Monday, June 28, 2010

Just Another No-Hitter


      By Ross Newhan

      It was almost as if Edwin Jackson's Friday night no hitter--one of the wildest ever (eight walks and 149 pitches)--was lost amid the brief wave of World Cup patriotism and the usual crush of weekend results.


      Get real!

      Four no-hitters before the All-Star break, two of them perfect games and what would have been a third perfect game in the span of a month lost on an admittedly incorrect umpire's call?

      I have blogged (in this strange new journalistic era is that really a verb?) already this season about how a crush of outstanding young pitchers and baseball's willingness to move them from college or high school to the majors without a lot of post-graduate work in the minors was lighting up speed guns, blowing away hitters and allowing the industry to continue to escape the dark era of steroid abuse, although that comes with some caveats.

       Starting with the four no-hitters, two perfect games, a Monday total of 22 pitchers with an earned-run average under 3.00 and the fact that 12 other pitchers have taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning before losing it this season and the overall numbers have become pretty amazing, supporting at least a conservative conclusion that in the wake of the bloated Bondsian era, the game has evened out quite a bit, becoming, if anything, more Strasburgian.

        With the help of STATS LLC, MLB and a couple other statistical sources, consider some of the numbers through Sunday.

         --The strikeout rate of 7.02 by the pitchers is the highest since the lowering of the mound in 1969, and that total of 22 pitchers with an ERA under 3.00, should it hold through the end of the season, would be the most since 1991.

         --Teams are combing for an average of 8.92 runs a game and 1.84 homers a game, the lowest totals since 1991 and 1993 respectively, and an eye opening drop from the 10.2 and 2.24 pharmacological highs of a six year span beginning in the Home Run Derby year of 1998.

       --The pitchers' overall ERA of 4.17 is the lowest since 1992, and the hitters' slugging percentage of .406 marks the first time it has been less than .415 since 1993.

       What is happening?

       The knee jerk inclination is to credit baseball's crackdown on steroids and amphetamines, and while that is certainly a contributing factor, don't forget that pitchers were also amping and muscling up during the heart of that era, and, in addition, baseball still doesn't test for human growth hormone. As Manny Ramirez proved last year, it would be naive to think that the industry is totally free of performance enhancing drug use.

      Nevertheless, the overall testing program has helped, at least, to even the field, and so has MLB's Big Brother and computerized attention in rating how umpires call the rulebook strike zone, as well as how some of the new parks--particularly the Twins', Mets' and Tigers'--were constructed with a degree of attention to the previously beleagured pitchers.

      As hitters swing and miss at the highest rate since STATS began charting in 1988, my own feeling, going back to what I have written before in regard to this sudden pitching dominance, is that the majority of teams, having always emphasized the development of pitching, are now less nervous about using the best of their young guns after only a year or two (and in some cases less than that) in the minors, particularly with pitchers  pouring out of college ready for quick advancement, the 21 year old Stephen Strasburg being the latest, brightest and most impressive example.

     Check Monday's ERA leaders.

     In the National League, 10 of the top 15 ERA leaders among starters were 26 or younger, while eight of the top 15 in the American League were 26 or younger.

    Jered Weaver of the Angels, the major league leader in strike outs, is 27.

     Edwin Jackson, baseball's latest no-hit pitcher , is 26 and was once thought to be a potential ace in the Dodgers rotation. He made his debut with Los Angeles in 2003, but has since been traded to Tampa Bay, to Detroit, and is now with Arizona. The major league record for no hitters in a season is seven, set in 1990. Jackson threw his against one of his former teams, the Rays, who got a staggering 149 pitches on which to try and stop it but failed. The Rays are a championship caliber team with a solid hitting lineup but have been the inexplicable victim of a no-hitter three times in the last two years.

    Don't ask them about this new pitching dominance. They are somewhat sensitive.                                 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Getting Around

   By Ross Newhan

   This is what I hear, think and know:

                                            Frank McCourt

              His mega divorce aside, the Dodger owner's debt obligations have Commissioner Bud Selig so concerned that he is investigating and talking to potential L.A. investors with the possible resources to buy the club.

