Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Nine innings: 08.30.05

Playing nine innings while wishing Manny would make it easier for his defenders . . .

1) Looks weird, doesn't it? Mark Bellhorn, New York Yankee. Almost as disconcerting as seeing El Tiante in pinstripes all those years ago. Not that Bellhorn was a great Red Sox, or a longtime Red Sox - hell, by the time he was designated for assignment last week, he wasn't even a particularly well-liked Red Sox after striking out 109 times in 283 at-bats and hitting .216. But make no mistake, he's an incredibly important Red Sox in the grand scheme of things. When you've long since forgotten about all the strikeouts, his three-run homer in Game 6 of the ALCS and game-winning homer in Game 1 of the World Series will live on in DVD players and scrapbooks and the stories you'll someday tell your children. Which makes this development somewhat . . . oh, disappointing, I guess . . . that less than a year after he helped conquer the Empire, he's joined the dark side. (I couldn't bring myself to post the AP photo of him cavorting with A-Rod before the game. I just imagine him telling Prince Purple Lips, "Dude, you were absolutely right to slap Arroyo. Hell, man, we've all wanted to do it, especially since he bought that freakin' guitar.") Anyway, if you're keeping score at home, the Sox players who drove in the second-to-last run in Game 7 of the ALCS in the Bronx (Bellhorn, with a reassuring solo homer to make it 9-3 after Pedro did his damndest to wake up the ghosts and convince us that a five-run lead was anything but safe) and recorded the final out (Alan Embree, whom I began to long for during the Mike Remlinger Experience) now call Yankee Stadium home. I suppose that's the transient nature of baseball these days, not to mention one more indication that the rivalry means more to the fans than the players. When all is said and done, I'll remember Bellhorn well. But wish him well? Until he changes the laundry again, I think we'll all be rooting for the strikeouts for once.

2) It's becoming increasingly annoying - and all too frequent - to look up at the television and see the likes of this crawling across the ESPN ticker: Payton 2-3, HR (17), 2 RBIs. Say what you will about his insubordinate tactics, but Jay Payton has justified his play-me-or-trade-me-or-I'll-make-life-miserable behavior that led to his exit from Boston. He's been nothing short of sensational for the A's, smacking 12 homers and driving in 35 runs in 39 games; heck he's been more productive this month than Albert Pujols, which means Gammons may be declaring Payton the best righthanded hitter in baseball any day now. Hindsight being as sharp as it is, maybe Francona should have found a way to get him some of Kevin Millar's at-bats. Alas, Payton weaseled his way to an ideal situation in Oakland - so much for Theo's stern proclamation that said, in effect, "Wait til you see where we trade him before you say we met his demands." Shoulda shipped him to Kansas City, Theo. The only way it could possibly work out better for him is if the A's make the playoffs and the Sox fall short.

3) I feel obligated to peck out something regarding Curt Schilling's performance last night in the Sox's 7-6 victory over the Devil Rays, but there's really nothing new to say. He pitched six innings, allowing five runs, all in the first two innings. His command was spotty (but better as the game progressed), his splitter too often stayed flat, and even during the four innings where he didn't allow a run, the Devil Rays were having no trouble making solid contact. (Cripes, does Julio Lugo get three hits every time he faces the Sox or what?) In other words, it was more of the same, the Schilling we have seen too often this season, an inconsistent, extremely hittable pitcher who has done nothing to assuage our fear that he sacrificed the end of his career in order to become a hero for the ages last fall. Not that we're suggesting it's a tradeoff we wouldn't all accept a 1,918 times over, but last year's magic has little relevance at the moment. Right now, we're just looking forward to the day when we can watch Schilling pitch without crossing my fingers.

4) As far as this Maestro of the Remote Control is concerned, Dennis Eckersley should be NESN's in-studio analyst every night of the week and twice on Sunday. I assume he doesn't have the gig every night only because he doesn't want to do it every night- he's so much better than his peers it's ridiculous. His candor and insight is unmatched among the ex-ballplayer-turned-talking-head crowd - five minutes of watching John Kruk and Harold Reynolds, and you'll understand. There are few more qualified to comment on what Schilling's going through right now, for instance, and there are none, with the possible exception of the RemDawg, whose opinion is valued more by this viewer. Hopefully, ESPN doesn't realize it made a mistake by hiring the ill-prepared Kruk over him a few years back - no, we're not kidding - and the Eck will continue to deliver his unique wisdom to a New England audience for years to come.

5) Where not into playing the Guilt By Association game here - oh, all right, maybe we are a teensy bit, and in a related note, here's hoping Jason Giambi doesn't introduce any of his new teammates to his "personal trainer." Either way, it's worth pointing out what reader Kevin K. noted in a recent email regarding the verbal backrub we gave Julio Franco on his 47th birthday:

"I agree Franco deserves praise for lasting as long as he has, and still being productive 10 years past the time most players are playing golf or whatever. But whenever Gammons or Jason [Jayson] Stark or anyone else mentions how he has the best body in baseball (one of them really said that on SportsCenter the other night), I can't help but remember that he was on those Rangers teams with Canseco, Pudge Rod, and Mr. I Didn't Do Steroids Period. I hate to be such a cynic, and I'm not saying he did stuff, because maybe he is the product of hard work and good genes. But no one is above suspicion these days. Sad, isn't it?"

Yeah, it is sad. And while there may be some logic to the theory, ultimately our guess is that it's probably not an accurate one. Franco played only half the '94 season with Canseco in Texas, so it's not like they were teammates for any length of time. But the real reason we're skeptical of any curious connection: Canseco didn't mention Franco in his book. If they were needle buddies, Canseco surely would have ratted him out.

6) Sometimes cruel fate intervenes to disrupt and even derail a young athlete's career; think Lyman Bostock, or Normand Leveille. Other times, a player's failure to live up to his vast ability is self-inflicted and preventable; nonetheless, it's still a terrible waste in its own way. In 1985, Dwight Gooden went 24-4 with 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts for the New York Mets. He was 20 years old and gripping the baseball world by the seams, a charismatic young star whose popularity at the time was on par with a certain tongue-wagging dunking machine for the Chicago Bulls. His career record, after two seasons, was 41-13; Roger Clemens, three years Gooden's senior, was merely 16-9 at the end of '85. If we knew then what we know now . . . Clemens, of course, is still firing on all cylinders at age 43, the premier pitcher of at least one generation, and perhaps all of them. Sadly, '85 turned out to be Gooden's last great season; two years later, surprised only those who didn't know him by checking into drug rehab for cocaine addiction. He finished his career in 2000 with an 194-112 record and a 3.51 ERA, respectable numbers, but satisfying only to those who don't remember what he was and what he should have been. All these years later, and he still hasn't defeated his demons; Gooden, 40 years old now, sits in a Florida jail after being arrested for fleeing the scene after a police officer had pulled him over on suspicion of drunk driving. Hopefully, this is rock bottom, his wake-up call, but then, they said the same things back in '87. Gooden threw away his talent. The way he's going, it will be the least of his tragedies.

7) In 1994, 24-year-old John Olerud batted .363 with 24 homers, 107 RBI, 200 hits, 54 doubles, 114 walks, 65 strikeouts, and a 1.072 OPS. It was a sensational season by any hitter's standards, and while watching Olerud, now 37, show more than occasional flashes of his old brilliance lately, it made me wonder if he might have hit .400 that season if he'd played in Fenway. Yes, I'm serious - you might recall that the Splendid Helmet was hovering around the .400 mark for much of the summer before tailing off late in the season. Watching how he so effortlessly flicks the ball off the Green Monster nowadays when he's going well - the guy is born Fenway hitter - I can't imagine the numbers he might have put up for the Sox in his heyday.

8) Envelope please . . . And the winner of the 2005 Jerry Hairston Jr. Award, given annually to the Red Sox opponent whose cockiness is not even close to being justified by his actual ability . . . and the winner is . . . Jonny Gomes, Tampa Bay Devil Rays! Seriously, who does this mustard-covered wiener think he is? He's having a decent season - 18 homers, 38 RBIs, .290-something average - but, man, from his never-ending, hey-look-at-me mannerisms on the field, you'd think he was the love child of Derek Jeter and Sammy Sosa. Twice in this series he's tossed the bat aside as if he'd just cranked a Bondsesque homer; once it was a warning-track fly ball, the other time a foul ball immediately obvious to everyone but Jerry Trupiano. I doubt, say, Schilling or The Artist Formerly Known As Big Unit would stand for this guy's act very long without giving him a four-seamer in the ear hole.

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

Remember when Billy Hatcher was the closest thing to an exciting player on those excruciatingly boring Hobson-era Sox teams? Seems longer ago than it actually was. These days, as you may have noticed, a slightly rounder Hatcher is coaching first base for the Devil Rays, where his main duty seems to be keeping Lou Piniella from fulfilling his quest to bite the nose off an umpire. I suspect Hatcher would tell you it's a lot more exciting than playing for the '93 Sox.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Fantasy island

Not that we're saying it's impossible to screw up a high first-round pick in fantasy football, but rumor has it that even Bobby Grier chose LaDainian Tomlinson first overall in his league's draft. (Going against his strong urge to select Cowboys rookie defensive lineman Chris Canty, we suspect.)

