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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Baseball Roundup

There are several topics worthy of discussion today, so here goes:

1. A Tale of Two Cities. Both of these teams were struggling at the time of the trading deadline, and the speculation ran rampant that one of them would peddle its ace back to the American League, while the other was looking to make a big enough trade to put itself back into contention. So what happened? The former team stood pat after making a huge trade before the trading line hot-stove talk even began in earnest, while the latter traded for two relievers who were having good seasons (at least before the trade). And what has happened since then? Well, the former team has won 18 of its last 21 and is in the thick of the National League wild-card race after having been written off for dead -- the Houston Astros. The latter team has floundered miserably, hasn't pitched consistently, and hasn't hit well with runners in scoring position all year -- the Philadelphia Phillies. Astros manager Phil Garner just might shed the interim tag, and about a month ago the cognoscenti speculated as to who Drayton McLane might hire in the off-season for the job. Phillies manager Larry Bowa, hitting coach Greg Gross and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan probably will take the fall in Philadelphia, where Phillies' GM Ed Wade gave Bowa a vote of confidence only through the end of this season. And who are the fans blaming in Philadelphia? Ed Wade.

But the thing, as it were, about baseball is that you cannot pin the success or failure of one team on just one player or one manager, even if closers who don't close out the game (Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series), bad fielders (see Leon Durham in the 1984 NLCS and Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series) or managers (see John McNamara in Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series and Grady Little in the 2003 ALCS) can get a good-sized share of the game. Which means, of course, that because you cannot fire players with guaranteed contracts, you fire the manager. But it's only even money that an Uncle Robbie-type of friendly manager will help make the Phillies' team, as currently constituted, play any better next year. They need a few more "live" bats, a few more guys with good OBPs, and better pitching.

But doesn't everyone? Okay, mostly everyone?

And then there's a lineup with Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman. And how about pitching Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt in a short series?

All of a sudden, the Astros are looking pretty good.

2. Alibi Ike (or, perhaps, A Few People Who Didn't Read "If"). I won't get into the arguments about what happened at Yankee Stadium yesterday, whether the Devil Rays caused the stress on the schedule by not evacuating Tampa Bay early enough to make their double header with the Yankees on-time yesterday, or how much money the delay cost the Yankees by a) agreeing to a single game (how generous of them), b) postponing that game until 7 p.m. (and providing free hot dogs and sodas to those who came on time for a 1 p.m. twin bill, only to have to wait more than 6 hours for a single game (and, at Yankee prices, that's a good chunk of change) or b) how much money the Yankees will lose through the largesse they showed these fans by rendering their tickets for yesterday good for an additional game this season or next season (good business move). But where I will comment was on the quickly nixed (by Commissioner Bud Selig) request by the Yankees to forfeit the not-played second game in favor of the Yankees.

The only thing more ridiculous than reading about the Yankees' request at the expense of a team that just fled a hurricane was hearing Yankee president Randy Levine give his press conference on the topic. The request was ridiculous, and it shows how much panic must be going on in the executive suite in the Bronx. The BoSox are hot, they've captured the uncommited (i.e., non-Boston/non-Yankee) fans' attention, and they are closing fast on the Yankees' tail. The Yankees, meanwhile, have all sorts of pitching problems, and when you see C.J. Nitkowski and Tanyon Sturze out there you wonder whether the Columbus and New York rosters pulled a switch as a form of a bad practical joke. Sure, pull 3 ahead of the Red Sox by getting that forfeit. That's really tough, shows what a great team you have on the field.

If you can't beat 'em on the playground at recess, go complain to the principal. Gee, that always works.

Instead, the front office's short-sighted move, which never was going to get approved, makes the Yankees look like a once-proud and mighty business trying to hold onto the last bit of supremacy they had (can you hear Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" playing in the background now?). But that supremacy ended three years ago, and if I were to write this post a year from now, I'd say four years ago.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are charging, and they have two money starting pitchers who will take them far in a short series, including the best clutch pitcher in a long while, Curt Schilling.

It's bad enough for Yankee fans to know that their team is struggling, that A-Rod is having a down year for A-Rod and that perhaps even the beloved Jeter and the always reliable Bernie may not be able to drag them to another World Series title.

It's worse, though, when the front office blunders and lets everyone know that they're having a panic attack in the corporate suite.

3. The Sun Also Rises. "Also" is the key word here, because there is so much other good stuff going on that Ichiro's attempt to break George Sisler's 84 year-old record for most hits in a season isn't getting top billing. And it should be. He has 226 hits now, has 25 games left in the season, and is on pace to get 267 hits, which would top Gorgeous George (that was his nickname) by 10 hits. If Ichiro Suzuki hits slightly above .300 for the remainder of the season (based on an estimated 4.2 at-bats per game from his leadoff slot), he'll get 258 hits and the record. And yes, he's now hitting .379.

TigoBlue posted a thoughtful comment on Ichiro's overall worth in the realm of MLB outfielders, how his slugging percentage isn't great and how he doesn't walk a lot. In short, TigoBlue believes that there are many outfielders whom you'd rather have on your team than Ichiro. And I'm sure that Billy Beane probably could name you a few more. And there are great arguments as to why you'd rather have Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield or Vladimir Guerrero, to name a few.

But the ironic part of it is, the one they're all watching now is this throwback-style player who plays for one of the worst teams in the big leagues.

Go figure.

At least 257 figures.


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