Archive for August, 2008

Musings

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

A few random thoughts on the last day of August . . .

1. I wonder if Tampa Bay is so good this year because they dropped “Devil” from their name at the end of 2007. A little divine intervention perhaps? They are already 22 games better than last year and with last night’s stomping of the Orioles Tampa has achieved its first winning season in team history. They are 4 1/2 games ahead of Boston in the AL East and their magic number is 27. Yeah, I know — a little early for magic number counting. But Rays fans have been counting for weeks already. And unless they totally implode Papa Joe Maddon is a shoe in for Manager of the Year.

2. Other than Christian Guzman’s cycle on Thursday night during the thrashing of the reeling Dodgers the best moment was when Teddy emerged from the center field fence for the President’s race sporting a Dodger Blue do-rag with Manny-like dreadlocks hanging out the back. He lost anyway. Check out the video here.

3. It’s good to see that Direct TV has finally figured out that more fans will probably watch the Nats on t.v. if they can find them. MASN and MASN 2 are now next to one another rather than being 44 channels apart. Despite the change it still took me 30 minutes to find the game on t.v. last night. My first attempt was to try the old MASN channel (626). No game on but there was a notice saying MASN had been moved to channel 640 so I tried that. A black screen. I then tried the old MASN 2 channel (671). Ah, no game there but another helpful notice saying it had been moved to 641. I tried 641 and watched for a while as the Rays walked all over the O’s. Then I remembered the Nats were playing Atlanta so I thought the game might be blacked out on MASN in favor of TBS. Go to the channel guide in the lamp table drawer, go to channel 247 and got . . . Seinfeld. He’s funny but his slider sucks. Then I scanned 100 channels beginning at 600 in hopes of finding the game somewhere, anywhere. Nada. It then occurred to me that I still had the day’s sports section lying around and that the t.v. listing would be in the paper. I dug it out of the pile and see that the game is on . . . (wait for it) . . . channel 20! Of course.

4. Instant replay has come to baseball seemingly without comment. I think the fact that it’ll be limited to home runs is a positive aspect and if it results in getting the call right it’s a good thing. It’s expected that it won’t stop the game for more than a couple of minutes – less than the length of a pitching change. The final decision can’t be appealed or argued and if a manger does start a dust-up after the video has been examined he’ll get an early shower. Plus, no stupid red flags, lost time outs etc etc.

5. The Cubs. Christ, they’re good. There. I said it. I’ve refrained all season in fear of jinxing them but I realized only a home-town fan can jinx his team (and, of course Sports Illustrated) and not an outside observer. Plus, after 130 games or so its backed up by fact. 35 chest-out games above .500, seven wins in a row, 16 of 20, 20 – 6 in August, .700 since the All-Star Break, 51 wins at home, and a line-up where the guy in the sixth slot is hitting .290. And if there is any doubt about whether the Cubs fans know they’re watching something special this summer, listen to the full-throated roar from the crowd when Soriano homered in the seventh yesterday afternoon. They can feel it on the North Side.

Dodger Blues

Friday, August 29th, 2008

The Nats swept the Dodgers in three — the result of good pitching, the maturing of some of the Nats’ younger players and the return of the infirm. The Nats can take pride in the sweep, even if these are not your grandfather’s Dodgers or even, for that matter, your father’s Dodger’s. The Dodger teams of yore were almost always legendary, if often mediocre. The facts are in: the Nats outpitched and outhit the “Bridegrooms,” with Balester, Redding and Lannan pitching deep into the games (and collecting the wins), while the Nats’ bats outscored the boys in blue by a combined score of 18-7.

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And so, for just an eyeblink, Nats fans were able to peek into the future — where a building program premised on the Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux model that brought Atlanta a string of divisional championships in the 1990s is now being shaped. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s becoming eminently clear now: next year’s staff will be built on Lannan and Balester (and perhaps Redding), with Mock, Clippard and Detwiler waiting in the wings. The Nats sweep must be particularly sweet for Stan and Jim, reinforcing their conviction that baseball’s greatest teams are built more on pitching than big boppers. Deep in their hearts, Kasten and Bowden would love to have Manny, but they would never give up Lannan or Balester to get him.

