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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Without a Leg to Stand On

    By Ross Newhan

    A man came into the Foothill Fruit Stand in Corona Sunday wearing an Angel T-shirt and a dour expression on his face.

    "Man," he said, "I've never seen anything like that. What a killer."

    He did not have to explain.

    He was talking about the improbable circumstances in which Kendry Morales suffered a broken leg Saturday and the impact of his loss on the Angels over the rest of the season..

    Given his team's struggle through the first two months, the impact of the first baseman's loss is beyond measurement, although may be not.

    Morales led an inconsistent offense in batting, home runs, total bases and runs batted in. That's a pretty good measurement in itself.

    The Angels can't replace Morales from within, and will have a difficult time doing it from without. There has been speculation that Milwaukee could make Prince Fielder available at the trading deadline in July, and the Chicago White Sox might make Paul Konerko available.

    However, neither of those power hitters would come cheaply, and the top levels of the Angels system has been depleted already.

    In fact, seldom during his successful decade at the Angels helm has manager Mike Scioscia been forced to cope with a roster containing so many comparatively anonymous names and faces.

    I recently wrote that it was starting to look as if owner Arte Moreno and General Manager Tony Reagins had made a mistake--from a chemistry and talent standpoint--in allowing John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero to all leave at the same time. The Angels haven't replaced Lackey's ability and leadership in the rotation, haven't replaced Figgins' speed and catalytic role at the top of the lineup and haven't really replaced Guerrero's intimidating power--he is far from done as his stats with Texas would confirm--nor quiet leadership among the club's Hispanic players.

   I recognize that Figgins' hasn't appeared to be the same player with Seattle that he was with the Angels, but it often takes time for a player to feel comfortable in a new environment, and instead of batting leadoff he is now batting second behind Ichiro Suzuki and experiencing something of a role reversal. Figgins is now learning how difficult it can be to take pitches in certain circumstances so that the man batting ahead of him,  and who has pretty much of a green light to run at any time, can do just that.

  Meanwhile, the Angels now have a power vacuum at first base to go with the power vacuum at third base. The three players who have seen the most time there--Brandon Wood, Macier Itzuris and Kevin Frandsen-- have combined for two home runs. Wood hit both, but with 36 strike outs in 122 at bats and a .156 average, there is no solid evidence that he has the major league future that the Angels have long believed him to have.

   In addition, the new leadoff man, shortstop Eric Aybar, went into Sunday's game batting .231 with an on base percentage of .298, meaning Scioscia's belief in an aggressive running style, which was going to be curtailed some anyway with Figgins gone, has come to even more of a stop. None of this would be quite as damaging if the manager had a rotation and bullpen he could count on, but starters Joel Piniero, Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders were a combined 9-16 entering Sunday, and Scioscia has been forced to employ a battery of often no-name relievers getting to the back end of a bullpen that has been a test in itself.

   As I recently wrote, despite their inconsistent start, I thought the Angels would still win a division in which the strength of their opposition is problematic.

    With Morales gone, I don't think that can happen.

     Is anyone to blame for what happened Saturday? Of course not.

    You can't blame Morales nor his teammates for their exuberance in celebrating his walk off grand slam. Those dog piles are always dangerous but difficult to contain.

    This time the Angels paid a heavy price, and as the fruit stand visitor stated in obvious dejection, it has all the earmarks of being a killer.                       

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Say it ain't so, Joe


By David Newhan


Not again, Mr. West. Please tell me this is just a crazy dream. Not for the second time in less than two months are you making news?

Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t umpires supposed to stay out of the headlines, controlling and calling the game in anonymity and obscurity while they blend into the field?
I like Joe. He is a quality umpire who has a tremendous amount of experience.

But maybe his ego got in the way here. Maybe Joe, who is a country music artist, is just trying to advertise his CD. Perhaps, this baseball thing is getting in the way of his real love--making music. Or this is just a stage for him to get a little more publicity since he is the only umpire with a publicist. I doubt that, but this season I have been reading about him too frequently.


It was only the first series of the year when he interjected his two cents on pace of play. He had the Yankees-Red Sox opening day series. Joe ripped the two teams and was disgusted with their pace of play.

Now, I have played in the AL East and whenever you go up against those two powerhouse clubs you are in for a long game. That is just the way it is. Both teams have quality, professional hitters up and down their lineups--hitters who will make a pitcher pay for any mistake. In order to pitch to those teams your “stuff” needs to be good, of course. But on top of that you have to be locating your pitches away from the heart of the plate. Needless to say, a lot of pitches are thrown because the pitcher is always trying to locate on the corners and the hitters are disciplined enough to lay off borderline pitches.

Playing in those games can be tough. The Yankees especially are renowned for their plate discipline, making a pitcher work. Look up, and it’s the still only the fifth inning, your starter has 110 pitches on his count and its approaching 10 o’clock. Wow, you had better have a good pair of insoles because there is going to be a lot of pitching changes over the next four innings! But then, everyone knows that going in.

