Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stream of semi-consciousness

First, a disclaimer: Thanks to a late night at the office and two hooting night-owl children, I got about two hours' sleep last night. Then, a postcard-perfect autumn Maine morning coerced me into going out for a 6-mile run when I should have been napping away and dreaming vividly of Crisco-wrestling Jenna Fisch . . . um, so anyway, my point is this: I'm a bigger mess than usual tonight, but after taking in a decent chunk of all three of today's games, I'm itching to crank out a baseball notebook. I'll leave it up to you to determine if any of it makes sense.


Frank Thomas's comeback is a cool story, and hopefully it jogs some memories about how historically excellent he was in his heyday. Consider: In 113 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Big Hurt hit 38 homers in 399 at-bats, scored 106 runs, drove in 101, and walked 109 times with just 61 strikeouts. He batted .353, reached base at a .487 clip, and slugged - get this - .729 - while winning his second straight MVP award. Thomas was perhaps THE dominant hitter of his era, did it without the suspicion of steroids hanging over his head (unlike Mr. Bonds, this dude was huge as a freakin' embryo), and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame five years after he walks away. Yeah, he's one-dimensional . . . but man, what a dimension.

The Yankees' lineup is stacked . . . but I'm not sure it's on the level of the '27 Yankees (or even the '03-'04 Red Sox), as the breathless national media twits are climbing over each other to tell us. A-Rod is a mess, Matsui and Sheffield are rusty, Damon (streaky as hell during his Sox postseasons) and Giambi have been scuffling . . . , ah, you know what? The hell with it. It's the third inning of Tigers-Yankees as I write this. Damon and Jeter just singled, Abreu doubled them home, Sheffield singled Abreu in, HGHiambi homered, and Gehrig and Ruth stepped out of monument park and walloped back to back homers. They could put up 10 runs this inning without blinking. Excuse me while I change the channel.

The Baseball Prospectus-types will tell you that Chien-Ming Wang's breakthrough 19-win season is a flat-out fluke. Because he's a successful starting pitcher who strikes no one out, the analysts who study such things warn us that he's a very likely candidate to collapse into 5.00-ERA mediocrity next season. While I am partial to the benefits of a strikeout pitcher, I don't buy the lack of Ks as a red flag in Wang's case. I believe Wang is a rare exception, a starter will be consistently effective despite constantly pitching to contact. I mean, the guy can throw in the mid-90s. It's just that his sinker is so effective (think D-Lowe's with more sizzle) that the logical approach is to throw it again and again for grounder after grounder, strikeouts (and wear and tear on the arm) be damned.

Oh, how I wanted to bust on my good buddy and chief antagonist Duckler, a certified Yankees lunatic, when he confessed the other day he thinks Robinson Cano is the second-best pure hitter in the American League. (I didn't ask who was first in his mind, but knowing him, he's got Melky Cabrera atop the charts.) But as I considered it further, I realized who it is the sweet-swinging Cano reminds me of at the plate: a young Roberto Alomar. And there's a dose of Rod Carew in that swing, too, though the Yankees' second-year second baseman already has more pop. It goes without saying that when a Sox fan is grouping him in with company as exclusive as a Hall of Famer and a Hall of Fame lock, it's tough to mock a Yankee fan for seeing what you see. The kid is something special.

Those who think Miguel Tejada and Gary Sheffield would be more than adequate replacements for Manny need to hop on Google and do a little research. Not only are they inferior to Manny offensively, but both would arrive at Logan with a ton of baggage. Now, if the Sox want to bring in one or the other to fill that vacant No. 5 hole and complement Manny and Papi . . . well, that is worth considering.

When all is said and done in this Jason Grimsley bleepstorm, Roger Clemens is going to wish he retired three retirements ago, and I write that well aware that the L.A. Times may have a lawsuit on their hands. Power pitchers don't get stronger and faster in their 40s. They just don't. Roger did, and for that, fairly or not, he will never be above suspicion.

So with the sad but unsurprising news that his shoulder is mincemeat, Pedro seems destined to re-enact the demise of his brother's career - Ramon Martinez blew out his rotator cuff at age 30, and Sox fans can attest he never resembled his old self. So chalk one up for Theo and the Trio: they were justified in their decision not to give him four years. Hell, the way it looks now, two might have been too many.

Kinda weird, isn't it, watching the Sox-free playoffs? It's less stressful for sure, watching the games as a pure fan without a passionate rooting interest. Wait . . . what's that? Yeah, all right, you're right . . . it sucks. It's never fun when the party goes on without you. Here's hoping for some October angst next year.

My AL MVP ballot, reconsidered: 1) Joe Mauer: He won the batting title, plays sport's toughest position brilliantly, and dates Miss USA. That's an MVP, folks. 2) Jetes: Though 14 homers is feeble for an MVP and I'm fairly certain the Yankees would be in the postseason even if he had been hurt rather than, say, Sheffield, he did have a sensational season by most any statistical measure, and delivered his usual share of daggers in crucial situations. 3) Papi: If only the team didn't disintegrate around him.

With Pedro a somber spectator and 73-year-old El Duque suddenly knocked out with a leg problem, the Mets might want to consider bailing out Dwight Gooden to pitch Game 2. Glavine and Trachsel aren't up for the challenge of making that sick Subway Series fantasy a reality.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:


I've never been much of a Tommy Lasorda guy - it's well known that his public persona is considerably less vulgar than the way he carries himself when the cameras are off - but I have to admit, I dig his "Everyone to the TV!" commercials for the playoffs. Especially the one that makes a fool of that Yankees' college chick.

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