Friday, March 31, 2006

Nine innings: 3.31.06

Playing nine innings while wondering if Randy Johnson's daughter has a mullet and a wispy mustache . . .

1. I support the decision-making of Theo and his underlings to the point of probably being an apologist. (I still think Hillenbrand-for-Kim was a good trade, and I'll be glad to argue with you about it if you wish.) But even I'm scratching my head at the apparent hypocrisy of meticulously weeding out the wild-eyed ballplayers (Lowe, Arroyo, Damon, Millar) and claiming they want a more "professional attitude," then turning around and giving $6.7 million to a certified whack-job like Julian Tavarez. Tavarez isn't a terrible guy - unlike, say, that walking carcinogen Carl Everett, he's usually genial and quite popular among his teammates - but he does flip out at least once or twice a season, and as Joey Gathright can tell you, it can get rather ugly when it happens. It's the reason he's with his eighth organization despite his uncommon consistency as a setup man. Tavarez may wind up being a huge asset to the Red Sox this season, but the time will come again where his temper overwhelms him and he does something to embarrass the organization. Considering how important appearances apparently are to the Red Sox braintrust these days, it is a surprise that he was ever welcomed here in the first place.

2. I know this isn't exactly a deep thought - hell, I think even Jerry Trupiano noted as much - but the key to Red Sox season could be Jonathan Papelbon. Not only is he being counted on at the moment to pitch some crucial set-up innings out of the 'pen, what with Tavarez suspended, David Riske looking like the pitcher Cleveland couldn't wait to unload, Rudy Seanez being Rudy Seanez, and Mike Timlin being old enough to pitch in Old Timers' Games, but there's going to come a point during the season when he'll have to step into the rotation and come through in a big spot. (Most likely when David Wells suffers a recurrence of the gout.) While no one is a bigger fan of Papelbon than TATB, we are a tad concerned that the overheated Clemens comparisons and his lack of a dependable second pitch to go with that blazing fastball will conspire to cause something of a sophomore slump. We're not expecting it, mind you - I happen to think Papelbon is up to just about any task the Red Sox ask of him. It's just that the burden of high expectations can weigh on anyone, even a kid as talented as him, and a fast start would go a long way toward lightening the load.

3. I've never forgotten the first time I saw Jeff Bagwell play. I was a sophomore at UMaine, covering the Mark Sweeney-powered baseball team, and Bagwell, then a skinny (hmmm), sweet-swinging third baseman for the University of Hartford, walloped four home runs in a doubleheader against the Black Bears. Needless to say, I was impressed, and I made a note to never forget the name. Of course, Bagwell made that rather easy through the years, winning the Rookie of the Year award in '91, the NL MVP in '94, bashing 449 homers and driving in 1,529 runs in 15 seasons in Houston. (There are rumors that he actually began his career in the Red Sox organization but - get this - was traded for a journeyman middle reliever. I am refusing to confirm them based solely on my desire to maintain my sanity and fend off the temptation to take a detour to Fenway to bludgeon Lou Gorman to death with a foot-long Hoagie.) As it is, the end is apparently near for Bagwell, whose surgically repaired shoulder has left him unable to throw. He's beginning the season on the disabled list with the hopes of playing again, but if you saw his teary press conference last week, it's apparent even to him that he's played his last game. I don't recall the final time I saw him play, but I'll always remember the first, and all these years after tearing up the North Atlantic Conference and putting on a show for 200 or so fans in Orono, Maine, he should be proud of all he accomplished.

4. What's that phrase Bill Parcells always used? No, no, not, "Hell, yeah, I would like fries with that, and don't scrimp on the ketchup, young fella" . . . the other one. Yeah, that's it: "I reserve the right to change my mind." Well, I'm here today to apply that saying to my oft-repeated opinion that Keith Foulke will not help the Red Sox this season. I've seen Foulke pitch twice this spring, and I can say with confidence that he looks a helluva lot more like the guy who should have been the World Series MVP in 2004 than the guy whose personal and physical problems caused him to melt into a puddle on the Fenway mound during a lost 2005 season. His changeup is moving, he's hitting his spots, and while his fastball is hovering around 86 m.p.h, he swears he can get that extra giddyup when he needs it. Not to get too ahead of things here, but Foulke looks great, and even more telling, he's carrying himself with confidence again, as if he believes that his redemption is in the immediate future. I wouldn't have believed it even two weeks ago, but it sure looks to me like Keith Foulke is back. And yes, you can mark my words.

5. I couldn't give a damn what Bud Selig and his see-no-evil approach to running baseball say about Barry Bonds at this point. You know whose opinion matters to me? Henry Aaron's. And though he's too classy and dignified to rip Willie Mays's fraudulent godson, he simply must be disgusted with Bonds. Think about it. Not only is Bonds cheating his way toward the most hallowed record in sports - his record - but every time anyone dares question how Bonds eclipsed his career high in homers by 34 at age 36 or confronts him with the facts from "Game Of Shadows," he cries racism. Considering the hate, ignorance and threats that Aaron endured while closing in on Babe Ruth's 714 - the most vile which appear in his biography, "I Had A Hammer," a book I can't recommend highly enough - it must make him sick that Bonds, a pampered child of privilege, so casually uses race as a excuse when people have many, many valid reasons to vilify him.

6. Being a jingoistic American and all, I stopped watching the World Baseball Classic right about the time the US got eliminated. So tell me: Did A-Rod manage to weasel his way onto Team Japan in time for the final? Or did he not want to offend his kindred spirits from Cuba who, like the Yankees, are lorded over by an aging lunatic dictator?

7. Just because.

8. Changing gears with some random notes from the NCAA hoops tournament, which has been the most enjoyable in recent memory: Joakim Noah, all boundless energy and enthusiasm, is a blast to watch, even if he does look ready to play the leading role in Juwanna Mann II . . . But his teammate, the sturdy Al Horford, will be the better NBA player . . . The best thing about George Mason's Cinderella run? Making Billy Packer and Jim Nantz look like complete jackholes with each successive victory. I mean, not only did those two ass-kissing, coach-loving, champion-of-the-big-guy frauds rail against the inclusion of so many mid-major teams on Selection Sunday, but they actually used George Mason as THE example of a team that did not belong. That, my friends, is the very definition of poetic justice, and it is bee-you-tiful . . . If I were Adam Morrison, I'd be crying too. That gagging Batista kid singlehandedly ended Gonzaga's season, and most likely Morrison's college career . . . Shouldn't that relentless commercial/recruiting propaganda featuring ferret-faced Coach K stop airing once Duke is bounced from the tournament? . . .Never have I seen such a talented collection of individuals play with such utter joylessness as did the UConn Huskies. Talk about going through the motions - if they were making $125 million among them, I might have confused them for the New York Knicks . . . And I don't get the Rudy Gay hype at all. He's graceful, I suppose, but not spectacularly so, and he runs away from the ball when the game is on the line. There's no more damning criticism of a player than that . . . I had Villanova going all the way, and I'd love to see Randy Foye or Allen Ray playing for the Celtics next season. Foye is supposedly the much better prospect, but I have a hard time telling one from the other.

