Archive for May, 2008

What I Thought About This Week (III)

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

The Hiatus: It should be “what I thought about over the last three weeks,” as the inordinate time between posts has left our (admittedly few) readers wondering. My excuse is simple: there is no baseball in the Middle East — but instead politics, which is a form of entertainment far more dangerous, if less satisfying.  Come to think of it, I can think of no Muslim who has played this game, but I am open to correction. The closest is Yu Darvish, now of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. His parents came to Japan from Iran, though he says he now considers himself “100 percent Japanese.” The kid is good.

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Pokey: Jim Bowden’s fetish for former Redlegs continues apace. The most recent addition is one Pokey Reese, an eight year veteran who last played in 2004. The reason for the addition? Jim has been less than forthcoming. What is so astonishing is that Pokey wracked up some $11 million in salary in his indifferent career, a goodly sum for a player who strikes out more than he walks — with a 0.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Here is Pokey in his last days, with the Red Sox, when he did anything but hit well:

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All Is Right With The World: The Nats tore up the Arizona Assholes on Friday, with Willie Harris taking the honors when he put a Micah Owings slider in the Arizona bullben. The final 7 to 4 belied the relative worth of the two teams: the Assholes (I am thinking of changing their name, now that this showboat is on the DL) are one of the best teams in baseball, while the Nats are … er … ah … ah … “building for the future.” Owings is great with the bat (we keep being told), but has a nasty habit of hitting players he should be striking out. This game was no different; Owings hit Milledge and Mackowiak for no good reason other than “he pitches inside.”

If you follow the Nats in the same way that I do, then you check the morning standings to see not where they stand in relation to the Braves, Phillies, Mets and Marlins — but where they stand in relation to Friars, Giants, Mariners and Royals. The Nats are better than any of them. It’s of inestimable psychological importance that the Acta’s move forward, at the same time that some of the game’s more traditional names sink southwards. By the end of the year they will easily surpass the Reds and Pirates, who are both one-major-DL away from fading from sight. Dusty, in particular, is very busy just now blowing this guy’s arm out.

Bobby Richardson: I’ve been thinking about Richardson lately, because one afternoon it occurred to me that baseball announcers who focus on the glory days of the New York Yankees spend a lot of time talking about “that pepperpot,” Billy Martin. But for me, at least, the real Yankees pepperpot was Bobby Richardson — an incomparably better second bagger than Martin and a better hitter. Martin’s legacy is built on his stint as manager, not a player (I suppose that’s obvious, but still), with the result that Richardson is all-but-forgotten. Richardson won three World Series with the Bombers, and teamed with Tony Kubek to form one of the best doubleplay combinations of the late ’50s.

Martin glorifiers will point out that Billy won the Series MVP in 1953, but Richardson won it in 1960, though Mazeroski’s walk-off won the seven-game tilt for the Bucs. As Casey Stengel noted of him: Bobby Richardson was the best .260 hitter ever to play the game.” Richardson wore #1 while with the Yankees, but so did Martin — and it was Martin’s number that was retired.

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K’s K’s and More K’s

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

The difference between winning and losing to Milwaukee on Monday afternoon (the Nats lost 4-3 in 11 innings) was the inordinate number of strike outs chalked up by the Brewer’s pitching staff. Fifteen times the Nats batters trudged back to the dugout after having whiffed. With a total of 41 at-bats the entire day, the home town team k’d more than a third of the time. Not a stat to be proud of to be sure and one that shows how little help the pitching staff received on the day. Milwaukee wasn’t much better — 12 stike outs in 39 at-bats — but they won.

Both the guys swinging the bat well and those who aren’t all contributed to the high K total today. Harris, Boone, Dukes, Flores, Bergman and Langerhans all had two apiece. And in a key two-inning stretch with the momentum going the Nats way after they tied the score in the bottom of the eighth, Milwaukee reliever Carlos Villanueva recorded five strike outs in his two innings of work. You can’t do much with that.

