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Monday, July 26, 2010

Haren Hit Hard---Literally

   

By Ross Newhan


  In the fifth inning of his first start with the Angels Monday night, on his 62nd pitch, the question of Dan Haren's impact on his new team's ability to slice into the Texas Rangers' lead in the American League West almost became moot.

   Perhaps, it already is given that the Rangers lead the Angels by 7 1/2 games and the roughly $29 million that Angel owner Arte Moreno has commited to Haren has done nothing to fill the power voids at first and third base.

   In trading Joe Saunders and three pitching prospects to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Haren on Sunday, the Angels hope was that they had enhanced the front end of their rotation, and with two-plus months remaining could slowly cut into the Rangers lead, although the Rangers themselves had already traded for a dominant pitcher in Chiff Lee, added a veteran catcher in Bengie Molina and are believed to be negotiating with Florida for the power hitting Jorge Cantu.

    Of course, anyone familiar with Angel history knows this is an organization that has been dogged over the years by tragedy and bad luck, and there it was again in Haren's first start when that 62nd pitch was smoked up the middle by Boston's Kevin Youkilis and caromed off Haren's right forearm.

    The pitcher went to his knees and ultimately walked off the field with what was diagnosed as a contussion on that forearm.

    He will be re-examined today, and there is no certainty regarding his next start, tentatively scheduled for the weekend against Texas

    Haren was losing 2-1 when he left, and ultimately drew the loss as the Angels never caught up in a 6-3 defeat.

    Overall, he is 7-9 this season, and Boston's six hits in his brief tenure seemed in keeping with the .285 average that National League hitters had produced against him, not to mention 23 homers, which became 24 when David  Ortiz hit the first of his two home runs in the third inning.

    Angels Manager Mike Scioscia was saying before the game that you have to look beyond the numbers to internal aspects like his strikeout ratio, and that you have to consider that he will now be pitching home games in a park more favorable to pitchers.

    In his debut, however, Anaheim Stadium was no walk in the park for Haren, whose record over the last couple years was inferior to that of Saunders.

    The Angels No. 1 draft choice in 2002, Saunders was 33-14 in 2008 and 2009 before he slipped to 6-10 with a 4.62 ERA at the time he was traded, a deal which the Arizona media blasted.

    In his last start with the Angels on Friday, Saunders had pitched his best game of the year, losing 1-0 to the Rangers in Texas.

    Angel officials continued Monday to call Haren a top of the rotation type talent, and more than one said they were concerned with Saunders' ability to hold up physically, expressing concern about the southpaw's left shoulder in particular.

    In Haren, they have a pitcher who is under contract into his option year of 2013, and Scioscia said that was an important consideration.

    Of course, there are no guarantees. Moreno has again opened his wallet to make what he likes to call a capital investment, but he knows that two other well-known pitchers were unable to fulfill the terms of their contracts with the Angels--Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar--and that last year's $24.5 million deal for Scott Kazmir has not returned anticipated dividends.

    In addition, in acquiring Haren and infielder Alberto Callaspo, the Angels stripped their system of six pitching prospects, although they have seldom had a prospect come back to haunt them over the years. In fact, it is hard to think of even one except for Dante Bichette, who was traded prior to his big power years with the Colorado Rockies.

   "Sometimes prospects are just that," General Manager Tony Reagins said Monday night. "Sometimes they improve and sometimes they don't. If you draft and scout well, you can replenish your system, and when you have a chance to get a front end guy like Dan Haren you have to make the move."

    This was probably the Angels biggest deadline deal ever and certainly bigger than anything predecessor Bill Stoneman consummated.

   With the deadline on Saturday, the two biggest pitching names--Lee and Haren-- have already been traded, with one more, Roy Oswalt, likely to go if his Houston Astros can complete a deal with St. Louis, his team of choice if he is going to waive his no-trade clause.

    The two biggest hitters remaining on the market are Prince Fielder and Adam Dunn, and Reagins, hoping he has escaped a major injury to Haren, said the Angels may not be done.

    "We firmly believe we are still in this thing," he said of the race, "and we have the resources to take advantage of another opportunity if it presents itself." 
                         

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Triple Crown, and Other Thoughts

                                                                                


   By David Newhan


     There is a lot of baseball hype and talk these days concerning the possibility of another Triple Crown winner. While I would love to see it happen-exciting on both a personal level and for the industry in general-- I really feel that it won't happen and might never happen again.

      Let’s face it, horse racing has not seen a Triple Crown winner for over 30 years and only 11 horses in all have achieved the feat--and some of the same dynamics are involved. One has to go back to 1978 when Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes!