                                             The Real L.A. Team 

              Being 0-5 to the L.A. Angels of Anaheim has to gall McCourt more than Jamie's support payments or those Angel billboards in the heart of L.A. and Beverly Hills. Of course, we'll find out even more about McCourt's financial situation as the July 30 trade deadline nears and the price in dollars and prospects mount for a prospective and needed ace of the Cliff Lee, Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt stature. If Randy Wolf  cost too much...          

                         Stephen Strasburg

              A handful of starts qualify him for the All-Star Game? Nonsense. The rosters are already diluted enough at 33 players. Strasburg will be an All-Star in the future, but not after a month in the big leagues. Of course, it IS just an exhibition--sort of. Over-reaction to the 2002 tie gives home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league, as if that's on every player's mind as they race to catch planes as soon as they are out of the game.

                                      Fredi Gonzalez

             Florida owner Jeffrey Loria fires Joe Girardi in a year in which he's the National League's Manager of the Year, and now he fires Gonzalez with the Marlins only two games under .500, having won three of the last four games and a definite NL East or wild card contender despite a payroll that had been so low that only official complaints from the Players Assn. forced the owner to invest more. Well, thank you. Girardi takes the Yankees to a World Series title, Gonzalez gets time with his Atlanta based family before succeeding the retiring Bobby Cox as Braves manager and Loria gets to hire pal Bobby Valentine.

                                                      Ego Relief
              If Valentine lands in Florida and Buck Showalter shows his masochistic side by becoming the Baltimore manager there will be a lot more than room at ESPN's analyst table. Buck and Bobby have never been buddies, and the network should be able to save on the air conditioning necessary to cool the tension.         

                          Bad Break but Good Humor

              So Brooke, my seven year old grand daughter, thinking she's a Flying Wallenda, flips off a playground bar, fractures an elbow, needs surgery at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego and wakes up Thursday morning saying she is so hungry that she asks her mom if she can order "room service." I kid you not. She's been around, and it's the first time anyone has asked for hospital food.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Thank you Manny For Being Manny

    By David Newhan        

    Tonight, Manny Ramirez returns to the place where he became iconic.

    Manny, donning Dodger blue, will make his first trip back to Boston since leaving in controversy and signing with Los Angeles.

    Now, instead of Red Sox Nation shaking its head over Manny simply being Manny, he has a following known as Mannywood and his blue crew is tied for first place in the National League West as it inhabits the historic grounds of Fenway Paahrk.

    The Red Sox have been slowly but now surely building momentum and keeping pace in the division known as the AL Beast, and with the Tampa Bay Rays scuffling and the New York Yankees failing to dominate as they attempt to repeat their World Series title, Boston is only two games back starting a series that promises to be an interesting showdown of east vs. west, NL vs. AL, and maybe even a taste of a future World Series match up.

     But, yet again, Manny will take center stage and all of the attention will focus on his return and the reaction he will receive from the Fenway faithful.

    Manny has always been something of an enigma. For those who watch from the outside looking in, he tends to have an "I don’t care attitude" that I don't buy into for a second. I think this guy is "dumb like a fox".

   Manny will have you believe at times that he doesn’t care or that he is lazy. He’ll even wear his uniform so baggy that you might think he is out of shape. He isn’t fooling me--now or when I was on the same field with him as an opposing major league player.

   He might show up late to the stadium for a night game. but no one informs you that he was already up and in the batting cage that morning, honing his craft and working on his swing.

   Then, of course, he returned home for a little siesta, and when everyone else is at the stadium and the media are circling the clubhouse, the view is that he has shown up late again, hasn't done his work.

   I remember Kevin Millar, a Baltimore teammate, telling me that on the road he would be heading out to get lunch and he would pass Manny on the street just getting back from breakfast and a pilates workout or weight training. As I said, dumb like a fox. The guy worked hard. How else do you become a generational type hitter, and how many times, with all the headlines, with all the negativity, was he left off the Boston lineup card until the Red Sox had no recourse except to let him go?