9. As for Today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Yo, if you haven't done so already, remember to vote for TATB for Best Independent Sports Blog here (the polls close today). Not to pander for your support, but we desperately need the rumored cash prize in order to buy Bucket here a new pair of pants. Or at least a patch so he doesn't skin his knee.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Here's the kicker

So I'm sitting here trying to make sense of four pages of notes regarding The Vinatieri Departure, most of which were scribbled during my Maine to Boston commute or the 3 a.m. retracing of my I-95 tracks. Let's just say I'm not having much luck deciphering my own handwritten so-called "insight."

Some of my crumpled words applaud the Patriots' steel-hearted determination to assigning a value to a player and sticking to that number: ("Belichick/Pioli don't pay for past performance, they pay for the performance they expect in the future").

Others lament Vinatieri's farewell as unnecessary and wonder why they could make an exception for a player who has meant and accomplished so much: ("We've forgotten about kicks he's made that would be the highlight of other kickers' careers.")

And other scribblings are simply truths that really have no bearing at all on the situation: ("SHUT THE *#&# UP, ORDWAY!")

As you probably have gathered by this point, I'm having a hard time coming up with a coherent, flowing column here - you know, something with a beginning, a middle, an end, and maybe even an actual friggin' point.

Part of the reason, obviously, is because my note-taking system is somewhat flawed. But mostly, though, it's because my thoughts on the subject remain so contradictory.

I can't imagine Vinatieri playing anywhere else, especially for the soulless Colts, and I'm pissed that he is.

And yet . . . the Patriots rarely if ever wrongly evaluate one of their own players (depending upon how you feel about Greg Spires), and you simply have to assume that there is a logical reason for parting ways with the greatest clutch kicker in the history of the sport.

With all of these conflicting thoughts flowing out of my fingers, I figure I'm better off just pecking out some scattered thoughts on Vinatieri's sad (or is it necessary?) departure and hoping at least some of them strike a chord:

• I still don't understand what really happened here. Questions, questions . . . and so few answers. Do the Patriots think he's slipping, that his aching back, age, and slightly decreased efficiency last season suggest that the end is nearer than anyone realizes? Or did Vinatieri want to leave? After all, the Patriots did make him the highest-paid kicker in the league the past two seasons, and while their final contract offer was not nearly as rich as Indy's $11 million nest egg, it reportedly wasn't exactly an insult, either. Did the Patriots consider statistical analysis from such places as, putting faith in numbers crunchers who suggest, with much reasoning, that Vinatieri ultimately has a miniscule impact on winning and losing football games? Or did the Patriots underestimate just how much of an advantage it is - psychological or otherwise - to have the most accomplished big-game kicker in league history warming up on their sideline as the clock wound down in a tight game? As for the most glaring question of all - did the Patriots make a mistake? - I think the answer will remain murky for some time. By going to the Colts, who play in a domed stadium and have that famously potent offense, Vinatieri was shrewd: With all of those factors in his favor, he's going to continue putting up 100-point-plus seasons even if his skills have eroded to the point that he'd no longer be as effective at frigid, muddy Gillette.

• The perception that the acquisition of Vinatieri has given the Colts the final piece they need to get past the Patriots (and I suppose the Steelers, too, since they won the Super Bowl and all) is, of course, ridiculous. While Colts GM Bill Polian - who, if you've ever heard how defensive he gets in interviews or heard about his classless behavior in the press box, clearly has an unhealthy hatred for the PAY-tree-OTTS (as he pronounces it) - is surely celebrating his coup, it's gone unnoticed that Indy lost versatile running back Edgerrin James, dependable linebacker David Thornton (who'd have been a good fit in New England) and defensive tackle Larry Triplett to free agency. The Colts have taken at least as many roster hits as the Pats have during their allegedly disastrous offseason, and you could argue that they have suffered more simply because the Patriots have not lost a player the caliber of James. But the storyline is that the sky is falling in Foxboro, and you bet that's the storyline that's being shoved down our throats, reality be damned.

• A good buddy of mine who covered the Pats during the '96 Super Bowl run tells a story about Vinatieri, and for some reason it's been rattling around in my head for the past few days. It goes like this: During one of the days leading up to the Super Bowl with the Packers, the Pats were fulfilling their media obligations in the locker room. Vinatieri, then a rookie without much of a resume, was clearly enjoying the new attention. Just then, Drew Bledsoe walks into the room. Spying Vinatieri reveling in regaling the press, the quarterback muttered in his patented dry monotone: "The Adam Vinatieri press conference." Okay, maybe the story doesn't translate to type all that well, but it still strikes me as funny if only for the irony: ten years after the superstar quarterback enjoyed a needling joke at the all-but-anonymous kicker's expense, who'd have known that the kicker would have left behind a much richer legacy?

• So who is the Pats' kicker going to be? I have no idea. I thought Paul Edinger, with his cold weather experience in Chicago, was a good idea. Then my boss read me his horrific stats from last season in Minnesota, and it became apparent that Edinger kicked last season like he was worried Fred Smoot was sneaking up behind him with one of his toys. I do trust that Pioli and Belichick have a few names in mind, and the Pats did bring a quality kicker (Robbie Gould, who ended up have a good rookie year in Chicago) into camp last season to "challenge" Vinatieri. They'll find someone suitable, though he'd better come with a thick skin, because he's going to hear "Vinny woulda made it!" every time he misses one. I'm just glad it won't be Mike Vanderjagt, who is the anti-Adam in terms of his reliability in the biggest moments. His attempt at the end of the Pittsburgh playoff game missed so badly that the NFL competition committee is considering changing the term "shank" to "pulling a Vanderjagt" in his honor. Plus, he's a jackass. This one's all yours, Tuna.

• The highest compliment I can pay to Vinatieri is to say that every time he trotted onto the field with the outcome hanging in the balance, I was completely certain he was going to make the kick. Do you realize how rare and unique that feeling is? Considering how much can go wrong on a field goal attempt, it's truly amazing that a kicker could deliver that much confidence, then deliver on the field, every single damn time. One could argue that Vinatieri - whether it was with his kicks in the Snow Bowl or the one that beat the Rams in the Super Bowl - triggered a renaissance in Boston sports, that his clutch performances changed the mind set of New England fans. He actually made us believe that our teams could win. His dependability and guts, combined with a handsome mug and a friendly, polished persona, made Vinatieri an immensely popular football player, almost as if he received a promotion from the status of kicker. (Chasing down Herschel Walker didn't hurt his reputation, either.) It always struck me as cool that so many Pats fans wore Vinatieri jerseys - I mean, how many teams even sell their kicker's jerseys? I'm guessing a Mike Nugent replica isn't exactly a best-seller at the Meadowlands pro shop. I guess my point, in my usual rambling way, is this: It may have been time for Adam Vinatieri to move on. But no one will ever truly replace him.