The terrible truth about the Dodgers (a franchise that has accounted for six world championships and 21 pennants), is that they are on the down-slope of an era that was to have revived their reputation as the NL’s most storied franchise. You don’t do that with a front four of Lowe, Billingsley, Koruda and (an oft-injured) Penny and Joe Torre must know it. As the Dodgers look to next year, as now they must, they have to be wondering where the will get the arms to carry them past the likes of the D-Backs, who are stocked with throwers who (despite their mediocre record) can put them back in the post-season.

The Dodgers have always been built on pitching, even as their fan base slathered over muscled line-ups that could put the ball into the bleachers. 1953 is a year that defines this best. Brooklyn fans then extolled the virtues of a power-packed line-up that featured Snider, Campanella, Furillo and Hodges whose home run totals (42, 41, 21 and 31 respectively), wowed the rest of the NL. But the heart of the team weren’t the bats — it was a starting staff that boasted the arms of Carl Erskine (20 wins), Russ Meyer (15 wins), Billy Loes (14 wins), Clem Labine (11 wins) and Preacher Roe — who, though on the downside of an injury-marred career, produced 11 unlikely but key wins.

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I’m on the record as saying the Bean-towners should not have traded Manny, but that doesn’t mean I believe a guy like Ramirez could put a team like the Dodgers over the top. He can’t. What the Dodgers needed (particularly in the NL West, where Webb and Haren can easily dominate) was pitching. Maddux, whom the Dodgers’ believed might be this year’s version of “the Preacher,” can’t do it alone. Exhibit A of that claim came against our Anacostia Boys over the last three days, when the bottom fell out of the Dodgers’ season.

Nats Tame Baby Bears

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

The Nats schooled the Baby Bears yesterday, 13-5 and that makes two wins in a row. Shocked? This wouldn’t be the first time the Nats played well against the sluggies. Back in late April, the Nats took two of three from the Cubs, with John Lannan turning in a stellar performance (I was in section 128 for the game and he was masterful). He was as masterful yesterday, even if the line didn’t show it: the wind was blowing out at Wrigley and Lannan was touched for five earned runs in six-and-a-third. It could have been worse: he might have been Jason Marquis (I still can’t get past the idea that Marquis remains with the Cubs — as a sixth or even seventh starter. Why isn’t he in Texas? Or Baltimore?).

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In the midst of this stinking run (the Nats are 14-23 since July 22), Nats fans can fall back on the fact that the Cubs (or anyone for that matter) would love to get a guy like Lannan and would trade more than a few prospects to put him on the mound. Which is the best reason to keep him and to look to next year — when (if the Nats have any kind of hitting at all), the young lefthander will be odds-on to be much better than .500. That is to say: a premium pitcher, the kind (with Balester) you can build a rotation around.

If Lannan continues to grow he will be a one of those unique pitchers — a lefthander with stuff who can dominate a game. He damn near does now. I wonder if Bowden knows what he has?

Victory, Defeat, Profits: Baseball and softball have been taken out of the Olympics, despite providing some of the most entertaining amateur contests in the history of the games. The U.S. won bronze in baseball and the U.S. women were upset by the Japanese in softball (a phenomenal game). But the most entertaining game was the Cuban-South Korean tilt, which provided a South Korean upset. It was a nail-biter: the Cubans had the bases loaded in the ninth with one out and grounded into a double play.

So why take both sports out of the games? IOC President Jacques Rogge (who berated Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt for celebrating his 100m and 200m wins — because, apparently, he can’t abide having black athletes celebrating), says that when major league players agree to be a part of the games the IOC will review their ban:  “We have Federer, Nadal in tennis. We have the best cyclists. Rinaldinho is here in football. We want these guys in the game. We’re not saying its an entire Major League team, but we want the top athletes here at the Olympics.”

So much for amateur athletics. So much for the joy of victory, the agony of defeat. So much for up-close-and-personal. The Olympics are about profits — putting bodies in the seats, putting eyes in front of the television, and putting money in the bank. Exhibit A: In wake of the war in Bosnia, Olympic athletes asked the IOC to help them start a fund to rebuild Sarajevo. The IOC said “no.” After all, the IOC isn’t a humanitarian organization. Rogge, a one-time yachtsman for Belgium, waves all of this off. “We’re a sporting organization,” he says, “not a political organization.”

