Thursday, June 30, 2005

A major award

We here at TATB meant to hand out these awards during the NBA Draft festivites. Honest we did. But it seems our not-so-faithful correspondent Buckethead took the phrase "green room" a little too literally, and by the time he came out of his haze, the only people remaining at Madison Square Garden were the mummy known as Russ Granik, six of Rashad McCants's girlfriends, and a semi-conscious Stuart Scott, whose pathetic sucking up to North Carolina's four lottery picks finally caused Jay Bilas (Duke, '86) to snap. Bilas, bless his devilish heart, was last seen holding Scott in headlock and punching him in the eye while screaming "Boo-yeah and fist-pump this, @#$%#!" In his rage, I think Bilas may have even wrinkled his Polo shirt.

As for our belated awards:

The Show Me The G-Money award: To Celtics first-round pick Gerald (G-Money) Green, a gangly cross between Reggie Lewis and Cuba Gooding Jr. Fortunately, his game much more resembles that of the former, and Those Who Know swear Danny Ainge got the steal of the draft. (Again.) Projected to go as high as No. 3 and no later than No. 9, Green is said to be an electrifying athlete whose game has drawn comparisons to a teenaged Tracy McGrady. Not sure, but I think the Celtics can find room for a kid like that. While No. 17 pick Danny Granger (or even Hakim Warrick, who went 19th to Memphis) would have been of more immediate help to the Celtics, Green holds enough promise that Boston fans are already daydreaming of the day he and Al Jefferson hoist banner No. 17. Hey, that's really what the draft is all about, anyway - wildly optimistic long-term projections.

The Better Late Than Never award: To Providence's Ryan Gomes, who was on the Celtics' short list at No. 18 until Green fell from the sky, then ended up with Boston anyway at No. 50 overall. Is it possible that Ainge got two bargains in this draft? Bet on it. Gomes draws comparisons to capable journeyman Corliss Williamson, and while Gomes is slightly quicker and a better shooter and Williamson (or "Scoreless," as Charles Barkley called him after Williamson's humiliating performance in the 1995 Final Four) is more powerful in the paint, the comparison is apt enough. And it seems to me a Corliss Williamson type would be of much benefit to the current Celtics. Gomes won't be a superstar, but anyone who saw him at Providence knows he has so much going for him: he's smart and selfless, deft around the hoop, blessed with terrific court sense, and, even at 6-foot-7, has an uncanny knack for rebounding in traffic. He will still be in the league and helping his team win long after half of the instant millionaires in the first round have found another line of work, and after Charlie Villanueva has returned to his home planet.

The Last Man In The Green Room, Please Turn Out The Lights award: To Warrick, who should feel no shame for being picked 19th, even if Memphis GM Jerry West hardly inspired confidence by referring to the Syracuse stringbean as being from Princeton. (Did West - known around TATB headquarters as "The Logo" - think he was drafting Bill Bradley?) Anyway, Warrick's wait was nothing compared to the agony the twitchy Jameer Nelson seemed to be enduring as he waited for his name to be called last year, or when a high school kid named Rashard Lewis burst into tears after falling into the second round in 2000. (His humiliation was the SuperSonics' gain.) For what it's worth, before the draft I was expecting Charlie Villanueva to run away with this award. Silly me, I completely underestimated the idiocy of the Toronto Raptors, who took the spacy UConn underachiever seventh overall. Apparently, GM/chief nitwit Rob Babcock temporarily forgot Toronto has Chris Bosh - it's best player - at Villanueva's position. Maybe he's planning on trading Bosh for Scot Pollard or something equally clever.

The Don't Call Me Mokeski, Mate award: To No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut of the Bucks, the Aussie center who already is being labeled a Big White Stiff by ill-informed "experts" who: A) remember Milwaukee has a long tradition of goofy, pasty centers, from Kent Benson to Randy Breuer to Jack Sikma to Frank Brickowski to Larry Krystkowiak to Brad Lohaus to Joel Pryzbilla to the patron saint of them all, Paul (The Cowardly Lion) Mokeski, and B) don't realize that Bogut is the best-passing big man to come into the league since Vlade Divac. (Then again, that was said about Dwayne Schintzius and Luc Longley at one time or another, so maybe I should hedge this bet.) Seriously, having seen Bogut play five or six times, my prediction is this: He may not turn out to be the best player from this draft, but he'll be an NBA center of Divac-like quality, make a few All-Star teams, and five years from now, the Bucks will have no regrets.

The Blessing In Disguise/Tayshaun Prince award: This honor, which TATB gives annually to a four-year college standout who slides during the draft but ultimately benefits from ending up with a good team, goes to Danny Granger. The New Mexico forward, so versatile that he has drawn comparisons to Scottie Pippen, fell from a near-certain top-10 selection all the way to 17, where he landed with the Indiana Pacers. There's a reason Larry Bird was jacked and pumped about getting this kid. With Reggie Miller retiring to spend more time with Cheryl and Stephen Jackson perfectly capable of making Ron Artest look stable, Granger will find playing time right away, and he'll make the most of it. Three years down the road, maybe sooner, everyone will be wondering how such a fine player lasted so long. (Honorable mention goes to Kansas's Wayne Simien, an undersized but determined power forward who should thrive playing next to Shaq in Miami. It's the absolute perfect place for him to build a career.)

The Being Mitch Kupchak award: Hey, how come no one told me John Malkovich was the GM of the Lakers? Did Kobe hire him?

The And You Thought Sprewell Was A Pain In The Booty award: To Kevin McHale and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who used the 14th overall selection on North Carolina guard Rashad McCants. He's very possibly the most talented player in the draft - and undoubtedly the moodiest. Without rehashing his transgressions, we'll put it this way: When you win a national championship and your teammates barely acknowledge you during the postgame celebration, you'd think that might be a sign to lighten the hell up. Yup, McCants should get along real well with Sam Cassell and Wally Szczerbiak, neither of whom has the reputation of playing well with others.

The Loren Woods II award: To Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who used the eighth pick to choose Arizona center Channing Frye, a chronic underachiever who never played with any fire until the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in his senior season. Sound familiar? He'd be a clone of Woods, his predecessor at Arizona and an NBA vagabond, but for one difference: Frye's reportedly a very likable kid. We'll see if Knicks fans like him much once they witness his mellow approach to the game.

The See You At All-Star Weekend award: To Chris Paul, New Orleans. The Wake Forest point guard reminds some of Isiah Thomas (hyperbole alert!) and others of Mike Bibby, in terms of both talent and competitiveness. (Little-known fact: The punch-to-the-opponent's-groin move, which Paul unveiled as part of his repertoire during the ACC tournament, was trademarked by Little Lord Fauntleroy, as Johnny Most called Isiah.) Paul is the closest thing to a sure thing, a more refined, NBA-ready offensive talent than my favorite player in this draft, Illinois's ferocious Deron Williams, who went a pick ahead of Paul to the Jazz at No. 3. The Hawks' Marvin Williams was in the running for this award as well, but considering he couldn't/didn't start over undrafted Jawad Williams for North Carolina last season, we'll hold off on joining his chorus of hype for now.

The Bad Advice, Worse Coach award: To Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, both of whom left the University of Florida as underclassmen, forfeited their eligibility by signing with agents, then, much to their shock and embarrassment, went undrafted. (Walsh reportedly was so delusional . . . er, confident that he'd be selected that he hosted a draft party. I bet that was a raging fiesta of joy by the time Pick 60 rolled around.)

Okay, rant time: I've watched a ton of Florida basketball the last six years - former Gator Matt Bonner the favorite son of Concord, N.H., where I worked for 9 years, and I came to know and like him and his family - and I have arrived at this indisputable conclusion: Billy Donovan is a fantastic recruiter. He is absolutely terrible at everything else required of a college basketball coach. Consider the evidence: He recruits an endless supply of McDonald's All-Americans, luring them in with the Gators' run-and-gun style . . . then does nothing to better them as basketball players. Nothing. Walsh, a creative passer with an accurate but very blockable shot, peaked as a freshman. (I recall Dick Vitale comparing him to Larry Bird, a statement so ridiculous in its blasphemy that he should have been banned from mentioning Larry Legend's name on the air.) Roberson, like the reckless Brett Nelson before him, regressed as a point guard, instead gunning for long threes and style points when the mood struck him. Both have talent. Neither had a coach capable of molding and disciplining their talent. I'm sure Donovan, in all his slippery shrewdness, will take credit for David Lee being a first-round pick (No. 30, New York). But the truth is Lee, a versatile, athletic power forward without much of a jump shot, was woefully underutilized at perimeter-oriented Florida. He would have been so much better off spending four years in a program that actually involved the big men in the offense on occasion - in fact, had he gone to, say, Kentucky, he'd have been a lottery pick. I admit I found it deliciously ironic that Lee and Orien Greene - a pass-first point guard who transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette after getting buried on the bench at Florida - were selected (Greene at No. 53, to Boston) while the gunners Donovan pampered to their detriment were not. Somewhere, Dr. Naismith is smiling. I know I am.

As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:

Yes, I believe we must call this one the Hey, Red, Why The Hell Didn't You Take Tim Hardaway Back In '89? award.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Nine innings: 06.28.05

Playing nine innings while wondering who's crazier at the moment, George Steinbrenner or Tom Cruise . . .

