March 2010

Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul
ball.

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my
mother.

3.
And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

ATLANTA is
the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

4.
Alejandro Pena, 1991-92

5. Jeff
Reardon, 1992

6. Mike
Stanton, 1993

7. Greg
McMichael, 1994-95

8. Brad
Clontz, 1995

9. Mark
Wohlers, 1995-98

10. Kerry
Ligtenberg, 1998

11. John
Rocker, 1999

12.
Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

13.
Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

19.
Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

25.
Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

27.
Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

If FLORIDA
could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing -
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

DIVISION PREDICTIONS:
I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.

Tillman1967.jpg

LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….

2010 Forecasts: NL Central

Having already tabbed the Rockies for a possible runaway in the West (pursued perhaps by the Giants), we move to the Central:

CHICAGO
may represent a startling fact about this division – there not only isn’t a
great team here, there isn’t even a good one. The starting line-up is
five-eighths made up of guys who significantly regressed from 2008 to 2009,
plus Marlon Byrd. The new ownership seems to have already committed to the age-old easy way out of worrying more about the ballpark than the ballclub. Larry Rothschild has gratefully plugged Carlos Silva and Tom
Gorzelanny into his rotation. The bullpen is headed by a shaky Carlos Marmol
and not one experienced right-handed set-up man. The Cubs are a mess.

It still
didn’t make any sense for CINCINNATI to invest in Scott Rolen, nor bring back
Ramon Hernandez, and with considerable irony, this might as well still be 2007
when the Reds were pinning their hopes on Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce. Their
epiphanies – Bailey’s last September, and Bruce’s during his injury – must be
lasting for the Reds to compete. But there is at minimum some sense of upswing
in Cincinnati. Dusty Baker gave Drew Stubbs the chance to play last year, and
might even find spots for Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, and Yonder Alonso this season. The
bullpen is strong, the rotation potentially deep.

For years,
Terry Francona’s top lieutenant, Brad Mills, has deserved a major league team
to manage. He may yet get the chance – for now he’s stuck with Houston. There
is an outfield and there are two starting
pitchers (providing Roy Oswalt isn’t seriously hurt, and doesn’t go home to his
ranch in sheer frustration). The rest of the line-up, and the pitching staff, are disaster areas, made no better by today’s news than Lance Berkman’s bionic knee is ‘cranky.’ Things could brighten somewhat if
Matt Lindstrom harnesses his talent, and if Jason Castro or J.R. Towles squat
up behind the plate, and if three fans turn out to be viable starting pitchers.
Otherwise, this is a franchise that has gone to seed.

What’s the
psychological saw about repeating the same unsuccessful action with confidence
that this
time it
will succeed? The Brewers are confident Dave Bush, Doug Davis, and Manny Parra and/or Jeff Suppan constitute three-fifths of a pitching staff. They’re certain Rickie Weeks and
Corey Hart will harness their talent. Everybody knows
this is the year Yovanni Gallardo
leaps to the forefront of NL starters. This is a recording. The Brewers will be
deceptively entertaining as long as Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are around,
and they could get a wonderful spark if Carlos Gomez decides not to style his
way out of the game before his 25th birthday. But all the bullpen depth in the world
isn’t going to help that rotation.

PITTSBURGH
deserves better. Surely they are, on average, a better set of players than the
Astros. But nothing seems to progress in Pittsburgh; Andrew McCutchen and
Garrett Jones arise fully grown from the minors, but Freddy Sanchez and Jack
Wilson are dished off. They make a seeming salary dump to Atlanta and in fact
rip the Braves off, selling Nate McLouth at his high point, opening up a spot
for McCutchen, and getting the remarkable arm of Charlie Morton – and Morton is
the only guy in the state who doesn’t believe he has
a remarkable arm. And still, if
lightning strikes – if Pedro Alvarez, Chase D’Arnaud, and Tim Alderson were all
productive big leaguers by June 1, they’d suddenly have an actual real-life
.500 team. And a .500 team might run away with this division.

