Monday, June 29, 2009

Random Thoughts

- The Mets stink. They are so bad. I'd feel bad for them, except that I hate them. Objectively though, they are the worst defensive team I've seen in awhile. Daniel Murphy needs to catch the ball at some position if he's going to last in the big leagues. You can't expect Nick Evans to keep hitting bombs. With Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes out, the offense, which has some major holes to begin with, has too many easy outs to sustain rallies. While K-Rod has been pretty good, the middle-relief corps has been showing a lot of the same old vulnerability lately.

- Having said all of that, if Carlos Beltran really does need the microfracture surgery on his knee, they should probably just pack it in for 2009.

- Elmer Dessens is in the Mets bullpen these days. Yes, THAT Elmer Dessens.

- Great pickup for the Cardinals in getting Mark DeRosa from the Indians over the weekend. DeRosa can play pretty much anywhere in the field, and is the kind of good nuts-and-bolts type of player that winning teams need to have. He would have been a perfect addition for a team like the Mets, who need more guys intent on doing little, elemental things that contribute to winning baseball games, and fewer guys intent on making up dances on the top step of the dugout.

- The major-league ready piece that went the other way in the DeRosa deal, pitcher Chris Perez, had a rough outing in his Indians debut. Four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning can't be the way to impress your new club. However, the fact that the Tribe were able to get a major league player for DeRose underscores how shallow the Mets are in terms of being able to make deals. They don't have anyone on their active roster anybody would actually trade for (maybe Pedro Feliciano?) and their top minor league prospects really aren't that good. I can't see any way they could possibly acquire an impact guy like Matt Holiday.

-Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has reported that the Indians ace lefty Cliff Lee is available for trade. If true, Lee easily becomes the jewel of the pitching market as the July 31st trade deadline nears. If I was the GM of a team that needed starting pitching help (also known as every team), I'd go hard after Lee to make a serious run at winning the World Series in 2009. Lee is 30 years old and is signed through 2010, making him experienced but not old, and a relative financial bargain without an albatross of a contract.

-Hard to believe the Expos once traded Lee, with Lee Stevens, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Oops. Think the Nats could use any (all of?) those guys now.

-Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have got to be the best duo no one knows a thing about. Two great left-handed sticks, but since they're tucked away in the Twin Cities, they won't be on ESPN or Fox every weekend, as a result, won't get their just due.

-When did Russell Branyan become an All-Star? Did I miss something about his career over the last, say, decade? Good for him though...

-When Jason Bartlett hit safely in his 19th consecutive game last week, he broke the Rays' team record for longest hitting streak, which was previously held by Quinton McCracken. When Quinton McCracken holds significant offensive records, you know you're a franchise without a very illustrious history.

-Did you see the dog pile at the last out of LSU's College World Series Championship? The catcher pile-drove the pitcher to the mound, and then the rest of the team didn't just run out and fall on top of the pile, they ran out, leapt up and came crashing down on the pile. An all-timer, probably the best dog pile I've ever seen.

A Moment For Me...

Absoultely nothing to do with baseball, but I did get engaged on Friday night... And then helped my new fiancee move from Virginia to the Philadelphia area... and that's the crazyness that's been going on with me lately...

So now I'm excited to be engaged, to have my fiancee near me, and to be able to write more on here...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

James Calvin Rollins... You Can Call Him Jimmy

Jimmy Rollins is killing the Phillies. There, I said it.

The defending World Champs are plodding along, leading the hapless Mets by 2 1/2 games in a division race that should be over by now. The Mets stink. There, I said that too.

There are many reasons why the Phillies have played just bad enough to let the Mets hang around, including injuries (Brett Myers, Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz, Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey), suspension (J.C. Romero), ineffectiveness of starting pitching, and on and on.

In my opinion, though, the biggest reason that the Phillies haven't done better is because their catalyst, their leader, the man who tells everyone that the Phils are the team to beat and then goes out and backs it up with an MVP season, is killing them.

It's a very simple formula for the Fightins, almost like turnovers in football. When Jimmy is going well, the Phils win... when he isn't, they dont.

Thus far in 2009, Rollins is hitting .211 with a .254 on-base percentage. .254 on-base? From a leadoff hitter? Yuck. Rollins had 20 triples in his MVP 2007 season; he has ONE so far in 2009. He hit 30 home runs in '07; this year he has six. He stole 41 bases and was caught six times in 07; this year he's taken 10 and been caught five times.

Rollins is scheduled to return to the Phils lineup tomorrow in Atlanta after his forced weekend off. While I agree that he should be back in the lineup, I don't think you can keep him at the top for too much longer if he doesn't turn things around. The Phils have too many big hitters to have no one on base when they come up. Shane Victorino isn't a great traditional leadoff man, but he's the best option for the Phils right now.

What's Jimmy's problem? Watching him day in and day out, I don't think he's been unfocused or out of it mentally save for a brain cramp with Pat Burrell running against the Rays on Wednesday night. I also don't think that he's losing it physically, as has been suggested. He's 30 years old, and was one of the better players on the Team USA roster during the World Baseball Classic prior to the start of the season.

I do think his problem is physical, but not an injury or age. I think he's trying to drive the ball out of the park all the time. Think Willie Mays Hayes in Major League II. Watch him swing the bat. From the right side and the left, his back shoulder is dropping, and his swing cuts up under the baseball, resulting in alot of easy fly ball outs. The results of this are easy to see in the reduction in home runs and triples. He's about 5'8" and 180 lbs soaking wet, so if he's not hitting hard line drives (the kind that end up in gaps and turn into triples), balls hit in the air are outs. I'm not even concerned about his pitch selection, because he's never been the type to work counts, take pitches, foul off a bunch of good strikes, etc. He likes to swing the bat. But it's how he swings it that makes the difference.

