Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Knew?

The Fan was pouring over Friday's box scores and it was pretty disappointing since almost all of the Florida games were rained out. But then the link was clicked to the Chicago game and looking over the pitchers that worked the game, the Fan got a Wuh moment. You know that kind of moment right? It's when you rub your eyes to see if you are seeing what you thought you saw. One of the innings pitched for Chicago was by J. Papelbon. What!?

So the Fan frantically checked through all the news sites. How did the guy who lives and dies by baseball miss such an important trade? The box score looked legit. J. Papelbon pitched an inning, giving up no runs with two strikeouts and a walk. That sounded right. But how could it be?

After hyperventilating for a moment, the Fan had a lucid moment and went to and searched for Papelbon. Thank goodness. There were three of them. There was the Jonathan that pitches for the Red Sox and then there were two others, Jeremy and Joshua. They are all brothers. Who knew!?

Jeremy and Joshua are twins and are three years younger than Jonathan. Joshua pitches in the Red Sox minor league system and pitched in Portland last year. Hey! That's the Fan's state! Jeremy pitched mostly in AA last year for Chicago and finished the year at AAA.

Wouldn't it be kind of funny if Jeremy was traded to the Red Sox and all three were in the bullpen? They are all relief pitchers by the way. The Fan can see it now: "Pitching the seventh inning, Papelbon." "Now pitching for the Red Sox (in the eighth inning), Papelbon." "And it's time for the Red Sox to turn to their closer, it's Papelbon." Wouldn't that be something?

So anyway, the Fan hopes he is not the only dummy who didn't know about all of this. Three Papelbon pitchers. And they are all relievers. Fascinating.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Don't Look Back, You Can Never Look Back

Saw a video today of the demolition going on at the old Yankee Stadium. Didn't feel anything. The feeling brought to mind a song by one of the Eagles flying solo. Was it Glen Frey? Don't know. But the lyrics have stuck over the years:

"Saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. Don't look back, you can never look back."

That's the truth of it. Many of us try to relive the past or at least recreate it. We have high school reunions. We buy matchbox cars and old baseball cards on eBay. Some of us try to visit the houses were we grew up. The Fan has done all of those things. Only went to one reunion in thirty years though. But the overriding feeling for all of those things is detachment.

As kids, the Fan's immediate family always spent a couple of weeks down at Wildwood, New Jersey. It was the best part of our childhood. It was our escape and our magical times. We had a shoestring budget, but we stayed on the upper floor of this Italian couple, the Tropeas. It was homey and it was like our second home. Recently, the Fan's brother and sister spent some time in Wildwood and came back disappointed. Condos have replaced most of the houses and the Art Decco hotels. Of course it's changed. That's what happens in life.

Recently on Facebook, a bunch of the former employees of the software company the Fan worked for have started a group. It seemed like a good idea. But it leaves the Fan sort of ambivalent. The Fan put his soul into that company and as one of the first employees, helped usher it from a start up to a $40 million a year business. The business was bought up and moved to Georgia. That's life. It sucks, but there it is. Nothing stays the same for very long. The Fan still cares about the hundreds of people he hired over the years that are now scrambling to take care of their families. But there is no emotional need to rehash the times there. It's over.

Old Yankee Stadium is over too. Some of the Fan's best childhood memories are involved with that place. There was Craig Nettles' home run to win a 1-0 game. There were bat days and Bob Shepherd on the P.A. It was all magical and wonderful. But it's in the past. Once the decision was made to build a new place, the old place died. It's gone.

Many of us spend a huge amount of time looking back and trying to recreate the feelings that helped shape us. It doesn't work. That girl, Julie, from the Fan's homeroom is never going to be a part of the Fan's life. The house that was so special in Bergenfield, New Jersey, where the Fan and his brother shared all those good times on the side of the house building mud matchbox cities, is gone. Buying the house and trying to make mud cities now would just feel kind of stupid. Wildwood will never be the Wildwood of our childhood. And the software company once called ATX Forms will never exist again. Now you can add Yankee Stadium to that list.

Going back is never as special as the memories and the emotions that resonate from recalling them. You don't have to go back there because they remain inside us forever. Reconnecting with old friends like Jimmy Conrad and Tom Cairoli after thirty years might be nice, but in reality it would probably be awkward. But the memory of their friendships and the fun times we shared stay inside forever. The Fan can never get his dad back and anyone who vainly attempts to go to seances are groping through sand.

