Saturday, July 26, 2003

How do the Oakland A's develop better pitching than anyone else in baseball? We all know about Zito, Mulder and Hudson. Add one more cog in that impressive machine: Rich Harden. Harden--considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball--made his major league debut against the hot Kansas City Royals and pitched seven innings, giving up only one run. He didn't get a decision on a game the Athletics won.

Tonight he again pitched seven innings and only gave up (yup) one run to the California Angels (who are drying up faster than twinkies in the Florida sun). A ground ball pitcher, Harden has now pitched fourteen innings in the big leagues and given up just two runs. That is a 1.29 ERA. How do the A's do it and why can't other teams?

The Red Sox evened up their series with the Yankees by breaking a 4-4 tie in the ninth with a single by super-pickup, David Ortiz. The Sox have a big edge in the finale tomorrow as the Yankees are throwing Jeff Weaver. The Red Sox hung in there nicely as they almost threw the game away with two errors that allowed the Yankees to tie the game.

The Yankees Norm Johnson is back in their lineup and is picking up where he left off. He had a hit and an RBI tonight and a walk. The man knows how to get on base. There is one problem though with his addition. He is the better fielding first baseman between he and Jason Giambi. But Giambi struggled earlier in the year in the DH role and is 0-6 since Johnson returned and returned Giambi to the DH. Giambi was the hottest hitter on the team before the switch.

Giambi might be one of those players who just doesn't thrive as a DH. Frank Thomas of Chicago is the same way. He struggled as a DH. Once Chicago put in in the field, he's put up AllStar (Hall of Fame?) numbers.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, the tandom of Gary Carter and Eddie Murray is a good one. Murray was one of the most prolific RBI men in the history of the game. Very few players in history have more career RBI to go along with Murray's 500+ homers. Carter's entrance is a sign that the Hall of Fame voting is working correctly. There was some fear that Carter would be overlooked, but he is one of the better catchers to play the game. Starting his career in Montreal didn't help Carter to gain nationwide attention.

But that attention came to Carter while playing for the Mets. Carter was an ever present yapping machine while with the Mets. He talked to anyone as often as he could. Hey...being a good self-promoter is not a bad thing.

The Hall of Fame is also inducting Bob Uecker for his broadcasting career. Uecker was a lousy player and a good broadcaster/actor/personality. That being the case, shouldn't Phil Rizzuto be in the Hall of Fame? Rizzuto was an important cog in the Yankee machine and he's been a beloved broadcaster. Uhh...umm...I just looked at Rizzuto's stats and he is ALREADY in the Hall of Fame. How did I miss that?

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Yankees and the Red Sox played a nail biter tonight. No surprise there. The Red Sox weren't impressed with Mariano Rivera and cuffed him around. Not a stretch there either as three of Rivera's last six blown saves have been to the Red Sox. He blew the save tonight too. But the Yankees won the game. To the teeth gnashing of Red Sox fans everywhere, that wasn't a surprise either.

Both starting pitchers walked more batters than expected. Pedro gave up four walks and David Wells, who had walked only six batters all year, walked five tonight. The walks weren't due to wildness however. The home plate umpire, Dana Demuth, had a four inch strike zone. His umpiring for the night was a joke. Pedro at one point made enough gestures to get thrown out of most games. Demuth, to his only credit of the night, did not toss him. Because of Pedro's gestures, the highlight shows focused on Pedro getting squeezed. In truth, Wells was squeezed far worse.

You have to feel badly for Jeremy Giambi. The lesser famous of the two Giambi brothers has had a miserable year and has been broken down to pinch hitting duties made the last out with the Red Sox runners on first and second. Most will forget that Kevin Millar struck out on a pitch over his head before that. The Red Sox left twelve men on base for the night.

The saga of the Yankees and Byung-Hyun Kim continued as Kim took the loss for his fourth straight ninth inning loss to the Yankees going back to the Arizona/Yankee World Series.