• The Pats and Colts play in Foxboro next season. If the football gods have any sense of drama, the outcome will hinge on the swing of Vinatieri's right leg in the final seconds. Maybe then, and only then, will we finally know if this was the right thing to do.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because sometimes, it really is random. (That, and we couldn't find cards of Scott Sisson or Jason Staurovsky.)

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Just thought I'd share an email I got from my buddy CJ tonight regarding yesterday's comments on Adam Morrison. In light how tonight's Gonzaga game ended - with Morrison in apparent tears before the final buzzer sounded - I thought it was prescient as well as damn funny. For some reason, I'm picturing Mike (Adam Goldberg) from "Dazed and Confused" when I read this. ("Dominant male monkey #*$*$*#$*#*#*#*#*!"):

"Are you skeptical of Morrison's talents because the guy seems to be as mentally stable as Randle P. McMurphy post-lobotomy? Seems like the type of guy who fights some SERIOUS demons when he's drunk, maybe even bursts into tears every once in a while."

Yup, I'd say that's probably an accurate assessment.

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Finally, thanks to all of you who voted for TATB for the Best Independent Sports Website. It makes us giddier than Johnny Weir after a four-pack of wine coolers to know that you regard us so highly. And if you didn't vote, well, click here and cast your ballot and show us some love, if ain't too much trouble. We want that first-place prize - a toaster! Buckethead likes his Pop Tarts hot, dammit!

This, that and the other thing

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free semi-coherent thoughts for you . . .

1. It's my mission to get into Adam Vinatieri's departure with a full-length column to be posted Friday morning, so at the moment all I will say is this: Bill Belichick (and to a point, Bill James) convinced me long ago that cold, calculating logic is far more conducive to building a powerhouse sports franchise than is sentimentality or emotion. But right now, I'm having a very hard time finding any logic in this decision. I hate to be one of those nitwit fans who demand that the Patriots explain every move they make . . . but man, if ever a move needed justifying, it's letting your iconic Super Bowl hero kicker bolt for your main competition over the matter of roughly the amount of money you paid Duane Starks last season. Maybe they think he's slipped. Maybe his back pain is chronic. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Right now, if only for reassurance, I wish the Patriots would give us some answers.

As for the Patriots' two other notable recent departures, Willie McGinest and David Givens, I'll miss them both, for they were probably my two favorite players on the current team. (And putting a good bargain ahead of any shred of journalistic integrity I might still have, I just picked up a McGinest jersey on for $25.) But at least in each case the logic can be comprehended. Givens is a wonderful No. 2 receiver, tough and determined and clutch . . . but he's not fast or elusive enough to be a No. 1, he's not worth the bucks he's making, and if the Titans are expecting him to become the second coming of Jerry Rice, they're going to be terribly disappointed. As for McGinest, he's one of the most admirable Patriots I can recall, a big-game player who is deserving of his own NFL Films special some day just for the interesting evolution of his career: dominant, Boselli-whuppin' force on the '96 Pats, injury-prone, expensive disappointment during the Pumped And Jacked Pete Carroll years, then, just when it looked like he was going to go the way of Chris Slade, he got healthy and morphed into a clutch, intelligent elder statesman during the dynasty. It's fair to say his skills eroded last year - he was the Invisible Man when Richard Seymour was injured - and in all of his football wisdom, he's probably of more value to Romeo Crennel's fledgling Browns than he would be to the Patriots. But he sure did have a hell of a run here, and I hope the Patriots have the good sense to keep jersey No. 55 in mothballs from now on. I don't imagine anyone else could do it justice at the moment.

3. Rock on, Bronson Arroyo. Maybe your hairstyles (cornrows?) and musical choices (the Goo Goo Dolls?) left something to be desired, but you pitched your best in the biggest moments (whiffing A-Rod and Sheffield in a key situation in the '04 ALCS), never seemed to get rattled, were willing to pitch in any role if it benefited the team, and best of all, exposed slappy A-Rod as a fool on a national stage. Hell, you appreciated being a member of the Boston Red Sox to the point that you made a foolish financial sacrifice that ultimately undermined your chances of remaining here. But look at it this way: as One of the 25, you'll be a member of the Red Sox long after your playing days are done.

4. As for Wily Mo Pena, he sounds to me like a destitute man's Manny Ramirez: Awesome power (according to Bill James Handbook, he walloped the two longest homers in the NL last season), occasionally indifferent baserunning, defense that could gently be be described as "adventurous." All that considered, yeah, I like the deal. Trot Nixon has required a platoon partner for some time now, and Pena mashes lefties. He should be fun. Can't wait to hear him say, "It's just Wily Mo being Wily Mo, man."

5. My concerns about the Red Sox, from most worrisome to least: 1) Mike Lowell (everyone says his bat is slow). 2) Keith Foulke (any time you are getting something that sounds like motor oil injected into your knees, it can't bode well for your long-term health. 3) Curt Schilling (even if he's lost a few MPH off the ol' heater, he's shrewd enough, good health willing, to remain a top-notch starter).

6. Adam Morrison is a blast to watch, and he gets bonus points for looking like he just stepped out of the 1974-75 St. Louis Spirits highlight reel, but I'm skeptical of his ability to justify a high lottery pick in the NBA draft. Sure, he's got a Bird-like shot, right down to the high release point, but his passing is only average, he's a subpar rebounder, and defense is merely a rest period between offensive possessions. His sweet shot will secure him a long-term spot in the league, but I'm afraid he'll never be a bigger star than he is at this moment. (But the kid sure has good taste in baseball hats, no?)

7. As far as the pro future Morrison's main competition for the Wooden Award and all the other player of the year prizes is concerned, I think J.J. Redick is going to be a better NBA player than most experts outside of the rumpswab Vitale/Packer specie believe. He won't be a star, but his shot is so accurate and his release so quick that it seems to me he's perfectly suited to be a terrific complementary player on a good team. Think John Paxson with the Jordan Bulls, or to put it another way: how much would you like to see a shooter of his skill coming off the Celtics' bench right now?

8. So let me get this straight: T.O. has a rap song out two days after he signs with the Cowboys, and a tell-all book is on the way? Yeah, he really learned his lessons last year, didn't he? This is not going to end well for the Dallas Cowboys, just as it did not end well for the 49ers or the Eagles. T.O. cannot be redeemed, because in his tiny pea of a mind, he doesn't think he did anything wrong. Which leads to this question? Why is Dallas doing this? Is Parcells really that desperate to win immediately, or is this all Jerry (Plastic Man) Jones's ego trip? No matter - by midseason, they're both going to want to pull a George Teague on the clown. But the person I feel bad for in all of this is our old friend Mr. Bledsoe. T.O. has accused his past QBs of being gay (Jeff Garcia) and cowardly (Donovan McNabb), and Bledsoe might be a less effective quarterback now than Garcia and McNabb were when they played with T.O. His pat-pat-sack routine is going to drive T.O. nuts, and T.O. is going to let everyone know about it. Bledsoe deserves better.

9. . . . and while we are on the subject of loudmouth wide receivers, let me say this: I do hope the Patriots sign Keyshawn Johnson. Yeah, he doesn't know when to zip it, either, but he'd be the perfect short-term replacement for David Givens, and there's a major difference between him and T.O.: Keyshawn is a good soldier when he respects the coach (Parcells, Belichick); T.O. respects no one except for the reflection in the mirror.