Pittsburgh can hope, because
ST. LOUIS is the most overrated team in the majors. Albert Pujols glitters so
brightly, he makes you forget that the rest of the infield is an assortment of
Brendan Ryans and Felipe Lopezes and David Freeses. Chris Carpenter and Adam
Wainwright were so dominant that they obscured the reality of what happened if
you actually beat them on consecutive days – the Cards’ season would be snuffed
out in a sweep. This is a team that was ready to trot out a rotation in which
Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Rich Hill would pitch more often than did Carpenter
and Wainwright (the first light bulb going off: giving the fifth spot in the rotation not to Hill but to Jaime Garcia). The bullpen is a jumble, the bench non-existent, and lord help
Tony LaRussa if Yadier Molina is really hurt or Pujols’ back is cranky for more
than 45 minutes at a stretch.

PREDICTIONS:
You know what? I’ll take the long-odds bet on the dice coming up for the Reds
and not the Cardinals. It’ll be an exciting race, to see if you actually can
get into the playoffs with 79 victories. Chicago third, Milwaukee fourth just
ahead of Pittsburgh, and Houston sixth, unless they decide to conserve energy
and just forfeit all games in lieu of much needed fielding practice and weeding
through resumes of infielders and pitchers.

2010 Forecasts: NL West


Here’s a
silly little question for ARIZONA about Edwin Jackson. If he’s good enough for
you to have given up on Max Scherzer, why is he pitching for his third team in
as many seasons? And why was the other guy you got in the trade a starter who
won his first major league start on September 1, 2007 – and hasn’t pitched well
since? Ian Kennedy’s rep in New York was as a guy who didn’t seem to want the
ball, and even if that was wildly untrue, there has to be some reason he went
from untouchable to throw-in in two years. On these two starters the
Diamondbacks’ season depends; they will get another acey season out of Dan
Haren and might even get a comeback from Brandon Webb, but if both
Jackson and Kennedy don’t produce,
there is nothing (Billy Buckner, Brian Augenstein, Rodrigo Lopez) for A.J.
Hinch to fall back on, and a truly potent line-up will have wasted a lot of
slugging.

COLORADO’s
line-up is so productive that it has come to this: if Todd Helton suddenly
decided to return to football (at age 37, for some reason) and they had to move
Brad Hawpe back to first base and go with some kind of Seth Smith/Ryan
Spilborghs combo, there would probably be no noticeable fall-off. There is no
reason to suspect that Jorge De La Rosa’s 2009, nor Jason Hammel’s second-half,
were flukes, and thus the Rockies offer rotational depth behind Jimenez and
Cook, and they have enough in the bullpen to back-fill for an injured Huston
Street without mentioning the dreaded words “Manny Corpas.” Franklin Morales
might just steal the job from him if Street is gone too long. This is a
well-rounded, deep team, and Troy Tulowitzki, batting clean-up, may reassert
himself this year on the path to being one of the league’s top ten hitters.

In LOS
ANGELES or anywhere else, I would trust Joe Torre with my wallet or my vote or
my house keys. But I think he’s in for a dreadful year. If anybody can get a
Number One starter kind of season out of Vicente Padilla, it’d be Joe; I’d
still bet it’s likelier that Padilla will achieve that rarest of feats – pitch
the opener and
wind
up being unconditionally released in the same season. My memory of Padilla is
him taking a no-hitter into the middle innings at Shea Stadium, and
sportswriters from two cities, in two languages, rooting against him because he
was surly in both English and Spanish. More over, what’s the message to Chad
Billingsley? Clayton Kershaw? What’s the message to Dodger fans that your fifth
starter battle involved both perpetual retreads named Ortiz? A great bullpen
cannot stay such if it has to start getting ready in the fifth inning, every
day. And the line-up is hardly as good as it looks. The Dodgers cannot get a full
season out of Ronnie Belliard, haven’t gotten one out of Blake DeWitt. They may
have burned out Russell Martin. And Manny Being Just Manny (No PEDs) is a just
slightly better offensive force than, say, Mark DeRosa. The McCourt Divorce may
be a lot more interesting than the 2010 Dodgers, and a lot less painful to
watch.

