The Integrity of the Game

The only thing(s) bigger and more unusual than Ichiro’s inside the parker were A-Rod’s anti-Yankee white clodhopper spikes. What a pair of boats. So what’s the story here? Were those his signature Nike’s that he was trying to promote because he doesn’t make enough money or perhaps he forgot his regular game wear and called across the Bay to have the A’s equipment man send over some of Jose Canseco’s old pontoons. Two things were obvious: (1) the new shoes certainly didn’t help him score from second on what should have been a close play at the plate in lieu of Junior’s great charge and throw (no slide, no Pete Rose/Ray Fosse collision – it looked like the no slide softball league!); (2) and they didn’t help him make a quick recovery on Jose Reyes’ funky slice down the third base line, Willie Mosconi ‘english’ included. On that one, A-Rod looked like Joe Willie Namath protecting his knees by running away from the action. Conclusion: slightly tweaked hamstring or not (didn’t bother him on his easy steal of second), A-Rod’s Pat Boone impersonation left much to be desired both on the performance level and on the visual.
Speaking of Canseco, obviously Wille Mays has read his book and the one written about his godson and believes what he reads or why else would he give the ‘beloved’ Barry the cold shoulder during the pregame?

During Bonds’ game interview he told Fox Sports that he and A-Rod are very close. Based on what? Do they share the same financial advisor or the same marketing firm or perhaps somewhere along the line the same prescription for power? When did A-Rod and Bonds compete against each other on a regular basis or with each other? Never. So now the question: is A-Rod’s incredible power all natural and only enhanced by strength training and legal nutritional supplementation or should we think that some HGH might be involved and if so, should we begin calling him A-Roid?

In an age of over coaching and over analyzing and over cloning of the ‘perfect’ technique, it was somewhat refreshing to see the unorthodox, free swinging, bad ball hitting, barehand bat gripping (except for some tape on a few fingers) Vlademir Guerrero win the home run derby. Refreshing, I say.

On Albert Pujols: was he injured or was he in Tony LaRusso’s dog house or did Tony forget he had him on the bench. How do you not send him up to hit for the Philly centerfielder with the bags loaded and 2 out in the bottom of the ninth? Out of fear of the man’s bat alone and the way that K-Rod was throwing wild, he most likely would have walked Albert and the tying run in. Arguably, the most explosive, dangerous, and consistent hitter in the NL for the past 4 years and he sits on the bench? Someone please ‘splain this to me.

It was great to see the way a quirky outfield wall can have a dramatic effect on the game. Ichiro’s inside the park job was a blast from the past. Great stuff for the debates and arguments and great for the fans which, someone should notify the arrogant/ignorant Bonds, is what this game/business of baseball is all about. During his interview with Fox Sports he focused on himself, his ‘friendship’ with A-Rod, the All-Star game in general, playing in his home town and then when he realized he had forgotten the fans, Humble Barry tossed in a nice word for us at the end of his sentence and half under his breath. What a guy. What a dope.

It was great to see the excitement that Jose Reye’s blinding speed brings to the game. And for Met fans (of which I am not!) and National League fans (ditto!), it was not great to see Billy Wagner’s less than blinding speed. He closed out the wrong team.

How does Brian Roberts not get an error on a ball that was completely in his glove? And how about those missed strike three checked swing calls? Looked a little fishy from my living room. Can you hear the directive from the Commish, a certain Mr. Bud Lite: “Now umpires, if the game is close and if runners are in scoring position and there is a checked swing, I want you to give the benefit of the doubt to the hitter even if he does blatantly break his wrists, unless of course it’s Bonds because you know how I feel about that cheater who is about to break my beloved Hank’s record…him, you call out. We need scoring and lots of runs. Pitching duels? Very bad for ratings. And one more thing, let’s get out there and protect the integrity of the game.”

MY Starting Yankee Lineup for 2007

Johnny Damon, CF – A good season past.  Dispelled Samson theory – hair/beard loss had no effect on

Bronx

performance.  Prediction: short porch in right will up his dinger total to around 30 in ’07.  Also, a little too happy during

Detroit

catastrophe.  Says all the right things.

Derek Jeter, SS – Unquestionably his greatest all-around season.  What didn’t he do?  And out of the number 2 hole!  The Yankee Captain was dissed by many of the

New York

and Steinbrenner hating baseball writers when they awarded the MVP to Justin Morneau.  (see my post, “Just In…Jeter Out”)  But Baseball Digest (published in

Evanston

,

Illinois

) got it right when they named ‘Jeets’ as their Major League Player of the Year.  Jeter is a clinic on how to play short (make the jump throw from deep in the hole, come in on a slow roller, go back for an over the shoulder catch on a short fly, etc.), run the bases (intelligently and gazelle-like), bunt, and hit to the right side.  With bursts of power and clutch performances, enjoy watching this future Hall of Famer now because he is very special and the spectacle won’t last forever.

