Results tagged ‘ Mike Scioscia ’

Jim Thome And Other Friends

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – He has checked out and gone home so the statute of respect towards fellow hotel guests has expired, I guess.

I arrive at my hotel here the other night and the place is spread out enough that they recommend that you let them throw on to a golf cart for transport to your room, not just your bags – but you. And we go about 20 yards in the darkness when a big, broad guy with short hair sort of steps in front of the cart and the bellman/driver says “excuse me” and the fellow turns around and sort of stares for a moment before saying “Oh! I’m sorry. I kinda froze there for a moment,” and with a genuine laugh, hops out of the way. And he looks really familiar and while I’m staring at him I realize he’s staring at me and our light bulbs go off simultaneously and as I say “stop the cart for a second,” he smiles.

Jim Thome.

“This is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” he says with another patented Jim Lunchpail Thome laugh. I say back to him “this is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” and we trade career anecdotes and I ask about the Yankees and he says “I doubt it.” And we try to figure out if we first met in 1993 or 1994 and he says he’s working out but otherwise he’s pretty much by the pool each day and I should try to find him when I get back from the ballpark each afternoon. And I joke about how I nearly made his latest free agency academic by running him over with a golf cart and we say good night.

And Thome, who is easily the most universally respected player in the game, is still unsigned despite Twins rumors and Yankees rumors and the reality that somebody should sign him with an idea of convincing him to manage them in a year’s time because the other players think he’s pretty much the epitome of professionalism and knowledge. I think he knows he can’t play in the field any more but that would still let him fit in at Yankee Stadium because lord knows almost none of them can field any more either.

Thome was how my Cactus League jaunt began but the amount of additional quality human beings whom I’ve known forever that I’ve again been able to spend time with exceeds all my previous spring training trips. In the Angels’ camp it was Mike Scioscia (28 years) and executive Tim Mead (28 more), and from their opponents the Reds, writer Hal McCoy (about 10). At the Mariners’ facility it was consultant – and should-be Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (33 years), and manager Eric Wedge (20 years) and our traditional greeting of “Happy Birthday” (we share one; he’s much younger), and the announcers Dave Sims (32 years; we both worked for Charley Steiner in the 1981-82 timeframe) and Rick Rizzs (12). Rick was nice enough to ask me to come on his broadcast for an inning. Then I found out it was after Bob Uecker of the Brewers (36 years) was going to come on for an inning and as I said to Rick on the air: “I thought you liked me.”

At Wednesday night’s Team USA exhibition I got to visit with manager Joe Torre (32 years) and first base coach – and another guy who is a no-brainer Cooperstown pick – Dale Murphy (30). And today in Glendale it was the Texas staff: manager Ron Washington (10), coach Dave Magadan (11) and coach Dave Anderson (30 years ago this month I interviewed him at Vero Beach when we thought he might be the next Dodger rookie-of-the-year – “boy were you wrong,” he said, again). Upstairs I had a great chat with Rick Monday, who I’ve known for 33 years as everything from a player to a World Series star to a rival sportscaster when he was on Channel 11 every night in LA at exactly the same time I was on Channel 5.

To top it off, of course, was my annual visit with Vin Scully. I readily admit that it took me nearly three years to screw up the courage to introduce myself to him – and I was on local tv in LA during all that time – and when I finally did he said he was relieved, because he thought I’d done something to offend him. I’m sure Vin is not the saint we all portray him as, but that’s really just a hunch because nothing I’ve ever seen him do suggests otherwise. The self-deprecation never ends; even today his first words after hello were “thank you.” I said you’re welcome and then asked him what I’d done. He said “thank you for writing that excellent and kind blog about the Piazza interview.”

Ohhh, yeah. That was nearly a month ago and that was what he wanted to talk about. We batted back and forth the singular personality that is Mike Piazza, but mostly he was talking about friendship and support, and I mentioned that this was the kind of loyalty his kindness and patience engendered, and that I knew I spoke for many when I said I felt like it was our job to fire the arrows when he was attacked – especially when it was as unjustified and as inexplicable as it was in poor Piazza’s self-destructive book. And then there were the usual friendship questions that I invariably suddenly realize are being asked and answered by the Babe Ruth or William Shakespeare of his field and I remember why it took me three years to stop shaking long enough to say hello back in 1988.