If Rollins decides to get on top of the ball and hit hard line drives and ground balls, thus letting his speed work for him, his average will go up, along with his confidence, his on-base percentage, and his runs scored.

And if that happens, the Phillies should have little trouble running away in the NL East. But whether or not that happens is dependent on Jimmy Rollins remembering that his job is to get on base, and leave knocking the ball out of the park up to guys named Utley, Howard, Ibanez and Werth.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fathers and Sons in Baseball

Because of much craziness lately in several areas of life, I haven't had a chance to write for several days... But now I'm back...

In honor of Father's Day, I thought I'd offer some thoughts on fathers and sons that have become prominent through the game of baseball. I've included several different categories. Enjoy...

Father Was A Better Player Than the Son

-Yogi Berra over Dale Berra- These days, Yogi might be best known for his sayings, but he might well be the greatest catcher ever to play the game. Dale played 11 years in the Majors, but posted a mediocre .236 career average and gained notoriety as a part of the Pittsburgh drug trials.

-Gary Matthews over Gary Matthews, Jr.- Aside from one All-Star season in 2006, the elder Sarge has had the better Major League career, including being named MVP of the 1983 NLCS as the Phillies beat the Dodgers.

Son Was A Better Player Than the Father

-Barry Bonds over Bobby Bonds- Bobby Bonds was a dynamic player in his stint in the Majors from 1968-81. He played the outfield but possessed a game a bit like Jimmy Rollins or Jose Reyes, a guy that could hit for power, but also leg out a high number of triples and steal bases too. He was a .268 hitter with 332 home runs. His son, Barry, is one of the best players ever, with a MLB-record 762 home runs to accompany a .298 career batting average. Unlike the Griffeys, by most accounts the Bonds' have regularly handled themselves like classless jerks.

-Ken Griffey, Jr. over Ken Griffey- Ken Sr., like Bobby Bonds, was a very good player for a long time, serving as a key cog in the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s. He was a three-time all-star and retired with a .296 career average. But, like Bonds, his son is an all-timer. Junior is back in Seattle now, a 13-time all-star and one of only six players with over 600 career home runs. Unlike the Bonds', by most accounts the Griffeys are true gentlemen who treat all with respect and class.

Father and Son Could Argue And Might Both Be Right (father listed first)

-Cecil Fielder and Prince Fielder- Similar players, big, stocky (read: fat) first basemen who strike out and hit for power. Cecil hit 51 home runs for the Tigers in 1990 after a stint in Japan. Prince hit 50 bombs for the Brew Crew in 2007, and as of today is still only 25 years old. Time will tell who has the better career, but as of now, it's a push.

-Julian Javier and Stan Javier- Both average players who had nice, long big league careers. There are better examples, but I picked the Javiers because Stan is actually named for a great man that Julian played with, a gentleman you may have heard of, a fellow named Stan Musial. How good is that?

Father Was Famous For Something Else

-Longtime Major League first baseman J.T. Snow's father, Jack Snow, was a Pro Bowl wide receiver in the NFL from 1965-75 with the Los Angeles Rams

-1990s and 2000s utilityman David Newhan's father, Ross Newhan, is a Hall of Fame baseball columnist, writing for the Long Beach Press Telegram and the Los Angeles Times

Son Was Famous For Something Else

- Former All-Star outfielder Darryl Strawberry's son, DJ Strawberry, was a four-year letterwinner for the University of Maryland men's basketball team

-Former Mets and Phillies closer Tug McGraw's son, Tim McGraw, is a multi Grammy-award winning country singer

My Dad Was My Manager

-Brian McRae (Hal McRae, Royals, 1991-94, including one famous tirade)

-Cal and Billy Ripken (Cal, Sr, Orioles, 1987-88, the only manager to simultaneously manage two sons)

-Moises Alou (Felipe, Expos, 1992-96, Giants 2005-06)

My Dad Was My Teammate

-Ken Griffey, Jr.- (Played with father, Ken Griffey, Seattle, 1990-91) The Griffeys once hit back-to-back home runs on September 14th, 1990.

-Tim Raines, Jr.- (Played with father, Tim Raines, Baltimore, 2001)

Really? That Guy Is Old Enough to Have a Kid in Pro Ball?

-Doug Drabek- The 1990 NL Cy Young winner's son Kyle Drabek is a pitcher at Reading (AA) in the Phillies system, and may be the Phils top prospect.

-Lenny Dykstra- Crumbling financial empire aside, the Dude's younger son, Cutter Dykstra, is a right-handed version of the original in his first full-year in the Milwaukee system.

Broadcasting Fathers and Sons

-Marty and Thom Brennaman-Marty has been the voice of the Reds since 1974, earning induction into the Hall of Fame in 2000. Thom has been a broadcaster with the Diamondbacks, and then joined the Reds in time for the 2007 season to work alongside his father, and will eventually succeed him when Marty retires following the 2010 season.

-Jack Buck and Joe Buck- Both of the St. Louis Cardinals and national broadcasts, Jack may best be remembered for his "Go crazy" call after Ozzie Smith's walk-off home run to end the 1985 NLCS, while Joe is trying not to be remembered for Artie Lange.

-The Carays- Harry Caray is one of the most recognized and lampooned figures in American broadcasting history, and his thick glasses and out of tune renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field remain visible symbols of his influence. Harry's son, Skip, was a broadcaster for the Braves from 1976 until his death in 2008. Skip's son, Chip, was a Fox Game of the Week broadcaster prior to his current role as a baseball play-by-play man on TBS.

-Harry Kalas and Todd Kalas- Harry the K, the longtime voice of the Phillies, passed away this April, but leaves behind a broadcasting legacy in the form of his eldest son Todd, a broadcaster for the Rays. Harry and Todd became the first father and son duo to broadcast a World Series together when their respective teams squared off in the Fall Classic in 2008.