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The Big Train: For anyone following “Baseball Tonight’s” all-time franchise listings, the biggest surprise came on the night of July 31, when Tim Kurkjian (et.al.) announced that Kirby Puckett had outpolled Walter Johnson as the fan’s pick for all-time Twins franchise player. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise: baseball fans rarely remember two generations back — and Walter Johnson (who pitched in Washington twenty years) isn’t that well known except among the die-hards. But Kurkjian (a graduate of Walter Johnson High School) got it right: “Walter Johnson is the greatest pitcher to ever play the game of baseball.” I’ve got nothing against Puckett, but let’s review the bidding.

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Johnson won 417 games, of which 100 were shutouts. What is most shocking is that “the big train” actually completed more games than he won — 531 (vs. 417). How can this possibly be? I think what this means is that even the games he lost were so close it was counter-productive to remove him. He was all the Senators had. He won over 30 games a season twice in his career, over 20 twelve times (including ten in a row) and notched over 3500 strikeouts. He led the majors in strikeouts for 60 years, until Nolan Ryan passed him. And here’s the punch line: the Kansas farmboy was a Senator. In the twenty years that Johnson pitched, the Senators finished first twice. In 1912 and 1913, Johnson accounted for roughly one-third of all the Senators’ wins. In 1911, the Senators were pathetic. They won only 64 games. But Johnson was brilliant; he won 25 of them. His ERA that year was 1.90. He once pitched 369 innings without giving up a home run.  Ty Cobb said he had the most powerful arm in baseball.

Johnson went into the Hall of Fame with Christy Mathewson in the Hall’s inaugural season. He was clearly better than Mathewson, but there are still those who argue that he was only the second best pitcher in history — behind Lefty Grove.

Nonsense.

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What I Thought About This Week (VIII)

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Down On Half Street: In the midst of this nasty ten game skid, there is some good news – at least we don’t have Felipe Lopez to kick around anymore. We can leave that to Tony LaRussa. (Then too, Ryan Langerhans is still here — so thank God for that.) The former Cincy all star shortstop is now the NL’s designated journeyman, hitting 8 for 29 in his last ten games with the Redbirds, and .400 in his last seven. Don’t get too upset: he once hit the hell out of the ball with the Nats, but then reverted to form, battling mightily to keep his average above .240. Nats fans are undoubtedly frustrated with the strike out rate of his replacement, Emilio Bonifacio. But at least Bonifacio has a future. Lopez didn’t.

Let me make this clear: I would rather eat shards of broken glass than see Felipe back at second.  

The latest victim of the Nats’ “rebuilding” movement is Luis Ayala, who was unhappy with his middle inning role. Jim Bowden apparently believed that Ayala didn’t have much of a future with the club — something that any Nats fan could have told him after watching Ayala pitch in July. Mets fans have noticed. Mets Today had this question: “So why did the Mets give up someone with a pulse for this train wreck?”

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Actually, it’s not that hard to figure out. Mets GM Omar Manaya used to be the GM for the Expos and saw a lot of Ayala — that is to say, back when Ayala was actually good. The Mets farm system is stocked with former Expos (guys that Manaya drafted). So New York is “Expos North” in the same sense that Washington is “Cincy East.” (Hey, seriously, I can’t wait to see Pokey Reese with the big club. Man, that guy is good! He’s hitting a torrid .169 with the Clippers.) Then too, in spite of the howls from fans of the “Amazins” (gag) the acquisition of Ayala is not a bad idea. The Mets are coasting effortlessly in first place and have only the Phillies to fear. And Ayala has a 3.7-something ERA against Philadelphia. 

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So here’s the theory: Ayala is being counted on to salvage the Mets from a sure-sweep by the Phillies during the first week of September, when Chase Utley and company come into Shea for a key three game series. I will watch every minute of it. I will cheer mightily for the “Fightin Phils.” And I will watch closely as, in the middle of the 7th inning, everyone in Shea rises from their seats and screams lustily and in unison: “Why the hell did we fire Willie Randolph?”