Old man, Jesse Orosco, came in for the Yankees in the seventh inning and got both of his batters in a tight situation. Win another one for the old guys.

In other games, Braves' reliever, John Smoltz, blew his first save of the year as the Expos came back and beat the Braves.

The Cubs took a big game from the Astros despite Sosa striking out three times in three chances. Moises Alou was the hero.

The Florida Marlins scored eight runs in the late innings to come from behind and beat the Phillies. Dontrelle Willis pitched great for the Marlins and gave up only one run in six innings but did not get the decision as his bullpen couldn't hold the score.

And finally: Despite the fact that Bobby Bonds was the player traded to the Yankees to displace the Fan's beloved Bobby Murcer, and despite the fact that Barry Bonds isn't the most beloved player in baseball, the Fan has to send warm thoughts to Bobby, Barry and their family as Bobby had heart surgury as he fights cancer. The Fan sends warm thoughts and heartfelt wishes that Bobby Bonds makes a full recovery.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Hello! The Fan takes Thursday nights off. You can catch the Fan six nights a week. See you Friday night!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

It was a good day for old players. The Cubs picked up Kenny Lofton from the Pirates and the Yankees picked up 46 year old Jesse Orosco. Jesse is now one of two players who have played in four decades that was picked up this week by a contender. Rickey Henderson started his career in 1979, the same year as Orosco. How many teams can say they have a pitcher who started his career when Jimmy Carter was president and there were American hostages in Iran?

Orosco, who has pitched more games than any pitcher in history has appeared in more than fifty games a season an incredible nineteen times and he will do so again this year. To put that in perspective, in nineteen of his twenty-four big league season, Orosco has pitched in nearly one third of his team's games! His best year was 1983, a glorious year for Mets fans, and that was twenty years ago! But Orosco can still get left-handers out as they are only batting .223 against him. Score one for the old guys.

Lofton is a winner and the Cubs needed to fill the Corey Patterson hole. Lofton has also had a history of sparking a team when he first arrives. He almost always cools off soon afterwards, but he should give them a boost.

And now it's time for the Fan's weekly look at his favorite boxscore players:
- Luis Matos. Matos, the Orioles' outfielder is a new favorite and is batting .364 this year after 200 at bats! All he did his last seven games is bat .545 with six RBI and nine runs scored.

- Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli is still hanging around the .300 mark as he batted .292 for the week. But in an encouraging sign, he walked a couple of times and his OBP was higher than his batting average for the first time in a long while. He had four RBI for the week and five runs scored.

- Coco Crisp. Crisp was sharp (is that redundant?) this week as he batted an even .400 (he got two more hits tonight) as he went 10 for 25 for the week. Three of the hits were doubles. But to show you how much trouble the Indians are having scoring runs, Crisp only scored three times for the ten times he was on base. The swift Crisp was also thrown out two out of three times trying to steal.

- Hank Blalock. Hank had his first real bad week of the season as he only had four hits in twenty-one at bats (.190). His season average dropped to .314. I get a little concerned the way that Buck Showalter moves the lineup around every day. That can't help very much.

- Mark Teixeira. On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong because Mark had a great week, batting .320 to raise his average up to .261, its highest of the season.

- Michael Young. Young is still the hottest of the young Rangers and batted .333 last week (10 for 30) and had nine RBI from the leadoff spot.

- Pat Burrell. He's coming! For the first time in recent memory, Burrell batted over .200 for a week as he batted .238. Moreover, he had three extra base hits and four RBI and had more walks than strikeouts. Burrell has been averaging one strikeout per four at bats and this week improved that to one in five. He may get over the Mendoza line yet!

- Miguel Cabrera. The young Marlins player had more strikeouts than hits last week (five vs. three). His average is still hovering in the .216 level. Still rooting hard for him though.

- Jose Reyes. The Mets' young shortstop is holding his own in the big leagues. His week's average was the same as his year average (.260) and scored six runs and drove in three. Reyes also stole three bases without being thrown out.

