Thursday, January 31, 2008

Words We Love To Read

Some recent quotes and snippets from articles we found amusing:

An ESPN report commenting on the possible Orioles-Mariners trade in which O's hurler Erik Bedard and M's outfielder Adam Jones are the principals:

Jones, 22, is regarded by scouts and executives with other teams as a rising star. "He's going to be a monster," said an AL talent evaluator. "If you put he [sic] and Nick Markakis in the same outfield, that is the start of something."

Yes, indeed, without Bedard in the rotation it sure will be the start of something for the O's: a lot more balls heading toward Mssrs. Markakis and Jones.

* * * * * * * *

Mark King of the World Bill Conlin down in the "Unimpressed Column" regarding the Mets signing of Johan Santana:

The pressure is all on the Mets. And when all the zeros are finally in place, the 28-year-old Venezuelan's enormous contract and the Himalayan expectations wrapped around it will subject Johan to more fan and media scrutiny than any pitcher in the history of a city, the Sour Apple, that has made a lot of grown pitchers cry. Hideki Irabu, Jeff Weaver and Kevin Brown come immediately to mind.Santana has pitched his entire big-league career in Minnesota, where pressure is getting shut out in an ice-fishing tournament.

Hold on, Bill. Rich and famous athletes in Venezuela are loath to call attention to themselves under any circumstances and one sure-fire way to do so would be to incur the wrath of President [for life if he gets his way] Hugo Chavez who would probably claim ice fishing is just an imperialist cover for oil exploration. You can be sure Santana would have thought twice before registering for any ice-fishing tournaments.

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Golf's Ian Poulter is in a very deep water hazard for allegedly stating he was the only golfer capable of challenging Tiger Woods for supremacy. Needless to say, a humbled yet outraged Poulter invoked the usual defense, claiming he was misquoted. But here's the rub according to a piece on ESPN:

Poulter, who said he had not seen a copy of the full article, added that the interview took place three months ago, and he had not heard from the
magazine since.

Please explain to me how anyone would have the temerity to cry foul about being misquoted without reading the entire article first? That's chutzpah!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Team To Beat Is....?

Despite the bad news up the turnpike the sun came up this morning in Philadelphia, or at least it would have if not for the rain.

The Johan Santana signing certainly isn't good news for Phillies fans but it isn't the end of the world either. The most surprising detail was how little the Mets surrendered to acquire his services, but that is a topic Twins' bloggers can lament on their time.

Does the trade make the Mets the team to beat in the NL East? Probably. But before we start imagining ticker-tape parades down Broadway, let's not forget New York still has plenty of question marks. Pedro is 38 years old. Billy Wagner is in decline. So is Carlos Delgado. Jose Reyes, once the most exciting and dangerous player in the Mets lineup if not the entire league, utterly collapsed in the second half of 2007. The rest of the Mets starting rotation is not the second coming of the the Orioles' starting foursome in 1979. So let's not start tearing our hair out yet.

If Santana is on his game, and his second half in 2007 wasn't so fabulous either, he replaces Tom Glavine in the rotation and can be expected to add roughly six or seven more wins. Yes, that would have put the Mets over the top last season despite their legendary collapse at the end and begs the larger question in these parts as to whether or not the Phillies have improved themselves in the off-season as well.

The Pedro Feliz signing has impressed at least one Phillie, Jimmy Rollins, who apparently can vividly recall being robbed of a few extra base hits by Feliz. Memories of earlier signings at third base -- David Bell in particular -- are still fresh wounds in these parts. Can Feliz deliver at the plate? Very hard to say, of course. But he is an upgrade over last year's rotation at the hot corner.

Shane Victorino is a better centerfielder than Aaron Rowand and, frankly, plays as hard and with the same reckless abandon. Until last year, Rowand didn't exactly tear things up at the plate, so there is no reason to expect the changeover diminishes the Phils. Jason Werth and Geoff Jenkins should more than adequately handle right field.

The key is pitching and the keys to pitching are Brad Lidge, Brett Myers and Kyle Kendrick. If Lidge recovers his confidence at his new address, Myers matures into the kind of person let alone pitcher we've been waiting for, and Kendrick can continue to develop into the kind of ground-ball pitcher who can thrive in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies chances are good, Johan Santana notwithstanding.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Is there anyone out there who can be compared to Tiger Woods?

In his first start of the season Tiger left the rest of a good field gasping for air after the first few rounds, prompting Justin Leonard to say "There's two tournaments going on. I'm going to try to win the tournament that Tiger's not playing." Then Tiger went on to easily win the tournament, announcing he felt stronger and better than ever.

It's as if the Mets began the first week of the season by collectively tossing three no-hitters, belting fifteen home runs and throwing in a triple play for good measure.

The called Wayne Gretzky "The Great One", a moniker that seems pitifully understated in describing Woods.

* * * * * * * * * *

It wouldn't come as a surprise if the Phillies-Ryan Howard contract squabble grew more acrimonious over the next few weeks as each side digs in its heels. The Phils' alleged brain trust is already underplaying their differences, a sure sign the gulf between them is even greater than $3 million.