Another problem with Washington was it’s seeming inability to work the count. For instance, in his two innings of work Viallanueva only threw 27 pitches – 19 for strikes. Thirteen pitches per inning may seem high, but it’s not when you consider the five strike outs. I should also mention that Villanueva had a 6.30 ERA going into today’s game. The Nats made him look like he was a contender for the Cy Young. Milwaukee starter Ben Sheets had an equally easy day. Eighty-six pitches (61 for strikes!) over six innings including six strike outs. I wish I’d counted how many first-pitch swings the Nats had throughout the day. Whatever it was it was too many.

The theme for the day should have been: Take A Pitch!

Diamond Nuggets

Ah, the joys of the conession stand at Nationals Park continue. In the top the of the second inning today I had to get a large-sized drink for my pint-sized daughter because the medium-sized cups didn’t have any lids. Plenty of medium-sized cups. Just no medium-sized lids. Wouldn’t you think you’d order one with the other? How does that happen?

At least a few times at the park today it was announced on the video screen that during the game on June 4 against St. Louis, the Nats will do a cross-promotion to advertise the Discovery Channel’s newest offering, the PlanetGreen channel. A well-placed source tells me the first pitch will feature a green ball and bat. Presumably the team, which has made quite an effort to make the ballpark “green” sees this as a great way to further its reputation in that area. But a green ball and bat?! Maybe I misunderstood and it’ll be a ceremonial first pitch. Stay tuned.

Yanks Get Their Freak On

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

April may be the cruelest month but May appears to be the wackiest. First it was the White Sox using blow-up dolls in the clubhouse to break out of slump. This past week it was revealed that the Yanks are trying to coax lady luck into their dugout by wearing lady’s undies.

Jason Giambi (he of the Mendoza-esq batting average) and Johnny Damon (who is sub-par as well) decided to turn to the only thing they hadn’t yet tried to boost their anemic numbers – a gold thong. The image sickens.

This certainly isn’t your father’s MLB. It’d be hard to imagine Stan Musial yanking on granny’s panties because he’d hit a skid. Not to mention the world of crap he’d get from his boys if he did. But Giambi’s and Damon’s teammates don’t seem to have a hard time with it. A lot of good the “no facial hair” policy did for team discipline.

Once Torre and the elder Steinbrenner stepped aside all hell broke loose. And after this year the House that Ruth Build will be torn down. And you thought selling the Babe was a bad idea. Bulldozing the place will be like spitting on his grave.

And his descendants are dancing on it – in their wive’s underwear.

Diamond Nuggets

I needed my tickets for a recent contest to be reissued due to a mix up with friends who couldn’t make the game. The team’s season ticket staff couldn’t have been more helpful. “Not a problem,” I was told. “Just go to the Ticket Services window at the center field gate,” and I could pick them up. Sure enough, there was only one person ahead of me and once I was at the window it was about 90 seconds until I had my ducats. I wasn’t clear on the need for the bullet proof glass between me and the ticket agent though. Despite his sunny disposition I had the feeling that I needed to watch my back.

Fireworks hint: Every Friday night home game is followed by a fireworks display which I found out by accident recently. Also by accident I had the best view possible. Just behind section 320 there is a platform that is at the top of the ramp leading down to lower levels and, eventually, the main concourse. The fireworks are shot into the sky just beyond the road that goes around that side of the stadium next to the Anacostia. I’ve never been so close to the explosions. Just great fun. Try it.

What I Thought About This Week (II)

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Juan Of God: A guy I really liked to watch play (and always thought was impressive and underrated),  was the St. Louis Cardinals Juan Encarnacion — or, more properly, Juan De Dios Encarnacion. I realize now, in looking at his stats, that I may be one of the few guys that ever believed he could be more than a stand-in in the outfield: while the GM for whatever team he played for looked around for someone better.

