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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.                                 

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