Fathers and Sons in Baseball Movies

-The Sandlot- The tale of young boys growing up on baseball and dreams of a big world illustrates the important role that baseball has played in building the relationship of boys and their fathers. In this case, Smalls' relationship with his new step-dad swings from swiping and losing the Babe Ruth ball to continually building the relationship through the game and simply playing catch.

-Field of Dreams-The essence of the male tear-jerker, and the all-time favorite movie of countless men across America. If Ray Kinsella asking his father to have a catch doesn't get to you at least a little bit, you need to quit acting like you're such a tough guy.

...And One More...

-Congratulations to West Chester University head baseball coach Greg Mamula and wife, Melissa, on the near Father's Day birth of their second child. I got to know 'Mams' when we worked together with the University of Delaware baseball team in 2005-06. He's a good baseball coach and a good man.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"This Guy Hits Bombs- Literally"


It's everywhere. It is a word that we all use, but all too often, it's used incorrectly. defines 'literal' as "in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical." Synonyms include truthful, exact, reliable.

Well friends, we have a a pandemic on our hands. I'm not talking about swine flu, I'm talking about abuse of literally. It's a pandemic because it reaches across every sport. But I've had enough.

Prior to game five of a first-round playoff series against the Penguins this year, the Flyers pre-game radio hosts informed the audience that their backs were "literally up against the wall." It was easy to see the rest of the room, I'm sure. Another of the hosts told us that the game was "literally do or die." That's right folks, win tonight, or public gallows at City Hall tomorrow morning.

It's not just commentators. Following Villanova's Sweet Sixteen win over Duke in the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament, an excited member of Nova Nation called into sports talk radio station 610 WIP and declared that for the second straight game, the Villanova defense "literally swallowed the other team and spit 'em back out on the floor." College basketball also features the most egregious abuser of literally, Mr. Len Elmore. Elmore once described a player's leaping ability by saying that he can "literally jump out of the building." Other commentators have used that phrase's cousin in saying that a certain player "can literally fly."

However, Elmore's masterstroke came late in a game about two seasons ago on a national telecast on one of the ESPN networks. With team X trailing by five-ish points, Elmore demanded more of that team's star player, claiming he had been "literally invisible" for the entire game.

Ahh, but the noble game of baseball is not immune. I can't even count how many times over the past few years I've heard a pitcher such as Billy Wagner or Justin Verlander described as "literally throwing gas." At least that one is possible. My other favorite is when an analyst tells me that (Ryan Howard/Albert Pujols/Manny Ramirez/A-Rod/pick your slugger) "is the type of guy that can literally carry an entire ballclub on his back." I'd like to see that.

The examples are all over the place if you pay attention to what people are saying. And this horrific misuse of language needs to stop now, or I may just throw myself on the ground and start throwing a hissyfit.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Recommendation- 'Dollar Sign on the Muscle'

With the completion of the Major League Baseball draft last week, I thought I would take some time to write about my favorite book about the collecting of talent for professional baseball, Kevin Kerrane's Dollar Sign on the Muscle.

Kerrane, an English professor at the University of Delaware, spent a year with Phillies scouts in the early 1980s learning about the ins and outs of baseball's hunters and gatherers.

You'll meet legendary scout Hugh Alexander, who is outlined with such verve that you can almost see the tobacco juice linger on the side of his mouth.

The scouts that Kerrane encounters bridge the gap between the old days (prior to the implementation of the draft) and the modern era that sees the draft limit the role of scouts to some extent. The scouting community's ideas aren't perfect in a modern world, as they completely miss that the pre-draft system favors the rich and powerful (think Yankees and Red Sox) while leaving middle and lower level teams out of the running for the best talent. However, it is interesting to read about how the draft structure and the MLB scouting bureau changed the whole amateur player acquisition process.

One of the most fun elements of the book are the players you'll read about being scouted, including future World Series hero Joe Carter, and a strong-armed college outfielder named John Elway. The benefit of hindsight allows you the fun of seeing how accurate or inaccurate a particular scout's take on a player turned out.

You'll also be exposed to some of the scouting lingo, particularly the scout's eternal quest for the mysterious 'Good Face.'

One minor drawback is that the book is out of print, so it is fairly difficult to purchase a copy for a decent price. However, most libraries with a substantial sports collection will have a copy obtainable for you.

In summary, Dollar Sign on the Muscle is a well-written, enjoyable book about a side of the game not often exposed to the light of day.

Some Thoughts on Sammy Sosa

I shared my thoughts on Sosa last evening, so today I thought I'd share the views of some of the baseball writers I respect immensely.

Howard Bryant, in my mind the foremost writer on the steroid era, calls for special outrage in light of the revelations about Sosa and implicates everyone- players, coaches, media, fans- for what happened over the last decade and a half.

In an especially damning story, no one inside the game of baseball appears to be very surprised that Sosa failed a test.

Buster Olney seems to agree with my point about unfounded claims against Raul Ibanez... blame the players who created the mess, not the people who point out that it still stinks.

Tom Verducci offers a 'no kidding'... and warns of more big names to come out.

The NL East on Tuesday Night

Some observations from the Blue Jays- Phillies game on Tuesday evening, which Toronto won 8-3 in 10 innings...

-The Blue Jays may have something with Ricky Romero. Good fastball, tough change and a big, breaking, 12-6 curveball. His stuff is especially tough on lefties, with Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez looking like they had no clue against him. Easy to see why you'd like the guy.

-Philadelphia fans still haven't let it go with Scott Rolen. And I doubt they ever will.

-Aaron Hill loves to swing the bat. He looks almost Uggla-esque.

-Rod Barajas came up three times in the first nine innings with the bases loaded, and got no RBI out of those three trips. And he didn't strike out. Think about that.

-The Phillies bullpen looks exhausted. Extra-inning games, injuries, rain delays and good old-fashioned ineffectiveness from the starters have conspired to wear them out. Getting back a healthy Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge will go a long way towards restoring order in the Phils' pen.