So I know Vin for 25 years now – and remember that this represents only about 40 percent of the time he’s been bringing you Dahhh-ger base-ball. And if you wonder how much of a self-starter you can be as you begin your 64th year at one job, Vin and I visited for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then he had to pre-record something for his broadcast and when I looked back in his booth after that he had begun his daily ritual of scribbling and reviewing notes for the game ahead. The exhibition game. The exhibition game on a drowsy Thursday afternoon. The exhibition game three weeks before the season begins. And he would continue to do so for at least an hour.

Talk about a role model.

Later in the week here I’m going to formalize what shallow insights I’ve been able to glean from the games I’ve seen (hint: Billy Hamilton) but for now I’m thinking of everybody that Spring Training provides me the opportunity to see again, from Thome to Scully.

That’s fifteen men who I’ve known for a total of 390 years. And every moment of that time, with every one of them, has been a privilege.

It’s been a pretty good trip, huh?

 

Heir Apparents, Part Two

As promised over the weekend, part two of the “Informed Speculation” about the likeliest successors for each American League managerial post where the incumbent to vanish tomorrow. As I offered in the NL version a few posts down, the breakdown of where the 30 current skippers came from, offers the speculator little hope he’s right:

Managers promoted from own AAA team            0

Managers promoted from coaches                     6

Managers already working in organization           5

Hires directly from other organizations               19

That makes identifying those heir apparents a dicey game. Nevertheless:
BALTIMORE: The Orioles believe Brad Komminsk, managing for them at Bowie, is one of the minors’ top prospects. Fans of the 1983-87 Braves will find this more than a little ironic, since they considered him one of the minors’ top prospects as an outfielder. Interestingly, the other guy in the NL thought to be in Komminsk’s class in the same era? Billy Beane of the Mets, better known as Mr. Moneyball. For outside hires the O’s are said to like Phil Garner.
BOSTON: An interesting question now that Brad Mills has moved on. Before Joe Girardi got the Yankee job, there was a brief whiff of a rumor that Boston pitching coach John Farrell was a candidate there. Between his rapport with the staff and his front office experience, he would seem a likely managerial prospect. Tim Bogar is also highly regarded.
CHICAGO: Joey Cora. Like Oquendo in St. Louis, this is only if somebody else doesn’t get him first.
CLEVELAND: I thought Sandy Alomar (Junior) would be a big league manager back when he was the potent catcher for the Tribe, and I still think so. No change is anywhere near imminent – they like Manny Acta’s style.
DETROIT: Oddly given Jim Leyland’s approaching 25th anniversary of taking over the Bucs, I don’t hear a lot about this. Two men who succeeded him in Pittsburgh, Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon, would be obvious choices.
KANSAS CITY: John Gibbons. Hiring a recently dismissed, no-nonsense ex-manager as your bench coach, is the standard process for anointing an heir apparent.
LOS ANGELES: Having already spun off one top manager (Joe Maddon), Mike Scioscia might have another one or two. Ron Roenicke is the bench coach, and Dino Ebel has a ton of minor league managerial experience.
MINNESOTA: Since the Twins hired Gene Mauch in the off-season of 1975-76, only once have they looked outside the organization. In fact, only once have they not looked to their own coaching staff – and even then they hired a coach (Ray Miller from the Orioles, in mid-season 1985). Johnny Goryl, Billy Gardner, Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, and who? This would point us at Scott Ullger.
NEW YORK: Another one not likely to be soon addressed. Third base coach Rob Thomson seems too low-key, bench coach Tony Pena too peripheral. They do think highly of ex-Reds’ skipper Dave Miley, who has produced two firsts in four years managing at AAA. Could there be a Don Mattingly reunion? Only if they ask him – before the Dodgers do.
OAKLAND, SEATTLE: No earthly clue.
TAMPA BAY: Could easily be bench coach Dave Martinez. New hitting coach Derek Shelton was a helluva managing prospect in the Yankees’ system.
TEXAS: See the entry for Kansas City above. Clint Hurdle has “Clint Hurdle will replace Ron Washington for at least the rest of the season, Nolan Ryan said,” written all over him.
TORONTO: Nobody’s said anything formally but it’s Brian Butterfield. He’s been training for this since switching from minor league player to instructor in 1984, but he’s still only 52. Unless the Jays feel some burning need for a name to succeed Cito Gaston, or the desire to bring in a 1993 Toronto great like Alfredo Griffin or Huck Flener, it’s Butterfield. The other prospect in this system, though just a year and a month away from the active roster, is Sal Fasano.