Okay, I guess we are saying it's hard to screw up a high first-round pick in fantasy football. Tomlinson, Alexander, Holmes, Manning . . . pretty obvious, even to the oblivious. But once you get past the first 20 or so picks, that's when it gets fun. For those who have done their homework and know their stuff, there's nothing better than coming up with a "sleeper" - a player, unknown, unsung or undervalued, that you think is due for a breakout season - and having him pan out to great results. It's how fantasy football champions are built.

Sure, the countless hours of Sunday afternoon couch-bound "research" that is necessary to discover such sleepers may inspire your wife to run off to Tijuana with her tennis instructor, but the knowledge you gain likely will vault you to the top of the standings in your league. And remember your priorities, people - there's a reason they call it football season, and not wife season. Somewhere, Bill Belichick nods in agreement.)

But I suppose if you are intent on keeping your wife around for some reason, and since we sort of have a knack for this fantasy football stuff, I guess we can help you out. (Wuss.) Since you're certain to be spending the next 16 Sundays shopping for lavender-scented loofa brushes at Bed, Bath and Beyond or other similar emasculating abominations, here's our position by position list of draft day "sleepers" for you to crib from. Yeah, you're welcome, Sally . . . oh, and please, uh, don't tell Mrs. TATB about any of this. It's between us guys . . . you know how it is . . . God, I really don't want to sleep in the car again . . . (sniffle) . . . so cold and lonely and scary . . . (sob) . . . uh, you know what, why don't we just pretend the last two paragraphs never happened and get right to our list . . .

David Carr, Texans: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft finally began living up to expectations last season, finishing with 3,531 passing yards and throwing more touchdown passes (16) than interceptions (14) for the first time in his three seasons. We expect similar progress this season. He has a developing rapport with receiver Andre Johnson, and Dominick Davis should do enough in the running game to keep the defense honest. Maybe our case for him isn't exactly lifted from "The Best Of Johnnie Cochran's Rhymin' Closing Arguments", and maybe it is based on a hunch more than anything else. But we are confident in saying this much: This season, Carr will become a star.

Others We Like: Carson Palmer, Bengals (the consensus is that he'll have a monster season, but he's a little too enigmatic for our tastes); Jake Delhomme, Panthers (29 touchdown passes last season, has able support even without Muhsin Muhammed); Drew Bledsoe, Cowboys (yeah, we're serious about him as a mid-round pick - the fastball is still hopping, he has the tight end and running back he requires, and his coach won't put up with his stubborn pat-pat-pat-pat-sack nonsense. Might as well get ready for the groan-inducing "Re-Drew-venated!" headline now.

Curtis Martin, Jets: So he's not exactly a sleeper; the historically reliable ex-Patriot was the NFL rushing champ last season with 1,697 yards. Then again, how many owners in your league realize that? Martin has slipped into the middle rounds in the two drafts I've been involved with, being selected after Cadillac Williams and Kevan Barlow in one. That's idiotic. He keeps himself in phenomenal shape, runs behind a quality line, and with touchdown-stealing backup Lamont Jordan off to Oakland, could conceivably build on his 12 TDs of a season ago. Don't overlook him. Let everyone else make that mistake.

J.J. Arrington, Cardinals: Every year, an unheralded rookie running back, often one selected beyond the first round, emerges as a legitimate fantasy stud. Think Julius Jones last year. (You know, let's pretend I didn't just say "fantasy stud," a few words ago, shall we?) Anyway, all of the pieces are in place for Arrington to be this year's breakthrough rookie back. The former 2,000 yard rusher at Cal is playing for a coach in Denny Green who knows how to get the most out of a running back (see: Smith, Robert), he's stepping into a ready-made starting position (goodbye, good luck and good riddance, Emmitt), and with rising stars Anquan Boldin and our Ultimate Sleeper, Larry Fitzgerald, lining up at receiver, he won't immediately be in the crosshairs of the defense. Sounds to us like a recipe for immediate success.

Others We Like: Travis Henry, Titans (suffering from the dreaded turf toe right now, but more dependable than Chris Brown when healthy); Jordan, Raiders (Norv Turner has a way of getting the most out of his running backs, and there's a lot to get out of the bruising ex-Jet); Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (it must be so cool to be teammates with Bob Marley.)

Roy Williams, Lions: How good is Williams? Put it this way. He has a chance to be what Terrell Owens would be if he weren't completely insane. Oh, he's not at T.O.'s level yet . . . but check back at the end of the season. The numbers - something like 90-1,400-12 - will be there if erratic quarterback Joey Harrington can somehow manage to at least be average. With Roy and Mike Williams, plus Charles Rogers and Kevin Jones joining him in the Lions huddle, we're betting he can. Pluck Williams a round or two sooner than you were planning, and reap the rewards.

Deion Branch, Patriots: You know how talented he is. I know how talented he is. But does your buddy that lives outside of New England have a clue? Probably not, even after Branch's Super Bowl MVP performance; the perception is that it was a career day for a pretty good player, rather than the coming-out party for a budding star. The perception is wrong. The diminutive Branch has had his share of injuries, and that certainly is a red flag, but if you've seen him playing on a consistent basis, you know that it's no insult to David Givens to say that Branch should - and will - be Tom Brady's No. 1 target. A free trip to Hawaii is in his future.

Others We Like: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals (The One-Man Spelling Bee shredded the Patriots last season, works his pony tail off, and is only getting better); Steve Smith, Panthers (wants to kick Tyrone Poole's a-- and probably could, on and off the field); Laveranues Coles, Jets (reunited and it feels so good).

Doug Jolley, Jets: By default. There's just not much at this position behind the Gates-Gonzalez-Shockey-Heap quartet, and even they have their question marks. The Pats' Ben Watson seems to be the consensus fast-riser at the position, and while he is a superfreak physically, incumbent Daniel Graham could limit Watson's touches enough that he's not a major fantasy factor. Jason Witten was at one time considered a sleeper, but it's now apparent to even novice fans that he'll be featured in Dallas's offense. Which leaves us with Jolley, whom we settled on for two reasons. 1) He showed flashes of excellence with the Raiders before injuries stunted his development. 2) Chad Pennington can't throw the ball more than 10 yards without a catapult, so chances are he'll focus on his tight end. No, not exactly a ringing endorsement for Jolley, but an endorsement nonetheless.

Others We Like: Kellen Winslow (Senior, that is, not the Evel Knievel wannabe.)

Garo Yepremian, Dolphins: All right, this whole damn thing is just a ruse to run a picture of perhaps the nerdiest little man in NFL history, at least among those not named Gramatica. You got us. Seriously, who cares about an idiot kicker? Pick one late or, and don't sweat it. They're kickers; they're unpredictable by nature. Case in point: Dude in my college buddies' league used a relatively high choice on the Chiefs' Lawrence Tynes. The very next day, or maybe the day after, Tynes was arrested for giving a bartender a lesson in Soccer Hooliganism 101. He could wind up wearing the orange jumpsuit from the Dwight Gooden fall collection before the season is over. Kickers: freaks. You can't trust 'em as far as you can kick 'em . . . so don't waste a pick on 'em if there are decent running backs or receivers remaining. (The lone exception to this rule, of course, is Adam Vinatieri. His worthiness of a place on your roster requires no explanation.)

Others We Like: Fred Steinfort, Falcons; Nick Mike-Mayer, Eagles; Donald Igwebuike, Buccaneers.

Hmmmm . . . well, Dallas looks improved, particularly if rookie Demarcus Ware is as disruptive as my Aikman-lovin' moles claim, and Fred Smoot will make Minnesota better, which is faint praise if any at all. But a true sleeper? Well, to be honest, I'm going to have to shrug my shoulders and offer use those words that the so-called fantasy football experts would never consider using. Your guess is as good as mine. I always try to get the Pats" D myself.

(Okay, so that's a cop-out. Believe all that other stuff, though, and all of you'll be the Belichick of your league. Well, almost all of you. Uh, not so fast there, Mr. Grier . . .)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

TATB Hall of Fame inductee Oscar Gamble

We don't need Baseball Reference or Peter Gammons to tell us that Oscar Gamble was a dangerous lefthanded power hitter back in his day.

He walloped exactly 200 homers in 1,584 games over 17 big league seasons, homering once in fewer than every 20 at-bats during several years, particularly during a pair of productive part-time stints with the Yankees. Those of us who grew up playing Strat-O-Matic remember him as a board-game superstar, for he was the rare '70s-era slugger who walked more than he struck out. (We Strat geeks were the true trendsetters in being down with OBP, yo.)

And you know what? We here at TATB couldn't give a damn about any of those numbers today. Oh, his on-field accomplishments are fine, but Gamble could have spent his career flailing helplessly like Kevin Millar after a devouring a bucket of KFC and a fifth of Jack, and you'd better believe we'd still come here to honor him today.

Why do we admire him so? Start with the man's name. Oscar Gamble. It oozes cool.Oscar. Gamble. You do not mess with a man named Oscar Gamble. (Hey, didn't Jim Croce sing about him once?) And only a cat with a moniker so smooth could dare attempt The Ultimate 'Fro, let alone pull it off. Think about it. Did, say, Dick Pole have an Afro? No, he did not. He had straight, dorky hair, befitting a person named Dick Pole. Case rested.