-Ryan Madson blew the save last night. Madson has great stuff, even closer-like stuff, but as I wrote yesterday, he should not be the Phils closer once Lidge is healthy.

-From the Mets-Orioles game, after the last out was recorded for Francisco Rodriguez' 17th save, K-Rod calmly shook hands and high-fived teammates, sans his normal ridiculous gesticulations. Maybe Brian Bruney's comments got through to him. Doubt it, though.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sammy Sosa Fails the Test

In a surprise to pretty much no one, the New York Times is reporting that Sammy Sosa was among the 104 players to fail a steroid test in the 2003 MLB survey testing.

Rumors about Sosa's steroid use have been circulating for years, and the matter was not helped when he suddenly forgot how to speak English at the Congressional hearings in March 2005. However, to apparently have confirmation of the fact is another blow to baseball, which continually sees it's heroes of the last 15 years go up in smoke like a nest egg built entirely upon Enron stock.

If you're keeping track at home, four of the top 10 and five of the top 12 MLB career home run leaders have been linked to steroid use.

And, out of the 104 players who failed the 2003 test, we know that Jason Grimsely, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa are three of the failees, while 101 others remain anonymous, but only until more names appear in print. And they will, as too many people have seen the list to expect it to remain out of public view.

And each time another big name appears, a little bit more of the sham of the steroids era is revealed.

The Hanging Slidepiece Man Crush List

If you're a man and you dig deep down, you know they're there. It's the guys you secretly have a bit of a man crush on. Or maybe you don't have to dig so far down, and it's not so secret. Mine have never been secrets, and now I'm putting my baseball player man crush list on the internet for public consumption. Without further ado...

National League

Brad Lidge- Perfect 48 for 48 in the Phillies World Series run... dirty slider alone is man crush worthy

Shane Victorino- Living my dream as the Phillies centerfielder... speed, energy, occasional pop

Jayson Werth- A bit like Victorino, without the brain cramps... I also love that he never shaves or gets a haircut during the season, which I also aspire to do

J.C. Romero- Herky-jerky lefty setup man... hard-sinking fastball, good change, tough breaking ball... also love how when he shakes off the catcher, he makes a face like "What? Are you an idiot? I'm not throwing that pitch"

Matt Lindstrom- 99 is no joke

Hanley Ramirez- might be the best player in the division who's name doesn't rhyme with Base Mutley

Garrett Anderson- consistent, underrated, good guy

Ryan Freel- Would dive through or into pretty much anything to make a catch. Like that old lady a few years back

Michael Bourn- Probably the fastest player I've ever seen in terms of pure speed... can't hit anything that throws lefthanded, but he got the Phillies Brad Lidge, so we'll forgive that

Roy Oswalt- Stud ace of the Astros... Owner Drayton McLain told him before game six of the '05 NLCS that if he won that game and sent the Astros to the World Series, he would buy Oswalt anything he wanted... Oswalt won the game, then asked for and received a Caterpillar bulldozer... how awesome is that?

Matt Kemp- he can throw, run, hit, everything... exciting player, very toolsy, easily my favorite of the Kemp/Ethier/Loney triumverate that some think are all the same guy

Tim Lincecum- Strange wind-up, power delivery out of a small frame... love the commercial with the avatar too

Eric Byrnes- See Ryan Freel and Aaron Rowand... emotional guy uses that emotion to show competitive fire instead of making up dances like half the Mets' roster

American League

Jonathan Papelbon- the perfect combination of a closer and his intro song with the Dropkick Murphys doing "I'm Shipping Up to Boston"... also throws hard and heavy, and pitches with a scowl

Jason Varitek- baseball's Maximus, a great leader for a championship team... his fight with A-Rod in '04 still stands as a defining moment in the rivalry, a real life example of how the Sox weren't going to be intimidated or pushed around by the Yankees anymore

Evan Longoria- Great baseball name... great baseball player

Roy Halladay- A man's man among aces... total horse, old school, give me the ball and leave me alone because I'm finishing this game pitcher... great to watch compete

Adam Jones- Star in waiting... think the Mariners would trade Erik Bedard back to Baltimore for Jones? Think the Orioles would? I'd guess the one word coming out of the mouths of Seattle executives about that deal- Oops.

Grady Sizemore- he's got all the tools, uses them well... if you can't tell I love centerfielders and closers

Josh Hamilton- So good that not even drug addiction could rob him of his talent... hits balls that shouldn't be possible to hit... great arm, speed, range, everything... might be the most talented player in baseball

Scot Shields- Just placed on DL for the season, but everything he throws is hard, nasty, and moves... nothing wrong with that

Brandon Morrow- Smoke, gas, cheese, heat, cheddar, bullets, etc, etc, etc... high-90s fastball, generally keeps it down, can look overpowering

Matt Holiday- Impact right-handed bat... hits for power and average, with good wheels... numbers now look a bit inflated by Coors Field, but he's still a player


I love the College World Series. The ping of the aluminum bats. The exuberance of the crowds. The passion and hunger of the players. The fact that something important in the baseball universe takes place in Omaha, Nebraska. I love it.

Every year around this time, college baseball takes center stage on the ESPN family of networks. The game is still the same, with subtle strategic differences from the pro game. Because of the forgiving nature of an aluminum bat, collegiate pitcher's pitch away from contact instead of inviting contact outs in the name of pitch economy. The sacrifice bunt is also much more prevalent in college. But by and large, baseball is baseball, and Rosenblatt Stadium showcases some of the most exciting games you'll see all year.

I remember my first exposure to the College World Series, the 1996 final between LSU and Miami. As a 13-year old professional baseball snob, I didn't think there was any way the college game could be nearly as exciting as the professional game. After all, they aren't even pros, right?