Every commentary on the subject mentions the Albert Pujols factor, as in, how much was King Albert paid, for how long and at what point in his career. Frankly, I'd rather have Pujols on my team if I were building one, but that's besides the point. Howard was the leading power hitter in the NL in the last few seasons and big boppers have always commanded big salaries. The Phillies don't have much of a choice if they want to lock up Howard for the long-term and keep him happy in the short one.

On the other hand, Howard's reading on the disrespectomter rises with each passing season, as in, he feels disrespected. When either the subject of his contract or long-termstatus as a Phillie comes up, there has been more of an edge to him since last year's contract negotiations.

Like it or not, management has to understand he is the face of the franchise, the one player most identified around the country as a Phillie.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mike Lieberthal retired. Quietly, without ever calling much attention to himself, Lieby set most of the franchise records for his position. He played wounded for half of his career, which is a shame. Looking at his lifetime stats, it is surprising to realize he batted .274 over his thirteen seasons. One always had the sense he came through sporadically at best, about one in four times.

The biggest knock on Lieberthal in the last few seasons he spent in Philadelphia is that he never seemed to take command of the team as its longest-tenured player, nor did he ever seem to take charge of the pitching staff, especially during a game.

In the end, his was a quiet career...perhaps too quiet given the position he played.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

They Just Don't Get It.

Ryan Howard and the Phillies clearly do not see eye-to-eye on money. Prior to the start of last season Howard was reportedly upset the Phillies failed to offer him a salary in excess of one million dollars following his winning the MVP award. Instead, they offered him $900,000, a figure that represented an enormous raise while tying him (with Albert Pujols) for the highest salary every paid to a player with less than two years major league experience. Still, many thought, including this observer, the Phillies could have upped the price to the magic number if only to keep their big guy happy. Gestures, alas, are not the Phillies' strong suit.

This winter, Howard, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and the Phillies are far apart on money again, Howard reportedly seeking $10 million and the team countering with $7 million. If the two sides even discussed a long-term deal, no one is acknowledging the conversation took place. Meanwhile, the Phillies have previously signed some of their other core players to long-term deals of varying lengths. Speculation is rampant in these parts that should the negotiations proceed to the arbitration panel Howard will win his case. After all, he won the ROY and MVP in successive seasons and followed those with 48 home runs and 136 rbi's in his third year. No one in baseball has hit more long balls and driven in more runs during that stretch, and if you think the paying public doesn't come to see long balls, what are the origins of the fuss over steroids about?

If the arbiters do side with Howard he may very well be content to sign a series of one year deals after that until he reaches free agency. If things get that far, he's gone for sure. For their part, the Phillies seem content to offer Howard short-term money that puts him at or near the top of his category each time negotiations get underway but not more. They just don't get it. This is the guy people come to see. Yes, we love the way Chase plays the game. Sure, Jimmy is the spark plug. But no one wants to be standing in line at the mens' room when Howard comes to bat. After all, how many chances do we earthlings get to watch moon shots?

But the Phillies just don't seem to get it. They don't have to pay Howard the [admittedly crazy] money he deserves and until now they've shown absolutely no willingness to do so. Howard felt disrespected during last season's negotiations and he doesn't feel any better about his treatment during this one. Some guys put those things behind them. Howard won't. By my estimation, the Phillies have about one or two more weeks before the poison the atmosphere forever. They just don't get it and shortly they won't be given another chance to figure things out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not A Difficult Choice

It is more than obvious to long-time readers of this space that I am something of a moralist, not of the holier-than-thou persuasion, mind you, but a moralist nonetheless. That said, the investigations into steroid use and testimony denying or admitting usage are beginning to get out of hand. Today the FBI announced it would investigate whether Miguel Tejada lied to authorities when he insisted he had not used performance-enhancement drugs.

Frankly, the FBI has bigger fish to fry, much bigger fish. We live in an age of diminishing resources including many human ones and like it or not we are forced to choose where best to apply our efforts and those resources. I'd rather have the Federales out chasing the really bad guys, domestic and foreign, than trying to determine whether an aging shortstop lied or not about using steroids. It's not as though the Feds don't have enough work to do on more matters critical to national security and domestic peace of mind.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

It's Hardly As Though We Hardly Knew Ya'

Well, so much for baseball heaven. When he was rescued by, er I mean traded to, the St. Louis Cardinals in the middle of the 2002 season, Scott Rolen announced on leaving Philadelphia that his new zip code was located squarely within the borders of baseball heaven whereas his previous address was decidedly south of that region. A native of Indiana, Rolen grew up a Cardinals fan. Now, he would be their starting third baseman. It didn't get any better than that, Scott allowed, at least at the time.

During the intervening years Rolen lost a World Series, won a World Series, won several Gold Glove awards, suffered a few injuries along with a well-publicized falling out with his manager, the self-anointed genius Tony LaRussa. Oh, and he made a ton of money; let's not forget that. Surely, Scott thought upon heading for the city under the Gateway Arch, any place would be an improvement over one that boasted both Larry Bowa and Dallas Green.