      Baseball's ever elusive Triple Crown goes to the player who can lead their respective league in batting average, homeruns and runs batted in. The last man to achieve the feat was Carl Yastrzemski, who was the clutch performer behind what became known in Boston's Red Sox Nation as the Impossible Dream in 1967.

      A year earlier, in 1966, Frank Robinson led in all three categories. Before him, the famed Mickey Mantle did it in 1956. Ted Williams, despite the years he lost in baseball while an aviator defending our freedoms, accomplished the Triple Crown not once but twice! The real life John Wayne did it in 1942 and 1947. After that short list, one has to go back to the 1930’s and the talented likes of Medwick, Klein and Jimmie Fox.

     My point is obvious. It is extremely rare and difficult. A player must not only remain healthy and on top of his game every day for the course of a long season,  but he must have some luck as well. Let’s examine some of these past performances.

    Yaz in ’67 hit .326 with 44 HR’s and 121 RBI’s. At best, maybe his home run total would stand up this year, but  I have to believe someone will hit for a higher average and drive in more runs. Same argument for big Frank Robinson, whose numbers were .316, 49 HRs and 122 RBI. In 1947 Ted Williams hit only 32 HR. That surely would not hold up today. In 1942 the Splendid Splinter had only 36. The one year in which you could say the Triple Crown numbers may have stood up over the course of time was Mickey Mantle’s 1956 performance. That year Mantle hit a scorching .353 with 52 ‘taters and 130 RBI. Even then, maybe the RBI numbers aren't enough in current times.

    The thing is that despite all of these guys throwing up huge years, they each were lucky that no one else challenged in one of the areas in which their numbers were not quite as strong. Furthermore, in todays game, specialization reigns supreme. Certain guys are apt to do one or two things very well. Look at Ichiro and his average, Ryan Howard with HR’s and RBI totals, Dunn and Fielder with all their power. Even the all-around A-Rod and Pujols, for all their ability, do not always put up the necessary triple numbers.

   This year, the challengers most talked about are Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto. Cabrera trails Hamilton by 10 points in average but leads by 13 RBI. They both are three home runs shy of the lead in that category, held surprisingly by Jose Bautista. Despite my admiration and respect for Cabrera’s skill as a hitter, and what he has overcome on a personal level, I would think Hamilton, who has battled his own personal wars, has the best bet. The Ballpark at Arlington is terrific place to hit. Maybe the best in baseball. Especially for a lefty. The wind funnels out to right center and can really make the ball carry. Hamilton’s only problem might be on his own team in the form of big, bad Vlad Guerrero. Vladdy Daddy is having a resurgence in Texas and has remained healthy. He is also eating up all of Hamilton's RBI chances.While Hamilton had 67 RBI through Monday  Vlad had 76. If Vlad remains healthy, I think it will be hard for Hamilton to make up that deficit.

    Cabrera is an amazing hitter but I do not think that Detroit is as good a place to hit and that might hurt him in the HR and average race. Also, while Hamilton and Cabrera grind it out every day, Justin Morneau of Minnesota is sitting on the disabled list with his average at .345. If Cabrera and Hamilton slip a little, Morneau will come off the DL with a great chance to win a batting title.

   Like I said, you have to be lucky.

   In the NL, Joey Votto is in the mix as well as the perenial Pujols. Andre Ethier had a great start but a broken thumb cost him time on the DL. Any DL time really makes it difficult catching up in the HR and RBI categories. My argument against a Triple Crown in the NL is that there is a guy named Ryan Howard who plays in a band box. He has proven to dominate the power divisions of the Triple Crown and it would be awfully hard to supplant him in both, let alone one of those categories. Furthermore, while Pujols will annually challenge history, I think he would benefit from a park that was a little bit more hitter friendly. I would love to see history. I would love to see one of these guys get even hotter and win a Triple Crown. It is my opinion, though, that there are too many good players standing in the way of total domination in all three categories.

   I am not banking on it happening this year or any time soon.

  Trade Deadline
 
  With July 31 rapidly approaching it difficult avoiding the rumors as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

   I am sure I will get more involved over the next few days, but I had a couple of names I wanted to throw out there now.

   As a San Diego Country area resident, I would love to see the surprising Padres go out and get Ty Wiggington from Baltimore. He is a versatile defender that can flat out hit. He gives you enough on defense to keep him in the lineup every day, and the man deserves his at bats because he provides a professional RBI threat with every at bat. Also, his contract doesn’t scare you.

