Wednesday, July 30, 2008

J.P. Ricciardi remains bad at general managing.

It's a testament to the shabbiness of the Toronto Blue Jays fanbase that they've yet to give J.P. Ricciardi the full John Ferguson treatment and get him fired. Sure, there are die-hard Blue Jays fans just as there are die-hard D.C. United fans. But in a town where the Leafs are king, a hardly relevant baseball team isn't going to draw significant media coverage -- and it won't as long as J.P. Ricciardi is in charge.


Ricciardi has already had an unconscionably bad year, including jettisoning still-useful Frank Thomas and crushing Adam Dunn -- both of these players could really help the Jays, by the way -- but the stark dichotomy between the seasons of Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus should fuel the ultimate slow burn for anybody still watching Jays baseball.


To wit, when they were swapped in January (as the Canadians call it), both were seen as damaged goods. Rolen had two bum shoulders, Glaus' body was breaking down because of past steroid use. Both started poorly, Rolen on the DL with a "finger," Glaus wearing glasses to combat his "allergies."


Through May, Rolen had the higher OPS and played the better defense. But since then, Glaus has kept it close with the glove -- John Dewan has him at plus-13; Rolen is a ludicrous plus-22. But Glaus has crushed Rolen offensively in the summer months, hitting 15 home runs to Rolen's four and putting up .927 and .991 OPS's to Rolen's scores of .859 and .457. On the whole, Glaus has an .864 OPS and 18 home runs to Rolen's .749 and six home runs. Glaus' offense more than makes up for his "deficiency" with the glove. Their Win Share totals also reflect this: Glaus is at 15, Rolen at seven.


By most statistical measures, Troy Glaus has been the superior player. Then there's this: While the two players cost virtually the same amount from year to year, Glaus' contract expires after 2009, while Rolen is locked down through 2010. Which is bad news since his ludicrously predictable shoulder breakdowns have returned.


Glaus is a huge reason the Cardinals remain in the race for the NL Central. Offensively, he's been everything the team expected. Defensively, he's been better than advertised.


Rolen is still a dominant defensive player, but he hits like a catcher.


There's no question J.P. Ricciardi lost this deal.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rush Limbaugh wants to buy the Rams.

That's no punchline. Per the St. Louis Business Journal:


"The Rams would be a great team to have," Limbaugh said in a phone interview from his Palm Beach, Fla., studio. "I have a lot of friends in ownership in the NFL, and my desire to get involved has not been a secret."


It goes without saying that mixing politics and sports can often end poorly, but consider another St. Louis owner with deep political ties: Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who famously owned the Texas Rangers with fellow Eli George W. Bush. DeWitt has also publicly supported such causes as Ashcroft 2000 (aside, lost to a dead man), McCain 2008 and Romney for President. DeWitt isn't widely criticized for his support of the Arch-Conservative (pun intended, deployed) agenda because his views reflect the views of St. Louis as a whole. His teams also win, that helps.


Limbaugh, with a fortune comprised or Republican blood money, is a bit of a different beast. Remember what happened the last time Rush got involved with sports.


In truth, Limbaugh is likely doing what he does best, flapping his gums. The Rams are a high profile business in a lucrative industry, and Limbaugh is no fool. He recognizes an opportunity to make money when he sees one. He also recognizes a good opportunity for publicity. We shall oblige him on the latter front.


Every Rams fan must find thelselves dreaming of owner Rush Limbaugh's first acquisition of the 2009 offseason: fellow Vicodin alum Brett Favre.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Did MLB put a hit on Scott Kazmir?

As I was reading this story by virtuoso AP scribe Ronald Blum about the potential David Wright-J.D. Drew pitching matchup that wasn’t part of Tuesday's All-Star Game -- one of the contingencies dreamed up by two desperate managers with hopes of maintaining the integrity of a (mostly) pointless exhibition -- I was struck by this innocuous line:



By the 13th inning, MLB dispatched senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. to remind the managers that the game would be played until there was a winner.



Remember that in the 12th inning of the game, Terry Francona burned his last ├Čacceptable├« pitcher, George Sherrill, to strike out Adrian Gonzalez. The National League was in slightly better shape, with Carlos Marmol to replace Aaron Cook, do-not-use Brandon Webb and Lidge to blow the game. But consider the predicament of Francona (I know Joe Buck and Tim McCarver discussed it ad nauseam, bear with me) in being forced to use a competitor's asset for a game of indeterminate -- though clearly terminating -- amount of time.



Ostensibly, what the MLB decree meant to Terry Francona was one of three options:



• Use George Sherrill for as long as necessary. As it worked out, Sherrill’s 2 1/3-inning appearance was his longest since a July 2004 game against Boston. Wonder how the Orioles will feel if their closer breaks down because a division-rival manager had to run Sherill until he dropped in an exhibition game. By the way, the Orioles ain't gettin' s*** out of this All-Star business. For them, they never count.



• Use Kazmir, Francona's final pitching option. Francona did so, no doubt to the annoyance of Rays management. If Kazmir comes down with a recurrence of his elbow trouble, you can bet the Rays will lobby MLB for teams to have the right to hold back players from All-Star games, perhaps some other prohibitions on player usage. It would have been interesting to see how far Francona would have run with Kazmir. As it was, he got to put 17 pitches of game wear, plus a substantial number of warm-up tosses, on the arm of the most important player on his closest pursuer. There’s no question that’s a tactical advantage. Even something as small as the Rays pushing a Kazmir start back a day because of fatigue is advantage Tito, advantage Red Sox. That's one less day the Rays can use him, even if just hypothetically.



