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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Expanded Playoffs and More

    



     By Ross Newhan

      Major league owners meeting in Arizona next month will continue discussions on an expanded playoff that would include addition of a second wild card team in each league and become effective in 2012. Not every owner, according to multiple sources, is on board yet, their indecision hinging on the final format, but Commissioner Bud Selig, responding to lobbying by general managers and his own inclination, is expected to continue a push for it.

      By including a second wild card team in each league and either a best of three or even a one game playoff between the two wild cards in each league, those teams would be forced to use their best pitcher or pitchers, losing what has allowed the wild card to open the current playoff system with a pitcher who is as good or better than the division winner they are facing. This has contributed to a number of wild card teams advancing to the championship series and World Series, to the overall enhancement of parity, but it has also grated on field managers and general managers who contend that the wild card should be forced to pay a price for failing to win its division.

     There are several formats under discussion, and the key debate centers on how an expanded playoff would affect the 162 game schedule without a) forcing an earlier March start, b) creating the need for more doubleheaders (potential revenue losers for the owners) or c) jeopardizing the World Series with bad weather in November.

      The schedule may prove to be too large an obstacle, but more teams seem on board with the concept of a second wild card team than when the wild card was initially adopted in 1993 and "purists" hammered Selig, who has emerged a financial and artistic winner with almost all of his introductory concepts. Some will argue, in this case,  that a fifth playoff team in each league will dilute baseball's playoff to the level of the NFL, NBA and NHL, but over the last 15 years, the fifth best team in the National League has averaged 89.1 wins and the fifth best in the American League has averaged 88.8, both respectable figures.

      *  *  *

      Milwaukee General Manager Doug Melvin moved shrewdly in acquiring pitchers Zack Greinke from Kansas City and Shaun Marcum from Toronto without sacrificing any of his potent offense and advancing the Brewers ahead of incumbent champion Cincinnati as the team to beat in the National League Central.

     The Royals, generally conceded to have the best farm system in baseball, continued that building process by acquiring shortstop Alcides Escobar and three top prospects, including potential 2011 outfield starter Lorenzo Cain. Greineke had asked to be traded, believing the building process would not be finished by the time his current contract expired in 2012.

    The Royals had nursed Greineke, the AL's Cy Young Award winner in 2009, through nine seasons, attempting to work with him on the social anxiety disorder for which he takes medication and which prompted him to sit out the 2006 season, but the relationship had run its course. Many in the organization accepted that reality on the first Friday night home game of the 2010 season when the Royals brought in Bret Saberhagen and David Cone and honored their latest Cy Young winner, his wife and parents with a variety of gifts only to have Greineke wave to the crowd and walk away without saying anything over the PA. That  was more telling to some of KC's top executives than his trade request.

      

      

                           

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Few Market Thoughts



        By Ross Newhan

     ---Maybe Cliff Lee, in spurning more money from the Yankees and probably from the Rangers, really enjoyed his experience in Philadelphia and wanted to be part of what now becomes an illustrious rotation. Or maybe he just doesn't like the idea of putting the bulk of the financial and fan expectations on his own shoulders, even though he seemingly has the ability to do just that. And the fact remains that Lee will still earn the highest average annual salary among pitchers on a multi year contract---about $24 million.

      ---When you have the big money Yankees and Red Sox lurking behind every negotiation, why would you give either the chance of blowing you out as the Angels did with Carl Crawford? The free agent outfielder and speedster was the one player the Angels wanted and needed most, and owner Arte Moreno had said when the season ended that money would be no obstacle in getting his team back to the playoffs. Yet Tony Reagins' initial offer to the prized Crawford was $106 million, not even as much as the Washington Nationals--the Washington Nationals--had ultimately given Jayson Werth. Why not show Crawford from the start how serious you are and try to blast out both of the Evil Empires instead of playing a negotiating game? Crawford might have still ended up with the Red Sox, but doesn't opening with an overpaying bid for the player you really want make more sense than ultimately overpaying for Scott Downs?

    ---Dan Duquette, the former Red Sox GM,  points out Crawford's unique value: He's only the eighth player since 1900 to attain 100 homers, 100 triples and 400 stolen bases. The others: Cobb, Speaker, Brock, Frish, Lofton, Molitor and Raines, and Crawford has done it at a younger age than any of the other seven.

    ---The loss of Lee probably intensifies the Rangers interest in Adrian Beltre (Michael Young would probably move to DH), creating another bidding war for the Angels, who had hoped to keep the price down on Beltre. 

     ---I'll stick with my belief that Dodger GM Ned Colletti has done as well as he could under his financial restraints while acknowleding that his additions haven't exactly left you dialing the season ticket number, and he still needs an outfielder with an impact bat. Manny Ramirez?

    ---Of course, how do you explain Frank McCourt's financial restraints when he continues to stay at one of Beverly Hills' most expensive hotels and recently took a lady friend on a Paris vacation? However, if Jamie McCourt continues to win legal decisions most insiders believe Frank's indebtedness will compel him to sell the Dodgers, or Commissioner Bud Selig will take some form of custodial action.

    ---Eugene Orza, the longtime war horse of the players union who has announced he will soon be retiring, still can't fathom what he considers the latest Hall of Fame snub at union icon Marvin Miller by the Expansion Era committee's failure to elect him by one vote. "I just don't know how people justify it intellectually and can't imagine why the individual votes aren't made public," Orza said by phone. "Marvin changed the landscape, and it's the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Would a national art museum not include Renoir, Rembrandt or Van Gogh?" (Disclaimer: As a member of the Expansion Era committee I will continue to honor the Hall's request that we refrain from discussing our individual votes and deliberations, but I do believe the Hall should consider a permanent exhibit featuring Miller and the union.)

   ---The acquisitions of Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy should give the left side of Buck Showalter's Oriole infield a boost, although Reynolds home run total with Arizona fell from 44 to 32 last year when he led the National League in strike outs for the third straight year, and Hardy, after hitting a total of 50 homers in 2007 and 2008, hit 11 in 2009 and only six last season while playing in the homer happy Metrodome.

   





                             

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Garvey and Others Eye Dodgers Amid Deepening Ownership Crises


     By Ross Newhan

     As several potential buyers, including a group rumored to be headed by former Dodger Steve Garvey and another headed by Los Angeles philanthropist and insurance man Dennis Gilbert, do their best to remain patient, the Dodgers' long-term ownership situation remains more uncertain than ever.

     The decision Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon in the prolonged divorce action between Frank and Jamie McCourt--played out to the lyrics of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"--to throw out the marital property agreement because it did not conform to California law, was a major setback for Frank

    And it could set the stage for a) years of appeals, b) the club going to Jamie, who could then seek partners or sell it, or c) intervention by Commissioner Bud Selig in the best interest of baseball and one of his flagship franchises, although it is uncertain exactly what Selig's options are unless he felt legally confident that he could appoint a caretaker, as he once did in Montreal.

    Tony Tavares, who served as president of the Angels during the Disney ownership and who shepherded the Expos in their final, lame duck years in Montreal, is available. The Milwaukee based Selig might also have a local owner in mind for the Brewers, allowing Mark Attanasio, the Los Angeles based Brewer owner, to buy the Dodgers (possibly bringing Prince Fielder with him?).

    Meanwhile, General Manager Ned Colletti has done his best to piece the Dodgers together without McCourt requiring another family loan. With the signing Tuesday of Vicente Padilla he had acquired seven free agents at about $77 million, and he was said to be on the verge of cheaply signing Tony Gwynn Jr. as a center field option after San Diego did not re-sign Gwynn. Junior is not the hitter his dad was (is anyone?), and the Dodgers could use another impact bat in the outfield, but Colletti has at least filled out the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley with the re-signing of Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Padilla, and the re-signing of Dodger alum Jon Garland.

   The Dodgers have also become better in recent days through the process known as addition by subtraction. Adrian Gonzalez has moved to the American League, and it's obvious that the now rebuilding Padres won't be the division obstacle they were last year. The division rival Arizona Diamondbacks are also in a rebuilding phase, having shipped homer hitting Mark Reynolds to the American League Orioles. Also, Adam Dunn, always a tough out for the Dodgers, has moved out of the National League, joining the American League White Sox. In 64 career games against Los Angeles, Dunn had driven in 36 runs and hit 13 homers with a .380 on-base percentage.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Will New System Help Get Miller and Steinbrenner to Hall?