1) Shaughnessy had it right. The Sox will run away with the American League East. (I'm choosing to write off last night's homecoming mess as a mere speedbump on the road to October. Thus the Manny photo from the previous day.) They've won 12 of 14, they're 2.5 games up on the Orioles and 5.5 up on the Yankees already, Curt Schilling is darn close to returning to anchor the staff, closer Keith Foulke is rediscovering his stuff, Manny is back to being Manny, and as we all expected, the lineup is heating up along with the temperatures. (I predict we are about to see the real Edgar Renteria soon enough, too - cold weather has never agreed with him.) Sure, there are flaws - at this point I'd rather see Joe Sambito come into a game than Alan Embree - but the Sox are in far better shape than their division competition. The Orioles are battered and crumbling, and the Yankees . . . wait, tell me again: What was the "turning point" for the Yankees? Was Giambi's walkoff homer against mighty Pittsburgh? . . . the comeback against the fearsome D-Rays? . . . or the time Bernie Williams tracked down a fly ball without a limb falling off his mummified body? I always forget - there have been so many "turning points" already, you know? I wonder how many of them have realized the moment may never come. It's the Sox's year, again. So go ahead, mark it down: For the first time since Erik Hanson Magic in '95, the Sox will win the AL East, and it'll be over early. No one else in this division is in their league.

2) Meanwhile, turmoil again abounds on the Death Star. The Yankees have won two in the row - it's a turning point! - but George Steinbrenner has ordered his minions to the Yankees' Tampa compound for a meeting to "discuss" what's wrong with the Worst Team $205 Million Could Buy. Speculation is that Steinbrenner already has his scapegoat selected, though it's possible that Giambi's sweep-averting game-winning hit against the Mets Sunday night saved a few front-office jobs. As it is, Steinbrenner certainly seems like he's trying to give the impression that he's about to go on a rampage. Not only did he release one of his patented (or Pattonted?) missives through his personal public relations lackey today, but it was noted by said lackey that Steinbrenner was - get this - lifting weights while he dictated the release. Steinbrenner? Lifting weights? Suurrre. He's the kind of guy who pays people to exercise for him. I suppose he was spotting for Giambi after sticking a needle in his a--, too, right? Doing squats with Jeter, perhaps? Or maybe he's shaping up so he can play for the Yankees, figuring what the hell, he's younger than half the roster. Man, but if he is telling the truth . . . I'd cough up my weekly allowance for pictures. Can't you just see him, say, wearing a pinstriped spandex unitard over his ever-present turtleneck, the words "The Boss" or "True Yankee" stitched across chest, as he curls his pink two-pound weights with help of his assistant Smithers? The comedic possibilities are endless. Georgie Porgie is jacked and pumped and ready to rumble! Come git your whuppin,' Cashman! Bring it on Lucchino!. . .

3) The biggest surprise of the baseball season? It's not the Devil Rays' cruel and unusual punishment of the Yankees, or Dontrelle Willis's spot-on rendition of Vida Blue's Greatest Hits, or even the emergence of the Chicago White Sox as a legitimate World Series contender. It is this: David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez still get pitches to hit despite often having Kevin Millar batting immediately behind them. There is no logical reason why Papi - or Manny, who is on a 41-homer, 143-RBI pace and who surely will be the subject of a fawning piece by Peter Gammons any day now - is allowed to do damage on those nights when the Human Groundball To Third follows them in the lineup. Some managers' stupidity is exceeded only by their stubborness, I guess.

4) Have you noticed that the first base position for the New York Mets has become a branch of the Red Sox Alumni Association? First it was a rotund Mo Vaughn and his equally bloated contract a few years ago. Then they acquired Doug Mientkiewicz and the hot World Series ball this offseason. Brian Daubach, last seen running around Busch Stadium after Game 4 of the World Series, wearing street clothes and maniacally waving a broom (no kidding), was recalled from Triple A Norfolk a few weeks ago. And now there's 364-year-old Jose Offerman, recalled yesterday to replace the injured Mientkiewicz, and ostensibly his on-base percentage. Heck, the Nashua Pride doesn't have that many washed-out ex-Red Sox. Makes me wonder which ones the Mets missed out on in the past - George Scott? Carlos Quintana? Billy Jo Robidoux? - and whom might be next. Millar does know they have KFC in New York, right?

5) In case you missed it, Ken Rosenthal reported in The Sporting News that the Marlins are willing to trade free-agent-to-be A.J. Burnett, but that the Red Sox thus far have not expressed interest in the phenomenally talented but inconsistent starting pitcher. While I am an unabashed Burnett fan dating back to his brief, electric time with the Portland Sea Dogs, my initial reaction to this piece was: Of course the Sox aren't interested. They need relievers, not starters. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought Theo might do his stealth thing and pluck Burnett out from under the Orioles, Yankees and whomever else is in the running. Why? One reason (two if you count the fact that John Henry adores Burnett from his days as the Marlins owner): If the Sox picked up Burnett (or the Giants' Jason Schmidt, who may also be available) and Schilling returns to ace form, then Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield can both go to the bullpen. My guess is that Arroyo and Wakefield would be far more effective than, say, the Ricky Bottalicos, Brian Fuenteses and Danys Baezes that are said to be available. In other words, getting Burnett would strengthen the entire staff, not just the starting rotation. I say Theo tries to do it - but he draws the line at giving up Arroyo in the deal, for the bullpen's sake.

6) I'm not saying Ramon Vazquez is the worst major-league infielder I have ever seen, but the more I see of him, the fonder I am of the Cesar Crespo era. If he's still injured, he should go on the disabled list. If he's not, he should go in the transactions. Say it with me, and maybe Theo will hear us: "Bring back Pokey . . . bring back Pokey . . ."

7) Reason 2,004 why I dig Baseball Prospectus as much for the witty writing as I do for the stat-geek insight - one line from their take on Sox prospect Dustin Pedroia:

He could quickly turn into the player everyone in Anaheim thought David Eckstein was.

In 14 words, a perfect assessment of Pedroia, Eckstein and the Angels' peabrained fans. Gotta love BP.

8) Mark Prior's excellent performance Sunday (6 innings, 1 hit) temporarily justifies the Cubs' decision to rush him back from a broken elbow, but it does nothing to temper my feeling that this is going to prove to be a horribly short-sighted decision long-term. Prior was originally expected to miss the rest of the season after he was drilled by a line drive on his priceless pitching elbow a month ago yesterday. That he's back so soon - and apparently in such good form - is a tribute to his determination and toughness. But Cubs fans must dread the knowledge that Dusty "Pitch Count? I Don't Need No Stinking Pitch Counts" Baker will be less than prudent when it comes to working Prior back slowly. Baseball doesn't need another Tony Saunders, but Baker is certainly capable of giving us one, and you know how things tend to go for the Cubs. I hope Prior knows what he's doing.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

And somewhere back in time, Stewart O'Nan just lost his Pirates cap while shoving a 9-year-old out of the way in pursuit of a Dauber batting-practice home run.

Friday, June 24, 2005

TATB Notebook: 06.24.05

Touching all the bases (NBA Finals edition) while casting Dustin Hoffman as the lead in "The Larry Brown Story" . . .

Well, I guess it wasn't a bad game. I was looking forward to tonight's Game 7 more than I have any NBA game since the Celtics season ended, hoping that it would come down to a Robert Horry or Chauncey Billups shot in the final seconds. Alas, Tim Duncan - the best player in the NBA, still - snapped out of his awkward funk in the third quarter and took command, scoring 17 of his 27 points in the second half, and the Spurs claimed the Pistons' title belts with a mostly suspenseless 81-74 victory. At least the classy Spurs won. There would be something inappropriate about Pistons fans celebrating a championship in the same year of the Artest incident.

Duncan is from the Virgin Islands, but his stone face is straight outta Easter Island. Even after the championship had been secured, he looked more relieved than happy. Then again, if you noticed the grotesque, deep scratches up and down his arms - courtesy of the Wallace, Wallace, and McDyess trio, no doubt - you understand why he'd be relieved to be done with the Pistons. Duncan was so clawed up, he looked like he'd just helped Siegfried pull Montecore the White Tiger off Roy. (Yes, I knew the tiger's name without Google's help. What of it?)

The old-schoolers, grumps, geezers, and especially my dad like to moan that the NBA needs to start calling traveling more often. It's a legit gripe, I suppose, but if you ask me, my number one request for the refs - other than to pull their heads out of their bleepin'. . . whoops, never mind - would be to start calling more fouls. The Pistons and Spurs are actually two extremely skilled offensive teams - if you don't like watching Manu Ginobili slash to the hoop, as far as I'm concerned you don't like sports - but all the slapping, clutching, grabbing, hissing, biting and so on that is permitted by the refs has seriously detracted from the aesthetics of the game. If David Stern gave orders to start calling fouls on everything that - well, on everything that's a foul - we'd see every team's starting five foul out in the first half for about two weeks. Then, gradually, the game would return to the flowing, graceful style of the NBA's 1980s heyday, I just know it.

I'm not saying ESPN's Mike Tirico looks plump, but I'm pretty sure I saw him trying to peel back the golden metal exterior of the championship trophy to see if it was milk chocolate underneath.

Spurs swingman Brent Barry was toting around his preschool-aged children during the postgame celebration. If college hoops recruiters are as savvy as they are supposed to be, the Mini-Barrys are already receiving scholarship offers based on their genes alone. Same doesn't go for Scooter's kids, however.

Why did I get the sense that the frame of reference for most of the Spurs "fans" in attendance last night begins with the debut of David Robinson? I bet James Silas could walk through that building without being stopped for a single autograph . . .

. . . especially if he's had a haircut in the last 30 years.

So much for Billups's burgeoning big-game player reputation. The most successful of the Rick Pitino Rejects likely would have been the playoff MVP (for the second straight year) had he played reasonably well in a Pistons victory last night. But he was held to just one field goal in the first 45 minutes, finished 3 of 8, and had a three-point attempt blocked by the relentlessly annoying Bruce Bowen with 51 seconds left. Not his finest moment, but at least he has had his share, and he'll probably have more.

