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Saturday, July 03, 2004

Round the Horn -- Various Thoughts on Baseball

SportsProf has neglected baseball a bit lately, but is happy to note the following:

1. Lots of good pennant races are shaping up. When SportsProf counted this stat last week, there were 24 teams (out of 30) in playoff contention. The NFL may have parity, but if MLB has a pennant race in every division come September (except the AL East, perhaps, although the Red Sox are in the wild-card race), the Lords of Baseball will have done a good job (and, yes, Donald Fehr, you're included in that grouping). Who would have thought that the Mets, the Brewers, the Padres, the Tigers and the Rangers would be in contention at the All-Star break?

2. Sad to see Bob Brenly get the axe in Arizona. After all, it wasn't like he hadn't accomplished anything. Like it really was his fault that a) the ownership always had overextended on its debt, b) they have 13 guys on the DL at this time and c) 5 of those guys, SportsProf believes, are on the 60-day DL. Hard to win under those circumstances. Also, the 4-for-1 trade for Richie Sexson has turned out to be a disappointment, with the big 1B on the DL and Messrs. Counsell, Spivey, Moeller and especially Lyle Overbay contributing well for the Milwaukee Brewers.

3. Nice to see 3B coach Al Pedrique get a shot, though, as Brenly's replacement in Arizona. Pedrique had a winning record in 8 years as a minor-league manager, and he's paid his dues riding the buses of the minors. He played in the Mets, Pittsburgh and Detroit organizations, and probably got a thermos full of coffee in the majors as a player. Pedrique played on some great Mets' minor league teams in the early-to-mid 80's, including a Jackson Mets' team that had the following lineup: C either Barry Lyons, John Gibbons or Greg Olson (Olson caught on some of the Braves' teams in the early 90's), 1B Randy "Moose" Milligan (who played 1B for the Orioles and Reds), 2B Pedrique at times (he also played SS after Kevin Elster advanced), SS Kevin Elster, 3B Dave Magadan, LF Kevin Mitchell, CF Lenny Dykstra, RF Mark Carreon. Among the pitchers were Rick Aguilera and Roger McDowell (and two Ivy Leaguers, Kurt Lundgren of Columbia and Mark Lockenmeyer of Princeton). Billy Beane, the current A's GM, also was on those teams. And those teams won championships. Here's to hoping Pedrique does well and gets a chance to manage further in the majors.

4. Bobby Abreu is a great, if quiet, major league player. He entered last night's game, according to the Phila. Inquirer, first among NL outfielders in runs scored, third in walks, tied for third in batting average, fifth in RBIs and tied for fifth in doubles. His OBP is something like .420 and no one runs on him (if they do, they usually get thrown out). He deserves an All-Star berth, his first, but may not get it because, well, he's not flamboyant. It also doesn't help that some of the Philadelphia media, including the drive-time talk show host on sports' radio (with whom SportsProf agrees more often than not, even if SportsProf doesn't always like his tone), say that he's not intense, that he's not about the team and that, well, he's not clutch. I'm not so sure that in this case they know what they're talking about. The numbers don't lie. Without someone like Abreu, the Phillies' disappointing season thus far would be downright awful.

5. Remember the name Ryan Howard. He's the Phillies' AA first baseman at Reading in the Eastern League, and last night he hit his 32nd home run of the season. The franchise's record is 33 (set by another slugger, Greg Luzinski, in 1971). Howard's future in Philadelphia doesn't seem bright because he's blocked by a 1B named Thome, and he doesn't have another position. His market value right now is very high, and if the Phillies are determined not to trade top pitching prospects Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd, Howard would seem to be prime trade bait -- for the centerfielder that the Phillies need to put them over the top.

The big question is whether such a trade will help the Phillies for several years or will turn into the late 80's trade that had the Braves send a vetern Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for a young pitcher with some promise. Well, Alexander had a great half season for Detroit (his records was something like 13-1), and helped the Tigers immediately (but for not much longer), and the young pitcher turned out to be a guy named Smoltz, who I think you've heard of. Or, could the trade also could replicate one that had the Astros send now-Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen to the Red Sox for a AA first baseman in the late 80's. Andersen didn't fare well in Boston, and that first sacker turned out to be a kid named Bagwell.

The Phillies should maximize Howard's value, because the NL is not adopting the DH rule soon and the Phils aren't trading Jim Thome. If you're a Phillies' fan, you should hope that they get a real player who can help for yours and not, in Casey Stengel's vernacular, a ribbon clerk. The fear, of course, is that the CF they trade Howard for helps only in the short-term, while Ryan Howard turns out to be someone who hits 600 home runs in his career. Phillies' fans, keep your fingers cross. The BoSox may have the Curse of the Bambino, but your franchise suffers from a long-term malaise that vanishes once a quarter decade or so. Start rubbing your talismans now.

That's the baseball wrap for now. Enjoy the All-Star game, have fun with all of the hot-stove talk, and may your team give you something to cheer for during the hot summer months!


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