Saturday, March 08, 2003

I'm not real fond of the current idea of the winning AllStar league becoming the home team of the World Series. The game is an exhibition and think of a couple of the ramifications. Let's look at the following possibility:

Randy Johnson makes the team (naturally), but he's thrown a lot of innings the first half and is fighting a little "dead arm." The Diamondbacks look to be the team to beat in the NL and lead their division by ten games at the break and have the best record in baseball. Johnson really feels that he should take the three days and rest up his arm and in his best judgement, that's what he should do. But he is pressured by his manager, owner or fellow players to pitch at least one inning so that the Diamondbacks have a better shot at home field at the World Series. A stretch? Maybe.

I remember poor Fosse never being the same after getting crunched at home. I remember Harmon Killerbrew stretching and losing most of the second half of the season. It's an exhibition folks, and no team should risk their best players for an exhibition. That's why I agreed with the decision to end the game in a tie this past season. It was the right call.

Here is what I would do to "fix" the AllStar game:

First, limit all pitchers to no more than three outs. Expand the roster to make that happen. Every year there is an uproar over pitchers left off the roster anyway so here is the perfect solution.

Never let a pitcher bat. Ever.

Limit all position players to three innings maximum.

Only follow the rule that a player must be chosen from each team to IF a player is in the top 15 in ERA, Saves, Wins, RBI, HR, Batting Average, OBA or other major statistic. If there isn't a player in that boat, sink the boat.

Limit how many players the manager can pick from his own team. If the fans don't vote them in, then only let the manager pick three or four...tops.

Instruct your base coaches not to push the runners for the extra base. Who needs a torn hammy for an extra exhibition base?

Competition is great, but the fun of the game itself is to see the games greatest stars all together having fun.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Junior Griffey hit three homers today for the Reds and appears (as mentioned yesterday) poised to resume his brilliant career.

Griffey has never been a popular player outside of Seattle. He's not a Sammy Sosa who is loved wherever he goes. But he is like a lot of players who are disliked for most of their careers but earn grudging respect from the true baseball fan. Most of America thought Eddie Murray was a jerk. He wouldn't talk to the media ensuring that he would have either no press or negative press for most of his career. But while he was winding down his career and you looked at his numbers, you have to whistle and say, "Man, that was a great player."

Roger Clemens is another universally-disliked player. Even many Red Sox, Blue Jay and Yankee fans don't feel much of an affinity for him. But if he can manage to win his 300 games and finish this year on a positive note, he was one hell of a pitcher. I saw him for most of his career and he was a mean one. He followed in the footsteps of Gibson, Drysdale and Ryan and others who were great and part of their greatness was a mean streak. To this day, if the Red Sox weren't so poorly managed in the sixth game of the '86 series, and if Clemens was in the ball game, the curse of the Babe would be dead and buried. By the way, Buckner, another little liked player should in no way be the goat of that series. The game goes down as one of the poorest managed games in the history of MLB. But that's another story for another time.

I remember watching a game at Yankee Stadium in the early 80's when Rickie Henderson was so devestating. In the first inning, Henderson walked and then was thrown out by Munson trying to steal. The Stadium erupted for the simple fact that outside of Oakland, the country hated Henderson. His flamboyant style turned people off. He had a reputation over the years as not being a team guy...but man, look at the numbers. The man was simply one of the best players who ever put on a uniform.

As Bonds explodes here at the tail end of his career, he qualifies for this category. Bonds has always been the fans, by some of his teammates and by America in general. But as he caps his career, the true fan has to sit back and smile and wonder if we will ever see such a brilliant talent in our lifetime. So hats off to you, Barry!

Here is the top ten most hated players in my lifetime:

10. Carl Yaztremski - It's amazing how many Boston players could make this list! Carl was a curmudgeon, plain and simple.
9. Tie: Wade Boggs and Jim Rice - I don't know what it was about Rice, but he was good at being disliked. He was close to a Hall of Fame Player! Boggs...well...just say, "Margo"
8. Pete Rose - He was either loved or hated but probably hated more than loved. I personally never forgave him for running over that catcher in the allstar game.
7. Dave Kingman - What a brute. Was it a rat he sent that female sportswriter? Yeesh
6. Steve Garvey - His Dodger blue goody-goody life complete with Barbie-like wife turned people off the same way as perhaps the Osmonds.
5. Barry Bonds - He just wasn't good at playing the popularity game. But what a player!
4. Jose Conseco - He seemed like such a brute. Just watching him sniff during an interview was enough to grate you the wrong way.
3. Albert Belle - Bad, bad man. The world cheered everytime he struck out. But another Hall of Famer had not his hip given out on him.
2. Al Hrbowski - I can't remember how to spell his name, but that act before each batter miffed everyone.
1. Roger Clemens - By a wide, wide margin.

Have your own list? E-mail me at

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Spring Training used to be a little more predictable. You would have a few rookies each season that would push the team to make the squad. You would have a few acquired by trade and there would be some excitement to see how they would perform for their new teams. But the majority of players on each team would simply use Spring Training to get in shape.