Shea South: It takes a long time to build a tradition and the Nats have only just started. I made note of this aloud during last Thursday’s loss to the Metropolitans, the Nats seventh loss in the row. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that there were more Mets fans than Nats fans in the stands. We (I was there with me droog, Tom) were surrounded: the four guys behind us sported tattoos and digital cameras, going on and on about how beautiful Nationals Ballpark was — too bad, they said, that we had such a lousy team. Mmmmmhmmmmm

And did you know that the Capitol is right over there. Yeah, so hey, that was pretty impressive seeing that. “Hey, don’t get a beer now,” one of them told his buddy in the bottom of the fourth, “the president’s is about to run.”

The good thing about being a last place team, I told them, is at least you don’t have to suffer through an end-of-season collapse. Surprisingly, they were amused. Tom noted that the one thing about Mets fans is that they have a sense of humor. I agree, but then, they had better — because here come the Phillies.

Good luck Luis.

Tics: Speaking of which. During the recent Phillies series, my son asked me if I remembered the name of the Phillies outfielder who had such a terrible “tic.” A Phillies fan nearby answered the question: “Oh, you mean Jim Eisenreich,” he said. Yeah, that’s the guy. I always thought that Eisenreich was a hell of a hitter, when he wasn’t standing in the outfield talking to himself. Eisenreich’s tics (although, admittedly, that’s a pretty bad word for it) got so bad (and were the subject of so much comment — much of it unsympathetic), that he had to leave baseball for nearly three years, between 1984 and 1987. He was diagnosed and treated for Tourette syndrome. 

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Eisenreich had a fifteen year career and was named the Royals’ most valuable player in 1987. After his retirement he and his wife set up a foundation in Kansas City to help children with Tourette’s. He’s more than an interesting man. He was the first recipient of the Tony Conigliaro Award, which is given each year to a ballplayer who has overcome a significant personal problem. Eisenreich now travels around the country talking about the disorder and raising money to help children who have it.

You know, I have this theory that the structure of baseball lends itself to the development of peculiar behaviors or the deepening of them — just take a look at Nomar’s little bat ritual, or check out “Jimmy Baseball’s” subtle at-bat head shake. Like I said, it’s only a theory, and does not apply to a guy like Steve Phillips. Phillips does not have Tourette Syndrome, he’s just naturally incoherent. 

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The Art and Design of Pitching

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Injuries, especially to a pitching staff, make teams scramble to plug the holes. The Red Sox, four games in back of the Rays when the evening started and licking many wounds in their starting rotation, are not immune to this fact. So it was that the wonderfully-named Charlie Zink found his way atop the hill in Fenway for his first major league start tonight against the Texas Rangers. It was a performance he won’t soon forget.

Zink toiled in the minors for six years after being signed as an undrafted minor leaguer in 2002. The 28-year old knuckleballer looked good this year going 13 – 4 with a 2.89 ERA for the Sox Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, RI. The kid came recommended by none other than Sox great Luis Tiant so on Monday the Red Sox, having put knuckleballer Tim Wakefiled on the DL, ignored Zink’s pedigree (did I mention he graduated from the baseball powerhouse Savannah College of Art and Design?) and plopped him in the midst of a pennant race. But how bad could it be; the kid already had his own Wiki page.

The game began in a way which, if it were written for Hollywood, would have been laughable: the Sox posted 10 runs in the first inning including not one, but two, three-run homers by David Ortiz. The Sox offensive barrage offered up a new definition of the term “breathing room” for the uninitiated Mr. Zink. Now, it was up to him.

Having been untouched in the first Zink got rattled a bit in the second, giving up two runs but — given the pad — it was forgettable. You could almost hear Ortiz in the dugout approaching Zink afterward: “Forgehedaboudit man.” In the third and fourth Zink was on a roll: three up and three down in both innings. The kid might have something here.

But, in the fifth, the knuckler betrayed him. The first seven batters he faced went: double, ground out, single, single, double, double, double and then, he was done. Texas scored eight that inning to tie the game and the improbable appearance of the no-longer a kid from Carmichael, CA had ended. His final line for the night: 4.1 innings, 11 hits, 8 runs (all earned), one walk and one strike out. His ERA was 16.62.

Overall, a poor outing — one which might very well be his last in the majors — but for a few innings Charlie Zink lived a dream; Fenway Park in a pennant race with a 10-run lead and 38,000 people cheering his name.