Well, I was wrong. The game proved to be a taut thriller, as the game proved to be a back-and-forth slugfest that gave me a few names to tuck away for a rainy day.

As I traded study time for my English final to my dad for allowing me to watch the game longer, Miami ace J.D. Arteaga helped pave the way for a 7-3 Hurricanes lead going to the seventh inning. The Canes also showcased a hot shot freshman third baseman that day, a 19-year old who led the nation with a .476 batting average and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. This fellow's name was Pat Burrell, which I remembered well and was very excited about when my beloved Phillies made him the first overall pick in the draft two summers later.

Back to the game, the Burrell and Arteaga led Canes held a 7-3 lead in the seventh, but the Tigers scored twice in the bottom of the seventh and eighth to tie the game at 7-7. Miami scored one in the top of the 9th, and brought on closer Robbie Morrison. Morrison allowed a baserunner but got two outs to bring up LSU second basemane Warren Morris. Morris roped a pitch from Morrison down the right field line and just inside the foul pole to give the Tigers a 9-8 win and the College World Series championship. The homer was Morris' first of the season. This of course produced the championshp dogpile, which is best done on the field at Rosenblatt after the final out of the final game.

Morris went on to play a few years in the majors, reaching no higher than the level of being "a guy." But do you think he pays for a drink or a dinner very often in Baton Rouge? I don't either. I have no idea what I got on my English final, by the way. My dad doesn't either. But I do know that I was introduced to Burrell, who became quite a figure in my summers for the next decade.

So who will it be this year? There probably won't be a walk-off homer to end the series, but there probably will be unlikely heroes and names to hold onto, just like there were for me in 1996. If you've never given it a look, take my advice and do so this year.

The Lingering Effect of Steroids on Baseball

In 2005, a young singer named Keyshia Cole released a song titled 'I Should Have Cheated.' In the chorus, the soft rasp of the 23-year old Cole declares "I might as well have cheated on you/as much as you accused me of cheating." Intricate and profound it's not, but I wonder if the lyric doesn't express the sentiment of some current Major Leaguers dealing with the residue of the steroid era. Many players were clean during the era, but with the constant wondering and suspicion, some must wonder if they should have just given in, since no one believes a player's denials anyway.

Before I go any further, let me first say that I'm not arguing any player who did it the right way in the 1990s and 2000s should regret what he may have missed out on had he taken the steroid plunge. (Admit it, that's a good pun... get it, with the syringe... anyway).

As I wrote earlier, Raul Ibanez reacted angrily to internet allegations that his hot start this season was juice infused. And to me, Ibanez seems like one of the last guys that would be juicing right now... he has a sterling reputation and just got paid big money, what does he have to 'roid up for?

But it does call to the forefront the stain of the steroid era left on all players who were a part of that era, whether they used PEDs or not. Ibanez made his Major League debut in 1996, and became a full-time Major Leaguer in 1999, right smack in the middle of the height of the steroid era. Rightly or wrongly, every player who appeared in the Majors during that time is under the same cloud of suspicion.

I understand Ibanez' anger towards the suggestion that he has used PEDs, I really do. However, I don't think it is fair for Ibanez' anger to be directed at a blogger who wrote something that many undoubtedly were thinking. Instead, the anger and blame should be directed at his fellow players and their union, who for so long ignored what was going on and even protected the interests of those who were using and abusing the chemicals.

But wait, you may think... how can blame be placed at the feet of those who were doing what they were supposed to? The short answer is that they either didn't know enough or didn't care enough about what was going on to try to stop it. And because baseball and the player's union didn't do anything to stop it, every player, clean and dirty is guilty by association. The 2003 steroid survey testing netted 104 positive tests. Alex Rodriguez was one, and in 2006 when he was busted by the Feds, Jason Grimsley stated that he had failed a test in 2003. That leaves 103 players who wake up every day wondering if that will be the day they get outed as a cheater... and countless more who didn't cheat but feel the weight of the unknown.

Howard Bryant, whose work I highly recommend, wrote an article about David Ortiz and his struggles about six weeks ago, right before Manny Ramirez' suspension was announced. Bryant wrote a follow-up column several days later, which explains more eloquently than I could the bind that the steroid era has put all players from this era in. Bryant received one (ONE!) email out of 109 in the 48 hours after the original column that DIDN'T accuse Ortiz of steroid use. Even in America, our national pasttime now has a 'guilty until proven innocent' standard applied to it, which really is too bad. At the same time, it's hard to feel bad for the players who now suffer the consequences, as they are in the position that they put themselves in. I don't remember who wrote it, but I recently read a line that sums it up well: steroids have done to baseball what they also do to the body... delivered short-term gains and glory for long term health and credibility.

It's easy for me or anyone else to sit back and say that they would not have used steroids if they were in that situation. Think about it though. I mean really think about it. Baseball is a job for these guys, it's how they put food on the table. For every guy like Ken Griffey, Jr. or Barry Bonds, there's a guy like Mark Bellhorn or Aaron Miles just struggling to stay in the league. Think about your job. What if there was something you could take that would make you do your job better, alot better. You can't get caught because there's not monitoring of it, and even if you do get caught, there are no penalties. Improving your performance will potentially set you up for life financially, but if you don't take it, there are plenty of people that are trying to take your job. When you think about it like that, do you really think there's a salesman, or accountant or anything else that wouldn't at least be tempted to do it? If you wouldn't be tempted by that, you're a better person than I am.

The steroid era is a difficult one to encapsulate. No one can give a definitive start or end date to it, and many if not most people believe that steroids and other PEDs are still a part of the game. My girlfriend, who has become a baseball fan over the last year or so, presented an interesting case study in trying to define the era. She asked "If Alex Rodriguez failed a drug test, and J.C. Romero also failed a drug test... then why did J.C. get suspended and A-Rod didn't?"

