as disappointed had you added basketball, water polo or ballroom dancing.

I subscribed to your publication because it delivered baseball coverage I couldn’t get anywhere else. Trade rumors, feature stories, fantasy, the minors, college – Baseball Weekly covered it all with depth and insight.

If this week’s issue is any indication, those days are over. My reward for flipping past the football and NASCAR was a Spring Training guide that could have come from a AAA handbook and one page of aggregate news like what runs on page 77 of any sports section.

I assume your research tells you general sports coverage will garner you more readers. But why should I pay for something that already comes inside my daily paper, wrapped around the grocery ads?

By continuing to water-down your coverage, you are trading devoted fans for casual front-runners. You seem to believe you are forging ahead, but I assure you many of your core readers are being left behind.

Ben Godar

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

You heard me, pal.

Dr. Uetz

Pitchers and catchers are reporting and the natural order of things slowly begins to return. It makes me smile. Soon we can once again grab our 24oz beers and head to the stands with our pencils and wits sharpened.

I don't have the privilege of living in a town with a major league ballclub. But that's fine with me. I can easily hop in my car and drive 3 hours to Minneapolis or Kansas City, 4 1/2 hours to St. Louis, or 5 hours to Chicago or Milwaukee. There are a lot of options, and fortunately my Mets play three of those teams every season. And I make the trip. Usually to Milwaukee because I hate Wrigley (we've covered that) and St. Louis has been better than my boys the last few years. I don't like to drive 5 hours and pay $10 for a beer to watch my team lose.

But let me get back to my hometown and the upcoming AAA season for the Iowa Cubs. While I despise the parent organization, I am a devoted fan of the Iowa Cubs. I spend a good portion of my summer at Sec Taylor Stadium; section 15 row 7, it's about 30 feet from first base. It gives me a good chance to discuss the finer points of the game with the players and coaches. And I take advantage of that opportunity.

My shining moment came last season when Nashville was in town. Corey Hart was playing for Nashville that day. He's always been a favorite of mine, at least when it comes to chit chat. He's a real friendly cuss. And last year he became the first pro player to flip me off. It was a shock at first but I have grown to cherish the moment. As Corey walked back to the dugout after popping out I reminded him "Corey, that's 0 or 3 today. Impressive." That's all it took. There must have been something else going on in his life. I might have expected it from "You'll never amount to a Danny Heep," but that's the joy of heckling. And that's what I love about living in a town with a AAA team. I get personal time with these guys. I can invite Prince Fielder over to my place to watch "Blossom" reruns as he awaits his next pitch. I even had the chance to buy Ruben Sierra a a beer. I drank it for him and described it as he stood on first.

These are moments we all can cherish. These are the times we will remember for the rest of our lives. And as nice as it is to sit around the house during these cold months and watch Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, I'm itching to get to my seat in Section 15.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Good Riddance to Good Players

Ed McElvain

Many people are upset with the mass exodus of star players from the World Baseball Classic. While I understand their disappointment, I have to say that I'm ok with the stars dropping out. Without them the competition will be fiercer and the baseball better because the players will be there to compete and prove themselves.

Thanks to the YES Network (never thought I’d say that), I watched a couple of games from the Caribbean Series. From what I could see, the non-millionaires were playing in a baseball tournament while many of the MLB players were playing at family reunion softball game speed.

Anyone who thinks that star players in the WBC would bring the level of play up has made one too many plays at the plate in an exhibition game featuring Pete Rose. I’m sorry, and I know their excuses are lame, but most MLB stars are just not going to play balls-out in an exhibition.

But there will still be exciting players to watch. No doubt many international players see the WBC as an opportunity to showcase their talents for the MLB scouts in attendance. Jim Street has highlighted a few of the international players to keep an eye out for in an article for MLB.com.

Other players that can benefit from the star player pullout are younger players already in the MLB system. Case-in-point, Pirates GM Dave Littlefield says he would rather see Yurendell DeCaster play in the WBC than Spring Training, even though DeCaster is competing to make the club this Spring. He thinks his team can learn more by seeing him in a higher-level competition than Spring Training.

If the WBC does turn out to be a full-speed proving ground for international players and prospects, I say good riddance to anyone who is just going to hold the level of the games back. So maybe it won’t be the star-studded tournament that globalizes the game the way Selig & Co. might have dreamed, but it will still be fun to watch. Probably more so.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

World Baseball Classic Update or "Wash my Truck"

Ben Godar

In less than a month, the World Baseball Classic has gone from a star-studded championship to a Double-A All-Star Game. Well, that may be an exaggeration. But give it a couple more weeks.

America’s Sweetheart Barry Bonds was the first domino to fall, but he won’t be the only one watching the games on ESPN. The WBC DNP list will now include Lance Berkman, Robinson Cano, Tim Hudson, Nomar Garciapara, Mark Buehrle, Eric Gagne, Mariano Rivera, Jimmy Rollins … The list just keeps growing. Carl Crawford and Joe Mauer bowed out today, and it’s been widely reported that studs like Andy Pettite and Pedro Martinez will opt to stay home.

There’s still talent to spare on the provisional rosters, but I’ll take the team not on the field against the one that will be. Team USA’s outfield has gone from Bonds, Berkman and Crawford to Ken Griffey, Jr., Johnny Damon and Vernon Wells.

The excuse du jour is fear of injury, and America’s sports pages seem to agree with this wisdom. I don’t.

