29 August 2005

Jaret Wright: The Wrong Stuff

That THUD you heard Saturday afternoon was the other shoe dropping for Jaret Wright.

Wright was making only his third start since returning from nearly four months on the disabled list. Yet, already the AM sports talk radio crowd is ready to crown him the #2 starter in the Yankees’ postseason rotation, which is still over a month away, as you know, and as they should know too. Nevertheless, every weekday morning, without fail, the relative merits of various Yankee starting pitchers are discussed and a new, daily decision is made regarding who should get to start for the Bronx Bombers in the postseason.

“Aaron Small is 4-0…Shawn Chacon has been their best pitcher…Randy Johnson gives up too many homers…Leiter’a a seasoned veteran…Mussina’s too inconsistent…and etc.”

Never mind that Chacon, Small and Wright have pitched well for only a handful of starts, after having largely inconsistent or unimpressive careers before that. Never mind that nobody knows whether or not the Yankees will even make the playoffs, much less have six healthy starters from which to choose, come October.

Well, if there was any question about whether Jaret Wright has “returned to form”, let the record state now: The answer is ‘yes’. Unfortunately that “form” is that of a relatively hard-throwing pitcher with control and confidence problems, not the 15-game winning workhorse the Yankees thought they paid for when they signed him to a three-year, $21 million contract in the off season.

Jaret Wright has been lucky since he came off the DL, plain and simple. I’ll show you:

8/15/2005: Wright faced the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who, despite playing better since the All-Star break, are not a good-hitting team. They don’t have a guy with a .300 batting average or a .385 OBP in the lineup, and have only two players slugging over .500, one of them for only half the season. They do score a little better at home than on the road, but that just makes them mediocre, not good.

…In the second inning of that game, he got a pop-out from Aubrey Huff, but then hit Johnny Gomes with a pitch, who promptly stole second base. He then walked Travis Lee, who despite having an excellent first name can’t hit his way out of a paper bag. In the process, Wright threw eight straight balls (including the one that plunked Gomes), before he got Alex Gonzales to line out and induced a pop up from the inexplicably anxious Toby Hall, who had no business swinging at the first pitch he saw.

…In the fifth inning, he allowed a leadoff double to Gonzalez, who went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Hall. A double play got him out of that jam, but then he hit Julio Lugo with a pitch, and lucked out when he got caught stealing. (For the record, Lugo is an excellent base stealer, but should not have been going on a 1-0 pitch, against a clearly-struggling pitcher, with his team down by two runs in the fifth inning.)

…in the seventh inning, he hit Gomes with another pitch and allowed a single before Tanyon Sturtze relieved him, after throwing only 79 pitches, and got out of that jam. So while he allowed only two earned runs in six innings and change, he also threw a wild pitch and hit four batters. Not exactly what you’d call dominance.

8/22/2005 Wright starts against Toronto, walks the bases loaded in the first inning, throwing 27 pitches in the process, but get out of it without allowing a run. Afterwards he settled down and was mostly pretty good against a team that hits pretty well on the road, allowing only four hits (no walks, one wild pitch) in his remaining six shutout innings, which were only possible because of the luck he had in the first.

8/27/2005 The luck runs out. Well, not for the Yankees, who almost miraculously overcome a four-run deficit in the ninth inning to win, but definitely for our man Jaret. Wright got into trouble immediately against the worst-hitting team in the American League. But with two on and nobody out, he got three straight outs to eliminate the threat.

…In the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and two out, he allowed a double and two singles to score three runs, then another run to score on a wild pitch, putting the Yanks down, 5-3. He had thrown 109 pitches and would not come out for the sixth inning. Even in the innings in which he did not allow a hit or walk, he went to 2-0 or 3-1 to a lot of batters, many of whom would be riding the bench or waiting in AAA if under contract with a good team. He threw a first-pitch ball to 14 of the 24 batters he faced. Even a team as bad as Kansas City would not let him get away with that.

Again, fortunately for Wright, and even more so for the Yankees, they happen to have one of the best offensive teams in baseball and they happened to be facing the worst pitching staff in the major leagues. And without their closer, Mike "Mac the Ninth" MacDougal available Saturday, the Royals' fate was left in the hands of Jeremy Affelt and Shawn Camp. Affelt did his job as a pitcher well enough, striking out Bernie Williams and inducing a double play grounder that should have ended the game as a 7-3 victory for the Royals, if he had not made a bad throw to second base. But alas, favor smiled upon the arrogant and overpaid, as the Yankees took advantage of the defensive mishap to push five runs over the plate and win the game, 8-7.

Having been at the game myself on Saturday, I can say without question that this was one of the most boring contests I had ever personally witnessed, until the ninth inning. Many of the 54,452 fans in attendance got up and left in the eighth inning, to beat the traffic, presuming that the Yanks had little or no chance to overcome such a steep obstacle as a 4-run lead by a team against whom you had gotten only four hits in eight innings.

My mom and wife and I though, stayed, and toughed it out, and were therefore rewarded with one of the more exciting and dramatic come-from-behind wins in recent Yankees history, if not all time. I would like to be able to say that we did this because we are all such die-hard fans and that we never gave up hope that our boys could pull it out and win one for the Gipper, or at least for Gary Cooper. But the reality is that I live over two hours away and that my mom and I, who actually consider ourselves baseball fans (unlike my wife, who slept through most of the first seven innings) only get to one Yankee game a year, and we weren't about to leave early from it. I'm so cheap that I was actually hoping that the ninth inning might end in a tie so we could get some free baseball, "extra innings" and thereby stretch out baseball dollars a bit further. "Let's see, $150 for nine innings averages out to about $17 per innings, so if the game goes into the tenth..."

In the end, even though the game wasn't a bargain, we certainly got more than we bargained for, and I wouldn't have traded such a comeback for a 22-2 drubbing any day.

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23 August 2005

How the West Was Lost

Eleven years and eleven days ago, the Lords of Baseball missed an opportunity to do something about the debacle that is this year's National League West.

I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but stick with me here. On August 12th, 1994, the Major League Baseball Players' Association went on strike. In response, the owners locked the players out for what would eventually become the longest strike in professional baseball history, and in doing so, they locked themselves away from addressing an issue that could have been dealt with in the very first season of three-division/wild-card play: What happens if a "Division Winner" isn't even, well, a winner? What do you do if a division is so weak that the best team in it doesn't even have a winning record?

Of course, as you know, there were no official "Division Winners announced for the strike-shortened 1994 season. ESPN's Rob Neyer has argued that this is an injustice to those teams that held the lead when the strike occurred. Every other award for players and teams was given: Cy Young Awards, MVPs, Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves, and etc. Why not Division winners? For one thing, it would screw up the "XX consecutive division titles" mantra of both Atlanta Braves fans and enemies all over the world. Of course they couldn't possibly have known at the time that the Braves would reel off another ten (maybe eleven?) straight division titles after the 1994 season, so it's hard to imagine that this had anything to do with the decision not to name 1994 division champions.

Another possibility for this decision may have to do with Montreal. The Expos had the best record in baseball at the time the strike hit, 74-40, a healthy six-game lead on the Braves. However, even then, and even with their success, the Expos ownership was trying to find a way to get out of Montreal, and hanging a name like "Division Champion" on a team sure has a way of making it seem like such a move is unnecessary, you know? I can't say with any certainty that there was some sort of conspiracy here. Again, the owners and those in charge of MLB, including Acting-Commissioner-For-Life Bud Selig, couldn't have known exactly what a laughingstock the Expos franchise would eventually become. Nor could they have known just how severely the owners would screw up the situation before resolving it, if indeed moving the team to a city that has already lost two other franchises can be called a "resolution'. Still, it's worth considering the possibility that MLB had a vested interest in making sure that Montreal did not officially "win" its division, if only because it would make it that much harder to move the franchise later.

The most likely reason that MLB did not announce 1994 Division Champions is the most obvious, least subversive, and possibly the worst reason of all: Laziness. They had a big issue to address with the Texas Rangers, a bad team that "won" its division despite a losing record, and rather than deal with that issue by creating a rule stating that a team has to have a winning record to get into the playoffs or something like that, they simply brushed it off. They considered it a fluke, and joked, "When will that ever happen again?"

The answer to that question, of course, is "ten years later", in the 2005 NL West.

A quick perusal of the 1994 AL Division standings will show you that the Yankees led the East, the White Sox led the Central, and the Texas Rangers, with a 52-62 record, led the West. The Rangers held that lead very tenuously, with only a one-game margin over Oakland and two games over Seattle. Texas had played only 2-7 in August, so that bad stretch represented half of their sub-.500 deficit alone, and a decent finish to the month might have brought them back to respectability. But Oakland had also had a rough time in the dog days of summer, going 4-7 in August after two consecutive winning months, and Texas couldn't capitalize on Oakland's poor play. Seattle was red-hot in August of '94, with a 9-1 record, but that followed a seven-game losing streak, so it's hard to imagine that they would have put a run together. California had barely won 40% of its games, and would have been in last place in five of six divisions in major league baseball, so despite their relatively small 5.5 game deficit, they could not have been considered contenders in any sense of the word.

So it was Texas who was "winning" the American League West when disaster struck and thoughtless greed robbed us of lots and lots of baseball games, as well as pennants and pennant winners. The Rangers had a decent but flawed offense, with perennial All-Stars Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, and other role players helping them score the 5th most runs in the American League. The pitching, however, was another story entirely, perhaps even another genre of story, though I can't decide whether it would be considered comedy or tragedy.

Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers, both solid starters with roughly league-average ERAs, with a combined record of 18-17 and an ERA of almost 5.00, "anchored" the rotation, the rest of which was a mess. In their desperation, the Rangers turned to a lot of youngsters and rookies. Someone named Hector Fajardo (23) went 5-7 with a 6.91 ERA and 23-year old rookie Rick (s)Helling took a lot of them, as his 5.88 ERA, would attest. Rookie John Dettmer (24) posted an ERA half a run better than the AL average in nine starts, but somehow went 0-6. Steve Dryer (24) compiled a 5.71 ERA in his five games. Roger Pavlik (26) amazingly managed to stay in the rotation for 11 starts despite a 7.69 ERA. Brian Bohannon (25) posted a 7.23 ERA in five starts and six relief appearances, and was permitted to leave as a free agent after the '94 season despite his status as a former first-round pick for Texas.

They got starts from re-treads Rick Reed (5.94 ERA), Bruce Hurst (7.11), Jack Armstrong (3.60 in only two games), and even Tim Leary (8.14), who was dead at the time, I think. Leary, Dreyer, Hurst, and Armstrong never again pitched in the majors after 1994, and Fajardo and Dettmer were done after cups of coffee 1995. Rick Reed was desperate enough to cross the picket lines in 1995, and eventually fashioned himself a career as a "poor man's Greg Maddux", but could do little to help the '94 Rangers.

In the bullpen, closer Tom Henke was OK, and Darren Oliver was a decent reliever as a rookie, but Matt Whiteside, Cris Carpenter and Jay Howell all had ERAs over 5.00 while carrying the bulk of the bullpen workload, and 40-year old Rick Honeycutt was hardly the LOOGY the Rangers thought they were getting when they signed him in the off season. His ERA skyrocketed from 2.81 in 42 innings in 1993 to 7.20 in 25 innings in 1994. Not surprisingly, the Rangers allowed him to return to Oakland as a free agent after the season.

All of this is just a long-winded way of showing that the 1994 Texas Rangers, with the second to worst team ERA in the AL, were not a good team in any respect. Their decent offense and horrendous pitching put them in a category not unlike, well, this year's Texas Rangers. The 2005 version of the team is currently ranked 11th in team ERA and third in runs scored, which makes them slightly better than their ancestors of eleven seasons ago in both respects. But this year's team is 58-66, and rightfully sits well out of contention for anything, 13.5 games behind Anaheim for the AL West division lead and 11 games behind the Yankees and Indians for the Wild Card lead.

But the 2005 Padres? San Diego has not been above .500 since August 12th, eleven years to the day that the aforementioned strike began, when they were 58-57. They have not been more than two games over .500 since July 22, when they were in the midst of losing eight in a row and 12 of 13. It's not as though they've just had bad luck or lost a lot of close games. (In fact they're 22-12 in 1-run games.) But their expected win-loss record based on the runs they've scored and allowed is 58-66, three games worse than their actual record. So in a backwards sort of way, the Padres have actually been lucky, or at least fortunate.

They've also been lucky that all of their competition for the NL West division title has gone down the tubes. Barry Bonds has been hurt all season, and Jason Schmidt has not been himself when he has been healthy enough to pitch, so the Giants have not been above .500 since May 25th, when they were 23-22. The Dodgers have had numerous injuries as well, and have not see the mediocrity mark since mid-June. Arizona has improved tremendously since 2004, but is still five games behind the lackluster Padres. With a mediocre offense and terrible pitching, the Diamondbacks don't appear to have enough venom in their sac to really hurt anyone down the stretch, much less to win the division.

So it's up to San Diego, a team that can't win consistently. A team that would most appropriately be described as mediocre, at best. A team that might finish the regular season with a losing record and still win the World Series. Back when divisional play started in 1969, this was the argument of some of the old-school types who wanted to maintain the tradition of having only one team from each league get into the playoffs, which would guarantee that the League Champions would not have losing records. Similarly, when the three-division format was proposed for 1994, it was argued that the chances of a losing team entering the playoffs would be increased, and indeed they were.

That very first year, a bad Texas team was in fact winning its division when the strike hit in mid-August. And that team was not one or two games under .500 like the Padres are right now, but ten games under .500, and unlikely to improve much down the stretch. Of course, MLB had some pretty big problems on its hands already, namely how to get the players and owners to agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and consequently, how to get the players to in fact play. To their credit, they resolved that issue, though it took them more than half a year to do so.

But they missed an opportunity to address the issue of a losing team winning its division. They could have, and certainly should have instituted a rule stating that if a team finishes atop its division without at least a .500 record, that team would not make the playoffs and would be replaced by the team with the best record that was not otherwise going to make the playoffs, either by winning its division or the Wild Card. It seems a little silly, I suppose, to say that a team can play an entire season, finish it with the best record among its divisional rivals, and not make the playoffs, but doesn't it seem even more silly to say that a team that lost more games than it won should get into the playoffs due to geography rather than baseball prowess, while teams with winning records watch the playoffs from home?

And if so, it would certainly be beyond silly, perhaps ridiculous, if that team were to happen to get hot in October and win the World Series. It's not out of the realm of possibility, either. Since the three-division format started, four of the ten World Series victories have gone to Wild Card teams, teams that did not win their own division, and two other Wild Card teams have gotten into the World Series. All it would take is to hot pitchers and a little luck, and we could be blessed with the first ever World Champion Loser.

We've got six weeks to see whether my suspicions are realized, but mark my words: if the Padres win the NL West with a losing record, there will be outrage among baseball fans, and not just the old-school and purists either. And if San Diego should catch lightning in a bottle for two weeks and end up winning the World Series, the Commissioner and his cronies will be forced to finally address the issue, lest they become irrelevant and baseball become, well, hockey.

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02 August 2005

Palmeiro Caught Red-Handed

What else can go wrong for the Orioles?

Still reeling from an 8-18 July that helped their half-game division lead turn into an eight game deficit and a fourth place standing a month later, Baltimore had something else to cry about on Sunday.

Orioles DH/1B and presumably first-ballot Hall of Famer Rafael Palmeiro was suspended yesterday for testing positive for one of the banned substances in MLB's new drug policy. Palmeiro did not indicate in his press conference that he failed the test due to cough syrup or diet pills, so we are left to presume that it was some kind of steroid for which his ten-day suspension was levied.

Palmeiro had denied, before the United States Congress and the literally millions of baseball fans who had tuned into see the hearings or watched them replayed on SportsCenter like so many fielding bloopers, ever having used steroids. He defiantly pointed his finger at the committee and stated emphatically that he had never used steroids. That story had changed only slightly yesterday, to say that he had never intentionally used steroids.

This does not leave us with many viable possibilities.

1) Palmeiro is telling the truth. He had not ever used steroids previously and did not do so on purpose this year. The steroids got into his body because they were in his Ovaltine and he didn't realize it. He's really sorry and he's switching to Qwik.

B) Palmeiro is stupid, but honest. He had never previously used steroids at all, but this year, knowing that there was a new testing policy and that there had already been several players suspended for testing positive for something they bought at a GNC nutrition store, he used some kind of supplement that was banned without thoroughly researching it.

iii) Palmeiro is really stupid, and lying. He had never previously used steroids, when they never did any testing and they weren't banned, but he decided to start taking them this year, under a newly-formed, much more rigorous, random testing policy, knowing that he could now actually get in trouble for it.

IV) Palmeiro is lying now, and he lied to Congress in March. But he's smart. He used steroids before, and he kept using them, or changed his dosage or patterns in hopes of avoiding detection. He figured that even if he got caught he would only lose 10 days (not even ten games) the first time, and probably wouldn't get tested again this season.

That last one seems to make the most sense.

Palmeiro was forced to appear before Congress because he was subpoenaed, and he was subpoenaed because he was accused, in Jose Canseco's book Juiced, of using steroids. Indeed, Canseco attests to having injected Palmeiro with steroids and Human Growth Hormone personally, as well as to showing Raffy how to do this himself.

In this particular case, the numbers seem to bear out Jose's testimony. Canseco was traded on 31 August 1992 was traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell, Bobby Witt, and cash, according to BaseballReference.com. Before the trade, Palmeiro had hit a pedestrian .259/.333/.402, with 15 homers and 20 doubles in 513 at-bats, striking out 72 times compared to 57 walks. After the trade, Raffy ripped up the American League to the tune of .316/.409/.611, with 7 homers and 7 doubles in only 95 at-bats, and now walking more than he struck out.

Certainly, this is not definitive proof that Palmeiro started regularly visiting the the Canseco Clinic, as Jose had said. Steroids are supposed to take a few weeks to start to have an effect, and box score data from Retrosheet.org seems to indicate that Palmeiro was hitting better and for more power within a few days of Canseco's arrival in Texas. But it is evidence.

That was not even the best month of Palmeiro's career, as he had hit .390/.456/.710 with eight homers in 100 at-bats in July 1991, without the help of steroids or at least without the help of Jose Canseco.

It could be argued, I suppose, that it was not Canseco's presence behind Palmeiro in the locker room stall, injecting nasty concoctions into Raffy's rump that made the difference, but rather Jose's presence behind Palmeiro in the lineup, injecting fear into opposing pitchers and affording Palmeiro some protection he did not have the rest of the season. This theory also breaks down though, as Palmeiro only hit in front of Canseco 12 times in the Rangers' remaining 27 games, and did not hit appreciably better with Canseco behind him than he did with the likes of Juan Gonzalez, Dean Palmer or Ivan Rodriguez following him in the batting order.

