Thursday, June 21, 2007

I Come To Bury Ceaser

I just wanted to shed some light on a story that seemed to have flown under the radar of most news outlets and certainly Bud Selig's office. In a recent interview Tom Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers, made the following comments in reference to deals he most regretted making:

“Juan Gonzalez, for $24 million, after he came off steroids probably… we just gave that money away,”.

He has since backtracked and released the following statement:

“I have no knowledge that Juan used steroids. His number of injuries and early retirement just makes me suspicious. In any event, we paid him $24 million for very few games.”

The Commissioner is trying to basically blackmail Jason Giambi into testifying in front of the Mitchell commission, but he refuses to subject the owners to the same type of scrutiny. Of course the owners weren't the one's taking steroids, but it is very clear that they knew about it and did nothing to stop it. Bud would never take the owners to task for this problem because they are his friends and they pay his salary. Perhaps Shakespeare put it best when he said, "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves". The Commissioner and the owners need to brush up on their classics.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Deal Me Out

The Lakers have a quandary this offseason. The cornerstone of their franchise, Kobe Bryant, has demanded a trade. Kobe claims that the Lakers have not done what they said they would do and that they are not making enough progress for him to stay. The interesting part of that statement is that the Lakers got to the NBA finals just three years ago, but Kobe decided that he couldn't continue to exist with Shaq. The Lakers had a choice at that point. They could keep Shaq and lose Kobe to free agency or they could trade Shaq and sign Kobe to a huge deal. They chose the latter and it certainly made sense in baseketball terms. Shaq was no longer the dominant force that he used to be and was certainly becoming more injury prone as time went on. Kobe was 9 years younger and was just about to enter his prime. Of course Shaq teamed up with Dwayne Wade to win another championship while the Lakers have struggled and have missed the playoffs in two of the three seasons that they have played without Shaq.

The Lakers are under no obligation to trade Kobe. They can simply turn down his request for a trade and continue to try and build a winning team around him. Of course having a player that doesn't want to be on your team, especially one who is supposed to be the focal point of the team on the floor, isn't exactly the ideal situation. Kobe Bryant is the best offensive player in the NBA. He is capable of exploding for 50-80 points on any night of the season. He is the only player who can claim to be the rightful successor to Michael Jordan. The NBA has been looking for the next Jordan and are always quick to anoint someone as the "NEXT", but Kobe is already here. His checkered legal past is the only reason that he has not been thrust into the forefront as the face of the league. The NBA would like LeBron James to be the face of the league and while he is a fantastic, multi-talented player, he simply cannot do all the things that Kobe can do.

So did the Lakers make a mistake in choosing Kobe over Shaq? I don't really think so. Shaq really can't carry a team on his own any more and always spends at least 1/3 of the regular season on the disabled list, so at least by trading him, they got back a couple of good complementary players. If they had let Kobe go, they would have been left empty handed. So should they trade him? The bottom line is that there is no way they can get equal value for him. I've heard the rumors of Gilbert Arenas from Washington, but he is not the equal of Kobe. Chicago might be able to put together a package of some of their young stars, but two good players do not equal one great player. The truth is that they are in a very tough position. The Lakers, as constituted, are not a championship caliber team. Perhaps if Andruw Bynam develops into a dominating center they will become one, but that isn't going to happen overnight. Trading Kobe would allow them to get rid of a headache, but it doesn't really get them any closer to the NBA finals.

So what is Kobe's angle in making his trade request? It can't be about a new contract, because he's currently making the maximum amount allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. Kobe also has an "Arod" clause in his contract, meaning that he can opt out of his deal after the 2008-09 season. It really seems that this is all about trying to literally follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan. Kobe has a very short list of teams that he'll accept a trade to. The Lakers would be crazy to trade him to a team in the west and the only team that he'll agree to go in the east is Chicago. So this is apparently a gambit by Kobe to get to Chicago. Kobe already has three championships, but I guess in his mind, in order to be like Mike, he's got to win in Chicago as well. The question now becomes whether Chicago can put together a package that makes sense and leaves them with enough parts to make a run a the finals, even with Kobe. Clearly there is a much easier road to the finals out of the east, so maybe that's Kobe's goal. He's decided that he can't make the finals in the West, so his answer is to go East, young man.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Hop on the Bandwagon

