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Baseball Miscellany (with focus on the usual team)

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A-Rod Hits 600

Three years to the day that Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, he became the seventh player in Major League history to hit 600 home runs in his career. It happened at Yankee Stadium in the 3rd inning off pitcher Shaun Marcum of the Toronto Blue Jays, after a stressful two-week stretch during which A-Rod made over 40 trips to the plate, hitting nothing while the fans stood, screamed, and flashed their cameras in his eyes. I for one am vastly relieved – though I confess I was somewhat hurt that he did it during a game I wasn’t watching; before then I was convinced Alex was waiting for me to witness his delivery. Oh well…at least now he can get on with just playing the game he plays so well.

Nothing these days, however, is only what it is — not even home runs, and certainly not Major League Baseball. Alex’s record-breaking homer has raised a host of questions about legacy and Hall of Fame representation in the era of steroids, an era that is hopefully passing if not over. Mike and Mike in the Morning devoted a goodly portion of the show to these questions, possibly breaking their record for time spent on baseball as opposed to basketball and especially their beloved football. They wondered if these numbers even matter anymore, and if A-Rod’s admission of steroid use detracts from his accomplishment. An interesting aside: nobody gets as riled up over drug use in other sports the way they do when a baseball player uses. Lance Armstrong, for instance, is forgiven because of his work fighting cancer. The Mikes pointed out that it’s because Americans don’t care about Armstrong’s sport, or about any sport the way they do about baseball. It’s supposed to represent Mom, the flag, and apple pie.

Well, maybe it’s time to cut baseball’s umbilical cord and free the sport from this heavy symbolic burden. I sure wouldn’t mind. We could begin by doing away with Kate Smith singing God Bless America at the 7th inning stretch.

Not that this would entirely erase the brouhaha that ensues every time a player is caught doing drugs. In A-Rod’s case, as soon as the news leaked he called a press conference and admitted it was true. You can do a lot of sleazy shit, but if you own up to it instead of lying, the way Barry Bonds continues to do, the subject gets dropped a lot faster.

Even so, the stigma remains. Alex Rodriguez is considered by many to be the best baseball player in history – and yet, according to sports columnist Buster Olney, analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and a Hall of Fame voter, most of the other 575 voting sportswriters will never vote for any player who was involved w/ drugs. This includes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom continue to vociferously deny drug use, and a host of other players who clearly belong in the Hall of Fame.

In some quarters, there is a presumption that time will soften the baseball writers’ attitude … It won’t happen in our lifetimes, however, unless there is a dramatic alteration to the voting procedures.

It’s a twisted situation. As many sports analysts point out, it’s not as if players in past eras were pure as the driven snow; amphetamines were once the drug of choice. Given what players physically endure in the course of a season, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that they’d take something just to get through it. Unfortunately, Hall of Fame voters are as screwed up and confused as the rest of our culture when it comes to drug use and abuse. And the games go on….

Joe Girardi, Manager

I’m not one of those people who scream, “kill the ump” every time something happens on the field that I don’t like. I’m more apt to shout to the tv screen, “Hello! Earth to Girardi! Wake up Joe, it’s time to change the pitcher!” Rarely does he listen.

I don’t know WTF he listens to, if anyone, when he’s making some of his warped decisions in the lineup or pitching. Last Sunday the Yankees lost to their chief contenders because of the lineup; it was so obvious that for once I wasn’t alone in blaming Girardi. He kept A-Rod, Brett Gardner, and Mark Texeira out of the game until the late innings.

“The New York Yankees’ 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday was one of the few that was lost at the posting of the lineup cards.” wrote ESPN’s Wallace Matthews.

“Joe Girardi… is always concerned about resting his horses and somehow — on this day, in this game, against this team at this point in the season — chose to rest three of them.”

This wasn’t the first time Gerardi screwed up. I don’t have one of those photographic baseball memories like a lot of men seem to, so I don’t have instant recall of specific games and managerial decisions, but they happen frequently, more than when Joe Torre was managing. (In my opinion, the big mistakes of this season, tho not Girardi’s fault, were  dumping Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui – but that’s a whole other blog.) I don’t even think Derek Jeter should be leading off. When he was second in the lineup and Damon preceded him, Jeter benefited from the way Damon wore out the pitcher; and if Damon got on first base, Jeter would ground out and move the runner forward. Now he just grounds out, period.

It’s extremely frustrating to watch a ball game go down the tubes and know it didn’t have to happen. If my analyses are wrong, I’m caught in  a kind of syndrome, like “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  I begin to understand George Steinbrenner‘s frustration and his maniacal treatment of his managers. I wonder what he’d say about Girardi’s management?