It’s our job, and you had better be prepared to focus for those four hours!

On top of this, TV contracts mandate that baseball must take at least a two minute break between every half inning (longer in the post-season). Usually, most pitchers and defenders are ready to go way before the commercial break ends but will be forced to wait until the umpire at second base, who is holding a stopwatch, gives them the thumbs up to resume play.

If we could take 30 seconds off that allotment every inning it would cut 15 minutes off of the game time. This would also take a big chunk out of the owners’ collective wallets and isn’t going to happen. All this goes into pace of play. Besides, to the purist, isn’t the timeless nature of baseball one of the main attractions to the sport?

Joe knows this but still felt the need to be the face and voice attached to cleaning up pace of play.

This brings us to this past Wednesday. Oddly enough, Joe ejects one of the fastest paced pitchers in all of baseball in Mark Buerlhe. The Chicago White Sox pitcher gently tossed his glove after Joe, who was the first base umpire, called the second balk of the day on him in only the second inning. Buerlhe is known for having a great move and has been using that same pickoff move for the last 10 years or so.

But, my man Joe felt the need to interject himself and be a part of the game by calling two balks in two innings. I have no problem with calling the rules. In fact, I wish it was done more often. But in this situation I get the feeling that Joe maybe let his ego get the best of him.

Buerhle’s manager, Ozzie Guillen, came out to protect his pitcher and was tossed from the game as well. Ozzie, never lacking an opinion, was candid in his responses during a postgame interview. “Sometimes he thinks he’s the – in the field,” Guillen said. “People pay to watch players play, not umpires and managers.”

Guillen added “…he’s the type guy that wants to control the game.” The ejected and dejected Buerlhe responded in similar fashion. Mark said “I think he is too worried about promoting his new CD, and I think he likes seeing his name in the papers a bit too much.”

Now, Guillen and Buerlhe have been fined for their comments. Why? Just because MLB always protects its umpires and does not like what it is hearing despite the fact that it might be true? Ironically, West was also fined for giving a radio interview to two broadcasters who found out how to reach him on the road even though MLB does not permit umpires to give out their hotel locations. In this instance, Joe’s publicist couldn’t resist.

In any case, umpires in the major leagues are entitled to respect.

At the same time they need to leave their egos in the dressing room. Make the calls, do it fairly and unbiased, and blend in with the field. Sure, there are going to be arguments, and the umpires have to stand up for their decisions as long as they don’t initiate or prolong the argument in the process. Do not let ego and pride get in the way of doing a professional job.

My hope, as the summer progresses, is that Joe West and his publicist do not make a mockery of the sport and create the impression that they are trying to become larger than the game by once again stepping into the limelight.

I am sure that Joe will ump some of the biggest games and probably have the World Series again because he does a good job and has the tenure to warrant such responsibility. However, he needs to take a step back and let baseball and the players take center stage from here out.

(More on umpiring soon)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mileposts and Signposts

     By Ross Newhan     

     Baseball has more mileposts than old Route 66.

     There's Memorial Day, July 4, the All-Star break, the non-waiver trade deadline (that's three in July alone) and Labor Day.

      It was just the other day that Newy, as my son and blog colleague is known to friends and former teammates, wrote that at this earliest of the mileposts he found the race in the National League West to be baseball's most intriguing. Newy acknowledged that as a born in, raised in and resident of California he has a tendency in most matters to favor the West (never the left, to his parent's dismay).

     I, too, am a native, and while I don't totally disagree with Newy's NL West decision, I see the American League East as a bit more intriguing at this early juncture of a season which seems unlikely to produce a runaway in any division, unless Jamie Moyer continues to pitch shutouts instead of collecting social security and his Philadelphia Phillies blitz through the NL East.

    Why the AL East?

    As a financial and political pundit might put it, of course, it pits Main Street against Wall Street.

    It poses the question: Can Tampa Bay, with a $65.1 million payroll that ranks 25th among the 30 clubs, hold off New York and Boston, those moguls of the East?

   It is too early for a definitive answer, but this much is clear: It was only two years ago that the Rays did just that, emerging from the East to reach the World Series.

   Now, the Rays are deeper and stronger. And even though I write this at a time when they have a three game losing streak, they have manufactured the best record in baseball and appear totally unafraid of the big boys' bats and wallets. They are 7-5 against New York and Boston, 14-7 in their division.

   As for Newy's NL West, it is likely to come down to a question of money, as it often does.

   --Will the McCourt's divorce, producing numbers that may qualify them for the proposed new banking bill, impact the Dodgers' deadline pursuit of one more front line pitcher, as it seemed to do during the off-season, handicappping the team's bid to repeat as division champion and/or remain alive later into the playoffs?