Yankee Stadium was a glorious place. It had a majesty to it. It spoke of the lore of history and echoed with the ghosts of Babe Ruth and others. When it was rocking and the fans were going crazy, it was a one of a kind experience. The Fan will always have those memories. But there is no sense in wishing to go back there. It's gone and will never come back. Heck, it's doubtful that there was a ghost of Babe Ruth there either. He probably knew you couldn't go back.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Spring Box Score Observations

Ah baseball. How we love you so. Every day there is something different and something new. Here are some fast thoughts after perusing the box scores from the tenth day of March:

  • Greinke looks as good so far as he left off last year.
  • Saw something in the Mets' box score that has never been seen before. The team's pitching line featured three pitchers whose last names started with "Nie." There was Niese, Nieve and Niesen. Jayson Stark might have a field day with that one. Oh, none of them pitched very well.
  • Pedro Alvarez is really killing the ball for Pittsburgh. Will he head north with the team in April? Hope so.
  • Brad Penny seems to be in line to be Dave Duncan's next miracle. He pitched four scoreless innings today.
  • Joba Chamberlain got crushed. Hughes did better in his three innings. The Fan thinks Joba is a one inning pitcher.
  • The Angels were held to three hits by the Reds' Lincoln, Rhodes, Leake, Wood and Kip Wells. Kip Wells? That doesn't look right. hmm...
  • Mike Sweeney has been crushing the ball as Seattle's DH. Will his swan song eclipse Junior's?
  • Granderson played center and Gardner played left. The Fan still thinks that's backwards.
  • Sanchez smoked the Cubs for three innings with five strikeouts while Zambrano got kicked around. The Fan still isn't feeling the Cubs.
  • Kyle Drabek pitched two scoreless innings for the Blue Jays. That's good news.
  • Poor Pat Burrell hasn't had a hit all spring. Seems like he's lost it.
  • David Price got hurt from a broken bat. If it was a maple one, those debates will come up again.
  • Connor Jackson looks like he's going to have a great year.

Granted, none of these games count. They are truly meaningless. But a lot of fringe pitchers fighting for jobs are getting lit up. And there are a lot of interesting stories already developing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sure Wish Bradley Would Hush

This Fan has long tried to give Milton Bradley a pass on his reputation. For one, the Fan is a white guy and understands that no matter how enlightened, this type of reputation is enhanced by race. Guys like Bradley and Gary Sheffield and before them, Eddie Murray and Albert Belle, seem to get little slack for their respected reputations in large part because of their race. The Fan suspects that Jeff Kent was as much a jerk as Barry Bonds, but Kent was the "gamer" and the "throwback" while Bonds was...well, Bonds. And so the Fan has tried to give Bradley a pass. But each time the Fan tries to do that, Bradley speaks up again and what he says is such garbage that it makes the innards groan.

The Fan is going to play pop psychologist for a moment and consider that Bradley might have a problem. He is at best, insecure and at worst, schizophrenic. After all, consider that he has given an entire city as the reason for his nightmare of a season last year. It gets pretty paranoid when an entire city becomes this evil lurking thing that brought you to your knees as a player.

The nagging thought is that Bradley still might have a point. Things weren't going well in 2009 for Bradley and the Cubs. Both had high expectations as a player and a team respectively. Every projection picked the Cubs to win their division in 2009. They never even got close. During the midst of that spiraling down slide, Lou Piniella, the white "old guard" manager publicly called out Bradley and belittled him in public. Bradley didn't stand a chance after that with the fans and the city.

But the problem that goes along with insecurity is that sometimes you cover it up with bravado. Bradley couldn't bring himself to swallow his pride and answer Piniella with humility and try to change the city's perception of him. He never could understand that once the press turns on you, only humility and openness can turn it around. Nixon never learned that and neither has Bradley. And so he keeps fanning the flames despite how hard some of us want to see him turn his career back around and become the player he was in Texas.

If he would just hush up and play ball and answer his critics with performance, he would be much better served. But alas, he can't seem to do that. So this Fan's message to Bradley? The Fan's been trying, man. But you got to help him here. Just hush up for a while, okay?

Nomar Story Seems Odd

All indications are that Nomar Garciaparra fulfilled a lifelong "dream" when he retired as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Yes, it was one of those ceremonial signings where a former great player is "signed" to a contract that really isn't a contract just so that player can say they retired from their heart felt team. It's been done quite a bit in recent history. But the whole thing just feels odd here.

Nomar Garciaparra wasn't just traded from the Red Sox. He was unceremoniously dumped and then scapegoated as the guy who was holding the Red Sox back. His trade was supposed to be the reason the Red Sox finally overcame the curse when they won the World Series in 2004. This Fan has never heard any guilt being felt by any member of the Red Sox regime for the perception that Nomar was a hindrance on that team.

But now, Nomar wanted to retire. To this Fan, Nomar retired several years ago. The feeling here has been that he was playing more for the paychecks than the game. Perhaps he was never healthy those last five years. Perhaps he was never given a full chance. Who knows. This Fan certainly doesn't have the answer. But Nomar was similar to Albert Pujols when he first came up. He didn't quite have Pujols' power, but he led the league in batting twice and he was all but penciled in as a Hall of Famer.