The real evidence, though, comes after the 1992 season. To that point in his career, Palmeiro had been a good-average, little-power hitter, despite starting his career in one of the better hitters' parks in baseball, Wrigley Field. After having never previously hit more than 26 homers in a season, he suddenly hit 37 in 1993. After having totaled 28 stolen bases and being caught 17 times in almost 900 career games to that point, Raffy swiped 22 of 25 in '93. He had 95 homers in 3270 career at-bats at the end of the 1992 season, and a career .457 slugging percentage. His most comparable players by age were:

Age    Player
26 Al Oliver
27 Darin Erstad
28 John Olerud

Decent players, who hit for average but not power. Nobody will be petitioning the Veterans Committee to let any of them into Cooperstown if they're not elected in their first 15 years of eligibility, you know?

But from 1993 until now? Holy cow. After reaching an age at which most players tend to plateau for about four or five years, Palmeiro kept climbing the mountain. He has hit 474 homers and slugged .542 since the start of the 1993 season, and is still padding his stats and helping his team to win. His comparable players since that age include Billy Williams, Orlando Cepeda, Jeff Bagwell and Eddie Murray, all current or future Cooperstown cronies.

Palmeiro has worked his way into an elite group of players. He's one of only four guys in baseball history to amass 3,000 hits and 500 homers, and with 584 doubles and counting, he stands a good chance to soon be one of only two players with 600 doubles to boot, along with Hammerin' Hank.

Whether or not steroids helped him to do that, he still belongs in the Hall of Fame when he's eligible. There were no rules against steroids in baseball until recently, and even with the acknowledgement that steroids were a major factor in his success, he still had to do what he did. There are literally thousands of baseball players who had access to the same chemicals made available to Palmeiro who did not do what he did. That doesn't mean that we necessarily give him the same respect we would give to Hank Aaron or Willie Mays, but he gets a little more than Lenny Harris, don't you think?

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29 July 2005

Shawn Chacon, Unlikely Savior

The Yankees needed a Savior.

Perhaps not Jesus, himself, but someone who could pitch. (Unless it turns out that J.C. could bring it at 95 mph, and hey, after rising from the dead, throwing strikes must seem pretty easy, right?)

With four starting pitchers on the DL, three of them former 15-game winners making nearly $31 million combined, the Yankees' pitching woes have been well documented. Those three, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano, have combined for a 10-15 record and a 5.88 ERA in 193 innings. In their desparation, the Yankees have started...

...LHP Darrel May, who lost 19 games for the Royals in 2004 and had an ERA over five and a half with San Diego this year when the Yankees aquired him for (also ineffective) relief pitcher Paul Quantrill in early July. May gave up three homers and seven earned runs and did not get out of the fifth inning in his only start in Yankee pinstripes. After an equally disastrous relief outing, he was sent back to the minors.

...rookie LHP Sean Henn, who had never previously pitched above Double-A. Henn made three starts over two months, exiting in the third inning of his debut, walking seven batters in under six innings in his next start, and allowing three homers in under five innings in his third (and mercifully, final) appearance. Henn and his 11.12 ERA were returned to Columbus.

...relief pitcher Tanyon Sturtze, who had not won a game as a starter since last August, and who was so bad two years ago (4-18, 5.18 ERA) that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who stink on ice, didn't want him back. Neither did the Blue Jays after 2003. And neither did the Dodgers or Marlins, who both released him at some point in 2004.

...RHP Tim Redding, also aquired for Paul Quantrill with Darrell May. Redding managed a 3.68 ERA in 176 innings with the 2003 Astros, a line that is beginning to look increasingly anomolous among his other career stats. He doesn't have another season in the majors of any length with an ERA under 5.40. In his lone Yankee start, Redding allowed six runs in one inning for an ERA of 54.00. Yes, that decimal is in the right place, or at least the accurate one.

These four have combined for an 0-5 record and a 13.72 ERA.

Some of the (slightly) brighter notes have included...

...rookie Chien Ming Wang, who went 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 12 starts before shoulder inflammation put him on the DL in mid-July.

...journeyman RHP Aaron Small, whose previous major league 5.52 ERA in 217 innings spread out over 11 seasons would not have suggested his two wins in two starts with New York. Granted, he hasn't blown the competition away, with only four strikeouts in 13+ innings, but for a guy who hadn't started a major league game in almost ten years, I'm not complaining.

...journeyman LHP Al Leiter, who was designated for assignment by the Marlins. Leiter is only 1-2, but he's given the Yanks a chance to win two of those three outings, and just got out-pitched by Johan Santana on Wednesday, a common occurrence for his opponents, as I understand it.

One player who will not likely be a "bright spot" if he gets to pitch for the Yankees is Hideo Nomo, recently picked up off waivers from Tampa, who, you will recall, suck. Nomo's 7.24 ERA in just over 100 innings was the highst of anyone in the majors this year with more than 46 innings under his belt. Hideo? No, no. Not the answer.

Apparently, Shawn Chacon is the answer.

A product of the Colorado Rockies' vaunted farm system, Chacon was a starter-turned closer-turned starter-turned Yankee Messiah, it seems. Chacon is unique, in a number of ways (as Margaret Mead would say, just like everyone else.) He's one of only nine players in major league history to be born in Alaska, though five of these were active in 2004, and is the first Alaskan to play for the Yankees.

The bizarre experiment that saw him rack up a 1-9 record in relief last year, saving 35 of 44 games despite a 7.11 ERA, made him the holder of several records. He has the most saves of anyone with an ERA over 7.00, or for that matter, over 6.00 and over 5.28! (Todd Worrell saved 35 games in 1997, with an ERA of 5.28...and then retired.) Chacon also, therefore, holds the record for the highest ERA of anyone with 35 saves...or 30 saves, or 20, or 15. (Norm Charlton saved 14 games in 1997 with a 7.29 ERA.) This, probably more than anything, is a testament to the ridiculously meaningless nature of the save rule, and the way closers are used in today's game, but I digress.

I have seen Chacon pitch twice in person. The first time was on May 5th of 2001, his rookie season, a day on which he was lit up for 7 runs (6 earned) in 1.1 innings. It was only his second major league appaerance, but he was pitching in Pittsburgh, no the thin air of Coors Field, against the Pirates, a team that would proceed to lose 100 games that season.

The second time I saw him pitch was during a visit to San Francisco last summer, at which time he was the "closer" for the Rockies. He got two outs, but gave up two runs to tie the game. After allowing another baserunner, he was pulled for a lefty to face Barry Bonds, and lost the game when his successor gave up a homer to Barry, scoring the baserunner he'd allowed, and thereby turning a two-run lead into a two-run loss.

So I can't say that I had a lot of hope in Chacon when I found that the Yankees had traded for him last week. Sure, he had an impressive-for-Colorado 4.09 ERA so far this year, bolstered by a perfectly respectable 3.12 ERA on the road. On the other hand, he was only 1-7, and 0-56 on the road, thanks largely to the fact that, in an effort to save money, the Rockies aren't actually employing any hitters this year, just a Weeble-Wobble with a cricket bat duct taped to it at a 90-degree angle. Considering that, it's fairly impressive that they managed to score a little more than three ruins per game for him, and that he actually got a win somehow.

But, to my great and pleasant surprise, Chacon managed to pitch pretty well in his Yankee debut on Saturday, the thirteenth pitcher to start a game for the Bronx Balmers, er, Bombers this season, the most since that horrid 1991 season. Six innings, one (unearned) run, three walks, four strikeouts. That's about as good as most of Randy Johnson's or Mike Mussina's outings this season. That performance kept the Yanks in the game, giving the bullpen a chance ot blow the lead, which they did, but also giving Jason Giambi a chance to be the hero again, which he was.

Now if Chacon can just keep them in the pennant race.

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23 July 2005

CD/DVD Review: Oh Say Can you SING?

Oh Say Can You SING?
Music Recordings by Major League Players

$17.99 (plus shipping)
c. 2005 Good Sports Recordings, Inc.

Good Sports Recordings' recently released compilation album of current and former major league baseball players' musical performances is nothing if not unique. It includes a CD with eleven songs and a DVD with some "extras", all for $17.99, which isn't too bad since lots of albums that benefit a cause no better than the producer's wallet go for more than that, and don't come with a DVD.

By contrast, some of the proceeds from this album will go to charities chosen by the ballplayers who performed on it. These are listed in the liner notes, good causes all, and frankly, that's the best reason (if not the only one) to buy this CD. The various tracks don't work well together in any sense of the word, with country songs following bluegrass songs following rap songs following rock and roll and pop songs and oldies and so forth. Even fans with the most eclectic of musical tastes will find their heads spinning after listening to this album straight through.

Nevertheless, a good cause is a good cause, and baseball is baseball, so this disc is certainly worth the money in those regards. Good Sports Recordings, Inc. has hockey, basketball and football equipment in their logo, in addition to baseball, so it's possible that this is just the first of a series of benefit albums to come. In the future, sticking with one or maybe two closely related music genres per album should help to net both better reviews and better sales.

This CD's unique nature, I feel, prevents it from being reviewed simply as one entity. The tracks are so diverse and the musicians' talents so varied that it would be an injustice to lump them all together, so I will review each song individually and then the DVD separately as well.

Ben Broussard, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians, With or Without You, U2

Broussard (currently hitting .254 with 10 homers and 38 RBI) plays acoustic guitar and sings the lead on this U2 classic, and he does not embarrass himself with either venture. His voice, a solid baritone quite different from the breathy style used by Bono, works well for the song. He wisely does not attempt Bono's falsetto on the chorus or bridge. Possibly the best track on the album.

Sean Casey, 1B, Cincinnati Reds, How Do You Like Me Now?,Toby Keith

Casey's (.304, 4 HR, 40 RBI) lack of power as a hitter belies the power in his voice on this fun country track. Country music isn't known for its great vocal performances, so it's not as though Sean had to emulate Pavarotti, but he certainly proves himself up to this task. A solid track.