      By Ross Newhan

      The impact of a new voting procedure in the Hall of Fame's veterans category will be determined this weekend when a 16 member committee composed of executives, writers and Hall of Fame players votes on 12 candidates as selected by a historical overview committee.

      The 16 member committee will meet and vote Sunday in Orlando, Fla. with results announced Monday morning as a prelude to baseball's annual winter meetings starting in that city the same day.

     Any candidate receiving 75 % of the votes will be inducted during the annual Cooperstown ceremonies in July of next year.

     The Hall has been experimenting with the veterans process for several years, attempting to find an equitable system that, as Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said will allow voters "to compare apples to apples"---the respective candidates basically coming from the same era.

     Saturday's vote involves 12 candidates--eight players, three executives and a former manager--coming from what the Hall is calling the expansion era, ostensibly starting with the introduction of the designated hitter in 1973 through the present. Another voting committee will consider players, managers, umpires and executives from what the Hall calls the Golden Era, starting with integration in 1946 through 1972, and a third committee will consider players, managers, umpires and executives from what the Hall calls the pre-integration era (1871-1946). Each voting committee will meet only every three years, so that the eras rotate from year to year.

    The historical committee, comprised largely of members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, selected the following 12 players for consideration by the expansion era electorate:

     Former Players: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub.

   Former Executives: Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner.

   Former Manager: Billy Martin.

   The players had to have played 10 years in the major leagues, and had to have been retired for 21 years or more (obviously none of the eight received the required 75% while they were on the ballot voted on by the general BBWAA electorate each December). The managers had to have worked for 10 years in the major leagues and have been retired for five years. The executives had to have been retired for five years, or were at least 65 years old.

    The 16 people who will vote on the 12 candidates includes former players Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; executives Andy MacPhail, Bill Giles, David Glass and Jerry Reinsdorf, and baseball writers Bob Elliott, Tom Verducci, Tim Kurkjian and myself.

    The Hall has been experimenting with a veterans committee in various forms starting in 1953. Idelson insists that the new committees are not aimed at getting more players, managers, umpires and executives in the Hall or lowering the standards.

    "By comparing apples to apples," he reiterated, "the voters can ask themselves, 'Is this era incomplete without the inclusion of these people?'"

    The 2010 electorate replaces a veteran committee that in 2003-2007 was composed of writers, broadcasters and Hall of Fame players. Then, in 2008, the membership was made up of only Hall of Fame players voting on players who played after World War II. Those committees voted three times and didn't elect anyone, including Miller, who was executive director of the Major League Players Assn. from 1966 to 1982 and probably did as much to change the baseball landscape--economically and otherwise--as any executive.

    It has been suggested that the new voting breakdown will make it easier for Miller and Steinbrenner, the late New York Yankee owner, to reach Cooperston, but Idelson disputed that.

    "It serves no purpose and there is no value in developing a system which benefits only one or two people," he said. "I have complete confidence in the electorate and the sanctity of the process."   

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Mets: Restoration of a Team and Its New Manager

 

       By Ross Newhan

       It is probably too simplistic to put the description of "intense" on Terry Collins as if it's his first name.

       Is any man the same man he was yesterday, and there were undoubtedly lessons Collins took out of his experience over almost six straight years with the Astros and Angels when there were incidents of clubhouse friction involving his demanding, in your face style at times, and Collins, facing a clubhouse revolt at one point over the Angels plans in 1999 to rehire him, ultimately resigned in September fed up with the bickering that had marked one of the most tumultuous seasons in that club's history.

      Collins hasn't managed since, and now he puts his intensity, if all of what he once was still fits, under the tabloid microscope of New York as manager of the Mets, a team that has lost its National League East dominance to the Philadelphia Phillies and is undergoing a front office and field transition in leadership while needing to get younger at several positions but still retaining veteran presence at others.

     In the 10 years between Anaheim and New York, Collins has been involved in player development with the Dodgers and Mets (a position of which there is no question about his ability) and there was a brief managerial stint in Japan. He might have been hired as manager of the Dodgers before Grady Little was hired in 2005 if then general manager Paul DePodesta hadn't been fired first. Now DePodesta is vice president of player development and amateur scouting for the Mets under new general manager Sandy Alderson and undoubtedly had a voice in the selection of Collins over another internal favorite, former Met Wally Backman.

    Collins got a two year contract, and Backman will continue to manage in the system, so there is a shadow that Collins will have to deal with while trying to bring a more urgent attitude to the clubhouse after the firings of the more laid back former managers Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel.

    "Terry Collins demands that players play the game the correct way with respect and total effort every time they put the unform on," former Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina, the heart of the team in the 90s and now an assistant general manager, said in an e-mail communication. "He will hold players accountable for their actions on the field, and that is a manager's job. If any of his players have a problem with playing the game the correct way then that player needs to re-evaluate why he is playing in the first place. I mean, Terry has very few rules...play hard, be on time. I don't think that is too much to ask at any level."

       The Angels finished second under Collins in both 1997 and 98, overcoming 23 injuries and other internal problems in '98. Players came out of it complaining that they were tired of finishing second, of the self satisfied attitude that had infiltrated the team.

       There was need for a big hitter and front line pitcher. Then General manager Bill Bavasi missed on the pltcher but received permission from the Walt Disney Co., something of an interim owner, to award Boston free agent Mo Vaughn with a six year $80 million contract that was the biggest in club history at the time.

      A new enthusasim followed, but it went south in a hurry. DiSarcina broke a wrist in spring training of '99 and missed half the season. Vaughn sprained an ankle as he slipped down dugout steps attempting to catch a foul ball on opening night and was never the hitter the Angeles had anticipated. Center fielder Jim Edmonds lost half the season when he required shoulder surgery in April as teammates grumbled that he should have had the operation  done at the end of the '98 season, and Tim Salmon tore wrist ligaments in in May and did not return until after the All-Star break.

    As the offense crumbled, word broke that the Angels were prepared to extend Collins' contract, prompting a mutinous move in which several players questioned the decision in private meetings with Bavasi, who was not deterred, giving Collins a one year extension with an option for another. The bickering didn't stop. In a series at Cleveland, several players told Collins they would not play if Vaughn was in the lineup. The night before, in a brawl precipitated when closer Troy Percival had hit David Justice with a pitch, Vaughn was in the clubhouse and made no move to reach the field in time to help his teammates, prompting Percival to say that you find out who's with you and who's not when a fight breaks out.

    The threatened boycott was one too many incidents for Collins, who had also heard players complain that since he had never played major league baseball he couldn't really relate to their emotions. He resigned in September, prompting club president Tony Tavares to compare the Angels clubhouse to a day care center, accusing the players of quitting on themselves and crediting Collins with more integrity than many of his players.

    "I kicked butts, patted butts and tried everything I knew to motivate them," Collins said at the time, "but a manager today has only one hammer--the lineup card. The players have got to want to win and to be successful. I'll miss coming to the ballpark every day but I won't miss the bickering that went on this season."

    In reflection, DiSarcina cited the early injuries, the losing that became infectious and the finger pointing that went along with it, and wrote in his email, "we all could have handled things differently. Terry did not lose control. There was no revolt or mutiny. We were losing games and I think everyone's emotions got the best of them. It was a disappointing season...and we got caught up in the distractions, worrying about things that were out of our control instead of trying to succeed on the field."

   Collins was not the only person to show integrity. Bavasi quit rather than fire an array of veteran scouts that Tavares insisted had become too old to do their jobs. Bill Stoneman was hired as general manager, and he hired Mike Scioscia as manager, The Angels won their first World Series two years later and have enjoyed their most successful decade ever under owner Arte Moreno.

   "I think it goes without saying that 1999 was a difficult season for the organization, both on and off the field," Tim Mead, senior vice president of communication, said. "In reflection, I think it was one of those situations where so many things went sideways, and try as we did, things just couldn't be corrected in a timely manner. Everyone shared a portion of responsibility."

   The Angels transitioned into one of the most successful franchises in baseball, and now Terry Collins gets a chance to help restore the Mets pride and prestige, and, perhaps, his own managerial reputation.
               