Bobby Abreu, RF – Nice finish with Yanks for ’06.  Jury is still out regarding season long performance.  A little too happy and complacent during the Tiger blowout.  Maybe Phillies had it right? We shall see…

Hideki Matsui, LF/DH– Once again demonstrated that he is a true professional with both humble post-injury attitude and timely hitting in last month of competition.  Should have been DH’d by Torre in post season to let the new, young, competitive Melky Cabrera continue to produce as he had in the regular season.  Look for a decrease in games starting in left field in ’07.

Jorge Posada, C – like Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, and Thurman Munson before him, the true backbone of the team.  Clutch.  When he’s in the lineup, I would never bat him lower than 6th.  Did a better job at the cleanup spot than A-Rod which is not that surprising.  A great all-around catcher: handling pitchers, throwing out runners, etc. Thank you Tony Pena.  Posada is a true Yankee.

Robinson Cano,2B – Almost won the batting title which he should do this year as long as he stays healthy.  Jeter will hit .320 and Mauer, who knows the second time around the league?  Let’s hope that Robby can shake off the stigma of Torre batting him in the 9th spot during the playoffs – now wasn’t that a brilliant idea to bolster a young player’s confidence?

Jason Giambi, 1B/DH – needs to play everyday at first base despite limited range.  Can scoop balls out of the dirt with the best of them.  Hits better when playing in the field.  Too much emphasis on defensive liability.  Is he any less capable than Moose Skowron, Harmon Killebrew, Boog Powell, Pete Rose, etc., etc., etc.?  Power hitting streaks raise questions about continued steroid use.

Alex Rodriquez, 3B – Lived up to his recent fan nicknames of K-Rod, A-Clod, E-Rod, and A-Fraud and we know there are more.  Add A-Roid if the 100 names are ever divulged.  A-Rod is the person who hasn’t got a clue that the romance is over and keeps making the phone calls and ringing the door bell…but nobody answers.  His Big Apple love affair is history.  Yankee fans only got the worm.  When he finally rides off into the sunset, hopefully back to

Texas

or

Seattle

, the Yanks should retire his number to the rag pile so that #13 is never seen again.  The ultimate Choke Artist…and for 25 mil per annum!

.

Melky Cabrera, LF, etc. – outstanding rookie performance including going deep into the pitch count, slashing the outside pitch the other way, covering Death Valley as well as anyone since Ricky Henderson, maybe better, can steal a base, and is a serious threat to throw out a runner taking the extra base.  A powerful arm.  Can play all 3 outfield positions.  Yanks out of their mind if they use this guy as trade bait for pitching woes.

Gary Sheffield, Gone  – but not (or never to be) forgotten.  We will miss the savage swing and cannon shots to left, foul balls included (did he once take someone’s head off?) but the Bombers will not miss the anger and the Reggie-like attitude in the clubhouse.  Reunited with Leland and Dombrowski, he might very well avenge his pinstripe exit by late season damage against lackluster Yank pitching.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL BASEBALL BLOGGERS, PAST & PRESENT

JUST IN…JETER OUT

JUST IN…JETER OUT

What?!!!  What?!!!  Justin Morneau?!!  They must be kidding.  Have the majority of the so-called ‘baseball writers’ completely lost their minds?  Or should we be asking, were they of sound mind to begin with?  The only explanation for this highway robbery of the MVP is that the non-Jeter voters are ******, idiots, imbeciles, maybe even lunatics.  Choose one.  Most likely they all apply.  Oh, and one more…envious.  Envious of all that he has and all that he is which, in baseball terms, is just about the most completely skilled and clutch performing shortstop of our time.  Shame on you who did not vote for this man in this, his greatest year.  Can you read?  Do you own a TV?  Do you live in a cave?

So let me get this straight.  Derek Jeter misses winning the batting title by a bloop and a dribbler.  This, despite batting from the right side 2 feet farther from first base than it will ever be for Mauer or Cano.  This, despite having about a billion more plate appearances for the season than Mauer or Cano.  And this despite batting in the #2 hole where his mission was so often only to move Johnny Damon another 90 feet to third…by a bunt or a slicing groundball to the right side  Oh, and one more ‘despite.’  Jeter played half his games under the microscope and inside the pressure cooker called Yankee Stadium/

New York City

. 

And Morneau?  A simple equation will do:  good hitter + artificial surface + high school outfield dimensions = very good offensive season.  Give him the Central Division Co-Slugger of the Year Award with Jerome Dye.  End of story.  We wish.

To continue.  I now ask any and all esoteric baseball statistics geeks and nerds to rally ‘round and supply the necessary computation to prove my point.  I would try to do it but, I must admit, I am not up to the task.