   --Will new San Diego owner Jeff Moorad, still owing a big check for his purchase of the Padres, bow to fan pressure created by his team's surprising start and retain first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell at the trade deadline despite the potentially high cost and still difficult decision at the end of the season if  they are re-signed then or walk as free agents with the Padres getting nothing expect draft compensation in return?

   --Will pitching rich San Francisco bite the financial and personnel bullet and trade one of its prime hurlers (no hit Jonathan Sanchez?) for a legitimate slugger (Prince Fielder, if Milwaukee continues to falter in the NL Central, or Paul Konerko, if the White Sox continue to falter in the AL Central?) to bat behind or ahead of Pedro Sandoval? The Giants, wtih pitching depth in the minors, have been dabbling with Aubrey Huff in the outfield, creating an impression that they definitely believe there will be first basemen available at the deadline.

   Amid all of those questions in an open division there's tthe menacing Colorado Rockies and the notion that they remain capable of producing a streak comparable to their amazing wild card drive of late last season despite the departures of Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins and the sore shoulder that continues to sideline closer Houston Street.

  Colorado retains impressive flexibility with its lineup but has battled a series of pitching injuries while getting a breakthrough and stopper season from Ubaldo Jimenez, whose 9-1 record includes a no hitter.

   In the process, as baseball passes the first of its many mileposts, Manager Jim Tracy has asked Jimenez to throw a considerable number of pitches, averaging 109 per start and three times going over 120.

  It would be a sad and damaging blow if the 26 year old right hander wasn't still lighting up speed guns at Labor Day, the last of those mileposts.        

                      

   

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY FROM OUT WEST

by David Newhan


As our 2010 major league baseball season continues to unfold, it has become apparent that once again, there will be drama. The most intriguing division race for me, and let’s face it (yes, I am biased and live out on the west coast), is the NL West. As we inch towards the fifty game notch, it is evident that several teams will be shooting it out for a playoff berth this summer.

Memorial Day is fast approaching and just like most everywhere else, for baseball, it marks the start of summer. Organizations are always assessing and being critical of their situation. Focusing on their needs and wants, who is available and at what price. Memorial Day gives them enough of the season to get a true evaluation of how their team is shaping up. It is a marker in which teams can poke their heads up from the rat race and take a look at what’s going on around them. At this point, the season is almost a third of the way through and you can get a feel for what your guys are going to do for you the rest of the way. That is why teams stick with veterans who have track records. Those players have proven their worth time and again. As you get into the next third of the summer and into the “dog days” later, GM’s and managers do not have to worry about players with track records. They have been there before and are not going to get overwhelmed with the situation. Their numbers, or stats, will be there in the end. It’ll all add up. As Rueben Sierra once told me, “the water will always reach its level.” When the leaves turn brown for fall, regardless of what kind of start a certain guy had, his numbers will reach close to what they normally do for a full season. Why else would Sox Nation stick with Big Papi the last two years? They know that one bad month isn’t a fair “market share” to make a valid evaluation. The season is a marathon. One week, or one month, is not enough to give you a fair assessment. When you reach Memorial Day, you finally have a real indication of where your season might be heading. Baseball is the only sport played day in day out for six months, not counting spring training, and then you get to throw all the numbers out and start fresh with the playoffs. Truly a grind physically, but even more so mentally when it comes to battling it out daily in a sport where failure is so prevalent. Thus, with Memorial Day looming on the horizon, teams can accurately decide if they are playing or folding this summer.

So, on to the wild, wild NL West. This division clearly looks like 4 out of the 5 teams will be competing all summer for the title. Since a sluggish start, the defending division champs have turned it on. GM Ned Coletti was probably ready to implode after a month in and had to vent a few of his frustrations on radio to get the attention of some of his star players. Unfortunately, triple crown threat Andre Ethier had to be put on the disabled list with a fractured finger. Nevertheless, with Mannywood back from an earlier DL stint, the line up remains solidified and strong. Leading the NL in average and scoring plenty of runs. The “experts”, though, look at a pitching staff with no clear number one. Kuroda, Billingsley, and Kershaw have all been good to this point and they have a monster in Broxton to shut the door on games. Ely has also filled in nicely while opening day starter Padilla has been shut down on the DL. Will Coletti have the economic freedom that he has enjoyed in the past to go after a Roy Oswalt, who has recently requested a trade to a contender? If so, the Blue Crew might be in business to make an extended fall run.

The Colorado Rockies are the team many have picked to go all the way to the World Series. Do they have another one of their patented winning streaks to put the division away? Everything seems to be there for them to do so. Ubaldo Jiminez is a freak at the top of their rotation. Does anyone have better stuff than he? They should get Huston Street back from the DL who will strengthen their bullpen. Tulowitzki is as athletic a shortstop as there is and equally as gifted in the batters’ box. Ian Stewart is coming into his own. Todd Helton is a leader and has career numbers that rival Stan Musial. Mora might be the best “super utility” guy around. The Rockies are athletic and experienced. It would be hard to count them out.