The O.G.'s cool factor simply cannot be overstated. He was more suave than Starsky and Hutch put together. (Huggy Bear, also.) He made Shaft look as white as Barry Gibbs's chompers. Should you need a modern point of reference, kiddies, he makes Snoop look as square as that geezer he plays golf with in the car commercials. Ask your dad who the coot is.

Hell, Oscar even made the mid-'70s Chicago White Sox look good. He crunched 31 homers for Chicago in '77 - the year the White Sox, lacking good taste to great comedic effect, paid homage to the toe-tagged disco era by wearing polyester blue jerseys with huge butterfly collars. (Fortunately, they wore shorts only in '76.) Yet Oscar made the look work for him a whole lot better than did, say, Jim Spencer. Actually, if this wasn't the perfect convergence of man, place in time, and hair dryer, I don't know what is. (Okay, maybe this. Or this. But I don't know what else.)

And Oscar's noggin wasn't only fertile ground for hair, but for philosophical thought as well. Consider his well-known quote regarding racism in baseball: "People don't think it be like it is, but it do." Sure, the syntax might give a grammar teacher an aneurysm, but he point is clear and the sentiment sharp. And maybe his awkward words of wisdom would not have stuck with us for three decades had he chosen more conventional phrasing. Oscar said what he meant, and meant what he said, and for that - and a few other Super Fly reasons - we're proud to call him a TATB Hall of Famer.

Now if only he would give us his pick for the display case.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

TATB Notebook: 08.24.05

Touching all the bases while wondering if this means Felix Escalona finally became a true Yankee . . .

Scattered thoughts from a condescending Red Sox fan on those hopeless, helpless Royals . . .

He came into the game with a 3-14 record and an ERA above 6.00, and the Red Sox didn't help him improve his numbers any, collecting five runs in seven innings. No, it has not been an easy season for 21-year-old Royals pitcher Zack Greinke (above), and it was a predictably difficult night against the best offensive team in baseball. But if you were paying close attention - and reminding yourself of just how inexperienced this kid is - it was easy to understand why he so highly regarded both by the scouts and the stat gurus. Start with the motion, which Jerry Remy compared to Bret Saberhagen's, but to me looked as effortless as Greg Maddux's, or maybe Mike Mussina's. He also has a broad array of pitches - decent fastball, changeup, sinker, an occasional curve - and seems able to spot them wherever his catcher places his mitt. If anything, he was hurt by his good command last night - he was around the plate on virtually every pitch, and the Sox hitters looked a little too comfortable, particularly against his fastball. Once again, it wasn't the kid's night. But it's apparent that the talent is there - something that can't be said for too many Royals - and once puberty kicks in, Greinke really ought to be special.

- Strange hearing Johnny Damon get booed by the, uh, "Kauffman faithful" - he's so associated with the Red Sox now that you almost forget he made his name as a big leaguer in Kansas City. While perception is that Damon is in the midst of a "career year," the reality is that it's unlikely he will surpass his stellar 2000 season with the Royals: .327, 136 runs, 214 hits, 16 homers, 88 RBI, 46 steals, 42 doubles and 10 triples - and he walked more than he struck out. So why the booing? Damon made it clear after that season that he'd be playing out the final year of his contract, and Kansas City had little choice but to deal him, eventually sending him to Oakland in a three-way deal that brought Angel Berroa (or, as RemDawg calls him, Berro-er). Though it's no fault of Damon's - he was wise to get out when he did, as poor Mike Sweeney might attest - things haven't been the same in Kansas City since.

- Until it was mentioned on the Sox telecast tonight, I had no idea Matt Stairs lives in Bangor, Maine in the offseason, and having spent a fun but frigid half-decade in nearby Orono drinking myself warm, I have no idea why a major league ballplayer would choose to live in Bangor. But I will concede this: Matt Stairs sure as hell looks like he'd live in Bangor.

- The Royals recently honored their 1985 World Champions, which surely must have had Royals fans thinking two things: Man, that seems like longer than 20 years ago. And: I wonder if Brett and Saberhagen might consider a comeback.

* The Cincinnati basketball program may not be better for the "forced resignation" of coach Bob Huggins. But Cincinnati basketball players will be. He may be a hell of a coach, at least judging by his won-lost record, but he's a much more accomplished sleazeball, one who was notorious for, among other atrocities, teaching his players to try to break a defender's jaw with a well-placed shoulder when he bit for a pump fake. No wonder the Bearcats turned out such upstanding citizens as Ruben Patterson and Nick Van Exel. Huggins taught them well. The jerk makes Bobby Knight seem gracious, and you bet I'm delighted to see him get what he deserves.

* TATB wishes a happy 47th to ageless wonder Julio Franco. How long has baseball's coolest senior citizen been living the big-league life? The same year our guy Buckethead was semi-consciously posing for minor-league baseball cards as a member of the Indians' Triple A team, Franco was the 24-year-old hotshot rookie shortstop for the Tribe's big club. Of course, he claimed he was 21 at the time - it wasn't until a couple of years ago that Franco came clean about his true age. The old coot is having another productive season as a part-time player for the Braves - he's hitting .298 with nine homers, or five more than Kevin Millar - and he's said his goal is to play until he's 50. We'd better start lighting the birthday candles now.

* Maybe Danny Ainge feels a certain kinship with pasty, baby-faced guards from the West Coast. That's about the only explanation I can come up with for giving Dan Dickau three years and $7.5 million dollars. It's not that I'm totally down on the ex-Gonzaga gunner as a player - he can shoot the rock, is a willing and capable passer, and while there are pylons on Causeway Street with better defensive skills, he gives it his best effort. It's just that it seems like that's a lot of money to give to a player who will probably make no difference in the win column. The same goes for Brian Scalabrine, who will bust his butt, stick the jumper and keep the guys in stitches down on the end of the bench. I just don't see how he is worth five years and $15 million. I found it interesting when my good buddy Duckler revealed that the Raptors' Matt Bonner was hoping to receive a 5/$15mil deal himself, but ultimately accepted a two-year, $4 million offer to return to Toronto. The only difference I know of between the two sweet-shooting, popular, slightly awkward redheads is that Bonner is a New England kid who I'm fairly certain is a lifelong Celtics fan. I'm biased, having worked in his hometown of Concord, N.H. for nine years and knowing him and his family since he was in the eighth grade, but I'm confident in saying that he will be a better player for the Raptors than Scalabrine will for the Celtics, and for a much better price.

* You want a Fantasy Football sleeper? All right, I'll give you a Fantasy Football sleeper: Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Injuries short-circuited his rookie season, and apparently for that reason, all the experts seem to be forgetting how touted he was coming out of the University of Pittsburgh. The thing is, it wasn't just hype. Physically, he is as talented as any receiver in the NFL not named Randy Moss, and unlike the Raiders' one-man Cheech and Chong, he is regarded as a good kid with a tireless work ethic. Further, he has a coach in Dennis Green who knows how to implement a potent passing game, and with Anquan Boldin, J.J. Arrington and a better-than-you-think Kurt Warner in his huddle, has a capable supporting cast. Remind yourself of what he was supposed to be last year before the injuries hit, take him a few rounds earlier than you were planning, and email us the thank-you note later.

* Monty Beisel has made his presence known during the Patriots' first two preseason games, cracking heads in a way that would make his inside linebacker predecessors proud. Still, I'd feel a lot more confident in his ability to replace Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson if he weren't a refugee from that horrendous Kansas City defense.

* All right, time to play that hot new game that's sweeping the nation: Guess Who Bill James Was Writing About! (Catchy title, eh?) This snippet, regarding a player associated with the Yankees, is from his 1993 Player Ratings book. To help you out, I've put a key piece of information in bold type. Here goes:

"We've been hearing about him for three years now, but this time, he's here to stay, and he's going to be a good one. Still only 24, he's a fine center fielder with range and a strong arm. Career minor-league on-base percentage of .392, plus he's fast. If they put him in the leadoff spot, he might score 100 runs."

Let's see. . . strong arm . . . range. . . hmmm . . . affiliated with the Yankees . . . 1993 . . . hmmmm . . . let's say . . . Oscar Azocar?

Nice guess, Mr. Baseball, but James said strong arm. Obviously, we're talking about Bernie Williams here. Yeah, seriously. Geez. Do you people even follow the sport?

* I'm not saying Pete Sheppard's "interview" of Bill Belichick during the coach's weekly appearance on WEEI Monday was a stumbling, stammering disaster . . . well, okay, I guess I am . . . but I just want to say he made Chris ("You were in the Beatles. That was awesome!") Farley look like Mike Wallace by comparison. Belichick must have to physically restrain himself from rolling his eyes during that excruciating weekly Sheppard/DeOssie/Smerlas droolfest.

* Despite occasional unappealing forays into soap opera-ish melodrama, its remarkably talented cast (Lauren Ambrose and Michael C. Hall, in particular), vivid, flawed characters and thought-provoking writing long ago made "Six Feet Under" true must-see TV for me and Mrs. TATB. Yet while the bar was consistently set high during its five-year run - hell, I don't think I exhaled during the David-gets-kidnapped episode in Season 4 - creator Alan Ball, his staff, and the cast outdid themselves for the series finale, which aired this past Sunday. It is not hyperbole to say that it was the most emotional, fulfilling and appropriate conclusion to a television series imaginable, particularly during the bittersweet final moments. Leave it to a show about death to find the perfect way to go out.