Who says Al Michaels doesn't seem like he enjoys calling NBA games? He dyed his skin the color of the basketball, for heaven's sake! How can you be more committed than that?

Sidenote to the wizards in the ESPN production truck. One way to make the viewing experience more enjoyable? More closeups of Desperate Eva. Fewer of Gregg Popovich. Thanks much.

Rip Hamilton is Reggie Miller minus about 8 feet of range. I'd say 14 of his 20 or so nightly points come via this route: Run through a screen (or a lead block, if we are to be accurate), run through another screen, curl, catch, shoot, swish. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Has it ever adequately been explained how the Pistons' Tayshaun Prince lasted until the 23rd pick in the 2002 NBA Draft? He was an excellent four-year player for a strong college program (Kentucky), versatile, smart, someone who obviously had skills that would translate well to the NBA. Yet on draft night he was selected after such luminaries as Nikoloz Tskitishvili (that's a name, not a sneeze), Marcus Haislip, Melvin Ely, Qyntel Woods, and Jiri Welsch. Something tells me that if he were a European or a high school kid with the same ability, he'd have been a high lottery pick. It's a shame if there's an unintentional bias against four-year college players, but in Prince's case, the argument is easily made.

As I was attempting to put Robert (Big Shot Bob) Horry's six championships in perspective - perhaps even by sacreligiously invoking the name Bill Russell - ESPN flashed this graphic: Robert Horry is the first player to win six championships with three different teams since John Salley. Wait a minute. John Salley won six championships? That John Salley? The smarmy, Arsenio-wannabe host of "Best Damn Sports Show, Period?" Spider? Him? I knew he won a couple in Detroit and another as a Shaq Daddy caddy in L.A., but I had no idea he coattailed his way to six rings. Upon further review, Horry needs to get Title No. 7 before he can claim to have unique significance.

I was going to give Stuart Scott credit for an understated, professional postgame interview with a remarkably candid Larry Brown. Honest, I was. But wouldn't you know it, ol' DJ Boo-Yeah went and blew it at the end, signing off with one of his patented cloying cliches: "Coach, if you look up the word 'class' in the dictionary, you'll see your picture." What a boob. If only Brown had responded: "Yep, and if you drop the 'C' and the 'L', Stu, why, look . . . there's your picture!"

During the 96 television timeouts, I switched over to HBO to catch bits and pieces of "Bull Durham." Though it's on virtually every night on one HBO channel or another - I suspect the network has no more than 20 movies in their library - it remains my favorite baseball movie, one of five or six flicks that the TATB clicker always seems to stall on. ("Swingers" and "Dazed and Confused" being tied atop the list.)

Three observations:

1) The recent list of the 50 Greatest Movie Quotes included the speech by "Bull Durham" protagonist Crash Davis (Kevin Costner, in his best role) at the end of the movie. The speech is too vulgar at the beginning to publish here but it ends as such: "I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." It's memorable if a little (okay, a lot) chick-flickish. Ask me, there were 50 better quotes in this movie alone. A few:

Crash: "Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man is here. We need a live roost . . . was it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove. And, nobody seems to know what to give Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. Is that about right? We are dealing with a lot of sh--."

Larry the pitching coach: "Well, candlesticks always make a nice gift. And, maybe you can find out where she's registered, maybe a place setting, or maybe a silverware pattern is good."

Crash:"Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don't you think?"

Bulls manager:"You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!"



Nuke:"A good friend of mine used to say, 'This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.' Think about that for a while."

2) Which current major league pitcher most resembles the character of flaky phenom Nuke LaLoosh? I say it's Florida's A.J. Burnett, a likable, cocky space-case blessed with a multimillion-dollar arm. I suppose you could also make a case for Oakland's Barry Zito, although he strikes me as unusually comfortable in his own skin more than anything else. The Red Sox nominee would have to be rockin' Bronson Arroyo, no?

3) Remember the scene when Crash is so infuriated that Nuke is shaking off his signs that he tips the batter off to the pitch? Here's the dialogue to jostle your memory:

Crash:"Son of a b---. He's throwing a two-hit shutout and he's shaking me off. Believe that s---? (Looking at the hitter.) Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak of me well."

Remember it now? Well, turns out the batter in that scene is an actor named Paul Devlin - the same Paul Devlin who is now an anchor/reporter on NESN SportsDesk. He's not the Red Sox's only link to the film, either. The consultant on baseball scenes was the Durham Bulls manager at the time: Grady Little. Name is only vaguely familiar.

* * *

Other stuff . . .

I don't know if this 2005 version will be the best Patriots team of their run, as some TATB emailers have suggested recently. So much depends on Tedy Bruschi's status, because in my view he's one of two utterly irreplaceable players. (I imagine you can guess the other.) But this will undoubtedly be the deepest squad the Belichick/Pioli Braintrust has put together. When the punt returning options are fast (Chad Morton), faster (Tim Dwight) and fastest (Bethel Johnson, if he even makes the team), you know a lack of talent at the bottom of the roster will not be their downfall.

Could just be wishful thinking on my part, but is there any chance we'll see Pokey Reese in a Sox uniform this season? The pieces seem to fit: There's no room for him in Seattle, where young Mike Morse has taken over at shortstop, and the Sox are desperate for a utility player since Ramon Vazquez teeters between injured and useless. Reese, who has been out all season with a shoulder injury, has been long-tossing and is expected to begin a rehab stint soon in the minors. I hope Theo finds a way to bring him back, presuming he returns to good health. He's the best defensive player the Sox have had in my lifetime, and he'd be perfect for this role.

I'm seriously wondering if the KFC Cowboy's annual torrid streak has decided to take this summer off. To put it another way. Dave Roberts (5) has more home runs than Kevin Millar this season.

Stat of the week: Derek Jeter has made the last out in five of the Yankees' 12 losses this month.



(Win some, lose some.)

(Yup, tough luck for Jetes.)

(Still waiting for an intangibles joke, aren't you?)

As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:

Yo, Spurs fans: Do you recognize this man?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Pitino Dynasty

I swear on Buckethead's grave, I'll have something new posted Thursday night. 'Til then, something a few years old . . . and yet relevant to the upcoming Game 7 festivities in Texas . . .

I pecked out this column for the Monitor on the eve of the 2003 NBA Finals. It was a lousy, demoralizing time to be a Celtics fan. We were still lamenting missing out on Tim Duncan six years earlier, still steaming from the entire Rick Pitino debacle, still wondering what might have been had the franchise done something - anything - right other than lucking into Paul Pierce during that reign of error.

The column was written in a fury, but it read as a satire, an exaggerated look at what the Celtics might be like had Pitino lived up to the hype - in other words, had he done everything right instead of everything wrong.

Two years after publication, I think it holds up as an indictment of Pitino's incompetence, though in retrospect, it's apparent that not all of the personnel possibilities suggested in the column were entirely achievable. Duncan has revealed in recent years that he dreaded the thought of playing in Boston and almost certainly would have bolted for a warmer climate at the end of his rookie contract. (Likely Orlando, to play for some dude named Doc Rivers.)

Tracy McGrady, whom the Celtics could have had at No. 3 even after missing out on Duncan in '97, did exactly that after beginning his career in Toronto, so he may not have been a long-termer in Boston, either.

And Tony Parker never would have had his date with destiny - I believe her name is Eva - had the Celtics had the wisdom to choose him over lost cause Joe Forte. Yes, fate has certainly been Parker's friend.

I should also note that I underestimated Chauncey Billups here to the point of omission, or at least exclusion at the expense of McGrady. While Billups needed six NBA stops (Boston, Toronto, Denver, Minnesota, Orlando, Detroit) to find his game and his niche, the 2004 NBA Finals MVP has evolved into a superb clutch player. A Celtics fan cannot watch Billups without a touch of envy, imagining how perfect he'd fit with the current Boston team.

Of course, Pitino set the standard for underestimating Billups, swapping him 51 games into his rookie year for an aging and indifferent Kenny Anderson. As we are reminded by the piece - and tonight's game, which features five coulda/woulda/shoula-been Celtics - it was far from his lone blunder.

* * *

June 4, 2003 - The NBA Finals begin tonight, but David Stern might as well hand the important hardware to Tim Duncan now. Championship trophy, Finals MVP trophy, whatever else the two-time NBA MVP desires.

There is no reason to play these games. The league's best player is the centerpiece of the best team. Another championship for Duncan and his high-flying buddies is a foregone conclusion.

It's almost unfair . . . unless you are a Boston Celtics fan. Then you believe a cry for fairness is a losers' lament, one more sorry case of Green Envy.

Because your team is blessed.

Your team has Tim Duncan. And so much more.

Ever since that wonderful May day in 1997 when the ping-pong balls bounced their way, the Celtics have enjoyed an Auerbachian run of dominance. They won the right to draft Duncan, and they haven't stopped winning since.

With the Celtics favored to overwhelm the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, with banner No. 20 a mere formality, the time seems appropriate to reflect on the rise of the latest Celtics' dynasty.

It began, of course, with Duncan. He is the fulcrum of it all, the foundation, the slam-dunking, shot-swatting embodiment of Celtic Pride.

"Without Tim, who knows how all of this would have turned out," said coach/chief architect Rick Pitino, who waited until after the lottery to accept the Celtics' job, just in case they didn't land the top pick. "It seems foolish to say, but without Tim, maybe I would have been a failure here."

Pitino, the only man ever to win Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year four seasons in a row, pauses to consider the the sheer silliness of such a notion. "Yeah, I'd have gone scurrying back to college with my tail between my legs. Ha. Imagine that."

Duncan was the surest thing to come into the league since Shaq, so Pitino figured he could gamble with the sixth overall pick, which had been pilfered from Dallas.