    Manny, of course, was accused of quitting on his teammates and eventually linked with steroids. Those are probably the two worst accusations a player can be accused of--the former maybe more so than the latter. For me as a player, the ultimate compliment I could receive was that I was a good teammate. Over the course of a long, long season, you show up and battle it out every day. If I had a fellow teammate call me out and question my toughness or will to compete it would sting me to the core. When Manny went on the disabled list after the "Yankee Massacre," the five game series sweep in Boston, it surely irked a number of his teammates who questioned his injury and heart. Sure, the flip flop in the standings was significant, but at that point there were still a lot of games to be played and the division had yet to be decided. I know that I’ve had more than my share of time on the DL, and if you are hurt you are hurt. I also can’t say what Manny was feeling. I just have to believe he was feeling what he was feeling. However, the rumblings from that clubhouse were that he had shut it down and turned the switch off.

    Ultimately, as a Dodger, when the Red Sox had finally turned a corner and decided to go on without him or his idiosyncrasies,  he was linked to a steroid scandal.

    Last season he served a 50 game suspension for taking a female fertility drug that is banned and masks steroid use. He was also in a steroid triangle involving a Boston bat boy and Manny Alexander back in 2000, and Ramirez is rumored to have tested positive in 2003 in the Mitchell report. Obviously, turmoil followed him throughout his career. We haven’t even discussed his brief potty breaks in the green monster during pitching changes, frequent trade requests or his mp3 in his ear hidden by Oakley sunglasses while playing defense. Certainly, Manny was surrounded by a ton of controversy, and how much could the Red Sox take?

     All that being said, Manny is a generational type hitter and RBI guy. He is one of the best to step into the right handed batters box. He played his prime years in Boston, and is as clutch as they come when there are "ducks on the pond". Over his eight seasons in a Red Sox uniform he nearly amassed 300 home runs and almost 1,000 rbi while hitting for over a .300 average. He was an integral part of the Sox’ come back in the 2004 ALCS against the "evil empire" Yankees--one of the greatest come backs of all time. He was on two World Series championships while in Boston, 2004 and 2007--the first championships in over a century for Red Sox Nation.

     For these reasons, I predict Boston fans will welcome him back with a standing "O". I’m sure there will be a few boos, but my bet is that he will receive an overwhelming ovation.

     Look at Albuquerque last year. ManRam just served a 50 game suspension and comes back to cheers and all kinds of love in his rehab assignment, followed by a royal return to Mannywood.

    Maybe with it all he has marred his Hall of Fame chances, but does Manny care? He transcends the game and boundaries. People, for the most part, accept his attitude. More so, the results. Manny can hit, and like the marketing campaign from a few years back, "chicks dig the long ball". Manny has come through with rbi’s and championship rings for Fenway’s faithful while providing unquestionable entertainment along the way--on and off the field.

     Of course, maybe I have something personal involved.

      I would like to thank Manny for…..well, you know, being Manny.

       Back in 2004, while I was with the Orioles, Manny helped to provide myself and baseball with one of the most intriguing relay plays in history and a highlight film that has been shown nationally hundreds of times.

      I was battling Pedro Martinez, at the height of his career, and I was down two strikes. At that point I was just trying to stay alive. Pedro tried to backdoor a curve ball. Luckily, my eyes were out over the plate and I was in protect mode. His backdoor curve came in for a strike on the outer half of the plate, never a real good pitch in my opinion when a hitter has to protect. A better pitch is a curve for a ball down in the dirt, trying to get the batter to chase. Anyways, it ended up being a hittable pitch and I barreled it. Deep to center! I thought to myself, go ball go.

     Wow, I just smoked that one and off Pedro Martinez no less.

    Wow, let it out, run. As the ball carried, Johnny Damon made a play for it. Damon jumped high against the center field wall trying for a "web gem". Fortunately, he narrowly missed, and I told myself to keep running! The ball had caromed hard and Damon was chasing after it.

      I can turn it on, and an easy double had turned into a sure triple.