But after that start, and what a glorious start it was for a few years, Garciaparra finished with under 2000 hits, under 250 homers and with less than 1000 RBI. He did finish with a .313 lifetime BA. But if you asked anyone in 2000 where Garciaparra would end up and everyone would have predicted 3000 hits, 500 homers and 1500 RBI. But it simply fizzled.

Garciaparra had a career similar to Don Mattingly and Fred Lynn. Bang. Flash. Strobe Lights. Face to Black. But whereas Mattingly and Lynn seemed to go down due to chronic physical problems, Garciaparra just seemed to lose his drive for greatness. Perhaps that isn't fair. But geez, it sure seemed that way.

The Fan knows his buddy, Josh, has whispered the steroid thing. Could be. But Nomar never got huge, did he? Many will point to his wrist injury in 2001 as to where it all went bad. But even that doesn't seem to cut it. When Nomar came back from that injury, he still put up good numbers. Sure, there was a 30 point drop in OPS+, but wouldn't most teams be happy with a shortstop with a 125 OPS+ which Garciaparra averaged the first two years after the injury?

But then came 2004. There was a salary dispute. Nomar wanted more money. The Red Sox weren't budging. There were whispers that he was pouting and dogging it. His fielding, always a strength before, took a dive. The fans were all over him. He seemed unhappy. Or maybe, it was one of those snowball stories where a semi-truth snowballs to an avalanche. The trade made it clear that Nomar was no longer a valued commodity. But was the trade the reason the Sox won it all that year? Perhaps it was more that David Ortiz (was he on drugs?) dragged that team to history. There is no real way to prove that Nomar was the problem.

But he was given that title and the team did nothing to dispel it. So now that same team makes nice-nice and both it and the player that parted so ingloriously are acting like it never happened. The Fan remembers it quite well. It did happen.

But don't feel bad for Nomar. He's made his millions and he married Mia Hamm (now that's a nice goal to score). And his name had just enough luster left that he immediately goes to work for ESPN, the sports equivalent to the ex-soldier getting the post office job. Not sure that he deserves it, but the Fan guesses that's not the point.

At one time, Nomar Garciaparra was the best player in baseball. He certainly was for 1999 and 2000. In just a flipper of time, he was the scapegoat of a franchise and a very small shell of the player that he once was. Guess it was time to go. Guess even more that it was overdue.

Young Talent

One of the things we all love about baseball's spring is the thought of the next great talent to break onto the scene. It's probably the best part of the whole deal. The unknown is what is so exciting because you never know if the young talent will find the way or if it just won't work out. For every Vida Blue and Doc Gooden, there are Felix Pie and Corbin Maybin. The Fan can still remember when Ken Griffey Jr. was the young talent and that turned out pretty well, eh? But it's hard to be the next Griffey.

It's hard because of the collective bargaining agreement. In the past, those young talents would make the club if they had a good spring. Mike Schmidt was allowed to struggle for a few years for the Phillies before he busted out into a Hall of Famer. Mickey Mantle didn't get much minor league seasoning. They were young, they were loaded with talent and they were thrust out there to see what they could do. Sometimes in worked out, sometimes it didn't (David Clyde comes to mind).

But now, with the arbitration process, teams buy extra time and artificially keep young talent in a delay pattern before they can bust it open. All the teams say the right things like they are protecting the player and making sure they are ready for the big leagues. Yeah, sure. The only thing they are protecting is a year's worth of big salary. And so Wieters didn't start the year with the Orioles last year. And Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman and Justin Heyward will all start the year in the minors "to get some work in."

It was quite a surprise last year when the Rangers broke camp with Elvis Andrus. But he is become more the exception than the rule. The one thing in Strasburg's favor is that he's already signed a major league deal and will be getting paid pretty well whether he's in the minors or the majors. So perhaps he'll make the opening day roster. Chapman also has a $35 million deal. So he too might buck the trend. But the Fan would be darned surprised if at least two of those three guys were on the opening day rosters once the season starts.

What the people that run baseball don't yet realize is that they are shooting themselves in the foot. Look at the excitement generated by Neftali Feliz last year once he was called up. Wieters did start slow once he was called up, but don't you think that Oriole fans were jazzed up when he was? Why delay that?