  Will Milwaukee part with Corey Hart? He could be another fit for the Padres or Giants. Is Philadelphia's Jason Werth on the market and,  if so, what is his value?

  With the injuries to Andy Pettite and A.J. Burnett, do the Yankees make a splash on Roy Oswalt?

  I am still unsure if Drayton McLane parts with Oswalt or Lance Berkman.

 The Mets--aside from the Rangers acquisition of Cliff Lee--already made a key deadline move by activating Carlos Beltran. This guy can get white hot and carry a team for a month at a time, but they are still in the market for a starting pitcher, and the back end of their bullpen has struggled. I think the Mets should try and pick up the versatile Brett Myers from Houston. He is affordable, pitching great, and has pennant race experience. Moreover, what Philly fan wouldn't hate to see former Phillie Myers join the dreaded Mets and help them to an NL East title or wild card berth?

  Can the cash-strapped Dodgers acquire a starting pitcher and can the Angels manage to bring in Adam Dunn now that Paul Konerko is probably off the market with his White Sox leading the American League Central?

  Anyhow, it should be exciting to see who the movers and shakers will be over the next two weeks with so many teams in the running for division titles and wild card berths.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Two-Week Trial for Angels


By Ross Newhan

     Mike Scioscia, the Angel manager, would be the last person to characterize the next 12 games as make or break for his team. His point would be that there will still be two months remaining after the Angels run the gauntlet of two games in New York, four in Texas, three at home with Boston and three more at home with Texas.

     Tony Reagins? We don't know as much about the Angels general manager as we know about Scioscia, but he tutored under cautious and conservative predecessor Bill Stoneman and I suspect he, too, would be quick to say it is too early to label any certain period as critical.

    In a way, of course, they would be right. With two months left when these 12 games are over, anything can happen,

    In their hearts, however, Scioscia and Reagins have to know that the next two weeks could go a long way in determining the Angels ability to win their seventh division title in the last eight years.

   They have to recognize that 4 1/2 games behind division leading Rangers at the start of the trip and 7 1/2 games out of the wild card lead in the AL, a poor trip could doom their hopes of continued dominance in the division.

   Much of the trip, as well, coincides with the countdown to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and the Angels can use help, if that, too, is a subject that Scioscia and Reagins will only admit in cautious terms, if they admit it at all. They need power at first base, power at third base, a map to the Fountain of Youth for Hideki Matsui and Torii Hunter, and help for both the back end of the rotation and the middle of the bullpen.

   That's a lot of help, and it isn't going to come in one trade, even if the Angels can pull off a trade at a time when they are limited in dealing by a limit of expendable prospects. Paul McAnulty, the powerless veteran (six homers in 234 major league at bats) who had been getting some time at first base, much to the chagrin of Mike Napoli, who has 16 homers, was sent to the minors Sunday.  McAnulty's departure makes roster room for Macier Izturis, the valuable clutch hitter who plays three infield positions but still isn't a catalytic Chone Figgins and still isn't the answer to a lack of power at third base, where Brandon Wood has hit three home runs and Kevin Frandsen none.

    Six AL teams have scored more runs than the Angels and four have hit more home runs, which may not sound like an offensive crises, but the Rangers, the team the Angels have to beat, has scored 43 more runs and hit 47 more home runs, and the Angels 1) do not have a compensatory edge in pitching, if they have an edge at all, and 2) lack that MVP type offensive force that Vladimir Guerrero (to bring up a sore subject) and Josh Hamilton represent to the Rangers.

    No, we may not hear much from Scioscia and Reagins about the crucial nature of these next 12 games, but in this case, silence may speak volumes.       
   

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An E-Mail to My Son

From Dad


David....good job on your blog today..I am glad you wrote about Bob Sheppard. He was a Yankee Stadium institution as much as The Boss was and it was a great thrill for me to hear him announce your name when you played for the Orioles.

When I first started to go to Yankee Stadium in the early 60s as a beat writer covering the Angels for the Long Beach paper the monuments were actually located on the playing field in center field and Sheppard would announce in that great, precise, wonderful voice, "ladies and gentlemen, you are kindly invited to inspect the monuments in centerfield, but when inspecting the monuments, please stay on the warning track. Thank you." One of my traveling colleagues, the late Bud Tucker of the San Gabriel Valley paper, could do a great imitation of that announcement, but when Reggie Jackson left the Yankees and joined the Angels in the 80s as a free agent, he was even better at it.