      As I continued to run and was almost to third, my third base coach Tom Treblehorn threw his arm up and frantically waved me home to score. I kept going and continued safely across home plate. I remember seeing teammate Melvin Mora’s face and the dismay all over it. My teammates were all excited and I was wondering what had just happened. After all, I was in full flight and looking only to pick up up my coach at third. I had no idea what had transpired behind my back as I circled the bases.

     Not until after the game did I see the replay and Manny's involvement. Perhaps, in the greatest show of defensive athleticism in his career, he layed out like super man and cut off Damon throw that was intended for relay man Nomar Garciaparra. Then,  in seeming bewilderment, Manny threw it to Nomar, who did his best to get the ball to catcher Jason Varitek, but the attempt was late and futile. I was safe at home with an inside the park home run.

    Never again will you see a play like that, and it lives on in baseball blooper lore, and for that I must thank Manny.

     I certainly, couldn’t have done it without him, and I have to think most Red Sox fans will be thinking this weekend that they couldn't have won those two rare and coveted World Series titles without him.

     Those idiosyncrasies that have Manny one of a kind be darned.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Conor Jackson: Only the First DBack to Go


     The Arizona Diamondbacks, experiencing their "third straight season of losing ugly," as President and Chief Operating Officer Derrick Hall put it by phone from Boston Wednesday, traded a former first base and outfield fixture, Conor Jackson, to the Oakland A's for triple A closer Sam Demel on Tuesday, and the proper tagline to it, as we would say in blogland, is: More to Follow.

     Hall, speaking candidly, said the entire organization is under evaluation, and he would definitely expect more player moves before the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline.

     A source with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak on the record speculated that first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Kelly Johnson are both on comparatively inexpensive one year contracts and likely to have value to a contender--the Angels being a contender known to have talked to the Diamondbacks about LaRoche since losing Kendry Morales for the season with a broken leg.

    "I think (the Jackson trade) could be the first of quite a few," Hall said. "We have a lineup with a lot of power but a lot of strike outs, and we're looking at the possibility of breaking up that chemistry.

    "It should be made clear that the player personnel staff (headed by general manager Josh Byrnes) is still in charge of player evaluations but that (managing general partner) Ken Kendrick and I are evaluating every part of the organization (including the player personnel staff and Manager A.J. Hinch.) We can't keep going the way we are," Hall continued. "We've gone into the last three years with high expectations and a commitment to a higher payroll and that hasn't proven to be efficient or responsible. We have a payroll of about $80 million, and there are teams with payrolls of $55 million and $60 million who are doing a lot better than we are."

     The Diamondbacks won the National League West under Manager Bob Melvin in 2007, but Melvin was fired only about a month into the 2008 season and replaced by the former catcher and basically inexperienced Hinch. Now, there are people close to the situation who call that one of the basic problems, with Hinch learning on the fly and and a lineup of young players left to become veterans on their own.

     "I think the Diamondbacks still have a lot of talent," said the source with knowledge of the situation, "but there are philosophical bridges that aren't being crossed."

      The Diamondbacks are buried in the NL West cellar while their four division rivals are all on the plus side of .500 in what looks to be a wide-open race.

       Hard luck has been a factor in the Arizona situation.

       With Randy Johnson retired, Brandon Webb, their ace, is missing a second straight season because of shoulder problems. One future plus is that the Diamondbacks will save a quick $20 million when the season ends and the contracts of Webb and Eric Byrnes, a $30 million outfield bust, expire. The Diamondbacks also saved $1.5 million in the Jackson-Demel deal, the latter giving Arizona a possible closer in time and the former never regaining his previous power after missing much of last season with valley fever.
       The Dbacks' bullpen has been a revolving door disaster. They have 13 saves, tied for next to last in the league, and while their offense has produced the league's fourth highest run total, young players of the Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton and Chris Young stature continue to strike out at alarming rates, dragging down the on-base percentage.