* As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

All right, I'll bite: Typo, juvenile joke, or name change?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Nine innings 08.21.04

Playing nine innings while wondering if David Ortiz complains about called strikes as much as Kevin McHale complained about fouls . . .

1) I get the vibe from watching the Angels that Orlando Cabrera (above, getting jiggy with K-Rod) has a better chance of making it back to the World Series this year than his former team does. (No, I don't mean the Expos, smart guy.) Among playoff contenders, the Angels have superior pitching depth to the Sox and Yankees, and superior offense to the White Sox and A's. They catch the ball well, run the bases aggressively, have a legit ace in Bartolo Colon, and feature an elite slugger in Vlad Guerrero who is fully capable of pulling a Papi and carrying a club in October. Assuming Garret Anderson returns to healthy, one through 25, this is a better team than the one that won it all three years ago. You want a prediction? All right, clip 'n' save, punk: The Angels will end the Red Sox's reign, win the American League pennant, then lose to the Cardinals in what Fox will hype as the David Eckstein Bowl.

2) So Curt Schilling finally gets this closer thing down pat - he was electric in his two-inning, four-strikeout performance Friday - and so the Sox decide now is a good time to move him into the rotation? Bunch of morons running this team, I tell ya. Francona, Epstein . . . do these fools even think about this stuff before they do it? Do they even follow baseball? (Whoops . . . guess I was channeling an WEEI caller there for a second. My apologies.) Silly digressions aside, it seems to me this is the ideal time to find out if Schilling is capable of being the staff anchor they need him to be come October. It's certainly smart to have him make his return to the rotation against the Royals, the equivalent of a Triple A rehab start. Crossing our fingers. let's hope he takes the mound Thursday equipped with the stuff he had Friday. Fastball, splitter, and slider - all three pitches were as sharp as we have seen it this season. He looked ready, like the Schilling of old rather than an old Schilling, and you'd better believe that the Sox season hinges on the former making far more appearances than the latter.

2) All right, so maybe Fernando Rodney laughed last, and someone named Scot Shields whiffed him in a crucial situation Saturday. I still don't understand why anyone messes with Big Papi with the game on the line. Just throw him four balls, and deal with Manny. While Ramirez is a better pure hitter than Papi, his late-inning accomplishments aren't on the same scale - hell, no one's are as far as I know, with the exception of Yaz in '67 and Reggie Jackson a decade later. How many game-changing and game-winning hits does Ortiz have to get before managers realize this? (Aside to Joe Torre: This doesn't apply to you, old buddy. Keep pitching to him. Really. It's safe. Heck, that's what you got Embree for, right?) And while we ponder that Great Unanswered Question, here's one more: What's the real reason the Minnesota Twins let Ortiz go three years ago? Has this ever been adequately answered? Aaron Gleeman, a Twins fan and one of the most engaging baseball writers on the 'Net, offers the most in-depth explanation we have seen here.

4) If you're of my generation - 30-something, or the point where you're beginning to consider lying about your age - you remember when the Kansas City Royals were one of baseball's model franchises. In the late '70s and early '80s, every damn time the Red Sox went to Kansas City, it seemed Willie Wilson would hit an inside-the-park homer, Larry Gura or Paul Splitorff would finesse their way to a two-hit shutout, Amos Otis and Frank White would put on a defensive clinic, and George Brett and Hal McRae would take turns ricocheting line drives all over the Kaufman Stadium turf. Inevitably, after a four-game set, the oafish Sox would lumber back to Boston, fortunate to have taken a game from the faster, more fundamentally competent Royals. I imagine the Sox players dreaded that road trip as much as fans did. I mention this now just as a reminder that the Royals, losers of 19 of their last 20 and with no hope on the horizon, weren't always so pathetic. They were a proud franchise for a long time - world champions, even -and though they were a source of repetitive aggravation to a young Sox fan, I prefer to remember them as what they were, and not what they have become.

5) Trivia time: What do Ruben Gotay, Jose Molina, Miguel Olivo, and Nick Green have in common? Well, yes, I suppose "they all s---" is technically a correct answer. But the answer we were looking for is this: they all have five homers, or one more than Kevin "Cowboy Out" Millar. On the plus side, Millar's slugging percentage this season is now almost as high as Joey Gathright's. So that's something - Gathright's going to hit his first major-league homer any day now, you know.

6) Judging by the flood of correspondence arriving in the TATB mailroom (or email box, at least) in recent days, it seems all 62 (yes, 62!) of our readers dug the snippets we culled and posted from Bill James's old Player Ratings books. Glad to know all you guys, girls and RuPaul wannabes are as delightfully nerdy as we are. Public opinion considered, we've decided to make it a recurring feature here, since James had enough interesting opinions and hit-or-miss predictions to keep us entertained for a while. And with that exciting announcement, here's one that reader John W. sent along from James's 1990 Abstract:

"What a worthless player. [He] has the lowest career secondary average of any active player. What makes this especially striking is that almost everybody else in the bottom ten is a shortstop, and not really expected to contribute much offensively. ... Those middle infielders, if they can chip in a single here and there you're happy with it, but what exactly is it that [he] does?"

And suddenly, I think we have an adequate explanation why the decomposing carcass of Kevin Millar remains in the lineup: his manager has an affinity for no-hit, no-run, no-field first basemen/outfielders, having been one himself. Yep, that's our very own Terry Francona that James is writing about there, as if the baseball card didn't clue you in. Hmmm . . . wonder if they've ever discussed James's opinion of his playing ability while shooting the breeze at Fenway?

7) First Matt Clement in Tampa Bay, then Tim Wakefield Thursday night in Anaheim, and then again Keith Foulke Friday while throwing batting practice to Trot Nixon. Yeah, I'd say Sox pitchers getting drilled by batted balls is becoming something of a dangerous epidemic. What's the solution? Duck! Beyond that, full-body armor, much like what Barry Bonds used to wear way back when he was an active player. I do know this: If John Olerud were any kind of teammate at all, he'd have already offered one of his spare Magic Safety Helmets to each and every pitcher on the staff. Which reminds me of another digression: Was anyone else caught off guard Friday night when, after Olerud made the last out one inning, he removed his M.S.H. to reveal . . . a full head of actual human hair?! Maybe it's because every mental picture I have of him is with the helmet on, but to see him M.S.H.-less . . . dude, it sorta freaked me out. I mean, who knew the thing was detachable?

8) Semi-funny moment on WEEI Friday during host Michael Holley's phone interview with Craig Hansen, the heat-chucking phenom who's with the Sea Dogs for now but could/should be with the big club by the time you read this. Holley, noting that Hansen's bio in the St. John's media guide said he considered attending Columbia and Yale, asked the recent first-round pick why he chose the Red Storm instead. Said Hansen matter-of-factly: "Oh, I totally made that up for my bio as a freshman. It was a joke. I, uh, didn't quite have the grades to go Ivy League, man. No one caught on until now. You've exposed my secret." Okay, so it's not that funny, but it's a pretty good indication that the kid will fit in with these Sox just fine.

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

Terry Mulholland's evil twin demonstrates his special "Hanging Meatball" grip.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Four things Jerry Trupiano did today to p*** me off

1) Showed up for work.
2) Turned on his microphone.
3) Spoke.
4) This:

Eighth inning. Sox trailing, 6-4. Jason Varitek, the tying run at the plate, rips a drive toward right field. Trupiano, either certain that this is a game-tying home run, or deliberately creating false drama to make us think it's a game-tying home run, breaks into his patented "Way back! WAY BACK!!!" routine . . .

. . . and . . .

. . . and . . .

. . . (and you know what's coming next) . . .

. . . then informs us after an annoyingly dramatic pause that "it's a foul ball. By about 8 feet."

Me, driving to work at that moment: "Arrgh! ARRRGGGHH! You #@&*%*$*@*@*&%*@##!!!!! ARRRRRRGGGGHHH!!!!!"

Now, obviously I've listened to enough Sox games to know he's going to pull this misleading b.s. at least a couple times a game. Heck, it's at the point where whenever he bleats "Way Back!" most of New England just assumes the baseball will find an outfielder's mitt somewhere shy of the warning track. Deceiving us, whether deliberately or overzealously - it's how Trupe rolls, yo. We know it. He's been doing it to us for 13 years.

Yet it still infuriates me so much that at the moment when he inevitably says "the wind knocked that one down, Joe" or "really got that one down off the end of the bat, Joe," I inevitably begin assaulting my steering wheel, running over random pedestrians, and screaming like I'm channeling the ghost of Sam Kinison.

The one thing that usually calms me down is my recurring happy-place daydream of taking an immediate detour to Fenway, bursting into the booth looking like Nicholson in "The Shining," yelling "Way Back, Troop! WAY BACK!" then tossing him out the window (with a little help from Castiglione, you just know it) while saying, "Your fall . . . it's about 8 feet, *&#&%^*!!."

Hey, it makes me happy, okay?

Trupiano even trumped his usual incompetence today. On the very next pitch, Varitek hit a shot down the rightfield line, prompting Troop to yelp, "Line drive! BASE HIT BY VARITEK! . . . oops, wait . . . foul . . . foul ball." It was so blatant a botched call that even he seemed embarrassed. Momentarily, anyway.

If you listened closely enough, you might have heard Castiglione weeping softly in the background.