I will always recall a wonderfully funny player named Rocky Bridges, who was on the Angels initial team in 1961, my first year on the baseball beat. Rocky played both infield and outfield, and in one slapstick game at Yankee Stadium (of course, those expansion Angels had several slapstick games against the Yankees), there was a deep drive that got between the outfielders and, as it rolled between the monuments, the pursuing Rocky, as his teammates told it after the game, kept yelling..."Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, somebody throw the damn ball."

Love, Dad

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Random Thoughts

By David Newhan   




    I apologize for not posting lately. I have been preparing the launch of my baseball academy and workout facility in the heart of San Diego county in Sorrento Valley.

    Although I have been busy, I am very much excited to pass down what I have learned in baseball and training to young players, all of whom hope to be the stars of tomorrow.

    Furthermore, I am convinced I have left you all in great hands during my absence.

     Despite his political views, the Hall of Fame sportswriter that also posts on this site had some entertaining and insightful stuff. So, without further delay, here are some random thoughts from this past week.

Yankee Losses

   Although the Yankees lead the majors in winning percentage and have only 32 losses on the season, the team sustained two huge setbacks while not even taking the field.

    Over the all-star break, their beloved public address announcer Bob "the voice of God" Sheppard and George "the Boss" Steinbrenner passed away.

    Both, had a huge impact on the organization as well as baseball in general.

    I am thankful and grateful for the opportunity I had to play major league baseball.

    Every kid dreams of the big leagues. Like most, I always wanted to play in Yankee Stadium, the "House that Ruth Built". The history, those monuments! It is a real treat to play on that field in front of those fans.

    A huge part of that experience was Sheppard’s sweet elocution and enunciation of each players name and number as they walked up to the plate going all the way back to the debut of Mickey Mantle and beyond.

    I feel honored that I was able to hear him announce my name as I dug into the batters box there. He was nicknamed the voice of God by Yankee fans because of his precise manner in which he addressed the crowd. Unlike many anothers of today, he was not raucous or flamboyant but rather expressed the eloquence of the speech teacher that he was. Sheppard will be missed. I like the fact that Derek Jeter had a recording made of how Sheppard introduced him so that he will have it played every time he goes to bat at home.

   "Now batting, the shortstop, number 2, Derek Jeter, number 2."

   His voice was distinct, pure and absolute Yankee tradition.

  The second Yankee loss, of course, came the morning of the all-star game. Steinbrenner passed away from an apparent massive heart attack. Love him or hate him, and perhaps there was no middleground, he was a classic piece of Americana who restored greatness to the Yankee organization while maintaining class and tradition.

   The Boss was fiery and confrontational. He often used the media as his microphone, getting players and staff members attention through the front or back page of the New York tabloids. He expected greatness and demanded the best. He changed the free agent market bargaining process, and if he was going to pay the most he expected the most! I can understand that.

   He was a capitalist who took a poorly run Yankee team back to greatness. Steinbrenner has changed the landscape of baseball business and perhaps the entire world of professional sports

  He learned to exploit the big market in which he operated in to bring the best talent to a city he believed was the best in order to reach the primary goal, as exemplified by seven World Series titles. In an era where so many organizations use limited payrolls and transferred revenue sharing funds to maximize their profit it is encouraging and refreshing to fans and players to know that your owner is in it to win it!

   These two men, despite never donning a pair of spikes or the Yankee pinstripes, are Yankee greats just like all the other Yankee legends. I’m sure opposing players and fans will sit through batting practice sessions while listening and watching Yankeeography's honoring both men. I can only hope and pray that as both  pass from this life, and what a thing to envision, that maybe Bob Sheppard is announcing the Boss’ name as they take roll call for our Lord!

Homer-less

   One big topic lately is that there have been fewer home runs hit this season. It has been the least amount to this point in the season since 1993. The MLB leader has only 24 at the break.

    I know the pitching is good, all you had to do was watch a terrific All-Star game, and that there are a number of guys dominating radar guns in the upper 90s, more and more young flame-throwers, but maybe that is not the only thing that is improving.

   Perhaps, those drug tests are getting better and scaring enough players to get off of the phamaceutical sauce. Maybe now, it really is protein in those protein shakes and not testosterone.

   I guess that not only are some of the new stadiums smaller, but the players are now a little less inflated as well. Hopefully the change will create a renaissance in how the game is played in which fundamentals are key. Emphasis will now be on those who can do more than one thing--the guys that run well, play defense, grind out at bats and have all around baseball instinct.

All-Star Americana

   The all-star game is a great exhibition, if exhibition is still the right word.
 
  Now that Bud Selig gave World Series home field advantage to the victorious league I guess its not so much an exhibition game, although I really don’t think that guys play harder now than in the past.
 