Now, with all the free agents and so many players scraping to hang on with minor league deals, there are more players who need to play all out to get a shot at the final roster. The new reality makes it harder to predict what will happen on each team. Here are a few predictions for the coming year. But I have to be honest that they are more my hopes than true predictions:

David Cone makes the Mets squad and goes 10-3 for his last hurrah. He's always been such a class act.

Pat Burrell should hit 45 homers and hit well over .300 with Jim Thome hitting around him.

Rickie Henderson should gracefully call it a career and take all the accolades he deserves five years from now.

Derek Jeter will have a big year. He hasn't been the same since he went over the railing in the playoffs of 2001. But even if he does have a big year, his Boss will give himself credit!

The Angels have another good year with Washburn winning 20 and America continues to marvel at what hard work and determination can do.

The Rangers will contend until the final dog days of the season. A-Rod has another huge year. Blalock will become a star.

Junior Griffey will have a big year and reestablish himself as one of the premier players of this generation.

Bonds will hit 60 more homers and the Giants will again be in the hunt as Snow resurrects his career.

Lou will get the Devil Rays to .500 and win Manager of the Year.

Roger will reach 300 wins before the All-Star break.

Hampton will put up Glavine-like numbers while the snake-bit Mets will see Glavine have Hampton-like numbers. Both Hampton and Maddox will hit over .300.

Randy Johnson will have the best and last great year of his career with another Cy Young award, 23 wins and an ERA under 2.20.

Florida Marlins young pitching finally gel and make the team competitive all year.

The A's will still be a force in the West. Chavez will break out and win the MVP award.

The Cubs will win their division. The Astros will be good, but not good enough.

Cito Gaston will be the first manager hired to replace the first fired manager. And it will be about time.

And finally, the umpires will finally get the ire of all fans around the country and call the strike zone correctly and balls six inches outside will be balls and letter high fastballs will be strikes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

A strange thing happens when you've been a fan of baseball all of your life. As a child, you learn to play and if the passion is there, it became a daily part of who you are. You lived and died by the strikeouts, walks, stolen bases, popups dropped, bunts, and the occasional flash of brilliance that surprised even you. There was Little League and PAL and Babe Ruth and you marched in parades with your uniforms. You played whiffleball and stick ball and the only stick ball you could use was a Spalding. Your glove was a part of your body and it had to feel right. And the passion meant that in the pre-video game era, you played from dawn until dusk and when it rained you played Stratomatic or made up your own dice games and kept stats. And you watched the big boys play on TV or listened to the radio.

I was lucky there. I was a Yankee fan (still am), but before you judge me for that, I became a fan in the days of Horace Clarke (I think he had the biggest back seat in the history of the game) and Jerry Kenny and Roy White. In those days, the Yankees always finished near the bottom. After my dad died, my mom sent us to the stadium on Saturdays because she worked. Four dollars each got my brother and I on the bus, and then the subway and into the bleachers with enough left over to have a hotdog and a coke and get ourselves home again. The poor gal would get arrested for child endangerment if she were to try that today! But it was great for us then and can you imagine that with four dollars each, by the fourth inning (when the ushers quit) we were sitting by the dugout!

Oh yes, back to the lucky part: Watching the Yankees on TV meant Phil Rizzuto. I don't know what he was like in real life, but as a broadcaster, he was our friend and helped us grow that passion because it was obvious that he carried that passion as well. And he was hysterical. We laughed and he even made stuffed shirts like Bill White and Frank Messer laugh. I can't imagine a better listening and watching experience growing up with baseball than doing so with the old Huckleberry. And the weekends were great too with Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola.

Those were the days when you developed idols and dreamed of being like them. The Sporting News was at it's peak and each team in baseball had it's own page and feature writer (the last I looked, they were down to less than a column of a page per team--is anything as good as when we were kids? Yes, but we'll get to that). The writing was fantastic and you got to know the players on other teams. My early heroes were Mickey Mantle, Mel Stottlemyre, Bobby Murcer (I had his stance down perfectly) and later Munson and Nettles and Guidry. I wanted to grow up to be them.

And then I did grow up and the dream became displaced by reality. I had to work and had a family and life got complicated and those guys on TV were still my important to me, but now they were what I could have been if I had worked harder or had the tenacity to try if I wasn't so afraid of failure. By then I was in New Hampshire and had to watch the Red Sox (those dreaded rivals) and a funny thing happened: I became the only person in America who was a fan of the Red Sox AND the Yankees. The Red Sox were cool then. With Fisk, Evans, Rice, Tiant and the rest, it was fun to watch. The years the Red Sox came up on top were okay. The years the Yanks edged them out were better. But it was no longer idol worship and the strikes started and I grew restless. I hung in there despite the anger I felt at times.

And now, for the first time in my life, I am older than the players. They are no longer my peers. And so I demand more. I expect more. Baseball is more of a morality play and a reason to root for underdogs and good guys. ESPN is the greatest thing to happen to baseball since the Sunday Boston Globe. Baseball Tonight gives instant gratification. The Web gives us real time box scores. Life is great for this baseball fan of forty plus years.

Baseball is my passion but I can see it with clear eyes. I believe that as a fan, I have worthwhile things to say and look! Blogging gives us that opportunity. So as the season goes by, I'll use this blog site to comment on what I see, what I feel and what I think. And maybe...just maybe...Clemens will get his 300th early and not give me an ulcer worrying about it.