Friday, February 25, 2005

Notes and Comments

Among the early reports out of Clearwater was an item regarding David Bell’s fragile back. The 32-year old third baseman said it was nothing, but similar woes cost him most of the 2003 season and several games last year. Just one more reason the unexpected presence of Placido Polanco may provide needed insurance. Polanco has previously filled in for the oft-injured Bell at third. Bell told reporters he has spasms about once a year and they pass. Speaking as someone who has had spasms and disc surgery, one can lean over in the shower to pick up the soap and suddenly. . . .

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Let me be among the first to pronounce the Ryan Howard outfield experiment a failure, not for lack of determination or effort on his part, but because the 6-foot-4, 230 pound left handed slugger is just not outfielder material. The move smacks of desperation on the Phillies ‘part, to get his bat into the lineup somehow and to keep the kid happy. But Howard doesn’t appear to be unhappy and I believe he still has options. The best thing for Howard would be to start the season at AAA, where he can play every day at first base and get his at-bats. And it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to keep in mind item number one above (see Bell-Polanco) just in case Jim Thome, who played hurt all of last season, goes down for a stretch.

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I saw an item where Rafael Palmeiro is considering suing Jose Canseco over allegations the former used steroids. The interesting aspect of the story is that were Palmeiro to pursue the suit, it is rumored he would hire the law firm of O’s owner Peter Angelos to represent him. Angelos made his fortune litigating asbestos cases, not defamation of character suits. Indeed, Angelos has arguably made a baseball career of destroying if not defaming the character of entire franchises, namely his own. Nevertheless, payment plans in such an arrangement would be easy, I guess; Palmeiro could simply have the fees deducted from his salary checks. On the other hand, were Angelos to lose the case, it might be awkward for Palmeiro to do any public relations for the team.

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Just a minor digression here. The 76ers made two trades Wednesday just before the deadline and in the process left themselves shorthanded with a league-mandated minimum of eight players for a game they eventually lost to the Knicks last night. For a team that is struggling to play .500 ball to “give away” a game seems inexcusable. I’ve heard the expression to “have a game in hand”, but that usually refers to teams who have the luxury of losing a game and still maintaining their advantage. The 76ers hardly qualify.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Be Optimistic

Every time I resolve to be optimistic about the Phillies’ playoff chances they pull me back in.

Granted, I am a major league worrier by nature and thus prone to looking for trouble, but the Phils always oblige by presenting me with ample opportunities to act in character.

Even before he was officially scheduled to arrive in camp, there was Pat Burrell, already weary of unconfirmed and, according to him, completely unfounded reports that his wrist was still sore. Moreover, Pat made it clear he is sick and tired of all of the advice he’s been offered the last few seasons on how to cure his now chronic hitting woes, pointing out that new batting coach Milt Thompson will be his fifth such instructor since reaching the majors.

Walk softly, Milt.

Pitching remains the name of the game and on that front the key starter may be Randy Wolf. Randy would like to put last season behind him. Who can blame him? The line on Wolf has always been that he possesses four or five major league pitches and mixes them up well, keeping batters off balance. In addition, Wolf has one of the best pick-off moves in the league and fields his position extremely well. I like Randy and want him to succeed, but his assortment of junk and off-speed pitches don’t impress me that much since he doesn’t really possess all that great a fastball to offset them. It seems to me batters lay off the 70 mph lobs and sit on that fastball. More troubling, he is prone to giving up fly balls in a ballpark that is, well, you know where I’m going with this one. What concerns me the most, however, is Randy’s health. He has made a few trips to the DL over the last two or three seasons and has been shut down at other times. His left arm just might not be built to take the strain. On the other hand, did we mention this guy can hit? Three home runs and eight RBI’s last season in a mere 45 at-bats. Randy may be a candidate for retrofitting.