The Coming Brew Crew Collapse

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

The Other Manny: Baseball fans were treated to what ails the Brew Crew on August 4, when first base slugger Prince Fielder shoved pitcher Manny Perra during a game with the Reds. The tape of Fielder’s explosion was featured prominently on “Baseball Tonight” and played over and over on Milwaukee television stations. Baseball veterans weighed in: this kind of thing happens all the time, analyst John Kruk intoned: if you think this is bad you ought to see what happens off camera.  

Yeah, right.

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As dugout fights go, the Fielder-Parra sparring match was modest: the Martin-Jackson confrontation of the ’70s was far worse, as was last year’s Zambrano-Barrett faceoff and the Ramirez-Youkilis contretemps earlier this year. In each of these cases, the main event was explained away by manager’s who preferred to keep the troubles in-house. Viz: Terry Francona told the press that the Manny-Kevin love fest was “no big deal.” Brewers manager Ned Yost was even more outspoken when talking to the press about the Fielder-Parra face-off: “If you want to know what happened or what transpired — blow-by-blow or what words were said — I’m sorry you’re not going to know. It’s private, it’s between us, and it’s not a big deal. And it’s not the first time it ever happened, and it won’t be the last.” 

Not going to know? Yeah we are. According to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sports writer Haudricourt (I will include the expletives he left out), Parra was headed to the locker room after giving up six runs when Fielder took exception to his retreat: “We stayed out there and watched your shit. You can stay out here and watch our shit.” It didn’t help that Parra baited Fielder when he nearly swiped him with his warm-up jacket on his way down the bench.

The problem is the Brewers are known for this kind of thing. The Fielder-Parra dust-up took place one year and two days after Yost became involved in an altercation with Brewer catcher Johnny Estrada and infielder Tony Graffanino — who were then (post-season) shipped out of Milwaukee. The Brew Crew was 8 1/2 games in front of the Cubs at the time, but in the wake of the Yost incident the bottom fell out of the Brewer’s season. Doug Melvin defended Yost, but a large portion of the Milwaukee fan base wondered if Yost’s volcanic temper was a good fit for the team. The doubts have only escalated since then – and now there’s a growing “Fire Ned Yost” club in brewtown. (I won’t say that I predicted this at the beginning of the year, but I did.) Let’s be clear: the problem in Milwaukee is not Fielder or Parra, it’s Ned Yost. He makes bad in-game decisions and he’s even worse in the club house. At least a part of a manager’s job is to keep the peace — not stoke the fires.

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Of course Milwaukee management isn’t going to get rid of Yost in the middle of a pennant race, but if the Brewers don’t make the wild card, Yost will be gone in the off-season — as well as about $15 million of Brewers’ payroll. That is to say: this is their last shot for awhile. There’s accumulating evidence that even Milwaukee’s front office is tiring of Yost, and for good reason. Yost has a habit of saying the wrong things and, after awhile, you have to conclude it’s because he can’t control his mouth. Evidence of this came during a Yost interview on the end-of-July series with the Cubs, a must-win four game confrontation that could have showed-up the Baby Bear’s inability to win on the road. “Seriously, what this is is a dress rehearsal for September.” 

Exactly. The Cubs took the series by a combined 31-11 score. 

So if the Nats want to do baseball a favor they can stick a fork in baseball’s version of John McCain: they can take the three remaining games with the “Crew” at Miller Park and end the Brewers’ vain run for the Central Division crown. In fact, I’ll make this prediction now. The Fielder-Parra fight can mean only one thing. The Milwaukee Brewers are finished.

“The Manny Show” Cancelled; “Bay Watch” a Hit In Boston

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Well, it has been one week since “the trade” that sent Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox to the Dodgers in return for one Jason Bay of the Pirates. So, it must be time for the deep analysis that a handful of games will allow. But first, the results of an unscientific poll taken over the weekend in the heart of Red Sox Nation (a.k.a. Worcester, MA) about the departure of Senior Ramirez:

“See ya, Manny.”