  Let’s face it, nobody wants to get suited up and stink on national television when you are the only game in America. Maybe home field should go to the best record? Make too much sense? Anyways, the All-Star game is a wonderful celebration of celebrity and baseball. It has turned into an event that spans days with the insertion of the futures game, homerun derby and various parties and galas. It is a great event and the best of any of the major sports. Football’s pro bowl is too late and you can’t play 100% because of an injury fear. There is no defense in the NBA all star game. The NHL has the same injury concerns so they don’t play any defense either. Baseball is all out. Did you see Ryan Braun lay out last night? The guys are in the middle of the season and in great baseball shape. On another note, if you want a World Baseball Classic tournament, shut the season down now and have at it. This would be the best time to get the best "baseball".
 
   I also think that a reason why the all-star game is so good is because baseball is so embedded into our culture. You know, "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet". It's in our blood. Fathers and sons having a catch. Generations enjoying a common thread rooting for their home team.
 
  Even though baseball might be overpriced and Chevrolet may end up going bankrupt, they still are very much American. Timing of the game is also key. Only a week out from our Independence Day is a great time to celebrate an event featuring our national pasttime’s best players. Maybe all of this is corny and the money has spoiled some of the image, but the mid-summer classic remains a great showcase of our game and a wonderful celebration of Americana.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Boss Will Be Missed, I Suppose



     By Ross Newhan

     The camera of the mind will always see George Steinbrenner, in his patented white turtleneck and blue blazer, storming through the catacombs of the old Yankee Stadium in the cold of the October playoffs to confront a player, coach or manager regarding a questionable play or decision.

     He was a blitzkreig in motion, passionate and bombastic, a man whose syndicate bought the floundering New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million in 1973 and returned them to flagship status, valued by Forbes Magazine in April at $1.6 billion, far and away baseball's richest and most valuable. Steinbrenner, ailing over the last few years, died Tuesay morning at 80, his Yankees having won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants under his ownership, and if, with their $210 million paryoll, they came to be known as the Evil Empire, as labelled by Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, I will always recall a 1984 interview with him at his Yankee Stadium office in which he didn't back away from his style or success.

    "Am I obsessed with winning," he said. "Absolutely. "I'm obsessed with winning and everything that goes with it--discipline, pride, achievement. Isn't that the essence of this country? Isn't that what New York is all about and the Yankees always should be? I have no reason to apologize."

    Well, there would be legal issues for which an apology would have been appropriate, but that wasn't his style.

    He fired and rehired managers (Billy Martin alone had five stints at the Yankee helm) and pitching coaches with such frequency that he became a caricature on the popular "Seinfeld" television series

   He went through public relations directors with the speed of a wildfire. Who could speak for him when he would be saying something entirely different 24 hours later?

     Famous last words?

    How about his remarks on the day he became principal owner in 1973?

    "I won't be active in the day to day operations of the club at all," he said. "I can't spread myself so thin. I've got enough headaches with my shipping company."

    What is there to say or conclude about his stewardship of baseball's most famous franchise?

    Well, any conclusion, the like man himself, is paradoxical.

    --He gave millions of dollars to charity, sending more than 100 underprivleged children to college, and yet gave $40,000 to Howard Spira, a known gambler, to dig up negative information on Dave Winfield and his foundation, resulting in Steinbrenner being permanently banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990 from the day to day operations of the Yankees, a ban lifted in 1993, and his second significant suspension, having been found guilty of a felony and misdemeanor for illegal corporate contributions to President Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign (for which he was eventually pardoned by President Ronald Reagan).

    --He lifted the Yankee payroll to record heights, which gave him the right, he often said, to publicly criticize the players he was paying when they didn't perform up to expectations, at times creating such headlines with his generosity on one hand and his firings and fusillades on the other that the Yankee Stadium environment  became known as the Bronx Zoo.

     --He spread ill will and created complaints with many of his exhorbitant signings, and yet the same clubs doing the complaining happily accepted his revenue sharing checks as he raised the Yankees to marquee status again, ultimately built a new Yankee Stadium, created a network that brought in millions of dollars and further spread the pinstripe label.

     In the end, there was one other paradox, although how much he had to do with it as his health failed and he remained sequestered at his Tampa office is uncertain.

     He won a last World Series championship in 2009 under a new manager after the popular, respected and title winning Joe Torre was driven to leave by shabby contractural treatment.

    Torre wasn't specifically fired, as so many of The Boss' predecessors had been, but it was tantamount to the same thing, a last calling card from a man who will be missed--both the good and the bad.

    What else is there to say?
  