The answer, like all in the steroid era, is messy at best. And it's a mess that continues to linger on the players still in the game, and muddies the view of everyone wanting to see nothing but the innocence of the national pasttime. Until faith is restored in our heroes and that view is clear, Raul Ibanez and all the other players from this era will remain under a dark cloud of suspicion, fair or not.

Baseball and the Blogosphere

Last week, Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez angrily denied speculation in a baseball blog that his torrid start to the 2009 season is in any way linked to use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Ibanez' stated willingness to have anything his body produces tested speaks volumes to me about how serious he is in defending himself regarding this issue. He appears to be the type of guy that would tell the Player's Association to stick it if they told him not to submit to any of these tests, particularly if he felt that by doing so he could end any suspicion, no matter unfounded it may be.

The Ibanez situation brings up two interesting issues confronting the game right now, and neither of them is directly related to Raul Ibanez, he's just the vehicle that brought the issues to the forefront. No, these issues do not include 37-year old outfielders having All-Star caliber seasons, but do include the role of the blogosphere in our national game and the stain of steroids left on all players who were a part of that era, whether they used PEDs or not.

Over the last 10-15 years, the term 'blog' has entered our collective lexicon and gained traction because of many of the same reasons that YouTube has... anybody can be a star. The really good ones can become famous, like Mike Florio's, which has become so influential that it was bought up by NBC and Florio left his day job as an attorney to work on the blog full-time.

However, a terrible element of blogs sounds eerily familiar... anybody can be a star. Any Joe, Jim or Bob can start a blog (like me) and just start ranting and raving and making accusations with no repercussions about anything, be it baseball, or politics, or religion or shoes. While many prominent journalists do in fact now feature their own blogs, they are held to journalistic standards of integrity that many bloggers simply don't adhere to. If Buster Olney accuses an MLB star of using steroids or beating up his girlfriend or hating puppies, he had better have some good evidence or sources to back up what he says. Without this, his professional reputation takes a dive, and anything he says in the future will be looked upon with wary eyes.

If you don't believe that, take a look at the issues that Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts has created for herself. She was at the forefront of the rush to tar and feather the Duke University lacrosse team over rape allegations in 2006, and even after the allegations proved to be just that, Roberts steadfastly refused to apologize or retract anything she had written about the falsely accused, and rightly took alot of heat for it. Roberts' recently published book about Alex Rodriguez received endless media attention prior to its release, but this attention has turned into less than 20,000 copies of the book actually being sold. You don't think that part of the disappointing sales of the sensational tome about A-Rod are due at least in part to the past misfires of its author? I know I do.

I'd like to think that as someone who learned about media ethics and responsibility in college and then worked with both teams and media on the Division I college level, I hold myself to a higher standard in what I write, and that I don't say anything that isn't either a) true or b) fair. If everyone with a blog did the same, maybe baseball bloggers on the whole would be seen more akin to Buster Olney, and less so to Selena Roberts.

As far as 'the stain of steroids left on all players who were a part of that era,' that would be best covered in another posting. So I think I'll end this one and start working on that one.

Lidge to the DL

The Phillies finally placed Brad Lidge on the DL, retroactive to June 7th. Ryan Madson has been, and will continue to, serve as the Fightins closer in his stead.

As I wrote in my first topical post on this blog, right around Memorial Day, I felt that Lidge was hurt and was trying to tough his way through it. However, after two blown saves against the Dodgers on the Phils recent West Coast swing, GM Ruben Amaro, Manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee took the decision out of Lidge's hands and sat him down.

There has been much conjecture (especially on the radio airwaves) since the announcement that Lidge is not really hurt, and was just given two weeks off because of his recent struggles. After all, everyone in the organization has been saying he's just fine.

More likely, in my opinion, is that everyone said Lidge was just fine because he intended to fight through it, but now they're done pretending since the injury is obviously effecting his ability to pitch.

Two signs I think show that he really is hurt. First, from comments from Lidge and others with the Phillies indicate that it's no sure thing he will be activated from the DL immediately after he is eligible to return. Second, Amaro, as a guest on 610 WIP's morning show on Friday morning (6/12/09) stated that Phils trainer Scott Sheridan told him that the night after Lidge received a cortisone injection in his balky right knee was the first time in a long time that Lidge was able to sleep on his right side, which he was unable to do because of the discomfort in the knee.

Madson has been perfect as Lidge's replacement so far, and in the highly-charged, instant gratification society in which we live, there has been a sizable, and in my opinion unfounded, push among some fans and media to give the closer's job to Madson permanently. No. NO, NO, NO. Lidge had the best season a closer has ever had last year and Madson has never closed. No. Madson has been fine as Lidge's fill-in, but the best scenario for Lidge, Madson and the Phillies is to keep Lidge on the DL until his knee is completely healthy, and after that return him to the closer's role, while allowing Madson and lefty J.C. Romero to form the aptly named 'Bridge to Lidge.'

This arrangement carried the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008, and a healthy Lidge could be the key to the Phils doing it again in 2009.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stephen Strasburg and the Draft

With the annual Major League Baseball first-year player draft scheduled to begin tomorrow, much has been said and written about San Diego State right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the draft process in general.

Strasburg has been referred to as a once-in-a-decade kind of talent, a claim buyoed by his high-90's fastball, low 90's slider and legitimate hammer of a curveball.

The Washington Nationals hold the first pick in the draft and are expected by most to make Strasburg their pick. And that's where the fun begins...

Because of his unique skill set and potential, Strasburg (along with 'advisor' Scott Boras) are expected to command a $50 million bonus to sign with the Nats, which blows away the previous record in the neighborhood of $10.5 million.

The Nationals are baseball's worst team by far, and have major issues up and down the roster. Selecting and signing Strasburg would be a big step towards gaining credibility for a currently sorry franchise.