SAN DIEGO
might catch lightning in a bottle, if Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks and Nick
Hundley get off to explosive starts and there is no need to unload Heath Bell
and Adrian Gonzalez. If not, you’re looking at Aaron Cunningham and Chase
Headley as the three and four hitters, and Mike Adams or Luke Gregerson
closing. Watch, hope; rent, don’t buy.

I don’t
much like SAN FRANCISCO’s outfield (maybe they should have given John Bowker’s
spring training resurgence more attention), and their third best all-around
player might spend most of the season backing up Bengie Molina, but that’s some
pitching staff Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have to play with. After Lincecum,
Cain, Sanchez, and Zito, I think Todd Wellemeyer is a stop-gap and Kevin
Pucetas (or maybe Madison Bumgarner – and who ever went faster from prospect to suspect?) will eventually claim the fifth spot. The
bullpen has gone from wobbly to outstanding in two years (Dan Runzler might eventually make Brian Wilson expendable; more likely he’ll just make he and Jeremy Affeldt the top pair of left-handed set-up men in the league). I’d be happier if they’d invested in an
actual outfielder instead of Aubrey Huff, put DeRosa at third, and Sandoval at
first. But if Colorado falters, this is the West’s best bet.

PREDICTIONS:
Colorado in a runaway, unless the Giants put everything together early. The
Dodgers finish third, just ahead of the Diamondbacks – unless the Padres blossom early as mentioned above and
don’t trade everybody, in which case the three teams will place within a few games of each other.

TOMORROW NIGHT: The National League Central.

Beerless Forecasts

Seriously?

Let me preface this by saying that I fondly remember Harry Chappas of the White Sox, 5’5″ cover boy of Sports Illustrated (who was told to claim he was only 5’3″), and the day that the legitimately 5’4″ Freddie Patek slammed three homers and a double at Fenway. Baseball is still the sport where height matters least; Patek was on four division winners and two All-Star teams and was as tough as they come.


So, when I see the Twins put their 5’3″ outfield infield prospect out of the University of Louisville, Chris Cates, into tonight’s exhibition against the Red Sox in Fort Myers, I’m delighted.

But they had to give him the Test Batting Helmet? 

IMG_2072.JPG
FROM FOX SPORTS NORTH AND MLB NETWORK

Okay, so the name of Rick Moranis’s character in “Spaceballs” was what?

IMG_2071.JPG

“Dark Helmet” – that’s right. Or you prefer the Great Gazoo?

IMG_2074.JPG

How much guts does this guy have to show you, Twins? 

You give him uniform number 90, you pose him for a publicity photo alongside 7’1″ Dutch pitcher Loek Van Mil? And then you give him the helmet?

IMG_2073.JPG

To say nothing of the apparent Squish Danger:

IMG_2070.JPG

Oh, man. Mr. Cates should be admitted to Cooperstown just for acquitting himself professionally and not taking this thing off and hitting the equipment manager over the head with it.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:

The late,
great Mets’ broadcaster Bob Murphy reported this anecdote during the 1967
season. On July 25
th at Candlestick Park, the Mets and Giants were
scoreless in the bottom of the third. Jesus Alou and Bobby Etheridge singled,
then Willie Mays lined a sure two-base hit, scoring Alou. But as Etheridge
chugged in to third, Mays
stopped at first. He explained later that he’d done
so deliberately, so that the Mets wouldn’t walk clean-up man Jim Ray Hart to
pitch instead to first baseman Jack Hiatt. Hart promptly hit a three-run homer
off Jack Fisher. The Giants won, 5-4.

Ankee Dium?