      As Hall and Kendrick conduct their evaluations they will have to decide if those three are simply not getting the mentoring they need, just as they will take a hard look, the source confided, at the fact that veteran relievers Jon Rauch and Bobby Howry were failures with the Diamondbacks last year and are now playing significant roles respectively with the Minnesota Twins (Rauch is the closer) and Chicago Cubs.

      Just one of those things, or symptoms of a deeper Arizona problem?

     Presumably, the evaluation will determine that.   




Saturday, June 12, 2010


By Ross Newhan

WASHINGTON—The buzz along the beltway would make you think that Democrats and Republicans have actually agreed on something.

Of course, in the case of Stephen Strasburg, there may be total unanimity among Democrats, Republicans and Tea Partiers, whoever and whatever they are with their holstered guns, bund-type placards and salivating cheers for Sarah Palin—and if she isn’t in the process of running for President why does she appear at every gathering of more than three people with her built in Fox antenna?

I mean, from a 60th birthday party in upscale Bethesda to lunch conversation in the Rayburn House Office Building to the youthful chatter in the packed bars of Georgetown (what recession?), as a visiting baseball writer, I swear Strasburg is the only subject of conversation amid general agreement that he is the real deal.

Of course, a lot of that is built on hope.

This is a city that went to only two World Series in 71 years and then lost two baseball franchises—one to the Twin Cities and another to Texas--before waiting 33 years for another, not to mention that the beloved Redskins and other area pro teams haven’t produced much to applaud recently.

At 21, in his major league debut Tuesday, Strasburg struck out 14 (including the last seven batters he faced) and walked none in seven innings of a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Well, ok, it was the Pirates, but his three digit fastballs and assortment of breaking pitches tended to go beyond hope and hype. We’ll know more as after he faces the Cleveland Indians Sunday and continues to face major league hitters on a regular basis.

The real point here goes back to a recent blog in which I pointed out that major league teams are wasting no time moving young pitchers through their farm systems, reducing salaries at the major league level and saving those young bullets for major league hitters.

The recent draft of amateur players was another call to arms.

Five of the top nine selections were pitchers, as were 11 of the top 19 and half of the 32 players picked in the first round.

There is simply wide spread consensus that young pitchers today have received better training, are mechanically sounder, and that expansion has created a greater need, particularly with the turnover of the last few years seeing such veterans as Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martrinez fade from the scene.

Check out major league rotations and they are filled with pitchers in their mid-20s or younger.

No need to repeat all the names that I mentioned in that previous blog.

Where Strasburg, the former San Diego State right hander who was the Nationals’ No. 1 pick in last year’s draft and had made only a handful of minor league appearances before his debut, goes from here remains to be seen.

Some cynics contend that the media has fallen victim again to hype of the type that surrounded the debut of David Clyde in 1973. Clyde was a Houston high school sensation when drafted first by the Texas Rangers and rushed immediately to the major leagues, where he would appear in parts of five seasons with Texas and Cleveland before retiring with a sore arm and an 18-33 career record.

Big difference.

Clyde was only 16 when he debuted with the Rangers, did not have the benefit of college maturation or even a half season of minor league training, and wasn’t prepared physically or mentally to deal with the unfortunate expectations thrust on him by then Rangers owner Bob Short, hoping to invigorate attendance.

Strasburg has much more going for him, including a bank account of about $15 million, a draft record. He also has the benefit of an improving team that also had the No. 1 pick this year and selected Southern Nevada catcher Bryce Harper, who may ultimately find a niche in the outfield rather than behind the plate.

Harper is only 17 and may be a few years away from being Strasburg’s potential battery mate despite gaudy offensive statistics as an amateur. In the meantime, the Washington Post has already initiated a poster promotion for Strasburg, the Indians have sold more than 8,000 tickets since it was announced he would pitch Sunday and he is the talk of the town, which is quite something in this town.


Monday, June 7, 2010

More Insight and Inside on Umpires

By David Newhan

Recently, AP baseball writer Ben Walker wrote a story on the fact that, besides scouting opposing pitchers, hitters and all of their tendencies on different counts and situations, besides compiling reports on how best to defense opposing teams and how to pitch to them, major league teams also scout umpires.