Monday, November 15, 2010

Things Come in Threes--Sadly Again


     By Ross Newhan

     They say things come in threes, and too often that is the case in a sadder rather than happier vein.

     In the last week, three long-term acquaintances--both on a personal and professional level--have passed away, a loss for baseball, their families and a writer who has covered the industry for almost 50 years.

     A week ago I wrote on the loss of the institution that was Sparky Anderson, as managerially cunning as he was colorful, the first manager to win the World Series while at the helm of teams from both the American and National Leagues, and a font of endless stories who seldom turned a reporter away from his Thousand Oaks home or clubhouse office.

     On Wednesday, news came from Seattle that another institution, broadcaster Dave Niehaus, had died of a heart attack at 75.

    I had known Dave from the time he worked with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale on Angel broadcasts from 1969 to 1976, when he got his break, selected to be the lead broadcaster for the new Seattle Mariners. Dave was there before Junior and A-Rod and the Big Unit, and his work ethic was such, as the Mariners moved from the Kingdom to Safeco Field, that he would broadcast 5,284 of the team's 5,385 games through the  2010 season, his "my, oh my" being familiar to every Mariner fan and his esteem among colleagues earning him the Ford C. Frick Award in 2008 and admission to the Hall of Fame.

    Replacing Niehaus in Seattle will be akin to replacing John Wooden in Pauley Pavilion, and thoughts of Dave and Sparky where still fresh when I received a call Monday morning that Ed (Spanky) Kirkpatrick, 66, had passed away after a long struggle with throat cancer.

    Kirkpatrick didn't carry the national reputation of Anderson and Niehaus, but among his friends he would become an inspiring figure who came out of Glendora High to play six years with the expansion Angels, and ultimately parts of 16 seaons in all, most often a part-time player with Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Texas and Milwaukee.

     Four years after his final major league season in 1977, Kirkpatrck was in a horrific, 1981 auto accident that left him in a coma for 5 1/2 months and in a wheelchair, partially paraylzed, for the rest of his life.

    During that time, at parties and other functions, Kirkpatrick never lost his sense of humor and uplifting personality, always willing to send a bet to the track or challenge friends to a football wager, a glint in his eye, and he never lost the love and support of his wife, Judy, who was beside his side through all the often difficult years, but years when their hearts continued to beat as one..

    Three passings--Sparky Anderson, Dave Niehaus and Spanky Kirkpatrick.

     Must they always be in threes?
                

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sparky: Remembered Always

  

       By Ross Newhan

       If you didn't love (there is no other word that fits) Sparky Anderson, if you weren't enlightened and uplifted by his spirit and passion about a game he was never that good at playing but never tired of talking about, the fault was your's and not his.

      George (Sparky) Anderson, a manager's manager, died Thursday at 76 after a long illlness, and the loss is his family's, of course, but also mine, baseball's and that of everyone who crossed his enthusiastic path, including all of his lifelong pals from Dorsey High who are leaving us too quickly.

     I do not write an obituary. Those can be found in the newspapers and other sites on the internet.

     I simply write a few words in regard to how fortunate I feel to have known him, to have him take the phone every time I called, to be invited to take a seat in his clubhouse office every time I visited, to be asked to his Thousand Oaks home on those occasions when I woud be looking for an off-season story and Carol would always have lunch ready.

    I simply write about how his unbridled enthusiasm could fill a reporter's notebook after just one question, and if at times he brought a little Casey Stengel to the language, if at times we all chided him in regard to how he would over estimate the ability of a young player, predicting he would be the next great (pick any All-Star or Hall of Fame player), well, what is spring training and confidence and motivation all about anyway?

   Sparky Anderson would be voted into the Hall of Fame to the headshaking disbelief of the one time infielder from Bridgewater, South Dakota.

   He would win World Series titles with the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and '76 and with the Detroit Tigers in 1984, the first manager to do it in each league.

   I covered the Dodgers for the L.A. Times during most of the '70s and how lucky can a reporter be?

   I covered the last few years of Walter Alston's managerial career and the beginning of Tom Lasorda's as Alston's successor. I covered the roster turnover in Los Angeles as all those young players who Lasorda had managed in the minors found major league homes, and while that was going on, as Garvey and Lopes, Russell and Cey, became the infield of the present and future, as Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker arrived to establish a veteran tone in the clubhouse, I watched a group of similar young players in Cincinnati develop into what would become known as the Big Red Machine under their comparatively unknown manager, or "Sparky Who?" as the headlines in Cincinnati had read when he was hired at the end of the 1969 season by longtime Reds general manager Bob Howsam.

  Sparky was 35 and preparing to become a coach for Lefty Phillips with the Angels in 1970, two baseball lifers, when Howsam, who was seeking a fresh face for the fresh young Reds and who had been impressed by Anderson's aggressive style while managing the Cardinals' Rock Hill, S.C. team when Howsaw was with the St. Louis organization, called then Angels general manager, Dick Walsh, for permission to offer the fiery Anderson the managerial job with Cincinnati.

  "Everything I have in this house I have because of Bob Howsam," Sparky would tell me on one off-season visit to Thousand Oaks.

  "I would never have become a major league manager if he hadn't given me the opportunity."

 Sparky actually might have become manager of the Angels considering their managerial merry go round during much of the 70s, but he was clearly better off in Cincinnati with a cast that included Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster and Davey Concepcion.

  The Reds and Dodgers were in the same division then, and their pennant battles were ferocious, and each time they would play each other I would call Sparky to get an update on his view of the race and his team and each time I hung up the phone I had more in my notebook than I needed. Sparky came in worshipping the stoic Alston and, although they later became friends, Sparky often confided that he believed Alston was pushed out and that Lasorda had contributed.

   As it played out, given the Dodgers internal turnover, the arrival of so many young players, the gregarious Lasorda was the right fit at the right time, but his presence added to the heat between the two division rivals.

   Sparky would take the Reds to World Series titles in '75 and '76, and Lasorda would lead the Dodgers to National League pennants the next two years, after which the standup Sparky would quit rather than meet the demands of new general manager Dick Wagner that he fire three coaches.

   Ultimately, he would manage the Tigers for 16 1/2 years, winning the '64 World Series, and retiring with 2,194 victories, at the time third on baseball's all-time list.

   He seldom bragged about his acomplishments, citing Detroit players like Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson and the Hall of Fame nucleus in Cincinnati, but he did once say to me, strikingly under playing it, "for a kid from Bridgewater, a guy whose baseball career pretty much started as a bat boy for Rod Dedeaux (at USC), I  think it's been a pretty good life and a pretty good career."

   His hair would turn prematurely gray and dementia would eventually steal some of his memories, but not those of anyone blessed with having known him.

   He was a great manager, an outstanding personality and a terrific friend who never failed to ask how my baseball playing son was doing and how much he appreciated the intensity that David brought to his job.   
.    
   Rest in peace, Sparky. Even in death you will continue filling up notebooks. 











        

         

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Few Series Reflections



    By Ross Newhan

    --Clifff Lee was 0-2 with a 6.94 earned-run average in the World Series, failing to pitch back to his ALDS and ALCS dominance, but it is unlikely to impact his pursuit as a free agent, with it likely coming down to his Rangers and the Yankees providing he simply doesn't get it over with and sign with Texas in their private, five day window that begins today. Lee has pitched with four teams in the last two years, a hired gun of the highest order. Lee's wife, Kristin, blistered the treatment Ranger families received from Yankee fans during the ALCS, but money and longevity may outweigh that abuse, although the suspicion here is that he will remain with the Rangers, virtually next door to his Arkansas home.

    --There is no minimizing the performance of their young and homegrown rotation, but how many of their self-identified misfits and castoffs--Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe, among them-- are the Giants prepared to retain while still owing Barry Zito $64.5 million over the next three years? It is hard to see them picking up Renteria's $10.5 million option, for example, even with his Series MVP award and two game turning home runs. Then again, there are always misfits and castoffs out there--and how much more is needed with that pitching?

   --So, the Rangers had the best offense in the American League and they were shutout twice and held to one run once during the five Series games and it's a bit of head shaking wonder to remember that Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are 26, Madison Bumgarner is 21, Jonathan Sanchez (don't forget that he has no-hit stuff despite his wavering control and emotions during the postseason) is 28, and that that homegrown rotation has a homegrown catcher in probable Rookie of the Year winner Buster Posey, who is 23 and may eventually end up at third base or in left field. Give their scouts credit and snicker again at the moneyball computers.