 

2010 Forecasts: AL West

We’ll wrap this up tomorrow night with some thoughts on individual players and awards, but let’s do the last of the six divisional previews first.

Does it
seem to you as if Brandon Wood has been on the verge of breaking in to the LOS
ANGELES line-up since Mark Langston was the Angels’ pitching ace? Whether it’s
been four years or forty, this is the first time the team is actually relying
on Wood, and the
pressure is probably a lot more intense than generally understood. If Wood does not produce
a power-filled season, or doesn’t hold on to the job, the Angels will have to
revert to the Chone Figgins-driven line-up, only without Chone Figgins. It’ll
be tough enough adjusting to Erick Aybar at the top of the line-up, without the
Halos also failing to add the last layer of punch they missed so dearly in the ALCS
last year. The emergence of Kendry Morales and the resuscitation of Howie
Kendrick gave life to the club last year, but face it, four key positions are
beginning to creak a little bit with age, including the now three ex-Yanks in
the line-up. Torii Hunter should be terrified at Mike Scioscia’s insistence that
he may occasionally use Hideki Matsui in left. If placed between Matsui and the
periodically mystified Bobby Abreu in right, MLB might consider letting Hunter
ride a Razor. Pitching is deep but once you get past Jered Weaver, not very
intimidating, and Joel Pineiro might have been the off-season’s most overrated
signing (Fernando Rodney might have been the second, but with or without him,
the bullpen is the team’s top asset).

OAKLAND
looks like an all-or-nothing proposition. Anderson, Braden, and Cahill might
emerge as world-beaters. Sheets and Duchscherer could make remarkable
comebacks. Bailey could expand on a ROTY season. Or literally any one of the
six could lose his job by June 1. The ailments of Joey Devine and Michael
Wuertz thin out an already thin pen, and the line-up, while energetic and
dynamic, does have to play 81 games on the road against teams that actually hit
those things where, you know, the ball goes past those walls behind the gents
standing on the far lawn – what are those called again? Honestly, if your
line-up looks like it could be beaten up, man for man, by that of the Royals,
you could be in for a long summer, even if every one of the pitchers come
through.

With the
strategic building in SEATTLE over the last two years – Figgins, Wilson,
Gutierrez, Lee, even Byrnes and Snell and League (to say nothing of Wakamatsu)
added to the Ichiro/Felix base, it would seem it would be almost impossible for
the Mariners not to be favored. But as I have suggested before, Jack Zduriencik
managed to make the one move that could undo all the good ones. Ask the 2004-05
Dodgers, who thought he was the guy who could take them over the hump. Ask the
2006 A’s, who thought he was the missing piece (and surrendered Andre Ethier to
get him). Ask the 2007 Padres, who brought him in for the stretch run (and
infamously coughed up the division to the Rockies). Ask the 2008 Rangers, who
signed him, only to start shopping him at mid-season. Ask the 2009 Cubs, who
gave him $30 million for three years and sent him home before the first year
ended because nobody could abide his presence any more. Ask the fans he’s
confronted, the reporters he’s confronted, the play-by-play man he ran up
several flights of stairs in hopes of knocking silly. It’s not as if Milton Bradley
has had a few problems. This is six clubs in six seasons and the longest he
lasted with any of them was until June 29th of the second year. I
don’t know what it will be, I don’t know when it will be, but Bradley will do
something to cost the Mariners the division. And if this somehow does not come
to pass, he will have earned an apology from me – but probably will not have
asked for it, because he would have already experienced an epiphany in which
his consistently uncontrollable behavior would have appeared as unacceptable to
him as it has to everybody else, and he
would have apologized to the Cubs. And the Rangers. And
the Padres. And the A’s. And the Dodgers (and just for good measure, Cliff Lee
is not only hurt – he has the most nagging and unpredictable of injuries for a
baseball player, ‘something in the abdomen.’)