After seven years of “Manny being Manny” the joke grew stale. The perennial whining about being traded, the showing up late for Spring Training and the goofy antics in left field could be, and were, ignored – for years. But this year those relatively minor irritants had given way to actions far more distressing: failing to visit the guys at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after a trip to the White House as World Series Champions, slugging a 64 year-old traveling secretary and, sitting out of games with a rare knee injury otherwise known as Mannyitis. Manny didn’t care who he hurt or dissed with his actions and so, the Sox no longer cared about Manny. It was worth the $7 million the Sox gave the Dodgers to take him plus parting ways with Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen (who went to Pittsburgh) to get Manny out of Boston. That’s how poisoned the atmosphere had become in the clubhouse. It was akin to a celebrity divorce where one partner says to the other: “Just take the Malibu house and go away.”

So how’s it gone since the trade? Well, Manny is on fire in Dodger-land (I guess his knee is o.k.). He’s hitting .625 with three dingers and five RBI. But Bay is no slouch either, hitting .429 with one home run and six RBIs before tonight’s game. Plus, the kid has shown he can play defense as demonstrated on Sunday by gunning out Oakland’s Mark Ellis trying to stretch a single. And as far as The Nation is concerned, well, they gave Mr. Bay four standing ovations his first night wearing the red and white. Manny who?

O.k., time to address Mark’s slam that the Sox seem adept at trading future Hall of Famers – the implication being that this was another dumb move by the Sox. No doubt the Sox have been ham handed in the past: Speaker was traded at the age of 27 having never hit below .309 as a starter and after refusing a pay cut in 1916; Ruth was just 25 but had already amassed a 89-46 record as a pitcher to go along with his (at the time) .289 average when he was sold to the Yanks – the result of bad investments by team owner Harry Frazee. But Clemons was 34 when traded to Toronto only to have his career extended by steroids. Fisk, who wore a Red Sox cap when inducted into the Hall of Fame, was 33 when sent to Chicago and not many would have bet he had 13 more years in him.

But to the point about Ramirez; the reason why dumping Manny was the right move is because he was a pain in the neck. It doesn’t matter what he does the rest of his career – he wouldn’t have done it in Boston. For whatever reason he had become the photo next to the word ‘malcontent’ in the dictionary. And at $20 million this year and probably more for the next several (agent Scott Brosius wants $100 million over four years) it would have been stupid to keep him.

That said, let’s look at what some of the best hitters in the history of the game have done after their 36th birthday (Manny will be 37 next May) as a possible guide to what we can expect from Manny over the course of his next contract. Using a list of what the 10 best hitters ever, according to Ted Williams, did from age 37 until their retirement, it’s unlikely the Red Sox will get less with Bay than they would have with Ramirez. To wit:

Player             Ave. after Age 37

Ruth                        .277

Gehrig                    N/A

Foxx                      .268

Hornsby                .316

Dimaggio              N/A

Cobb                      .347

Musial                  .290

Jackson, Joe        N/A

Aaron                   .270

Mays                   .255

Ramirez is no doubt a future Hall of Famer but is he Rogers Hornsby good? Or Ty Cobb good? Heck, if he’s as good as Ruth was from age 37 to 40 he’ll be in great company but won’t be doing anything Jason Bay can’t do for a whole lot less money.

The Sox got the best Manny had to give and won two rings. Which raises the question: When do you get better when dumping a Hall of Famer?

When his name is Manny Ramirez.

What I Thought About This Week (VII)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Down On Half Street: The Nats told us that Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzalez would bring speed and defense to the Washington line-up, in the apparent hope that we might thereby overlook their troubling deficiencies at the plate. No such luck. Neither Bonifacio nor Gonzalez have had consistent success in stroking the ball for singles (let alone doubles or triples) in the majors — until, that is, their arrival here. Bonifacio is hitting a stellar .294, while Gonzalez has lately been hitting well beyond his official .231. Now then, let’s talk about their “speed.” 

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Both have been caught stealing once: Bonifacio in Cincinnati on Sunday (by the weak-armed David Ross) and Gonzalez (though, for some reason, the box score does not show it) on the same day. In both cases it wasn’t even close. To note the obvious — stealing bases involves more than speed and “Gonzafacio” have yet to show they have mastered the art. They had better. Barring a sudden surge of power (let’s call it a “Willie Harris moment”), the Nats will have to figure out how to come up with a 70 percent-plus success rate that makes stealing worthwhile — and that put singles hitters in a position to score. Good teams steal in excess of 90 bases each year and the really good teams have a better than 80 percent success rate. The Nats are currently at 48 stolen bases for 2008 and have been caught stealing 26 times. Not great, not good …

Deplorable.