Here it is.  First, add up the obvious – Jeter’s runs scored and rbi’s.  Then dissect the season’s box scores and come up with his run/game saving fielding plays, the times he kept a 2 out rally going which eventually scored a run, the times he successfully gave up his at bat to move a runner over, his go-ahead hits, his game tying hits, his game winning hits and his timely stolen bases (now, exactly how many times was he caught stealing this year?).  Are you with me so far?  Good.  Then take into account how he almost single handedly carried the team for the first half of the year with Matsui and

Sheffield

the newest members of the broken wrist club, and how as Yankee Captain, he often played hurt, bruised, and injured.  How he set the example for the likes of Andy Phillips, Melky Cabrera, Nick Green and Sal Fasano (not exactly 200 million dollar payroll names) who so often came through in a regular season which tied the inferior National League Mets for the best record in baseball.  Now throw into the mix, the over-all sub-par Yankee pitching, playing short next to anyone of 4 or 5 different second sackers, and being subjected daily to the doom and gloom of the “Poor Me” A-Rod Traveling Choke Artist Show.

Got all that?  There might be even more.  If you think of anything else such as ‘Jeets’ being the poster boy for all the Yankee-hating fans, media, and opposing 95 mph hurling chin-musicians, then throw those into the mix too. 

Now, when all this is compiled and Jeter’s stellar blue collar performance is put up against Morneau’s politically correct spring, summer, and fall in the Make Believe World of Minneapolis & St. Paul, take a quick trip up to The Mistake in the Land of Lakes, that ballpark wannabe, and tear apart a piece of the right field ‘wall.’  Then take a few steps back and a deep breath in and use the trash bag liner for what it was intended – a  receptacle for the secret ballots of the non-Jeter for MVP voting baseball ‘writers.’  You know, garbage.

A Spring Training Memory

I attended a week of Spring training in 2004.  It was a dream come true.  I had wanted to do this since as far back as I can remember which, to give you an idea of how old I am, was in the day of Ballantine Beer.

"Hey getch cold beer, hey getcha Ballantine, hey getcha cold, cold beer, getcha ice cold Ballantine beer…to be crisp, a beer must be icely light…icely, icely, icely light…true lager flavor…precisely right, precisely, precisely, precisely right… the crisp refresher…Ballantine, Ballantine Beer" or something to that effect.

Yes, those surely were the days…of "Baseball and Ballantine."  Mel Allen, where have you ("going, going") gone?

But it was also in the days before I was old enough to partake in the bitter beverage and that is a whole ‘nother story. 

There was a beer vendor at McKechnie Park in Bradenton (most likely he is still there each spring) who took care of servicing the thirsty patrons in the small grandstand of that pretty little baseball park.  He was slight of build, skinny really, but was gifted (up for debate) with a very large and a very loud mouth which bellowed incessantly toward his potential buyers, "Whazzup!?"  It was an amusing act until about the fourth inning when the grating repetition of the little man with the big voice became somewhat tedious, if not obnoxious.

But not as obnoxious as the most obnoxious Spring Training fan of all time.  The Pirates were hosting the Phillies and along with a large, cordial contigent from The City of Brotherly Love was a most hateful man.  A pig really, he was as round as he was large and as large as he was loud and as loud as he was rude and as rude as he was crude and…you get the picture.  He also smelled. 

I was sitting but a row and a few seats behind him and marveled at his chic Florida wardrobe of loud-plaid bermuda shorts, 1975 striped tube socks pulled up and tight to just below the knees, some ugly hundred dollar pair of designer hoops "Air" footwear, all of which looked a little ridiculous on his beer keg-sized legs (this man had a terminal case of white man’s disease), a sleeveless-stretch undershirt which is either called a guinea-tee, a cicero, a wife-beater, or a Newarker depending upon your upbringing and/or locale, many cheap and unusual tatoos of the penitentiary design, and a gold chain so thick and glittering it would make ‘Mr. T" and/or David Ortiz drool in envy.  His forehead was, in a word, minimal.  Difficult to determine where his hairline ended and his eyebrows began.

In between the downing of many, many "brewski’s" from Whazzup that he chased with many, many "stomach darts (hot dogs), he screamed over and over and again and again the standardized baseball insult (hey "ANYBODY/WHOEVER"…you’re a bum!) at each and every hometown Pirate and incredibly, even at the very retired but still very large Dave Parker and the very old but in very great shape Bill Virdon, both in Florida to help out with the very young Bucs.

This was interesting since his seat was no more than a couple of arm lengths away from the field, third base side, and obviously void of the protective insulation that a major league park can afford.  Sometimes he even screamed with his mouth full of half chewed franks. The man was revolting in every sense of the word.  In no time, many seats in his proximity were vacated with the grossed out and the peeved patrons retreating to the empty bleachers down the left field line.  I admit, I was one of the peeved since I had anticipated a mellow, old baseball kind of feeling afternoon in cozy McKechnie with the non-threatening Pirates in a meaningless exhibition game.  But having grown up in Jersey, grossed out I was not.

