A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mick Billmeyer

Ok, let's be honest... who cares about stealing signs? Really.
It's not like it's a corked bat breaking and someone (Sammy Sosa) gets caught using it to get out of the deep slump he was in.
It's not like betting on your own team.
It's not like throwing your own team's games.
In fact, it's really boring. When guys like Brian Roberts wear contacts lens with extra power in them to get that much closer to seeing the movement of the ball out of the pitcher's hand or simply use video to learn to recognize a pitcher's motion to get the jump on the ball coming their way, there is still the need to put the ball in play.
It's not like a catcher gave opposing batters the pitches in advance during a meaningless series of All Star Game at bats to get back at the pitcher who tried to throw a broken bat at his head during an instance of roid rage.
It's simply stealing signs.
In Nascar, they say that if you're not cheating, you're not trying.
In baseball, unless you're Gaylord Perry throwing a spitball or dirty handed Kenny Rogers, you better not be cheating and doing anything to tarnish the sport.
So why get upset at the Phillies for stealing signs? It's not like the New York Giants didn't do it against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 with Herman Frank and his telescope stealing signs off of the opposing catcher so that Bobby Thompson would be in a better position to smack the Shot Heard Round the World.
Sure, they had binoculars going, but isn't that more stupid than anything? They did it in plane sight. Maybe that can take the edge off the rumors about the hidden cameras.
All in all, baseball is what it is... a game of advantages.
Why stress on anything more than that?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stephen Strasburg

I'm still trying to figure out how I didn't go to see this guy pitch in Harrisburg while he was still Triple A. Perhaps, there was the idea that they'd nurse him a little bit, but then they sent him to Syracuse and tonight, he rewarded fans by pitching a 6 inning no hitter before getting yanked from the game.
Maybe they were afraid that he would give up his first hit in the next inning. It seemed like the Senators were afraid of that when they yanked him after facing 16 batters in 5 innings and only letting a runner on who advanced via a passed ball.
But don't just ask me; ask Curt Schilling: "Since I'm 5 years old, I've played the game, love the game. I've never seen anything like this. ... Never. Nothing close. ... Not at that age, that polished. If he comes up to the big leagues -- which he will, in the next, probably, month, some period of time before the halfway point of the season -- he'll immediately, potentially be the best pitcher in the game. He's that polished.
"And I don't know him like a lot of guys that you judge from far away. I've heard nothing bad about the kid. He's got a great work ethic, he's got a pitcher's mind, because there's a lot of guys who get to the big leagues who throw 96 [mph] who never get people out. He's pitching smart, which is rare for a kid his age. He commands the baseball. At that level, that stuff to command the baseball, I've never seen anything like it."

The future of baseball is here. It's a great time to get in on the game now. With all of the young players building up a foundation of excellence, Strasburg's first game can't get here soon enough. I thank the good Lord for giving me the MLB Network to watch it when it happens.
And with the Nationals in 2nd place and 4 games above 500 past the first week of the season, this could be the start of something good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ken Griffey Jr.

They always said that the Kid played the game with class and a sense of fun, but frankly, I never really thought much of him. Maybe if I was a fan of the game when he and his father homered in the same game, but since I wasn't... yeah.
It seemed like it was such a big deal when he came across to the Reds in 2000, but it never was. He hit 40 homeruns the first year and trailed off every year after that except for a slight spike from 2005-2007.
Most of the time, he was injured.
Now, he's just washed up.
It was supposed to be a big deal when he came home to finish where he began. Seattle welcomed him with open arms. He rewarded them with 5 RBIs in 77 at bats. That said, it's hard to hit homeruns when you have a batting average that is points above the Mendoza Line. In addition, he decided that he would go for a nap in the clubhouse, and was unavailable to pinch hit when the Mariners needed him.
As a result, ne now faces the choice of retirement or to be released from Seattle, which really says something because the whole team not named Ichiro Suzuki has either lacked production or been injured too long to truly add up to anything, which really makes me glad that I didn't get Felix Hernandez in my draft this year.
Baseball's last great hope to cleanly climb up the ladder of career homeruns is all but done at 630 (but wait, there is another... THANK GOD for Albert Pujols). Somehow, this seems fitting in this transition year that we are in. Bring in the new. Build for the future. Will Faulkner was wrong. The past has past and it is dead.
How long until the Mariners fire sale? How long until Ichiro finds a new home? How long until King Felix gets sent to a contender and we find out if he's real or hype?
As the cold days of May keep getting cooler, we wait to see what good things that summer will bring.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dallas Braden