What would the Spring be without a little controversy? Having dumped Larry Bowa, I would have guessed that whatever controversy there was to be had in Clearwater would not emanate from the manager’s office, but lo and behold, on the first official day Charlie Manuel opined that he would expect Placido Polanco not only to get his ab’s this season, but who knows, he could even start come April. Ed Wade, no stranger to the misstep himself, quickly countered the next day that he never even expected Polanco to re-sign with the Phils in the first place and that as far as he was concerned, Chase Utley was penned in to start at second.

Dare I say I am optimistic Utley will indeed be given every chance to prove he can handle the job?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Eleventh Hour

(Editor’s Note: This is the second digression from our principal topic, baseball, in the last few weeks. With catchers and pitchers reporting today, we expect to be more focused going forward.)

We baby-boomers have been accused of lacking perspective in most matters historical; our progeny are deemed even less conversant with the past. So when the NHL cancelled its entire season yesterday, a first for major league sports in North America, baby-boomers and their offspring everywhere, whether hockey fans or not, surely shook their heads and concluded that current labor relations in hockey must represent a new low in professional sport.

We may be right this time.

Recent history gave us the 1994-95 baseball seasons during which a strike lasting 232 days finally forced cancellation of the ’94 World Series, the first such cancellation in 92 years. (The strike began in August, 1994, and lasted through the end of the regular and post-seasons and all of Spring training in 1995. A few regular-season games were also lost at the start of the 1995 season before both sides put a halt to further self-inflicted wounds.) The NBA strike of 1998-99 lasted 191 days and cost 928 games. The NHL lockout of 1994-95 ran for 103 days and resulted in the cancellation of 468 games. And, of course, there was the infamous 1987 NFL strike during which the owners hired replacement players two weeks into the walkout before a settlement was reached.

Eventually the antagonists in these sports reached enough of an accommodation to salvage a portion of each season, though the cancellation of the ’94 playoffs and World Series after two months of a walkout certainly ended that season unceremoniously (pun intended).

A few things seem axiomatic about most labor negotiations, inside and outside the world of sport. For one thing, preliminary exchanges of positions seem largely a waste of time; most serious negotiations seem to take place at the eleventh hour. Second, final offers are rarely that. And third, both parties might say a lot of nasty things about each other but such behavior is considered posturing with at least one eye on the public.

At this stage, no one is sure what will happen with the NHL next season. Having allegedly come close to a settlement at their eleventh hour, both sides stiffened and refused to go further. Now, everyone associated with hockey is understandably reluctant to predict when, let alone if, the two sides will start negotiations regarding next year. The degree of bitterness is palpable, especially on the players’ side. And despite some “defections”, especially by European-born players who could and did sign with European clubs and played during the negotiations, the Union appears determined not to make more concessions.

For their part, management is expressing the customary sadness and disappointment, but in the final analysis they held the power to cancel an entire season and they exercised that authority. Their next collective decision is to determine whether or not they can afford to lose the lucrative sponsorships, media revenue and, yes, season-ticket revenues anticipated for next year. The guess here is they cannot.

Stay tuned . . . for developments at the eleventh hour.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005



Most people want it at one time or another. Some of them need it. Few ever achieve it.

The baseball blogger lives on the periphery, part of a community but far removed from its inner circles. His greatest advantage? Independence. His greatest disadvantage? Independence.

Years ago, as a young investor, I read an article on stock analysts and the difficulties they faced balancing responsibility to their employers (largely brokerages and mutual fund companies), the industries they followed, and the investing public. Needless to say their employers were interested in ratings that generated order flows. The industries they followed, and who provided them with some of their data and much of their guidance, were available as long as the resultant reports were not too negative. And the public? Well, let’s just say there are generally few “sell” ratings issued, at least not by analysts who want to remain employed or wish to maintain access to the companies they follow.