10. How long has Adam Vinatieri been the Patriots' kicker? His immediate predecessor, Mr. Bahr, is going to be 50 in July.

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One final plea/request/pathetic grovel: It'd be much appreciated at the TATB headquarters if you clicked this here link and gave us some love in the Best Independent Sports Website category. I'm not sure what first prize is for winning, but rumor has it that it's a toaster, and you know how Buckethead loves his yeast. Thanks much, and I promise to post more often now that our computer's hard drive issues are resolved. (Please don't let my wife look in the cache file . . . please don't let my wife look in the cache file . . . )

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Abstract art

If you are one of the Original 12 readers of this site, you might recall that back in TATB's fledgling days, I'd occasionally dig up and post player projections from one of Bill James's legendary Player Ratings books from the early '90s. It was a fun feature to pull together, one that brought a lot of feedback and reaction - and more often than not our flashback proved James prescient in his analysis. (Thought I'm not quite sure Phil Plantier turned out to be one of the great power hitters of the '90s, as James predicted. Hey, we all swing and miss sometimes . . . especially Plantier, as it turned out.)

Over time, I abandoned the feature, in part because my wife got tired of looking at the old books cluttering up the desk and chucked them in a closet, and in part because I pretty much had already posted pretty much all of James's humorous and insightful comments, at least regarding topics that would be relevant to readers today. While his comments on past Sox were always worthwhile, I don't think anyone checking out his site really gave a damn about what he said regarding, oh, Roger Pavlik 10 years ago, you know? So as much as I enjoyed finding them, I let the feature fade away. Yeah, kind of like Plantier.

Well, party on, Original 12, because I'm about to bring it back - or at least an altered version of it. I recently got a sweet deal on a bunch of James's seminal Baseball Abstracts from the '80s. (What did we ever do without As you might imagine, the books are packed with page after page of compelling stuff. While the format of the Abstracts is different from the Player Ratings books - here he writes lengthy essays on individual teams and various other subjects rather than short, pithy capsules on virtually every big-league ballplayer - his opinions remain immensely interesting all these years later.

Which brings us to Marc Sullivan. Sox fans will remember him as the original Thanks Dad, a decent-field/can't-hit-a-bleep catcher who for a brief time was the starting catcher thanks to two fortuitous breaks, one professional and one genetic:

• Rich Gedman, the incumbent catcher, was embroiled in a contract dispute.

• His father, Haywood Sullivan, was the Boston GM. Talk about friends in high places.

Now, I met Sullivan a few times when he was battling fellow immortal John Russell for the Maine Phillies' catching job in 1988, and as James notes in his essay on the Sox in his '88 Abstract, he was a nice guy. But a good personality doesn't make you a big leaguer - even Kevin Millar knows he has to produce or become a Yakult Swallow - and Sullivan, more than any other Red Sox I can think of, was absolutely unqualified to call Fenway his workplace. Hell, he was overmatched playing for a middling Triple A team a year after starting for the Sox. If his last name was Schwartz, his career likely would have stalled in Double A.

You think I'm being mean? Too blunt? Well, check out what James had to say in '88. I believe the word I'd use to describe this excerpt is "vicious" - though I suppose "accurate" also works:

I'm sorry if this is harsh, but there is nepotism here, and it offends me. The Red Sox in 1979 blew a second-round pick on Marc Sullivan, the son of then-vice president Haywood Sullivan. After young Marckie hit .203 with 1 home run in 117 games in the Eastern League (1982), the Red Sox had the effrontery to dress him up in a major-league uniform and foist him off as a major-league player in two games late the same season. After he went back to the minors and hit .229 and .204, they decided he was ready to play for the major-league team. In 1985 and 1986, as a part-timer, Sullivan hit .174 and .193. In 1987 he opened the season as the Red Sox' regular catcher. We should all find our opportunities so abundant.

What I would like to know is, where the hell does Haywood Sullivan get off trying to make his precious little boy an exception to the rules that the rest of the baseball world obeys? The most basic rule of sports is that in the effort to win, you put the team goals ahead of your personal agenda. The public posture of every major league team is that they expect their players not to play for their own statistics . . . but to do what the good of the team demands. They would be appalled if a player stated publicly that he was playing for himself first and didn't care much whether the Sox won or lost. But Haywood Sullivan wants to add, "Of course, that doesn't apply to me."

And where is the watchdog? What does the press say? They tell us that Marc Sullivan is such a nice kid. Well, who the hell cares if he's a nice kid. Do you have any idea how many nice kids there are in AAA ball? It is not fair to those kids to tell them that Marc Sullivan is playing by a different set of rules than they are. It is not fair to Red Sox fans, and it's not fair to other players.

I call on Peter Ueberroth to intervene and end this disgraceful situation . . . he should tell Haywood to get Marc Sullivan's sorry ass out a Red Sox uniform by sundown.

And this isn't the entire segment - I actually cut it short before James gets around to calling Daddy Sullivan "a half-a-man." Compelling stuff, huh? And people think he's just a numbers cruncher.

You know, come to think of it, I doubt James would have gotten a job in the Red Sox front office during the Sullivan regime. I have a hunch they might have clashed.

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As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:

As CBS's go-to college hoop analyst, Clark Kellogg comes across as affable enough, but insight is not his forte; he settles for dealing in cliches and generalities. He's not bad, mind you . . . it's just that he was much better at his first job. As the Indiana Pacers' go-to guy in the early-'80s, Kellogg was one hell of an underrated force (he averaged 20 and 10 as a rookie) before knee injuries ended his NBA days at age 25. Watching him now, successful if uninspiring in his second career, I wonder how many people remember him for the player he was, and the player he could have been.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Playing catch-up

The paper's got the news, TATB's got the views . . .

News: Paul Pierce is playing the best basketball of his career, Ryan Gomes is a revelation, the Celtics are on the verge of real relevance again.
Pierce's redemption song has been a joy to behold - he's removing all hyperbole from Tommy Heinsohn's proclamation that he's the best pure scorer the Celtics have ever had, and better yet, for the first time in his career, he's making his teammates better and carrying himself as a leader. (He's always conferring with his younger teammates and pointing stuff out when he's on the bench. Just watch.) While much has been written about Pierce's transformation on and off the court - Bill Simmons did a particularly nice job summing up the entire Truth Experience the other day, though I'm still confused as to whether BSG threw out that old newspaper or not - I think there is a factor here that's rather obvious but isn't getting much attention as it should: Pierce believes in the kids, and for the first time in a long time, he sees himself as part of a bright future for the Celtics. Think about it: For all the admiration we couch potatoes have developed for the high basketball IQs of sweet-shooting Delonte West and the exceedingly clever Ryan Gomes (whom we recognized as a useful talent long before Doc Rivers did, thank you very much), for as much as we dig the you-can't-teach-that post game of Al Jefferson, the raw athleticism of Tony Allen, Gerald Green and Orien Greene, or the work ethic and desire of Kendrick Perkins, well, Pierce sees it all from point-blank range. He knows what these kids are really all about, and it's incredibly reassuring how much he genuinely seems to enjoys them. Remember, from the careless insubordination of Mark Blount to his mini-feuds with Kenny Anderson, Pierce justifiably hasn't always had the most faith in his running mates. Hell, I bet even his buddy Antoine Walker, with his rim-denting threes, drove him nuts at times. Now, at age 28, he's become the player and leader we all hoped he'd be, and he's got an intriguing, admirable collection of young players following him. Yeah, I'd say the Celtics are on the very of relevance again. (Oh, and one more thing: If Doc Rivers ever gives Brian Scalabrine significant minutes at the expense of Gomes above right, with Gerald Green ever again, he should be forced to turn in his whistle and clipboard on the spot, because there is absolutely no hope for him as an NBA coach.)

