Results tagged ‘ Jim Riggleman ’

Phantom Ball, With Video – And Monty (Updated)

In Spring Training of 2011 I wrote of the lost joy of pre-game “infield practice,” in which a team’s manager or coaches hit grounders and flies to their position players while barking out game situations. Then-manager Jim Riggleman  of the Nationals had reintroduced the ritual (and gotten chastised by confused groundskeepers at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, who told him he was screwing up their field).

I’m not talking about shortstops standing behind screens at first base nor pitchers shagging fly balls during batting practice. This was one or two catchers, all the starting infielders and outfielders, and many of the reserves, on the field, twenty minutes before first pitch, chasing everything from pop-ups behind third to long drives into the right field corner. It was a mini-spring training.

Teams used to do this before almost every game. Earl Weaver thought it was the most important thing his club did, next to hitting three-run homers. And when done well, it achieved nearly the qualities of ballet. It gradually faded from the scene because some managers were concerned it gave away too much real-time information on the health of fielders and particularly the game-day strength of outfielders’ arms, and the players happily used this as an excuse to go and hide in the dugout the moment BP ends.

So imagine my joy when my old friend Robin Ventura came into Yankee Stadium for the first time as a manager last night, and at about 6:20 his Chicago White Sox were doing this under the guidance of another old friend, third base coach Joe McEwing (number 47), with back-up catcher Tyler Flowers to his left, and bullpen catcher Mark Salas.Before the joy of watching his team “take infield,” I had already had a long conversation with Ventura, who was probably the champion of dry-witted baseball figures during his time as a player. He was the one who spread the story that when Rickey Henderson joined the Mets in 1999, he asked first baseman John Olerud why he wore a helmet in the field (Olerud had suffered a brain aneurysm in college and benefited from the limited plastic protection). Ventura quoted Rickey as saying “A guy I played with in Toronto did that too.” The guy, of course, was the self-same John Olerud, with whom Henderson had been teammates six years before.

Henderson was many things, but he did not have a bad memory about players. The story was entirely apocryphal, but Ventura sold it so well that for years it was treated as gospel. And everybody kept Robin’s name out of it. When somebody finally confronted him about it he simply smiled. This was exactly the insurrectionist attitude that I thought would serve Ventura so well as a manager. When I reminded him of that he deadpanned “Yeah, but every day the writers still ask me if I’m afraid I’m going to lose control of the club.”

I took this long side trip into the persona of Robin Ventura for a reason. Take another look at that picture of the White Sox. I’ll ask you what Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn asked me as I marveled that his club was actually taking infield: “Do you notice if anything’s missing?”

There’s no baseball.

They were taking infield practice, for ten minutes or more, without any baseballs. It took me at least two minutes to even notice it, and another two to convince myself either my vision or my circulation hadn’t gone bad. No baseball. They were pantomiming it.

I shot a brief video:

At one point catcher Flowers came running right at me in pursuit of an imaginary foul ball. I thanked him for making sure it didn’t hit me.

Eddie Einhorn said his club calls it “Phantom Ball.” In the Negro Leagues in the ’30s, the teams used to entertain fans pre-game with a high speed version that including leaping catches and plays at the plate, which they called “Shadow Ball.” Under whatever name, it was a joy to behold, and the Sox insist it’s terrific for honing instincts and reducing the risk of injury because there’s no ball in use.

As I left the field Ventura asked me how I liked it and insisted it was Joe McEwing’s idea. “See?,” he added, still deadpan. “There’s a reason they keep asking me if I’m going to lose control of the club. I can’t even get them to use a baseball.”

Ventura might just win that division.

Update, 9:45 PM EDT: Ben Walker of the Associated Press, who loves “Infield” as much as I do, sent me an email mentioning that he asked Ventura and McEwing about this tonight and the skipper said they did this at least once under the guidance of coach Cookie Rojas when they were with the Mets – that would date to the 2000 season. This reminded me that Ventura told me last night “Every once in awhile we go all Cookie Rojas out there.”

DAYAN VICIEDO AND MONTY MONTGOMERY

He sure as shootin’ will if the Sox keep doing stuff like this. Three hours after Phantom Ball ended, Dayan Viciedo tore into a David Robertson pitch and all of a sudden a nice safe 3-1 Yankees’ ninth inning lead was a White Sox 4-3 victory.

Not long after, an ESPN researcher tweeted that it had been a long time since that had happened to the Yankees: that the last time a visiting team trailing by two or more went ahead on a home run in the 9th had been in 1972, when Bob Montgomery did it to them.

And a distant bell went off in my head.

I was at that game too, and boy was I cheesed off.