Bloggers, analysts of a sort, are not beholden to the teams they follow nor to any individuals – players, management, media or fans – associated with them. They are free to express their opinions, outrage and adoration. By the same token, as far as I know bloggers rarely if ever have access to most of these people either. The day may come when bloggers are poised by a player’s locker, PDA or electronic tablet in hand, taking down what he or she says and posting it nearly simultaneously, but for now that kind of access is unavailable. So, we tend to react to secondary sources, a newspaper column here, a radio or television commentary there, an internet post. What we lack is an opportunity to go directly to a source and ask our own questions. We are, perforce, observers and commentators not interlocutors.

Many bloggers might prefer to maintain their independence, but there are already precedents for others seeking and gaining access, the most notable being those bloggers who were accredited at the Democratic Party national convention last summer.

A few weeks ago I sought “press” credentials from MLB and the Philadelphia Phillies and was turned down ostensibly because, as the PR department of the Phillies told me, they have an exclusive online relationship with MLB that precludes “credentialing any online sources other than ESPN such as bloggers.” So for now, at least, I remain independent, without access, free and willing to express myself.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Mere Mortals

I’m sorry but Kyle Lohse just isn’t worth it. Last week, the Twins’ 26-year old starter, who earned $395,00 in 2004, won his arbitration case with the club and will receive $2.4 million in 2005. That's a raise of slightly more than a $2 million for those who are counting. This after going 9-13 with a 5.34 ERA last season. In four big league campaigns the right-hander is 40-39 with 4.86 ERA. I’d love to see a transcript of the arbitration panel’s deliberations if for no other reason than I haven’t read any good fiction in a while.

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Larry Bowa turned down the opportunity to despoil the Florida Marlins’ clubhouse for, what else, the bigger bucks and audience he will reach by appearing regularly on XM radio’s baseball channel and on ESPN. Don’t look for him to last more than a season at either venue. Four years of listening to the occasional post-game press conference convinced this observer Bowa has little insight to offer about the game and even less about those who play it.

* * * * * * * *

Curt Schilling, ever gracious, has donated his bloody sock to the baseball Hall of Fame thus sparing us a potentially awkward replay of the debate that gripped the entire Route 128 corridor concerning ownership of that other relic to enter Red Sox lore, “the ball” Doug Mientkiewicz gripped at the end of the World Series. Schilling, keenly aware of baseball history and his place in it, must have peeled off the sock immediately following his appearance on prime time television and forbidden the clubhouse laundry service from including it among the uniforms of his teammates, mere mortals that they are.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Rush to Judgment

It’s too easy to sit back and take pot shots at Jose Conseco. I am as guilty of the next party in assuming his allegations are unfounded and unscrupulous at best and his motives vengeful and base.

As I wrote yesterday, at this juncture it may be prudent if not fair to await comments by the main targets of those allegations before reaching any conclusions. My greater willingness to take a more even-handed approach to Conseco, whom I do not admire in the slightest, is prompted by comments made by Ron Rappaport, the sports commentator, on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Rappaport argued persuasively that the public was more than willing to accept the story by BALCO founder Victor Conte that Barry Bonds used steroids he supplied but has been equally quick to dismiss Conseco’s allegations as those of desperate man seeking to make a buck. Conte, Rappaport points out, may be motivated by a far greater need than that of Conseco, namely, staying out of prison.

Bonds is not well liked by much of the public and most of the media. Conseco’s reputation is even worse. But Victor Conte’s behavior hardly rises above that of either man. In the end the entire steroid matter is far too complicated and its implications too great to rush to any judgments.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Coming Clean or Not

Jason Giambi apologized. . . sort of.

The public rehabilitation of the Yankee first baseman got off to a rocky start with the media because he failed to specifically mention what he was sorry about. Giambi and his handlers attributed his omission to a court order forbidding him to mention specifics. The press are all over him largely because they see Giambi’s mea culpa as less an honest attempt to seek redemption and more a consequence of being outed and thus forced to seek the public’s forgiveness. Of course if Giambi had hit 73 home runs in a season while leading the Yankees to a World Series victory, a single “sorry” would have been sufficient for many people.