Jeff Conine, 1B/OF, Florida Marlins, Plush, Stone Temple Pilots

Conine (.271, 2 HR, 13 RBI) has gotten only sparing playing time with the Marlins this year, thanks largely to his age (39) and to the presence of more talented players (Cabrera, Delgado, Encarnacion) on the Marlins. Likewise there are more talented singers on this CD. I'm not much of a fan of STP, and even though the screaming tones of their lead "singer" aren't much to live up to, Conine has trouble holding some of the notes. Not the worst track on the album, but far from the best.

Coco Crisp, OF, Cleveland Indians, We Got That Thing, Original song

Crisp (.295, 8 hr, 37 RBI, 11 SB) deserves credit for writing his own song for this album, and while I can't call what he does "singing" he seems to rap as well as anyone I've heard. Not a rap fan myself, I can still appreciate his sense of rythm, quick-rhyming lyrics and solid delivery.

Matt Ginter, RHP, NY Mets, Dooley, The Dillards

Clearly the producers of this disc were not aiming for name recognition or staying power when they sought out players to perform on the album. Ginter spent the winter on the DL after having surgery on his ankle, got traded to the Tigers in April for Steve Colyer(???), pitched badly every other week for Detroit (5.47 ERA in 25 IP)until late June and was then outrighted to Toledo, where he's 3-2 in six starts with a 3.82 ERA in 35 innings.

On the other hand, he can play the banjo. I like Bluegrass music, and I can say with some authority that Ginter does fine in that role (I think he sings backup vocals as well). Kudos to Scott Schorr, the producer of "Oh Say Can You Sing?" for seeking players who could do something other than sing, though I'm not sure that placing this staple of Bluegrass music right after an original rap song was the best choice.

Aubrey Huff, 1B/OF Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Letters From Home, John Michael Montgomery

Huff (.261, 11 HR, 53 RBI) is struggling through a rough year at the plate, but gives a solid performance on this patriotic country number. Huff shares my birthday (December 20) but is two years younger than me, and has now got not one but two major life accomlishments on me: playing major league baseball and recording an album. I'm way behind schedule.

Scott Linebrink, RHP, San Diego Padres, Wave on Wave, Pat Green

Linebrink (4-1, 2.14 ERA, 13 Holds) has been a vital cog in the Padres' bullpen machine, which, with the second lowest ERA and second most wins in the NL, is a huge reason that San Diego is leading the NL West right now, albeit tenuously. Showing his versatility, Linebrink sings and plays guitar on this country song, and is decent at both.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies, Wish List, Original Song

J-Roll (.274, 7 HR, 62 Runs, 23 SB) signed a 5-year extension with the Phillies last month, which means he should never have to worry about money again. This is a good thing, because I don't see much of a future for him in the recording industry. Like Coco Crisp, he deserves credit for writing (if not really "singing") his own rap song, but the lyrics aren't very creative or interesting ("As a child I never had a big wish list / A bat and ball was all I wanted for Christmas / In '78 a star was born / 2001 his career was on"), and he doesn't deliver them as well as Crisp did.

Ozzie Smith, Hall of Fame Shortstop, Cupid, Sam Cooke

Over the course of his 19-year career, Smith showed talents for stealing bases (580 of them), doing back-flips, and hitting respectably enough (2460 hits, .262 career average) to keep his phenomenal glove (13 Gold ones) in the lineup. Now he's shown a talent for singing as well, as his impressive performance truly does justice to the late Sam Cooke on this R&B classic. His smooth voice delivers nicely on this track, which is helpful to the album as a whole, since Smith is far and away the biggest name (and biggest drawing card) on this record. Now we just need a cooking show on the Food Network and Smith will have nothing left to prove. "Omelets by Ozzie", anyone?

Omar Vizquel, SS, SF Giants, Broadway, Goo Goo Dolls

Vizquel (.294, 3 HR, 46 Runs, 14 SB) sings and plays the drums on this '90's pop/rock song. His drum work seems fine, but as a singer, well... let's just say he's having a surprisingly good year at the plate for a 38-year old shortstop in a pitchers' park.

Kelly Wunsch, LOOGY, Los Angeles Dodgers, Hurts So Good, John Mellencamp

Wunsch (1-1, 4.56 ERA, 15 Holds) is the quintessential Lefty One Out GuY, with 26 of his 45 appearances this year lasting less than one full inning. Despite his debateable prowess in that limited role, he manages to submit one of the best tracks on this disc, with a rendition of Hurts So Good of which Mellencamp would be proud. He sings lead and plays acoustic guitar on the track, which is a solid ending to a weird and disjointed CD. This is your reward if you kept listening this long.

DVD: Player Interviews; Outtakes; Ozzie's Memorabilia Tour

The DVD offers only marginal additional value, though there are a few amusing moments in the outtakes section and the tour of Ozzie Smith's trophy room is very interesting and informative. To their credit, the players all come off as likeable, average guys, most of whom are much more humble than you'd expect. The players were permitted to perform and record in the comforts of their own homes, as the producer brought his studio to them. This may explain why some parts of the DVD feature less than optimal lighting, a forgiveable offense given the trade-off, namely that the music would sound better if the players were more comfortanble. (It's probably also true that they'd be more likely to contribute of they didn't have to travel to do so, though the never mention this on the DVD, of course.)

Incidentally, producer Scott Schorr bears a striking resemblance to Dan Lauria, the dad from The Wonder Years, albeit with more hair. I don't know what that has to do with anything, but I found it interesting.

The interviews are spliced together, a 5-to-10 second clip at a time, in the quick, keep-it-moving style typical of modern commercials and much of TV. A head-on, color shot will cut to a shaky, intentionally out-of-focus black & white camera, from a side angle, often in mid-sentence, presumably for some kind of "authentic" feel or something, but that doesn't work well either. In parts of the interviews and outtakes the color seems washed out or the camera is slightly blurry. Like I mentioned, the tour of Ozzie's memorabilia is the best part of the DVD, so skip to that and you won't be disappointed.

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14 July 2005

Rockies, Nationals, A's, Red Sox Trades

It's interesting to see teams making moves this early in the season, right at the All-Star break, instead of waiting until the trading deadline or later. Boston's needed bullpen help for some time now, and Chad Bradford is just that. He hasn't yet pitched in the majors this season due to a back injury, but he has established himself as an effective middle reliever for the last several years in Oakland. His sinker should help keep the ball on the ground in Boston, which is necessary for any pitcher's success in such a small park.

On the other hand, why Oakland would want Jay Payton is beyond me. He's a decent defensive outfielder, but is below average in every offensive category, having neither the patience nor the power that Oakland GM Billy Beane supposedly values so highly. Oakland is 14th in the majors in run-scoring, despite hitting the fourth fewest homers of the 30 MLB teams. They are 8th in on-base percentage, so maybe Beane knows what he's doing.

And by extension, maybe he also knows what he's doing by trading OF Eric Byrnes and cash to the Rockies for LHP Joe Kennedy and RHP Jay Witasick. Byrnes is 29 and is in his sixth season in the majors, though he has only been a regular for the last few of them. He'll either be a free agent or at least elligible for arbitration at the end of the year, and therefore expensive in either case, a luxury the Oakland franchise cannot afford.

Beane has built his team by finding reasonably inexpensive talent through the draft and through minor league free agency, keeping players through the portions of their careers during which they're both good and cheap, and preferrinf to let someone else pay them the big bucks afterwards, even if they may be better once they leave Oakland. Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez, Jason Giambi, Cory Lidle, Jason Isringhausen, the list is almost endless. But the proof is in the pudding as the A's have had six-straight winning seasons with the Moneyball formula, including four trips to the playoffs.

Another possible reason for trading Byrnes, though Oakland would never admit this, is the possibility that he'll get injured. ESPN's baseball analysts were handing out their defensive awards for the first half of the season last night (slow sports news day, you know) and Peter Gammons' pick was Eric Byrnes, whom he called "The Crash-Test Dummy" because he plays defense with such abandon, running and diving for balls, crashig into walls, teammates, moving automobiles, etc. just to make a catch. It's a great and creative nickname, something today's game tends to lack, but it's also a recipe for disaster.

Historically, one of the better known individuals with such tendency was Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser, who had a reputation for crashing into walls and other non-malleable objects as well. Reiser's enthusiasm and acrobatics made him a fan favorite, like Byrnes, though he was a better player than Byrnes is. He finished second in the NL MVP voting in 1941, sixth in 1942 and 9th in 1946, even after he missed the '43-'45 seasons serving in the military. He had hit .306 while scoring 400 runs, driving in 298 and stealing 78 bases during the six years Brooklyn had him, but after being traded straight-up to the Boston Braves for a backup outfielder named Mike McCormick, Reiser never saw 260 plate appearances in a season again, and hit only .248, stealing only 9 bases over parts of four seasons with three different clubs throughout his career.

Not that Byrnes is necessarily doomed to the same fate. Theoretically, Byrnes should be helped offensively by Coors Field, as nearly every hitter is. He's got 20-homer, 20 steal potential in Oakland, a pitcher's park. The thin Colorado air should help to improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio and help to turn some of those doubles into home runs, making him more valuable in fantasy leagues, if not in an actual one. However, the large expanses in the Colorado outfield will mean that Byrnes will have even more area to cover, and potentially more chance to dislocate, oh say, a shoulder while diving for a batted ball and crashing into Cory Sullivan and/or a Volkswagen.

One player whose offensive numbers will not be helped by his recent trade is Preston Wilson, swapped with some cash for pitcher Zach Day, OF J.J. Davis and a minor leaguer. Wilson led the NL with 141 RBI in 2003, but his adjusted OPS was only 15% better than the league for that year, and his 36 homers and that truckload of RBIs had more to do with Colorado than with his talent. Furthermore, Wilson's gimpy knees and $12.5 million salary seem to have aided in wearing out his welcome even more than his .258 batting average and propensity to strike out 140 times per season.