A ballplayer can be injured during a game, in Spring Training, at practice, even washing their truck. Many players even believe the risk of injury is greater when they're going half speed. Latin American players regularly play in the Caribbean Series, and they somehow manage to survive and play for their Major League clubs. So the idea that these players are putting their careers in jeopardy is more than a bit overstated.

What’s going unsaid is that these hypothetical injuries are only half of the risk/reward analysis. Players and Owners are implicitly announcing that they don’t give a damn about the World Baseball Classic, and that is death for the event.

Everyone’s publicly towing the company line, but it’s clear few people outside the commissioners office are really excited about this tournament. Despite the lip service and Super Bowl commercials, that apathy is seeping into the fans.

If you don’t believe me, check the availability of tickets. Let’s just say you won’t have to find a scalper to get yourself a seat at the World Baseball Classic. In fact, if things continue in the direction they’re already moving, you might be able to get a seat on the bench.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Milwaukee: Rolling out the barrel in 2006, tapping it in 2007

Ed McElvain

Going far beyond shedding their spot as laughing stalk of the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers could very well be putting together a team that can give the Cardinals a run for their money in the Central. Progress has been slow but steady the last couple of years, but 2006 is when we’re going to see things start picking up.

There’s going to be a lot of intrigue in the Cactus League about the development of Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, and Nelson Cruz; but the only real position battle we’re going to see this Spring will be for the backend of the starting rotation, where there are 5 potential candidates – two young prospects, a two year ex-prospect, a six year vet known for inconsistency, and a ten year veteran trying to resurrect his career after being out of the majors for all of 2004 and the first half of 2005.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Tomo Ohka already owns the 4th starter job, for some reason. It is probably his to lose, but we’re also talking about Tomo Ohka here – a pitcher who at times looks brilliant, but who has also gone through extended periods of struggling and seems to have a tendency to let it get into his head. He just has never really put it together and I don’t think you can hand a guy like that an automatic rotation spot. It might be his to lose, but lose it he could.

Most fantasy columnists seem to think that one of the kids will come away as the 5th starter, with Dana Eveland or Dave Bush being the favorites due to that term which fantasy columnists love to throw around: upside. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rick Helling emerge with the job. After his performance last September, he deserves the shot. Frankly, it would be best for the Brewers, despite creating a temporary logjam for the progress of the younger pitchers. As a former 20 game winner with a World Series ring, a resurgent Helling would make an intriguing trade chip come July. And what do they have to lose if he’s not performing at a high level in May? A handful of starts for Bush, Eveland, or Zack Jackson – not that big of a deal. Giving Helling a chance is the logical extension of taking a chance on him in the first place – it’s low risk, high reward.

The Brew Crew will have several other short-term answers vs. long-term solutions to sort out over the course of the 2006 season, particularly in the outfield and the corner infield positions. We’re probably a year or two away from the Brewer breakthrough, but by the time the July trade deadline passes and September call up season rolls around, Ned Yost could be getting his first taste of managing the lineup that is going to bring playoff baseball back to Milwaukee.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Name's Travis White and I'm Here to Say...

I call 34°8’49”N, 118°14’34”W home, and I'm supposed to introduce myself to y'all. The first draft was overlong and much too boring, so I've shortened it to a small bunch of preferences:

Adult males should be banned from bringing gloves to the stadium. Beach balls, thunder sticks, 'God Bless America' and 'Who Let the Dogs Out' should be banned as well. First forced through the exit, however, would be the moron standing at the bottom of my section trying to start 'the wave'.

So what's to like? Here are eleven of my favorite things: In-the-park home runs, lights-out relief in the ninth, 4-5-3 double plays, bench-clearing brawls, pitching duels, doubles stretched into triples, hustle on easy outs, sausage racing, double-headers, tailgating and squeeze bunts.

Oh, and I once snagged myself a foul off Mark Grudzielanek. Following proper baseball decorum, I gave it to a kid sitting next to me. That'll do.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The best of Fantasy; the worst of Fantasy

Ben Godar

For the baseball fan that follows the "Hot Stove League" as closely as the World Series, there really is nothing better than Fantasy Baseball. And for that same fan, there’s nothing worse than the countless puds that play Fantasy Baseball.

Based on conversations I wish I’d never had, I’ve determined the majority of Fantasy Leagues must consist of exactly one team. Here's how it goes down: I make the mistake of mentioning I play Fantasy Baseball and Johnny Allstar can’t wait to tell me his outfield includes Manny, Vlad, Miggy, and all the other guys so good they only need one name. I never seem to meet the other guys in these leagues, the guys who must be sweating whether to start or Larry Bigbie or So Taguchi. Oh wait, that’s the Cardinals.

But the truth is the Bigbie/Taguchi debate is exactly the thing that makes Fantasy Baseball rewarding. Any idiot can pick an All-Star team – that’s why they even put ballots in the Bronx. A real fantasy league is won by the guy who finds the best fifth starter, who knows which young stud won’t spend the entire season in AAA.

We tinkered with a few rules in my fantasy league, but we quickly found the closer we stick to Daniel Okrent’s original constitution, the more realistic and competitive the game. You can go draft instead of auction, you can even go non-keeper league if you want. But if you saturate the talent pool, you’re in the slow pitch, beer leagues of fantasy baseball … only without the beer.

I’ve been told by some mouth-breathers that it’s no fun to play in a league where somebody drafts Rich Aurilia. These are obviously the same people who go to the ballpark to see home runs and swat a beach ball.

Fantasy baseball is a great way to deepen your knowledge of The Game and get to know teams outside your comfort zone. But if you just picked up Bobby Abreau off the waiver wire, don’t walk around thinking you’re Billy Beane.