Pitino considered taking Kentucky's Ron Mercer, but the remarkably self-aware coach soon realized he was overrating a player simply because he coached him in college.

"The last thing I want to do is flood the roster with my old Kentucky guys," Pitino said. "Ron is a fine player and a nice young man, but he looked like Stojko Vrankovic compared to the kid."

So Pitino chose the kid, a skinny high-schooler from Florida. Someday, Tracy McGrady's number will hang alongside Duncan's in the FleetCenter rafters.

Duncan at one, McGrady at six. "Not a bad draft in retrospect," chuckles Pitino. But the dynasty was not built in a single day. Pitino's first Celtic team featured Duncan and precocious second-year forward Antoine Walker, along with Rick Fox and David Wesley, a pair of veterans whom Pitino had the wisdom to re-sign soon after accepting the job. The talent was there. But success took its sweet time.

While Duncan was a unanimous rookie of the year selection, the teenaged McGrady was too raw to contribute, and the 1997-98 Celtics labored until the waning days of the season. That's when Pitino made a crucial decision. He abandoned his beloved full-court press.

"It was something of an epiphany," Pitino said. "I realized that you have to coach to your players' abilities rather than forcing them to play a certain system that may not best suit their skills. I learned that you can't fit square pegs into round holes."

Coincidentally, Pitino's next best-selling motivational book was titled Don't Try To Fit Square Pegs Into Round Holes. Oprah loved it.

Call it the luck of the Irish, but those early struggles? They were blessings in disguise. The Celtics' 36-46 record gave them the 10th choice the following year, where Pitino again turned a lottery pick into a jackpot.

Cue the commish: "With the 10th pick in the 1998 draft, the Boston Celtics select, from the University of Kansas . . . Paul Pierce."

Decent pick, Rick? "When Paul started to slide on draft night," said Pitino, "we were stunned. We just had to get him. I mean, even the worst talent evaluator in basketball history - I'm talking about a real nitwit here, like someone who, oh, I don't know, might give a bumbling stiff like Travis Knight $22 million - couldn't screw that pick up."

Pierce was a draft-day steal, but he wasn't Pitino's last. Three years later, on the suggestion of omnipotent personnel guru Chris Wallace, the Celtics spent a late first-round pick on an unheralded 19-year-old French point guard. Tony Parker was deftly quarterbacking the Celtics' offense within a year. "Tony's the best thing to come out of France since a personal hero of mine," said Pitino. "Napoleon."

Pitino's personnel genius is not limited to drafting players. He's a savant at discovering them, too. In 1997, Bruce Bowen had played a total of one NBA minute. Pitino must have recognized something special in that 60 seconds, because he signed Bowen and molded him into one of the game's premier defensive stoppers.

Then there was the day a ripped but raw power forward from Div. II Virginia Union showed up at the 1999 training camp. The coach watched the man-child snatch every rebound in sight, and realized he'd be a fool not to offer this havoc-wreaking beast a contract. "This kid is the next Paul Silas," said Pitino, showing his usual respect for Celtics history. That's how Ben Wallace came to wear the green and white.

And that's how a dynasty came to be built. The starting five that will take the court tonight is a Dream Team unto itself: Duncan, Wallace, Pierce, McGrady and Parker. Walker, the selfless captain, proudly carries on the Celtics' storied sixth-man tradition, while Fox, Bowen and Wesley provide depth that is the envy of the league.

How superior are these Celtics? It has come to this: They have become sympathetic to their former rival, the always-a-bridesmaid Lakers.

"You have to feel bad for Shaq and Kobe, not having a single championship between them," said Pitino, his words sincere as always. "Even with two great players, it's tough to win anything if you don't have a capable supporting cast. I can't imagine us winning with, say, just Antoine and Paul, no matter how hard they'd try."

In the era of the salary cap, Rick Pitino has proven that building a champion takes luck, serendipity - and most of all, a savvy general manager.

"And having Tim doesn't hurt," said Pitino, deflecting praise as usual. "I don't even want to imagine what might have happened if he had never walked through that door."

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:

Pitino, a genius only when it comes to subtly passing the buck, likes to tell us that he gave up on Billups only when Bob Cousy told him the kid would never make it as a point guard. Figures. The one time Pitino listened to anyone . . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nine innings: 06.21.05

Playing nine innings while wondering how Theo is going to put out the fire in the bullpen . . .

1) Seriously, something needs to be done to salvage this relief corps before they sabotage the season. Alan Embree has suspiciously turned into the lefthanded Way Back Wasdin, nearly meatballing away a 9-5 lead last night. Keith Foulke's command still comes and goes, and when it goes, so does the baseball. John Halama is a space-filler. Matt Mantei is Scott Williamson at his worst. At this point, the only reliable arms are lefty specialist Mike Myers and dependable Mike Timlin, who is 39 years old and on pace to pitch something like 449 innings this season. The direness of the situation can not be exaggerated: Another quality relief pitcher - preferably one who makes his living with his left arm - is this team's No. 1 need, and it must be filled ASAP. The problem is, there's nothing of quality available: Ricky Bottalico? You mean he's still pitching? Dave Weathers? Only as a last resort. It must be tempting for Theo to call up primo prospect Jon Papelbon - a closer in college - from Double A, but I imagine he'll resist the temptation, what with the Cla Meredith debacle still fresh. Either way, something must be done. What? Damned if I know. It's times like these where Theo earns his reputation.

2) I've vowed to avoid all talk of Johnny Damon's contract situation in this space, preferring to focus on the season at hand rather than decisions that will be determined by what happens over the next 100 games. So all I'll say is this: He saved tonight's game with a ninth-inning homer and a fine running catch to end it, a star turn that's become common MVP-caliber season so far. He's the best leadoff hitter the Sox have ever had, he's fueled by the fans' passion, and he still plays a mean centerfield. I can't imagine the Sox without him this year . . . and beyond.

3) Ever since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, I've suspected Fox baseball play-by-play guy Joe Buck was a closet Sox fan. When the camera peeked inside the booth in the game's immediate aftermath, he looked like Aaron Boone had just run over his dog. (So did Bret Boone, for that matter.) And we all know how Tim McCarver feels about the Yankees, particularly Derek Jeter; I think "all tingly inside" is the PG-rated way of putting it. So let's just say this exchange between Buck and McCarver during Sunday's Cubs-Yankees game did little to change either opinion. (Thanks to an anonymous lurker from Sons of Sam Horn for sending along the transcript):

Joe Buck: Now, obviously, you're talking about one of the best leaders in the game today, somebody who is just a winner, and somebody who - when he came up in his rookie year in '96 - just had that look about him like he'd been here before. Jeter has been one of the most consistent players in the game over the past nine years.

Tim McCarver: At the risk of going ga-ga too much, I mean, this guy is thoroughly hip. He is about as hip, to use that young expression, as there is any player in the game. He's tough, he's rugged, he is a winner, he's a guy who makes the big plays, and he has four World Series titles to his credit.

Buck: Clearly the two of us are thoroughly in love with Derek Jeter.

McCarver: Ah, c'mon! I knew, see, when I say 'at the risk of going ga-ga' I knew that you would point out that I was going ga-ga.

Buck: Well, I was over there too, I was in Ga-Ga Land, too. (In an exaggerated broadcaster tone dripping with sarcasm.) He's a winner, he's a born leader, this is a live Yankeeography . . .

McCarver: (Laughs uncomfortably)

Buck: . . . this handsome, debonair, swashbuckling...

McCarver: Quit it!

Buck: . . . he's the last guy to wear number 2 for the Yankees. He is Derek Jeter and he is out. One away here in the third inning.

McCarver: Cut it out. (More forced laughter.)

Buck: Somehow Glendon Rusch got him to ground out. And here's Womack. Ga-Ga Land is shut down for Tony Womack. The rides are closed.

Two points: 1) If a Sox fan ever encounters Buck in a bar, he is obligated to offer him a beer, a thank you, and a handshake. 2) If McCarver shows up for work in a No. 2 Yankee jersey and demanding to be called "Captain" - a distinct possibility judging by sound of it - Jeter might want to consider getting a restraining order. He could have a Single White Female situation on his hands here, and his intangibles are no match for McCarver's obsessed devotion.

(By the way, whatever happened to Bridget Fonda?)

4) TATB's Out On A Limb Prediction Of The Week: The Indians will finish ahead of the Twins in the AL Central standings, and they'll put a September scare into the White Sox at the very least.

(Pay no mind to that sound of shattering glass you just heard. That was my cousin Kris The White Sox Fan smashing his Jorge Orta Commemorative Plate Collection, enraged by such a hurtful proclamation by his own flesh and blood.)

Seriously, these young Indians - who had won nine in a row before last night's 10-9 shootout loss to the Red Sox - are fun, aren't they? They sort of remind you of the formative, pre-arrogant-jerk, early-'90s Tribe teams of Baerga, Belle, Lofton and a goofy hitting savant named Ramirez. Grady Sizemore is five-tool star in the making, Travis "Pronk" Hafner can mash, Victor Martinez is the best young catcher in baseball, and Coco Crisp, god bless his mother, is named after a delicious cereal. And anyone who's ever gulped down a half-dozen chocolate glazed when one would suffice simply has to root for C.C. Sabathia, the only pitcher in the majors whom David Wells can call "Big Guy." Yeah, Drew Carey had it right. Cleveland rocks.

(Little-known fact: Sabathia's hat isn't crooked. His head is.)