But $50 million? One does not have to look very far to see several names that were high draft picks, commanded large bonuses, and then washed out, some without even making it to the majors. No pitcher drafted number one overall has ever been a perennial all-star or Hall of Fame type pitcher. And $50 million is the type of money that if you invest wrong, your team is going to be hamstrung for a long time. It's not a perfect analogy, but look at what happens to NFL teams when they botch the first overall pick in the draft and dole out a huge bonus. (Salary cap implications aside).

On the other hand, if the Nationals don't get Strasburg and sign him, it will be a PR blow they can ill-afford. Attendance is sparse in the second season of a new park, and none of the moves the team has made since going to the new park has sparked much excitement. Passing on Strasburg or picking him and failing to sign him (as they did with last year's first round pick, Aaron Crow) would further create a perception that the Nats aren't trying all that hard to do what it takes to win.

The Strasburg call is a difficult one, and I'm glad I don't have to make it. He might be the real-life embodiment of Sidd Finch, or he could be Brien Taylor all over again. Only time will tell what kind of investment Strasburg was worth.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Observations from Around the AL

-Boston might be better off just releasing David Ortiz. I'm not buying that his eyes are the issue. To be where they are while getting zero out of one of their big boppers is a real credit to that whole organization.

-Nick Green is not a good enough shortstop to keep playing for the Sawx.

-The Yankees can hit the ball, and Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte give them a chance. I'm still (very) skeptical of their ability to get the ball to Mariano Rivera, unless one of the aforementioned hands it straight to him.

-Return to reality for the Rays. Turns out trading Edwin Jackson wasn't such a great idea.

-I like some of the pieces the Orioles have (Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters). They have zero pitching though. It looks like the beltway has been completely drained of viable pitching between the O's and the Nats.

-I kind of hope the Jays stay in it with the big boys in Boston and New York. Anytime we can see more of Roy Halladay, it's a good thing.

-Cleveland has a ton of injuries, and with that we can't really tell what they are. Cliff Lee has been better lately after a rough first few outings.

-Edwin Jackson has been huge for the Tigers. If they can continue to get anything at all out of Dontrelle Willis, it could be a big break for them. Fernando Rodney is looking good, and Joel Zumaya might be back at some point. I'll believe the thing about Zumaya when I see it.

-After being spurned by Jake Peavy, I would expect the White Sox to still be players for a big-time arm. I don't think they're any good, but Ken Williams doesn't just sit around and wait for something to happen.

-Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer might be the best duo in the Majors that the nation doesn't know enough about. They're both great players and fun to watch.

-I hope Kansas City can continue to develop some good young players, and unlike Pittsburgh, keep them. I saw Mike Moustakous in Wilmington (A) a few weeks back, and he sure seems primed to become a good one.

-Seattle has apparently put Eric Bedard on the market. Good luck trying to get an Adam Jones level prospect back. I could make a dopey analogy to investing in General Motors or some other company that's gone in the tank in the last year and a half, but I won't.

-Kelvim Escobar made a start for the Angels this week. Is it just me, or does it seem like the last time he started, Mike Witt pitched the next day.

-Matt Holiday said he wouldn't mind if the A's traded him. Translation: Get me out of here now.

-Vicente Padilla is a nut. He could never put it together in Philadelphia, and just looks like the type of guy that will never get it. He's a pitching Carl Everett, if you will.

-Hurry back, Josh Hamilton. Everything is more fun when you're around. What a talent. I'm so happy that not even drug addiction and years of waywardness have sapped his God-given abilities. And with a great message of hope and redemption to boot.

Observations from Around the NL

-Jimmy Rollins is in a funk. Bad. He went 0-5 on Friday night in LA to drop his average to .219 and wasn't in the lineup on Saturday afternoon in favor of Eric Bruntlett.

-If J.J. Putz is out for an extended period, the Mets have some serious issues moving forward.

-It sure looks like Tom Glavine got done dirty by the Braves.

-Memories of a torrid April are nothing more than that for the Marlins

-The Nationals might be the worst defensive team I've ever seen. An outfield of Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn? All at the same time? Yikes.

-Dave Duncan is unbelievable. Look at the reclamation projects on that Cardinals roster right now. Kyle Lohse, Joel Piniero, Ryan Franklin. Are you kidding me?

-Ryan Franklin's goatee is headed toward Jeff Bagwell land

-The Astros stink. Sell, Ed Wade, you're not in it. No need to acquire Randy Wolf this year.

-What in the world is going on with the Pirates? Trading away Nate McLouth for minor leaguers, still several years away from free agency. How can the management of that team tell its fans they're trying to win with a straight face. Terrible.

-Imagine Milwaukee if they had Ben Sheets or C.C. Sabathia.

-Aaron Harang apparently threw 15 pitches every 15 minutes during a recent rain delay so that he could go back into the game (which was in the fifth with the Reds winning) and get a win. Either a move to be applauded because of his desire to win, or condemmed for being so selfish.

-The Cubs have too many hitters that can't field.

-Orlando Hudson is a great player. Always been great in the field, he's getting it done with the stick now too.

-Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Cory Wade. All starting (or continuing) to grow into stellar Major Leaguers. All 27 or younger.

-The Diamondbacks are a disaster. A.J. Hinch appears to be in over his head. Must be especially tough on a gamer like bench coach Kirk Gibson. Sell Jon Garland and any other tradable assett you have while you can.

-By all accounts, Clint Hurdle is a good man, but as a manager, he really only had a few good weeks. Granted, those weeks saw the Rockies go 22-1 on their way to the World Series, but four great weeks do not outweigh seven and a half mediocre years.

-The more I see, the more I think the 2007 Rockies were just one big, colossal fluke. Garrett Atkins and Troy Tulowitzki are struggling mightily, and the pitching staff is putting up pre-humidor like numbers.