IMG_2068.jpg

Taken from The Major Deegan Expressway (New York Thruway) this afternoon – the third base side of the upper deck is long gone and about the rest of it, the first impression is apparently universal: it looks like they’ve stolen part of the old Yankee Stadium. The big blue letters are long gone, and the shadows left spell out “A N K E E      D I U M.” 
I don’t know if, even with the misspelling, that translates to anything in Latin, but here’s a second view – where the highway sign, in the right of the first picture, is out of view, and we’re obscured only by a light pole:
IMG_2069.jpg
This second shot gives you a clearer view of that missing chunk behind home plate. It’s inevitable, and it’s stark, and it’s progress (I continue to like the new place better) – but it’s still shocking. And where did all the stuff go? A partial answer below.
The slightly blurry pictures were snapped in route to my father’s memorial service, and this gives me an opportunity to thank you for the overwhelming support that poured from the comments after Saturday’s post about his passing. They were of incredible importance to me, and the members of my family, and to my father’s friends, who read them. I wish that I could somehow do them justice, but words, as they did this afternoon, fail me.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:
Not much real sweaty research here (on my part anyway), but courtesy BaseballReference.Com we get to celebrate those three men who are just seventeen days or so away from hitting the old “I played in four decades” milestone: Ken Griffey, Jamie Moyer, and Omar Vizquel. They would swell the ranks of four-decaders (or in the cases of Minnie Minoso and Nick Altrock, five) to a total of 29. There are as noted several others, like Gary Sheffield, without clubs but with possibilities.
It is fascinating that there hasn’t been an “artificial” addition to this list since 1990, given that ten of the first seventeen players to achieve the distinction only did so by coming out of retirement, or at least inactivity. Jack O’Connor was a manager when he did it, Dan Brouthers a scout, Jim O’Rourke a minor league executive, Eddie Collins a never-used player-coach, Tim McCarver a broadcaster, and Altrock, Kid Gleason, Jimmy McGuire, Minoso, and Jack Ryan, all full-time coaches.
Lastly, as promised – where’d all that original Yankee Stadium stuff go?
Well, you have to admit, it gives a home a different feel.
IMG_2022.jpg
This was Damaso Marte’s locker in 2008, and Mariano Rivera’s earlier.

Theodore C. Olbermann, 1929-2010

My father died, in the city of his birth, New York, at 3:50 EST this afternoon.

Though the financial constraints of his youth made college infeasible, he accomplished the near-impossible, becoming an architect licensed in 40 states. Much of his work was commercial, for a series of shoe store chains and department stores. There was a time in the 1970’s when nearly all of the Baskin-Robbins outlets in the country had been built to his design, and under his direction. Through much of my youth and my early adult life, it was almost impossible to be anywhere in this country and not be a short drive to one of “his” stores.
My Dad was predeceased last year by my mother, Marie, his wife of nearly 60 years. He died peacefully after a long fight against the complications that ensued after successful colon surgery last September at the New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center. My sister Jenna and I were at his side, and I was reading him his favorite James Thurber short stories, as he left us.
I can’t say enough about Dr. Jeff Milsom and his team at the hospital, and all of those physicians and nurses and staffers in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit who looked after my Dad all this time, and kept him in their hearts. And I feel the same way about all of you who have expressed your best wishes and prayers to him, and to me, and to our family.
My Dad was my biggest booster. A day after I was hired by CNN in the summer of 1981 as a two-week vacation relief sports reporter, I traveled by train to my childhood hometown, and walked from the station towards my folks’ house. I was stopped half a dozen times before I got to my Dad’s office by people congratulating me on my impending television debut. There was, of course, only one way they could have known. My Dad, the press agent. 
Of course it was he and my Mom who took me to my first Yankees games (even though my father nursed a delightful grudge against the team for trading away his favorite players, Steve Souchock and Snuffy Stirnweiss – in 1948 and 1950). But as my interest in the sport began to take the shape of a dreamt-of career, it was my Dad also sacrificed family vacations so we could buy ever more tickets to Yankee games. When we could afford both games and vacations, four times those vacations were to Spring Training.
He was my inspiration, and will always remain so. His bravery these last six months cannot be measured. He is as much my hero now, as he was when I was five years old.
IMG_2062.JPG

A Whole Lotta Lobster

Too much shellfish, you say?