News: The Patriots release defensive end Willie McGinest, watch receiver David Givens to depart to Tennessee as a free agent, and allow iconic kicker Adam Vinatieri to test the market.

Patriots' fans mantra during the glorious recent seasons has been "In Bill We Trust," and for the most part such faith has served us well. But at the moment, it's justifiable to wonder just what Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli are thinking. While the new collective bargaining agreement and increased salary cap have led to a whirlwind of free agent activity, the Patriots have been conspicuously quiet. What are they up to? Good luck finding out. Maybe they are waiting for a second wave of talent to hit the market (Keyshawn Johnson, cut by the Cowboys tonight, would be a superb replacement for Givens, IMO). Maybe they don't think the likes of Antwaan Randle El are worth the coin they are getting. Maybe they are working on longterm deals for Deion Branch and Richard Seymour, a prudent exercise to be sure. Maybe Belichick is following Bon Jovi's "How The Hell Are We Still Around?" Tour and completely forgot about that whole repair-your-team-in-the-offseason thing. But whatever the plan of attack, this much is true: the tailgating, ticket-buying natives are getting restless. We want some news . . . and maybe even an explanation or two. Oh, we all know the Patriots are loathe to justify their decision-making process to the media, and for the most part I think fans are okay with this. But isn't it a touch alarming that McGinest, a hugely popular player and a member of four Super Bowl teams, and Vinatieri, merely the best clutch kicker in football history, are speaking of their Patriots careers in the past tense? It would be nice if Belichick or Pioli could deign to explain to us why McGinest was cut (hey, we all know he was invisible when Seymour was out last season, but it would be reassuring to hear a softer farewell from Belichick) or why Vinatieri apparently isn't worthy the paltry sum of something like $2.5 million per year (I suspect they think he slipped last year). Of course, we'll never get these answers. And until the Patriots make a few moves and Belichick stops singing backup on "Dead Or Alive" and gets back to business, all we can do is wait. And wonder.

News: A new book by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Game Of Shadows, exposes Barry Bonds as a liar, cheater, jackass, tax evader, adulterer, bully - and oh yeah, a steroid abuser.
Finally. the smoking needle. I always figured it was a matter of time before the posse caught up to Bonds and revealed the truth about how he really accomplished the scientifically impossible, transforming himself from looking like El DeBarge to the Incredible Hulk in his mid-30s. That he was so brazen and arrogant to the media - almost daring them to "catch me if you can" - not to mention abusive behavior to his supposed friends, particularly trainer/dealer Greg Anderson, well, he motivated a lot of people to want to bring him down. Well, they got him. Anyone who read Sports Illustrated's lengthy excerpt from the meticulously reported book cannot possibly have a shred of doubt that Bonds has cheated his way toward baseball's most hallowed record. And whatever comes of this bombshell, be it jail, a suspension from baseball, a ban from the Hall of Fame (for which he was a mortal lock even before he started pumping everything but battery acid into his body), or even a premature death, the damage Barry Bonds has done to himself is no match for the damage he and his enablers have done to baseball. Bonds may go away, but this story won't for a very long time. (Two other intriguing sidelights to this story. 1) Fainaru-Wada and Williams got access to the grand jury testimony from the BALCO case, which means they also know the full truth about the other athletes called to testify. If I'm Jason Giambi - and to a lesser extent, Gary Sheffield - I'm verrry nervous about what else is documented in this book. 2) It's been fascinating watching ESPN scramble to save journalistic face after getting broadsided by SI's scoop. The day the excerpt appeared on CNNSI, ESPN took a curiously long time posting anything regarding the story on its website - and when it did, it chose to overemphasize a report in ESPN The Magazine revealing that Bonds used Androstenedione. That's the equivalent of reporting that the freezer on the Titanic was full of ice cubes. Then, tonight, they had the "scoop" that there is another Bonds book on the market and in it it is revealed that - stop the presses! - he told Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998 that he was considering taking steroids. It's interesting, sure, but it's a mere footnote to SI's story. ESPN's embarrassment was compounded by the fact that it has had a reporter, Pedro Gomez, covering Bonds and only Bonds for two years now - you'd think he might have had some insight regarding the situation. Of course, the network's credibility regarding its coverage of the swollen slugger was compromised the moment they announced plans for a Bonds "reality" show. Considering ESPN promotes itself as the World Wide Leader and has an annoying knack for taking credit for every relevant piece of breaking news ("ESPN's Chris Mortenson is reporting that the Philadelphia Daily News reported that Terrell Owens is an $*%&%&#&#"), it's been fun to watch them get hammered, and perhaps even humbled. Boo-yeah!

News: The World Baseball Classic is in full swing . . . but does anyone in the United States care?
I admit, I was skeptical. I thought this was another ill-conceived, poorly timed Bud Selig production, a crass marketing opportunity barely disguised as competition. But after watching a half-dozen or so games the last few days - hey, the baseball jones needs feeding - I have to admit, I'm enjoying the hell out of this thing. Highlights so far: Domincan dandy David Ortiz hitting one entirely out of the park while carrying his nation the way he carries Red Sox Nation; Korea's Byung-Hyun "One Finger" Kim whiffing the US's Vernon Wells on an 81 MPH meatball with the bases loaded Monday night; A-Rod hitting a game-winning worm-killer up the middle to win a game, then being greeted with a snarky "Mr. March" headline the next morning in one of the New York tabloids; and finally, imagining the lava flowing out of George Steinbrenner's ears when he got word that the shoulder that bothered Johnny Damon during the second half last season is again "barking." Steinbrenner, you might recall, was a conscientious objector to this whole World Classic concept, pressuring his Yankees not to play and predicting that someone would suffer a serious injury. If he's right, and that player turns out to be a Yankee . . . well, in this corner, that qualifies as poetic justice.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

You know, it'd be impossible to draw a caricature of Big Head Barry these days. Go ahead, get out your Crayolas and try. The size of his real 'roid-swollen head simply cannot be exaggerated.

Monday, March 13, 2006

And don't forget Dave Weathers

So I'm driving to work the other day, jacked and pumped to be listening to the Sox on the radio for the first time this spring. But shortly after I twisted the dial, something horrible happened:

Jerry Trupiano spoke. And my ears, remembering the Trupiano-induced horrors I'd put them through in summers past, began to gently weep.