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The former Tiger, Red, Dodger, Marlin and (finally) Cardinal had a high strike-out ratio, but was exciting to watch. I suppose I enjoyed watching him because he seemed such a natural athlete, and I cringed every time he came to the plate against the Cubs. He was one of those Cubs-slayers, like what’s-his-name with the Astros: oh yeah, Luke Scott. Luke Scott looked like Stan Musial against the Cubs (see below). And so it was that I was watching Encarnacion closely on August 31 last summer when a foul ball off the bat of Aaron Miles crushed his left eye socket. The Cards were thereafter careful about what they said about De Dios, but it was clear that prognosis was not good. And two days ago the Cardinals General Manager said his career might be over. Too bad, he was a good ballplayer and — at 30 — had his most productive years ahead of him.

The Debate: I went through my daily-weekly-monthly debate (really, it’s more like picking a fight), with some baseball friends, arguing that the second-best all-time player in baseball is not Ted Williams, but Stan Musial. Stan The Man is virtually ignored in talk of “the greats” (no, really, he is) while everyone talks about Dimaggio, Gehrig, Mays, Aaron and Mantle. It’s easy to get lost in that crowd, I know, but Musial’s lifetime numbers continue to blow me away: .331 batting average, .417 OBP, .559 SLG, 475 home runs, seven batting titles (Williams had six) and three MVPs (Williams had two).

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Okay, okay, okay. I lost the argument. Williams lifetime numbers of breathtaking: .344 batting average, .482 OBP, .634 SLG, and 521 home runs. Of course, he played in an easier league.

Gnats Notes: You have to wonder whether Ronnie Belliard has an attitude problem. He came up as a pinch-hitter late in the first game against the Stro’s in Minute Maid and he looked like hell, striking out on three pitches. He took the first two and swung through the third and as I watched I kept thinking, “this guy doesn’t look like he wants to be there.” On Ronnie’s behalf we might add that the renaissance of Felipe has put Ronnie solidly on the bench — which isn’t the first time that has happened to him in his career. He played 54 games in the Cards World Series season, holding down the second base job late in the season and playing his heart out (he hit .462 in the last 50-plus games for the Cards): and his reward was that Walt Jocketty couldn’t wait to get rid of him. So we shouldn’t be surprised if Ronnie is thinking that maybe, someday, someone will notice that he’s a heck of a ballplayer and (having decided that) will stick him at second base and keep him there … no matter what his start.

So now the Nats are hitting better, or so the reasoning goes — though Zimmerman and Kearns are mired in the 220s and Nick’s power numbers are way down. The key of course is to hit on all cylinders, which is the key for everyone. And while the sports wogs continue to talk about how loaded the Nats are with pitching in the minors, no one is bragging about their power hitters at Columbus, Harrisburg or Potomac. I have a sinking feeling that the reason is that they’re not there. Justin Maxwell, meanwhile, is hitting a torrid .222 at Harrisburg. Ugh.

Who The Hell Is Casey Kotchman? Baseball Tonight’s commentators talk endlessly about “it’s not nasty, it’s filthy” — or some such — and have lately been singing the praises of the Angels’ starting rotation. They have a point. Even without John Lackey, Garland, Santana, Saunders and even Jared Weaver look like the real deal and the outfield powerhouses of Matthews, Hunter and Guerrero (who was actually benched for a game for not hitting, if you can imagine that) should be enough to carry the Halos into the divisional playoffs. But the one guy I’ve been watching (because no one talks about him much) is Casey Kotchman. He’s hitting .333 with six home runs and 21 RBIs, and quietly but decisively proving himself as a future star. He’s what? 25? 26? How can you not notice?