The New York Yankees are suddenly the hottest team in baseball. The press is falling all over themselves to try and pinpoint the reason for their sudden turnaround. The theories have gone from putting Melky in CF to Miguel Cairo taking over at first base to Roger Clemens showing up to (surprisingly) Arod being pictured with a woman who was not his wife in Toronto. However for the faithful readers of my column, it's clear that the turnaround can be traced to this! That's right, my friends. The Yankees have reeled off 13 wins in 15 games since I gave them the formula for fixing what ailed them. And while most of the credit goes to the players on the field, I have to give myself a pat on the back for showing them the way. Of course no one in the Yankees organization is going to admit to reading my blog, but trust me they are doing it (That's right, Brian. The jig is up!).

So now that the Yankees are rolling, it's just amazing to see the attitude of the local writers turn around. All of sudden it's the Yankees that can do no wrong. The Yankees hot streak has happened to coincide with an almost identical streak of futility from the Mets. The Mets have only managed 3 wins this month so far and their once healthy lead in the NL East has shrunk to 1-1/2 games over the Braves and 2 games over the Phillies. The New York press, which is always looking for a reason to say that the Mets are better than the Yankees, have had two months of absolute bliss while the Yankees struggled. Of course that same group of writers is now just as quick to point out the flaws of struggling Mets team.

The basic truth of sports is that no team is as ever as good as it looks when it's playing well and conversely, no team is as bad as it looks when it's playing poorly. I never understood why that is such a hard concept for fans and writers alike to understand. The Mets and Yankees are both good teams. They will play up to the level of their talent over a 162 game season. There will be ups and downs, but basically they are both more than capable of winning 90+ games and they both probably will. Hopefully that will keep fans and sportswriters alike from jumping off the deep end or printing playoff tickets at the next losing or winning streak from either team.

I just have one more bone to pick with the sportswriters in town and that is that in the first half of last year they anointed David Wright as the best third baseman in town. The funny thing is that I don't hear anyone making those kind of pronouncements this year. David Wright is a fine player, but he is not, I repeat not, in Arod's class. Wright hit 26 home runs in 582 at-bats last season, Arod has 27 in 251 at-bats this season. Arod in a supposed down season for him hit 35 home runs and drove in 121 runs and had an OPS of .915. Wright's numbers were 26, 116 and .859. Admittedly, those are great numbers for a 24 year old, but when Arod was the same age his numbers were 41, 132 and 1.026. David Wright may very well be the best third baseman in the National League, but Arod is one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game. So please let's stop this nonsense of comparing the two players. The truth of the matter is that Arod probably isn't going to be playing for the Yankees next year, so thankfully the writers won't have to embarrass themselves anymore.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Express Delivery

Justin Verlander pitched a no-hitter last night for the Detroit Tigers. It was the second no-hitter this season (Mark Burhle turned the trick for the White Sox earlier in the season). Before this season, it had been a couple of years since a pitcher had thrown a no-hitter in the majors. So today's article is just an appreciation of the pitcher who threw the most no-hitters in his career. Nolan Ryan not only threw seven no-hitters, but also 12 one-hitters (He took a no-hitter into the 9th inning in at least 3 of those games) in his amazing career. Ryan is also the career leader in strikeouts with an amazing total of 5,714. Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens are now in a virtual tie for second place but they are still more than 1,00 behind Ryan (He also happens to lead the all-time walks allowed list by almost a thousand as well, but no one ever said he was perfect).

The record for no-hitters before Ryan came along was held by Sandy Koufax, who threw four in his brilliant but all too brief career. Ryan, like Koufax before him, was a threat to throw a no-hitter every time he stepped on the mound. He threw perhaps the greatest pitch ever seen in the majors. The Nolan Ryan fastball is legendary. It really is hard to describe if you've never seen it. The Guinness world book of records used to have Nolan Ryan listed for having the fastest recorded pitch (I believe that it was just north of 100 mph). In last night's game Verlander's fastball was clocked at 102 mph by the radar gun. I saw the supposed 102 mph pitch last night and while their radar gun may have registered at that speed, I can assure you that his fastball was not the equal of Ryan's. I can't really say if he throws as hard or harder than Ryan did, but the pitches are not of the same quality. Just as Bert Blyleven threw the best curveball I've ever seen, Ryan threw the best fastball anyone has ever seen.

