Today’s ESPN telecast reminded me of the first Naked Gun movie when there were ten broadcasters in the booth at the game where Reggie is brainwashed to kill the Queen, only to be foiled by Lieutenant Frank Drebin. Broadcasting today were Steve Phillips, John Kruk, Gary Thorne and Peter Gammons. Between Phillips’s ego and Thorne’s unnecessary screaming and preachy rants, I don’t know how Kruk and Gammons found time (or available air) to say anything at all.
Here’s a list of players who are either rising into prominence, or falling into mediocrity and worse.
On the rise:
- Jon Lester, LHP, Boston Red Sox: Cancer free and ready to take the next step and win 15 games.
- Jeremy Accardo, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: Did a fine job as the closer after B.J. Ryan got hurt. If Ryan returns, the Blue Jays will have a devastating bullpen. Hard to believe they got Accardo for Shea Hillenbrand.
- Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles: Played excellent ball on a team that had nothing to play for and is ready to bust out into superstar status.
- B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: In his natural position of center field and on a team that has some hope, Upton is ready to become a star.
- Jensen Lewis, RHP, Cleveland Indians: A young reliever who throws very hard and showed his power arm in the playoffs last season.
- Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City Royals: Struggled and grew acclimated to the big leagues last season and ended well. He’s going to take the next step this season.
- Brandon Wood, SS, Los Angeles Angels: Massive minor league numbers and might be playing shortstop regularly for the Angels very early in the season.
- Kenji Johjima, C, Seattle Mariners: Acclimated to North America in his third big league season and ready to explode.
- Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics: The key to the Mark Mulder to St. Louis deal and has put up great numbers all the way up through the minor leagues and in a brief big league trial last season.
- John Maine, RHP, New York Mets: May be ready to win 18-20 games after tiring toward the end of last season.
- Carlos Marmol, LHP, Chicago Cubs: Power lefty out of the bullpen whose numbers last season were absurd. May emerge as the Cubs closer.
- Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers: A lifesaver for the Brewers after their veteran starters were injured and/or ineffective.
- Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Houston Astros: Great stuff and should benefit from the Astros offense and win 15 games.
- Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Cincinnati Reds: Has been a discipline problem for previous managers, but might thrive under Dusty Baker’s light touch.
- Ian Snell, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: Struggled last season after winning 14 games in 2006. Has the stuff to be an All Star.
- Micah Owings, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: All around athlete whose pitching will finally catch up to his superlative hitting.
- Chad Billingsley, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: Went 12-5 as a starter/reliever. Could become a top of the rotation starter very quickly.
Ready to fall:
- Curt Schilling, RHP, Boston Red Sox: Shoulder problems and the back-and-forth with management regarding the severity and treatment does not look good for him coming back.
- Scott Rolen, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will rue the day they traded for him and his contract.
- Paul Byrd, RHP, Cleveland Indians: After the absurd and unbelievable alibi-laden denials after he was outed as having purchased HGH, it’s stunning that the Indians exercised his option. They’ll regret it.
- Jose Contreras, RHP, Chicago White Sox: Mentally fragile and losing his stuff as he ages.
- Matt Morris, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: I’ve never heard a viable explanation as to why the Pirates traded for him in the first place.
- Greg Maddux, RHP, San Diego Padres: His awful September may not have been a slump; he may finally be done.
- Jim Edmonds, OF, San Diego Padres: He’s injury-prone and his bat is slow.
- Omar Vizquel, SS, San Francisco Giants: His baseball mind is still unparalleled, but his body is breaking down.
If Roger Clemens continues down his current road, he’s going to learn the hard way that the world off the baseball diamond is not going to bend to his tactics as meekly as it did on. Clemens’s behavior is indicative of someone who just does not understand that he’s not playing a game where might often makes right. He seems to think that if he’s aggressive, forceful, bull-headed, and adamant in regards to his denials of PED usage, then these same qualities that were attributes on the baseball field are going to save him again. The truth is they’re only going to serve to get him in more trouble off the field.
In every action he takes, from his press conferences; to his interviews; to his appearance before congress, other than the fact that he was wearing a suit instead of a uniform, there appears to be little difference between the Clemens in baseball and the Clemens in the everyday world. The attitude that he’s going to just force his will on everyone and everything in his path worked in baseball, but is not going to have the same effects on his new opponents.
It’s hard to intimidate major league hitters, but Clemens’s reputation preceded him and his attitude was a major part in his success. Is it any surprise that, in looking at players individual batting averages against Clemens—-Individual Batters VS Clemens—-the majority of the players who have the best records against him were fearless veterans (Harold Baines, Paul Molitor, Ken Griffey Jr); macho in their own right (Dave Winfield, Lou Whitaker, ARod) or borderline personalities (Tony Phillips, Roger Cedeno)? Clemens’s game was to push people around and exert his will. He apparently thinks that the same strategy is going to work in his current predicament, but the main difference is that on the field, Clemens had the talent to back up his bluster; off the field, he’s trying to bluff his way through without the mental acuity to account for those that can’t be intimidated.
There has been criticism of Clemens’s lead attorney Rusty Hardin for his own inability to rein in his client, but how can anyone possibly deal with someone like Clemens, for whom reality is something far different from those who are living in the real world? It’s like trying to stop an avalanche; you do the best you can and try to survive.
The glaring, the glowering, the snide comments, the intensity—-all worked very well on the mound. I’m sure Clemens looks at those in congress and in the Justice Department as little wimpy guys who he could grab and fling around like rags. The truth is that people like Rep. Henry Waxman are the exact types of people that Clemens should be afraid of because they’re not going to be taken in by his bravado; not going to be intimidated by his reputation because he’s no longer holding a baseball; no longer in his domain and no longer able to back up the bluster with skill. It’s an empty strategy that is destined to fail, but Clemens is determined to take it to the end as he flees the burning building that is his reputation by climbing over his business associates, friends and even his wife.