I am not talking about MLB officials going to every game and monitoring how an umpire is doing or making sure a crew is making the right calls (which they do in rating umpires for post-season service), I am talking about your favorite team compiling scouting reports on umpires based on how they call their games.

As if Questec and other computerized systems aren’t enough.

The Texas Rangers are one such team.

Manager Ron Washington likes to let his guys know who will be behind the plate that night and what his strike zone is likely to be.

Time out. Didn’t a guy by the name of Abner Doubleday come up with that determination when the first pitch was thrown.

You know, the top of the letters to the bottom of the knee deal.

Isn’t it supposed to be consistent, and now I’m laughing out loud.

Anyhow, Washington said, "we do have the tendencies (posted) on the dugout wall. The name of the umpire and his tendencies, what they call and what part of the zone they call for strikes."

Wait a second.
Again, isn’t the strike zone supposed to be consistent, didn’t MLB go through a re-education process under Sandy Alderson a few years ago in an effort to make sure umpires follow the rule book strike zone?

Well, as Jim Joyce, one of the best, proved again in Detroit, umpires are only human.

Every umpire has his own way of calling a game. Over time, players figure out which guys have "hitter zones" and which guys have a zone favoring pitchers.

In Texas, Washington goes into detail:

The type of information displayed includes how consistent an umpire is as far as calling balls and strikes, how quick he is to eject players, where the umpiring crew traveled from, and the next time that crew will be in town. It’s all valuable information for a player to have.

If we have a crew that just made a coast to coast trip and had a quick turnaround to make the game, I know that it is probably going to be a big zone tonight.

Those guys are tired and the only thing on their mind is getting back to the hotel to get some z’s. Swing the bat and don’t take anything close because they will ring you up in a second!

The compilation of data by Texas and other teams makes that process a heck of a lot easier for younger players to get to know the umpires so that they can make adjustments based on how a particular guy calls a game.

This is probably the reason that the Oakland A’s put up short bios on umpiring crew members calling their games. Manager Bob Geren said, "…(it’s a) reference to get to know them, a communication tool…we like the players to know who’s going to be there…we have a lot of young players."

See, umpires like to make young players earn their keep. Test a young guy by ringing him up on a close call to see what kind of reaction it produces. That’s good, if not totally fair as far as a consistent strike zone is concerned. Still, it all goes into earning your stay in "the show." Put a few years under your belt and you can start getting the benefit of close calls.

Let’s face it: 40,000 fans don’t fill the seats at Yankee Stadium to see Derek Jeter get struck out by a rookie pitcher on a perfect pitch on the black or for Mariano Rivera to lose a save when he throws a cutter two inches off the corner. No fan, even the best, can really tell the difference, so the veteran, as it should be, gets the benefit of the doubt. That veteran has earned it. In many cases, the zone is definitely different for the superstars. After all, they fill the seats and create the revenue.

It does help, though, for a young player to have an idea of what an umpire is apt to call. The A’s will let their players know that Ed Hickox is a sworn Daytona police officer in the off season or that Marty Foster enjoys Wisconsin Big Ten football. It’s tidbits that can make conversation over the course of nine innings helpful, and maybe you get the benefit of a close call that can prolong an at bat and lead to winning a game.

Moreover, one game might be the difference between making the playoffs and packing your bags for a long off season.

I really enjoyed Ben Walker’s article.

While I am familiar with a lot of it as a player who has spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, it was quite fascinating for me to read about the whole scene of teams scouting umpires.

And the fact is, I never had a scouting report on an umpire given to me, and it would have been a valuable tool.

Things like Jerry Lane is "influenced by a catcher’s receiving" or Fielding Culbrith "seems to expand the zone in 3-2 situations, as he punches out hitters on a pitch he normally calls a ball in a different count."

Tell me if that’s not a nice nugget to know when you are faced with that count during the course of the game?

All types of information is out there and technology is helping teams to organize it all.

These reports are being accumulated on every ump.