   --I don't understand why celebrating fans feel they have to go on a violent rampage as they did in San Francisco Monday night. I recall vividly sitting in the old Tiger Stadium after Detroit had defeated San Diego in the 1984 World Series amid constant explosions and frightening fires to the extent that the press corps was prevented from leaving and a helicopter landed in the middle of the infield, bringing in pizzas (the Tigers were then owned by Domino's Tom Monaghan) so that, god forbid, we didn't go hungry.

   --Bruce Bochy has now taken two teams to the World Series, the 1998 Padres and the 2010 Giants, and it is time to recognize him as one of baseball's best managers. He is unafraid to make lineup changes or remove pitchers or ask players who may not be familiar with certain functions--such as Huff sacrificing for the first time in his career--to perform the unexpected. He is not the most quotable personality, which often leads to the lack of publicity and recognition he deserves, but his handling of those misfits and castoffs should now leave no doubt that he belongs in the upper echelon of big league skippers.

   --Vladimir Guerrero's 29 homers and 115 runs batted in prompted Anaheim fans to wonder if their Angels had given up on him prematurely, but he looked severely overmatched in the postseason, batting .220 with no home runs and six RBI, and what had once seemed to be an automatic resigning by the Rangers now may be in doubt, although general manager Jon Daniels insists "you have to consider his body of work."     

    --Beyond the magical work of the San Francisco rotation and the spirited performance of the Misfits this wasn't the most spellbinding World Series, but it did prove again that a carefully increased system of replays is needed despite the commissioner's concern about the "pace" of games. Of course, commercial breaks of 2 1/2 to 3 minutes don't exactly enhance the pace, but then somebody has to pay Fox for helping underwrite the industry, and the greater groundswell among owners doesn't seem to be for more replay but either 1) the addition of another wild card team, 2) a one game wild card play-in, or 3) increasing the division series from  five to seven games. More on those possibilities at a later date. 

          

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The DH Inequity



      By Ross Newhan

      It is a useless spiel that I have made dozens of times, but watching Game 1 of the World Series drove me back to the computer to voice it again:

      For a major sport to allow it's two leagues to play under different rules is madness.

     By now, of course, you know I am referring to the designated hitter rule and the fact that it is used fulltime in the American League but not at all in the National League.

     So, in the World Series, on the game's biggest stage, the American League team must take the DH out of the lineup when in the National League park and possibly play him or another player at a position basically new or foreign to them.

    The American League champion Texas Rangers, playing the first two games in the home park of the San Francisco Giants, knew that putting their DH in right field could lead to problems.

    It isn't so much that Vladimir Guerrero is 34. it's that both knees are worn down from playing the equivalent of eight years on the concrete carpet of Olympic Stadium in Montreal (along with other knee injuries). I mean, it is painful to watch a player who was once one of baseball's premier outfielders try to run and to play a position he had played only once in the last eight weeks.

    For the Rangers, however, It was either risk defensive lapses with Guerrero in the outfield or lose his potent bat.

    The Rangers chose to take the risk and paid a price.

   Guerrero made two errors on balls that got past him. Also, in one of the most difficult parks in the majors for right fielders and center fielders, Texas center fielder Josh Hamilton was forced to shade toward right to give Guerrero protection, opening up a wider gap in left center field. The Giants got six doubles--three by Freddie Sanchez. Not all were driven through the wider gap in left center. Some were down the left and right field lines.

     Nevertheless, it remains a bizarre and inexcusable situation to play under two sets of rules during both the regular season and World Series, where the American League team has to pay a bigger price.

     The AL team can either put the DH and his bat on the bench while playing a better defensive player in the field, or, as the Rangers did and will apparently continue to do, risk defensive lapses by keeping the DH in the lineup at a position he no longer plays well.

    In the meantime, the NL team, playing in the Amrican League park, has a distinct advantage.

    It simply has to bring one of  its better hitting reserves off the bench and give him four or five at bats as the DH, benching the pitcher.

    The NL team doesn't sacrifice anything defensively.

    The Rangers not only had to put the limited Guerrero in the field, but they had to move Nelson Cruz from right field to left and they had to bench one of their usual third outfielders: Jeff Francouer, David Murphy or Julio Borbon.while also batting a pitcher who probably hasn't batted all season.

    Why has this been tolerated since the DH was introduced in 1973 to stimulate offense?

    Why do the two leagues have separate rules?

    The answer at this point is that it's simply too late to change what had been a one league experiment that turned permanent.

    Now, the players union will argue strongly against dropping the DH because he is generally one of the team's highest salaried players, raising overall salaries.

    And National League owners don't want any part of the DH for that very same financial reason and they will argue that the more tactical NL game, featuring double switches and pinch hitting for the pitcher, is a better game.

    All of that would not prevent the commissioner from ordering the same set of rules in both World Series parks.

    That, too, is not going to happen, so enjoy Vladimir Guerrero in right field.  

                           

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Few Giants/Phillies Thoughts

 


    By Ross Newhan

    --Yes, Cody Ross was the obvious choice as NLCS most valuable player, but the stealth MVP was San Francisco southpaw Javier Lopez who continually nullified the left handed hitting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and is one more example of why baseball minded parents should raise their sons to throw left-handed. Veteran left handed relievers are never out of work. Left handed bullpen colleague Jeremy Affeldt is with his fifth team. Lopez, 33, pitched for the Red Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks before being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. During the regular season, Lopez appeared in 27 games with the Giants, almost always facing a left hander, and struck out 16, walked two and allowed no home runs. He retired all seven of the first seven batters he faced in the post-season, and worked in five of the six games against the Phillies, striking out four in 4 1/3 innings and allowing one run and one hit. Utley batted .182 in the NLCS (he fielded almost as poorly). Howard hit .318, but he had no home runs and no runs batted in, and he struck out 12 times in 22 at bats, an NLCS record.

   --Bruce Bochy won't be the NL's manager of the year. The writers' award, voted between the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs, will probably go to Bud Black of San Diego or Dusty Baker of Cincinnati. However, Bochy always seemed to have the right lineup combinations during the post-season despite the absence of a regular third baseman, a briefly slumping center fielder in Andres Torres and an injured shortstop in Juan Uribe, who disregared his sore left wrist to hit the winning sacrifice fly and home run in Games 4 and 6 of the ALCS.

   --Of course,  Bochy had the combinations to work with because General Manager Brian Sabean, from the pre-season signing of Aubrey Huff (no one could have predicted his 26 homers and 86 RBI), never stopped, trading for Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, calling up Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, signing and calling up the released Pat Burrell, landing Ross on waivers to keep him away from San Diego. The offense may be Torture, as telecaster Duane Kuiper first called it, but the Giants a way, and the pitching is special. The Phils batted .216 and scored only 18 runs in six games.

    --There will be a modest free agent crop on the market this winter, and Jayson Werth will be strongly pursued, but probably not by his Phillies, who will move top prospect Dominic Brown into the right field slot. The larger issue is in left field, where Raul Ibanez, at 39, is coming off a terrible first half of the regular season and a .211 NLCS with no home runs or RBI. Ibanez is owed another $11.5 million next year, and there is nothing the Phillies, who are aging throughout their lineup, can do about that.  The Phillies had MLB's fourth highest payroll at about $140,000 million, but we've learned that money doesn't always talk. Nineteen of the 30 teams have reached the World Series since the 1994 work stoppage, including 10 of 16 NL teams.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Few Ranger/Yankee Thoughts



     By Ross Newhan

     --Yankee GM Brian Cashman makes it clear that Joe Girardi will return as manager next year, and he certainly has earned that endorsement at least. If a friend dropped in from Mars during the ALCS and you told him this was a $200 million team, he would have had you commited to the nearest black hole. This was a 95 win team that turned old and exposed its weaknesses before our very eyes.