• Use a position player to pitch. Francona would have used his own position player, J.D. Drew, to pitch, had it come to that. Had Drew been injured, the uproar out of Boston would have been furious. The fact that Drew is on Francona’s club, not somebody else's, would make Francona appear honorable. That would combine with the afore-mentioned MLB decree to absolve Francona of the blame, leaving MLB to face the cold, bleating wrath of Red Sox Nation. This doesn't even begin to discuss the potential eruption from Flushing if David Wright had pitched and gotten hurt.



The bottom line is that by forcing the managers to put players in compromising situations (aside: ha!), MLB risked injury to some of its biggest stars and introduced potential ethical quandaries. The corporation should have more sense than that. MLB should have realized it is a strong enough institution to call an All-Star Game a draw and shift focus to what will be a fascinating trade deadline and some shapely division races.



So people think your All-Star Game is a joke. Guess what? It is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The definite Ankiel

Most players who achieve the definite article, one of the greatest honors in sports -- The Pujols and The Santana for example -- reach definition by virtue of complimentary abbreviation. That is to say, people get tired of calling them The Great Albert Pujols, or The Great Johan Santana, and simply go by The Pujols, or The Santana.


But Rick Ankiel's ascent to article definition happened more as a celebration, a coronation really, of normalcy. Sure, his career slash line of .265/.306/.502 helps, but it's Ankiel's pursuit and ultimate achievement of zen on the baseball field, after his theatrical youth, that grant his status.


As Ankiel passes through the league and visits each city for the first time, the story of his meltdown is replayed upon arrival, like urban legends and creation myths surrounding carnival freaks. This is also true of Josh Hamilton. Now, most people don't show up for the freaks, but when they're there, it's natural to remark, "There's the freak, there's the monster." Freaks are kind of hard to ignore.


But whereas Hamilton has embraced the role and is easy, accessible and free with fans and media, Ankiel remains private, a clubhouse shut-in who rarely speaks to even the most partisan beat reporters. Because of this, Hamilton's story is rehashed the second time he visits a city, and the third. Hamilton perpetuates his image as a(n) (recovering) addict.


In the absence of content, and in the interest of not boring their consumers, Rick Ankiel's returned presence demands highlights of his first visit, if it demands mention at all. Media-types may bring up Ankiel's complicated past, but only as a vehicle for introducing his present, and often his pitching exploits go un-noted the second time through.


Rick Ankiel the pitcher is quickly dying. Is Josh Hamilton the addict?


The remarkable thing is, it's not supposed to work that way.


The Ankiel narrative started as a story.


The Phenom Rick Ankiel who demanded -- and received -- such a large signing bonus he fell a round in the draft was supposed to represent the evolution of pitching -- and was covered accordingly (think Kazmir, Scott circa 2005). Then, he was the future, a lefty who combined a mid-90's fastball with a devastating curveball. He wasn't afraid to throw inside and was a bit wild -- but had enough command he racked up 416 K's in 298 Minor League innings as a teenageer


When he lost "it," Ankiel became The Freak Rick Ankiel, somebody to be mocked and derided. In reality, he was just a man who's always been able to throw a baseball, who forgot how. See why he constructed the cocoon?


He remained The Freak when he took up hitting, his unfortunate past always taking center stage before his at-bats. Then he hit. Then he looked like he finally found peace. Then people started to forget about the past.


That's what he is now, he's The Non-Story Rick Ankiel


This is abbreviated to The Ankiel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

28.

I thought a lot about redemption while I was watching Josh Hamilton tear Yankee Stadium a new a****** last night. Redemption is a powerful thing; it that can drive a man like a train without a master. Atonement fundamentally underpins the Hamilton story. He’s paid the price for his sins against the game. Now, he’s returned to reap.


While I watched a Ranger receive a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium for breaking a Yankee’s record (ahem, Abreu, 24), I thought about the creation of myth, and how Hamilton’s redemption song feeds the folklore that surrounds him. It gives the Hamilton story extra meaning, extra poignance, that he comfortably inhabits the penthouse of the baseball world because we know he once cleaned the toilets. Shucks, he probably still does.


My favorite: Josh Hamilton is so talented he could spend three years away from the game and step into the Major Leagues to hit 40 home runs in his first 183 games. Whatever your statistical poison, Hamilton wasted it for three years.


While I pondered getting flames tattooed on my forearms, I considered the power of despair in building legend. Were Josh Hamilton’s 28 home runs more impressive than, say, 28 home runs hit by Lance Berkman? Does Josh Hamilton represent whatever meager potential we’ve yet to tap? Does Fat Elvis?


Josh Hamilton’s script is so hackneyed even the least jaundiced producer would reject.


But what I saw on the espens was a genuine, Malamudian Natural. Josh Hamilton set the Bronx ablaze last night; he was “Now.”


That wasn’t just a baseball player getting a standing-o at Yankee Stadium last night.


That was a crackhead become legend


(maybe there’s hope for us yet).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rays continue to win

After sweeping the defending champion Red Sox at home, the Tampa Bay Rays now have a .619 winning percentage, good for tops in Major League Baseball. The Rays are 33-13 at the Trop and 19-19 away.

The ghosts they's is a real.