Hunter Wendlestedt "seems to want the hitter to put the ball in play", and Gerry Davis "hesitates punching hitter’s out, being towards the top of umpires' (earned run average) in 2009."

I applaud Mr. Walker on the story. It showed some of the intricacies within the game, intricacies the players tend to know about but fans are probably totally unaware of.

I wonder how long it will be until technology pushes the umpire into extinction, which would be a shame, removing the human element.

We already have umpires monitored by how consistently they adhere to a computerized strike zone.

Now, in the wake of Joyce taking a perfect game away from Armando Galarraga, there is a push for wider use of replay. Let’s see, what was that scouting report on Jim Joyce…..?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Selig and Griffey Jr.

    By Ross Newhan and David Newhan

    Father and son agree on this:

    Whether Commissioner Bud Selig should have used his "best interest powers" to overrule Jim Joyce's blown call, costing Detroit's Armando Galarrraga a perfect game Wednesday night, is secondary to his and baseball's refusal to extend the use of replay beyond borderline home runs.

    Selig and people close to him say that may now change, given Joyce's admitted mistake on the 27th and potential final out of Galarraga's historic effort against the Cleveland Indians and the succession of umpiring mistakes that marred last fall's postseason games, and it is about time.

    In an era of expanded and improving technology, of real time and super slow mo replays, there is no excuse for baseball not to take advantage.

    The human element will still be there, but why shouldn't baseball use all of the tools at it's disposal to make sure proper calls are made?

    Why not avoid the controversy that is engulfing Joyce, one of baseball's best and most respected umpires, and the potential final out of Wednesday's game whenever possible?

   Use the NFL system. Put an official behind a TV screen in the press box. The umpires don't have to leave the field. Give each manager two challenges a game. Everything can be challenged except balls and strikes. If the replay is still inconclusive, so be it. The call on the field stands.

   If 20 minutes is added to each game, aren't the owners going to love that potential commercial time to reap more profits?

   Also, don't replays bring fans to the edge of their seats in the NFL while awaiting a decision?

   Doesn't it actually add to the emotions?

   Galarraga, Joyce and everyone involved Wednesday night have handled themselves with class. Joyce will live with his decision forever, as Don Denkinger has since Game 6 of the 1985 World Series when his wrong call ignited a Kansas City rally that probably cost the St. Louis Cardinals a world title.

    Selig could have removed the albatross from Joyce's shoulders by reversing the call. It would have been the easy and popular thing to do, but it also would set a dangerous precedent. The Commissioner may be the commander in chief the same way the President is, but he best apply his powers, not by turning over umpire decisions, but by seeing that baseball uses the best available technology to make sure decisions are rendered properly and by seeing that the most highly rated umpires work the most important games of October--and now a shivering November.

    He got halfway there during recent collective bargaining negotiations with the umpires union that led to a new five year agreement. The commissioner's office can now assign the best umpires to work the World Series in consecutive years, rescinding a rule which had prevented umpires from working two World Series in a row. However, umpires can still work two postseason series in a row, whether they have earned that responsbility on merit or not.

   "It's a double edged sword," said a baseball lawyer familiar with the negotiations. "You have to give all umpires a chance to work the postseason or they never gain the experience needed for those games and you never develop a pool of umpires big enough to assign to all those series."

     Perhaps that is true. But they would be benefited, at least, by giving them the backup support of wider use of replays.


   The retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. creates something of an unfinished feeling.

   Make no mistake, he will be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, he saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest and his sweet swing and series of electric catches will remain clear in the camera of the mind.

   In addition, en route to 630 home runs, including six seasons of 40 or more and back to back season of 56 in 1997 and '98, he was never tainted by suggestion or inuendo of steroid use.

   It's just that his career was hampered by a series of injuries, particularly in 2001 through 2004. If he had hit just 30 home runs in each of those seasons he would have finished with 750, and by averaging a few more in those years, he would have produced more than the 762 that is the record belonging to the chemically aided Barry Bonds.

    And that would have been even sweeter than his swing.