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He’s a Giant! He’s a Catcher! He’s Busta!

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Buster Posey was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player on Thursday. This season Posey had returned after being out more than half of last season after a collision at home plate that left him with a devastating leg injury. Not only did he fully recover, but in 2012 Posey set career highs with a .336 average, 24 homers and 103 RBIs. He helped the San Francisco Giants get to the World Series and win it in four games, becoming the World Champions for the second time in 3 years. Posey is the first catcher in four decades to win the award, determined by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Posey’s 2011 collision

My admiration for catchers is immense. In my opinion, they do the hardest job in the game, squatting for 9 or more innings, up and down, up and down–the physical wear and tear alone is enormous. Then there’s the psychological aspect of managing pitchers, who, as I’ve pointed out before, are frequently psychotic.  

Catchers are underpaid and underrated. Jorge Posadawas my favorite player partly because of his position. I used to call him “Jorge-He-Does-It-All” whenever he hit a clutch home run or a Grand Slam. He was a catcher who hit well.

Jorge Posada

Not superlatively, but well; some catchers can barely connect bat to ball. They’re also notorious for not running very fast on those wobbly “catcher’s legs” that are always going up and down, up and down…okay, no need to belabor the point. It’s a tough job.

That’s why, when a Buster Posey comes along, give credit where credit is due. He’s only 25 and just starting his career–with a bang. It’s going to be fun watching him mature and get even better. Go Buster!

Slideshow: Baseball’s Greatest Catchers

 

Barry Zito’s Chatter: The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher

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Barry the Beautiful

I had to laugh when I checked my stats today and saw Dirty Laundry got its second highest number of views of all time yesterday. Under “Search Terms” were several variations of “Barry Zito Talks To Himself.” The phrase linked readers to the many posts I’ve written over the years about Zito, who I’m obviously mad about (if only he wasn’t so much younger than me…).

Anyhow, it’s true: Barry talks to himself on the mound with no shame or embarrassment. I don’t know if he’s conscious he’s doing it, but he must be, since he’s such a conscious human being–he meditates and does yoga regularly. I’d love to be a fly on the mound so I could hear what he’s saying. His chatter must help him in some way with pitching. Besides, pitchers are known to be the quirkiest players in baseball; some are nearly psychotic. I wrote a post about this once–but I left Zito off the roster of loco pitchers, since he’s so sane compared to the others. I mean, what’s a little muttering on the mound? It’s not like breaking a player’s hand (Hernandez to A-Rod) or throwing broken bats at them (Clemens to Piazza) or knocking down old men (Pedro Martinez to 70-something Don Zimmer).

When I was a kid I had a friend who talked to herself. She was an only child, and she told me she did it because she was alone all the time with nobody else to talk to. I’ve been talking to myself more and more as I get older, even in public; I’ve tried to control it, but cannot seem to stop. Part of the reason I do  it is because, like my old friend, I’m alone a lot these days.

Maybe that’s also Barry’s reason: up on that mound, he’s so very alone. Maybe his self-conversing is an antidote for The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher. Whatever the reason, if it helps him do what he’s doing these days, he can do as much of it as he wants.

Go Barry Baby!

SF Giants Beat STL Cardinals 5-0 in NLCS

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Barry Zito

Now that the Yankees are out of World Series contention, I’m moving on, putting my eggs into the SFGiants basket. Last night in GAME 5 OF THE NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES they SHUT OUT the St. Louis Cardinals 5-0, led by the hip, beautiful, and much challenged Barry Zito on the pitchers mound. He threw 115 pitches in 7.2 innings of SHUTOUT BASEBALL and picked up the win. His ERA for 2012 was 3.97, fairly respectable considering what most of his Giants years have been like; in fact, they’re calling this Zito’s comeback season. It’s been rough, watching him sink as soon as he crossed the bridge from Oakland to SF six years ago, going up and down—mostly down—after becoming the highest paid pitcher, at that time, in the majors. Booed and battered (literally!) he managed to weather it all with dignity, but who knows what went on inside the poor guy’s head and heart.

Anyhow, back to bats and balls: The whole team was in fine form last night. They broke the game open in the 4th inning, scoring 4 and knocking Lance Lynn, the Cardinals starting pitcher, off the mound.   Pablo Sandoval led off the top of the 8th inning with a solo home run—and that’s all she wrote. The Cards never scored and the game ended at 5-0.