     --I don't think Girardi can be blamed for A.J. Burnett largely being an $80 million flop and forcing the manager to use any catcher except Jorge Posada because Burnett and Posada are not on the same wave length or Joba Chamberlain, the next great Yankee pitcher, virtually becoming just another bullpen guy or only Robinson Cano, among the position players, looking like a player who deserves longterm pin stripes in the great tradition of Yankee pin stripes, or Derek Jeter, the wonderful Derek Jeter and I mean that sincerely, suddenly presenting a difficult contract dilemma at 36 or Alex Rodriguez largely coming up empty in one more October series (.190, 2 RBI) or....well, you get the $200 million drift.

    --Colby Lewis gives up three runs in 13 2/3 innings and looks like one tough Nolan Ryan type dude in Games 3 and 6 for the Rangers and it's hard to believe he was pitching in Japan the last two years, although that's where he learned the breaking pitch that has made his fastball that much faster and given him a second weapon. Ryan, as club owner, and Mike Maddox, as pitching coach, have the Ranger starters all believing they can finish what they start, and  it's pretty likely that Derek Holland, at some point, will be coming out of the bullpen to join them, although he is baby-faced valuable in a long or short role where he is.

   --As I wrote the other day, Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus is headed to national stardom and probably has more tools than his idol, Derek Jeter, had at a similar starting point, although the one thing that has separated Jeter over the years is his ability to always be in the right spot at the right time, and all you have to remember is his on the run cutoff and backhand flip to Posada that nailed Jeremy Giambi at the plate, saving Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS against Oakland--a turning point play and game.

   --In advancing to the World Series, the Rangers have sent a message to the Angels that they will remain a legitimate contender in the AL West, although their ability to retain Cliff Lee is a significant key, of course, and if the Yankees are paying Burnett $80 million, what do you figure they will offer Lee, raising the ante for the Rangers, and it was 30 years ago that Ryan sought to become the first $1 million a year pitcher only to have the late Buzzie Bavasi, then the Angels general manager, allow him to leave as a free agent in what Bavasi would call the biggest mistake of his career. Now free agent salaries have grown to numbing heights for both pitchers and position players, and it is Ryan--in a case of what goes around comes around--who will have to decide how much financial Lee-way he has.                

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, but...


    By Ross Newhan

    With apologies to the late, great Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me but...

    --The Steinbrenner brothers had to be seeing dollar signs every time potential free agent Cliff Lee threw a pitch against their Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS. I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher carve up a quality lineup in the way that the Texas southpaw did. The Yankees may not be Murderer's Row, but they did lead the majors in runs this year...

    --I like the work of TBS analysts Ron Darling and John Smoltz and have long thought that Darling is one of the most insightful in the business. Too bad they aren't doing the World Series...

    --It's too bad as well that Magic Johnson probably won't make enough from his percentage sale of the Lakers to buy the Dodgers, but he should expect a call from Frank McCourt. One more loan source for the strapped Dodger owner except that Magic is likely on the verge of purchasing the Detroit Pistons...

    --Wacky Nevada Senatorial candidate Sharon Angle's running an ad advising Hispanics not to vote on Nov. 2 has to be the lowest of the low, although there's plenty to choose from, such as ("I am not a witch") Christine O'Donnell, maybe even the wackier Delaware Senatorial candidate, asking her debate opponent just where does the Constituion cite separation of church and state. Perhaps she just hadn't gotten to the first amendment yet...

    --Longtime Giant telecaster Duane Kuiper calls his team's lineup Torture Inc., given their struggle to score runs and frequency with which they play games decided by one run. A 2010 awakening by Pablo Sandoval would have helped correct that, but it may be far too late given that the slumping Panda has been swinging the equivalent of bamboo since the start of the season and the Giants have been starting just about everyone else since the postseason began...  

   --Anyone who thinks that Cody Ross emerged from a post-season gopher hole somewhere hasn't been paying attention. Ross had 24 homers and 90 RBI with Florida last year and 22/73 the year before. He went on August waivers when the Marlins brought up a truckload of prospects, and the Giants shrewdly claimed him so that division leading San Diego wouldn't, just one of several key second half moves by GM Brian Sabean...

   --I had seen him several times in Anaheim this season so I haven't been surprised by his post-season play, but no one is making a bigger name for himself on the national stage--with apologies to Ross--than Texas shortstop and leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus. He has 14 post-season hits, seven with two strikes. He is a Gold Glove caliber defender who made the key defensive play in the Game 4 victory against the Yankees, and, having stolen 32 bases during the regular season, he forces New York pitchers to split their attention when he is on base...

     --So, Fredi Gonzalez and Eric Wedge are each getting a second managerial opportunity with Atlanta and Seattle. Decent choices, but I like that Florida is apparentlly going to give Bo Porter, who has definitely put in his time and was on the Arizona coaching staff this year, his first managerial shot in the majors, and I like that another lifer, Mike Quade, who has managed more then 2,300 minor league games, is getting the Cubs job when it would have been easy for new owner Tom Ricketts to pick a bigger name, including that of Ryne Sandberg or Joe Girardi, who the Yankees have not signed beyond this year. After Lou Piniella stepped down, only the Phillies had a better record than the Cubs under the interim Quade...

    --It's easy to say now, but I think Girardi made a mistake not starting C.C. Sabathia on three days rest with his team down a game, especially since A.J. Burnett had pitched so infrequently recently and so poorly when he did. I don't think Girardi is in trouble, but Hank Steinbrenner has a lot of his father in him, and the Rangers are handing it to the Yankees, looking like a far better team. The Rangers would have already won the AL title except for one inning in Arlington, and Joe Torre, among others, would say nothing surprises him in the Bronx...

    --I wouldn't get excited by the Dodgers re-signing Ted Lilly to a three year contract. It will still be a surprise if they find enough cash to add the potent bat they desperately need. Given that Carl Crawford is probably headed to the Angels or Yankees, the Dodgers could do worse than return Adrian Beltre to third base, although it would mean swallowing the $6.50 million Casey Blake has remaining through 2011 and a 2012 buyout (besides meeting Beltre's demands), so that's probably more than McCourt can digest....

    --Besides, wouldn't the Angels love to put Beltre at third and Crawford in left, adding power and speed and filling two key positions, with a healthy Kendry Morales filling another as he returns to first base...

    --I can't think of a more personable and popular former player than Dave Roberts, who is confident he has won a bout with Hodgkins Lymphoma and will coach first base for the Padres next season, potentially enhancing the San Diego running game...   

       

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pitching Dominance--and the Ongoing Exodus Under the McCourts



      By Ross Newhan

     I have to admit that the spellbinding rescue of the Chilean miners cut into my viewing of the decisive game in the Texas-Tampa Bay AL division series in which Cliff Lee of the Rangers proved spellbinding to the Rays hitters.

    Lee's masterful performance, following Roy Halladay's no hitter (his second and MLB's sixth of the year) and Tim Lincecum's 14 strikeout shutout of Atlanta--not to overlook masterful performances by Cole Hamils, C.C. Sabathia, C.J. Wilson and Phil Hughes--have served to underscore the continuing dominance of pitching in 2010.

    Consider:

    --Runs in 2010 were down a whopping 1,111 from 2009 and home runs were down 429.

    --The overall earned-run average dropped from 4.32 to 4.08.

   The emhasis on the drafting and force feeding of young flame-throwers, the obvious impact of steroid testing (although there is still no viable major league test for human growth hormone) and the departure of a fleet of steroid era power hitters have all affected the reduction in offense.

   I like it. Baseball has returned to its roots. Pitching, speed and defense are more critical than ever.

   Excuse me if I sound like a fan, but I can't wait for Saturday's Lincecum-Halladay opener of the National League's Championship Series, although the events in Chile put even the post-season in perspective.

     Fleeing the McCourts
 
     It started from Frank and Jamie's first day of Dodger ownership and it has continued--the loss of quality people through firing or resignation, with most of those people quickly moving into quality jobs that served to make the McCourts look foolish

     Most recently, Frank fired club president Dennis Mannion, prompting the executive of another major league club to say, "I don't get it. Dennis had become repected throughout baseball. He gave the Dodgers a positive face."

     Now we're back to the negative face of McCourt as club president.

    Mannion, who tried to give general manager Ned Colletti as much operating room as possible while the McCourt's go through their financially strapping divorce, was guaranted a buyout, which would evaporate if he commented.

     Most people close to the club believe the firing resulted from the fact that McCourt didn't want to pay Mannion's $1 million salary and was tired of the hits he was taking during coverage of the court trial regarding his divorce for operating out of a Beverly Hills office instead of Dodger Stadium.