Furthermore, being traded to a team that plays half its games at sea-level will not help him to land another big contract. Take a look at Wilson's career stats at Coors Field and elsewhere:

Coors .279 .347 .528
Else .261 .324 .469

The biggest difference, of course, is the slugging percentage, but those batting average and OBP variations are nothing to ignore either. More importantly, the differences since Wilson joined the Rockies are even more stark:

2003-05 AVG OBP SLG
Coors .288 .350 .544
Else .248 .306 .445

Rob Neyer once suggested that a hitter being traded to the Rockies, and therefore playing half his games in Coors Field, may not be entirely unlike the evolution of the polar bear, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Personally, I'm not yet sold on the theory, as I've never actually seen a "polar bear".) Presumably, polar bears went through numerous mutations over millions of years until they had developed traits (white fur, thick layers of fat, an affinity for Coca-Cola, etc.) that made them particularly adept at surviving in the harsh Arctic climate. Conversely, polar bears do not do well in any other climate, as their fur provides no natural camoflauge in other settings, their fat makes them too hot south of the Arctic Circle, and Coke isn't nearly as readily available in other places.

Similarly, hitters learn to hit very well in the thin air of Denver, as curveballs break less, sinkers sink less and batted balls travel farther than they do at sea level. But when the Rockies go on the road, those pitches are harder to hit because they break normally, and even the balls they do hit don't go as far with the same force imparted to them. This gives the Rockies an especially tough time adjusting when they go on the road, as no road trip is usually long enough to allow them to recover from "air-lag", if you will. Once getting traded away from Colorado or leaving via free agency, most players lose much of their hitting prowess at home but recover some of what they lacked on the road, winding up with lower stats than their overall numbers as a Rockie, but not as low as their away-from-Coors numbers had been during the stint in Colorado. Larry Walker, for example, had hit only .227 on the road in 2003, his last full season with Colorado, but hit about .280 with St. Louis last year and is hitting .269 this season.

Other players, such as the aforementioned Jay Payton and Vinny Castilla, completely fall apart upon leaving Colorado. Castilla has done it twice now. The first time he left Colorado, he hit about .220 in parts of two seasons with the Devil Rays, with no power and even less health, as it turned out, after averaging better than .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI for four straight years in a Rockies uniform. Last year, back in Colorado, he slugged .535 and led the NL with 131 RBI, but again left, and has seen his numbers dwindle to .253 with a .397 slugging percentage. At this pace, he won't even hit 12 homers for the season. Bret Boone has more homers than Castilla, and his team just released him.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that if you have Preston Wilson on your fantasy team, get rid of him now. Not only is he leaving the best hitting environment in the history of major league baseball, he may be going to one of the worst. Washington has scored the fewest runs and hit the fewest homers of any other team in MLB in 2005. They're tied for dead last in the majors in both runs and homers at home, but are pretty bad at scoring runs on the road as well, ranking 22nd of 30. Jose Guillen is having a fine season, worthy of his All-Star selection, with 18 homers and a .305 average, but he's hit only one of those 18 homers in Washington. One. Nobody else on the team has more than Nick Johnson's eight, and he's currently (surprise!) on the DL.

What you may not know is that Washington's pitching staff has also allowed fewer homers than any team in MLB, including an especially stingy 19 at home. (For reference, the next closest team is Boston, with 26, and they've played five fewer home games than the Nats.) On the road, the Nationals are just average at preventing homers, having surrendered 48 of them, for a #16 ranking out of 30 teams. Not surprisingly, they're 20th in road ERA, while easily ranking first at home, two-tenths of a run better than Houston at #2.

I don't know exactly how park factors are calculated, but I'm sure that if this trend continues, RFK Stadium could go down as one of the worst hitter's parks in history, at least for one year. And Washington should further deflate Wilson's already Coors-inflated statistics, making him look even worse to potential off-season buyers.

What the Nationals really needed to boost the offense, I mean besides Harmon Killebrew in his prime, is someone whose apparent offensive prowess was not a creation of his home park. Someone like Ken Griffey, for example, who's been a good hitter in almost every environment for over 15 years, has only one more year on his contract and is already rumored to be on the trading block. Griffey would have been a better fit, especially since he's actually making less money than Wilson, a difference of over $2 million for the season, about half of which is still due to be paid.

Of course, having Griffey and Nick Johnson on the same roster probably is not a good idea. I doubt its ever happened before, but if anyone can figure out how to get a centerfielder and a firstbaseman to collide on a play, causing both players to sustain season-ending injuruies, these two would figure it out. So forget I mentioned it.

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11 July 2005

Tomb of the Unknown Dodger

Have you sene these men?

A             B
Robles Olmedo
Repko Oscar
Werth Mike
Saenz Cody
Perez Mike
Edwards Jayson
Ross Jason
Rose Antonio

More importantly, do you even know who they are? Can you match the first names in column A with the last names in column B?

Well, if you live on the Left Coast and/or you bleed Dodger Blue, you know exactly who they are. They are, or were, the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers as they closed out a four-game series against the hapless Colorado Rockies, themselves a refuge for obscure baseball players, on July 7th, 2005. If you matched all the names correctly, without first looking up the Dodgers roster online somewhere, well, congratulations, Mr. Tracy, but you should probably be paying closer attention to the game, don't you think?

Let's look at that list again, with a little more info, shall we?

Name, Pos           Age   pre-05 AB   2005 AB   pre-05 G  2005 G
Oscar Robles, ss 29 0 66 0 34
Jason Repko, cf 24 0 136 0 63
Jayson Werth, lf 26 384 146 130 40
Olmedo Saenz, 1b 34 1055 164 429 57
Antonio Perez, 2b 25 138 152 61 46
Mike Edwards, 3b 28 4 111 4 44
Cody Ross, rf 24 19 20 6 11
Mike Rose, c 28 2 25 2 9
Total N/A 1602 820 632 304
Average 27 200 103 79 38

That's eight players who had compiled a total of about three "player-seasons" worth of at-bats before the start of the 2005 season, and nearly two-thirds of those come from 34-year old journeyman Olmedo Saenz alone. Even this season, not one of these guys has been a regular to this point in the season. Fully half of this lineup had not amassed more than six major league games apiece in their careers before April 2005, including two who debuted this season. All-told, these eight players have an average of less than one season worth of game experience, more than half of that coming from Olmedo Saenz, the "clean-up" hitter, who's never hit more than 11 homers or compiled more than 41 RBI in a season.

Not surprisingly, this lineup didn't win, couldn't even beat the Rockies, who entered the game sporting the worst record in the NL at 29-54. Why, do you ask, would the Dodgers run out a lineup that had so little experience and arguably, so little chance of winning? Well, as is the case with many of the strange occurrences during baseball season, Lady Luck is to blame.

To say that Lady Luck has been less than kind to the Dodgers this season would be an understatement exceeded perhaps only by something like, "That Hitler was not a nice man." Lady Luck has not just robbed the Dodgers, but humiliated them in the process, and multiple times. She's lured the Dodgers into a false sense of security, and then handcuffed them to the bed in a cheap motel room while she stole their money, their credit cards, their watch, and not yet satisfied, their suit from Moe Ginsberg.

Let's recap, shall we?

April 3rd:
*RP Eric Gagne goes on the 15-day DL w/ right elbow injury;
*SP/RP Wilson Alvarez goes on 15-day DL w/ left shoulder tendinitis
*OF Jayson Werth goes on 15-day DL w/ fractured left wrist
*SP Brad Penny goes 15-day DL w/ right biceps injury
*SP/RP Darren Dreifort transferred to the 60-day DL

These things all happened on one day as the season was beginning. Alvarez would come off the DL on May 4th, pitch badly for a month, and then get placed on the DL again on June 6th with the same injury. Gagne similarly would come off the DL on May 15th and pitch for a month (very well, in fact) only to be placed back on the DL on June 16th, with a season-ending elbow injury. His replacement in the pen, Yhency Brazoban, has a 5.09 ERA. Penny came back in late April and has had one really bad start for every two good ones, and he's been their best starter to date. Werth returned in late May but has hit only .245 with four homers while playing essentially every day since. Dreifort still hasn't pitched this year, and probably won't.

May 5th:
*IF Jose Valentin goes on 15-day DL w/ sprained right knee

Valentin had hit a career-high 30 homers for the White Sox last season, despite a .216 batting average, and was being counted on for some much needed pop at the hot corner. Instead he hit .194 for a month and then got hurt. Japanese 3B Norihiro Nakamura, a star power hitter in his native Japan, hit only .128 in part time duty for the first month of the season and was designated for assignment. He's currently hitting .289 with power for AAA Las Vegas, but everybody can hit homers in the PCL, so that doesn't say much. Rookie Mike Edwards, an out-of-place outfielder, and Antonio Perez, an out-of-place shortstop, have split duties at third base for most of the year. Overall, Dodgers thirdbasemen have hit .258 with five homers combined. They have a .706 OPS, which is better than only two teams in the NL (Philadelphia and Florida) and 24th out of the 30 Major League teams.

May 24th:
*SP Odalis Perez goes on 15-day DL w/ left shoulder soreness
*IF Jose Valentin transferred to 60-day DL

Perez just returned to the team last week, on July 5th. He has now pitched twice since his return, surrendering 4 earned runs in five innings of work each time, to raise his ERA to 4.97. The Dodgers lost both games. He was doing the team more good on the DL.