Not to mention yours truly flipping out somewhere on Rt. 1.

(Whew. Glad to get that off my chest. That's all I've got. New Nine Innings column coming tonight.)

(Update, 11:44 p.m. Thursday: . . . Er, make that Friday night. At the moment, I'm too busy trying to plot a way for the Sox to ditch Renteria in Anaheim and get Cabrera back here where he belongs. I'll let you know how it goes. - CF)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

TATB Notebook: 08.16.05

Touching all the bases while wondering when "SportsCenter" officially became "HowTerrellOwensMadeAnAssOfHimselfTodayCenter" . . .

Just before I sat down to peck out this masterpiece tonight, I take a peek at my email. Four messages, all with some variation of the same theme: Schilling s---. A bit harsh, my friends, but yeah, I guess that closing gig didn't go so well tonight. Schilling entered with a 6-4 Red Sox lead, a game that seemed to be in the bag for most of the night. But before you can say "Get well soon, Foulkie," Schilling coughed up three runs, turning a sure victory into a 7-6, holy-crap-did-they-really-just-lose crusher. Worse, it was the second straight game that he has looked awful (he allowed two homers in the ninth against the White Sox Saturday) and while he has stabilized the bullpen (nine saves in 11 chances), you can't help but have serious concerns about his ability to morph back into a No. 1 starter in time for October. Schilling's velocity is still down - he occasionally hits 93, but usually hovers around 90 - which is a big difference from the 96 mile per hour gas he threw last fall. Which leads us to a bigger problem; he simply can't finish off hitters when he has two strikes on them. His fastball has lost enough steam that hitters are sitting on his splitter, confident they can foul off the hard stuff if they get fooled. You hope his velocity comes back the more he pitches, and his old, lights-out stuff has made an appearance now and then, but it's alarming to say the least that he's still inconsistent after 16 relief appearances. I hate to say it, but I still can't shake the feeling that Schilling sacrificed a few years of his career in order to become a legend last fall. It's a tradeoff all of us would accept every single time, Schilling included, but the aftermath sure hasn't been much fun so far.

* I have to admit, a part of me enjoyed watching Tigers fans savor every moment of the comeback, even giving charismatic-in-a-homeless-sort-of way Dmitri Young a standing ovation after his triple cut the Sox lead to 6-5. It wasn't so long ago that the Tigers were a model franchise playing in front of loyal, knowledgeable fans in a beloved old ballpark. But it sure seems long ago. A Scrooge of an owner, some nitwit general managers, and a new ballpark that lacks the character of its predecessor have conspired to demoralize the ballclub and its fans. It's hard not to see the Tigers in all their depressed mediocrity and think: With the wrong people in charge, that could have been us.

* Okay, since you asked - well, four of you asked, which is a majority in my book - here's one more writeup from Bill James's 1994 Player Ratings Guide. See if you can guess the player - as always, someone with ties to the Red Sox. I'll post the answer when I damn well feel like it. (Oh, all right, it'll be at the bottom of this post. Sticklers.) :

"A righthanded Danny Jackson, throws a slider on the fists that looks like nobody would ever hit it, and if he gets in a groove can get three men out in a minute and a half. If he's not in a groove and the umpire doesn't give him the corner, he's useless. Has had elbow trouble, and failed to build on a fine rookie season, but is still capable of a big year."

* Nah, I'm not quite ready for some football yet. My interest turns toward the NFL at about the same time the leaves turn bright colors, which is why I found myself sneaking peeks at the Sox game the other night (I was at work) rather than at the Pats game on the other television. So I'm in no position yet to be making grand proclamations about this team. At the moment, all I'm sure about regarding the two-time defending Super Bowl champs is that Matt Cassel can punch his ticket for Canton. Obviously. In all seriousness, it's apparent even to someone who barely kept one eye on the tube the other night that this is definitely the most talented team they have had. Their depth is astounding, especially when you realize that last year's main weakness, the injury-ravaged defensive backfield, could be one of its strengths this season. Whether it's the best team remains to be seen - Tedy Bruschi's absence is the great unknown - but that's why we watch on all those Sundays, right?

* While Bruschi supplied the spirit to the Patriots' championship defense, Ty Law gave it its ego, its brashness, its arrogance to succeed. I've always thought it was Law's honest belief that the Patriots could shut down the Rams' supposedly unstoppable offense was an unsung factor in their first Super Bowl victory - and then of course, Law went out made his case with an MVP-worthy performance, intercepting a pass for a touchdown and hitting Torry Holt so hard so often that he ended up looking like Sam Cassell when it was over. Yeah, I'll miss him. He was a great Patriot, one who played his best under the bright lights (right, Peyton?), a guy who had his ups and downs here off the field, but when all was said and done, could make the argument that he was the best defensive back in franchise history, Hall of Famer Mike Haynes included. He's a Jet now, and to be honest, the end is probably near - 30-something defensive backs with creaky feet tend to show up on highlight shows for all the wrong reasons. But just as is the case with Curtis Martin (TATB's all-time favorite Patriot), I'll be rooting for him 14 times a year. He may be wearing green and white now, but in our mind's eye, when we think of him diving to catch a Manning duck or jumping in front of a Warner floater to the flat, he'll forever be wearing red, white, and blue.

* Who's got a better life than Bronson Arroyo? He's a popular, dependable starting pitcher - albeit one who needs to get better command of his damn fastball - for the World Champion Boston Red Sox at a moment when they've never been more beloved. As if his day job isn't cool enough, the fledgling rock star thing is working out swimmingly (his debut album "Covering All The Bases" is ranked a respectable 212th on the Amazon sales charts at last check). The way tfate smiles upon the guy, the fellas from Pearl Jam might call and offer him Eddie Vedder's gig any day now. Seriously, who's got a sweeter deal than Cornroyo? All right, I'll give you Brad Pitt, for past accomplishments more than present. But who else?

* My wife emailed me this pic a while back, and I've been meaning to post it for no other reason than it cracks me up;

That's the Orioles' Melvin Mora (the shellshocked-looking one), his wife, and a whole hell of a lot of mini-Moras. Tell me there's no pressure on him to get his next contract. Should he ever make the Law/Sprewell proclamation that "I've gotta feed my family," you really have to take him at his word.

* Rex Grossman goes down. Matt Cassel steps up. Am I the only wondering why Rohan Davey hasn't been traded to the Bears yet?

* As you've probably figured, TATB isn't exactly hockey country. We tend to root for our Maine Black Bears alumni, and maybe a few random, likeable players (Brian Rolston, Anson Carter) we encountered during our college hockey beat writer days, rather than cheer for a specific team. (At least until Jeremy Jacobs accidentally locks himself in his vault. Then and only then will the Bruins will get our commitment and our dollars again.) But we are happy the NHL has returned to a rink near you, if only for this reason: we can't wait to see which players show up 40 pounds heavier than when they left. If you recall, the NBA lockout is when Shawn Kemp morphed from a lithe, sky-walking All-Star into a bloated, floor-bound shell of his former self. (On the plus side: The lockout gave him time to become a daddy for the 4,093d through the 4,342d times.) Vin Baker is another who used the downtime to expand his horizons, so to speak, though we later found out his vice was something more sinister than Cool Ranch Doritos and Pepsi. And don't forget, the reason Roger Clemens was supposedly out of shape during his, er, "twilight" seasons with the Red Sox was that he was caught off guard by the end of the '94 strike and hadn't had time to get back into shape. So with that history of players turning plump during labor disputed, you have to figure certain NHL stars are going to come back larger than life. (Again, so to speak.) So who will be the big fat fatties, as Freddie Mercury would say? Don't know yet, though it's good to know that Jumbo Joe Thornton is anything but - he looks ready to play today. But we'll know soon enough - they'll be the Zeppelin-sized dudes wheezing up and down the ice of this new, wide-open NHL. (My money's on Brett Hull, since you asked.)

* If you didn't snicker when Pedro's bid for a long-overdue no-hitter turned into a loss in a matter of two batters Saturday, well, you're a better man than I. Sure, part of me was rooting for him to get it, if only because it's a crime that a pitcher of his accomplishment is lacking such a feat on his resume, while a nobody like Joe Cowley has one. (Same goes for Clemens.) But ultimately, the devil on my right shoulder swayed me with his argument, which went like this: If Pedro wasn't going to get his no-hitter with the Red Sox, during his prime, then who cares if he ever gets one now? Silly, I know. But that's how we cynics roll, yo.

* They're a trendy pick with the "experts," but anyone who seriously thinks the Minnesota Vikings will win the NFC title is forgetting three things: 1) The pencil behind Mike Tice's ear has a better chance of coaching a Super Bowl team than Mike Tice does. 2) Sure, it might have been the only play in Mike Tice's complex playbook, but Daunte Culpepper's most effective pass play was the oh-what-the-hell bomb to Randy Moss, and while his arm is strong, I don't think Culpepper can throw the ball all the way to Oakland. 3) The only way Mike Tice - who is dumber than a No. 2 pencil, if you're sensing a theme here - gets to the Super Bowl is if he hangs on to a few of those tickets he likes to sell.