    Now, he is returning to a Dodger Stadium office with even closer control of the financial reins.

   Of course, Jamie could win the court case and Frank might have to sell, which might create an impromptu celebration in Los Angeles.

   In the meantime, here's just a small sampling of the quality people who have left or were forced to leave and the quality jobs for which they were hired or created--and we won't even get into the general managers or managers like Jim Tracy, who had a brief tenure with the hapless Pirates before becoming a manager of the year in Colorado, or Paul DePodesta, who is an Executive Vice President with San Diego, or Dan Evans, who formed West Coast Sports Management, of which he is President and CEO..

   The McCourts inherited Bob Graziano, who was club president, and Derrick Hall, who was senior VP of  communication.

   Now, Graziano is a managing partner with Northern Trust, a nationally respected  investment company, and Hall is President and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

   There was Marty Greenspun, who left the Yankees to become Dodger president and then fled back to the Yankees as Senior Vice President, Strategic Ventures, and ticketing executive Debra Duncan, now ticketing director at USC, and Chief Financial Officer Cris Hurley, now Senior Vice President of Finance with the NBA, and Erikk Aldridge, who was Director of Community Affairs with the Dodgers and is now Executive Director with the Boys & Girls Club in Venice.

   How about the series of publicity and public relations people that Frank or Jamie eventually found fault with like Dr. Charles Steinberg, who is now a right hand man with Commissioner Bud Selig, or Lon Rosen, who is Executive Vice President with Blue Entertainment Sports Network, or Lon Rosenberg, who is Senior Vice President of Operations for the Washington Redskins, or John Olguin, who is VP of communication with Chip Ganassi Racing, or Gary Miereanu, who does publicity for Disney, Warner's and Sony, or Shaun Rachau, who is vice president of communication with the Diamondbacks, or Camille Johnston, who is merely Michele Obama's communications directior.

    Camille was a vice president of communications with the Dodgers when the McCourts hired Steinberg for essentially the same position, prompting her departure.

    Now she works in the West Wing of the White House for ostensibly the most popular person in the administration and has no reason to look back. Why would anyone who has worked for the McCourts look back? After all, they are already having the last laugh.

    STING-LESS RAYS

    Watching Tama Bay against Texas it is difficult to believe they finished second in the American League in runs, averaging almost five per game. The Rays have won the beastly East two of the last three years, though there is a theory they were set up this year by the Yankees, who didn't care about entering the playoffs as the wild card if it meant they would play Minnesota in the division series, a team they have dominated on an almost annual basis every October.

    Yankee manager Joe Girardi scoffs at the conspiracy theorists, but both the Yankees and Rays had a playoff berth locked up early and neither team tore it up during the final couple weeks, a lethargy that the Rays failed to shake against the Rangers.

    Now the Rays face the loss of three key players to free agency:: Outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena and closer Rafael Soriano.

    Crawford and Soriano will be widely pursued, but Pena's market value has continued to slip from his 2007 high of 46 homers, 121 RBI and .282 average. This year, he hit .196 with 28 homers and 84 RBI. Steroids--or the absence of them? Many scouts believe he has simply become frustrated by the right-side overload that most teams use against the left handed hitter and he has shown no ability to adjust and take pitches to the opposite field in left. Pena is still a threat, but at .196, with a drop of 18 homers and 37 RBI  since 2007, there is wide spread skepticism in the market, although he was 4 for 14 with a home run against Texas. Many teammates did worse.                                 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Clearly, More Replay Is Needed


       By David Newhan


      I know hindsight is 20/20. I had the overwhelming urge to post another article on the use of instant replay for the playoffs before they started but I held back. My thought was that I was just beating up on the umps too much.

     Well, that is not the case. The ultimate goal is to help them by giving them every tool and piece of technology available to relieve some of the pressure on them and to get the call right.

     The fans deserve it, the players deserve it, the owners deserve it, and the umpires deserve it.

     Once again, however, our commissioner, Bud Selig, has failed us and the game by becoming retroactive instead of proactive.

     Guaranteed, he will put a system in for next year that goes beyond deciding if home runs were fair or foul or if there was fan interference on a potential home run.

     The problem is, he had plenty of evidence and time to implement an expanded use of replay for the 2010 season and its playoffs.

    Enough already! There is far too much at stake and the right technologies are available now to help the umpires.
 
   Unfortunately, Thursday's games provided more examples for why these playoffs needed an expanded replay review.

   Some type of system in which managers can challenge decisions, as in the NFL, must be implemented.

  All three games on the playoff docket were radically affected by a close call. In unprecedented manner, two managers were ejected from playoff games in one day….and a third, Bobby Cox (who ironically was the last manager to be tossed from a playoff game five years ago and has been ejected from more games than any manager in history) could or should have been if he'd had a better angle at a stolen base call that was proved wrong by replay.

  Game 2 of the Rangers vs. Rays ALDS saw Tampa manager Joe Maddon argue a check swing by the Rangers' Michael Young. Jerry Meals, umpiring first base, ruled that Young held up his swing on a close 2-2 pitch from Chad Qualls. On the next pitch, Young tagged Qualls for a home run to dead center. This chain of events drastically changed the make up of the game and the series. A 2-0 Ranger lead was now 5-0!

  When Maddon went to the mound he argued heatedly with home plate ump Jim Wolf. Wolf, protecting his partner Meals and with no other choice in the matter, ejected Maddon.

  Replays cleary showed that Young had indeed gone too far on his checked swing.

  Indeed, the true result should have been a strike out, leaving Qualls with still two on but two out and a great chance to get out of the inning and stay close enough to make a comeback relevant.

  Exhibit 2 came in Game 2, Yankees and Twins. Minnesota down 1-0 in games. Seventh inning of a 2-2 game with one on, Lance Berkman takes a close two strike pitch. Well, replays show it to be a little too close. MLB.com’s pitch-fix showed it to be a perfect pitch on the inside corner. Steeeerrrrikkkke three. Naked Gun moonwalk, batter out! Oooops, sorry, ball. Next pitch, Berkman doubles and Jorge Posada rolls around the bags to score from first. Twins now down 3-2 and pitcher Carl Pavano plainly upset on the mound. Manager Ron Gardenhire goes to the mound and lets plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt know what he thought of the previous pitch. Of course, Gardy gets run by an umpire with whom he has a heated history. Another game changing, series changing, chain of events.

  Case 3, game three of the day, Giants vs. Braves playoff opener. Buster Posey on first base decides to push the issue in a scoreless game by trying  to steal second. He takes off and is ruled safe by second base ump Paul Emmel. Tough call, high tag, close play. Upon review, he is out. Of course, the next batter, Cody Ross, singles and drives in what turns out to be the only run of the game. Tim Lincecum’s spectacular two hit shut out holds up and the Giants hold a one game lead in the series.

  I am not saying the Rays, Twins or Braves would have won if it hadn’t been for these calls. My point is that the calls changed the entire complexion and way in which the remainder of the game was played. I am not trying to belittle these umpires. I am not trying to say that their job is easy. Quite the opposite. It is obvious that these are close games and bang-bang type calls. The camera angles are there. The technologies are available. Let's utilize them and not make a mockery of the game.

   Players and organizations invest way too much for baseball to blow off the importance of trying to get every possible call right. No one is removing the human element. It's just a matter of getting it right!

   As I stated at the top, we've had enough time to implement a working system. The Commish has dropped the ball. Again, he is retroactive in his approach. Selig could have made progress on this issue and, pardon the pun, helped nip it in the Bud.

  But, no, we will have to wait for him and his special committee reviewing changes and enhancements to the game to make adjustments in the off season.

 Already, the players union wants to meet with the umpires. Players are not trying to show the umps up, and the umps want to get it right. Why not give both sides the tools to help? Take the pressure off the umpires and allow them to use replay. Too many instances have already occurred (last years playoff's, this year's, the Galarraga perfect game bid, etc.). The communication has broken down between the two sides. Help them restore the relationship by implementing some type of expanded replay system. Selig is a patient consensus builder who has helped bring in many changes that have enhanced the game's revenue and popularity, but he  has sat back too long on this issue, ignoring the obvious need for change. On replay, he needs to take the lead.