Ryan was basically a two pitch pitcher. He threw his all-world fastball and complemented that with a knee buckling curveball. That was about it. Every hitter who ever faced him went up guessing fastball, they got the pitch they were looking for and for the most part couldn't do anything with it. Ryan threw his first no-hitter in 1973 at the age of 26 and threw his last one in 1991 at the age of 44 (He struck out 16 hitters in the game). He first led the league in strikeouts in 1972 and for the last of his record 11 times in 1990. Ryan was really a marvel. He dominated hitters with his fastball until the day he stepped off the mound. His career came to end because of a series of leg injuries, but his arm was sound until the end. While Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens both used overpowering fastballs to record the majority of strikeouts in the earlier part of their careers, they have used pitches other than their fastballs to continue to rack up strikeouts as they've aged. Johnson relies on his slider as his out pitch and Clemens uses his splitter to record most of his strikeouts these days. Ryan's primary weapon throughout his career remained his overpowering fastball which he threw about 70% of the time.

Ryan no longer holds the single game strikeout record (Clemens, Kerry Wood and Johnson have all eclipsed it). He does however still hold the record for career strikeouts, single season strikeouts and the record for most no-hitters. The single season record may someday be eclipsed, but I can't imagine the others being broken. How good was the Ryan fastball? Good enough that at the age of 42 he struck out an amazing 301 batter. Only three pitchers have managed to reach the 300 strike out level since then. How hard is it to throw a no-hitter? Ask Roger Clemens, he's never been able to do it. No-hitters have been thrown by mediocre pitchers throughout the history of baseball, so there is clearly an element of luck in throwing one. A good pitcher on a given day can have his best stuff working and get a couple of great plays behind him and may be able to get through a game without giving up a hit. Ryan managed to do that seven times along with his 12 other almost no-hitters. Clearly it was more than luck in Ryan's case.

Major league baseball has started to put together DVD packages of complete world series games. It's a great way for people to remember the greatest moments in their teams history. I would hope that one day they put out a package of Nolan Ryan's no-hitters. Some of them may be lost to history (although I certainly hope that is not the case), but at least the last three should be available. I also seem to remember his almost no hitting the Yankees on Monday night baseball telecast. It would be a great thing if the younger fans of the game could get to experience "The Express" on a few of his most amazing nights. Come to think of it I wouldn't mind getting a chance to relive some of those moments myself.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Note for Bud

I just wanted to drop you a couple of lines. I noticed that you've been doing your darnedest to try and find a scapegoat for baseball's steroid issues. Your latest choice is apparently Jason Giambi. While it's somewhat commendable that you've started a commission to try and get to the bottom of the problem, it's pretty clear that you aren't going to get anywhere. So as a fan of the game and as someone who wants to help you out, I'm going to offer you a solution. I'm going to tell you what the findings of the Mitchell commission are going to be. For free. How about that. If you're in a giving mood, you can send me the $2 million you were going to spend on the commission next month. Alright are you ready, here goes.

Steroid use was widespread and rampant during the 90's and early 00's.

That's it. Wasn't that easy. I'll give the address to send my check to. Now, here's the important part. I'm going to tell you how to fix this entire mess. The bottom line is that no matter how many individuals you identify (and I don't think you are going to identify any that we don't already know about), it's not going to address the central issue. Baseball players were cheating and everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) knew it. I knew it, you knew it and the American people knew it. Continuing some witch hunt isn't going to make that go away. Everyone needs to move on. So here's what you do: take out a full page ad in the NY Times and just apologize and then move on. You can't erase the fact that you were the commissioner during the "steroids era". That's just your lot. So why not try and focus on something more positive. Here's what you need to say:

To our fans,
Steroid abuse was widespread in baseball for a period of about 10 years. While we heard the whispers of this abuse, we (meaning management and the commissioners office) chose not to investigate this matter any further. The fact that the players union refused to allow us to put steroids on the banned substances list also played a big part in that decision. It is clear now that mistakes were made over that time, by the players, by the coaches, by the union, by the owners and by my own office. We apologize to the fans of baseball for our part in allowing the steroid abuse to take place. We could have done more to make sure that the integrity of the game was preserved.