The Yankees trailed the third-place Red Sox by just a game-and-a-half when they met for a twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on July 28, 1972, on day two of a five-game series that would probably decide which one of them might still challenge for the AL East Division crown. As an aside, for those of you who think the rivalry was always like it is now, the attendance for two Yankee-Sox games that night was 20,129.

I was one of them, and I happily watched my favorite, Mel Stottlemyre, hold the Sox to three hits and two runs until the ninth. The Yanks were up 5-2 when Stott got wild and walked Reggie Smith and Rico Petrocelli. Manager Ralph Houk brought in relief ace Sparky Lyle, and I got worried because Lyle had recorded his 20th save the night before, but had pitched 2-1/3 innings to do so.

Sure enough, Danny Cater (whom the Yankees had astutely traded to Boston for Lyle in one of the worst one-for-one trades in baseball history) singled to drive in a run and cut it to 5-3. Shortstop John Kennedy worked the count full but then struck out. This brought up Bob Montgomery, Boston’s third string catcher who had, to that point in the 1972 season, hit exactly no home runs and driven in exactly two. In fact, in the middle of his third big league season Montgomery had hit exactly three career homers (he would go on to a long career as a Boston back-up, be the last man to regularly bat without a batting helmet, and then become a beloved color commentator on the Red Sox tv broadcasts).

Montgomery promptly put Lyle’s pitch into the right field seats and, just like last night, a two-run Yankee lead had become a one-run visitor’s victory.

I was not happy. And this is not memory speaking. It took me five minutes to find my scorecard. The blasphemies directed at Manager Houk (“Lyle? 2 Days in a row…You are a fool!”) will not be illustrated here. The scorecard will:40 years is a long time between any two similar events.

Just how long is underscored by what’s on the page behind that scorecard. It lists the names and numbers of the pitchers of the American League teams. For the future 1972 World Champion Oakland A’s, there are only nine pitchers listed.

UNRELATED:

For those interested in the other stuff I’ll be appearing as a guest Sunday morning on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

Bryce Harper: “I Want To Kick The Crap Out Of You”

IMG_3042.jpg“Gonna remember that first RBI for a long time?,” a reporter asked Bryce Harper.

“‘Scuse me?” Harper deadpanned up from his seat in front of a locker in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The reporter tried again: “Are you going to remember that first RBI?”

“Did I get an RBI?” Harper’s act had reached its end and he smiled broadly. “Just kidding! Yeah.”

It had come in the 8th inning of a sloppy 10-8 Washington victory over the Yankees, off the prototypical AAA pitcher, Romulo Sanchez. But the single to right made the loudest sound of any ball connecting with any bat all day, and it was probably not coincidental that rightfielder Colin Curtis then bobbled it.

It’s not as if they’re going to put a plaque up to indicate it happened, although it was noteworthy that when Harper went into the game in the bottom of the 5th, as he jogged out to right, the other team’s crowd applauded loudly, as they did for his two plate appearances, as they did when he first emerged on the on-deck circle.

The first ribby also inspired remarkable perspective on comparative quickness. We will each have our own perspective on October 16, 1992. It was the day of the book party for Madonna’s $50 book of naked pictures of herself. The next day, Tom Glavine would four-hit Toronto to open the World Series. It was three weeks until Bill Clinton’s first presidential election. I had already been working at ESPN for ten months, Derek Jeter had already played 58 games in the minor leagues, and one of Harper’s current Washington teammates, Matt Stairs, had already played 13 games in the major leagues.

IMG_3038.jpgHarper said, with full sincerity: “It takes awhile.”

He was referring, of course, to the “30 to 40 at bats to get yourself ready,” during spring training – and not the seemingly lightning route that has put him in a major league camp at the age of 18 years and not even five months.

That route seems to challenge the expectation that Harper will have seen three Spring Trainings before he appears in a big league game that counts. It is noted that at this time in 2013 he will still be a young 20 year-old and that’s quick enough. Except the ball explodes off his bat and his adjustment to the outfield has already been such that he was as proud of starting a relay that nailed the Yankees’ Austin Romine at third base as he was of the RBI hit (shown to the left in what you’d say is a crappy photo, until you realize it was taken from the distant press box with an unaided iPhone).

Many newly-official men have looked like star big leaguers at 18. To go back to placing Harper’s birth in perspective, the ill-fated Yankee phenom Brien Taylor had already struck out 187 guys in his first 161 innings of pro pitching the day Harper was born. But it is hard to believe the Nats would arbitrarily slow down his pace through the minors to stick to an artificial deadline of 2013, because it isn’t just Harper’s physical game that’s so impressive.