Monday, October 4, 2010

And the Newy Awards go to....

     By David and Ross Newhan


      Well, we made it: 162 games in the book and a breath away from needing 163 and 164 to decide the total post-season field. The playoffs begin Wednesday and we will soon find ourselves amid the drama that is October (and thanks to our good friends at TBS and FOX) November baseball.

     So, who are the winners and other candidates for all the major awards?

     For the most part, father and son find themselves in unusual agreement, which may be news in itself.

     We'll call these the Newy Awards, and here are our selections:.

                                             NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP

     David: 1. Joey Votto, Reds; 2. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; 3. Albert Pujols, Cardinals. It's always an issue as to whether the MVP goes to the best player in the league or the player who has been his team's most valuable player or pitcher. I feel like the Silver Slugger Award represents the best season at each position while the MVP represents the player most involved in helping his team get to the playoffs, consistently the most valuable. Votto, CarGo and Pujols are the top tier for me. All three dominate the offensive leader boards in virtually every category. Votto gets the edge by leading the league in both on base and slugging percentage Furthermore, his team made the playoffs and he consistently delivered the big hits. I also belieive that San Diego closer Heath Bell should be somewhere in the mix because the Padres are not even close to winning the division without him. Usually, I am against a pitcher being considered for this but I think his 47 saves (34 in a row) with a 6-1 record and 1.93 earned-run average put him somewhere in the top five.

    Ross: 1. Votto; 2. Gonzalez; 3. Pujols. Father and son are on the same page for the same reasons. I also agree that Heath Bell has to receive consideration, and I would add that the top three are pretty much the best players in the league, besides being the most valuable. This year, it's hard to separate the criteria, as it already is with Pujols and will be in the future with the Colorado outfielder known as CarGo. This kid is just getting started.

                                                           AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP

   David: 1. Josh Hamilton, Rangers; 2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; 3. Robinson Cano, Yankees. Hamilton edges out Cabrera based on his supporting cast helping him get to the playoffs, as well as his 30 point advantage in average. The other defining factor goes to his contributions on the defensive side of the field in which Hamilton clearly brings more to the table. Cano is a victim of his peers. Too many good players around him in the Yankee lineup to say that he is the MVP. Great season though by a player on the vege of greatness. I would love to have given the award to Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria if his numbers were only slightly better. Who doesn’t remember him jumping teammate Upton’s rear earlier this year for loafing it, the kind of thing an MVP does.

     Ross: 1. Hamilton; 2. Cabrera; 3. Cano. Again, we agree. Cabrera had a great statistical year, but so did Hamilton, who might have won the Triple Crown if he hadn't missed most of September with broken ribs. His absence during a period when the Rangers weren't the same team without him underscored his value. In the meantime, where does Jose Bautista with his 54 home runs and 124 runs batted in fit in? Was he the best player in the league based on those numbers or do they raise too many questions regarding his sudden power and productivity? Is he simply the victim of an era still fresh in our minds?

                                                           NL CY YOUNG

    David: 1. Roy Halladay, Phillies; 2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; 3. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies. Did anyone think that a pitcher not named Jimenez could win this award after the month of May? Halladay and Wainwright, however, had the better overall years when it was all done, and Halladay edges Wainwright, in my thinking, by one win, 15 more innings, six more strikeous, and four more complete games with virtually identical ERAs. Both pitchers are true number ones, aces of not only their respective staffs but consistently among the best in baseball. Side note on comeback player of the year: Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs goes 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in 11 starts after a return from anger management courses and how about the Phillies' Roy Oswalt, the former Astro who made the most of his change in venue.

   Ross: 1. Halladay; 2. Wainwright; 3. Jimenez. Again we agree. I just wonder if Jimenez wouldn't have been able to maintain his first half form in the second half if Colorado manager Jim Tracy hadn't asked him to throw 120 pitches so often so early.

                                                       AL CY YOUNG

    David:  1. David Price, Rays; 2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners; 3. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees. Price takes the Cy because of the ineptitude of the Mariner offense to perform. King Felix dominated every statistical category except wins and losses. He led the league in quality starts, ERA,, innings and was within one strike out of  that crown. That being said, he was 13-12. I find it hard to give the award to someone with that record. I don’t know, maybe one game above .500 is pretty awesome considering his team was 40 games below .500 with the league's worst offense. Price wins by going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA, making many of his starts in MLB’s toughest division, leading his low price team to a second division title in the last three years, edging Sabathia in my mind.

    Ross: 1. Hernandez; 2. Price; 3. Sabathia. I have the same top three, but I give the award to Hernandez for the same reasons my son opted not to....he led the league in virtually every statistical category despite a 13-12 record with the worst offensive team in the league.

                                                        NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

    David: 1, Buster Posey, Giants; 2. Jason Heyward, Braves; 3. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins. In a packed and talented NL rookie crop, Posey gets the nod over Heyward even though Posey was a late call up. Posey solidified the Giants lineup, hitting fourth, terrorizing pitching staffs in August and ending the year with a .305 average, 18 homers and 67 RBI despite his late start.

    Ross:  1. Posey; 2. Heyward; 3. Sanchez. The Giants made several important acquisitions before and after the start of the season but none more important than the call up of Posey, who fit into the middle of the lineup like a glove, no pun intended.

                                                         AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

   David: 1. Neftali Feliz, Rangers; 2. Austin Jackson, Tigers; 3. John Jaso, Rays. Both Feliz and Jackson are deserving. Jackson played solidly on offense and defense. He scored over 100 runs, stole over 20 bases and hit close to .300. Feliz is my choice on the basis of his 40 saves for a division winner, a rookie closer helping lead the Rangers to their first playoff berth in 11 years.

   Ross:  1. Feliz; 2. Jackson. It comes down to a choice between Feliz and Jackson in my mind as well, and while I would normally lean toward the every day player, I think a rookie closer who saves 40 games for a division winner deserves the nod.

                                                            NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

    David:  1. Bud Black, Padres; 2. Dusty Baker, Reds; 3. Bobby Cox, Braves; 4. Charlie Manuel, Phillies. OK, I know it’s a little bit of a cop out but I do think it is a toss up, with either Black or Baker deservedly winning. I live in San Diego county so I listed Black first, but if you live in Ohio, Baker is probably your choice. I do know that no one picked the Padres while many saw the talent that the Reds had and expected them to be in a Central dogfight with St. Louis, although maybe not supplanting the Cardinals. Bobby Cox is back in the playoffs for one last dance and will always be known for his 14 straight division titles and being a player's manager. I think Manuel did a great job keeping the Phils on track despite a multitude of injuries and has that team favored to get back to the World Series.

    Ross:  1. Black; 2. Baker; 3. tie between Cox and Bruce Bochy, Giants.. The fact that the Padres failed to reach the playoffs should not diminish the job Black did in leading a team with the league's next to lowest payroll and worst offense to the 162nd and final game of the season before being eliminated.

                                                               AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR  


      David:  1. Ron Gardenhire, Twins; 2. Ron Washington, Rangers; 3. Joe Maddon, Rays. Gardenhire kept the Twins rolling to the Central title. Despite financial restraints and a changing cast they win year in and year out and it is largely due to his leadership. Washington is a close second, directing the Rangers to their first title in 11 years after winning the respect of his players in the spring by publicly admitting he had used cocaine. Maddon led the Rays to baseball's toughest divisional title. Players love the atmosphere he creates, and the financially restricted Rays are now a yearly contender under his watch. It may get overlooked but another big job was done by Buck Showalter after his mid-season hire by the Orioles, who finished 10 games over .500 in his short tenure.

    Ross:   1. Washington; 2. Gardenhire; 3. Maddon. I just feel that Washington had a little bit more to overcome than Gardenhire, although it's a toss up. The Twins know how to win. Washington had to convince the Rangers that they could amid injuries and a lengthy court fight over a change in ownership. Year in and year out, however, the Twins set a standard for small market clubs in the art of contending and often winning, and they could be a playoff sleeper with the support of capacity crowds in their new ballpark.

    And so go the Newy Awards.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ichiro and Bautista--History in Different Forms?

     By Ross Newhan

     Two impressive offensive accomplishments have been somewhat glazed over amid the last shadows of the pennant races.

