Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chasing the headlines

Questions/I've got some questions . . .

• Feeling bad for A-Rod yet?

Considering ol' blue lips made more $$$$$$ in the time it took me to write that sentence than I'll make in the next 10 years, uh, no, I'm not feeling bad for Slappy McWhippingboy. The story is relentlessly fascinating, though. First, it's almost as if the soulless New York tabloid media (and to an extent, the Yankees' counterproductive fans) are on his case in part just to see how far they can push him. It's almost like they want to break him, want him to turn into another Knoblauch before their eyes, want him to feel unworthy, want to run perhaps the most talented player in baseball out of town for no other reason than because he is not Derek Jeter-McCarver, Captain of All Things Intangible. There's something voyeuristic and intensely cruel about what's happening here. I've always thought it was a matter of time before A-Rod seized the moment and carried the Yankees to a playoff series victory or two - and then I realized he'd already done it, against the Twins in '04, and everyone was too busy getting gauzy camera angles of Jeter's reactions to notice. Because of the burden of expectations, his monster contract and his calculated, insincere persona, A-Rod gets no leeway or credit for anything he has accomplished - it's what's expected of him, after all. So here is now, strangling the bat, grinding the damn thing into sawdust in his hands, trying to hit a five-run homer and wondering what the hell he's supposed to do. Here he is now, slinging air-mailed throws into the first base boxes, consulting one more quack psychologist, and spending sleepless nights asking why he ever agreed to change positions for that smirking jerk to the left, the alleged captain who defended Giambi but so tellingly refused to defend him. It's a colossal mess, and while as a Red Sox fan I hope he continues to submarine the Yankees, as a baseball fan I hope he gets his ---- straight, because it would be a shame for his talent to be devoured by the jackals. Let's just hope by the time he gets it together - if he gets it together - he's playing for the Phillies, or somewhere else far from this rivalry.

• What the hell did Harold Reynolds do to get fired by ESPN?

That's the question of the day. No one seems to know right now, but it must have been a doozy. Consider: This is the network that employs Mike Tirico, a serial sexual harasser if Mike Freeman's ESPN: An Uncensored History is to be believed. This is the network that employs Steve Phillips, who settled a sexual harassment suit while he was the general manager of the Mets in '98. This is the network that gave Rick Sutcliffe (bleep-faced on the air), Gary Miller (unleashed his bladder on a cop) and Michael Irvin (that's not my crack pipe, officer!) slaps on the wrist after particularly high-profile public embarassments. It's sort of a bummer, because while Reynolds wasn't exactly the most insighful analyst we've ever heard ("If you keep the ball down, you're going to pitch a no-hitter"), he was pleasant enough, clearly loves baseball, and wasn't an ignorant, screaming narcissist like, oh, I don't know, EVERYONE ELSE IN GOD-FORSAKEN BRISTOL! So he must have committed a pretty serious transgression to get canned. Probably refused to subscribe to ESPN Mobile or something.

• So who should "Baseball Tonight" hire to replace Reynolds?

Why, the Eck, of course. But considering they were stupid enough to hire Kruller Kruk over him in the first place, I imagine the best baseball analyst around will remain planted alongside Tom Caron for the foreseeable future. Hey, Sam Horn is available. And they can have Jim Rice, whom I'm pretty sure doesn't actually watch the games.

• Did you happen to catch Tony Gwynn's appearance on "The Best Damn Sports Show" a few days ago?

Yup, flipping channels, because I would never admit to watching that creepy, faux-camaraderie abomination on purpose. Man, it was shocking - Gwynn was pleasantly plump as a player, but now he looks like he swallowed the San Diego Chicken whole. Seriously, someone needs to say something to him before another beloved player of my generation goes the tragic way of Kirby Puckett. He's that fat.

• Why did Coco leap at the wall for Adrian Beltre's inside-the-park home run when it was five feet behind him?

Because Coco's GPS tracking system as a center fielder is severely defective. Does he ever take the proper route to a ball? It's like watching Bernie Williams before he turned completely to stone - his good speed usually makes up for atrocious instincts. But when it doesn't, it gets Hoseyesque.

• Were you surprised that Shea Hillenbrand napalmed his bridges in Toronto? He always seemed like a decent guy in Boston.

