Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Yes, middle-aged baseball fans, it's a sad day. Jesse Orosco retired today after 24 years in MLB. The career appearance leader is 46 years old and just couldn't get himself to put in the work needed to go for one more year. Who can blame him? A quarter of a century is a long time to pitch in the best baseball game on the planet.

Jesse Orosco is the last of my peers to go in baseball. It is official now that I am older than all the players that play baseball. As long as Orosco and Rickey Henderson before him hung in there, I could still claim some peerage with the players. After all, Orosco was born one year after me. The game now is about players who were born after Orosco started pitching in the majors in 1979. Most players now were born after I grew up.

There are stages in being a Fan of this great game. As a youngster, you play little league or PAL and dream of growing up to play in the majors. You may be lucky enough as I was to go to a half a dozen games a year at Yankee Stadium. You can smell the grass, you can see the players doing a more grown up version of what you do in little league and you dream.

You put your oiled glove--tied with string caressed around a baseball--under your mattress to create the perfect pocket. Your baseball glove is the most important thing you own. You bang the mud out of your kid cleats like the big boys do. You imitate their baseball stance.

Mine was just like Bobby Murcer when I batted left-handed, Brooks Robinson when I batted right handed. I could mimic Willie McCovey's preparatory swings. I ran the bases like the wind.

Then you grow up and play softball and you make the occasional diving catch or hit the game winning hit and you feel a kinship with those on the field. That could have been me if I worked harder and wanted it more. That could have been me hitting a baseball over the Green Monster.

The players you root for are your age and came from the same places you did. You might have gone to high school or college with one of them. You can relate to them and have empathy. You know what it's like to bail out on a big curveball. Your muscles still have those memories. But you expect more because they became what you dreamed about and you didn't.

Money news creeps into the game and you get angry because they have the dream and you're working in a factory or going to church in a Ford Tempo. Just play the game you spoiled little tripe! You expect them to hustle, care, succeed and then give back to the next generation of kids. You don't like it when you hear of a player snubbing the autographs or beat writers.

And then you hit the next level when people like Jesse Orosco retire. For the generation just preceding mine, their level began when Nolan Ryan retired. The game has passed you by. Your muscles no longer have memories. My son is as old as Orosco's career and I haven't played catch with him in six years. I haven't thrown a baseball in six years. Even the random snowballs shoot twenty feet off target. I used to be able to hit the first baseman's mitt from any angle at second, short or third. I could pick it and I could throw it accurately. Now I can't hit a stop sign with a snowball.

Ah Jesse! Why did you have two quit? You were all we had left. Now I am a post generational fan. My career is making me more comfortable so I can buy a car like the kid who just signed the bonus after being drafted. I just made in my career of two dozen and more years what Soriano signed for yesterday for one year.

It is an edgier fandom. It is a frustrated time of watching and rooting. The players that really love the game like Jeter and Jason Varitek are what still make it worth watching and rooting. Besides, it's in my blood. After strikes and stupidity and a decade of Bumbling Bud Selig, I love this game more than ever. But it was still a little sweeter before Jesse Orosco retired and a little more bittersweet now. Adios, Jesse. I still wish you hadn't beat the Red Sox in 1986.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Are the Tigers crazy? Ivan Rodriguez for four years at $40 million? Sure, Rodriguez has maybe two top years in him--unless he gets hurt again like he was in his last couple of years in Texas. But to seriously consider Rodriguez at four years is stretching history. Rodriguez is right at that age when great catchers start to fade from glory. Johnny Bench comes to my mind as a prime example.

It's great that Detroit is serious about turning their franchise around and if they threw $20 million at one of the best catchers who has ever played, great. But four years is financial suicide as there is no way that Rodriguez will last that long as a prime catcher. And do you want to pay $20 million for two years of a gap hitting first baseman? Maybe, but not with my money.

Greg Maddux is in the same category. He wants one more long term deal. But why is there any hope that he has more than one or two decent seasons left in him? Be smart, Greg. Take a one year deal and the $10 million and run with it.

Recent signings show a more stable reality as the highly talented Derrek Lee signed with the Cubs for $6.9 million. As the Fan has stated here before, good defense needs a good first baseman. Lee is one of the best so don't be surprised with the infield defense in Chicaco and a downgrade in the fielding and higher ERAs in Florida.

The Dodgers signed Adrian Beltre for one year at $5 million, a modest $1.3 million dollar raise. Beltre is only 24 and is still a big talent potential, but his average has dipped every year and he doesn't seem to be taking it to the next level. The Dodgers were smart to only offer a year's contract.

Kazuhiro Sasaki, the Mariner's closer announced that he will return to Japan and not pitch for Seattle this season. Although a surprise, you have to wonder how many more oriental players will follow him. It has to be terribly hard to move to a foreign culture, not knowing the language and trying to play in those circumstances. Much respect should go to him as he turned down $9.5 million to go back home and stay with his family. Good luck to you Kaz and thanks for the good memories.