* Back when the Sox season was young, we vowed not to write about Johnny Damon's contract situation in this space, Our thinking was that it will be a hot-button topic on talk radio every time he goes 2 for 4 with a run scored, and you'll get more than your fill from the screaming banshees. And besides, there really is no debate. Damon is essential to the Red Sox now and in future, and I just wanted to take this moment to offer appreciation for a couple of aspects of the Johnny Damon Experience that often get overlooked in all the talk about his hair and other Inside Track silliness. Sure, he's got the Hollywood pretty-boy thing working for him now, but those of us who watch him everyday appreciate how damn un-Hollywood he is. The guy is a ballplayer, through and through. He's tough, fearless, plays through injuries, and inspires confidence every time he's at the plate when the game's on the line. Okay, we're down a run, but Damon will get on here, Renteria will move him over, and Papi or Manny will win the damn thing. Further, he's proven that he not only can survive in Boston, but can thrive here, a special characteristic that most of the current Sox players are blessed with, but something that had been hard to find in the recent past. All we need to do is recall the depressing days of Damon's T-Rex-dissing predecessor to realize how fortunate we are to watch this guy play.

* Got this email a day or so ago from my good buddy Nuts, a Cowboys fan so devout (demented) that he speaks openly about the nude Troy Aikman figurine he keeps by his bedside. The subject line read "earth-shattering news":

Loyal cowboys beat writer Jean Jacques-Cousteau has this report on an unnamed quarterback. Give ya one guess:

"He was sacked twice and knocked down at least three other times. He also showed a tendency to hold onto the ball too long but that could have also been the result of the Cowboys' receivers' inability to get open."

Hmmmm, lemme see . . . sounds familiar. Gotta be Tony Romo, right? All right, so Drew's up to his old tricks already in Dallas. You know the maddening routine - patting the ball, locking onto one receiver, holding onto the ball until the defensive jailbreak arrives - all the bad habits he never quite corrected over the course of his 13-year career. This is somewhat disheartening news for those of us who think Bledsoe is going to revitalize his stagnant career in Dallas. Now, don't take me for one of those blind loyalists who think Bledsoe should never have lost his job to Brady. It's obvious now that it's the right choice, just as it was obvious then. I'll will remain convinced until the day he accidentally injects truth serum and admits it that Bill Belichick would have eventually benched Bledsoe for Brady during the 2001 season. He had an inkling then that he had something special, which is why Brady shot up from fourth to second on the depth chart in a matter of a summer. But I digress; I think Dallas and Bledsoe is an ideal match at this point in time, for one reason, really: The Parcells Effect. He's the one coach, other than Daddy Mac, who has been able to get Bledsoe to play with discipline. Think about it: Pete Carroll gave his superstar free reign; Belichick spent half the game yelling at Bledsoe because he refused to make the short, simple throw when there was the slight possibility of a bigger play, a difference in philosophies that caused a chasm long before Brady arrived on the scene; and Buffalo treated him as the savior after his glorious early days with the Bills, thus giving him more responsibility and trust than he could handle. Which brings him to Dallas, and this crossroads. The common perception is that Bledsoe is finished, that a cement-cleated drop-back passer is a dinosaur from another age. I'm not so sure, though, because he can still do the one thing he has always done: throw the s--- out of the ball. Bledsoe has lost a lot of things - his pride, his job, his reputation - but he has not lost his fastball. I suspect Parcells realizes that, and will try to do with Bledsoe what he did with Vinny Testaverde with the Jets: He'll put him on a short leash, demand that he throw the ball away if nothing opens up immediately, sculpt the offense around his strengths (hello, Jason Witten), and give him hell whenever he deviates from the master plan. It worked with Testaverde, who was the best quarterback in the AFC his first year with Parcells, And it could work with Bledsoe, who is with a coach he respects, is surrounded by talent that complements his own, can still bring the heat with the moment demands it, and frankly, has nothing left to lose. Yeah, I think Drew Bledsoe bounces back this year. So he's starting slowly. Would it really be like him to make it easy?

* Think Billy Beane (yup, that's him as a Met) is feeling vindicated these days? All those closed-minded baseball lifers who were threatened by the unconventional ideas about constructing a baseball team detailed in "Moneyball" were eager to write off the A's after their terrible start, and you got the sense there was an extra dose of venom in there for Beane. (That means you, Joe Morgan.) It was easy to claim that the A's success in recent years was due almost entirely to the Big Three of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, and since Mulder and Hudson were traded, the A's were surely finished, headed for a lengthy rebuilding process. But a strange thing happened on the way to last basement: the A's started winning. And winning. And winning some more. Danny Haren, acquired for Mulder, looks like he may be the superior pitcher in the coming seasons, a development that wouldn't stun Sox fans who were wowed by him in relief during Game 1 of the World Series. (Thanks for not using him again, Genius.) Several young players have blossomed at once: Rich Harden has emerged as the new stopper, closer Huston Street succeeds where Octavio Dotel failed, and excitable outfielder Nick Swisher is a sweet-swinging rookie of the year candidate. Meanwhile, 26-year-old senior citizen Eric Chavez has finally become a leader as well as a slugger, and Willie Mays Payton has been mashing the ball since whining his way out of Boston. The A's lead the wild card by a game and a half over Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small and the mighty Yankees, and much to the dismay of Morgan and other morons of the world, Oakland's rebuilding process took about two months. That familiar smirk on Beane's face? It's justified.

* Which reminds me; When you get done hanging out in this corner of cyberspace, be sure to find your way over to FireJoeMorgan.com. I've linked to these guys before, but if ESPN's pompous, ignorant, ill-informed baseball commentator aggravates you as much as he does me, the site is worth checking out on a semi-daily basis. Their hilarious deconstructions of his ESPN.com "chats" almost make you want Morgan to remain employed, just so these guys can keep ripping him into teeny little pieces. I said almost.

* Judging by the RemDawg's reaction - I'd describe it as hysterical laughter mixed with an alarming, please-quit-the-cigs-Jerry cough - I'm guessing tonight's Comerica nudists made Will Ferrell in "Old School" look studly by comparison. "We're going streaking!" NESN took the prudent route and didn't show the fools - nobody needs to see a naked, homely man (I'll leave this space empty for my wife to insert a joke of her choice) - but you almost wished they were when Remy howled, "Look out, Manny!"

* So by my accounting, Roger Clemens, in the midst of Year 9 of his twilight, is having quite possibly his most amazing season yet, all things considered: an 11-4 record, 108 hits allowed in 164 innings, and astounding, Gibsonesque 1.37 ERA (His road ERA? 0.37, and no, that is not a typo.) I can't stand the guy, but you have to admire him, and I hope he doesn't retire after this season - I want to see how long he can keep this up. He could be the best 40-plus pitcher of all time - but he has some tough competition, and from exactly whom you might expect . At age 44 in 1991, Nolan Ryan went 12-6 with a 2.91 ERA. Nice numbers - but it gets better. Check these eye-poppers out. In 173 innings, Ryan allowed 102 hits, walked 72, (for a league-best WHIP of 1.006) and struck out 203. At 44! Simply amazing. And two years earlier, at a spry 42, he struck out 302, leading the league. If Clemens needs another challenge, more motivation to stick around, there's this: He has a ways to go to be the most dominating geezer from Texas in baseball history. Oh, and if Rocket wants to further emulate his hero, it wouldn't hurt if he kicked Robin Ventura's a$$ just for the hell of it, either.

* We forget it now, 300-some-odd victories later, but Clemens had major shoulder surgery during his second season with the Sox, and as ESPN.com's Alan Schwarz reminds us in this outstanding piece here , the Rocket's career was nearly over before it began.

* Random Pop Culture Observation: I keep reading how Jeremy Piven is a lock to win an Emmy for his hilarious turn as agent Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage" (currently the favorite show in the TATB household). While he does steal his share of scenes, it surprises me that discerning viewers don't realize that Piven has played every character exactly the same way in every movie and and television show he has ever appeared in. "Grosse Point Blank," "Lucas," "Old School" - he's relied upon the same unusual, scenery-chewing quirks and mannerisms in each different role. It's not great acting. It's a schtick that's worked for him to the point that he's had 20 years of steady work. I'm curious to see if the Emmy voters realize as much.

* Quick housekeeping item about this site. You may have noticed we closed down the comments section for a few days. Nothing personal to those of you who do post regularly - in fact, I sorta missed you goofy b-stards. (I consider all of you the Warren to my Pat Healy.) It's just that the ratio of emails to posts is about 40 to 1 these days, and I think part of the reason for that is that Blogger.com makes it a pain to post if you don't have an account with them. So I spent a few days searching around for a more user-friendly system, found one, and may be implementing that in the next few days. In the meantime, I've turned the comments back on. Now please, quit asking me if I've seen your baseball, and keep the emails coming. It's what fuels me to keep doing this (well, that and the $24.14 I've made from the Amazon ads) and, who knows, I may start posting a mailbag column now and then.

(Also, please pardon any typos and other language-assaulting blunders in this baby. It's 5:43 a.m. Even a copy editor needs to sleep. I'll get 'em later.)

* As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Is that you, Baby Jesus?

* Oh, almost forgot . . . the player from the Bill James book: Mike Timlin. Seems to me that if he was really the "righthanded Danny Jackson," - a dubious comparison considering Jackson was always a starter - the Sox should be on the horn trying to locate the real, lefthanded Danny Jackson, pronto. Because he cannot possibly be any worse than Mike Remlinger.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Guess who?