We have now taken steps to ensure that this does not happen in the future. We have the toughest steroid penalties in North American sports and our testing program is among the most thorough in sports. There is still no reliable test for Human Growth Hormone (HGH), but I assure that we are working towards eliminating all performance enhancing drugs from our sport. We appreciate your patience and continued support. Baseball is still the greatest game ever invented and we hope that the focus of attention can return to what's going on the field as opposed to the court room.

Thank you once again for being such great fans of this game.

That's about it, Bud. Just say you're sorry and we can all move on. Hopefully that helps.

Your Pal,



The commissioner of baseball has decided to make his stand on the steroids. He has demanded that Jason Giambi submit to questioning from the Mitchell investigation. To date, no active player has agreed to submit to questioning and the players association has already told it's members that they should not cooperate with the investigation. The reports are that Bud Selig will seek to suspend Giambi if he does not cooperate with the Mitchell investigation. While there has been no response from Giambi to date, this is apparently headed toward a spaghetti western showdown. It's just a matter of who is going to blink first.

I find it fairly amusing that the commissioner is now choosing to take a hard line with a player who has already admitted to taking steroids in front of a Grand Jury. The only reason that Giambi is in this position is because he called out baseball for ignoring the problem for so long. If Giambi refuses to cooperate and the commissioner then suspends him, the players association will, without a doubt, file a complaint. It would then head to a arbitrator and I can't really see a scenario where Giambi would be forced to comply. First of all there are laws against self incrimination. The Mitchell investigation has no power to grant immunity from prosecution, so therefore they would have no power to compel Giambi to incriminate himself or others. If the commissioner were to push this point, I can only see him coming out on the short end of the decision.

There is the chance that a compromise could be reached and Giambi could agree to talk about his steroid use before the ban was in place. This is a sensitive area for Giambi. If he admits to taking steroids while playing for the Yankees, he could open up the door for the team to void his contract. That means that if a compromise is reached the parameters would have to be fairly well defined. Personally I think that there are just too many potholes for Giambi if he were to testify. It makes a lot more sense for Giambi to just refuse to testify. I'm not a lawyer, but I did play one on TV once and if I were advising Giambi that's what I would tell him to do.

The Commissioner has wide ranging powers, but he is hired by the owners to look after their interests. His power over the players is limited. The players also have, what may very well be, the most powerful union in the country on their side. To force a confrontation like this is a sure way to expose the Mitchell investigation for the toothless and futile undertaking that it is. Bud has to know that he doesn't have the power to compel a player to admit to illegal activities in front of a civilian board of review. The Mitchell investigation must really be getting nowhere if feels that this is the only thing that he can do. Perhaps after losing this confrontation he will just call an end to the investigation. Apparently it's costing about $2 million a month and hasn't turned up much. The only people associated with the players that the investigation has gotten testimony from is managers and coaches. And while they may be able to tell them about seeing players taking steroids (although I doubt that very much), it's still not the kind of testimony that you could take to court. Managers and coaches are also about protecting their own self interest. Tony LaRussa still refuses to admit that Mark McGwire took steroids, even when all the evidence points in the other direction. Perhaps all Selig wants to do is get this investigation over with and he is just using the Giambi issue to force this all to a head.

It's just sad that the Commissioner and owners would go this far in order to try and deny that they had any idea that steroids were a problem in their sport.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Slippery Slope

The Rocket relaunch in New York has been put on hold until at least Saturday, so that his aching groin can heal. A few weeks ago after Clemens made his dramatic announcement that he would be rejoining the Yankees one of his new teammates made a comment about the fact that his contract allows him to be absent from the team when he wasn't pitching. Kyle Farnsworth said that while he didn't have a problem with it, he thought that some others in the clubhouse might. Farnsworth mentioned that he had pitched with other hall of fame pitchers (Randy Johnson & Mariano Rivera, to name just two), and he wasn't sure how they would react if another pitcher were given that kind of preferential treatment.