   
        

          

Sunday, July 11, 2010

So Cal All-Stars, How Can You Pick Just Nine?

     By Ross Newhan

     How hard would it be to name an all-time all-star team of players who grew up playing in Southern California--L.A., Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties?

     The answer, of course, is that it would be very hard.

     In an area blessed by weather that allows competition 12 months a year, in a former inner city and L.A. proper hotbed, it is difficult to narrow any selection to one player at each position.

     In a run-up to coverage of Tuesday night's All-Star game, my former employer, the L.A. Times, asked a few long-time observers to select such a team.

     Since I fell into the long-time category, I was asked to provide my version.

     With trepidation, here it is:

      1B--Eddie Murray, Locke High

      2B--Jackie Robinson, Pasadena Muir and UCLA

      SS--Ozzie Smith, Locke High

      3B--George Brett, El Segundo High

      LF--Eric Davis, Freemont High

      CF--Duke  Snider, Compton High

      RF--Daryl Strawberry, Crenshaw High

      C--Gary Carter, Sunny Hills High

      DH--Mark McGwire, Damian High and USC

      RH Starting Pitcher--Walter Johnson, Fullerton High

      LH Starting Pitcher--Randy Johnson, USC

      Closer--Trevor Hoffman, Savanna High and Cypress Community College

      Comments and characters are welcome, but here's some answers to predictable questions:

      --Yes, I never saw Walter Johnson pitch at Fullerton, but all biographies say he did. His family moved from Kansas to Orange County in the hopes of earning more money working in the oil fields. There is a high school named for him in Bethesda, Md., in tribute to his 417 wins with the Washington Senators. I would have liked to select two other right handed pitchers and Hall of Fame members, Bob Lemon of Long Beach Wilson and Don Dyrsdale of Van Nuys High, but 417 major league wins by a SoCal high school pitcher is impossible to overlook.

    --No, Randy Johnson did not grow up in Southern California. He attended Livermore High, but I blanked on left handed pitchers, and so did three veteran scouts with whom I talked, although I'm sure someone will come up with a name I overlooked. Johnson did pitch three years at USC, honing the wildness and skills with which he won more than 300 games and is certain to be a first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame.

    --Yes, I know that Trevor Hoffman did not pitch at Savannah or Cypress. He did not become a pitcher until he was a minor league shortstop, and now he holds the record for most career saves. I gave him a slight edge over another great closer who is in the Hall of Fame, Rollie Fingers, of Upland High.

    --No, I wasn't bothered by Mark McGwire's admission that he used a steroid precursor during his biggest home run seasons. This isn't the Hall of Fame election. McGwire was an established major league threat early in his career, and an outstanding performer at Damian and USC, although I gave a lot of thought to George Foster of Leuzinger High and Reggie Smith of Compton Centennial.

    Those names: George Foster and Reggie Smith, Ozzie Smith and Eddie Murray, Eric Davis and Daryl Strawberry are reminders of an era when the inner city was flush with African-American players who all seemed to reach the major leagues. Now, many of those diamonds have decayed, and the African-American player is more likely to focus on basketball and football, as baseball scouts the Caribbean for a new mother lode of cheaper talent, although, perhaps, John Young's RBI program and the Compton academy run by Darrel  Miller will turn it around, restoring baseball in the inner city.

    An all-time SoCal All-Star team? Impossible to keep it to one player at each position.                

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beyond the All-Star Game, the Angels Have Deeper Concerns




     By Ross Newhan

     Angel executives have been tied up preparing for Tuesday night's All-Star game for weeks. It would benefit their club if they took a quick look at the American League West standings heading into the final weekend before all of their All-Star work reaches fruition.

     The sagging and punchless Angels, swept in a four game series at Chicago, have fallen six games behind an MVP candidate named Vlad Guerrero and his explosive Texas Rangers.

     What's really important for those Angel executives should go far beyond the All-Star game to the July 31 trade deadline

    . This will be the real first test for general manager Tony Reagins, and another measure of owner Arte Moreno's committment. The reality is that the Angels need more than a power hitting first baseman and third baseman.

      They need another front line pitcher, and they are haunted by last year's tragic death of Nick Adenhart in an automobile accident.

      The Angels turned Adenhart's death into an emotional wave that they rode to their fourth division title in the last five years.

      Now, we're getting a true picture of what the loss of their top pitching prospect meant to the club.

     The Angels have added Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir since Adenhart's death, but neither has been the reliable starter that Adenhart appeared ready to be.

     There is no consistency behind Jered Weaver, and there is am absence of consistent offense in support of the unreliable pitching--a description with which the Angels would argue.
     