It sucks to be Alex Rodriguez today. Sure, he's moving up the homerun list, but it sucks to ask who someone is when you're trying to look really cool after being a lazy ass that just stomps over his base and then to have him end up pitching a perfect game less than 3 weeks later.
E-bay features a 2007 exquisite rookie silver that is bidding at cents under $50.00 with 5 hours to go and it's got a dozen bidders already.
People are taking notice.
Not my fantasy leagues. I grabbed him for the team that he wasn't on right after the game. These people just don't watch rookies. That said, whatever they're doing must be better than I am since I'm 9th and 3rd out of 10 teams... but it is 162 games.
That's 2 no hit games in the first 2 months by 2 young stars.
Speaking of no hitter pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez got robbed by his offense of being 6-0 as he only let up 1 run in 7 innings. It's not Pedro Martinez and Harvey Haddix unloved, but it sure feels like Randy Johnson squaring off against Jose Jimenez and losing 1 game to a no hitter and the other game to a 2 hitter. Prior to getting nailed for a ban substance, those were 2 of his 24 wins. On the flip side, he lost 44 times.
Now that's bad luck.
But Braden is young and has upside. I don't think it's nearly $100 worth of upside that the rookie card might go for when the auction is over, but it's still upside.
Who knows? Maybe he'll be more like Randy Johnson than Len Barker when it's all over, but whatever he ends up being, he's 1 of 19 people to throw a gem.
And that's something.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Robin Roberts

Imagine being a celebrity and going through life with cancer and trying your damnedest to beat it and all of a sudden, the Internet swells up with rumors that you're dead. I can't imagine the mortality that would be associated with cancer let along a false death rumor.
Mark Twain once summer it all up by saying, "stories about my death are premature," but for Robin Roberts, the Phillies pitcher from the 1950's, his life dd come to an end at age 83.
For a man with the benefit of being in a 4-man rotation, his 286 wins and 2357 strikeouts aren't that great of a total, but he did this for a largely lame Phillies team that was at most points lousy (including 107 losses in 1961) and at one stretch the Whiz Kids.
Despite being on a lousy set of teams, he finished his career with a 3.41 ERA.
In a week where famous deaths come in 3s, the Grim Reaper took Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell at 92. I was never a Tigers fan, so I can't say I have any memories of him. In fact, prior to his death, I had no reason to know who he was, but when he died, the MLB paid tribute to him and the rest of the country saw a man who was a legend in his market. I can only imagine that this was how Harry Kalas's death was received by the non-Philadelphia world.
Nevertheless, somewhere in there, Bob Uecker went to the hospital for heart surgery and made it out intact, a little bit worn out from the process, and ready to be again. Whether this is a person or whether it fulfills his goal of returning to the broadcast booth later this season, only time will tell, but we can be truly thankful that the fates and the skills of the surgeons gave him the opportunity to have another go around.
Life seems short and we all deal with mortality in our own different ways. Older men seem to get really quiet while they're watching friends and family shuffle off this mortal coil. Younger people seem to live in an invincible status as if time will never catch up with them. For me, I just notice the white hairs in the mirror and hope that in the downward slide that I'm going to be a silver fox or at least have the energy to do the things that I want to do. Having been fortunate enough to only have had a couple times where my health has been in question, I hope that my body makes it long enough to do the things that I want to do. I hope the same for my wife, my family, and my friends. I'm not ready to deal with death on any level up close and in person. In that, I'm a fairly lucky almost 39 year old. I lost a favorite teacher a few years ago and when I went to his funeral, it was the first one I had been to since 1989. When my grandmothers passed away, I was in England and unable to come home. I never knew my grandfathers, so I've avoided death save a few musicians, a few baseball players, and some historical figures that seemed shocking to think that they were dead, but all in all, it's not like I sat around mourning anyone for a long period of time. Frankly, Michael Jackson didn't mean anything to me, so I can't say that I took his death as anything.
The same can be said for my association with Robin Roberts. I never knew he might have been the best pitcher of the fifties. Never knew. I always thought it would be someone else, but at the end of the day, the eulogies came out. This isn't to disparage him. He was a Hall of Fame baseball great, but it's just that in history, we only have room to tell so many tales, which leads me to wonder what tale anyone will tell about me or those I love when the time comes.
To this, all that is left is the living. Anything else seems rather trivial.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