St. Louis’ advantage was cut to 3-2. The big gain is that the series comes back to San Francisco now to play Game 6 in front of the Giants’ avid and loyal fans on Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 11 of 76 Major League Baseball teams that have fallen behind 3-1 have come back to win a best-of-7 series. If anyone can do it, it’s the Giants. Their 2009 World Series involved constant fan torture as they squeaked through each inning and each game.

Not to over emphasize Barry Zito’s part, but according to MLB reporter Chris Haft, “It could be suggested that this game alone justified Zito’s seven-year, $126 million contract, which made him an object of scorn among the media and many Giants fans during his struggles on the mound. But, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy observed, ‘He’s always been a standup guy with everything.’”

Zito was as cool about winning as he is when he loses:   “If you get too caught up in the hype and everything else, things get erratic out there,” Zito said. “I was focused on slowing everything down. … I was living pitch to pitch, moment to moment.”

Written with assistance from Daryl Hochheiser

More of My Posts on Barry Zito:

Barry Zito’s Chatter
The Return of Barry Zito
Zito Razzle-Dazzles
All Barry, All The Time (Includes “The Ballad of Barry Zito)
Giants Beat Cards in NLCS 2012

 

 

Barry the Beautiful

Hot Baseball in Cool October

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Can Jeterless Yankees Win?

Derek Jeter, who has started all 158 postseason games the Yankees have played since 1996, ranks among baseball’s most prolific playoff performers:

Statistic
Games 158
BA .308 (200-650)
Runs 111 *
HR 20 *
RBIs 60 *

* Jeter ranks in the top five all-time in these categories
  – ESPN Stats & Information

Then again, it’s Cool Raoul–Raoul Ibanez–who’s been carrying the team with magic home runs. I say magic because he hits them exactly, precisely, when the team most needs them. He even hits the exact, precise number that are needed. Sometimes, like two games ago, his heroics save the game. Other times the rest of the team, sadly, just doesn’t come through. But Raoul is becoming so clutch that everyone’s calling him cool, even announcers and  headline writers. I hate to brag (like hell!) but as far as I know, I’m the first one to dub him Cool Raoul and make up song lyrics to fit.

The thing is, even if the Yankees do overcome the loss of Derek Jeter in playing, the situation is just too sad. Jeter’s had one of his best years; at the age of 38, he’s been playing with guns blazing. Playoffs are his thing. He loves October. The year the World Series went late because some crazy guys drove airplanes into buildings in New York Jeter was dubbed Mr. November. He’ll put a good face on, and he’ll be there to support his brothers–but it’s a drag he has to do it from the dugout.

So here we are facing Detroit for the American League Championship, and the chance to move on to the World Series. We haven’t yet faced Justin Verlander in this series, and he’s scary as hell. He made short shrift of the poor A’s by pitching in both their first and last games.

I’m still hoping for a Yankee-Giants World Series: it would mean watching the games from the back fence in the SF park, major fun, and hanging out in nearby sports bars. Of course, I could be taking my life in my hands, rooting for the Bronx in San Francisco. Would they throw me into the bay? Then again, Giants fans don’t beat up the opposition, though they sometimes get beaten up by violent LA fans. But this is the City by the Bay, where peace, love, and sex rule. I can always wear my SF shirt and my Yankee cap. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to give the Bronx Bombers a real San Francisco treat….uh, welcome.

Barry Zito

A Month of Baseball

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In looking at the significant (to me, that is) baseball events of April 2012 as a diehard Yankee fan, I cannot resist calling attention to the plight of the Red Sox, who are hanging out down in the basement of the AL East Coast division. Another of my least favorite teams, the LA Angels, are moldering in the West Coast basement. That’s more shocking than the Sox, considering that the Angels landed Albert Pujols and pitcher CJ Wilson; WTF more do they need?

The New York Yankees

Unfortunately, the Yankees aren’t exactly flying high.

Pitching Problems: Back in November, just after the 2011 season ended, Joe Girardi, who apparently comes from the Don’t Worry Be Happy school of management, bragged to the media that he already had his pitching rotation for 2012. No problemo, amigos. Right away I knew we were in trouble: Yankee scouts weren’t out beating the bushes and fields, looking for new pitchers to replace Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett. Thus the inevitable came to pass: two of the starters, Hughes and Freddy Garcia, are inconsistent to the point of incompetence and, more importantly, loss. The good news is that we do have one ace (CC Sabathia), another pitcher who stands a chance of becoming one (Ivan Nova), high hopes with the new Hiroki Kuroda, and the soon-to-return Good Ol’ Reliable Andy Pettitte. It’s actually a lot of good news, and if I were managing I’d just rotate the four good guys and unceremoniously dump Hughes and Garcia. Why a team needs five starters anyway is a mystery to me; it’s pitcher pampering in the extreme.