Seriously, within the first two minutes of listening to the game - two minutes! - Trupiano managed to pull off the following patented, predictable annoyances:

• He made groan-inducing crack about Phillies outfielder Michael Bourn involving the movie "The Bourne Identity."

• He asked Joe Castiglione why he has White-Out all over his computer screen (Castig was having trouble typing. Get it? White-Out! On the computer screen! It's comedic genius, I tell you!)

• He guffawed something else ridiculous that slipped my mind while I was fighting back the urge to drive into the guardrail and spare my eardrums the anguish.

Had Trupiano bellowed "SWING AND A DRIVE!!!!" on a routine flyball to shallow center, updated the Cardinals score 43 times an inning while rarely mentioning the score of the game taking place in front of him, or oh-so-wryly noted that David Bell would be a lock to make the All-Things That Make Noise team, then I'd have said ol' Troop is already in midseason form.

I know, it's spring, he's harmless, I should lighten up. But man, two minutes. Two minutes into the season, and Trupiano is already driving me nuts like it's July, the Sox are down a run to the Yankees in the ninth, and he's oblivious to the tension while trying to figure out who joins Flash Gordon on his All-Superhero team. Arggh.

(Deep breath . . . okay, there, all better.)

Anyway, I'll have a new column posted in the wee hours tonight, if not sooner. Til then, a few Random Lists of Five:

Five Final Four teams I remember fondly:
1. 1988 Kansas (Danny Manning was the best one-man band since Bird in '79)
2. 1983 Houston Phi Slamma Jamma (Clyde the Glide, Akeem, and a jive-talking lost soul named Benny Anders)
3. 1990 Georgia Tech (Dennis Scott launching 3s, Kenny Anderson controlling the court like a young Tiny Archibald, and Brian Oliver doing everything else)
4. 1982 North Carolina (Sam Perkins, James Worthy . . . and introducing Michael Jordan).
5. 1977 Marquette (Butch Lee pictured above, Bo Ellis, the unfortunately named Jerome Whitehead, and of course, irrepressible Al McGuire)

Five of Jose Canseco's teammates on the 1995-'96 Red Sox, not that we're implying anything, of course:
1. Roger Clemens
2. Mo Vaughn
3. John Valentin
4. Nomar Garciaparra (in September)
5. Ken Grundt (And if you remember Ken Grundt, you are either Ken Grundt or a far better fan than I. There's no way meathead Canseco remembers Ken Grundt, that's for sure.)

Five starters for the fun but forgotten 1980-'81 Kansas City Kings:
1. Sam Lacey, center
2. Bill Robinzine, forward (known for picking glass out of his hair after one of Darryl Dawkins's famous backboard-shattering dunks; tragically, committed suicide shortly after his career ended)
3. Scott Wedman, forward (an All-Star with the Kings, a sweet-shooting seventh man for the greatest NBA team of all-time, your '85-'86 Boston Celtics
4. Otis Birdsong, shooting guard (also later played for Celtics, though not effectively)
5. Phil Ford, point guard (one of the premier guards in the league for a brief time before he encountered the same demons that ruined a lot of NBA players in the late-'70s)

Five players taken ahead of Paul Pierce in the 1998 NBA Draft:
1. Michael Olowokandi, (first, L.A. Clippers . . . God bless Elgin Baylor.)
2. Raef LaFrentz, (third, Denver . . . so Pierce wasn't even the first Jayhawk drafted)
3. Robert Traylor, (firth, Dallas . . . a mistake they quickly corrected)
4. Jason Williams, (seventh, Sacramento)
5. Dirk Nowitzki (ninth, Milwaukee . . . and they inexplicably traded him in a deal for Traylor)

Five pitchers who are not listed among the freakin' loaded 1992 Blue Jays' top five starters on
1. David Wells
2. Al Leiter
3. David Cone (loophole: he was a stretch-run pickup)
4. Pat Hentgen
5. Ricky Trlicek (a first-ballot Dan Duquette Scrap Heap Hall of Famer)

Five Maine Guides who'd be forgotten if not for their unforgettable names:
1. Junior Noboa (hey, you'd go by Junior too if your real name was Milciades Arturo Noboa Diaz)
2. Greg Legg (a career .409 hitter in the big leagues - take that, Ted Williams)
3. Pichy DeLeon (his real name was Luis . . . which also happened to be his brother's name)
4. Shanie Dugas
5. Jerry Ujdur

Five lousy Red Sox catchers:
1. Roger LaFrancois (if I'm not mistaken, he spent the entire '82 season on the Sox roster and got 10 at-bats.)
2. Mike O'Berry
3. Dave Sax
4. Dave Valle
5. Marc Sullivan (the original Boston "ThanksDad")

Five Carr/Pitino Era Celtics who probably weren't skilled enough to play for the Yakima Sun Kings:
1. Brent Szabo
2. Nate Driggers
3. Reggie Hanson
4. Michael Hawkins
5. Steve Hamer (Really, I don't even know what to say about this layup-botching crew)

Five All-Time Yankees Who Don't Make Me Want To Projectile Vomit:
1. Willie Randolph (the shred of class in the Bronx Zoo)
2. Mariano Rivera (have to admire the good-natured way he handled the mock ovation at Fenway before the ring ceremony)
3. Kevin Brown (Mr. Clutch)
4. Flash Gordon (loved him with the Sox, always felt he was beatable as a Yankee . . . and yes, Troop, he definitely makes the All-Superhero team.)
5. Dave Winfield (Mr. May still exudes cool).

Five Greatest Kicks Of Adam Vinatieri's Patriots Career, And I'll Keep The Description Simple Because You Know Them All By Heart:
1. Rams. Super Bowl. Won game.
2. Raiders. Snow Bowl. Tied game.
3. Panthers. Super Bowl. Won game.
4. Raiders. Snow Bowl. Won game.
5. Titans. Modern-Day Ice Bowl. Won game.

Five lousy Patriots kickers:
1. Scott "Missin'" Sisson
2. Charlie Baumann
3. David Posey
4. Fred Steinfort
5. Teddy Garcia

Five Free Agents The Patriots Coulda/Shoulda Coveted:
1. Will Witherspoon, linebacker, Carolina (underrated, but now that he's a Ram, overpaid)
2. Tank Williams, safety, Tennessee (suited to be Rodney's eventual successor?)
3. Brian Finneran, wide receiver, Atlanta (after chasing around Michael Vick's stray bullets all these years, you'd think he'd beg to play with Tom Brady).
4. Adam Vinatieri, kicker, three-time champs (Are you getting the hint here? There's still hope, right?)
5. Willie McGinest, linebacker, three-time champs (he's aging, but I don't want to see the consummate Patriot play elsewhere)

Five semi-sleeper 2006 AL Cy Young candidates:
1. Josh Beckett, Boston (I'm predicting 23 wins. For real.)
2. Danny Haren, Oakland (or his teammate, Rich Harden)
3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle (filthy repertoire; could be Gooden circa '84)
4. Jose Contreras, Chicago (unhittable in the postseason; at age 48 or whatever he is, seems to finally have the confidence to match his stuff)
5. Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay (snicker if you wish, but the D-Rays are going to score runs, and this kid has Ron Guidry's arm. It could happen fast.)