      "I guess we will always wonder how Nick's career would have turned out," Tim Mead, the club's longtime vice president of communications, said, "but really it's a subject that hasn't come up this year. We thought we started the year with five solid starters. If, at times, they haven't been as solid as we had hoped, the fact remains that our starters lead the American League in innings. I'm not saying that rules out anything, but it does indicate a measure of reliability."

     Can the Angels pull off a major trade, a question that became even more critical on Friday when the Rangers acquired Cliff Lee, the best available pitcher on the market, from Seattle in a six player trade?

    Lee is the ace the Rangers needed, and now the Angels are left to pursue Dan Haren or a lesser pitcher, and to find out if they have enough to trade for the power of Adam Dunn?

    The reality is that there is little left at the top of the farm system, and unless a team is willing to take draft choices, cash and low minor prospects, Reagin probably has his work cut out.

    It is easy to give $90 million to Torii Hunter when Moreno gives the OK. Filling the Angels needs before the deadline will be much tougher unless it comes down to a released player of Hank Blalock's caliber

    The Angels have been dominant in the West for almost a decade. It is difficult to think that they won't sustain that dominance again, but this is a stronger Texas team offensively, defensively and on the mound, and if the Angels aren't there in September, the last thing their fans are going to rejoice in is that they hosted the All-Star game.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Relax, It's Only the All-Star Game




By Ross Newhan

    For almost 50 years of covering baseball I have tried not to become too emotional about the All-Star selections. Whether fans vote or players vote or managers vote--or all three as in the quixotic current process--there are bound to be questionable omissions or inclusions of varying degrees. You can continue raising roster sizes, now 34 as Commissioner Bud Selig has in trying to avoid arguments and snubs, but when you require at least one player from every team, some deserving player on another team is certain to be left out. All of that is why it is strictly an attractive exhibition that should not be employed to determine home field advantage in the World Series, an overreation to the 2002 tie.

    The team with the best record should get home field advantage, even if it means MLB has to make hotel and other reservations in two or three cities, and, when it comes to the All-Star game, the best bet is simply to take a xanex, lay down, and accept the selections for what they are, and, for the most part, not always a true reflection of first half performance.

     However, there are a few topics getting hammered in print and on those mind-numbing talk shows that are probably worth a comment or two.

     --Stephen Strasburg:  Nothing else coming out of gridlocked Washington is worth talking about, so the endless focus has been on the Nationals' flame throwing right hander of whom some are saying should even be the National League's starting pitcher. Yes, Strasburg inflates interest and attendance with his remarkable strikeout totals, but after only a month in the big leagues and a half dozen starts (not all of which have been that overwhelming or impressive), there has to be some limit or guidline to the selections. At 21, staying healthy, Strasburg has a long career of All-Star appearances ahead of him. It just should not start now.

    --Joey Votto, Joey Votto:  You would think that the Cincinnati first baseman was the second coming of Lou Gehrig or Albert Pujols. What he has been, in leading the Reds to a division lead with a series of walk off home runs and the NL's highest OPS (.988), is a legitimate MPV candidate (along with the omnipresent Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez) and a clutch performer who should have been selected ahead of Ryan Howard as the league's third first baseman by the partisan Philadelphia and NL manager Charlie Manuel. Instead, Votto is one of the five candidates for the 34th and last spot being determined by internet voting. I would speculate that if he misses there, an injury will still get him on the team (perhaps replacing Jayson Heyward?).

      --All Those Yankees and Red Sox: They have been the two best teams in baseball's best division, and it is generally difficult to argue with the fact that each received six selections, a total already reduced by injuries. Just pretend you are watching a game of the week telecast Saturday afternoon on Fox or Sunday night on ESPN. It is the way it is in the Eastern dominated media and voting markets and you have to ask: How in the world did the Angels and Kansas City squeeze in last Sunday night?

      --Jered Weaver: The major league strikeout leader has a right to be insulted. It doesn't matter if he is scheduled to pitch Sunday or not (which eliminates him from pitching in the All-Star game). He deserved the recognition of being selected, as did Andy Pettitte, bypassed by his own manager, Joe Girardi.  It came down to the White Sox needing a representative, so modestly successful reliever Matt Thornton was picked ahead of Weaver and Pettitte, although Girardi is playing a game with Pettitte. The Yankee manager named C.C. Sabathia, knowing Sabathia is going to start Sunday and can't pitch in the All-Star game. He will then replace him with Pettitte, and thus honor both of his Yankee hurlers.