May 28th:
*C Paul Bako goes on 15-day DL with a knee injury, forcing to Dodgers to call up one-time Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro, who doesn't get into a game before being sent back to Las Vegas three days later, when rookie C Mike Rose is brought up. Dodgers catchers have combined for a .669 OPS, third-worst in the NL and 23rd of 30 MLB teams.

June 3rd:
*OF Milton Bradley goes on 15-day DL w/ torn ligament in right ring finger

Bradley had been hitting .298 with ten homers, one of the few bright spots in a Dodgers lineup that currently ranks 24th of 30 MLB teams in run scoring. The only game Milton Bradley's been able to play since is Candyland.

June 8th:
*OF Ricky Ledee goes on 15-day DL w/ strained left hamstring, forcing the Dodgers to recall OF Jason Grabowski, who has been on the DL since the May 18th. As he was doing before his injury, Grabowski resumes hitting about a buck-fifty in spotty playing time.

June 29th:
*SS Caesar Izturis strains an already weak hamstring legging out a bunt. He will be placed on the 15-day DL July 5th.

Izturis had been playing injured for almost a month, and it showed, as he was hitting only .105 (that's right: one-OH-five) in June and hadn't gotten a hit in 20 at-bats before beating out a bunt in the 5th inning. That play apparently strained the hammy enough that they finally caved in and placed him on the DL as well, making rookie Oscar Robles the starter at short. To his credit, Robles has played well, hitting .357 overall, including .457(!) in July.

July 4th:
*OF J.D. Drew goes on 15-day DL w/ broken left wrist

Drew sustained the injury being hit by a pitch from Arizona lefty Brad Halsey, whom I didn't think could break a pane of glass with his fastball, much less a human bone. Drew was hitting reasonably well at the time, batting .286 with 15 homers, but only 36 RBI thanks to a .218 batting average with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers had hoped for more from him after he hit .305 with 31 homers and a dozen steals for Atlanta in 2004. They signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract in the off season hoping he would give them some of the offense they'd miss with the departures of Steve Finley, Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre in the off-season. I'm sure they'd take whatever they could get from him now.

Furthermore, placing Drew on a DL that already included Ricky Ledee and Milton Bradley forced the Dodgers to an all-Ja(y)son outfield: Werth, Grabowski and rookie Repko. Not exactly Snider, Furillo and Robinson out there, you know?

Adding injury to insult, secondbaseman Jeff Kent pulled a hamstring on July 5th, and had to miss a few games to let it heal. With lefty Joe Kennedy going for the Rockies on Thursday, and usual firstbaseman Hee Seop Choi hititng .158 against southpaws this season (and an alarming .132 for his career!), manager Jim Tracy apparently thought it better to start someone (anyone!) else at first base that day, so Saenz got the nod.

Mercifully, Ledee was taken off the DL on July 9th, but a 31-year old who's never gotten to the plate 300 times in a season in his major league career is not the savior Los Angeles needs. Neither, for that matter, is rookie Ching Feng Chen, whom they brought up to take Drew's spot on the roster.

That same day, relief pitcher Kelly Wunsch was placed on the DL with torn ligaments in his ankle. Wunsch had an unimpressive 4.56 ERA, but he also had 15 "Holds" in 24 innings spanning 45 appearances, a LOOGY if ever there was one. His loss leaves the Dodgers' bullpen without a lefty of any kind.

Also mercifully, Kent's injury was not season-threatening and he was back in the lineup this weekend, going 6-for-10 in three losing causes as the Astros swept them. At least he's healthy, even if the Dodgers aren't.

So, as I mentioned, with Drew, Izturis, Bradley, and Valentin on the DL, and with Kent unavailable and Choi useless against lefties, Tracy sent the aformentioned lineup of novices out there to get their butts beaten by the Rockies last Thursday. Originally I started this column with the thought that I might have stubmled upon the least experienced major league lineup in decades, if not a century. But I don't have any way to easily verify this, and besides, that's not all that important.

What's more important, at least if you're a fan of the Dodgers or one of their NL West competitors, is where they're going in the future. In my estimation, unless there's some miracle that occurs between now and October, I expect the Dodgers to continue giving lots of playing time to a bunch of guys you wouldn't know if you caught them breaking into your house. Moreover, the once-proud Dodgers will continue their downward trend, and end up battling the Rockies for third place in their division.

R.I.P 2005 Dodgers Posted by Picasa

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07 July 2005

Pre-MLB 2005 All-Star Game Notes...

Last Man Standing Running...

The winners of MLB's "Final Man" votes for each league were announced yesterday, with Astros starter Roy Oswalt beating out Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Brandon Webb and Brett Myers for the NL honor. Oswalt's 11-7 record belies his 15 Quality starts and a 2.44 ERA that would be leading the NL if not for the ridiculous seasons that fellow All-Stars Roger Clemens (1.41) and Dontrelle Willis (1.89) are having. He is a deserving candidate.

Chicago outfielder and speed-demon Scott Podsednik beat out Hideki Matsui, Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford and most notably, Yankees captain Derek Jeter for the AL final berth. I don't know if it was planned to use either all pitchers or all position players for the selection process, but if it was, kudos to MLB for getting something right. Creating a ballot like that provides a fairer selection, giving the fans more of an apples-to-apples comparison for their voting processes.

What may not be fair is the presence of multiple players from the same team on that ballot. Brett Myers and Billy Wagner surely siphoned some of the Philly Phan votes that the other would have gotten if only one of them had been presented as an option, though Oswalt was clearly the most deserving of the lot, and is a fine selection. But in the AL, where Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui probably split the Yankee fan vote, the result was a surprise victory by a heretofore, and dare I say, deservedly unheralded Pale Hose leadoff man.

Podsednik is leading the world in steals, with 41, which are 13 more than his closest MLB rival, Rafael Furcal, who doesn't play in the AL anyway. Carl Crawford, with 26 steals, is his closest Junior Circuit competitor, and is actually a better player than Podsednik, with eight triples and nine homers, compared to Podsednik's zero and zero. He's got a decent batting average (for the moment, he hit .244 last year), but doesn't walk much and has, very literally, no power at all, so the speed is all he's got. Seventeen RBIs usually don't get you an All-Star berth where I come from.

Jeter, for his part, is hitting .310, and is on a pace for 20 homers, 20 steals, 130 runs and nearly 200 hits, and would therefore have been a much more deserving All-Star candidate. Ten years from now, we'll look back on the 2005 All-Star rosters and at Jeter's final 2005 stats and wonder why he was left off the squad, just as we can look back at the 1993 All-Star Game and wonder why Greg Maddux, in the midst of a 20-win season in which he would win the second of four concecutive Cy Young Awards, wasn't there. (Answer: He was only 8-8, despite his 2.83 ERA at the Break, and had just pitched seven innings on Sunday.) In Jeter's case though, the answer is that too many decisions are made by the underinformed fans, for the sake of drumming up interest in the game, and at the expense of rewarding the truly deserving players.

Vote Early, Vote Often, Vote Undeserving...

Half a century ago, then-commissioner Ford Frick intervened and kicked two players off the NL All-Star squad, when it became apparent that the Cincinnati Reds fans were stuffing the ballot box. Certainly today's commisioner doesn't have that kind of power, but I think Bud Selig ought to be able to make changes if necessary. Cliff Floyd, Pat Burrell and Ken Griffey, to name a few, are sitting home to watch the game on TV while Carlos beltran, with a .267 batting average and nine lousy homers is starting the game?

If the commissioner can't make a simple little change like that, what good is he? C'mon, Bud, you're the commissioner, right? SO commission somebody to take Beltran's place. Give him his All-Star bonus, as it's not his fault he was selected, but then pick someone else to start in his stead. There must be at least half a dozen NL outfielders who wouldn't embarass the team to be a part of it. Be a man. Pick one, and send Beltran packing, so he can rehab the alleged hamstring injury that's gotten him so much slack in the NY press.

Kenny Rogers: Not Coward of the County

I heard a refreshing soundbite this morning: An apology that actually sounded like an apology. Not, "I'm sorry you felt that way," or "I'm sorry this happened," or "I'm sorry I got caught,", but an actual "I'm sorry I did this wrong thing, and I don't have an excuse." Kenny Rogers held a press conference yesterday in which he said,

"I have been around this game for over 20 years and I prepare myself every day to control my emotions and act accordingly. In this instance, I failed miserably...I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed with myself for my inability to rise above the situation no matter how it became.""

His acts of two weeks ago were simply wrong, but give him credit for having the courage to take ownership of the situation. Rogers did something wrong, and there are natural consequences for that: He was suspended 20 games, which will cause him to miss 5 starts or so, and he's got to pay a fine and will probably face criminal charges. I think that's plenty. His selection to the All-Star game is a separate issue, one that should not be confused with or tainted by his other issues. Let him go, let him play, and if you're in the media, let him alone. This story will go away when the reporters stop making it something more than it is.

"This One Counts...2?"

I mentioned a year ago that MLB was going to have trouble coming up with more slogans with "Counts" in them. They didn't even bother to follow it up with "No, Really, We Mean it This Time" or something to that effect. Apparently they saw my article and have stopped trying. With the same exact slogan as last year's game, we will be reminded not only of the inneptitude of the individuals who run MLB, but also their total lack of creativity! Good job, guys.

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27 June 2005

Book Review: License to Deal, by Jerry Krasnick

License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent
by Jerry Crasnick

License to Deal Posted by Hello
(Rodale; June 2005; $24.95)

Captain Kirk and his crew took a five-year mission (and seven movies) to "go where no man has gone before." Jerry Crasnick took one year, and did it all by himself.