Five Favorite Breakfast Options For Barry Bonds:
1. Wheetabix sprinkled with Winstrol
2. Quaker Creatine 'N' Oats
3. Andro and Insulin Omelet
4. Grape Nuts (coincidentally, that also describes a certain 'roid-shriveled part of his anatomy)
5. Pop Tarts (injected into his a--)

Five Players Whose Combination Of Talent, Charisma, Inclusiveness, Determination And Sheer Joy Remind Me Of Kirby Puckett:
(Sadly, there was but one Puck.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Nine innings: 03.06.06

Playing nine innings while wishing the Rocket's kid had charged the mound . . .

1. Let's see . . . David Wells says he wants to stay, and a lefty with the capability of winning 15 games is always welcome. Manny arrived when he said he would arrive, with his new George Clinton hairdo and jacked and pumped physique. Curt Schilling looks and feels marvelous. Coco Crisp is Mr. Popular off the field (Gordon Edes says no one is more tireless in signing autographs) and was electric in his debut on the field, and no one is longing for his predecessor, Johnny Damon. The pitching staff is so stacked that Bronson Arroyo and Jonathan Papelbon may start the year in the bullpen. So I guess I have to ask: With everything down in Ft. Myers pretty much following the Camp Tranquility script, at some point the 'EEI banshees will abandon their pre-packaged, yowl-for-four-hours "storylines" and start talking some actual baseball. Right? Oh, I know its probably wishful thinking - What about Beckett's shouldah! What about Foulke's knee, callah?! The Blue Jays got bettah! That's not what I said! - but if you can't be hopeful during the spring, really, what's the point of paying attention at all?

2. Three reactions to Yankee Manager Joe Torre's insistence on calling Johnny Damon "John":

a) That's just how New Yorkers pronounce "Judas."

b) The deprogramming, shaving, and labotimizing of Damon's "Idiot" persona is nearly complete. All that's left is the official neutering.

c) How can we expect Empire employees to get players' names correct when they can't even spell 'Yankees' right?

3. I will agree with Georgie Porgie on one thing, however: Some prominent player is going to get seriously hurt in the World Baseball Classic. (I've got the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez in the pool. He's a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen, and you just know he'll get macho and overthrow during this silly thing.) Personally, I'm rooting for a three-way collision between Team USA heroes Damon, A-Rod and Jeter, one that registers at least a 6.0 on the Richter scale and costs the Yankees, oh, 486 man-games this season. Sure, I'm pulling for Team USA and all that, but first and foremost I pledge my allegiance to the Red Sox, man.

4. Sad to see Pokey Reese go out on such a mysterious note, if indeed his abrupt walkout on the Florida Marlins does spell the end of his big league career. While Reese might be the Sox's all-time leader in Popularity-To-Production Ratio - slick with the glove and always smiling, he was beloved at Fenway despite the fact that his bat was a prop - his legacy is secure if only because he fielded Ruben Sierra's feeble grounder for the final out of Game 7 of the 2004 American League Divisional Series. Our grandkids will be seeing that highlight. Here's hoping he can overcome whatever is troubling him.

5. Got the TV on for background noise here, and I could swear Hazel Mae just referred to the Devil Rays' Carl Crawford as the "Crazy One." Now, either my iPod-abused ears are failing me, it was a simple verbal misstep by the usually solid NESN "SportsDesk" anchor, Crawford headbutted an umpire last summer and I simply missed it, or Ms. Mae is one of the lucky ones who have no idea what the despicable Carl Everett put Sox fans through during that dreadful summer of '01.

6. You can pretty much separate Sox fans into two categories: 1) Those who think trading some combination of Trot Nixon, Matt Clement and Arroyo to the Nationals for the astoundingly overrated Alfonso Soriano is a great idea. 2) Those who have a damn clue. Soriano is a fantasy league stud who does very little to help a real, live major league baseball team besides hitting the occasional home run. He hasn't improved in years, he still can't lay off the low-and-away slider, his range is Todd Walker-esque, he's delusional about his own abilities to the point that he thought he should have been playing shortstop for the Yankees, he's careless, and he's about the last player Theo and his minions would consider bringing to the Red Sox. To put it another way: If Soriano ever calls Fenway Park home, I'll dip Boomer Wells's sweat socks in A1 sauce and eat them for lunch.


The Giants? Huh. I would have pegged Aretha Franklin as a Detroit fan.

8. If you haven't clicked the link to the "Maple Street Press 2006 Red Sox Annual" over there on the right side, well, what the hell are you waiting for? Check it out already, Corky. I think you'll find that the Annual, which runs about 100 pages, is more in-depth and insightful than just about any preview-type publication you will find at your local Borders; I like to think of it as a "Baseball Prospectus" strictly for Sox fans. The book is the brainchild of Sox nut Jim Walsh, the founder of Maple Street Press, and he's done it up right; I really believe he's onto something special and unique here despite his exceedingly questionable choice to write the Sox preview and individual player capsules. (Hello there.) Seriously, this is an excellent companion to the new season, and it's worth your time, not to mention your 10 bucks. Give it a look. Thank us later.

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

His fall from grace was as swift and stunning as any athlete's this side of Brentwood, one more example of the dangers of deifying a human being we don't truly know. But for whatever demons Kirby Puckett wrestled with off the field, I will forever believe the unbridled, contagious joy with which he played baseball was genuine. Having first noticed him as an ascending member of the Toledo Mud Hens in '84 - with his fireplug body and uncommon grace, even in obscurity he stood out - I admired the ballplayer greatly, a sentiment pretty much every fan of my generation would echo. You couldn't help but like Kirby. Even knowing now what we didn't know then, his death today at the far too young age of 45 has left me feeling terribly sad, and perhaps a little bit older, too.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Remember the Maine Guides

I suppose I should offer my usual Top 40 list of alibis for not checking in the past week, so here goes: my work schedule was nuts, my sugar-fueled 2-year old wore me out, I spent every free moment devouring the new Baseball Prospectus that finally showed up on my doorstep this week, I was watching, re-watching, and re-re-watching Jenna Fischer's various talk-show appearances, etc., etc., etc.

So with my so-called apology, I offer you this: a column on the 10 greatest players in the history of the Maine Guides. Yup, after taking a hiatus during a New England sports fan's most optimistic time of the year - the beginning of spring training - I come back with this silly vanity project that me, my family, former Guides beat writer Steve Buckley, and roughly .000000087 percent of TATB readers will give a damn about. And I wonder why this blog hasn't made me millions.

For the three of you that didn't just log off - what's up, dad! - a little about the Guides: they lasted just five years in Old Orchard Beach, Me. (1984-'88) before bolting for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa. They were quite successful initially (aka The Rodney "Buckethead" Craig Era), but by the end of their run, you could get tickets for $2 and join 200 other fans (and about 10,000,000 mosquitoes) at the game. I'm still not sure why it all went wrong, though building a ballpark for a Cleveland farm team in a French-Canadian tourist trap might not have been the best game plan.