One of the absolutely unexpected (and unwanted) side benefits of hanging around a hospital for several hours a day over six and a half months is you get to talk health hypotheticals with people running the full gamut of medical knowledge – all of it more than you have.
In short, they are not necessarily buying the “Jose Reyes developed hyperthyroidism from eating too much shellfish with all that iodine in it.” They are thus also not buying that “all will be well if he switches to tuna and red meat and doesn’t exercise for two weeks or two months.” It may be true that he’s had a lot of shellfish lately, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only cause of his hyperthyroidism. 
This is not to say it’s not possible, but none of the medicos to whom I talked think diet is a very likely cause of hyperthyroid problems in a 26-year old guy. More common causes are an immune disorder (Graves’ Disease – his age is correct for that – doctors would look there first, especially if there’s any family history of it), or a virus, or taking medication designed for thyroid deficiencies, or delivering a baby. 
I think we can rule the last one out, but the Mets have seemingly been hit by every other injury and malady in the last eighteen months, so what the hell.
The problem, of course, for the Mets is that their recent history on reporting those injuries and maladies is that they have over-promised and under-delivered. Last season, Reyes himself was only to miss a few days, then weeks, then a month, then an indefinite time, then he needed surgery. This is not necessarily blissful incompetence: hamstring and other connective tissue problems can often take a long time to diagnose. The Mets’ training and medical staff may be as much victims here as the players or fans are.
But if it turns out Reyes has a more lingering thyroid problem – one that does not simply go away in two weeks to two months – it will be impossible to believe the team’s next injury report. More importantly, it will be a significant impediment to Reyes’ quick return, or for him avoiding surgery or long-term drug therapy.
Or maybe he consumed 10 percent of the world’s shellfish.
How much could Shellfish could an ex-Shea Shortstop Shovel, if an ex-Shea Shortstop Could Shovel Shellfish?

McGwire Highway Revisited

I am advised by the impeccable Derrick Goold of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the stretch of asphalt to be de-named after Big Mac (see lengthy tedious post below) and rechristened in honor of Mark Twain, had, long before Mac, been part of the Twain Expressway. So the great writer has not somehow been overlooked by Missouris Department of Transportation. Of course, this does mean that the DOT has gone back from McGwire to Clemens.

Not So Big Mac After All

A full week of exhibition games in, and Mark McGwire is clearly not on his way to setting a single-season record for confrontational interviews. Not even TMZ-style ambush. 

Sure, sure, they’re pulling his name off his highway in Missouri and given it to Mark Twain (begging the question: they’re just now getting around to honoring Mark Twain?). But this today, from the local paper in Naples, Florida, seems to be more representative of the overall tone to the start of the McGwire post-steroid, post-I-did-it-for-my-health-interview, era:

“There is a lot of negativity and failure in baseball. It’s nice to talk about how positive it can be. I’m a positive person,” McGwire said.

With that apparently not ironic use of “positive” there, presumably psychiatrists have just upgraded Mac a few notches in preparation for their upcoming Psychology Rotisserie Draft. But we move on.
There are three ways to read the slow start to McGwire Season. Firstly, it’s just that, a slow start. The real tests start Friday when the Cardinals play the Red Sox, and then next Monday as they begin a virtual playoff series with the Mets (also Saturday, a week from Thursday, the 28th, and 30th – should you want to start circling your calendar). The players are irrelevant; the writers mattered. One can infer from giving New York’s Grouchiest five separate shots at Mac, that the schedule was either drawn up long before McGwire’s hiring, or somebody in St. Louis really doesn’t like Mark.
The second theory is that McGwire’s return really is no big deal, positive or negative, and the writers have correctly gauged the spirit of the times. Since the writers only correctly gauge the spirit of the times once every 12.7 years (and when they do, 60 percent of them ignore it and write anyway), I’m not putting a lot of money on this one.
The third one, I think, is the likeliest. Mark McGwire is simply being forgotten to death. The first evidence of this syndrome – a kind of psychological universal asterisk – was apparent when ESPN’s Barry Bonds Reality Show bombed. It did not generate controversy, it was not attacked as exploitive, it wasn’t even criticized as bad TV. It was just that outside the Bay Area and a small circle of other admirers, nobody wanted to hear from or about Barry Bonds, ever again. As if by a collective unspoken will: Barry Bonds hit more home runs, and Henry Aaron is still baseball’s all-time home run leader.
Perhaps this invisible fog is now enveloping McGwire. Nobody’s raising a stink, because nobody takes him seriously. 
Maybe the Missouri Department of Transportation should have re-named the McGwire Highway after another former Cardinals hero: Roger Maris.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:
Imagine if this had happened a little later in baseball’s history – it wouldn’t have been labeled “trivia.” When the Dodgers played an exhibition against the Braves in Vero Beach on March 11, 1967, two late, one-inning defensive replacements for Los Angeles included first baseman Sadaharu Oh, and third baseman Shigeo Nagashima. There’s even an Associated Press wire photo of one of the Japanese immortals, Nagashima, taking a throw as Atlanta’s Jim Beauchamp slides into third. The photo is not on the net, only in a digitized version of the Chicago Tribune’s hard copy, so it’s tough to be certain but it appears Nagashima is wearing not a Dodgers’ uniform, but his Tokyo Yomiuri Giants’ garb.
FROM A PERSONAL NOTEBOOK:
Belated thanks to all who have posted comments lately with well wishes for my father, who continues to fight his illness, more than two weeks after he lost wakefulness, and more than six months after he was first hospitalized. Your support is of great value to me (and my thanks to MSNBC for its understanding in this time, and, for that matter, MLB.Com, for providing this oasis where I can immerse myself in the game between trips to his bedside). This is, in fact, what baseball is for.