Of course, Crasnick didn't need a starship for his journey, though after reading License to Deal, I could see why one might think that baseball agents live in a different world. The "maverick" agent Crasnick follows is Matt Sosnick, half of the Sosnick-Cobbe Sports, Inc. partnership that represents some 80 or so major- and minor-league baseball players, including their crown jewel, Dontrelle Willis. The book recounts roughly a year of following Sosnick around in his travels, exploits and efforts in representing his clients, and gives a good amount of background information along the way.

Baseball authors and historians have composed tomes on all manner of baseball subject matter, from player, executive and even umpires' biographies, to ballparks to franchises and teams of certain years and eras, both good and bad, to the scouting business and even uniforms and other memorabilia. But to date no one had yet written about the business of being a baseball agent, despite it being so integral to the modern game, and Crasnick apparently decided that the time had come for someone to remedy that situation.

And what a cure it is. Crasnick, whose columns appear on ESPN.com, is a baseball writer by trade, but unlike some other beatwriters-turned-authors (Roger Kahn and George Plimpton come to mind), he doesn't have a particularly distinct writing style that serves as his trademark. He's a good enough writer, to be sure, but without the eloquence and flowery language of some writers, and without the plodding "just-the-facts-ma'am" approach of others. Rather, Crasnick seems to prefer that the subject matter speak for itself. His vast assemblage of interviews and other conversations give this book the personal feel missing from works composed from a much greater distance in space or time. The "fly-on-the-wall" perspective you get during so many interactions makes you forget that Crasnick must have worked very hard in not only following his characters around and procuring permission to record and write about them, but also in keeping himself mostly out of the interactions, allowing them to ahppen naturally, as he should. Like a good bass guitar player or a quality control engineer, you should only notice a writer/reporter if he's not doing his job properly, and Crasnick does.

Crasnick discusses various current and former clients of the Sosnick-Cobbe agency, featuring Willis most prominently, of course, but also discusses the agent/advisor business on a more general basis. He includes background on Matt Sosnick and Paul Cobbe, whose lifelong friendship forms the backbone of the agency, but also relates some details of the competition and the duo's relationships with other agents. Jeff Moorad, Arn Tellem, Randy & Alan Hendricks, the Beverly Hills Sports Council (affectionately known as "The Sopranos" by Toronto GM J.P. Riccardi) and others. Scott Boras practically gets his own chapter. He does a good job of being even-handed with each character in the book, portraying none as simply a villain or hero, providing both reasons for sympathy and for distaste in everyone. A good journalist you are, Jerry.

Fifty years from now, we will know whether this book was a landmark, the first in a series of tell-all, expose-type volumes on the business of baseball agents, as Ball Four was with regards to baseball players, or if it is simply part of the great landfill like most everyone else's work. By money's on the former.

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08 June 2005

Excerpt from License to Deal, by Jerry Krasnick

I will have a review of this book very soon, but in the meantime...

The following is an excerpt from the book

License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent
by Jerry Crasnick

License to Deal Posted by Hello
Published by Rodale; June 2005; $24.95US/$35.95CAN; 1-59486-024-6
Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick

Arn Tellem, a devout fantasy baseball player who runs the basketball and baseball groups for SFX, was once described by Oakland general manager Billy Beane as having the intelligence of Alan Dershowitz coupled with the neurotic behavior of Woody Allen. He’s a profound man as well. It was Tellem, after all, who observed that the average Jewish boy realizes by age 13 -- the time of his bar mitzvah -- that he stands a better chance of owning an NBA team than of playing for one.

Arn Tellem also believes that The Godfather is a wonderful how-to video for aspiring agents, an observation that resonates with Matt Sosnick, even though he's too conflicted to do more than fantasize about ambushing one of his rivals at a causeway tollbooth.

“I can’t decide whether I want to kill myself or my competitors first,” Matt says. As life decisions go, it’s a lot tougher than choosing between the traditional burr walnut and the gray-stained maple veneer for the interior of his Jaguar.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where you stand, given the shifting nature of alliances in the agent game. Several years ago, Matt became aware that Scott Boras’s group was hawking Jerome Williams and Tony Torcato, two San Francisco minor leaguers represented by the Levinson brothers’ agency in New York. So he called the brothers with a heads-up, and Sam Levinson thanked him for the courtesy. Not long after that, the Levinsons took Mets outfielder Jeff Duncan from Sosnick-Cobbe, while claiming, naturally, that it was strictly Duncan’s initiative.

Other veteran agents have taken turns providing counsel to a kid with ambition. Tommy Tanzer, who represents Steve Finley, John Burkett, and others, encouraged Matt in the early going, and Joe Bick, a former Cleveland Indians front-office man who now runs a successful agency in Cincinnati, listened patiently when Sosnick was frustrated by several client defections and needed somewhere to turn.

“He had some issues that were bothering him, and he asked me for opinions on how he should handle it,” Bick says. “He seemed like a nice enough guy, so I tried to give him my thoughts.”

The fraternity usually isn’t this collegial. Talk to almost any agent, and he’ll quickly point out that he works longer hours and has higher standards and a more devoted client base than the competition. The agent will recoil with horror at the slightest negative commentary about his own business practices, while gladly pointing out that Agent B has the emotional and moral depth of your average protozoan.

Professional wrestlers are more inclined to say nice things about each other. Tony Attanasio, who’s represented big leaguers since the early 1970s, appeared on a talk radio show several years ago when the host stumped him with a question: If you had a son about to enter pro ball, which agent would you choose to represent him?

“Once I got past Ron Shapiro and Barry Axelrod, I couldn’t think of anybody,” Attanasio says.

Furthermore, if you had a dollar for every agent who said, “You know, I was the real basis for the movie Jerry Maguire,” you wouldn’t have to invest in a 529 plan to fund your kids' college tuition.

Given the tendency for agents to undercut each other and players to change allegiances so cavalierly, it’s no wonder that insecurity abounds in the profession. At the All-Star Game, where baseball’s best and highest-paid players congregate, agents walk around with their heads on a swivel to make sure rivals aren’t sampling the merchandise. A Major League Baseball official recalls an All-Star tour of Japan several years ago, when agent Adam Katz was so hyper about competitors stalking Sammy Sosa, “You wanted to shoot him with an animal tranquilizer.”

When Paul Cobbe was doing his early research, he came across a profile of David Falk, the king-making agent who represented NBA pillar Michael Jordan. Falk seemingly couldn’t ask for more, but when the interviewer asked him to identify his biggest regret, Falk didn’t hesitate. He said it was difficult for him to get over losing out on Grant Hill.

It struck Paul as odd that an agent could represent the greatest player in basketball history, yet feel such remorse over not representing one who was merely very good. The anecdote showed Paul that for the big boys, maybe it wasn’t just about money after all.


Matt has never operated under the illusion that he would find many friends or mentors in the agent business. For most of his life, he’s regarded his father as his best friend and sagest counsel. Ron Sosnick is a gentle, big-hearted man who ingrained a sense of industriousness and obligation in his son. On the rare occasions when he showed anger, it was prompted by lapses in judgment or the abdication of responsibility.

Late in Matt’s senior year at USC, he called his father and said that he was dropping accounting and wouldn’t be graduating until the following semester. Ron Sosnick got as mad as his constitution allowed. “Here’s what you’re going to do,” Ron told his son. “You’re going back to USC and pay the tuition out of your pocket and you’re going to graduate, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.”

Ron also believed that his boy should spend a year on his own before joining the company business, so Matt took a job selling fax machines for Lanier and wowing his customers with personal service. He knew that all the machines were basically the same, so customers would be inclined to buy from the salesman they liked the most. He took them to concerts and tended to their needs, and they overlooked the fact that his fax machine expertise began and ended with knowing how to plug one into the wall.

Matt’s next step was running his uncle Howard’s company, a Silicon Valley electronics firm called Allied Electronic Recovery that recycled used computer parts. He hated the job, felt antsy and bored, and knew he was destined for something more.

An escape route was ultimately provided by his mother, the novelist. Victoria Zackheim was living in France in the late 1990s when she befriended the brother of David Morway, a sports agent living in Utah. Victoria believed there was something cosmic about the link, and she passed along a phone number to her son under the assumption that he’d feel similarly.

Within days, Matt made an appointment with Morway and traveled to Utah, where he heard a tale that was both cautionary and uplifting. David Morway had graduated from law school and worked in the San Diego Padres’ front office in the mid-1980s before taking a blind leap into athlete representation. He built a client roster that included Junior Seau in football and Tony Clark and Esteban Loaiza in baseball, and he handled marketing deals for a number of golfers and volleyball players.

Morway gave Sosnick what he calls his “10-cent speech” on the hazards of the industry. He talked about client stealing and the risks inherent in the business model. If you sold pens for a living, Morway told Matt, you could recover from a bad stretch by working harder and selling more pens. If you were an agent and crapped out on the draft, you had to wait a whole year to try again. The only alternative was luring players from established agents, and good luck doing that.

The agent business was also an emotional grind. Agents, no matter how accomplished, had to kiss athletes’ asses all the time. It was degrading when you made phone call after phone call on behalf of a player and still couldn’t find him a job. And just try feeling like a hotshot when you were talking to the general manager and one of your players happened by and asked, “Have you picked up my dry cleaning?”

Morway’s speech should have deterred Matt, but it only served to invigorate him. Determined to become a baseball agent, Matt rushed out and recruited his first client, a San Francisco–born infielder named Lou Lucca who’d been drafted by Florida in the 32nd round in 1992 and kicked around the minors for 6 years. When Matt spirited Lucca away from Reich, Katz & Landis, the firm’s agents didn’t care, because they barely noticed.

David Morway has since left the agent business and is now a high-ranking official with the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers, and Matt calls him regularly with updates.