- Bo Hart. Hart had a real tough week at the plate and only batted .160 (4 for 25), but he is still flashing a lot of leather and is still at .321 for the year.

- Albert Pujols. Pujols, on the triple crown watch, didn't hurt his cause as he batted .429 for the week with two homers and five RBI. He scored seven runs and had an incredible .538 OBP.

- Sean Burroughs. Oh no! Sean went one for seventeen last week, an .059 batting average. Ugh! Come on, Sean! I wonder how much of his playing time will be squeezed by the activation of Phil Neven?

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

It was announced today that the New York Yankees were the only team expected to have to pay the new "luxury" tax negotiated during the last labor agreement. Under that agreement, teams with a player payroll over $117 million would have to pay the tax toward a fund to aid struggling teams. The Yankees are the only team over that limit and will owe nearly $11 million. The story and the facts clearly show what a farce the luxury tax is in Major League Baseball.

Let's say that the struggling teams would be the Expos, the Brewers, the Marlins, the Devil Rays, Oakland and the Pirates, $11 million split six ways would yield each team $1.8 million. How will $1.8 level the playing field? Perhaps that money will buy Mike Bordick. No offense against Bordick, who is a good player and a good team player, but Bordick isn't going to buy you a pennant. Surely the old luxury tax structure produced more money for the fund.

Secondly, there are several teams over $100 million in payroll including the Mets, Boston, Arizona, Los Angeles and Texas (of all places). Why should the Yankees be the only team to have to even up the system? The Yankees spent their money well while the Mets spent theirs poorly. Arizona spent theirs for a World Series title and it worked but now they are restricted because of the money they have tied up. Los Angeles spend their money and are hitting .245 as a team. I guess they have all paid in one form or manner.

The other reality is that the teams that receive the money won't put the money towards the team. The stockholders and the owners will pad their pockets and the team will stay the way it is. And why should Steinbrenner pay for poorly run teams? Do the Pirates have to be perennial losers? Let's look at a little history.

The Cleveland Indians had a stretch in the 60's and 70's when they were the worst team in baseball. They came in last or next to last for more than a dozen years. During that time they had a decent following but they were lucky to draw a million fans. Slowly, they started building a good team with great players like Manny Ramirez and Juan Gonzales. Their now-well-run organization produced home grown talent and as the team got better, the fans came out. As luck (or planning) would have it, the improvement of the Indians coincided with the building of a great new ballpark. Between the two movements, the Indians drew over 3 million fans.

Back when the Indians were poorly run with a terrible farm system, why should the other teams have rewarded them with proceeds of a luxury tax? In addiction terms, isn't that called, "enabling"?

Cleveland lost a lot of those good players because they didn't want to pay them. And now they are rebuilding and their attendance is down again. Had the Indians kept the great players, their payroll would now be up over the $117 million mark. For doing things correctly and succeeding, the Indians would have had to pay a luxury tax to the next generation of poorly run teams. They chose instead to become the next poor team. Does the luxury tax then come to them for falling by the wayside?

Perhaps someday an economic genius can explain why all of this makes sense to those corps who own and run baseball. But it's obsurd to me. The system obviously doesn't work because the Pirates again dumped a good player for his salary and the Red Sox blithely picked it up tax free. For the exercise, the Pirates can expect a $1.8 million check courtesy of the New York Yankees.

Monday, July 21, 2003

There is a lot of hitting going on in MLB tonight. The Blue Jays are all over the Yankees 7-0. The Cubbies have four RBI from Sosa and lead a high scoring game against the Braves. The Red Sox are pounding the Tigers 14-4. The Mets are out-hitting the Phillies 8-4 and the Reds are pounding the Brewers 11-0.

Sosa is simply mashing the ball as he is now up to 20 homers with 57 RBI. If the Cubs can get some pitching, Sosa could help carry this club back into contention.