. . . Okay, let's try three more, this time from the 1994 edition of Bill James's Player Ratings book. The ground rules are the same as on the previous post: I'll transcribe what James wrote then about a player with past or present Red Sox ties, and you guess the player. Easy enough? All right, and I'll even give you a clue or two this time. Damn, I really do have to keep things simple for you doofuses (doofi?), don't I?

(Oh, and if you think this quicky post is my way of getting out of writing anything of length or substance tonight, as was promised previously . . . you've got bingo. A three-hour commute, courtesy of the architectural wizards that brought us the Big Dig and other modern disasters, has made me a firm believer in the benefits of road rage. You don't want to mess with me right now - I'm feeling meaner and madder than Bea Arthur after she won the Ultimate Fighting Championship that time. (Knocking out Buckethead with a boot to the groin, if I do recall.) We all know that's no frame of mind for writin', what with the bloody knuckles and all. So check back in Monday and I promise to have posted something more worthy of your time. Until then, thanks for your patience, peeps. You're the best, all 42 of you. And yeah, I suppose I'm sorry I called you doofuses . . . or doofi. Whatever.)

There. All better. Now for our little game:

Player 1: This one should be obvious to everyone who remotely follows modern-day baseball. Which means Joe Morgan is already stumped and babbling about cutters.

"Baseball America's minor league player of the year, (Player 1) is the best hitting prospect to come to the majors since Frank Thomas and Juan Gonzalez came up in 1990. In projecting exactly how he will hit, we are dealing with an important unknown, which is the ballpark. A 21-year-old Dominican whose family came to the United States when he was 13, righthanded hitter, nobody talks about his fielding."

Player 2: This stiff pitched for the Sox during the Grady Little era, suffering a memorable walk-off loss along the way. (No, not THAT loss.)

"(Player 2) is, roughly speaking, the worst pitching prospect in the history of the world. There is nothing about his record that would cause a prudent person to suppose that he could pitch in the majors, but he throws hard, so he keeps getting chances. His control record is awful, and he's been hurt a lot, and he's never been effective anywhere."

Player 3: This one might surprise you. All I'll say is that the player is still active, and I'm guaranteeing he hits more home runs than Kevin Millar this season.

"(Player 3), only 23, is one of the best hitters in the minors today, and is perhaps the top prospect in the (name of his team's) system. Last year he played in a pitchers' park - in fact all four parks in the Eastern Division of the Texas League are pitchers' parks, for which reason (Player 3) was the first Eastern player since the league split into divisions in 1975 to win the batting title. There's no job for him in the majors yet, but he's a Grade A prospect."

* * *

The answers:

Player 1: Dwayne Hosey. (Oh, all right, it's Manny. Real tough, Einstein.)

Player 2: Rudy Freakin' Seanez. Can you believe that bum is still in the majors? I can't. Bet Mr. James can't either, judging by that glowing review. And if you still don't recall the walk-off loss we mentioned above, here's a reminder.

Player 3: Roberto Petagine. Surprised by James's high praise? Hey, those who casually write Petagine off as a Triple A lifer forget or don't realize that the dude was an elite hitting prospect who got buried behind some guy named Bagwell in Houston. He never got a legitimate big-league shot, and failed to make the most of his brief opportunities when he did play. He's making the most of them now. Tonight, hit his first major-league homer since '98, which, if I recall correctly, is also the last time Millar hit one. We said it in spring training, and we will say it again. This guy can hit, still, and he is going to win some games for the Red Sox before the season is through.

* * *

As for our Completely Random Baseball Card:

Wow . . . hell of a year for first base prospects, eh? Curiously, three of the four have played for the Red Sox: Wooten made a cameo earlier this season, Pirkl was a useless Duquette scrap-heap pickup, and, of course, our guy Petagine. And D.J. Boston played for Butch Hobson with the Nashua Pride.

C'mon, where else do you get stuff like this? TATB: Your home for useless baseball minutiae . . . and pictures of mean, masculine women.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The rating game

No time to write at any length tonight - I'd like to claim I'm busy, or away from the computer, or just too damn tired, but the truth is, me and Buckethead are finally catching up on our backlog of TiVo'd "Oprah" episodes. She just speaks to me, you know? Like Bucket says, that Stedman is one lucky cat.

(Why, yes, I have recently stopped getting shock therapy. Why do you ask?)

Anyway, we should have at least one substantial column posted over the weekend, including a long-overdue TATB notebook. So be sure to check back in, suckers.

In the meantime, here are three more player capsules from that Bill James 1993 Player Ratings book I referenced yesterday. See if you can guess who he's writing about. Clue: All three play or played for the Red Sox.

Player 1
"Well, I'm convinced. The Hall of Fame, I mean. After years as an in-house legend who rarely communicated with the public, (Player 1) has begun to appear in TV interviews as kind of a '90s sensitive man, quiet and reflective. As (Nolan) Ryan draws near the end of his career, (Player 1) is poised to inherit Ryan's mantle as baseball's mythic elder ass-kicker."

Player 2
"Magnificent young pitcher, arguably the best pitcher in the NL after the All-Star game. There is probably some reason why (his previous team) didn't want him . . . if he keeps pitching eight or nine innings every game, as he did the second half of '92, he will hurt his arm within two years. If that doesn't happen, he's going to have a hell of a career."

Player 3
"His 1991 season matched Willie McCovey in '59; last year matched McCovey in '60. This is (his manager) in a nutshell: (Player 3) hit .239 in April, .176 in May, .250 in June, .322 in July - and was sent to the minors in early August. His future remains very bright. I believe he will overcome his current problems and become one of the best hitters of the '90s."

* * *

Answers coming after this brief interjection to make two unrelated points:

1) Quite frankly, I don't know why anyone would watch that contrived loudmouth's show. But quite frankly, that's just me. You know . . . quite frankly. (Enough hints for ya yet?)

2) If I have to hear that Bryan Adams "Life is an open road to me" tripe ONE MORE FREAKIN' BLEEPIN' TIME, there's an excellent chance that a 50-states-in-50-days killing spree is in my immediate future.

(Why yes, "SportsCenter" is on in the background. Why do you ask?)

* * *

So, the answers . . .

Player 1: The Eck. A kick-ass elder, indeed. One reason the '98 Sox ballclub ranks among my all-time favorites was the presence of the original Mr. Slickermaster.

Player 2: Curt Schilling. James nailed it - the Phillies did overuse him, he did hurt his arm within two years, and he has had a hell of a career.

Player 3: Phil Plantier. Also known as the scourge of every New England wanna-be baseball card investor in the early '90s. All those stacks of must-have Plantier rookie cards surely made for a lovely bonfire.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Kevin Maas. The bizarro Phil Plantier.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The juice guys

While flipping through Bill James's 1993 Player Ratings Guide for the hell of it the other day - yeah, so, I'm an incurable dork - I stumbled upon this priceless snippet. See if you can guess the player he's talking about here:

"Didn't match his MVP-candidate season of '91, but there are players who wouldn't complain about 22 homers and 85 RBI. Has an estimated 16 percent change to get 3,000 hits, which may be too optimistic, but he should clear 2,000 and hit 200 home runs. A product of the same Miami Cuban community as a Jose Canseco, the Rangers may be hoping he will be a good influence."

Figure it out?



(I suppose the card at the top was the giveaway, huh?)

The way I see it, that fascinating little flashback to what Palmeiro was and what he was supposed to be reveals two truths:

1) Even the most prescient statheads couldn't foresee the havoc performance-enhancing drugs would soon wreak on the sport's record book. (And no, we aren't talking about Palmeiro's other favorite performance-enhancing drug.)

2) The claims Jose Canseco made in his literary masterpiece "Juiced" are more fact than fiction - contrary to the Rangers' hopes in '93, it was he who ultimately influenced Palmeiro.

In the aftermath of last week's bombshell, we now have no choice but to believe Canseco when he says it was he who introduced his teammate to the benefits of sticking a loaded needle in his butt cheek, he who fueled a hitter who "wouldn't complain" about 22 homers to a sudden power spike that resulted nine consecutive 30-homer seasons, he who helped Palmeiro cheat his way into the ultra-exclusive 500-homer, 3,000-hit club when 200/2,000 had once seemed his ceiling. It was he who delivered Palmeiro to the doorstep of that most exclusive club of all, the one in Cooperstown . . .

. . . at least until all of Palmeiro's brazen, finger-wagging proclamations of clean living were apparently proven as fake and fraudulent as all his gaudy statistics.

Now? Now Palmeiro's just another disgraced cheater, one whose place in history will never be accurately measured by Bill James or anyone else, at least until he finally decides the truth is worth telling. Judging by his recent track record, I don't imagine that day will arrive anytime soon.

Neither will his Hall of Fame induction.

And to think, we once believed that the only career Canseco wasted was his own.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nine innings: 08.09.05

Playing nine innings while hoping Mark Bellhorn finds Pawtucket to his liking this time of year . . .

