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?