“I’ve had tons of people do what Matt did,” Morway says. “I just try to give them an honest feeling about what they should expect -- the risks and ramifications. He was the one guy who came back for more. He went after it and did it. That’s the amazing thing. He actually did it.”

Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick

Reprinted from: License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent by Jerry Crasnick. Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com


Krasnick Posted by Hello
Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com Baseball Insider, has covered the game since 1988, when he followed Pete Rose and the Reds as a beat reporter for the Cincinnati Post. He has since worked for the Denver Post and Bloomberg News and written columns for the Sporting News and Baseball America. He lives in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two daughters. License to Deal is his first book.

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31 May 2005

Rochester Baseball Review

There comes a time in every man's life...and, and unlike Casey Stengel, I haven't had too many of them. However, despite being only 30, I still can grasp the value of a vacation, especially when my wife impresses it upon me with such vigor as she is capable of displaying when the need arises. Well, after three years of marriage without a vacation of our own since our honeymoon, the need arose. So my wife and I made some plans. We chose to stay at a spot called, fittingly enough, "The Chosen Spot", a modest but very accommodating Bed & Breakfast in Canandaigua, NY, which actually means "the chosen spot" in the Seneca tongue.

And so it came to be that I had the opportunity to visit Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings, AKA "The Twins of Tomorrow," not because they're planning to clone the entire roster tomorrow, but because the Red Wings are the Minnesota Twins' AAA franchise. The Red Wings were hosting the Buffalo Bisons, top farm club for the Cleveland Indians, in the first of a three-game, Memorial Day weekend series on Friday night, and the wife and I decided to attend. (Actually, I mostly decided to attend, and the wife acquiesced. Turns out she's pretty accommodating, too.) So we hopped in the car and headed off to Rochester, meandering through towns like "Victor" and "Hopewell", over rolling hills and past fields ("Centerfield", actually, another town) along routes so obscure that the local authorities only bother to label their numbers once in a while.

This commute, as you might imagine, was markedly different from the commutes to Philadelphia or New York to see the respective major league teams of those cities. Sure, I-78 in New Jersey has rolling hills, too, but appreciating the scenery as you zip by at 85 mph while swerving to avoid someone in a '73 Impala who's putting along at (how dare he?) the 65 mph speed limit is about as easy as trying to hit a major league fastball while enjoying the sunset. Needless to say, the 40-minute drive to Rochester left us both in a much better condition to see a baseball game.

Furthermore, buying front-row seats, right on the third base line, for $9.50 apiece sure puts you in a good mood as well. We even recieved a complementary "megaphone" also known as "a conically shaped piece of red plastic" from the local newspaper, which we proceeded to use throughout the game, mostly to converse with each other during its louder moments, but also to yell silly things at the players. And each other. OK, mostly each other.

If the concessions followed the same pricing scale, I reasoned, compared to game at Yankee Stadium, hot dogs should cost about 80 cents each, but apparently the concessions folks haven't been told that this is only a minor league town. Still, a Diet Coke for $3 is better than a Diet Coke for $4.50, and paying $5 for a fresh-grilled sausage and peppers (and peppers) and onions (and onions, and onions...) sandwich sure beats paying $8 for the privilege of consuming a cold sandwich, half the size, at Yankee Stadium. My wife and I both ate and were more than satisfied for less than $20 total. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as they say.

Oh yes, the game. We did get to the game just a little late, but not too late to be shown to our seats (by a gracious, elderly usher who even wiped them off for us) just in time for Red Wings' 2B Augie Ojeda's first at-bat of the game in the bottom of the first. Ojeda, you probably don't know, has had a largely undistinguished major league career as a reserve middle infielder for parts of several seasons with the Twins and Cubs. But Augie has the special distinction of having been born on my birthday, December 20th, and unlike Branch Rickey, Aubrey Huff and my mom, Ojeda was born on December 20, 1974, the same year as I was. How’s that for kismet?

One of the more noteworthy Red Wings players to see time in the majors was leadoff man/CF Jason Tyner, he of the impressive college batting average and the 6'1', 170-lb frame that couldn't generate power if the Hoover Dam were attached to it. Tyner hit .385 with 49 steals in 64 games his senior year at Texas A&M, but did not homer in 278 at-bats that year, even with the benefit of an aluminum bat. The Mets took him in the first round of the 1998 draft anyway, but now, eight years later, he has exactly one home run in over 3000 major and minor league at-bats, and has to be considered a flop. Other Red Wings who have been in the majors included Todd Dunwwody, who played right field and SS Jason Bartlett, who got a cup of coffee with the Twins last year and broke camp as the starting shortstop with Minnesota this season but got sent back down after hitting only .242 through mid-May.

The Buffalo Bisons also featured several former (and perhaps future) major leaguers, including DH Jeff Liefer, 3B Mike Kinkade, 1B Andy Abad, OF Ernie Young (who's not, anymore), CF Darnell McDonald, SP Francisco Cruceta and SS Brandon Phillips, who may still be the shortstop of the future for the Cleveland Indians, but hitting .203 in the International League is not a good way to solidify your position as a prospect. Just so you know. Liefer, McDonald, and 2B Jake Gautreau were all 1st round picks at some point in history.

But the real story was Juan Gonzalez. That’s right, the Juan Gonzalez. "Juan-Gone." "Gonzo." "Igor." Sir. Call him whatever you want, but he's still a two-time AL MVP, with 434 career major league homers, over 1400 RBI, over 1000 runs scored and almost 2000 hits. Unfortunately, he hasn't had a healthy, productive major league season since 2001. The Indians, in dire need of some production out of right field, activated Gonzalez this week in hopes that even at age 35 he might be able to do any better than the paltry .203 Casey Blake was hitting in that role. Gonzalez though, took a page out of the Frank Thomas Guide to Health & Rehabilitation, promptly re-injured his hamstring and was placed back on the DL. Oops.

But enough with the name dropping, you probably want to know what happened at the game, right? Well, just pretend you do.

Red Wings' starting pitcher Dave Gassner surrendered 5 runs in seven innings of work, including homers to Mike Kinkade and Brandon Phillips, and the Bisons led 5-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. With the home team down by four runs, and things looking bleak, the 8,500 or so fans in attendance started to let them hear it, leading my wife to observe,

"Boy, people are really mad about this."

Which was the funniest thing I had heard all day. My wife, not being a baseball fan, per se, often comes up with observations at games that would never occur to me. Sometimes she's wrong, as when she says, "This guy sucks!" if the batter happens to swing and miss at a pitch. "That's only strike one, honey," I reassure her, before whomever it is proceeds to bounce into an inning-ending double play, thereby reinforcing her initial judgment. But this time she was right-on. It just wouldn't have dawned on me to think about it, as I'm so accustomed to hearing fans boo at games that I didn't even notice. I do live near Philadelphia, you know.

The seventh inning stretch was fun, as it always is. A children's choir led us in singing "God Bless America" although without the spiffy intro that Ronin Tynin does at Yankee Stadium ("When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars..."). Then we all sang "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" and I must say that I was pleased to find that it was not followed up with what Jay Jaffe, my colleague at The Futility Infielder, once called "the sonic horror of 'Cotton-Eyed Joe'."

Getting back to the game, Cruceta tired in the seventh, giving up 4 runs on five hits, as my favorite player who's exactly my age, Augie Ojeda, scored the tying run. Ojeda also made a diving stop to start a 4-6-3 double play in the eighth to get reliever Willie Eyre out of a bases-loaded jam, and had two hits in four at-bats to bump his average over the Mendoza line. Phillips had flashed some leather earlier in the game as well, making a diving stop of a grounder deep in the hole, but unable to hold onto the ball to make the play. This actually made my wife laugh out loud, as the image of a grown man trying to throw a ball forward and have it pop out of his hand and land on the ground behind him is apparently an amusing sight, at least to her. I suppose, if you take all the external ramifications out of the picture (i.e. the score of the game, the player's salary and career aspirations, etc.) it is a pretty funny image. Yet another observation that eluded me.

To be fair to her, later in the game my wife got so upset at seeing Bisons' left-fielder Ernie Young tumble and fall as he ran after and missed a bloop fly ball that she nearly started to cry. Not because he missed the ball, but because it looked like he had hurt himself. So it's not that she laughs at others' pain. Just their mistakes. Or something. She felt better after she saw that he got up and returned to his post in left field, apparently unscathed. The gentleman one section over from us who got hit with a screaming foul ball and had to be taken from the stadium on a stretcher was not so fortunate, and Sunny (appropriately) did not so quickly recover from that sadness. But she did take care to keep an eye on the ball during the game herself.

Anywho, with the game tied at 5-5 after the seventh inning, the Red Wings came back up in the eighth, and a kid named Josh Rabe (pronounced "ray-bee") came to the plate with nobody on base. We had been making fun of Yankees' announcer John Sterling most of the night, trying to think of awful and not particularly clever catch phrases to use for significant feats by various players, I suggested that if this guy hit a homer, they could call it a "Rabe shot". Stupid, I know, but no worse than "...AN A-BOMB...FROM A-ROD!!!" And naturally, Rabe did just that, belting a solo shot to put the good guys up, 6-5, which was the score by which they won. Red Wings' closer Travis (more kismet!) Bowyer pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save of the season, and Rochester had itself a win.

Following the game, I was able to procure a Red Wings' ceramic coffee mug for my baseball mug collection, and a tee shirt for myself and one for my wife, and then they even had fireworks, surprisingly good ones for a minor league ballpark in a small city. Traffic on the way home wasn't bad either, and we were able to get back to The Chosen Spot before 11:30. And if you're tired of the high prices, hectic travel and impersonal feel of major league stadiums, you could do worse than to make a place like Rochester your chosen spot for some entertaining and affordable baseball.

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