His attitude is also already pretty well developed. Harper was asked by the small crowd of reporters around his cubicle what he thought of playing in a packed stadium festooned with Yankee self-promotion, and he admitted it was “awesome” to have shared a field with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and all the rest. He said “awesome” twice and added Nick Swisher to the pantheon of impressiveness, which should make Swisher say funny things later on.

But then Harper was asked if he’d said hello to any of these Yankees (even Swisher, who was almost 12 when Harper was born). “No. I don’t really care to say hi to anybody over there. I stick over here.” I wondered if that was humility or competitiveness. “You try to beat ‘em. That’s what I am. If we’re off the field? Hey, I’ll go and say hello. You can be my best friend off the field and I’ll hate you on the baseball field. That’s how I am…on the field, I want to kick the crap out of you.” (By the way, here’s Dave Sheinin’s version of this in The Washington Post, including the very relevant detail that Harper grew up around Las Vegas as a Yankee fan).

One game, one portentous spring training, one killer instinct, and one exhibition game RBI do not mean you should step directly into the majors at 18. But they do tend to support the idea that suggesting it is theoretically possible at 19 is not at all crazy.

A LITTLE PHOTO TOUR OF (MY) SPRING TRAINING OPENER:
Take a nice deep breath:

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An almost-forgotten pre-game ritual: The visiting team taking infield (and outfield) practice. The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. “But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!’” It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team taking infield on the road, which may have gone out with Earl Weaver:
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Just follow the big white line to spring:
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And best of all, the scorebook comes out of hibernation:
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Judge And Nyjer…eeeee

Here’s the least likely sentence I’ve ever written: Nyjer Morgan has truly damaged the great tradition of The Washington Nationals franchise.

Seriously, MLB has to step in – and quickly – on what you can smell from a thousand miles away is a serious and blossoming anger management issue. The Washington outfielder has, in less than a fortnight, thrown a ball into the stands (apparently at a fan), collided brutally with two catchers on two occasions when he should have slid, slid too aggressively into basemen at second and third, precipitated a bench-clearing brawl after a message pitch that didn’t come close to him, and then shouted obscenities at the Florida crowd in full view of the television cameras. And we’re not even bringing up what happened last May, when he threw not a fit nor a ball, but a glove when he mistook a ball in play for an outside-the-park homer.
That Morgan was pleasant and even nonchalant in interviews afterwards suggests the dimensions of his disconnect. The ex-junior hockey player described himself as simply playing hard, and his supporters suggested it was just ‘the hockey coming out in him.’ In hockey, if you did all this in a week or two, they’d have sent you back to Medicine Hat.
Most disturbingly, perhaps, is that his manager Jim Riggleman seemed to address only Morgan’s pair of steals in tonight’s disaster in Florida. Rig was right: the steals were fine. Nothing else about Morgan is, at the moment, and the Nationals or MLB might be doing him a favor by suspending him for the balance of the season and getting him some help. 
A QUICK NOTE ON SEPTEMBER NL CALL-UPS:
Freddie Freeman is the marquee name and it certainly was a surprise to see him and not Derrek Lee starting against the Mets on September 1st, but I don’t really know how much work he’ll get in Atlanta as the Braves go all out to wrap up Bob Cox’s career with a winner.
The premium player among the immediate recalls – at least in terms of opportunity – would seem to be Brandon Allen of the Diamondbacks. Arizona hasn’t had a leftfielder all year and the converted first baseman seemed to take to the position neatly in his seasonal debut (and added the grand slam). Brian Bogusevic of Houston, Yonder Alonso of Cincinnati, and Mat Gamel of Milwaukee were immediately summoned but seem to have little to do. Of all possible rotation inserts only the Mets have made a move, bringing back Jenrry Mejia and putting him right in against the Cubs at Wrigley on Saturday.
Oh and this Chapman guy might be of some use. Somebody around here picked the Reds to win the NL Central, as I recall.

A Hairstyle Is Temporary; A Baseball Card Is Forever

What you are going to see here will disturb you. 

In fact, if you feel like your grip on sanity is low (well, lower than usual), you may want to avert your eyes.
Impossible as it seems, all this will be explained.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bochy1977.jpgThis is not the late Hunter S. Thompson, wearing a giant old Houston Astros’ batting helmet. Nobody took a look at this picture and said “Oh boy, the Gonzo Journalist sure looks vaguely like Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy when Boch was 22 years old.”