It does seem to me that making this kind of exception for one player could lead to some clubhouse dissension. Roger Clemens is an extraordinary pitcher, but at this point of his career, he is not the best pitcher in baseball. Johan Santana, who has won two of the last three Cy Young awards in the AL would probably currently hold that distinction. He is also going to be a free agent in one more season. How would the Yankees or any other club for that matter handle it if Santana said that he would make his decision as to which team he would play for next based upon who would be the most flexible with his schedule? At this point, considering the precedent has already been set with Clemens, some team would undoubtedly give in to his demand. I'm not saying that this would apply to all players, in fact most of them wouldn't have the leverage required to make such a demand, but there some elite starting pitchers who this could definitely apply to. After a while the demands would start to be made my mediocre pitchers as well. Just look at this off season where pitchers with sub .500 career winning percentages were being paid upwards of $50 million. Quality pitching is at such a premium these days that clubs are willing to pay "star" prices for mediocrity.

Perhaps we are headed toward the day when starting pitchers are not really part of the team. They just sort of show up like hired gunslingers on the days that they are supposed to pitch. There is a lot of value to having a starting pitcher around even on the days that he is not pitching. He can scout the opposing teams hitters, he can offer advice to that days pitchers, he can try and pass along pitching tendencies to his hitters, he can support his teammates in the field that day. Or he can sit at home, or go see his kids play a high school football game, or see his daughter's volleyball game, or see his wife in the community theater play or go shopping for a new pair of shoes. Baseball teams already make exceptions for players to leave if they have family emergencies. Baseball is not life and death and clearly there are other things in life which are more important. The problem I have with the "Clemens Exception" is that it doesn't make a distinction between important and mundane events. The Yankees don't have any discretion as to when Clemens is there and when he's not. The only thing he's required to do is to show up to pitch. Other than that, he's free to do what he wants.

If you make an exception for one, it is really just a matter of time before you'll have to make an exception for another one and then another. Players contracts are usually littered with incentives and bonus clauses and extras besides their contracts. Some players negotiate for luxury box seats, some for first class plane tickets, some for car rentals. There is seemingly no end to the things that are provided for in baseball contracts. Those, however, can be justified on an individual basis. For example, Ichiro gets first class seats to Japan twice a year from the Mariners. That makes sense considering that's where his family is. I don't believe that the Clemens contract falls into that category though. The Astros allowed Clemens to come and go, but he lived close to the ballpark, so he was always within driving distance. If he leaves the Yankees and for some reason he is needed on a day he's not scheduled to start, he may be thousands of miles away from New York. I don't think that he is going to take advantage of the clause in his contract. I personally think that he will be there most of the time. But the problem isn't whether he opts to show up to the stadium or not, the problem is the can of worms that has been opened up by this contract. The Astros are really the ones to blame for this. They agreed to include that clause in the contract in order to coax Clemens out of "retirement" (although I think Clemens retiring means about as much as Brett Favre retiring).

I would hope that this clause is eliminated once Clemens is out of baseball, but it wouldn't surprise me if in a couple of years we see another big name pitcher ask for and get the same deal.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Pot Luck

The Yankees had an interesting weekend in Boston. They managed to win 2 out of 3 and gain a game on the front running Red Sox. Arod quited the Boston crowd with a 9th inning home run off the seemingly invincible John Papplebon. The Yankees even managed to push across a run against the previously untouchable Okajima. There were a lot of good signs in the first (The Yankees continued their recent dominance of Tim Wakefield in the first game by knocking him out in the 4th inning)and third games of the series, but the Yankees had one of their worst innings of the year in game two. Bobby Abreu misplayed a ball in right field that he should have caught, the Yankees failed to complete two perfect inning ending double plays, Derek Jeter committed two errors and infielders were out of position on a base hit to left field. The Yankees squandered three separate leads in the game and eventually lost by a score of 12-6.