Pitching is imperative. But, as the Giants are finding out, you also need to play defense and hit just a little bit. The Giants have scored the least amount of runs in the NL. Some of you might say, “wait a minute, Newy, haven’t the Astros and Pirates scored fewer?” Ok, you got me. But are we really counting those two teams this year? Like I said before, it is almost Memorial Day, so let the Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman sweepstakes begin. Back to San Fran, how can you not like their pitching. The “Freak” is doing it again. Zito is looking like a Cy Youg candidate and the guy that they thought they were getting when they dropped $175 mil on him. Cain is a stud. Sanchez has some of the best left handed stuff around. Wilson can close them out. It’s tough to score when you are facing that kind of a staff for a three game series. The questions reside on the offensive side. “Kung Fu Panda” isn’t driving them out of the yard consistently and, other than Huff, Uribe, and Rowand, who all give you professional at bats, does anyone scare the opposition. The real question for me is, “ Are they athletic enough on defense to compete and support that great pitching staff”. I believe they really miss Mark Derosa and the sooner they can get him back, the better they’ll be.

Now, to the biggest surprise in the division, and maybe baseball: the San Diego Padres. The Pad Squad have done it on pitching, defense, and playing baseball the way purists like to see it be played. They have followed up a strong second half surge from last year with a great start. Designed for spacious Petco Park, they pitch and play defense well and are aggressive on the basepaths. They have more stolen bases then anyone in baseball but on top of that, they put pressure on the opposition by going first to third, and taking the extra base whenever possible. The Fightin’ Friars are a reflection of their fearless leader, and two time World Series Champ, David Eckstein. They, like him, do the little things that win ballgames. Take pitches, back up bases, hustle, hit behind the runner, bunt, aggressive base running. He has set the table for the big bopper, Adrian Gonzalez. Adrian is a bona fide 50 homer guy in any other ball park. They have a great closer in Heath Bell and lead the NL in ERA. The Padres, barring an Adrian Gonzalez trade deadline move, are the real deal and will be grinding it out all summer long.

These four teams will certainly provide drama to baseball fans all summer long. As we approach the Memorial Day third of the season mark, we can be assured that the NL West is going to be a battle that will take us deep into September before it is decided. It will be entertaining to watch who gets hot, what moves are made, or not made, and what players have the biggest impact to carry their respective teams to a division title and possible World Series.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chemistry Class

     By Ross Newhan 

     It was difficult to argue with Angel owner Arte Moreno when he explained in spring training that the basic reason for allowing John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero to leave as free agents was the length of their contract demands and not the money itself.

     Lackey ultimately received a five year, $82.5 million contract from the Boston Red Sox;  Figgins got four years and $36 million from the Seattle Mariners, and Guerrero received a one year, $6.5 million deal from the Texas Rangers with a $9 million mutual option for 2011, which appears to be a mutual lock since Guerrero is hitting .336, seemingly his knees sound and a kid again at 34.

     I still tend to think the Angels will win a still weak American League West division for the sixth time in the last seven years, but right now, six games under .500 as of Thursday morning and performing woefully in every category, they do not look like a winner and they do not look like the aggressive, fundamentally sound teams we have come to expect under Mike Scioscia.

    And now, in addition, one has to wonder a bit about the thinking of Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins in allowing Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero to leave all at once. Now one has to wonder if there hasn't been something of a chemistry blowup, a clubhouse and lineup leadership void created.

     Yes, the Angels still have Torii Hunter calling players only meetings, they still have Scioscia calling team meetings, they still have Bobby Abreau mentoring the younger Hispanics, but right now something is missing talent-wise and leadership-wise, and now it is hard not to believe that allowing three key players to leave in one clubhouse clearing swoop wasn't a very good move, no matter the reason.

     --Lackey was a rotation and clubhouse leader.

     --Figgins was the catalytic trigger of Scioscia's aggressive attack, and the evidence continues to mount that the long touted Brandon Wood is simply not a major league hitter, the latest clue being that the Angels are playing veteran nomad Kevin Frandsen ahead of him as third base becomes a major power void in a lineup that has not been producing much power anywhere else, the Wood's failure--and, yes, they would have lost him if put through waivers since he is out of options--being a critical and, perhaps, fatal blow unless Reagins can find help at the mid-summer trade deadline, a difficult process when other teams know how much the Angels are hurting at the position.

      --Guerrero was a quite leader among the Hispanics and a more menacing figure in the lineup than even Godzilla (Hideki Matsui) has proven to be, and it was Guerrero's mom who provided fellow Hispanics with a taste of home by often hosting dinner when the team was in Anaheim.