David Big Papi Ortiz

Ortiz likes it when you call him Big Papi. We like it when you hit like Big Papi. At one time, George Steinbrenner was irate that the Yankees didn't get him. However, since April 17th, Ortiz has hits in 4 games.
Since the season opened, he's sat out 8 times. Mind you, he's the designated hitter. It's not like he's even having to run back to the first sack to catch a ball from deep in the 3rd base hole.
In 67 at bats, he has 3 homeruns and 6 RBIs. Just because he hit his first homerun sooner than May 20th, the date of the blessed event last year, isn't a sign of welcome relief.
The man is earning $13million. When it comes to sitting out 8 days of 1/2 work (offense not defense), I'd be willing to bat .149 and do just that as well. However, this isn't kicking a man when he's down, and frankly, since 2006 ended, he's been digressing into failure more and more. It's a story of the pain of propping a man up when he can't perform, and frankly, at this point, I can't believe anyone would even claim him off of waivers. Nobody wants that salary without a guarantee. I can't even picture the Yankees signing him just because it would rile up Boston fans. In that, there's no point poking a wounded animal with a stick.
But the real issue here is this: Boston's choice of CURRENTLY UNDERPERFORMING replacement players over the last few years based on who is in their lineup today.

John Lackey - $18.7million gets you 2 wins and a 4.50 ERA on the beginning of a long term lease.
JD Drew - $14million puts incentive under Drew's sorry behind to get hot and hit 5 homeruns with a .258 average. Prior to that, he was under .200 for April. Nobody in Boston other than Theo wanted him, and now, we're stuck with him. He didn't pan out for St. Louis, Atlanta, or Los Angeles. After the Phillies fans pelted him with D cell batteries in his Philadelphia debut, they realized that they got the good end of the deal in not getting him (even if Pat Burrell largely was a bust caught looking).
Mike Lowell - $12.5million to be platooned and rescued after being unable to be traded due to failing a physical offsets his .317 average with 1 homerun in 41 at bats.
Josh Beckett - $12.1million for 1 win and a 6.31 ERA. Sure, he helped win a title for Boston and Florida, but we need him performing for the extension he just signed.
Jon Papelbon - $9.35million for an ERA that's just under 2, but he also has 2 losses in 1 month. That's scary.
Adrian Beltre - $9million for him to bat .323, which is good, but the 1 homerun and 13 RBIs isn't, which once again proves 2004 was a contract year mirage.
Bill Hall - $8.5million to be unidentifiable even if he was dancing naked on your front porch.
Daisuke Matsuzaka - $8.33million to find out the gyro ball is a myth and his WHIP makes every inning an adventure.
Victor Martinez - $7.7million for .242 and 1 homerun and a complete inability to throw out runners; thus, it forces Jason Varitek back behind the plate all too often AND he can't throw out runners either.
Marco Scutaro - $5.5million for Theo to believe that defense prevents runs, but batting in 7 runs with 2 homeruns isn't getting the job done.

These aren't even the in expensive replacement parts. In short, this is a team in decline that has no chance to win for a few years. Maybe they can throw money at Pujols, but they need a lot of things.
One is to finally get rid of Wakefield, Varitek, and Big Papi. The past is the past. Let them be bench coaches. Winning requires nurturing young talent now.
Look at what happened to the Orioles in the wake of propping up Cal Ripken's streak - since 1997's division championship, they're a 4th or 5th place failure - and it's not like they have Tampa Bay to kick around since they're in a win or rebuild year. Toronto is rebuilding young and improved. The Yankees are the Yankees.
And the Red Sox... they're holding onto dreams long since dead.
Too bad that they should have learned that sometimes, you have to step on (Nomar's) toes to do well. Too bad they haven't learned it with Ortiz.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Matt Parker and Trey Stone