Good News For Oaktown

It looks like the A’s won’t be running off to San Jose any time soon: it turns out that the land they’d designated for a new stadium is owned by AT&T, and they’re not planning to give it up. Fremont was wiped off the boards as a location some time ago: seems the residents want a nearby stadium, but NIMBY. Could the A’s end up staying in Oakland? Mayor Ron Dellums has proposed building a stadium near Jack London Square, a perfect location. The A’s would end up playing in a place on a par with the Giants’, easy to get to and cooled by bay breezes. Dellums, who’s done almost nothing during his time in office, could redeem himself by masterminding a plan before he leaves office. As the billboards used to say, It wouldn’t be Oklnd without the A’s.

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

I’ve almost finished the best baseball book I’ve ever read: Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love With the New York Yankees by Jane Heller. It’s funny, very personal, and totally reflects my own passion for the team. I know I should never promise to write something I might end up not having time for, but it is my intent to blog a full review of She-Fan soon.


IMHO: Baseball Recap 2008

I was too busy during the last half of baseball season to post much about it. Now that it’s ended with the Philadelphia Phillies as the 2008 champions (big boring thud) it’s time for a summation, from my own unique, limited, and peculiar point of view—which, of course, is focused primarily on the New York Yankees.

It’s been a dismal season in my corner of the baseball world, beginning with the goings-on in the Bronx. The Yankees don’t make excuses for themselves, and nobody else allows them to – but hey, let’s be real: these guys had a lot to contend with this year. Change of management. Change in owners’ leadership (if you can call what Hank Steinbrenner did ‘leadership’). And more injuries of key players than any team should ever have to deal with. The dugout was like the ER at Bellevue.

Early in the season, on June 15th, their Number One starting pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, sprained his right foot running bases in a 13-0 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Wang was considered the Major Leagues’ winningest pitcher since the beginning of the 2006 season; his injury, said Manager Joe Girardi, was “a manager’s worst nightmare.” Pitcher Mike Mussina noted, “American League pitchers are at the most risk, because we don’t hit and we don’t run the bases. When you get four or five at-bats a year at the most, and you happen to get on base once or twice, you never know. We run in a straight line most of the time. Turning corners, we just don’t do it that often.”

Another of Wang’s pitching brothers, Andy Pettite, said Wang was “irreplaceable” – and he was. At this point nobody knew the extent of his injuries; they expected he’d be back on the mound within weeks. Wang did not play all season.

After Wang fell, a series of new starting pitchers suffered a series of injuries; it was like the mound was cursed. The only one to rise above the melee was Mussina, who had one of the best seasons of his career. Without Moose, the Yankees would have come out with an even worse record.

Next to collapse was Hideki Matsui’s knee; he too was on the DL most of the season. Then, my favorite player, catcher Jorge Posada, who hadn’t spent a single day of his career on the DL, required shoulder surgery that put him out of commission for the year (and may have ended his catching career for good). The Yankees got Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez to fill in behind the batter, but his hitting performance wasn’t much to write home about. And Posada has always been an important leader on this team. How many teams could have done even as well as the Yankees did under these circumstances? Not many, IMHO.

Then there was all the weird crap surrounding both the new owner/leader and the new manager. In any situation this would be a difficult transition, but with Joe Torre being so well-liked, correction, well-loved, surely a lot of emotions were floating around the locker room. Hank Steinbrenner attended something like two games all season. Can you imagine Papa George being that disconnected? Why don’t the Steinbrenner kids sell the team if that’s their level of interest? Oh, yeah: they like the money.

Shortly after exiting the stadium after the second game he attended, Steinbrenner told reporters, “They have to start hitting. Injuries or no injuries, they’ve got to be more consistent.”

GM Brian Cashman responded: “It’s certainly something that is hard to watch. We’re losing right now and we’re better than this.”

Girardi was an even worse disaster, again, IMHO. Most people seemed to want to give him the benefit of the doubt in his first year; even the media wasn’t that hard on him. But in the privacy of my armchair I shouted and cursed at his erratic and unnecessary line-up changes (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), particularly his compulsion to shuffle the deck any time a left-handed pitcher came to the mound. He was evasive and even dishonest about revealing the extent of players’ injuries. And he apparently wasn’t much of a communicator: somewhere I read that Girardi would walk through the locker room with his head and eyes down, not saying a word to any of the players. Again—can you imagine Joe #1 avoiding his boys? The big tragedy was that this was their last season in the old stadium: not a very fond farewell. No playoffs for the first time since 1993.

As if the Yankee situation wasn’t enough for me to bear, my local Bay Area teams did even worse than usual. Billy Beane kept selling off whoever was left of the old Oakland A’s—at least anyone I knew or cared about. I don’t know if his grand plan is to have a solid team in place by next year, or if he’ll go right on “rebuilding” through yet another lost season, but the whole Billy Beane/Moneyball system makes me sick. Beane spends more time “rebuilding” than letting a team cohere enough to play one decent season. It’s a sad way to play baseball, again, IMHO. (One positive for the A’s, though: Frank Thomas got kicked out of Toronto and came home to Oakland, where he was welcomed with open arms.)