      The Angels may snap out of their current malaise, they still have division winning talent overall, but it will be intriguing to see if they do it.

       Ejecting Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero all at once is turning into a costly mistake rather than a move designed to save costs over the long term.

       Too damaging for even the annoying Rally Monkey to overcome?

       An awakening by Brandon Wood and Scott Kazmir and Brian Fuentes, among others, would be a more beneficial start.

       *

       We leave soon for a short trip. I have kissed the grandchildren, boarded the pug, turned on the alarm and locked the doors. I should be looking foward to a relaxing get-away, but I am already experiencing shakes that may be too much for even my clonazepam to overcome.

       I am not going to be able to check my fantasy baseball team twenty times a day as I do when we are home.

      Granted, I am leaving it in the capable hands of my partner, son in law Mike Wheaton.

     However, I just know that while touring landmarks I am going to be wondering if Aramis Ramirez will ever snap out of his season opening slump. If Chicago fans think Ramirez is killing the Cubs, what he is doing to our fantasy team is also a crime. Here is a guy who hits 30 to 40 home runs automatically, and he has three home runs while so far below the Mendoza Line that not even binoculars would help him find it.

     Then there is Zach Duke and Kyle Lohse. I know, I know. How could anyone who has covered baseball for more than 40 years end up with Duke and Lohse on his team? There is really no explanation. At least, we have already found a way to dump Duke. Now we have to find a way to lose Lohse.

     With all of that we are in second place in a 10 team National League only league, a vast improvement over our three previous seasons in which we finished in or near the bottom, a disgraceful gauge of my alleged baseball wisdom.

      Of course, if I had any wisdom I would know that it is a mistake to have even one Cub on my team to start with.

      I will keep you updated on our fantasy progress as the season continues.   I'm hitting the road soon and will be consumed by thoughts of trading Aramis Ramirez for Manny Ramirez.  

                                  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wake Up, Junior

      By David Newhan

      “The Rock,” once said, “know your role!”

      Surely. I do.

     Much like Dallas Braden was something of a nobody to A-Rod (at least before Braden's perfect game on Mother’s Day ), I suppose I am the same to Ken Griffey Jr.

      I know he couldn’t care less about David Newhan or worry about what he has to say.  I may not be a future first ballot hall of famer, however, I was always ready and eager to play when called on, and I say, "Please, Griff, don’t go out like this."

     It was reported that a couple of Jr.’s  Seattle teammates ratted him out and told the media that his manager Don Wakamatsu couldn’t use him in a pinch hit role last week due to the fact that Griffey was back in the clubhouse in a deep sleep. Maybe, after so many years in the game, he has become like a huge portion of baseball  fans and has the natural inclination to take a nap after battling through the often slow pace of major league games. Maybe, umpire Joe West, with his recent comments about the embarrassingly slow pace of a Yankee-Red Sox game, and ole’ commissioner Selig, who has a committee working on the pace of games, provide cover for his need to nap. Perhaps it was the drudgery of yet another Mariners game.

    I didn't think 41 year olds qualified for a senior discount, but perhaps "The Kid” was just catching a catnap before he hit the early bird specials. Whatever it was, heading back to the clubhouse and being completely unavailable to pinch hit is totally unacceptable. I don’t have a problem with double standards and different rules for star players. They've earned it. I have no issues with guys heading up to the clubhouse during the course of a game. It is natural. Sometimes you need to head up to get a piece of equipment...grab a bat, gloves, watch a pitcher’s movement on TV, stretch, hit in the cages. I get it. If you are not in the line up sometimes you want to head up and break up the monotony of the bench.

     That being said, you always need to be available for whatever the manager wants. At any time! Things don’t always happen as planned during the course of a game and if you are not in the line up then it is your job to be ready when called upon. Junior, if you’re tired and sleepy, do the old sunglasses on the bench trick. We’ve all seen it, and now it goes on in almost every dugout. The old hat down low, polarized Oakley’s on and maybe the jacket zipped up high so the collar covers most of your face. Nestle into the corner at the end of the bench so now you not only can lean back, you can kind of rest up against the side wall too. Nice and cozy. Better yet, you are on the bench and can do a Clark Kent twirl of your jacket and be at the dish ready to hit in an instant. Shoot, you can even take your time and maybe have an espresso on your way to the on deck circle. A little caffiene to really wake up. After all, pace of play doesn’t seem to matter and nobody is going to say anything to the guy who helped save baseball in the great Northwest.

     All I’m saying is, Griff, you’re better than that. You are a future Hall of Famer. You were the best player in the game for a good decade. I can only imagine how much more you would have dominated if others around you were not taking steroids and you had not suffered so many inuries. I’m sure you played clean and, if everyone else had been, you would have been that much more of a superstar, the likely home run king rather than that other fellow with the huge head,

    Junior, you are there to be an influence on the young Mariners. Your value is in mentoring to the kids. How can you do that if you are not on the bench watching them play and how they handle themselves when they are not in the game? How can you help and assist the growth if you can’t see anything but the back of your eyelids? I don’t care if you are not hitting your weight (the relationship seems to be inversely growing). I’ve tiptoed that line numerous times in my own career. The fact is, you still have a lot to offer that clubhouse and the Seattle Mariner fan base.