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Seeing The Ball Well

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

When a hitter is going good, they say he’s “seeing the ball well” — and they say the opposite when he’s not. Thusly: Don Sutton has been saying lately that Austin Kearns is just “not seeing the ball well,” the ostensible reason for his .194 average, two home runs and 11 runs batted in. “Seeing the ball well” is a slippery term, it seems to me, but it beats the hell out of any other explanation: that a hitter is “not in his groove” or that (for some reason) he’s jinxed — “they’re just not falling in.”

 

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Kearns had two solid hits Thursday night against the Bucs, nominal evidence that he is finally hitting his way out of his latest “funk” (another one of those slippery terms), one of them a single in the eighth that scored the game-winning run. You could see the relief in Kearns’ face when he jogged out to right for the top of the ninth. But to say that Kearns is “not seeing the ball well” is a bit of an understatement: true only if you can claim he hasn’t seen the ball well since he arrived from Cincinnati in July of 2006.Back then, some in the Nats’ front office hailed Kearns as the second coming of Vlad Guerrero, who slipped away from the Expos, back in 2003. Guerrero was then (and still may be) the best hitter in baseball (well, if you don’t count this guy). But if Kearns was ever going to be Guerrero then, it seemed to me, it was highly unlikely that the Reds would part with him, no matter how desperate they were for pitching. For us Nats fans, it would be just fine if “country” (there is a growing coterie of Kearns partisans out in right field who call him this) would regularly hit .289 with 25 or so home runs — rather than struggling to breach the Mendoza line. By the way: Vlad “sees the ball well.”

The closest I ever came to really understanding what people mean when they say that a player “sees the ball well” came in the middle of the 1982 season. The summer of 1982 was fascinating. There was a good race in the American League, with the then-California Angels being led by third baseman Doug DeCinces, their newest acquisition. DeCinces had come over during the winter in a trade with Baltimore for Dan “Disco Dan” Ford — one of the greatest trades in Angels’ history. The Halos had a murderer’s row of hitters: Boone, Carew, Grich, Lynn, Jackson and Baylor. DeCinces was the throw-in, the on-base guy from Baltimore with the okay-glove who had never quite lived up to the billing he had received after being drafted in the third round of the 1970 draft. He was the highly touted replacement for the legendary Brooks Robinson.

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Of course, DeCinces could never really replace Robinson and while the Baltimore fans understood that, Baltimore’s announcers were forever mentioning that DeCinces’ glove could never equal Robinson’s. “Robinson would have had that one,” they would say. And so DeCinces was shipped west. (The guy who replaced DeCinces was an anonymous character from Havre de Grace, Maryland by the name of Cal Ripken.) Anyway …. for a time in the summer of 1982, long about mid-July to mid-August if I recall, Doug DeCinces suddenly became the best hitter in baseball. People noticed. I remember tuning in to the Game of the Week just to see him, and checking the papers every day to see what he had done. Other players talked about what he was doing in hushed tones and the likes of Baylor and Jackson and Carew would stand and watch him during batting practice. He hit fricking everything. Even Reggie was in awe. 

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For a time there wasn’t anything DeCinces couldn’t hit, and a player who had wracked up a fairly average home run total of 4, 11, 11, 19, 28, 16, 16 and 13 home runs over the course of his eight-year career was suddenly putting them out with incredible regularity. He hit thirty that year, most of them in the hottest weeks of California’s deep summer. I remember someone (Vin Scully I think) interviewed him after one of his more prodigious shots in Anaheim. What was his secret? And DeCinces shrugged: he said he was just seeing the ball well. And Scully asked what that meant. And DeCinces answer was priceless: “When it comes up there,” he said, “it looks like a watermelon.”

But nothing lasts forever. By September, DeCinces had cooled off, Milwaukee triumphed in the playoffs (California was the better team), and St. Louis beat the Brewers in seven games in one of the most exciting World Series ever played. DeCinces played for four more years before heading to Japan and then was out of baseball. But for a time, in the summer of 1982, Doug DeCinces “saw the ball” better than any baseball player at the time. We might wish the same for Austin Kearns.