The Guides spent three years as the Triple-A club for those pathetic Indians teams of the mid-'80s, before switching affiliations to the much more professionally competent Phillies in '87-'88. Talent, particularly in the pre-Phillies years, was about as rare as a Curt Schilling "no comment," so this list isn't exactly a Who's Who In Baseball. Further diluting our "talent" pool, we've excluded players whose best days came long before they staggered to Maine; among that collection of retreads and hangers-on are Dave Rozema, Chris Bando, Carmen Castillo, Steve Jeltz, Joe Cowley, John Russell, Doug Bair, and TATB Hall of Famer Jeff Stone.

Anyway, thanks for our indulgence. I'll try to get a more timely column posted tonight, but you know me. In the meantime, the 10 greatest Guides:

1. Doug Jones, Maine '86: Threw at three speeds - slow, slower, and "is that *$&@*@** thing ever going to get to the plate?" His strengths - spot-on command and that time-altering, mind-bending changeup - might bring to mind the style and repertoire of Keith Foulke, but in truth the Sox closer is Nolan Ryan by comparison. Yet after spending seven seasons in the minors with but three innings for the '82 Brewers to show for it, Jones broke through with the '87 Tribe, and he used his guts, guile, vaseline, a time machine, his mighty mustache, sheer luck and anything else he could to confound hitters and save 303 games over 16 years. Gotta respect someone who accomplished so much armed with so little.

2. Otis Nixon '84: No, we never saw him snorting the third base line, har-har. Yes, we did see him walking downtown on a sweltering summer day in a black leather suit that looked like a knockoff from the Jacksons' Victory Tour. No, we will never forget that jaw-dropping, gut-busting image, particularly because a similarly attired Buckethead was his wingman. And yes, we do admire him in spite of it all, for the Original O-T-I-S was one of a kind, and bad taste and bad habits aside, he ended up having a career worthy of his pride.

3. Mike Jackson '87: Let's see . . . he was a mediocre starter who became a lights-out closer . . . he wore his hat low over his eyes . . . he made a nice living throwing hard, straight fastballs and snapping off duck-for-cover breaking balls . . . nope, I still don't understand why some conspiracy theorists wonder if he'd ever been seen in the same room as Tom Gordon.

4. Darren Daulton '87: Adequate-field, occasional-hit, creaky kneed catcher with the Phillies who suspiciously morphed into a muscle-bound slugger for the '93 NL champs. Currently hocking all of his memorabilia on eBay and waiting for his spaceship to arrive.

5. Steve Farr '84: The first Guide called up to the majors. And how did the moronic Indians reward him for such a historic achievement? Not by giving him a plaque or a gift certificate to a cheesy men's clothing store or even some commemorative cigarette-butt-filled sand from Old Orchard Beach, but by releasing him the following spring. Naturally, he went on to pitch 11 years in the big leagues, saving 132 games, including 30 saves with a 1.56 ERA for the Yankees in '92, before finishing up with the Sox in '94. And the Indians wondered why they were the inspiration for "Major League."

6. Cory Snyder, '86: The closest thing to a phenom that passed through OOB, he was a first-round pick and '84 Olympian whose powerful arm and bat helped him blast through the minors. After just a half-season at Maine, he quickly emerged as one of the linchpins of that then-stellar '86 AL rookie class. But even though Snyder slugged 24 homers in 103 games in '86 and 32 more in '87 (when Sports Illustrated put him on their cover while, in a transparent gimmick, picking the Tribe to win the World Series), he struck out 289 times while working just 47 walks over those two seasons. Not to get all Baseball Prospectussy on you, but after running the numbers through my abacus and my protractor, I can only come to one conclusion: Snyder's career 1-to-4 walk-to-K rate sucked, and that lack of plate discipline ruined his career.

7. Ricky Jordan '88 and Ron Jones '87-'88: I suppose it's somewhat of a cop-out to lump these two together, but I always associated them with each other. They were easily the two most impressive hitters that ever played for Maine, they batted 3-4 in the '88 lineup, they were good friends, and neither lived up to early big-league promise. Jordan was pegged as a future star when he burst onto the scene in Philadelphia in midsummer '88 - I recall him hitting a bunch of homers upon his recall and getting the feature treatment on "This Week In Baseball," which is about as good as it got in those days. He eventually ceded his first base job in Philly to some fat dude named Kruk, but to be honest, I'm not sure why he didn't survive longer in big leagues. He could swing the bat. But not as well as his buddy Jones. We've elaborated in the past on Jones's terribly bad fortune after a spectacular start to his big league career; suffice to say that we believe the Tony Gwynn comparisons he frequently drew in the minor leagues would have proven accurate had he not destroyed both of his knees. Yes, he was that good.

8. Dave Clark '86: Outfielder had a classic, Tom Emanski-approved lefty swing, but he got stuck with the platoon player/pinch hitter/spare-part label early. He batted .264 with 62 career homers over parts of 13 big-league seasons. The argument could be made that Dave Gallagher '84-'86, belongs in this slot, but Clark, a future big-league manager, is that TATB choice for one three subjective reasons: 1) he survived a collision with Pirates teammate Jacob Brumfield so frightening that the Johnny Damon-Damien Jackson looks like a celebratory chest bump by comparison. 2) He was a college teammate of Oil Can Boyd, so you know he has some stories to tell. 3) He's just about the friendliest ballplayer we've encountered.

9. Mike Maddux '87: Pitched 15 years in the majors, including a mostly successful stopover as a middle reliever with the Sox in '95-'96. Combined with his brother What's His Name for 357 career wins. Thirty-nine of 'em belong to this guy, the current pitching coach for the Brewers.

10. Scott Service '88: A 12-year big league journeyman who did absolutely nothing of note beyond lasting 12 years, he cracks this list for two reasons: He was the last Guide left in the big leagues, his career coming to a close in '04. 2) He plays a pivotal role in one of my all-time must-reads, Mark Winegardner's "The Prophet Of The Sandlots." (Have I mentioned that book enough lately? I have? Well, dammit, read it already.)

Honorable mention: Gallagher; Starvin' Marvin Freeman (the rare pitcher who actually succeeded in Colorado, albeit briefly); Chris James (brother of ex-Patriot RB Craig James, and one of countless here-today, gone-tomorrow members of the '95 Red Sox); John Farrell (promising career cut short by arm problems); Roy Smith; Luis Quinones; Jerry Reed; Kevin Rhomberg (Don't touch me! Don't $*#&$*@* touch me I said!); Wally Ritchie (an effective lefty relief specialist who didn't pitch til he was 47); Bob Scanlan, and Todd Frohwirth. Yes, Todd Frohwirth. Hey, I told you they had little talent.

As for today's Completely Random Team Photo:

(Second row, second from the left, head the size of Sputnik): "Ahem . . . forget someone, #%$%#@#$%$%?"