     On the other hand, I would much rather remember you as “THE KID”, the fearless center fielder who flew into walls, the base stealer. And that swing. Oh, that swing. What a stroke. Smooth as silk and powerful. Maybe the injuries have caught up. Maybe the gel filled knee is barking. Only Jr. knows the answer to that. Maybe he needs to go on the 60 day DL and then come back for a two month farewell tour. I don’t know the inside of his health issues. I do know, though, that I’d rather see him go out as a professional and a class act, someone who respects the game enough to stay awake long enough to be available for his manager and teammates.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pitching Class

      
     By Ross Newhan 

       It is not every season that is going to produce a perfect game and no hitter in the first two months, but the landmark performances by two 26 year olds, Dallas Braden and Ubaldo Jimenez, serve to illuminate the resurgence of pitching in the aftermath of the steroid-stoked home run era and the willingness of major league clubs to allow young pitchers with speed gun potential to mature at the big league level with minimal or no minor league schooling.

       It is not so much force feeding as financial common sense. Why waste all those bullets at Triple A when one fuzzy cheeked pitcher after another is proving he can get major league hitters out?

      Is there any greater example than Tim Lincecum, you know, the kid next door who claims to be 25, spending less than a year in the minors after leaving the University of Washington and now having won two straight National League Cy Young Awards with the San Francisco Giants and headed for a third at 4-0.

      Of course, financial common sense in Lincecum's case has turned into a two year, $23 million contract, but he remains a bargain as long as his dad's orchestrated windup holds together.

       "One of the things that I think we've seen happen," said Logan White, assistant general manager and scouting director of the Los Angeles Dodgers, "is that a series of veteran and dominate pitchers of the caliber of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have all ended their careers at the same time as a lot of these kids have been emerging, so it's kind of underscored the opportunity that these young kids are getting and fact that clubs are willing to give them the chance at a financial saving.

        "I mean, it's no secret that clubs are targeting pitching in the (June amateur draft). The price is generally a lot cheaper than trying to trade for a No. 1 caliber pitcher or sign one as a free agent."

         Clayton Kershaw, who was Logan's first round selection in 2006, spent less than two years in the minors before making his major league debut and is now emerging as the Dodger ace, having outdueled the then 6-0 Jimenez Sunday in an old-time pitching battle. Kershaw is 22.

         Mike Leake is also 22. He skipped the minor leagues completely and is 3-0 as a Cincinnati Red rookie drafted out of Arizona State.

         Tommy Hanson is 23, spent barely two years in the minors, and has a major league record of 13-6 as he works in his second season with the Atlanta Braves.

         The Washington Nationals, already boasting Ty Clippard, 6-0 as a 25 year old set up man, are salivating at the imminent prospect of calling up starter Steven Strasberg and potential closer Drew Storen, both selected in last years draft and having spent only a few weeks in the minors.

        The fact that all those steroid sluggers have passed from the scene hasn't hurt the arrival of all these young pitchers, but, said Logan, everywhere he goes on his scouting missions, he is finding young pitchers throwing in the 90s with impressive arm strength and composure.

       "They may not have command of the strike zone or the secondary pitches that they will eventually need, but it's clear that they've received excellent mechanical schooling along the way," Logan said, "and they now pitch in so many showcase events at young ages they they are conditioned to the stage. I mean, the video and technical improvements have helped accelerate their progress."

      The list is endless: modestly paid Phil Hughes is emerging as the New York Yankees ace at 23; the San Diego Padres are the surprise leader in the National League West because of the performances of starters Matt Latos, 22, Wade LeBlanc, 25 and Clayton Richard, 26; Felix Rodriguez, 24, has the potential to be a king in more than name if he gets some offensive support in Seattle; Jered Weaver continues to legitimize his first round selection by the Angels in 2004; Zach Greineke, 26, came back from  a year off for personal reasons to win the American League's Cy Young Award at 16-8 last year, and Vanderbilt's David Price and Rice's Jeff Niemann, passing tests of another kind, continue to enhance Tampa Bay's swift start in the AL East.

       Overall, the major league earned-run average is down about a half run from last year and may sink even more as the average pitching age continues to sink with the arrival of repertoire complete young arms.

       It's a trend that Braden enhanced with the highlight emergence of a modest career and only baseball's 19th perfect game, letting A-Rod, in their cross country verbal debate, know who really owns the mound.              