I know every fan thinks they can manage better than the manager, but my frustration with Girardi is only now manifesting in that way. I’m just beginning to notice that one of his flaws is that he coddles the players. He was resting A-Rod and Jeter during the first week of play, rotating the DH between them and a few other older guys. Sometimes Girardi’s just plain clueless: for instance, everybody knows Mark Texeira doesn’t warm up to full capacity until after the first month, and probably won’t hit much of anything in April. In the meantime, Nick Swisher leads the league in extra-base hits. Logic says to move Swish ahead of Tex in the lineup right? This doesn’t seem to have occurred to Girardi. So we get situations like bases loaded with two outs, Tex at bat , he strikes out and strands the runners. Now, if Swish had been at that spot in the lineup…you get my drift.

After a month of baseball: The Yankees have a record of 13 wins, 9 losses and are in second place in the American League Eastern Division,  behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, who are tied for 1st place.

New York Mets

The Mets are playing like quintessential Mets. For instance, in Sunday’s game against The Colorado Rockies they were winning 5-0 until in 9th inning—yes, I said the ninth inning—when they allowed the Rockies to score exactly five—yes, I said 5—home runs to tie the game. They went into extra innings, going eleven total to win by a run. Yes, they did win it—but just look at what they had to put themselves through to do it! Typical Mets behavior.

And a bit of bad luck to boot: Pitcher Mike Pelfrey, it was announced today, needs Tommy John surgery, which puts him out of commission for the season, possibly longer.

After a month of baseball: The METS have 13 wins and 10 losses, and remain behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East Coast Division.

San Francisco Giants

The lovable Freak Tim Lincecum  had a lousy start for the first time in his career. In 5 starts he has 2 wins and 2 losses, and his ERA is a ghastly 5.74. Maybe now he knows what it feels like to live in Barry Zito’s skin. Speaking of Zito, in his first 2012 start he pitched a shutout! I hope he was as overjoyed as I was. He didn’t collapse after that, either: he won 2 and lost one. Keep it up, Barry! Maybe you’ll work your way back to your glory days. Buster Posey did: he’s blowing everyone away by playing just as great as he did last year, before he was crippled by that bone crunching crash at home plate.

After a month of baseball: the SF GIANTS have a record of 12 wins and 10 losses, and remain in 2nd  place in the National League Western Division, 3½  games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (who, by the way, appear to have gotten an injection of new life from Magic Johnson’s ownership).

Oakland Athletics

True Confession: I haven’t paid attention to the A’s at all this season. My enthusiasm for them was once high, but as players kept getting traded away, I steadily lost interest. I don’t know any of the players on the team anymore. I am relentlessly bitter towards Billy Beane for his ruthless management.  Maybe I’ll have more to say at the end of May, after I go to the Colisseum to watch them play my guys. For now, these are  the dry facts:

After a month of baseball the A’s have 11 wins and 13 losses, and are tied with the Seattle Mariners for 2nd place in the American League Western Division.

(Baseball) Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

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Hideki Matsui Reprint from Flickr

Hideki Matsui Reprint from Flickr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following post was written with assistance from Daryl Hochheiser.

Here we are again, it’s that most wonderful time of year. The 2012 baseball season already started, but not in the U.S. In Japan, for reasons I cannot fathom, the Oakland A’s and Florida/Miami Marlins got the ball rolling. If anyone has any idea why these teams traveled halfway round the world to open the baseball season—and the A’s didn’t even take Matsui with them—please enlighten me via the Comment box.

As some readers know, I was born in the Bronx, where the two best features are a top-notch zoo and the New York Yankees, the team I love, watch, and write about the most. (Note to Red Sox fans and other Yankee haters: I erase all Yankee trash talk from my blog, so don’t even bother.) Living in Northern California, I also keep tabs on the SF Giants and Oakland A’s; and, since my son’s a fanatic Mets masochist, I follow the other New York team as well. Welcome to Dirty Laundry’s unique take on the 2012 season.