Young talent spruces up the game and gives people something to talk about. It's the life blood and renewal of the game which is why some of us have been fans our whole lives. Who doesn't want to know who the next Ron Guidry or Roger Clemens is going to be? The reports out of spring games on Chapman and Strasburg are electric. Heyward has done nothing but pound the ball and makes Braves' fans salivate. We can't wait to see them. We ache to see them. Bring them on.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Joe Nathan Got Really Bad News

The unfortunate fact for Joe Nathan is that the only times he seemed fallible have been on the national stage. When most baseball fans think of Joe Nathan, they remember post season failure. He's pitched in eight post season games accounting for eight innings in which he gave up twelve hits and seven runs. That is unfortunate because besides the post season, Nathan has been the best closer this side of Mariano Rivera. Today he found out that he has a significant tear in a tendon in his elbow. He has ruled out immediate surgery and is going to try to rehab it and see if he can pitch with it. That doesn't seem like it will work.

All of which leaves the Twins with a hole in the closer position. To be sure, somebody they already have like Neshak or Mijares or someone can be plugged into the spot and succeed 85% of the time. The odds are against a closer failing. Even so, Nathan was one of the best and it will be a mental letdown for the Twins' starters knowing he isn't back there to finish off their games.

Nathan had 246 saves in the last six years, more than anyone in baseball for that time period. He has averaged 5.4 hits per nine innings and WHIPs under 1 in every one of those seasons except one. His ERA was under 1.90 for four of those six years. He averaged more than ten strikeouts per nine innings during that time span. That's pretty hard to argue with.

And so Nathan was a lot like the argument concerning Alex Rodriguez all those years where he didn't perform in the post season. Granted, when Nathan needed to come up big in the post season, he didn't. But like A-Rod, there's no way the Twins get in that position without him.

Nathan is an emotional guy and his news conference today was a bit heart rending. He is 35 years old now and the only guy like him who has had an elbow injury like his at his age was Billy Wagner. Wagner looks like he has come back pretty well at an advanced age, so perhaps we haven't heard the last of Nathan. But it's a pretty serious injury and the odds are stacked pretty high against him.

The Twins are a good organization and the Fan is sure they'll find somebody to step up in the closer role. But those are pretty darn big shoes to fill.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Two Pitchers to Watch for 2010

There are a lot of intriguing stories for 2010. Will Joba or Hughes start? Will Dice-K come back strong? Can Hudson put it together for the Braves? Can Feldman repeat last year's success for the Rangers? Can Carpenter repeat for the Cards and stay healthy? All of these are great stories and don't even include other interesting ones like Halladay for the Phillies, Lackey for the Red Sox, etc. But two stories have piqued the Fan's interest, probably because both started Spring Training games yesterday. The two? Shaun Marcum and Chris Capuano. Both were promising pitchers who missed 2009.

Let's start with Marcum. The Blue Jays' pitcher was a former #3 draft pick who flew unnoticed (except by Toronto fans) for his first three years. In just about every major category, Marcum had improved over those two years and put up decent numbers. He was an up and coming pitcher who showed a lot of promise.

Marcum went 9-7 in 2008 starts after going 12-6 the year before in the same number of starts. The record again shows how little wins and losses indicate the worth of a pitcher. The 25 starts in 2008 were much better than 2007's starts. Here is a comparison:


ERA: 4.13/3.39
WHIP: 1.246/1.163
K/9: 6.9/7.3
H/9: 8.4/7.5

The trouble was that Marcum's elbow started acting up in the middle of the 2008 season (which might account for an increase of walks). He went on the disabled list in June for what was then termed an elbow strain. But the plug was pulled in September and he had surgery on that right elbow and of course missed all of 2009.

Marcum is on the road back and threw two excellent innings for the Blue Jays yesterday against the Yankees. If the Blue Jays can get even a 2008 type year out of Marcum, it will be similar to making a great trade and getting a good new pitcher.

Chris Capuano has been gone even longer than Marcum. The Brewers' pitcher last pitched in September of 2007. That's a long time to be away from the majors. After two Tommy John surgeries, a non-tender, a release (all with the same team), Capuano and the Brewers have some sort of cosmic connection because he keeps trying to come back and the Brewers keep giving him minor league deals to give it a go.

Capuano, who may be one of the smartest players in the game with an economics degree from Duke (after finishing high school as the valedictorian), was very good in 2005 and 2006 and looked like he was going to be a good pitcher for them for a long time. He then started 2007 at 5-0 and everything looked great. He made 22 more appearances in 2007, most of them as a starter. Milwaukee lost each and every one of those games. That seems like it has to be some sort of record.

Capuano hoped to come back in 2008, but had to shut it down. The same thing happened in 2009. But here he is back in 2010 and he made his first Spring Training start yesterday and had two sharp innings.

The Fan has an open heart for the underdog story and both Shaun Marcum and Chris Capuano are underdogs in that they were once promising until significant arm injuries ended their development. Now they are making the long road back to where they once were. The Fan is rooting that they both make it and have great 2010 seasons.