This is Bruce Bochy, as depicted on a 1977 TCMA minor league baseball card set devoted to the Cocoa Astros of the Florida State League. Dipping a tentative toe into what is now an all-inclusive ocean, TCMA produced a minor league set of cards for the Rangers’ affiliate in Gastonia in 1974. Later that year there was a set in Cedar Rapids and a kind of a pirated set of stars of the International League (Gary Carter of the Memphis Blues is shown, and I’m very tickled to say I wrote the biographies – at least some of them by hand). 
By 1975, TCMA’s annual production was up to about a 

Peterson1977.jpg

dozen sets, and the formula was simple and ingenious. All the team had to do was provide photographs and biographical data, and TCMA would print them 500 or 1,000 sets (I think the number was negotiable, based only on shipping costs!). Suddenly they had a promotional night, or something to sell at the souvenir stand, or something to distribute in conjunction with a local advertiser. And the only thing TCMA got from the deal was the seemingly trivial full consent on the part of the club to let the company print as many sets of cards as they wanted, and disperse them as they please.
Off the top of my head I don’t know how many different sets TCMA produced before other companies first challenged them, and then took over the field. But I do know that by 1977 TCMA, when it produced the cards of Bochy and, at the left, Rick Peterson of the Charleston Patriots (now pitching coach at Milwaukee), its all-teams minor league set, featuring an average of 25 or so cards per team, but sequentially numbered, went well beyond Card Number 1,000. If not a gold mine, it was a money stream. 
Leyland1975.jpg
The best of the players have long since begun their march into Cooperstown. Cal Ripken showed up at Rochester, and Rickey Henderson in the uniform of the long-forgotten A’s AAA-team at Ogden, Utah. But now we have something much more fun. I was recently inspired to pull down what remains of my collection of TCMA cards, and found the beauties you see illustrated here. The movers-and-shakers of the game are preserved for all time in the full flower of youth. There are no name-alikes, no coincidences. These are the men who influence the game today, and those were their haircuts. The Jim Leyland over here is the 31-year old manager of the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League in 1975. Fittingly enough, they were a Tiger farm team.
I have only passed two of these under the eyes of one of those shown. My friend Omar Minaya, General Manager of the Mets (and utility infielder/outfielder of the 1981 Wausau Timbers of the Midwest League) proudly pointed out how many of his teammates made the majors – and not just 

Minaya1981f.jpgHarold Reynolds, whose Thumbnail image for Reynolds1981.jpg

major task that year seems to have been trying to get that mustache to grow in. The correct answer is eight (Reynolds, the late Ivan Calderon, Darnell Coles, John Moses, Donnell Nixon, Edwin Nunez, Jim Presley, and Brian Snyder). There was also Rick Adair, now pitching coach of the Mariners, plus the Timbers’ manager ex-big leaguer Bill Plummer, who would skipper Seattle in 1992, pitcher Jeff Stottlemyre (whose brother and father have both pitched and coached in the majors) and catcher David Blume, now a scout for Toronto. With all that talent, it’s not surprising Wausau won 84 and lost just 48 and won their Division and the Playoffs. The full set of these A-ball players of 29 seasons ago can still be found in the $20-$30 range.

The other guy to whom I was happy to pass along a duplicate set of the comrades of his youth was this light-hitting catcher from the Quad Cities Angels of 1976, now better known as 

Thumbnail image for Maddon1976.jpg

the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, and one of the game’s great ambassadors. Maddon loves all baseball history, but especially his own, and, quite off the point, sat in the dugout during Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium Saturday and proudly recited the resumes of nearly everybody out there – and nearly all of them under the age of 55 had played, coached, or managed with him or against him in the last 35 years.
The genius behind all this happy nostalgia (and potential blackmail material) is Mike Aronstein, the unsung visionary who essentially invented the baseball memorabilia hobby. Until he rolled out a beautiful set of International League cards in color in 1978, Mike’s efforts were all black and white. I’ll thumb through the later color cards (there is a 1978 Buck Showalter, heav
ens help us) and post an assortment later. As long ago as 1969, he was the first to make and sell new cards of old players. He challenged the Topps major league monopoly with his SSPC sets of 1975-78. He made the first reprints. He was the first collector to turn into a veritable card magnate (TCMA was, nominally, “The Card Memorabilia Associates”; in fact it was the initials of Mike

Riggleman1977.jpgand his original partner, Tom Collier). Sheets in which to display your cards? Mike’s idea. These minor league sets? Mike. Regular “card shows,” a slickly-produced professional looking magazine, a company that did nothing but buy the rights to, and print up, stacks of player photographs for autograph sessions? All Mike.

He was also the first guy to pay me to write anything, and among his other hires were Rick Cerrone (later Vice President of the Pirates and for eleven years, Media Relations Director of the Yankees), and a once-obscure sportswriter from United Press International named Bill Madden, who just happens to be going into the Hall of Fame next weekend.
Thank goodness Mike didn’t make cards of us. This shot of the two of us posing on the occasion of the last weekend of Shea Stadium in 2008 is plenty. 

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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….

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