The Marlins got a great performance out of Josh Beckett and beat the Expos 4-1. Beckett pitched seven innings of shutout ball. That has to encourage the Marlins as much as getting Mike Lowell back today. Lowell went two for three and drove in two runs. He got a scare this week as it was thought that his cancer might have returned but it turned out to be a groin problem. To continue the good news in that game, the Expos' Vladamir Guerrero returned to action after a long injury shelving and had two hits in the game.

The Angels are losing in the eighth inning to the Devil Rays and if that outcome remains the same, the Angels are looking at their fifth loss in a row. They don't have enough season left to afford that kind of losing streak.

Going the other direction is the Minnesota Twins who are beating the suddenly struggling Seattle Mariners, 4-0. If the Twins hold on to win that game, it will be their fifth victory in a row. The trade with Toronto (Kielty to Toronto for Shannon Stewart) is paying off big for both teams as Kielty is playing superbly for the Blue Jays and Stewart is six for his last seven for the Twins. It's great when a trade is a win/win.

The White Sox are starting to come around again as the new players are starting to fit into the Chicago lineup. That always seems to take a while. Alomar is playing better than his Mets days and is batting .298 thus far with Chicago. Frank Thomas is having a great year. Paul Konerko is starting to hit and has raised his average 18 points in the last two weeks and Maglio Ordonez is starting to play well too.

The Royals are six games in front of the White Sox and Twins, but this race is not over. We all root for the underdog Royals but no matter what happens the rest of the season, they have had a successful year. Tony Pena should definitely win manager of the year.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

After their performances last year, would you ever have believed that Rickey Henderson and Jeremy Burnitz would be leading the Dodgers in hitting this week? Henderson, released by Boston and playing early this season for a just-barely-professional team in Newark, has started his season with two homers while going four for twelve. Rickey is 45 years old and has been playing since 1979!

Everyone assumed the Henderson would retire two years ago when he reached several milestones like 3000 hits and all-time run scoring record, but Henderson plays for the joy of it. He just loves baseball and when asked about it answered back by asking why he should quit when there was still someplace he could play.

Rickey has been playing so long, most people today would not understand the force of nature Henderson was as a player. Henderson scored more than a hundred runs in thirteen seasons including 146 in 1985. He has a .402 lifetime OBP and discounting his first year, never (even in his later years) had an OBP less than .369! A leadoff hitter with a .362 OBP is hard to find today. He also has hit almost 300 homers and has over 500 doubles. He wasn't just a base stealer (though he was the best ever), he was a force.

So it's still fun to see the old man get up to the plate, especially when he lead-off and hit the 81st lead-off homer of his career. No matter how long Henderson plays and how well he does while he hangs around, he is one of the best players to ever play the game.

And then there is Jeremy Burnitz who after a good start to his career in Milwaukee, had one of the ugliest batting seasons I've seen when he batted .215 in almost 500 at bats. This year he is batting a respectable .279 and has 20 homers.

And the Dodgers weren't done resurrecting ballplayers as their pitching corp now includes Wilson Alvarez who was out of baseball for three years and is now pitching with some success for the Dodgers. It's all fun stuff but they won't make the playoffs despite their comeback kids.

In other stories:
The Orioles completed a sweep of the Angels. Sadly, Mora was hit in the face with a pitch during the game today. The Fan sends his best and hopes that the situation doesn't derail what has been a breakout season for the Oriole player. The Angels were dealt a severe blow in their fingertip grasp of a playoff home.

The Yankees completed their sweep of the Indians and in a weird stat, the Indians have scored exactly four runs for seven straight games. That's never been done before. They also lost six of those seven games. Derek Jeter has batted over .500 for his last fifty at bats.

The Houston Astros have now won nine of their last ten to put a little distance between them and the Cubs and Cardinals. Bagwell is starting to hit really well and they keep winning in their division. The Astros are now 32-18 in their division.

The Braves have also won nine of ten and look unstoppable. The Phillies are now nine and a half games back of the Braves, but still lead the Wildcard race.