The Nation: Manny Ramirez joins the long list of Red Sox (where hall of famers go to get traded) who just couldn’t make the grade in Boston and, alas, had to be traded away (or let go) because they just didn’t “fit in.” Boston’s nationwide reputation as upholders of good citizenry, Puritan morality and fair play have a history of this, choosing to keep the peace, even if it means getting rid of great ballplayers. Let’s see: Tris Speaker was sold to Cleveland to teach him a lesson, Babe Ruth (who just wouldn’t behave) was sold to the Yankees because he wanted too much money, Carlton Fisk (that whiner) decided he’d rather play for the White Sox (the Bosox failed to postmark his new contract correctly), and Roger Clemens was let go to the Blue Jays because he was in his “declining years” — which lasted nine seasons.

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Now, in case you haven’t noticed, Manny is being “Gammonized” — which is the attempt to scuff-up a player that you’ve been busy shining to a glowing hue for years. The Red Sox had “no choice” but to make the trade, Gammons wrote in the wake of the LA deal, “because there was no chance — none, zilch, nada — that Boston could make the playoffs with Ramirez on the team.” Okay, I get it. I mean really, how stupid can the Dodger’s be? Even Tommy Lasorda was upset.

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Under The Gun

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Gonzalez and Bonafacio: The mid-summer hiatus is over, the great travel adventure to other parts of the world has ended (with apologies for the lack of posts) and, most important of all, the trade deadline is past. But not before our beloved Anacostia boys rid themselves of useless contracts and hangers-on, and set their sights firmly on the future. It is a future that does not include Paul Lo Duca or Felipe Lopez, whose trade value was apparently so low that, even together, they could not bring a single prospect.  So be it: the Nats will not be renamed the Felipes and Paul may now peddle his talents somewhere else. Which leaves us with the question: what exactly did we get?

Alberto Gonzalez is a good glove no-hit shortstop with impressive team skills. But whether or not he can make it in the Majors is an open question, and one that will undoubtedly be soon answered when he fills in at shortstop for the injured Cristian Guzman. The fact that he once wore pinstripes and has the same name as the former AG of the current crew should not be daunting, he has a better bat and is considered a good citizen by those in the Nationals Past Time who chart such things. The Yankees traded him because they are stockpiling pitching, no matter how modest, and because they seem set at shortstop for some time to come.

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The more intriguing prospect is former Diamondbacks’ Emilio Bonifacio, the 11th best prospect in the D-Backs’ organization. Only 23, Bonifacio is known for his speed but, like Gonzalez, has yet to prove he can hit major league pitching. He’ll get a chance to find out: Jim Bowden has penciled him in as the Nats lead-off hitter and starter at second next year, despite the fact that Bonifacio has only swung the bat 35 times in two seasons.

The result will be a somewhat remade infield — with few guarantees that Gonzalez or Bonifacio are any more than better-than-average Triple A players. But then, Bowden had to do something, since scouring Columbus, Harrisburg and Potomac for top-level middle infield prospects failed to find one of any quality. Plus there’s this: if you can find a player that will hit over .250 on this team (a line that neither Lo Duca or Felipe could reach), then you’ve found yourself a starter.

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Is Jim In Trouble? Could be. Major league scouts think that Bowden might have gotten more for Jon Rauch and that someone, somewhere, might have given up even moderately experienced prospects for Lopez and Lo Duca. Then too, we are constantly reminded that Bowden passed on a handful of prospects for Alfonso Soriano, though his signing with the Cubs yielded some draft choices. The heat on Bowden is now palpable: while he received draftees Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmerman for Soriano, the Nats are unlikely to continue to fill the seats of Nats Park unless Bowden can pull off something impressive in the off-season — or before. Bowden supporters point out that Bonifacio has hit .452 since reporting to Columbus and (no doubt) that’s excellent. But Nats fans would prefer he hit somewhere above the Mendoza line when he takes his place at second base (probably tonight), for the first time. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure this one out. Jim is under the gun. And if either Gonzalez or Bonifacio appear to be a bust, the fans will lose their patience, the ownership will read the attendance figures … and Jim will be gone.