The Yankees also lost first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for a couple of months after he suffered a concussion, a bruised spinal column and a concussion in a collision with Mike Lowell while trying to field and errant throw from Jeter. The weekend also included a bench clearing incident after a high and tight fastball from Scott Proctor in the ninth inning of the first game. All in all, the usual Yankees-Red Sox gathering. There was an incident that I think deserves some notice. Mike Lowell threw a cross body block on Robinson Cano as the second baseman attempted to tag him before completing a double play. Cano had come into the base path to field the grounder and as he attempted to tag Lowell, he was greeted with a block that would have make Bill Belicheck proud. Cano managed to complete the throw to first and was seemingly unhurt on the play. Tim McCarver went through great lengths to point out that it was a clean play. According to the rules, the base runner is entitled the base path, but, in my thirty years or so of watching baseball, I have never seen a runner try and take out an infielder on that kind of play. Most try to avoid the tag, but trying to run over the infielder is not something that happens on a regular basis. The only player who is generally subject to that kind of collision is the catcher. The reason I'm pointing this out is because I'm fairly sure that if Arod had done the same thing, the uproar would have been loud and lasting. Arod's yell last week in a game against the Blue Jays, has been the subject of ongoing debate since it happened. I will point out that the Yankees had already taken a two run lead and had Mariano Rivera on the mound. I'm not saying that the game was totally out of reach, but the odds were pretty good that the Yankees were going to win the game. Arod's "play" helped the Yankees tack on three more runs, but it was basically inconsequential to the outcome of the game. That did not stop the firestorm that followed, however. Arod cannot do anything these days without inviting an avalanche of criticism. I'm fairly sure that trying to take out an infielder, on what should have been a fairly routine double play ball would have led to the same.

Finally I saw that Lou Pinella was suspended by the commissioner's office for making contact with an umpire during an argument. There was a many a voice over the winter that called for Pinella to be hired as the manager of the Yankees. I just want to point out that his team has gotten off to an even worst start than the Yankees have. They are closer to the top of the standings because he plays in the very weak central division of the national league, but Lou has blown his top on many occasions this season, to seemingly little effect. His team is still playing like crap. It just goes to show two things: Yelling at your players doesn't always motivate them to play any better and Lou Pinella is not a great manager. I've always contended that there are very few managers who actually make a difference in the standings. Billy Martin was probably the best at turning a team around and stealing games with managing tactics. For the most part managers either benefit or are hurt by the talent around them. How much of a genius does Tony LaRussa look like this year? Albert Pujols has gotten off to a slow start and the Cardinals are 6 games under .500. Hell, they almost blew a 8 game lead with less than two weeks to go last year. The bottom line is that it's the players that win and lose games. Talented teams will win. End of story.

I just wanted to pat myself on the back again for something I wrote a few weeks ago. As Roger Clemens struggles with a groin injury and the Yankees apparently contemplate whether to terminate the deal before Clemens reaches the majors (and they are then obligated to pay him the full $18 million), I have to say that I could see this coming. Here's what I wrote back on May 7th:

The biggest problem with signing a 44 year old (He turns 45 in August) is that they are basically pitching on borrowed time. Nolan Ryan had the most remarkable pitching arm I have ever seen. He could basically dominate hitters with his fastball until the day he retired at age 46. Nolan would probably still be pitching if his legs didn't give out. The same can be said of Roger Clemens. He has never had any serious arm problems and will probably be able to pitch until his legs give out. When will that be? No one knows, including Roger. He will get himself into great pitching shape, but there comes a time when although the heart is willing the body is not. Roger wont' be felled by arm problems, but his demise will probably come through a series of lingering hamstring and groin pulls. We've already seen what hamstring problems have done to the Yankees pitching staff this season and Roger is certainly not immune to those issues.

So for all you faithful readers out there, I promise to do my best to keep coming up with that kind of insightful commentary. Of course the fact that I can come up with those kind of comments just means that instead of doing something productive with my life, I have wasted a huge chunk of it watching baseball. Oh well, no one ever accused me of being smart. A jackass, yes, but smart, not so much.

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