       

Friday, May 7, 2010

Praising Arizona

By David Newhan





In order to keep this blogspot fair and balanced, I feel obligated to respond to my father’s column and give our readers “Razing Arizona part deux”--or “Praising Arizona”.



While in no way do I support racial profiling or discrimination, and I am not sure if this bill creates either, I do feel there must finally be action to solve the problems of ILLEGAL immigration.



As Gov. Brewer stated “Decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.” Years of ineptness, timidity, and spineless politics by our leaders in Washington have forced the states, particularly the border states, to accept responsibility and take action.



D.C. has shown nothing but political cowardice when it has come to resolving an issue that weighs on our nation in various forms, economically and otherwise. Although our president said the law is misguided and the measure would “undermine basic notions of fairness,” nothing constructive to remedy the malady has been done.



Arizona has decided that its LEGAL and tax paying citizens will no longer be the victims. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, as an Arizona home owner and leader of an industry that brings in millions of dollars for the state, has been criticized for failing to speak against the law, but he has the right to remain part of the silent majority that helped to bring about this bill.. Selig needs to make sure that all of his players continue to get legal working visas, which they do, so that baseball can provide one of the greatest stages for equal opportunity in the world.



Although most are not U.S. citizens, Latinos in baseball have the opportunity to work in America with a chance to live out the dream of playing baseball at the highest level and making, in many cases, exorbitant contracts. Most of that money will be spent in their own homelands, taking care of their families or themselves. Some of these players have gone through the citizenship process, and Selig should make sure that jobs created by the Diamondbacks organization, the 15 clubs that conduct spring training in Arizona and the Arizona Fall League go to legal, tax paying citizens. If one of his “players” gets asked for their immigration documents or “papers” it is no big thing. Don’t each of us carry some form of identification, be it a drivers license, I.D. or social security card?



Moreover, as a law abiding citizen, shouldn’t Selig follow the rules that the state in which he vacations has mandated? And why shouldn’t Arizona be able to protect itself? At least a half million illegal aliens penetrate the border to strain hospitals, schools, prisons, and law enforcement bodies. Should Arizona wait and follow the example of its neighboring state of California and let its healthcare and education systems border on bankruptcy? Also, Arizona has quickly become a very unsafe place to live and visit. According to 2008 Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton, in Maricopa County (Phoenix area) illegal aliens represent 9% of the population while contributing to 22% of the crimes committed.



Specifically, illegal aliens are 35% of those sentenced for kidnapping, 20% of those sentenced for felony DUI, 16% of violent crimes, 18% of property crimes, 44% of forgery or fraud crime, 85% of criminal impersonation or false I.D., and 96% of human smuggling. The kidnapping problem has reached epidemic proportions. The city of Phoenix was dubbed the “kidnapping capital of the world” by ABC. There are more incidents of kidnapping than in any other city in the world outside of Mexico City. So maybe Bud, like his fellow Arizona citizens, knows that something needs to be done, which is why he has held his tongue.



Maybe if Washington D.C. was located on the border with Mexico, the politicians would take action. Maybe if they were faced with these issues daily they would resolve these same issues that plague Arizona and its neighboring states, and which are slowly leaking throughout our nation.



As I wrote earlier, I do not believe in racial profiling. I have numerous friends throughout baseball of all ethnicities. I support their ability to work and live in the U.S. They do it LEGALLY. I myself come from a Jewish background in which my great grandfather was forced to wear a yellow star to identify his “Jewishness” to the Nazis in Warsaw, Poland. What Arizona has proposed is not the same. The Jewish people were persecuted by an insane Hitler. They were innocent people living and working and striving for the freedom to worship their God. On the other hand, illegal aliens are in our country…well, ILLEGALLY. They are breaking the LAW! There are consequences for that. If the only way to detain these people is by giving our law enforcement the ability to ask for their government papers, then I am all for it.



These people are not off to the concentration camps or the ovens; they are going back to their country with the ability to still immigrate to this wonderful country in a legal manner. Thus, Bud and baseball must stand by the law and support what the vast majority of Arizonans mandate. It is time to take the strain off of our schools, hospitals, prisons and law enforcement officials. It is time to make Phoenix a safer place, free of human smuggling and kidnapping by dangerous drug cartels. Let us sit back, like Bud, and watch as Arizona leads this nation against the epidemic of illegal immigration.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Razing Arizona

By Ross Newhan

    I do not agree with colleagues who are demanding that baseball remove the 2011 All-Star game from Arizona in protest over the new law that will further burden law officials with the potential for racial profiling.

    Removing the All-Star game would be unfair to the host Diamondbacks and to true fans looking forward to it. Of course, many of these fans support the new law at the same time that they stand and cheer for the heroics of Hispanic Diamondback players or Hispanic players on other teams. Of course, hypocrisy thy name has always been sports.