     --No Padre Pitcher? The team with the best record in baseball is represented only by Gonzalez. The team with arguably the best pitching has no pitching representation, although closer Heath Bell is one of the five internet candidates for the 34th and final spot. Again, as in the case of Thornton in the AL, Pitttsburgh required a player, so set up man Evan Meek (not totally undeserved), was selected ahead of Bell, set up man Luke Gregerson or starter Matt Latos. Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune raised an interesting point, however, in his Monday column. Sullivan wrote that aside from Gonzalez, the Padres, especially on the mound, are something of an ensemble cast, and it's actually a compliment that the staff was viewed as a whole without one pitcher signalled out. Some merit to that, but Bell's overall line as closer is hard to ignore.

    --Refreshing: It has been a couple years now since the steroid cloud followed Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa into the National League outfield, but for fans to vote in a young trio of Ryan Braun, Andre Either and Heyward is definitely turning a page and putting a sad and dark era further in the past.   

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rangers Look for Pitching and Ownership


  

    By ROSS NEWHAN

    Well, here we are in Anaheim, where the Angels and Texas Rangers have split the first two games of their first mid-summer showdown for dominance in the American League West, and here are my succinct impressions.
  
     The Angels remain a shade better pitching wise while the Rangers, with former Angel Vlad Guerrero and Josh Hamilton producing MVP caliber seasons, are a shade better position-wise.

     Even those modest impressions, however, remain subject to change.

     The Angels, for instance, are almost certain to acquire a power hitting first baseman and/or third baseman before the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline while the Rangers, having secured veteran catcher Bengie Molina on Thursday, seem certain to improve their pitching staff before the deadline if the complicated bankruptcy situation that envelops the franchise can be resolved before the deadline.

    "I never dreamt of being in a bankruptcy court," Nolan Ryan, who became Rangers president in February of 2008 and is a partner of Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg in their attempt to buy the club from Tom Hicks, told me by phone from the club's home in Arlinton, Tex. "It's like being on a roller coaster. One day I'm confident it will work out. The next day I remember it's in the the hands of the court and anything can happen. I try to forget about it and deal with my day to day business."

    Part of that business is working with general manager Jon Daniels in an attempt to provide the Rangers with a potentially big name pitcher capable of  stepping into the front of the rotation.

    The staff will be helped considerably if Rich Hardin and Derek Holland, both sidelined for most of the first half, can return shortly after next week's All-Star break.

    Hardin has the ability to lead a staff, but his physical uncertainty have the Rangers looking elsewhere, possibly among the many clubs interested in Seattle's Cliff Lee, who is bound to be traded before the deadline.

    Any deal the Rangers make must fit into their MLB approved budget, and receive the blessing of MLB under the terms of the bankruptcy.

    Ryan would not address Lee specifically, but he said "we have enough talent in our system that if the right deal presents itself, we might be able to do it. We would also be willing to trade draft choices if the right deal is there.

    "In other words, we feel we can put a package together, and we feel we're capable of winning the division with our hitting and defense if we can add a veteran presence to the rotation.

    "Hardin fits that status, but that's not to say we wouldn't like to do more."

    Since moving into an official position with the team, Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux have preached two things to the pitchers: Forget pitch counts and throw strikes.

    The team earned-run average has continued to fall, but Ryan said he wasn't currently happy about the number of pitches his starters have been throwing because it has put too much stress on the bullpen.

    In turn, he implied, "that's where my stress is coming from."

    Ryan was nicknamed the Express on the basis of his high 90s fastball during his 70s era tenure with the Angels, when he threw four of his record seven no-hitters.

    The late Buzzie Bavasi, the Angeles general manager at the time, always said that letting Ryan get away as a free agent after the 1979 season was the biggest mistake of his storied career.

     As Ryan continued to throw no hitters and set strike out records, first with Houston and then with the Rangers, Bavasi sent him a telegram which said:

     "I have admitted that letting you leave was my biggest mistake. You don't have to keep rubbing it in."

     Ryan, elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and Greenberg have named their ownership group Rangers Baseball Express. They reached agreement with Hicks on a $575 million purchase and filed for bankruptcy in May, attempting to unblock creditors claims that they are owed $525 million and that the club is worth more than the $575 that Greenberg and Ryan would be paying.

      A mediation process begins next week, and whether the ultimate decision will rest with the court or a proposed one day auction is unclear.

      The one certainty is that MLB seems to favor the Greenberg-Ryan group and retains the right to approve or disapprove of any candidate.

      The other certainty, said Ryan, is that they do not want the process "to drag on beyond the deadline," a clear indication they are and will be in the hunt for pitching.