5) My memory may be misleading me, but back in the days when the Yankees won championships and Joe Torre had the privilege of selecting the All-Star pitchers and reserves the following season, I seem to recall him picking every eligible Empire employee, up to and including Clay Bellinger. So it's with much anticipation that I wait to see if/how Tito Francona rewards his own guys this year. I imagine one nepotism pick will be Timlin. He deserves to go, no doubt, but he probably wouldn't get chosen by any manager but his own; middle relievers and setup men get little in the way of accolades. I imagine Francona will give the deserving Matt Clement the proper respect, as well as Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Johnny Damon should any of the three not get voted in. However, should Ramon Vazquez get an All-Star invite . . . well, Tito will have trumped Torre again.

6) Every Sox fan I know is fond of Gabe Kapler. He was versatile, played hard, carried himself with class, and cherished being One Of The 25 last October. Kapler got it. But those who suggest the Sox would be better off bringing him back from Japan and granting Jay Payton his wish to be traded are misguided. Payton's the better player. It's hardly a wide gap - each appears on the other's Most Similar Players list on - but it's enough of a margin to matter. And while Payton is struggling with his new role as a fourth outfielder, his statistics (.270 average, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs in 111 at-bats) are approaching Kapler's of a season ago (.272 average, 6 HRs, 33 RBIs in 227 at-bats). You have to figure he will only get better as the season goes on and he continues to adjust. Sure, Kapler appreciates playing for the Red Sox more, but Payton helps the Red Sox more. All options considered, I prefer the latter.

7) I'm no fan of the contrived interruption in the schedule known as interleague baseball, but you do learn some things. For instance: Tim Wakefield runs like he's being chased by a flock of angry birds . . . Darryle Ward is a dead-ringer for Troy O'Leary . . . Jack Wilson is the Gold Glove-caliber shortstop Edgar Renteria was advertised to be . . . and most notably, the Cincinnati Reds stink. How lousy are they? Joe Morgan will soon be denying he ever played for them.

8) Seems apparent now that all the hype regarding Freddy Sanchez two years ago was the result of having little else in the farm system to get excited about. He's 27 now, almost 28, and while he occasionally wows you with the glove, the Pirates' third baseman-by-default is on the Utility Player For Life career path. He always was, really. If he were in the Sox system today, Baseball America would drop his name only as an afterthought.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

The Bob Tewksbury of shortstops.

Monday, June 20, 2005


A couple quick housekeeping items while I wonder what Eva Longoria sees in Tony Parker . . .

* The next column will be posted Monday night. I've been trying to write tonight, but the TV is on, and damned if (begin sarcasm) Chris Berman's super-witty plays on words aren't distracting me (end sarcasm). Tiger "Not Out Of The" Woods? Good god, is Boomer's act tired or what? How did he end up with this golf gig, anyway? Was Gilbert Gottfried unavailable? Guess what I'm saying is, it's tough to write when "SportsCenter" is causing my ears to cry out in pain. The gauze has stopped the bleeding, however, and I should be all better tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.

* I've gradually been adding items to the sidebar down the right side - an explanation of what TATB is all about, links to other New England sports blogs, books and other goodies of interest on, and even some stuff I wrote in previous professional incarnations. Check some of it out if you haven't already. TATB has a baby to feed . . . not to mention Buckethead.

"Hey, who finished off all the Cheddar And Onion Turbo Blast Pringles? Huh, @$%#@? Who? Rodney needs his @$%#@ breakfast, dammit!"

* Thanks. No, seriously, thanks. This website/blog/home of the whopper is growing faster than I dared to expect when I launched it on little more than a lark back in late November. Turns out I do have more than 12 readers. Each month has brought several hundred - and lately thousands - more hits than the previous month. The knowledge that you are out there reading (and reacting) is what keeps this thing going. I sincerely appreciate it. Keep checking in, spread the word, and please, keep the feedback coming. You help decide the content. I had no idea Joe Morgan was so universally despised until I checked my inbox the day after I mocked his incompetence. I think even Davey Concepcion wrote in to say he couldn't take him anymore.

* You might have noticed I'm rarely posting on weekends. From what my Sitemeter data tells me, most of you check in during the morning and early afternoon on weekdays. (Tsk, tsk . . . don't let the bossman find out.) My hits drop considerably on Saturday and Sunday, so I'm using those days to catch up on email, add stuff to the site, try out new shades of lipstick, and of course, drink lots of wine coolers. (Whoops . . . looks like A-Rod hacked into my laptop again.)

* Because you've endured this far, a Completely Random Baseball Card just for you:

From the 2005 Baseball Prospectus:

"Having hit like an underfed shortstop for two years, Olerud has little left to give. It will be a shame, though, if baseball loses it's only player who can be seen emerging from the clubhouse shower wearing a towel and a batting helmet."

Classic line, typical of Prospectus. By the way, did you notice he's not wearing the Magic Safety Helmet on the card? I betcha that rascal Glenallen Hill filled it with Ben-Gay right before the photo shoot. Rookie hazing can be so cruel.

* Don't look now, Tony, but I think Big Shot Bob just walked out with Eva. Don't cry, kid. What did you expect from the coolest, clutchest cat in high tops?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The TATB Hall of Fame

Maybe it's because superstars never lack for cheers, but growing up I always found myself rooting for baseball's obscurities, its no-names, its misfits.

While my neighborhood buddies pretended to be the usual superstar suspects - Rice, Fisk, Lynn - in our daily Wiffle Ball games, I usually imagined myself as the hustling spaz of a third baseman, Butch Hobson . . . except on those occasions when when some new unknown player arrived via Pawtucket and piqued my interest.

I suspect I was among a select (and freakin' strange) few New England 10-year-olds who preferred pretending he was Sam Bowen to Dewey Evans. And I suspect I was stood alone in being at least as interested to say hello to Chico Walker as I was to say goodbye to the icon he replaced in left field in the eighth inning of the Sox's final game of the season in 1983. Yeah, okay, good luck in retirement, Yaz, and don't sweat it. Seems pretty obvious this cool Chico cat will hold down the fort in left field for the next 10 years.

What can I say? I was weird like that. Still am. The more obscure the player, the better I seem to like him, particularly if he seems like a character. (I'm guessing you've already gathered this from Rodney "Buckethead" Craig's "contributions" to this site.)

Which brings us here, to the first class of inductees to the TATB Hall of Fame.

Simply put, it's my way of homage to random dudes I've liked through the years, ballplayers who were forgotten, others who were barely heard from in the first place. All of them played in the majors. Many of them played for My Beloved Maine Guides. None of them will be getting into the other Hall of Fame. You know, the one in Cooperstown.

The selection process was laborious and complicated. In other words, I came up with this list 10 seconds before I sat down to write this baby. I intended to make up a starting nine, but I couldn't think of a catcher, and I had an extra outfielder or two I wanted to get in. Hey, if John Madden can put every starting linebacker in the NFC on his All-Madden Team, than I can list 10 players on my team. And I won't even make you eat any turducken.

This Hall of Fame will certainly grow over time - I'm already kicking myself for forgetting the inimitable Jeff Stone, savior of the '90 Red Sox - and your suggestions are appreciated and encouraged. Feel free to either email them to me via the link at the right, or post them on the comments section of the post.

Without further ado, the inaugural 10:

Chico Walker: Okay, maybe he shouldn't have been the guy to replace Yaz during his final game - it should have been Jim Rice, even though he DH'd that day. But Walker turned out to be a useful utility guy once he escaped the Sox system; he rotted in Triple A purgatory from 1980 to '84 while Boston management favored the likes of Steve Lyons and Ed Jurak. Wrote Bill James (yes, that Bill James) in his 1993 Player Ratings book:

"Switch hitter, plays all over the field like Tony Phillips, and is still an outstanding baserunner at 34. He'd have about 1,500 hits by now if he'd come up with the Red Sox about 1980, but they didn't think he could play."

Junior Noboa: This is how lousy the Cleveland Indians were in the mid-'80s, when they were "supplying prospects" to My Beloved Guides: Noboa was rushed to the majors in '84 at age 19, his .254 batting average and 1 homer in Double A apparently too enticing for the big club to resist. The buffoons in the Tribe front office took misguided pride in claiming they had the youngest player in majors, which in their collective puny minds guaranteed him of future stardom. (The other 19-year-old in the majors that season? Some kid named Gooden for the Mets. Heard that worked out better.) Noboa had decent years for the Guides in' 85 and '86, but the future journeyman lost enough luster off his prospect status that the cheapo Indians didn't even give him an official jersey for his '88 Topps photo shoot. Check out that jacket - it's straight off the the Ralph Lauren Chaps discount rack at Marshall's. The teal wall is lovely, though.

Shooty Babitt: The subject of one of all-time cruelest (or funniest) baseball quotes, depending on your sense of humor: "If he ever plays for me again," said A's manager Billy Martin late in the '81 season, "please, Shooty me." Martin kept his word. Babitt's big league career began and ended that season. But his unforgettable name lives on.

Butch Hobson: Okay, so he's not obscure, at least in these parts, though many probably forgot he played for the Yankees. (Yeah, that's him at the top of the page.) His regrettable dalliance with the Pinstripes forgiven, shouldn't there be a place on every roster for the Red Sox's bat-rack-endangering, bone-chip-adjusting, 30-homer-hitting, 44-error-making third baseman of the late-'70s? Yes, there certainly should be, particularly considering Hobson is TATB's boyhood hero. TATB still remembers meeting Hobson for the first time in 1984 and getting his autograph. TATB also recalls those timeless words of wisdom he offered upon parting: "Hey, don't forget your pen." Ah, sweet memories.

Sam Horn: Batting practice Hall of Famer, patron saint of the message board, and an all-around good guy whose effervescent personality somehow fails to shine through on NESN studio gig. This baseball card cracks me up for some reason. Can't you just see the cartoon thought-bubble forming over his head: "Say, how's this glove apparatus thingy work again?"