Let's put it this way. Someone I know who's around the Sox on a regular basis says Hillenbrand is the dumbest person he's ever met. Not professional athlete, mind you. Person. Even by the lowbrow standards of a baseball clubhouse, Hillenbrand has long been considered tactless and crude - you might recall him going on the radio and calling Theo a Guillen word for Mariotti upon his trade to Arizona in '03 - and even his friends (such as the dignified Vernon Wells) admit that it takes a long time knowing him to realize he's not a complete jerk. It's funny, when he made the Sox unexpectedly out of camp in 2001, he had sort of a wide-eyed, Opie-from-Mayberry persona. By most accounts, that lasted about a month, or as long as it took for all the scuzzbags on that team to convince him that real big leaguers were supposed to have a sense of entitlement and bitch about everything. Is it any wonder he still counts Carl Everett among his best friends in baseball? I don't know if Hillenbrand believes in dinosaurs. But I'm pretty sure he plays with toy ones.

• You claim to like Neyer and James a lot, but you don't use stats that often. Gimme a couple off the top of your head, Stat Boy.

Neyer and James - wasn't that a wine cooler back in the day? I think it's A-Rod's drink of choice if I recall correctly - Blue-Lippin' Blueberry, right? Anyway, got a couple:

1. "Light-hitting" Alex Gonzalez has two more home runs than Jeter (or, if you prefer, Trot Nixon. What was it that Trot was doing differently back when he had power, anyway?) And by the way, Sutcliffe blathered again last night that Jeter is the best defensive shortstop in the AL. Yup, I'm pretty sure he was drinking on their air again. You, me and A-Rod know that Gonzo is so much better than Jeter it's not even worth debating.

2. In his 13 wins, Josh Beckett has an ERA below 2.50 and a WHIP below 1. So while the 'EEI mouthbreathers and banshees can claim that he's been a bust, the fact is that when he's good - and he's been good enough to lead the majors in wins - he is dominating. (Of course, that also means he has been getting absolutely shellacked when he loses . . . but still, let me make my point, will ya?) As you've probably figured, I couldn't be happier with the three-year, $30 million dollar deal he signed last week. It locks up a talented young potential ace through his prime seasons at a very reasonable price (the less talented, less accomplished A.J. Burnett got two years and $25 million dollars more as a free agent), and Beckett gets a little bit of security and the comfort of knowing he's going to spend the next three seasons pitching in a place he enjoys. It's currently a win-win situation, with many more wins to come.

• The Sox are 2.5 up on the Yankees. Confident this is the year they win the East?

Confident, yes. Convinced . . . not quite. I think the Yankees will do something big before the deadline - my money is on a deal for Bobby Abreu, hopefully with Brian Cashman caving in and giving up prized Double A pitcher Philip Hughes. It would be a classic Yankees move - getting a big-name, big-money player who isn't entirely necessary and would detract from the already questionable chemistry (who sits when/if Sheffield and Matsui come back?) While Abreu is an on-base machine, he left his power at the 2005 Home Run Derby, and his nonchalance on the bases makes Manny look like Pete Rose. They can have him. As far as the Sox go, they obviously need to find a fifth starter, though I'm thinking there might be some validity in Jason Varitek's touting of Kyle Snyder. The stork version of Bronson Arroyo really does have good stuff - a legtimately above-average 12-to-6 curve, a tailing, sinking fastball, and enough command to spot his upper 80s heater. You can see the traces of the pitcher who was a high first-round pick a half-decade ago. If he could stay healthy and build up his stamina to get past the fifth inning once in a while, I think the Sox may have found something here. But if it doesn't work out, I wouldn't be surprised to see Theo make a trade for someone such as Jon Lieber, who's struggled for the Phillies this year but pitched very well for the Yankees in the '04 postseason. I never understood why the Yankees signed him after Tommy John surgery, paid for his year of rehab, then sent him on his way the season after they began reaping some rewards from their investment. But back to the main point, I think the Sox are the better team, and with a few minor tweaks here and there, that superiority will be reflected in the season's final standings.

• Finally . . . why is A-Rod holding that friggin' guitar?

Because, A-Rod rocks, yo! Actually, Bernie told him it would make him look sensitive. Also, he plans to smash it over Jeter's head when no one's looking. Then he can play shortstop again and everyone will love him, he just knows it.

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