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.