-Congrats to Randy Johnson on reaching 300 wins. Probably the last for awhile, but not the last ever. Johnson is the most menacing, most dominating lefthanded pitcher that I've seen, and it's not really that close.

Why Baseball is Great

There are a million reasons why baseball is a great game. Friday night proved the truth of the old axiom that says "every time you go to the ballpark you might see something you've never seen before."

In Los Angeles, the two best teams in the majors record wise matched up for the second of a four game set. After winning game one of the series, the Phillies led the Dodgers 3-2 entering the ninth inning. Phillies closer Brad Lidge entered the game and retired the first two Dodgers to put Philadelphia within an out of taking the second game of the series. Lidge, who has been pretty much untouchable since I wrote last week that I think he's hurt, walked the next hitter and allowed a single to put runners on first and second with two outs. Russell Martin followed for the Dodgers, hitting a grounder to Phils third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is one of the best defensive third basemen in the majors, but Martin's ball handcuffed him and kicked away to his left, allowing Martin to beat the throw and load the bases. Andre Ethier followed with a double to bring in two runs and turn a 3-2 Dodger loss into a 4-3 LA win. As a fan of the Phillies, I wasn't too happy to see this, but it shows again how you never know exactly what can happen in a baseball game. The Dodgers were down to their last out against the unbeatable closer, then won anyway. They won not because Lidge had no command or gave up a pair of 500 foot home runs, but because they got a break when a great defensive player didn't make a routine play.

At about the same time several hundred miles north in Seattle, the Twins and Mariners squared off in the type of game people will tell stories about years from now. Tied 1-1 in the top of the 10th inning, Joe Mauer led off with a double and the M's intentionally walked Justin Morneau. Jason Kubel appeared to have given the Twins a three-run lead, but Mariner centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez reached over the wall in left center and snagged Kubel's drive in the heel of his glove to record the first out of the inning. While the play looked as if it may give the Twins the lead, it did advance Mauer to third. With .179 hitting Matt Tolbert at the plate, the Twins attempted a suicide squeeze, but Seattle's rookie manager Don Wakamatsu sniffed it out and ordered a pitchout, which blew up the squeeze attempt as Mauer was tagged out. With two outs now, Tolbert floated a pop fly to left that appeared destined to pull the Mariners back in off the ledge after almost being pushed off twice. However, Wladimir Balentien misjudged the ball and couldn't come up with the catch, allowing Morneau to come around to score the go-ahead run. Facing a 2-1 deficit with two outs in the bottom of the inning, Ichiro Suzuki came to the plate with one more chance to extend his 27-game hitting streak. Twin closer Joe Nathan struck him out to cap it all, giving the Twins a win, ending Ichiro's career-best hit streak, and dealing the Mariners a bitter defeat.

Friday night gave us just two more reasons to keep getting out to the ballpark. You never know what you might see while you're there.

Where Do the Phillies Go To Replace Myers?

The Phillies' recent loss of Brett Myers to hip surgery leaves the defending World Series champions without their number two starting pitcher, the man who has taken the ball the last three opening days for the Phils.

In his stead, 23-year old fireballing lefty Antonio Bastardo shut down the Padres on Tuesday evening at Petco Park. Bastardo, who featured his fastball almost exclusively, earned himself a second start, this one scheduled for the nationally televised ESPN game against the Dodgers on Sunday evening in Chavez Ravine.

Bastardo may prove to be the next incarnation of Fernando Valenzuela or Dontrelle Willis, a lefthander who takes the league by storm in his first go-round with the big boys. More than likely though, Bastardo will look like what he actually is- a 23- year old that had started only one game above the AA level that currently possesses only one major league ready pitch (fastball).

If that happens, and it almost certainly will, the Phillies will need a pitcher. In previous years the Phils have acquired the likes of Kyle Lohse and Joe Blanton, middle of the rotation guys who can help you out in a stretch drive. But with Myers out, the Phils need a legitimate stud to back up Kid Cole at the top of the rotation. But who?

Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, as connected a baseball man as any, recently spoke with GM Ruben Amaro and offered a primer on who the champs might target. The sexiest names on the list are Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt.

My feelings on the candidates mentioned so far vary. Peavy is young and obviously very good, but his contract could become an albatross, and he doesn't seem very excited by the prospects of leaving San Diego. He appears to be a mid-western or West Coast type of guy, one that wouldn't jive very well with the big cities and bright lights seen in Philadelphia, New York or Boston.

Roy Oswalt is the name that excites me the most. He's still relatively young (turns 32 in August), has a more managable contract than Peavy, and has taken the ball and succeeded in big games (Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS anyone?). Like Peavy, he has a full no-trade clause, but seems more inclined to waive his to go to a contender.

Eric Bedard. No. He's lefthanded, which the Phils already have three of in the rotation, and by many accounts, he's, um, a jerk, who's act won't fly too well in Philadelphia.

Cliff Lee might be the most enigmatic name on the list. Do you think he's the guy that went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in winning the AL Cy Young last year, or the guy with a 6.29 ERA in 2007? So far this year he holds an ERA under 3.00, but he has also allowed 95 hits in 82 innings. Maybe a new team in a new league reignites his dominance. Or maybe going to a team in a hitters park gets him derailed. I don't think anyone can confidently say one way or the other.

With the Mets playing poorly (swept in Pittsburgh this week) and dealing with issues from hamstring tears to bone chips to horrible intestinal viruses, the Phillies do have some time to figure out how to address their pitching issues. However, July 31 comes sooner than you think, especially as other teams experience injuries and attempt to land a front of the rotation pitcher.

The injury to Brett Myers presents new GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. with his first major in-season test. He's saying all the right things, and doing his due dilligence while looking to add a pitcher. However, his action, or lack thereof, could prove to be the difference between this Phillies team watching the postseason on TV or making its second straight march down Broad Street with a big, shiny trophy in tow.