The
line-up in TEXAS frightens me. I know Josh Hamilton is not going to hit 57
homers. I understand Vlad Guerrero has aged. I’m sure Chris Davis could repeat
the first half of 2009. I noticed Ian Kinsler’s on the DL. Without them this
is still the most potent batting order in the division.
So the Rangers’ questions are, as
ever, on the mound. But in addition to reclaiming Darren Oliver and bringing
back Colby Lewis from banishment, Texas has one other answer to those
questions: Neftali Feliz. It is impossible to watch him pitch and not see
either a super closer, or a 250-strikeout starter. Either one of them will do
the Rangers fine upon his maturation; for now, a dominating 8th-inning
presence will probably win them the division. And it will be fascinating to
watch any player struggles completely overshadowed by the good or bad conduct
of a manager – not to make a comparison that would be slanderous to the
good-hearted Ron Washington, but we haven’t seen that since Billy Martin died,
and it occasionally helps a team get on with its business while the skipper
takes the heat.

DIVISION FORECAST:
As suggested, I like Texas. Oakland’s pitching could jell to challenge them;
Milton Bradley could go AWOL on May 1 and save Seattle’s season; Brandon Wood
could be everything the Angels ever wanted from him. But I don’t think any of
those things are going to happen. Rangers by a five or six game margin, with
the others following in a jumble I can’t quite yet discern.

LEAGUE
FORECAST: I think Tampa ends up with the best record, Texas the worst, and the
Rays will handle the Rangers easily. The Wild Card will go to Boston, most
likely, and they should probably dispatch Detroit, setting up a re-run of 2008,
including the TB victory. This time I like the Rays to win the Series, five
years after other owners seriously murmured about moving them or contracting
them.

LP: Girardi (0-2)

Seriously: you rally back after another wobbly A.J. Burnett start to put up a six-spot when Mike Scioscia takes out John Lackey too soon – and you leave Burnett, whose normal yips could only have been exaggerated by sitting on the bench during the rally, in to pitch the bottom of the seventh? And when you finally go and get him you turn to Damaso Marte? And then Phil Hughes in the middle of an inning?
The Yankees are not in the World Series, clearly and unequivocally, because Joe Girardi has mishandled his pitching staff. It’s as shocking and as obvious as some of the eyechart-defying umpiring in this post-season.
What exactly was the intent in leaving Burnett in, and eschewing the seventh-eighth-ninth format that has served the Yankees so well since late spring? To make him feel better or more confident? Burnett had just rebounded from a first-inning tank job to throw five scoreless. He should’ve felt better or more confident as it was. Instead, he now can reflect on blowing the same game twice.
Even if Girardi and his Yankees survive a second tactical disaster in three games, he may pay for his unpredictable combination of going to his bullpen too soon and then too late. No matter how they do henceforth, the Halos are increasing the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series. With a game sixth forced, huge crimps develop on the horizon in the Yankees’ rotation, even assuming they win one of the last two. The forecast for Saturday’s game in New York is “rain/thunder/90% chance of precipitation.” Suddenly the prospect of the Yankees having to pitch Andy Pettitte on Sunday, and maybe CC Sabathia in a Monday Game Seven, is very real.
Look what that combination would do to the Yankee plans, assuming they win in a Monday finale:

   Game One, Wednesday, New York: Burnett

   Game Two, Thursday, New York: Gaudin? Chamberlain?

   Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Sabathia*

   Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Pettitte*

   Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Burnett

   Game Six, Wednesday, New York: Game Two Starter or Sabathia*

   Game Seven, Thursday, New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*

The Phillies would be favored to win the first two games in New York.
To get to the Series the Angels would have to stick to the current rotation, Joe Saunders Saturday and Jered Weaver or Scott Kazmir Sunday (or a day later in the event of rain in New York). So what does their rotation look like in a Series that would seem to pivot on throwing as many lefties as possible at Ryan Howard in Philadelphia?

Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey

Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*

Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Weaver

Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Kazmir* or Lackey

Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey or Kazmir*

Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Saunders*

Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Weaver

The gutsy play by Mike Scioscia here would be, use Kazmir on Sunday, bring Saunders back on three days’ rest to pitch in Philly on Monday, and hold Lackey back when the series goes back to California. You get both your lefties in Philly.
A rainout Saturday in New York and a Game Seven win by the Angels on Monday would force the Angels to do that – but also force them to swap Kazmir out:

Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey

Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Kazmir*

Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Saunders* 

Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Weaver

Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey

Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Kazmir*

Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*

At least this gives you a lefthander against Howard in your decisive game.
Let’s look at those two critical statistical lines again. Ryan Howard, in Philadelphia, 2009 season, versus lefthanded pitchers:

1 HR, 8 RBI, .178 BA, .290 OBP, .290 SLG. (107 At Bats)

Ryan Howard, not in Philadelphia, 2009 season, versus lefthanded pitchers:

5 HR, 25 RBI, .235 BA, .305 OBP, .417 SLG. (115 At Bats)

THAT TRICK NEVER WORKS
“With Robinson Cano coming up, one swing can change the complexion of this game.”
So said my old pal Joe Buck as Hideki Matsui walked in the 6th inning of tonight’s Game Five in Anaheim. The score was 4-0 Angels, and a Cano homer would’ve scored three runs. And I have now been watching and listening to baseball broadcasts for 43 seasons and not once can I recall ever seeing a pronouncement about “one swing” changing the game, actually being followed by such a swing.

Managers (Updated)

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that annually, Terry Francona lets me sit with him, on the bench, during a spring training game. This is half out of friendship and half, I think, to remind me how little I actually understand about managing – or baseball itself – compared to the pros.

Having acknowledged that, and presented the caveat, I’d still like to point out that actual major league managers have done the following things in the last few days:
Mike Scioscia sent poor Brandon Wood back to the minors – having given him, I believe, three starts during two weeks in the bigs, during which he hit the ball with authority and acquitted himself well in the field – so he could bring back Reggie Willits on the premise that “some of the outfielders are a bit nicked up.” This after explaining that previous plans for Wood were scuttled because Gary Matthews had played so well, and despite the fact that Chone Figgins and even Wood himself can play the outfield. The logical extension of this utterly illogical handling of one of the game’s premier prospects must be that the Angels hope to waste all of Wood’s options and wind up selling him on waivers, or possibly to the Samsung team of the Korean League.
Joe Girardi benches Hideki Matsui against Jon Lester Monday, even though Matsui had been hot, and particularly so against lefties. He thus instead DH’s Jorge Posada, who promptly sends himself onto the DL, requiring Joe to pinch-hit for Posada with… Matsui.
And though the Diamondbacks might be the coldest team offensively in the majors, and though he has one guy who can play first and third, another who can play first and left, and a third who can play third and second (poorly), when facing Jeff Weaver in the latter’s first major league start since 2007, Bob Melvin leaves Tony Clark on his bench. Batter-Vs-Pitcher numbers are sometimes misleading. But Clark was 7-for-11 lifetime against Weaver with two homers. The D-Backs got five hits off Weaver.
What’s worse is, if early in the week, Melvin happened to stand on a piece of paper that had fallen from the stands with the words “Play Tony Clark against Weaver” written on it, and his team had scored a run during the inning, he might’ve made the line-up change out of superstition.
Managers know 50 times as much as we do. Just not every second.
 
Postscript: Melvin deserves less tweaking, and I recall my snark. Tony Clark was put on the disabled list this afternoon (Wednesday) with continuing wrist problems. Presumably Bob knew about this Tuesday. It certainly denies us a chance for Melvin to take a re-test: Clark has four career homers against the pitcher Arizona faces tomorrow night, Chris Young.
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