Giambi strikes me as being a decent guy who isn’t particularly overburdened. Whether or not his apology was thorough enough or prompted by the best intentions, he is the only high-profile figure willing to speak publicly at all. That is more than can be said for Bonds, McGwire, Sosa et al.

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Speaking of the above sluggers, one of those dreaded instant internet polls on ESPN yesterday was revealing if utterly unscientific. Asked whom the voters considered the single season home run champ (the choices were Roger Maris, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds), 45.9 % of 99,269 voters chose Maris. The results reflect several attitudes: disgust in general with the steroids allegations surrounding three of the choices and the ongoing antipathy towards Bonds, the undisputed single-season record holder until another asterisk says differently

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Nearly every Law and Order junkie knows it is very difficult if not impossible to make a case based on hearsay. Don’t tell Jose Canseco, who is doing just that with his new book. I’m hardly in a position to assess the allegations Canseco makes, but I would hazard a guess his last desperate effort to make a buck from baseball will have one result: some of the people he names are going to have to step up and face the court of public opinion more squarely. At this juncture, their teammates and former managers and coaches are doing most of the talking.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Commercial Coda

As the Hot Stove League winds down and Spring Training looms on the horizon it seemed an appropriate time to stand back from all the off-season commerce we witnessed and revisit Baseball’s Greatest Quotes (compiled by Kevin Nelson) for some perspective on the business of baseball. (Though long out of print, this book occasionally shows up at )

Starting off is this now legendary quote from Philip Wrigley, no stranger to hard bargaining:

Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport.

The last people who went broke in baseball were Roy and Earle Mack, Connie’s sons. And I claim they did it on merit. – Red Smith (columnist)

I'm going to write a book, How to Make a Small Fortune in Baseball. First, you start with a large fortune. -- Ruly Carpenter (former owner of Phillies)

I’m the most loyal player money can buy. -- Don Sutton (pitcher)

This loyalty stuff is a bunch of bull. Anybody should have a chance to make it while they can. --Wayne Garland (pitcher)

It isn’t the price of stars that’s expensive. It’s the high price of mediocrity. -- Bill Veeck (former owner of White Sox among others)

We live by the Golden Rule. Those who have the gold make the rules. -- Buzzie Bavasi (GM with Dodgers among others)

Barring the discovery of oil wells under second base, financial losses in the next five year will be nearly ten times greater than in the last five. -- Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner, 1981 (“citing skyrocketing players’ salaries in the free agent era.”)

Baseball as at present conducted is a gigantic monopoly, intolerant of opposition and run on a grab-all-there-is-in-sight policy that is alienating its friends and disgusting the very public that has so long and cheerfully given. . .support. -- Cap Anson (Hall of Fame player speaking near the turn of the 20th century)

All football has to do is play its games, and the baseball owners will chase their public to them with their ignorant greed. – Jimmy Cannon (sportswriter)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Take a Good Look in the Mirror

Boys will be boys, but Cole Hamels had better grow up fast.

After breaking his pitching hand the other morning in a fight outside a bar, Hamels, one of the Phillies’ top pitching prospects, is expected to be out of action for about three months. With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to camp in a few weeks, that means Hamels would miss all of Spring training.

To make matters worse, Hamels lost most of last year to injury, so it is safe to say he is far behind whatever schedule the parent club envisioned for him. To make matters even worse, this may be he second injury he has suffered that is fight-related. The Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury reports there were rumors Hamels suffered a broken arm in high school because of a fight. Hamels denied it.

Hamels is one in a series of hot-heads the Phils seem to attract. Brett Myers and Vicente Padilla often lose their cool to the detriment of the club, but they at least have completed their minor league apprenticeships and pitched well at times in the majors. In Hamels case, management has made him one of the cornerstone of their future plans, refusing to include him in any trade discussions. Having let the side down, he is in real danger of upsetting the Phils best laid plans and in the process never making it to the big leagues. He needs to take a good look in the mirror.