    What should be done, of course, and the silence is deafening, is for Commissioner Bud Selig to come out with a strong statement, as the players union, has done, that he opposes the new law and is appalled by the prospect of racial profiling in the United States and its national pastime. Selig is an Arizona homeowner and commissioner of a sport in which half of the 30 teams train in Arizona, in which about 30 percent of the players are Hispanic and in which Jackie Robinson is now honored as a racial busting pioneering on a yearly basis.

   Is he waiting for a Hispanic player to be pulled over in spring training and asked to show his government papers? Does this consensus-building commissioner, and in most cases his desire to first build a consensus among his constituents before taking action is a positive thing, need a consensus on the appalling prospect of racial profiling?

   On Cinco de Mayo, the Phoenix Suns, for their playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs tonight, will be wearing jerseys that read Los Suns in protest against the prospect that this new law will become offical and as a show of respect for the diversity of Arizona and the United States.

   We all know that illegal immigration is a serious issue that has been swept aside by a succession of Presidents and buried under the partisanship of Washington. But a law that makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and orders the police to stop and question people about their immigration status and demand to see their documents if there is reason to suspect they are illegal is a law that demands Tina Fey broaden out and parody (ridicule?) Gov. Jan Brewer as she does Brewer's crony, Sarah Palin.

    In the meantime, Selig needs to stand up and point out that every day of a 162 game season baseball puts diversity on display and he is shocked that a state which is something of a second home to baseball would enact a law in which the products of that diversity may have to carry papers saying they are who they say they are. He doesn't have to explain the infield fly rule. He only has to join the ground swell and explain he is shocked by this potential squeeze play.

The Passing of Ernie Harwell

      In almost 50 years on the baseball beat I never met a nicer, sweeter gentle man than the Detroit Tiger announcer who passed away Tuesday at 92 after a year long battle with cancer.

      Harwell was the poet of the midwest, an announcer who could take a Bible verse and make it applicable to the game he was working. In an age in which diction, explanation and illumination has become a lost art among baseball broadcasters who drone on in monotone, Harwell was a beacon, the man next door telling you in simple but meaningful terms about the game you were missing as you barbecued on a Tuesday night in July.

     There may be only one Vin Scully, but trust me: Harwell lived and worked in the same neighborhood.


        
    

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My Friend Dave Roberts

By David Newhan


It was about a month ago when I heard these frightening words from my friend Dave Roberts..."Newy, I have Stage 2 Hodgkins."


I felt like I had been hit in the gut by Mike Tyson or thrown into a submission hold at one of those steel cage matches.



No one is ever ready to hear those words from a friend, yet alone someone who is only a year away from being a professional athlete and is very much on top of the world in everything he does.



But those were the words and it was very much throwing me for a loop. The news had come right after my own battle with a fractured neck, so I knew about the fragility of life and knew the seriousness of it.



My thoughts immediately went to Dave's family--his wife and two beautiful kids.



I thought about how excited he's been to start his new relationship with the San Diego Padres as a special assistant and how serious he is about preparing for that position.



All of this will be put on hold.



My friend, Doc (D.R.), will have more important matters to tend to during this baseball season and will be relying on the real doctors.



Dave made his formal announcement yesterday that he has Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer.



Now, instead of trying to get a hit off Mariano or steal a base on Pudge or learn the insides of a baseball front office, one of the classiest guys in the game will be battling the impact of chemotherapy, having IVs inserted in his arms. He knows what is ahead, and there is no doubt in my mind who is going to win this battle. You see, my friend is a winner and fighter. The strength he has shown during a successful baseball career should illustrate the strength and the history of success he will bring to this battle.



Dave Roberts has perseverance and faith that only the best will happen--the attitude and the fortitude that enabled him to go from a makeshift co-op team in the California League to what became known as the "Steal of the Century," the swipe of second base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series that seemed to lift the Boston Red Sox from the brink of elimination and triggered their dramatic comeback victory in that series with the New York Yankees.



It's the fortitude and faith he displayed during 10 years in major league baseball and which will allow him to win this battle. My thoughts and prayers are with my friend, but I already know the outcome. The kind of confidence and strength it takes to steal a base when the opposing team knows you are going to try and an entire nation knows you are going to try is the same mettle that has marked his life off the field as well.



Leo Durocher may have believed that "nice guys finish last," but he obviously didn't know Dave Roberts. My friend will come through this on his feet, and I am sure he will put it to work in his life, as he always has.



Whether it's a shoe drive for needy children, helping his high school sports program, taking time to mentor a kid, or visiting a buddy who is recovering from a fractured neck, Dave Roberts is always there with his special gift for raising a person's spirit and will.



Dave understands the adage that for those who much has been given, much is expected, and he accepts that responsibility with open arms. He has inspired me with his zest for life, and I am confident he will continue to do so, as he will inspire others.



This fight is not an easy one, but Doc is a winner. More than once he has slid in safely when the odds seemed against it.






Sunday, May 2, 2010