     In the case of the one accomplishment--Ichiro Suzuki's 10th straight season (in his first 10 major league seasons) of 200 or more hits--the word impressive doesn't do it justice. It is a remarkable stretch of hitting that stands alone in all of baseball history and will put Ichiro in the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, although he is certain to keep playing given his durability and success.

    In the case of the second accomplishment--Toronto third baseman Jose Bautista becoming only the 26th player to hit 50 home runs in a season--he and all of us are still caught in the cynical tentacles of the steroid era, meaning that, unfortunate as it may be, he is having to cope with the question of how did a player who hit 13 home runs last year and never more than 16 in six previous seasons suddenly hit 52 through Friday.

    Bautista is a solid and respected baseball citizen of whom his manager, Cito Gaston, has characterized as one of the hardest workers and most coachable players on his team and "when you have those traits going for you, well, you have the chance to get better, and that's what has happened in Jose's case."

   Unfortunately, however, he finds himself painted into the same corner as Brady Anderson and Luis  Gonzalez. Anderson hit 50 home runs for Baltimore in 1996, although he never hit more than 24 in any of his other 14 seasons, and Gonzalez hit 57 for Arizona in 2001, although he never hit more than 31 in any of his other 18 seasons.

    Bautista has said he understands the questions being raised "because of what has happened in the past," but he adds that baseball now has the "strictest testing program" in sports and he has never tested positive for a performance enhancing substance. However, baseball still does not test for human growth hormone at the major league level, so the questions and cynicisms linger.

    In the context of analysis and historical knowledge there is no one I respect more than Tim Kurkjian, a former newspaper colleague and now an analyst for ESPN.

   "As you know," Kurkjian said by phone, "in baseball guys can get really good or really bad almost overnight for no apparent reason. All indications are that Bautista has had a career year cleanly and in the right way.

  "Unfortunately, we are still so close to the steroid era that he gets lumped in with all those other guys. I mean, we are still so close to that era and there are still so many gaps in the testing program, that 20 years from now there may be new designer drugs that will be forcing us to ask the same questions Bautista is facing."

   For Ichiro, amid a disasterous Seattle season (with apologies to King Felix Hernandez), it has been business as usual, the 200 hits rolling or lining off his bat as he swings it on his way to first base, almost a step out of the batter's box and seemingly not having lost any of his quickness since his U.S. arrival in 2001, when he led the American League with 242 hits and a .350 batting average, a prelude to 2004, when he again led the league with 262 hits and a .372 average.

   "What Ichiro has done in the context of 200 hit seasons is unbelievable," Kurkjian said. "Consider this: During his streak of 10 straight years, nine teams have failed to have even one player get 200 hits."

   The only other player in major league history to get 200 hits in 10 seasons was Pete Rose, and he did it over a stretch of 15 seasons during his 24 year career. The only American League player to get 200 hits in as many as nine seasons was Ty Cobb, and he needed a stretch of 18 seasons during a 24 year career.

    "We think of guys like Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs as being pretty phenomenal," Kurkjian said, "but they never did what Ichiro has done."

    Soon to be 37, it is not a stretch to believe that Ichiro would be on his way toward Rose's all-time hits record if he had duplicated his scorching seasons in Japan between the ages of 20 to 26: .385, .342, .356, .345, .358, .343 and ..387. As it is, he already has over 2,200 hits in the major leagues, and if he matches the 1,290 hits Rose had after 36, he would eclipse the 3,500 that has been achieved only by Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Cobb and Rose.

   Almost always batting leadoff for the Mariners, it is mystifying why Ichiro has sometimes drawn criticism for being a selfish player who thinks only of getting his hits and not driving in runs, as if more than 200 hits a season, every season, is not contribution enough for a leadoff hitter who is also expected to win his 10th straight Gold Glove for fielding excellence this year. Among major league outfielders, Ichiro still has one of baseball's strongest throwing arms, if not the strongest.

     His has been another season of historic proportion.

     For Bautista, history comes with a question mark, the way it is now and will continue to be for any player soaring over 50 homers who has never been in that neighborhood before.      

  

   

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Would a BatGlove Prevent the Bad Breaks?



      By Ross Newhan

      Separated by 34.years, Steve Yeager, the Dodger catcher then, and Terry Colvin, now the Chicago Cubs rookie outfielder, were struck by broken bats and suffered pointed injuries that were almost tragedies.

      It's possible that a new product called a BatGlove would have prevented both incidents.

     So far, however, a bat manufacturer is arguing against its employment and Major League Baseball is pursuing a broader study than the positive results produced by the BatGlove on the 10 bats tested at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell laboratory.

     Meanwhile, Yeager often has flashbacks and is fearful of what may transpire at some point.
       
    "It's going to happen," he said by phone. "A fan, player or coach is going to be killed the way bats are breaking. I still get frightened when I see it happen.

     "In my era it seemed like the wood was heavier and bats simply broke in two. Now it's as if someone is cutting them down the middle with an electric saw the way they shatter.

     "Maybe pitchers are throwing with more movement and the bat handles are thinner."

     Yeager used an ash bat as most players did until the last two decades. Now players are using predominantly maple bats, a trend that started in the 90s when some players thought of maple as the steroid of woods. That trend has become virtually universal because there is a shortage of ash.

     Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor, never thought he would have to become an expert in forestry.

     "To start with," he said, "the use of maple bats was player driven. Now, we might have to shut down if we banned maple."

     A bore beetle has impacted large areas of the nation's forests, Manfred said, affecting the ability of bat manufacturers to get high quality ash over an extended period.

     In the meantime, he said, the joint MLB-Players Union committee on health and safety has initiated "significant" quality control issues dealing with the quality of grain being used in bats, minimum handle size and maximum barrel size. In 2009, he said, the incidents of multi piece breakage was reduced by 35%, and this year it is down 15%, "I would say that 50% over two years is significant, and I'm sure we will work on it jointly again during the coming off season," Manfred said.

    Still, bats are flying.

    Colvin was leading off third base in last Sunday's game in Miami when teammate Welington Castillo, using a maple bat, hit a drive down the left field line for a ground rule double. Colvin initially watched the flight of the ball, and when he turned to trot home, he was stuck on the left side of his chest with the top half of the bat. He was able to score the run, but he was quickly hospitalized with a puncture wound that has ended his season and forced use of a chest tube to prevent his lung from collapsing. He is expected to be healthy for next season.

    Yeager was in the on deck circle in a 1976 game at San Diego Stadium that I covered for the Los Angeles Times. I can still see the harrowing flight of Bill Russell's broken bat twirling ominously in Yeager's direction. Like Colvin, Yeager saw the ball leave Russell's bat, bent over to knock the iron doughnut from the end of his bat, took a step towards the plate and was hit in the throat by the jagged top half of the broken bat. He was knocked to the ground and immediately taken to a hospital, where nine splinters were removed from his esophagus and a doctor told him he was lucky. Splinters were millimeters from puncturing his jugular vein. Yeager missed about two weeks before returning to action.

   Meanwhile, Steve Rauso, who designed the BatGlove along with is brother, Phil, said the tests have proven the effectiveness of the clear plastic wrap that can be applied to a bat for only $5.

   "Maybe it's not the end all product," Steve Rauso said from his Arizona home, "but in the meantime it could save a kid's life, a player's life. What's the price on that?" 

    Tests showed that the wrap, stretching from just above the handle to the lower end of the label, prevented any bat broken in that area from flying apart. The wrap also does not impact the performance of the ball on the bat, Rauso said. However, a major league official said the testing continues and that there is concern, among bat manufacturers and MLB about a process called "hitching" in which the broken top half of the bat, contained by the plastic wrap, would snap back and injure the catcher, umpire or batter.

    "There's simply a need for more testing," the official said.
    Yeager's injury led to the creation of an important safety product for catchers. Bill Buhler, the late Dodger trainer. created a leather piece to hang from the mask, preventing Yeager from getting hit by foul tips on his stitched throat and is now universally used by catchers.

    About 20 years later, driving home from his job as a coach with the Dodgers' San Bernardino farm team,  Yeager's car was totalled in an accident that was not his fault and he required 300 stitches from shoulder to wrist.

    "I just hope that the saying about a cat having nine lives is right," he said. "I've already used two of mine."