New York Yankees

For the first time in 17 years Jorge Posada won’t be squatting behind home plate. He won’t be in the locker room, and he won’t be coming up to bat. He’s probably on a beach somewhere with his wife and kids. Though Jorge’s leadership will undoubtedly be missed, the team will survive. The question is: will I? He was my favorite player, and my heart aches as I contemplate watching Yankee games without him. Meanwhile, my second favorite player showed up late for Spring training to announce he had big news, but maddeningly still hasn’t shared it; I and everyone else suspect that Mariano Rivera will be retiring at the end of this season. No longer can we relax during a close or winning game when they make it through the 8th, knowing that when The Sandman takes the mound in the 9th it’s a done deal. The next few years are gonna be tough on us Yankee fans, as the old guard retires one by one. Meanwhile, miracles do happen: providing a compensatory lift, Andy Pettitte is coming back to the mound! Incredible! It makes me wonder if the Yanks have  a revolving door; players are always coming back, either to play or coach or manage.

The biggest rivalry in baseball, Yankees v. Boston Red Sox, gets an infusion of yet more rancor this season with Bobby Valentine taking over as Red Sox coach. He jumped  into the fray 
immediately, saying he hates the Yankees now, and fondly recalled when retired Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek ‘‘beat up’’ Alex Rodriguez in 2004. If this is how it’s gonna be, the Yankees better hire a sarcastic witty writer to feed Girardi some snappy comebacks.

San Francisco Giants

What a time these guys have had. They win the World Series in 2010, are feted in maniacal style by a super-adoring city, they enter the 2011 season still on a high…and on May 26th, the Marlins* Scott Cousins slides home cleats first and rams himself directly into catcher Buster Posey, the team’s latest greatest asset, sending him to hospital with a broken bone in his left ankle and god knows what else, ensuring he can’t play for the rest of the season at least. I happened to have tickets to the next day’s game, and let me tell you, the place was like a funeral parlor. The regular lineup was replaced by the second-string (is that what it’s called?), and the air was literally heavy with despair. The Giants played listlessly and lost, and who could blame them?

But hey, Posey’s back! Being young and healthy, it’s possible he’s fully healed and recovered. I just hope he’s learned how to situate his body in such a way that when a runner’s heading home he isn’t directly in the line of fire. And I hope the guys can recapture some of their 2010 glory.

(*By the way, the Florida Marlins seem to have changed their name to the Miami Marlins. I can’t help but wonder if they’re pulling a Tampa Bay, those devils who transformed themselves 3 years ago with a simple name change. (See Tampa Bay story here.)

Update on Brian Stowe, victim of the vicious beating that occurred at Dodger Stadium after a game against the Giants: These guys have almost as intense a rivalry as their East Coast compatriots mentioned above, with a history that goes back to their days as NY teams. After many months in hospital, Stowe is home now, in a wheelchair, with severe memory loss and trouble speaking. Motivated by the incident, California is considering a law that would ban people with a violent history from attending sports events; they’re trying to figure out how to implement such a law, since anyone can buy someone else a ticket and they can slip in unnoticed. On top of having lousy security, the Dodgers were, until recently, in big financial trouble due to the owners’ divorce and the money battles that always go along with breakups. Last week, however, Magic Johnson and his company bought the team. We shall see what happens next…

The Giants home opener isn’t until  a week into the season, on—shudder—Friday the 13th.  At that time they’ll celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The World Series Team Of 1962; on hand will be Willie Mays, Don Larsen, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey. The team itself is  130 years old, with 55 of them having been spent in SF.  On that day there’s bound to be a huge crowd, making it difficult to score free viewing in the Giants’ secret observation site. Now keep this under wraps: I don’t want mobs to overrun the place and ruin a good thing. To get to the secret site, just walk around behind the stadium, halfway down the boardwalk and the bay, and you can’t miss it. There’s usually a small crowd waiting to get into an enclosed area behind the fence at the outfield. Yes, it’s a long way from home plate, but you can practically reach out and pat an outfielder on the ass. Each viewer gets 3 innings before they have to make room for someone else. Sometimes there’s a guard around to hustle people along, but not always; still, people pretty much follow the honor system here. Of course, if nobody’s waiting, which is frequently the case, you can stay and watch the game as long as you want. Now sssh!…remember, this is a secret!