Dwight Taylor: Dig the Harry Caray glasses, dude. Taylor, a speedster who had a cup of coffee with the Royals early in the '86 season, has a couple claims to fame, at least in my world:

1) Spotting my 9-year-old sister staring at him, jaw agape, while he signed autographs before a Guides game in '84, he playfully tugged her pigtail and said, "What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen such a handsome black man before?" She hadn't, as far as I knew, which I dutifully informed Taylor. I think he's probably still laughing.

2) According to Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley, the Guides' beat writer for the Portland Press Herald at the time and an occasional TATB lurker, Taylor and his wife were the parents of five children by the time they were in their mid-20s, thus earning the nickname Dwight "Try Some Sleep At Night" Taylor from his teammates. Just can't beat good clubhouse humor.

Tom Newell: Two major-league games. One major-league inning. A career ERA of 36.00. He's TATB's personal "Moonlight" Graham, as explained here.

Ron Jones: Never heard of him? You would have, had fate not been so cruel . . . or had AstroTurf never been invented. Jones was one of the premier prospects in baseball in the late '80s, a line-drive hitting lefty who drew comparisons to Tony Gwynn for his sweet swing and Pillsbury Doughboy physique. Jones came up at the end of the '88 season and absolutely tore it up for the Phillies, hitting 8 homers the final two months. But soon he tore something else up: the ligaments in his knee.The injury ended his season, but he diligently rehabbed, returned to the Phillies in '89, and seemed on his way to fulfilling the great promise that had earned him mentioned in the same breath as guys named Sheffield and Griffey the previous year. The return lasted two weeks. He tore his ACL in both knees when his leg got caught in a seam in the brutal Veterans Stadium turf while chasing a fly ball. He made it back to the Phillies briefly in '90 and '91, kicked around Triple A for years as a DH, but that disastrous day in Philadelphia, for all intents and purposes, spelled the end of a promising career.

Otis Nixon: Like Hobson and Horn, he was a little too accomplished to qualify as obscure. But the Original O-T-I-S makes the cut for obvious reasons - there's gotta be one ridiculously good-looking guy on the team. You know, for the ladies.

Rodney Craig: Who else but our very own Buckethead? TATB correspondent, international man of mystery, part-time ninja, Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam backup singer - Rodney's a man of many hats, a real irony considering no hat has ever fit his mammoth head. (Hence the cruel and hurtful nickname.)

Comment on the honor, Bucket?

"You like me. You really like me, #$%##!" (Sniff!)

Yes, we do. And the rest of these misfits, too. Baseball may brush them aside, but they'll never be obscure to us. In this warped corner of cyberspace, they're Hall of Famers.

* * *

One more thing: If you liked the concept of this post - taking a bunch of silly baseball cards and writing a wise-ass blurb about them, more or less - then you'll love this book. And should you order it, remember to tell 'em Buckethead sent ya. - CF

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Nine innings: 06.14.05

Playing nine innings while wondering how many Yankees fans are currently contemplating buying a Mets cap . . .

1) Two home runs in two nights, one a vintage bomb to left field, the other a sizzling laser to right. Could it be that Manny has finally found his missing mojo? Man, I sure hope so, and for reasons that go beyond his obvious importance to the Red Sox lineup. In my 27 years as a fan, there's no player I've enjoyed watching more in the batter's box. At his best, he's the best pure righthanded hitter I've ever seen. (Somewhere, Peter Gammons's face just twitched.) But during this Jim Rice-in-'88 imitation that he's been doing for much of the season, I've often found myself dreading his at-bats, particularly in key situations. I've really come to hate that feeling, and while I've always thought Manny would come out of this thing, it's gone on a hell of lot longer than any of us expected. It has to be the most prolonged slump of his stellar career. Hopefully, the last two days are an indication that the old Manny's back. I've missed the goofy, baseball-crushing savant. Haven't we all?

2)The Sox are an underwhelming 32-29 overall, but 18-9 at friendly Fenway. They have the Cincinnati Reds in house for two more games. The chaos-stricken Reds are 6-22 on the road. If this isn't the perfect time to start playing with some consistency and maybe even build the foundation for a prolonged winning streak, then I'm not sure that time is going come at all. It's time to quit screwing around, let the Orioles know their cute little stint in first place is about to end, put some distance between themselves in the battered-but-still-breathing Yankees, and remind the Joe Morgans of the world who the defending World Series champion is. (Damn, that's quite an inspirational rant if I do say so myself. Must be the Tony Robbins tapes.)

3) Wasn't it refreshing to hear him say repeatedly how his time in Boston was the best of his career? And how cool was it when he said that even though he loves being a Cub, he dearly wished he was still a member of the Red Sox during their march to the championship last fall? And he really seemed sincere when he said he missed the camaraderie of the Sox clubhouse, didn't he? Man, what a great guy . . . a great Red Sox. Yep, it sure was nice to catch up with Todd Walker again, wasn't it? What, you thought I meant someone else? Ah, okay, I guess it was good to see him too.

4) The best ballpark I've ever been to? Let's see, there's Fenway. . . and Wrigley . . . Fenway . . . Wrigley . . . Fenway . . . Wrigley . . . okay, I've gotta say it's Fenway, only because that's where my heart is. If I were an impartial observer . . . man, day baseball is the best. . . and that ivy sure is sweet . . .

5) We interrupt the usual baseball jibber-jabber for a brief musical interlude ...

You've probably discerned from the Amazon ads and the occasional musical references on this page that I'm a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. (The TATB choice for best song in the history of sound: Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season.) So when country music superstar Kenny Chesney - I believe you "People" magazine junkies know him as the hairless-looking dude in the hat that somehow hooked Renee Zellweger - convinced his record label to let him release an album of Carribean-themed tunes, my interest was piqued. I like Chesney enough in his natural Nashville habitat, and, being curious to see how deftly he could parrot the chief Parrothead, I picked up his disc, titled "Be As You Are (Songs From An Old Blue Chair)" this week. The verdict? Two-and-a-half margaritas, on a scale of four. He lacks the life experience to match Buffett as a song writer - frankly, his lyrics sound as if they came from a Buffett Lyric Refridgerator Magnet set, or maybe a Margaritaville Mad-Libs. But his pleasant voice, earnest appreciation for the island vibe, and sporadically endearing turn of a phrase ("She wears her Red Sox hat/To hide her baby dreds") redeems the disc enough to keep it in the CD player for now. Plus, Chesney is good pals with Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield and genuinely loves the Sox, which goes a long way to earning some goodwill in this corner of cyberspace. (It also doesn't hurt that the specific paradise he's singing about is where me and Mrs. TATB spent our honeymoon. And if you think I'm supplying the punchline here, well, guess again, fool. I learned my lesson last time I crossed the missus in this space, and I'm damn sure not spending another night sleeping in the driveway.)

6) The $53 million question: If Theo's magic 8-ball had told him back in November that Curt Schilling would have been sidelined for all but three starts through early June, would the Sox, knowing they'd need a staff anchor, have put the present ahead of the future and given Pedro four years at his price? I say yes. Ask me, evidence is building that they should have done it anyway.

7) The same week Georgie Porgie so subtly suggests that Joe Torre should start managing like Billy Martin, Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella does a very Martin-like thing and rips the Devil Rays ownership. Could be a coincidence, but it seems to me Piniella is the current ideal for what Steinbrenner wants in his manager; I believe "fiery" is the politically correct term and "ape-bleep lunatic" the appropriate one. I wouldn't be shocked to see Piniella managing the Yankees next season . . . or sooner. Maybe Torre should punch out a marshmallow salesman or deck one of his own pitchers, you know, for job security's sake.

8) I don't know how Terry Francona is supposed to do it, but Tito has got to find a way to get Kevin Youkilis more at-bats. If the second-year third baseman is this sharp getting five plate appearances every three or four days, how much would he contribute to the offense with more consistent playing time? Not that I think any of the struggling veterans in the Sox lineup should be benched at this point, but Youkilis couldn't be worse than the three players whose playing time he could siphon: Kevin Millar, Mark Bellhorn, and Bill Mueller. Tito seems to realize it, too. Hitting Youkilis third Sunday night against the Cubs made sense to everyone who'd watched the Sox this season, particularly with Big Papi getting a deserved night off. Naturally, Joe Morgan was stumped, and when he's stumped he resorts to being condescending and critical. ("I just don't get this, Jon. Youkilis? Who is he? What has he ever done, Jon? Did he play for the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, Jon?") Which of course made it extra sweet when Youkilis - a Cincinnati native and a Reds fan as a kid, Joe - homered in his first at-bat.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

All right, maybe naming it Fisk Pole was a better idea.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Voicing displeasure

Hey, did you know that Joe Morgan played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1975? No, really he did. Seriously. He was the NL MVP, too. His manager was Sparky Anderson. They even won the World Series! And they did it again '76!

Amazing stuff, huh? And all true. Thought I should remind you of all these things, you know, in case you didn't hear Morgan himself mention them approximately 1,975 times during ESPN's Red Sox-Cubs telecast tonight. Not that I'm suggesting he'd rather talk about his own career than the game at hand, but if there was a drinking game where you had to take a sip every time Morgan mentioned his own playing days, years from now historians would be telling us about the Great Beer Shortage of 2005.

I suppose I could deal with his regurgitated 30-year-old anecdotes a little better if he weren't so blantantly unprepared for the real, live game he's getting paid to analyze. As usual, Morgan spent the telecast spewing his usual array of ignorant, obvious and stunningly idiotic opinions. Sometimes I wonder if he has watched a Red Sox game in its entirety since the 1975 World Series. Example: Asking a visbily annoyed Terry Francona why Jason Varitek wasn't catching Tim Wakefield tonight. Anyone who has rudimentary knowledge of the Sox knows Doug Mirabelli catches Knucksie. Joe, see those game notes there in front of you? It's okay to read them sometimes. Really.