Apparently not. Heaven, it turned out, wasn't all it was cracked up to be and after suffering what he thought were one too many indignities, Rolen let the Cardinals know he was ready to move on once more. The news that he will be swapped for Troy Glaus of Toronto, pending both players pass physicals and the Commissioner's Office OK's the financial details of the the deal, comes as a little bit of a surprise only insofar as the destination. I assumed Rolen had a no-trade clause in his current contract and it surprises me to learn he'd consider going to the Blue Jays, who appear to have little chance of overtaking the Red Sox and Yankees in their division, if not holding off the up-and-coming Rays of Tampa Bay. Maybe the idea of occasionally DH'ing appealed to Rolen, who isn't getting any younger and whose shoulder ailments have cost him a fair amount of playing time the last few seasons. Or maybe he decided that baseball heaven no longer included the National League at all; the All-Star games certainly would suggest that was the case.

No matter. In the end, Rolen comes off as a guy who wears out his welcome, which is what some of us though nearly six years ago when he complained bitterly that the Phillies just didn't care enouigh about winning and, by extension, about him.

Out with a whimper.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Other Elections

The Hall of Fame voters corrected a long-standing injustice by electing Goose Gossage yesterday. Generally, commentators attributed the nine year snub in giving Gossage his due to lingering prejudices on the part of many voters against relief pitchers. Nonsense. Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersly and Bruce Suter are already members. Moreover, it has been commonly acknowledged for many years now that teams cannot succeed without a quality closer. Resistence to Gossage had more to do with the "relatively low" obvious number -- saves -- than the story behind them -- number of innings pitched. He is a very worthy member of the Hall.

Roger Clemens, on the other hand, may be more than worthy based on the numbers, but he has serious problems looming with the voters when he becomes eligible thanks less to the appearance of his name in the Mitchell report and more to his subsequent handling of the revelations therein. Alleged steroid users' recent history of vigorous denials have been, shall we say, less than satisfactory, and Clemens' defense has been as aggressively orchestrated as any we've ever witnessed. A common thread to several players' howls of protest is that they either didn't know what they were being injected with or insisted the substances were benign. In Clemens' case it's quite possible he was being injected with vitamin B-12, but it's far more difficult to fathom why he was being given lidocaine in his buttocks. We'll leave that discussion to the medical experts, who no doubt are chuckling among themselves. By far the most incomprehensible part of Clemens' current strategy is to announce well in advance -- heck, he isn't even officially retired yet -- that he could care less about future Hall of Fame voting where he is concerned. Ah, yes, the press, cast as villain once again.

* * * * * * * *

A quick glance at the next few years' lists of players eligible for the Hall of Fame contains very few sure bets. Only Ricky Henderson in 2009 and Roberto Alomar in 2010 are likely to get lots of support and Alomar is going to have his detractors for his personal habits involving ejections of substances rather than injections. All of this means this year's biggest loser, Jim Rice, could make it over the top next year, his last before being relegated to the Veterans' committee. More than a few pitchers who faced Rice in his prime acknowledged they dreaded seeing him come to the plate. As a long time Orioles' and AL fan, I recall a similar horror when I saw him in the on-deck circle or striding to the plate. But the other side of the coin is that he couldn't field a lick and did a fair imitation of Pat Burrell (or is it the other way around?) on the base paths. Does hitting alone make him a Hall of Famer? Not really, but when a Bill Mazeroski can get in based largely on his fielding and one home run, Rice is at least as deserving.

Speaking of the Veterans' committee, their rejection of Marvin Miller was the worst example of ingratitude in recent memory. I've yet to read one explanation of why the veterans, who literally owed their personal financial fortunes to Miller, deemed him unworthy of inclusion in their exclusive club.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Still The Best & Still Not

Refreshed from a three-week layoff, I began the new year optimistically recalling Roger Angell's explanation of why baseball captures the hearts of so many fans. In no other game, Angell wrote, can we observe the vicissitudes of our favorite players' sporting lives on a daily basis, one hundred and sixty-two times a year in the case of baseball. While our own lives may plod on with little or no perceptible change, the fortunes of our diamond heroes ebb and flow constantly as they hit, or don't, catch or miss or throw strikes and balls. This vicarious sharing of other peoples' ever-changing lives brings pleasure to our [mostly] humdrum existence.

* * * * * * * *

The local newspapers are filled with stories noting the quarter century mark in this city's championship drought. Little did I know when I took up residence here in 1978-79 that the those championship years of 1980 (the Phillies) and 1983 (the Sixers) were the exceptions rather than the rules. There have been near misses for all four major teams but no cigars. Should the Phillies acquire more pitching, they remain the best bet to break the streak. The Eagles have too many holes to fill. The Flyers are rebuilding and could be contenders in a few seasons if they get more help on defense. The Sixers do not appear on the radar screen at this point.