1) Theo and the Braintrust have coveted Tony Graffanino for a while, and to be honest, I never really understood the fascination. He entered this season a .259 hitter in nine seasons, and Baseball Prospectus's take on him seemed appropriate: As an everyday second baseman, he makes a heck of a utility infielder. The numbers told you he was Just Another Guy. But after watching him in these first 14 games with the Sox, you understand why the Sox were so disappointed when he turned down their offer to sign with Kansas City a season ago, and why they were so elated to acquire him a deal two weeks ago. He's better than steady at second base, makes pitchers work for every strike, and as he showed in concluding his Boggseqsue 10-pitch at-bat against Texas's Steve (I'm So Lousy Even The Yankees Cut Me) Karsay tonight, he can put a charge into the baseball every now and then. His three-run homer in the fifth inning gave the Sox an 8-5 lead in an eventual 11-6 victory and the shot into the Monster Seats may not have been his most impressive play of the night. He scored from second on a Johnny Damon infield single, hustling while the Rangers were lollygagging, and also made a couple smooth plays defensively. It's performances like that that are fast making a Graffinino a Fenway favorite - and reminding nitwits like me to put more faith in Theo's insight and intelligence than in Baseball Prospectus's projections and critiques.

2) Flipped on the Cubs-Mets game on ESPN Sunday night, mostly because I like to hear analyst extraordinaire Joe Morgan say "That's a cutter, Jon," 233 times per game. The man is a thinker, I tell you. As a bonus, I also got to witness the return from injury of one of the most important members of the 2003 Red Sox. You really should see Scott Williamson these days - physically, the Cubs' reliever looks nothing like the pitcher who tried his damnedest to save Grady Little from himself in the '03 playoffs. He's 25 pounds lighter, wears goatee/beard/shaving accident that only Matt Clement would dig, and his crewcut has grown into bushy, Greg Brady-style white-guy 'fro. Williamson's stuff looked nasty and uncontrollable, just as it always did, and while I thought he threw a great splitter, Little Joe repeatedly told me he throws a cutter, Jon. At any rate, it was nice to discover that Williamson has returned, elbow intact, from his latest Tommy John surgery. He was tougher than Curt Schilling gave him credit for, and he deserves some good fortune. (Say what? . . . You thought I meant who? . . . Oh, right . . . Nomar. Yeah, he's back too. Had a couple of hits, swung at a couple of first pitches, and looked like he now adheres to the Sammy Sosa/Pudge Rodriguez diet. We wish him well, blah yada whatever.)

3) In the aftermath of BALCO, and the Senate hearings, and the revelation that Rafael Palmeiro is a brazen, compulsive liar, in the aftermath of inflated bodies and inflated statistics, it's inevitable that history will remember the period of 1995 to 2004 as baseball's Steroid Era. It's a shame for many reasons, one being that we will never know which numbers are legitimate, something a certain suspiciously revitalized slugger in New York can attest to at the moment. But there are actually some small blessings in this scandal, believe it or not. Skeptical? Ponder this: What's more impressive - Sammy Sosa's 600-something homers - who knows how many of which were hit with a corked bat and a corked body - or Jim Rice's 382? Knowing what we know now, I'd say Rice's without a second thought. If circumstances make us more suspicious of every jacked-and-pumped slugger from recent seasons, the benefit is that it makes us more appreciative of some overlooked ballplayers from the recent past who could take a drug test without needing a Whizzanator. If all of these artificial records of recent years ultimately result in Rice and Andre Dawson taking their rightful place in Cooperstown, then maybe there is such a thing as positive fallout from this terribly disheartening story.

4) Isn't it ironic, don't ya think, that the two improvements Theo made to last year's ballclub at the trade deadline - adding speed (Saint David Roberts) and defense (Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz) - have popped up as flaws a season later. (Okay, so that's more coincidence than irony. Shove it, Alanis.) The speed guy off the bench is Rule 5 draftee Adam Stern, who ceases to wear a Just Happy To Be Here expression only when he's caught in his nightly rundown on the basepaths. Dave Roberts, he ain't. (Wayne Housie, he might be, however. . .)

. . . And as far as the defense is concerned . . . well, if you told me that Edgar Renteria has won two Gold Gloves to Cabrera's one during their overlapping seasons in the National League, I might roll my eyes and explain once again that a Gold Glove is a worthless popularity contest that very often doesn't reward the best defenders. My litmus test for how good a shortstop is defensively is pretty simple: Do you want the ball hit in his direction with the game on the line? With Nomar . . . not really. With Jeter . . . I'm sure Yankee fans do. With O-Cab . . . absolutely. With Renteria . . . certainly not based on what we've seen so far. He's occasionally spectacular, and his range to his left is vast, but too often he turns a routine or moderately difficult play into a baserunner. I hate dragging money into this to make a point, but for four years and $40 million, I expected more.

5) If the news tonight that the Sox have taken a flyer on Phillies/Cardinals/Royals/Phillies (again)/Mets/Diamondbacks/Brewers retread Ricky Bottalico isn't a blatant clue, then let's just spell out the reality regarding the Red Sox pitching staff: If the Keith Foulke who will soon return from his knee injury/hiatus doesn't closely resemble the Keith Foulke who had a sub-3.00 ERA the past six seasons and was fearless in the October spotlight, then the Sox can forget about an extended stay in the postseason, if they get there at all. Curt Schilling must return to the head of the rotation and reclaim his status as a postseason ace, and Foulke must make that possible by returning to the back of the bullpen and finding his closer mojo. It's as necessary as it is obvious.

6) TATB has long been of opinion that the size of Gary Sheffield's mouth has always been in inverse proportion to the size of his brain, and ol' Sheff made our case for us again this week. Only a first-ballot Moron Hall of Famer would dare take swipes at Captain Intangibles in New York, even if questions about his leadership - his true leadership, not the McCarver propaganda - might be legitimate. But Sheffield, in his headline-grabbing criticism of Jeter and A-Rod during an interview with New York magazine, did stumble upon one valid point: He is feared by opponents far more than his more publicized teammates. Jeter's reputation was made on the October stage(and aided by a publicity boost courtesy of FoxSports' production meetings and the fawning New York press), but he's more likely to punch a game-tying single to right than launch a three-run rocket off the Coke battles. A-Rod? Maybe his game-winning homer against Schilling a few weeks back was a sign that he's finally going to be a force to be reckoned with in this rivalry, but until he does it consistently, I'd just as soon see him at the plate with the game on the line, though I'd prefer he not slap any more Sox pitchers after failing. But Sheffield . . . maybe it's the menacing wag of the bat, maybe it's the whip-quick swing . . . but damned if I don't think he's going to hit a screaming line drive every time he steps into the batter's box. Yeah, we fear him, and fear is the right word. Can't fault him for knowing it. (P.S. - I had to laugh when the writer referred to Sheffield as "The All-Star with the gunslinger eyes." From now on, I think I'm going to refer to Manny as "The All-Star with the googly eyes.")

7) Jose Cruz Jr., we hardly knew ya - and not to be cruel, but judging by our brief introduction, we really weren't interested in getting to know you better, dude. The Sox designated Cruz for assignment tonight, eight days after he joined the team after being DFA'd by the Diamondbacks. (Hmmm, maybe the Snakes were on to something after all.) Kevin Youkilis, who should have started getting Kevin Millar's at-bats two months ago, was recalled from Pawtucket late this afternoon and arrived in time for tonight's ballgame, suggesting that he's not as patient behind the wheel as he is at the plate. As it is, we can gather a few things from today's version of the Red Sox Roster Shuffle:
1) Cruz is either injured or, at age 29, cooked. He doesn't look like he belongs in the big leagues, that's for sure.
2) The Sox realize that Youkilis, who was hitting .355 at Pawtucket and, I believe, is now out of options, has nothing left to prove in the minors.
3) Bill Mueller's back or elbow or knee must be hurting, the only explanation for those Hobson-in-'78 throws the normally steady third baseman has been unleashing of late.

8) I planned on making this item a recurring feature in this space, maybe call it This Week's Reason Why Kevin Millar Will Be Batting Seventh For The Hanshin Tigers Next Season. Had I done so, I'd probably have made light of his .297 slugging percentage on the road, or some other equally pathetic statistic, of which there are many choices. But I've decided to put this feature on hold, for three reasons:
1) As Crash Davis would say, "You know what the difference Is between hitting .250 and hitting .300? 1 got it figured out. Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. Okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 week - you get one extra flare a week - just one - a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail - just one more dying quail a week - and you're in Yankee Stadium!" The point? Millar's been getting a lot of flares, gorks, groundballs with eyes and dying quails lately, and his average has crept up to a respectable .274.
2) Millar could go Oh-Fer-August, gnaw off his left arm after mistaking it for a juicy drumstick, and decide he was no longer going to wear pants during day games, and he still wouldn't be the most repulsively useless first baseman in recent Sox history, not as long as Tony Clark's '02 season is still on file.
3) He once beat out Derrek Lee for the starting first base job for the Marlins. Yep, that Derrek Lee, he of the NL Triple Crown candidacy. Just thought that should be pointed out.

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

And you thought Gabe Kapler got a warm welcome when he returned to the Red Sox. Can you imagine the earth-shaking ovation El Guapo would get if this comeback attempt indeed leads him back to Fenway? Every fat guy in New England would rise out of their La-Z-Boys as one, clapping and wheezing and saluting their patron saint. Then, of course, we'd go back to swilling Pringles and beer. It's what Guapo would want us to do.

(How funny is it to see Baby-Faced Guapo on that card? He looks like he just got kicked out of Menudo for trying to grow a mustache.)