I’d also like to welcome new reader Bill Simmons, who has been kind enough to tweet about my note here last week already ceding him the dumbest sportswriting award of 2010 for his laugh-out-loud funny argument that the comeback of Tiger Woods (caught having repeated trouble with his putts) will be more difficult than that of Muhammad Ali (persecuted by the federal government for the color of his skin, his stance against the war, and his religious conversion, and effectively banned from his sport for two years).

Mr. Simmons tweets:

I’m furious that my Tiger column distracted America from a detailed and only mildly creepy case for Johnny Orsino’s Hall of Fame candidacy.

via UberTwitter


This is pretty standard stuff for Mr. Simmons. Make a fool of yourself comparing Tiger Woods (loss of advertisers) to Muhammad Ali (loss of income, threatened loss of freedom), so change the topic – to an admittedly trivial column about a trivial moment from a marginal catcher named John Orsino.

Mr. Simmons resumes:

KO, please know the feeling is mutual. You’re my worst case scenario for my career in 12 yrs: a pious, unlikable blowhard who lives alone.

via UberTwitter


This assumes that Mr. Simmons’ career now is where mine was twelve years ago (anchoring SportsCenter, then my own MSNBC political show, anchoring NBC Weekend Nightly News, writing a best-selling sports book, etc). In fact, this assumes that this is Mr. Simmons’ career, which is remarkable. Also, anybody who could write as many words without saying anything of consequence really should throw around the word “blowhard” as frequently as he would a street sewer cover.

Also, I don’t think “pious” necessarily means what he thinks it does.
Having made his point 50% of his words ago, Mr. Simmons still continues. As usual:


I feel bad about saying Olbermann lives alone. I forgot about his cats.

via UberTwitter


Mr. Simmons apparently uses, for factual research, old parody sketches from “Saturday Night Live.” I’m not surprised. That was Ben Affleck. Thanks for playing.
I am surprised, however, to be able to shed some light on something that has been a prominent topic of late around the internet: the prospect that Mr. Simmons is leaving ESPN. Admittedly I am something of an authority on this process. Nonetheless, I was stunned to receive several emails from some of Mr. Simmons’ bosses there, thanking me for pointing out the absurdity of, and the embarrassment to ESPN provided by, the Woods/Ali comparison.
About five years ago, I guess, somebody said Tony Kornheiser was the most uncontrollable, unmanageable talent in the history of ESPN. I was, of course, crushed (although I believe I got honorable mention). When ESPN bosses are writing me for helping them about somebody they claim has now lapped Tony and myself, I am left to conclude only that if Mr. Simmons does leave ESPN, it may not be entirely of his own choosing.
And we now encourage Mr. Simmons to again falme the comments section under various identities, to his heart’s content. This is a managed site, and they can take ‘em down. But enjoy yourself.


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