Oakland Athletics:

In Japan, The Seattle Mariners won the first game, and the A’s evened things out by winning the second. As I said above, Hideki Matsui, another of my favorite guys, was missing in action—he still hasn’t signed a contract with the A’s. If he’d been there, he would likely have gotten a hero’s welcome in his native country, where he was a star in high school and for the Yomiuri Giants. Matsui’s one of several former all-stars who’s still looking for work; others include Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Felipe Lopez .

Miguel Tejada has said he wants to end his career where he started it, in Oakland, but so far the A’s haven’t responded. They do have one exciting new player: Manny Ramirez. He of the fabulous hits and hair is an Oakland A now; unfortunately, he can’t even begin playing until 50 games of his suspension go by, punishment for substance abuse.He will not be punished by anyone, however, for abusing his wife: since she won’t cooperate, domestic battery charges were dismissed.

On my mind is whether or not Billy Beane will stop compulsively trading away players every 5 minutes (see The Oakland A’s Diaspora). On everyone else’s mind, the big issue is the perennial question “Will they stay or will they go?” The A’s are always leaving Oakland for somewhere, anywhere, that’ll give them a decent stadium. Who can blame them, when they share the one they currently inhabit with the Raiders? I’d love it if the city would build one down by the water near Jack London Square, but I’m not holding my breath: Oakland can’t even buy textbooks for its schools, so building a stadium doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

New York Mets

To rectify problems with their new stadium, the Mets built a new wall closer to home plate. The wall was the least of their problems: the team was somehow mixed up with  Bernie Madoff, and on March 19th agreed to pay $162 Million to trustees of victims in the case.  As a result, their finances have been damaged, and they’ve had to slash payroll. Despite this, they’ll have new uniforms, bearing a patch for the late Gary Carter, who died of brain cancer on February 16th, and another patch marking the team’s 50th anniversary. By all accounts we shouldn’t expect too much out of the Mets this year. Those poor, long-suffering Mets fans!

Okay! Let’s PLAY BALL!

Is Baseball Losing Its Heart?

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Miguel Tejada. © Rubenstein, photographer Mart...

Image via Wikipedia

(Photo: Miguel Tejada)

This season baseball fans have been witness to a sad spectacle as Jorge Posada, Yankee catcher for over 15 years and undoubtedly in his final year as a pro, was first thrown out of the catchers’ position and then taken out of the lineup indefinitely. Fortunately, the fans went crazy supporting Posada with standing ovations and signs professing their love, so he’s occasionally allowed up at bat now. But it’s been disheartening to see a long-time loyal team player be roughed up and unappreciated.

Last week the SF Giants dumped Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for lackluster season performances. Being older veterans of the game, chances are they’re not going anywhere else. Tejada is an icon of major league baseball, a kid who rose from abject poverty in the Dominican Republic to become a great shortstop beloved by teammates and fans alike. His story is so emblematic of the DR kids who eat, sleep, and breathe baseball in hopes of making it in America one day as a player that several children’s stories and bio’s have been written about him. For his rags-to-riches story to end like this is sad. Sad and shameful.

Baseball is known for swimming in sentimental swill over everything from the American flag to the retirement of an announcer. While it can sometimes be a bit much, we’ve come to expect regularly scheduled sobfests on the diamond; I for one usually find myself caught up in whatever event is being milked for all it’s worth. Given this propensity for emotion, it seems strange and cruel that someone like Miguel Tejada should go out on such an ignominious ending. And despite an extensive search I could find no sports writers expressing regret or sadness about it; almost everyone is cheering the Giants for “finally” making the decision to “get rid of dead weight.”

Could baseball be losing its heart as it continues down the path of greed and wins at any cost? Is it going to become a game where the bottom line is produce or get lost? Of course, it already is; but will it get even more heartless? After all, this is the sport with “Ya Gotta Have Heart” as one of its most famous anthems. The sport in which most teams host an annual old-timer’s game, during which guys who played 30 or more years ago toddle onto the field to weakly throw a pitch and get wildly applauded. This is the sport that honors its human resources.

Let’s hope Posada, Tejada, and Rowand get more of a farewell than they’ve been shown so far, and that baseball starts wearing its heart on its sleeve again.

Ya Gotta Have Heart

You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart

When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start.

You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope.

When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door,
there’s nothin’ to it but to do it

You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart

“Heart,” from Damn Yankees

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