In 2004, South Park had an episode entitled Up the Down Steroid. In it, Cartman faked that he was disabled to get in the Special Olympics under the assumption that he could win. Meanwhile, Jimmy was training really hard to compete, but he found that "there are shortcuts," and the rest of the episode was typical South Park mayhem. From parodies of roid rage to Timmy's pressure on Jimmy to do the right thing, the lesson was everything from a totally offensive Cartman acting developmentally disabled to sheer hatred for Giambi, Bonds, and McGwire to a lesson learned that the only way to compete is to compete fairly.
All the same, it's hard to believe that the message that was made out of 2 retired players and a hanger on would still have any resonance in today's terms. After all, Manny, Papi, and A-Roid seem to be more current to the talk of steroids in sports, but it's not all sports or pop culture that South Park does. Instead, there is the ability to lampoon things and give lessons in ways that are equally conservative and potty-mouthed DESPITE the fact that this season tends to focus more on KFC and video game ads than it does on anything else.
However, this week when Comedy Central refused to allow any comments to be made about Mohammed, which is actually the 2nd time this happened. So in a very real sense they caved in to the rights of the extremists themselves. Nobody stopped Matt and Trey from putting the fecal material on Jesus and Bush at the end of Cartoon Wars, which was done simply to show that they can mock Christianity and American ideals, but when it came to Islam, we had to fear the wrath of the extremists (not the mainstream believers themselves).
So what does this have to do with baseball, you might be asking.
As America's game, we're to represent everything that is right about America. Sometimes, we do that with Jackie Robinson stealing home. Sometimes, we do it with celebrations for records. Other times, we do it by wearing uniforms that honor the military, the police, and the firemen. Most times, we just rise for the playing of the National Anthem and taking off our caps. A very simple request really, but for some in the stands who call themselves Americans, it's a brief moment of discomfort that doesn't remember the sacrifices of those that have given all for the rights that we have.
All the same, we even make room for people not to stand for the anthem. Carlos Delgado refused to stand because of the Navy's use of Vieques for a bombing range, and while people disputed - even home fans at Shea! - he had the right, and people respected it.
But when America gives way for the rights of extremists to speak - be it radical religion like the Westboro Baptist Church and their "God Hates Fags" campaign at military funerals AND for extremists to make death threats and anti-American speeches under the liberty that America and not their country provide for them (or in the case of Westboro, that they wouldn't allow for all citizens to live in the way that they would want to), it seems absurd.
In a time when a car bomb almost goes off in Times Square, baseball doesn't seem as important as hoping that we have a real life Jack Bauer to clean up the bad guys and save the day.
At least that's what I think.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rickey Henderson

In 1979, Rickey Henderson came to the big leagues and despite a limited batting average of .274 and only a half season of at bats, he still stole 33 bases for that year. To put this into perspective, had he played in the National League, he would have made it to #12 on the leader board that year. In the American League, he tied for #7 despite being far behind Willie Wilson's lead of 83 thefts. Three full seasons later, he passed such notorious base robbers as Ty Cobb, Maury Wills, and Lou Brock's coveted 1974 record of 118 stolen bases in a season.
Had it not been for a pedestrian batting average and a cocaine habit, perhaps Vince Coleman could have caught the record. He did show promise in his first 3 seasons before imploding. Nevertheless, Rickey was never seriously challenged for the all time single season record.
Roughly 12 years into his career, on May 1st 1991, Rickey Henderson heaved second base into the air and declared his supremacy to the world. As Shaq's model at speaking in the first person, Rickey was all ego and all dedication to baseball. He was well on his way to becoming the greatest leadoff hitter in history and at the same point, he was well on his way to sticking around the game too long. Maybe it was to set the all time runs record. Maybe it was to accumulate 1406 stolen bases and to be that far above anyone else who could dare to surpass his record since let's be honest - nobody in today's game could keep up their current pace for 20 years and surpass him. Maybe it was because he wasn't talented enough to do anything else.
Maybe he just loved the game that much.
Whatever it was, Rickey was a hell of a player. From 1979-2003, he played for the Oakland A's, the Yankees, the Blue Jays, the Padres, the Angels, and eventually even made it back to the Big Apple to play for the Mets.
When you played his card in APBA, his numbers were sick. This was a man who could make a single into a triple. He did his 297 home runs including 2 seasons with 28 round trippers. There were 4 total seasons where he was over 20 home runs for the year when the number actually meant something.
He had an OBP that was incredible because of his plate discipline. Had it not been for Barry Bonds' cheating and ability to be hated, Rickey would have the all time walks record as well, but as homerun records go, tis better to walk Bonds than to let him pass the Babe and Hammerin' Hank.
So yeah... today or any annual day after this is the day to raise a glass and toast Rickey.
He was a great baseball star and the Hall of Fame knew it and he knew it, too.
But that's ok. Not everyone can steal that many bases in a year or a career.