Morgan's other intensely aggravating specialty is his knack for telling the viewer exactly what pitch was just thrown. Not only is it plainly obvious to the average viewer when, say, a fastball or a curve was just delivered, but Morgan's pitch fixation is somewhat less than useful with Wakefield on the mound.

Sample dialogue from Morgan to play-by-play man Jon Miller tonight: "That was a knuckler, Jon . . . Jon, that was a knuckler . . . Wakefield is really relying on his knuckler tonight, Jon . . . Jon, when I was the MVP of the World Champion Reds in 1975, we didn't have a pitcher who threw a knuckler, Jon . . . There's another knuckler, Jon . . . Jon, why are you weeping? . . . Jon, did you see that knuckler? . . . Don't cry, Jon . . . Pete Rose never cried, Jon . . . "

Okay, so I made that up. But it could easily be true, and that's frightening. I know I'm not the only one rooting for him to suffer a career-threatening bout of laryngitis. My cousin Kris The White Sox Fan stopped waxing and buffing his LaMarr Hoyt Commemorative Coin Collection long enough to send along a few examples of Morgan's clueless attempts at wisdom tonight:

"A superstar is a superstar and they can't be replaced by replacements."

"I don't believe in conspiracy theories, Jon, unless there's a lot of proof."

"As a hitter, you mature all the time."

"That was a fastball, in the middle of the plate, in, and down."

With such depth of knowledge and insight, it's really no wonder Morgan's the "expert" affiliated with the "Baseball for Dummies" book. The only way the partnership could be more appropriate if it was called "1975 Cincinnati Reds for Dummies, by a Dummy"

Every time I hear Morgan (or his Fox counterpart, the Antichrist going by the pseudonym "Tim McCarver") attempt to offer analysis on the Red Sox, I appreciate Jerry Remy even more.

Not that we are entirely devoid of vapid announcers here in Boston. Yeah, that means you, Jerry Trupiano. Three suggestions that would make the Trupe Experience more enjoyable for us listeners:

1) Shut up about the St. Louis Cardinals already. Yes, we know you grew up in St. Louis. Yes, we know you idolize Jack Buck. Yes, we know Scott Rolen might be the best defensive third baseman ever, though we're still trying to figure out how you segued to that topic during an at-bat by Neifi Perez of the Cubs the other day. Yes, we knew the Cardinals scored two in the third to take a 3-2 lead over the Astros. You told us last inning, and the inning before, and also the inning before that, and . . . Hey, wait a minute. Who were you rooting for in the World Series, anyway?

2) Tell us the truth about what's happening on the field. I'll believe it once a game, maybe twice. But when you break into your "There's a DRIVE . . . deep left center . . . WAY BACK . . ." routine, only to have the ball fall harmlessly into an outfielder's glove a fungo short of the warning track, well, consider me skeptical when you justify the brutal call by claiming EVERY SINGLE TIME that the batter hit it "Down off the end of the bat." Seems to me you just misjudged the ball, or worse, tried to create drama where there wasn't any. Just once, I'd love hear you say, "Man, I blew that one, Joe. Thought it was headed for Landsdowne Street." To which Joe will surely reply, "Huh? . . . Landsdowne Street? . . . oh, uh, yeah . . . better call 1-800-54-GIANT, Jerry."

3) Get a job with Cardinals. Go ahead. Chase your dream. We'll be fine here, honest. RemDawg can do double duty. You'll be happy, and so will my steering wheel, which has grown weary of absorbing my punches when you slaughter another call.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

"I played for the Houston Astros? Really? For real? Huh. I don't recall that, Jon. I do remember playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1975. Have I ever told you about that, Jon? Sparky Anderson was the manager, and I . . . "

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mr. Bruin

Damned if I didn't almost forget that he began his career as a Vancouver Canuck, forced to wear that god-awful multicolor V-neck sweater that looked like something out of a 1970s Montgomery Ward catalog.

It seems so strange, so foreign and inappropriate now, for Cam Neely will always and forever be remembered as Mr. Black And Gold. He was the epitome of what a Boston Bruin is supposed to be, the living, breathing realization of everything the Gallery Gods demanded and hoped for from their heroes.

He was tough and proud and selfless and graceful and violent and passionate and damn fun to watch. . . the absolute perfect hockey player in a time when the Bruins meant something in this city. He was the ideal Boston athlete, liked and admired by all, and his tireless charitable efforts have only enhanced his image.

The lingering lament, for us, and surely for him too, is that it ended abruptly, unfairly. Injuries and malicious opponents robbed Neely of too much of his prime, and his career ended many shifts too soon. You had to wonder if history would remember him the way he deserves.

A few days ago, we found out it will. Cam Neely is among the Hockey Hall of Fame's 2005 class. He will rightfully be remembered as a hockey legend for all time.

Around here, such a legacy was secured long ago.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Book 'em, Gammo

Since I hammered on Peter Gammons is this space not too long ago, I figure it's only right to praise him for a job well done.

So what if the "job" was actually "well done" in 1985. If you haven't read Gammons's underrated gem "Beyond the Sixth Game," please, click here and check it out. If you are a devout Sox fan, particularly one from my 30-something generation, I guarantee you will not be able to put this book down until the last page has been turned.

I'll take the praise even further. I've devoured a few sports books in my day, some brilliant, some incomprehensibly bad. (Graig Nettles's "Balls," anyone?) In my opinion this is easily the finest baseball book of its era, and if it's not the best I have ever read (I'm slightly partial to David Lamb's "A Stolen Season"), it's certainly in the argument.

As the title suggests, the book begins with the Game 6 of the transcendent 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Gammons uses the two teams as a frame of reference as he writes about the impact free agency had on the sport in the late '70s and early '80s.

Gammons was the Red Sox beat writer for the Globe during much of this period, and reading this will remind you that there was a time when he was much more than just a talking head and occasional columnist. In his trend-setting journalistic heyday, he was a hell of a reporter and an even better writter. This book stands as undeniable proof.

Here's one of my favorite passages:

The Eck, the brash wise guy from Fremont, California, rolled in to the beat of "Little GTO." He came with his own DialEck that seemed to tilt H.L. Mencken's "The American Language," one he claimed he began learning from former teammate Pat Dobson. "Here comes Mr. Slickermaster with the oil," he cracked when he saw the dapper Dick Stockton coming into the lobby of the New York Sheraton with a bottle of fine wine under his arm. Oil is liquor. "Sorry, gentlemen, I've got to go lick some beef," he told media types around his locker when apologizing that he had to end an interview. Beef is a date. When he pitched, he seemed to dance, and he was so outwardly cocky that he was hated by opponents. Jerry Remy had been with the Angels when The Eck threw his no-hitter against them in 1977, and Remy remembered that when Eckersley would get two strikes on a California batter he would point to the on-deck circle and shout, "You're next." Butch Hobson remembered swinging hard and missing one time and hearing Eckersley scream, "Swing harder, bleeper" from the mound. When Texas outfielder Juan Beniquez protested a called third strike, Eckersley walked off the mound, pointed to the Rangers' dugout, and yelled, "Take a seat."

Great stuff, huh? Again, this book is overflowing with similarly engaging anecdotes. I can't recommend it highly enough. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Man, I wish The Eck would start using some of that vintage terminology on NESN. He could at least start calling Tom Caron "Mr. Slickermaster," or drop an occasional reference to "licking the beef." He's already the best studio analyst they've got, but I say this would bring him to a whole new level.

And by the way, at the risk of sounding like Carson Kressley, the years have been kind to The Eck, haven't they? He looks healthier these days than he did back on that '78 Topps card. That's what quitting the oil will do, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Maybe the Red Sox' return to St. Louis, the scene of their greatest triumph, has stirred nostalgic sentiments for last year's team.

Maybe his vintage, stage-commanding, damn-near-historic performance today, so reminiscent of his headiest days in Boston, has jostled awake some fond memories.

Maybe the events of the day are manipulating my emotions.

But yeah . . . I miss him. I miss Pedro.

Oh, sure, there are things I definitely don't miss. I'm doing just fine without his predictable, excruciating low-run losses to the Yankees, and his silly proclamations afterward. I don't miss his transparent, greed-driven cries for respect, his undersized mascots, his demand for special treatment, his refusal to finish off Don Zimmer when he had the chance, his damn mango tree. I certainly don't miss the petulance that was such an unappealing part of the complex Pedro package.

And I don't necessarily wish the Red Sox had re-signed him. In fact, I remain confident, despite his sterling 7-1 start with the Mets, that time (and Pedro's well-worn rotator cuff) will ultimately prove Theo was correct in not committing $50-something million to him over the course of four years. There are more efficient, productive ways to spend that money, though I'm increasingly skeptical that David Wells is one of them.

A Pedro fan's worst fear - other than a mutually beneficial union with the Evil Empire, I suppose - was to have him re-sign with the Sox, suffer a career-threatening injury, and be forced to watch this proud, once-transcendant athlete rage against the dying light of his career. It would not have been pretty, and it would have diminished his legacy in Boston. He left at the appropriate time. Better a year too soon than a year too late.

But today . . . today he made me wish he'd never left at all. All it took was a glorious flashback, a glimpse of classic Pedro, the pitcher we had the privilege of watching for the better part of seven seasons, the pitcher who went an astounding 117-37 as a Red Sox, the pitcher who, at his '98-'99 peak, might just be the best there has ever been.