The charade of the calm, cool gunslinger is being torn apart every time another contradiction of Clemens’s denials appears; every time another fact is uncovered in his failing attempt to save his legacy by reverting to what he knows; and what he knows is how to bully when he doesn’t have the ammunition to get through on talent alone. That intimidation factor got him through many games, but it’s not going to get him through this; in fact, it’s exactly what’s going to lead to his downfall and he’s got no one to blame but himself.
Cubs owner Sam Zell has the naming rights to Wrigley Field "on the table"—-ESPN Story. I don’t care how greedy an owner is; or how much money he’s going to get for such a maneuver; or how sound a business decision it would be, there are certain things that aren’t worth the aggravation. Given how Cubs fans have stayed loyal to their team considering their long history of losing, the one thing that an owner—-even the greediest and least concerned with tradition—-cannot do is to trample all over the tradition that is pretty much all the loyal fans have had to cling to during all those years of suffering. The backlash from this is going to prevent it from happening. There are certain stadiums that should not have some corporate entity attached to it. Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field are examples of ballparks that should remain named as such. If Zell has any concern for maintaining the value of his purchases, he’ll dispatch this idea immediately.
With the news that Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir was having elbow discomfort, underwent an MRI and will miss the next two weeks—-ESPN Story—-one can’t help but wonder how closely members of the Mets hierarchy are following the progress of their former first round draft choice and if there’s any subconscious hope that he eventually does get hurt.
Even though the Mets have moved on sufficiently since Kazmir, there has to be some remaining embarrassment at how poorly the decision to trade him has turned out. Given that one of the main reasons given for trading him (other than their bewildering desire for Victor Zambrano) was pitching Czar Rick Peterson’s assessment of Kazmir’s mechanics and the numbers of how long it takes for a young pitcher to be ready for the big leagues, etc, it’s human nature for there to be some faint hope that they’ll eventually turn out to have been right. This is in no way to suggest that there’s an overt hope that Kazmir gets hurt, but it would certainly end the mere mentioning of his name in Mets circles at every solid Kazmir performance and every poor performance by a Mets starter who is presumably in the rotation because Kazmir is not.
Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy now to think that it was a mistake to trade Kazmir; I don’t necessarily think that it was a mistake. Peterson wasn’t just pulling those numbers out of his posterior; but the mistake the Mets made was trading Kazmir for Zambrano. After that 2004 season, it would have been realistic to think that the Athletics would have traded Tim Hudson to the Mets for Kazmir and a couple of other players rather than to the Braves for Dan Meyer, Charles Thomas and Juan Cruz.
That works both ways though; had the Mets held onto Kazmir instead of his trade being a watershed moment for the franchise, it’s a good possibility to think that they would have limped along continuing to do business the way they had been to continuous misery with no relief in sight. In fact, it has been argued that had the Mets not made the Kazmir trade, then Omar Minaya wouldn’t have been hired late in the 2004 season, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran never would have been pursued, let alone acquired, and they would have gone on being a last resort for free agents and a rest home for veterans like John Franco and Al Leiter getting severance contracts for what they were in the 90s rather than what they were in 2004.
No matter how successful the Mets become now, it’s natural for those that were a part of the organization in 2004 to still want some measure of vindication for the Kazmir trade. They’re not hoping that he gets hurt, but it’s human nature to want to be able to get beyond the trade once and for all and if that means being right about Kazmir’s physiology, so be it.
What is this silly trend of teams naming their opening day starter so early? Don’t they realize that it’s February?
There’s something to be said for being comfortable in one’s surroundings, but with the stories about the Cardinals that are popping up and how the upper management is in constant disagreement and completely disregards manager Tony La Russa’s personnel suggestions, one has to wonder why La Russa didn’t cut the ties when he was a free agent after last season.
The Cardinals front office and manager don’t appear to be—-in the words of the Moneyball legend Paul DePodesta—-"on the same page". It’s understandable why the front office rejected La Russa’s Barry Bonds suggestion for a myriad of reasons, but there seems to be a disconnect between ownership and some of the staff that wants to go in the Moneyball direction (the Billy Beane Moneyball, not any of the other teams that have used the strategies and failed miserably), while La Russa, GM John Mozeliak and former GM Walt Jocketty wanted to conduct their business in the same way they always have. The idea that La Russa has any power remaining in the organization is rapidly declining. The Cardinals dumped Scott Rolen, but that probably had more to do with his contract and injuries than any fissure between Rolen and La Russa.
There were potential job openings last fall that La Russa would have been perfect for. He could have gone to the Mariners, the Orioles, the Reds, the Dodgers or even the Yankees. If he truly wanted to find the perfect job for himself, he could have sat out the beginning of the season and waited for the shoe to drop on such names on the firing line as Ned Yost with the Brewers, Ozzie Guillen with the White Sox or Willie Randolph with the Mets. Any of these teams have a better chance to win this season than the Cardinals do judging by their roster.
At his age, La Russa probably doesn’t want to have to go to another organization in another town and start all over again; and with two championships in his pocket and a spot in the Hall of Fame assured, perhaps there’s a part of La Russa that wants to challenge himself and see how far he can take a team with such limited talent, but does he need the aggravation and the castrating tendency of a Moneyball based system? Of having his suggestions dismissed out of hand with no regard for his opinion one way or the other? I can see a young manager putting up with such **** to go along and get along, but La Russa doesn’t have to take it, so why would he choose to?