Instead of a gourmet taste of springtime-baseball peacefulness, what I received instead was a slab of raw meat flavored with height of the pennant race stress, dashed with a bit of right field ‘Bleacher Creatures’ intensity, sprinkled generously with Bronx cheers, marinated in the spicy broth of ‘Dem Bums’ and served along with all the worst entrees that Philthadelphia has to offer.  This guy was definitely no cream cheese.  Not even a cheese-steak.

Just before I retreated to the bleachers, a woman with a young son couldn’t take it anymore and finally got up the nerve to state her case to His Largeness.  She firmly suggested that, "There’s no screaming insults in Spring Training!"

Surprised that anyone would question his "right" to free speech and also his right to get the most bang for his ticket price buck, he turned slowly in her direction with an impending crescendo of explosive energy reminiscent of the late-great Sam Kinnison, gave her the once over and then licked his chops like a wolf frothing at its forthcoming prey, and ultimately screamed into her face the scream from ****, an explosion resounding, "Hey lady, it’s Spring training for me too!"

The man had a point there.       

Baseball Withdrawal

For most fans of the Pinstripes, the season ended with the execution of “Murderers Row and Cano” by the unsoiled hand of that Yankee cast-off, that balladeer of the curveball, Mr. Congeniality, Kenny Rogers. Some of the die-hards, deeply stung and still deeply stunned, hung on through the ALCS sweep. They received a morsel of consolation from Rogers’ pine tar palm incident, rationalizing vaguely that their beloved Bombers were most likely the victim of some similar illegal chicanery from the pitcher’s mound. But Captain Jeter straightened out that misguided thinking when he stated loud and clear that their loss to the Tigers was no slight of hand trick, that his ‘team’ was just outplayed, plain and simple. At this point, more of the faithful let go and climbed aboard the Spring Training transport to the Hot Stove League. Already there was talk of what to do with A-Rod and with Sheffield and would George’s Cash-man have enough savvy to reel in the big fish from Japan. (Forget pronouncing his name, I can’t even begin to spell it.) Heaven knows, Godzilla could use the companionship and the Yanks could certainly use the young but seasoned arm. So now, those only truly addicted to The Game remained. And we were treated to one of the better ‘David meets Goliath’ shows as orchestrated by one of the better managerial choreographers in Mr. La Russo, of course. I would like to meet the man (Tiger fans excluded) who would not or could not root for Little David Eckstein, the 5’ 7” Everyman. That naysayer would be a man without a soul, or a Met fan. And then, before we could say Jeff bleepin’ Weaver, the 2006 version of the Show of Shows was officially over. Only the uncorking and the pouring and the shaking and the spraying of the champagne remained. Two questions here: (1) does anyone ever drink the celebratory bubbly anymore or do they just waste it? (2) were the Cardinals really wearing protective goggles during the spraying? So who had the job of handing out the goggles to the jubilant Redbirds as they swooped into the locker room. I can hear the goggle-distributor now: “Okay, World Series Champions, please calm down and get in line. After you are handed your WS Champions tacky tee shirt and your matching Nascar look-a-like cap and your quart of spraying champagne, follow the man in front of you to the goggle distribution center where the receiving line forms to the left. For your convenience, one size fits all, except for the extra large band size for Albert Pujols who is still on the field taking credit for your victory. And please remember, all millionaires acting like adolescents in a food fight, the goggles must be worn as stipulated in your contracts. Without the goggles fully protecting the eyes during the spray-a-thon, The Busch Family/Cardinal organization can not be held liable if you shoot your eye out. Now go enjoy and, happy spraying!” I’ve digressed. I apologize. It’s a sad thing when a Yankee/ baseball fan has to dissect the post game WS celebration of a National league team that won 83 regular season games in order to keep the recently ended baseball season just a little bit alive. But then again, they were wearing goggles!! Transitioning from disappointment, others are now immersed and engorged with the NFL while some others in New Jersey are enthralled by the surprise charge of The Scarlet Knights. And still others are enticed with basketball burgeoning in all its forms, NBA included. Theirs’ is the cross addiction of many playing fields. Mine is the malady solely concerned with the diamond dust and emerald glow between ivory chalked foul lines. It is a little painful, this detoxification process, but mostly it is bittersweet. Because it is necessary…for balance, for perspective, for beginnings and for endings… for living. Yesterday, I walked with my hound around the baseball field at the neighborhood park. The dry, brown, crinkly leaves, mostly oak, scattered about with the late afternoon breeze and scuttled across the lonely skin infield. No boys were playing. No baseball games again ‘til April.