His starts are happenings now in New York, just as they once were in Boston. Attendance increases by 5,000 at Shea Stadium on the day he pitches, and the mangy old ballpark, in appropriately named Flushing, was properly electric today. So was his stuff. Pedro whiffed 12 - the 103d time in his career he has reached double-figures - and took a no-hitter into seventh inning. Just when it appeared that he might be en route to the first no-no in Mets history and the first of his own decorated career (how is it that he and Roger Clemens have never thrown one, but Derek Lowe has?), an obscure Astro named Chris Burke cranked a home run into the left field seats. (I'm presuming this isn't the same Chris Burke who played Corky on "Life Goes On.")

The improbable blast was one of just two Houston hits in Pedro's complete-game masterpiece, which he punctuated in his usual showman's fashion by striking out the final four batters, the last three looking.

After the final strike - a backdoor changeup that froze Burke - he strolled off the Shea Stadium mound in that familiar pose, his arms raised, aiming skyward, his face beaming that billion-watt smile, chants of "Pedro! Pedro!" ringing in his ears.

Watching this, you couldn't help but flash back to similar scenes during his time here: the 17-strikeout, 1-hit work of art in the Bronx in '99 (in which he struck out the final five Yankees), the six no-hit innings of relief work with a creaky oblique muscle in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, and of course, his 7-inning, 1-run beauty in Game 3 of the World Series last October, a victory that turned out to be his final act as a Red Sox.

Watching this, you also couldn't help but accept the truth: Today, Pedro Martinez officially became a New York Met. Whatever magical things that remain in Pedro's right arm belong to them now.

Our memories will have to do.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nine innings 06.07.05

Playing an interleague nine innings while wondering how many of the "Queer Eye" guys throw harder than Alan Embree . . .

1) When I think of Wade Boggs, I think of three things: 1) Lots of swell individual accomplishments; 2) Margo; 3) Riding that damn horse with the stupid helmet on his head after the Yankees won the '96 series. My point: There is no way the Sox should put Boggs's number on the right-field facade, as Peter Gammons is reporting they will do sometime this summer. Hell, offhand I can think of a number of former Red Sox who deserve the honor more: Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, Tony C., Clemens, Pedro, Nomar. . . . The Chicken Man would be pretty damn far down my list. I hope the Sox reconsider this. Putting Boggs - a great hitter, but not such a great Red Sox - in such elite company simply because he is a Hall of Famer cheapens the honor.

2) So who's going to be Steinbrenner's scapegoat for the Yankees' disaster of a road trip? Mel Stottlemyre? Brian Cashman? Joe Torre? The exhumed remains of Billy Martin? He's gotta blame somebody if this keeps up, and you know it certainly won't be the pasty turtlenecked man in the mirror. (Is it me, or does Georgie Porgie sort of remind you of a less masculine Marge Schott?) But if you let common sense be your guide - yes, Yankee fans, you are excused now - you have to assume that pretty much everything that is wrong with the franchise right now is The Boss's fault. He demanded Gary Sheffield over Vlad Guerrero, a move that is a wash for now but will look idiotic in two years. He just had to have Jason Giambi and Kevin Brown. He was obsessed with Randy Johnson, at the expense of Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and indirectly, the player they really needed, Carlos Beltran. It's ironic how, in his quest to field an All-Star team, he really hasn't built much of a team at all. A Sox fan can only imagine - and shudder - at how unstoppable the Yankees might be had they spent the annual $200 million wisely.

3) Kevin Millar is often referred to as "the righthanded Brian Daubach" and the comparison is valid for obvious reasons. But there's another ex-Sox that Millar has been reminding me of lately: John Valentin. I'm surprised I hadn't thought of this before, actually. Like Val, Millar is a dead-pull hitter with a slight uppercut swing. Like Val, he's notorious for going through ridiculous cold spells. And like Val, when you're tempted to tar and feather him and chase him to Pawtucket, he gets so hot that you wonder how anyone ever got him out before. So there you have it, I suppose: the recipe to create a Kevin Millar. A dab of Dauber, a smidge of Val, a dollop of Jack Daniels, and 225 pounds of drumsticks and wings from KFC.

4) Proof that Boston is a better baseball city than St. Louis: Our returning former shortstop got a warmer reception than did their returning former shortstop. Then again, one could suggest the difference in the cheers for Orlando Cabrera in Boston and Edgar Renteria in St. Louis is the difference between winning your first World Series in 86 years and getting blistered in four games.

5) Cabrera's return to Fenway will go down as one of my favorite memories of this season. Rarely are we treated to a player who is as appreciative of the fans as the fans are of him, but that clearly was the case with the energetic, affable shortstop. Cabrera looked like he was going to burst into tears as the cheers cascaded through Fenway during his first at-bat here after departing as a free-agent in the offseason. It dawned on me, as I watched him tap his heart and tip his cap, that a player who was a Red Sox for a mere three months will forever be more beloved at Fenway than his predecessor, a superstar who played here nine years, was the face of the franchise, and gave his all until just before the bitter end. Not saying that's wrong. Just saying I never would have thought Nomah would be surpassed by anyone at this time a year ago.

6) If Edgar Renteria's name were Derek Jeter, that stones-of-steel bunt single he had to set the stage for Big Papi's walkoff homer Thursday would still be getting airtime on "Baseball Tonight," and the nitwit likes of Jeff Brantley and Harold Reynolds threw around big words like "intangibles" and "leadership" and "dreamboat." Instead, we get bloated blowhards on WEEI wondering if it was the "right play" the day after it absolutely proved to be the "right play." I'm never sure if these electronic media-types are really this stupid, or just stirring the pot to lure fans into paying attention to them. I think I'm going with the former for now.

7) Every time I start to feel bad for Jason Giambi and his shambles of a career, I remember this spirit-crushing night, and wonder if the goodies he was taking at the time gave his second home run the extra foot or two it needed to elude Johnny Damon's glove and clear the fence. Funny, but then I don't feel so bad for him anymore.

8) Yours truly, in an email to my wife earlier tonight: "Hey, can you DVR "Queer Eye" for me? The Sox are on."

And there you have a sequence of words I'd never have imagined writing. Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm late for my pedicure.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Future star? Try future pain in the butt. How could I have left the Orioles' B.J. Surhoff off my list of Red Sox tormentors? He should be atop the list . . . and as Pat Summerall would say, He's been doing it for years. This guy is so old, he was a rookie the same year with the Brewers as Dale "The Human Windmill" Sveum. He's so old, he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1985, ahead of such luminaries as Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Randy Johnson, Barry Larkin, David Justice and John Smoltz. He's so old - okay, he's 40, which ain't that old - it seems like he's been pestering the Red Sox with opposite-field doubles and rockets into the gap for 19 years. Which, come to think of it, he pretty much has. Dude . . . just retire already. We here in the Nation will chip in for the gold watch, promise.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Empire strikes out

A not-so-long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - or at least a few hours' drive from Boston . . .

George Steinbrenner, bellowing from deep inside his Yankee Stadium bunker: "Cashman, you cross-eyed sniveling weasel! Get in here! Get in here now or you can clean out your #*$# desk! CASHMAN! NOW!!!

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, timidly entering the bunker: "Uh . . . yes, Boss?"

Steinbrenner, frantically waving a baseball card: "See this guy here? See this card? What's it say?"

Cashman: "Yes, Boss. I see it. It says . . . David Arias."

Steinbrenner: "That's right. David Arias. Look like anyone you know?"

Cashman, perplexed: "Uh . . . the mom from "Good Times?"

Steinbrenner: "Well, yes, actually . . . but that's not who I had in mind, you pitiful, pathetic nincompoop! HE LOOKS JUST LIKE DAVID ORTIZ!!!! REMEMBER DAVID ORTIZ, YOU MOUSY LITTLE INCOMPETENT PENCIL-NECK???

Cashman: "Uh, yes, Boss. Plays for the Boston Red Sox, I believe."

Steinbrenner: "Don't get fresh with me, Cashman. Give me any lip and I'll have you hand-scrubbing jockstraps before you know it. You'd probably like that, you dirty little sicko. Anyway, about this Arias. He looks just like Ortiz, does he not? Does he not, CASHMAN!?

Cashman: "He does, Boss. Yeah. Exactly, actually."


Cashman: "I said . . . uh (snivel) . . . I said, 'what would we do with David Ortiz? We already have two lefthanded-hitting first basemen in Nick Johnson and, uh, (whispering) Giambi.' "

Steinbrenner: "And?"

Cashman: "And Ortiz is killing us. (Under his breath) Friggin' Theo."

Steinbrenner: "Well, Cashman, looks like you finally got something right, you spineless inbred lint-eating twit. But this Arias here . . . this Arias could be your shot at redemption, Cashman. I'm going to say this once, so pay attention. GO GET ME DAVID ARIAS!!! Now, you half-man, half-mouse!

Cashman: "Uh, I'd love to, Boss. I really would. God, I would. But, uh, you see . . .

Steinbrenner: "You're sniveling again, Cashman. Spit it out."

Cashman: "Um, see . . . David Arias is David Ortiz, sir. He's actually David Arias Ortiz. Changed his name in the minors. Think it was right after the Twins got him from the Mariners. Not sure the reason."

Steinbrenner, his pasty face now as purple as a bloated tick: "The Mariners? He got traded from the Mariners? You mean to tell me . . ."

Cashman: "Yeah. I guess I missed out on David Arias at some point, too."

Steinbrenner: "CASHMAN, YOU SHEEP-FONDLING BOOB! I'm going to make your life a living hell, Cashman! A living hell! Now get the hell out of my office, you half-witted hamster!"

Cashman, muttering under his breath: "Between you and Ortiz . . . Arias . . . whatever the #@%# his name is, hell is sounding pretty damn good right about now. Oh, and the turtleneck? Looks stupid with a blazer, jerk."

Steinbrenner: "I heard that, Cashman! I heard that! Get scrubbing, Jock-Strap Boy! Get scrubbing!"