Then there are the San Francisco Giants, who had another dreadful season, even without the distraction of the Barry Bonds Traveling Circus – and also, needless to say, without the benefit of the Barry Bonds Home Run Derby. Watching Barry Zito pitch during the first half of the season was unbearable; eventually I stopped tuning in altogether. Manager Bruce Bochy demoted Zito to the bullpen after Zito’s worst performance of the season, a three-inning, eight-run outing in a 10-1 loss to Cincinnati. That dropped Zito’s record to a Major League-worst of 0-6. His ERA was 7.53. Pitching out of the bullpen was quite an adjustment for Zito, since all but one of his 262 lifetime Major League appearances was as a starter. He only remained in the pen through one rotation, and by the end of the season he’d rebounded, finishing with a 3.76 ERA in his last eight starts. The seven-year, $126 million contract the Giants gave Zito in 2006 intensifies the scrutiny he lives under – which, IMHO, is the primary cause of his whole meltdown. He knows that observers will continue to view him skeptically next year as well. One difference that will help him, he said, is that he can’t sink any lower than he did early this season.

“I think I pretty much got to rock bottom this year,” Zito said. “I know what that’s like. So I won’t even worry about it.”

Giants closer Brian Wilson, a noted workout-aholic, plans to spend the offseason at Zito’s Los Angeles home, to help him in his workouts. Zito, who practices yoga and meditation, also plans to exercise mentally by writing in his journal, which he has kept since he was 18.

Around the leagues, fewer home runs were hit than in recent sesons, surely a result of everyone flushing their steroids down the toilet. This is from InterSports Wire:

You don’t need to be a statistician in order to figure out major league baseball players hit fewer home runs this year. As a matter of fact, this downward trend started during the 2006 seasons when former New York Met clubhouse boy and drug dealer Kirk Radomski was pinched by the feds, taken out of circulation and turned state’s evidence.

The top 10 home run hitters in the American and National Leagues accounted for about 15% fewer home runs this year than they did in 2006. It isn’t drug testing or bigger stadiums, and you don’t have to go back 15 years to establish this trend. Guys have hit fewer homers because their supply of human growth hormone and steroids has dried up since the Balco Labs and Radomski busts. Since MLB doesn’t employ any testing measures that can detect HGH use, you can’t point to the league’s testing vigilance as the reason for the power drop off. You can point to the increased attention being paid to the drug trafficking trade and the drying up of sources for these drugs as the reason for the power outage.

Meanwhile, steroid use in football made a brief headline appearance last week, about which nobody, in or out of sports, seems to give a shit. Why the disparity? ( InterSports has a good story on this subject).

The one bright light of the year was the huge number of hits to my post about the Tampa Bay Rays’ name change. Nearly every day twenty or thirty people Googled “Tampa Bay name change” or words to that effect, and were delivered to my cyber door. I assumed, and I hope, that some of them stuck around to read more of my posts. Thus I felt somewhat bonded with the Rays, and was glad when they made it to the Series—although to be honest, I’d earlier hoped for a Dodger-Red Sox shootout. with LA the ultimate victors, so as to vindicate both Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez in one fell swoop. The Dodgers, I thought, would in some convoluted way stand in for New York this year. Crazy as that seems, apparently I wasn’t the only New Yorker to feel this way: back in Brooklyn they held Dodger playoff parties, serving pastrami sandwiches and egg creams. (Note: My sister and I recently confessed to one another that, as kids, we thought the World Series was an annual ritual created and intended for the Yankee and Dodger teams only.)

When the Dodgers tanked I readjusted yet again, only to see the Rays go down in an ignominious five games. I never warmed up to the Phillies; there’s something about the red teams that makes me think of the red states. Seriously, it seems that every team I dislike wears a red uniform: Red Sox, Angels, Braves, Indians (we all know how I feel about them and their lovely logo). My favorite teams, on the other hand, wear blue: Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Rays…and then there are the Oakland A’s, lovable whack jobs in neon green and yellow.

Last but not least in my litany of seasonal whining: the closing ceremonies for Yankee Stadium were, of course, poignant: nobody does sentimental ritual the way baseball does sentimental ritual. But they were marred, IMHO, by the lack of any reference whatsoever to either Joe Torre or Roger Clemens. It’s like living in Orwell’s 1984, or in the Stalinist Soviet Union, where people are simply erased from history. Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees for thirteen years, and Roger Clemens, who pitched for them something like eight, have become personae non grata.

My son has a countdown clock alerting us to the time of the next Opening Day. As of this moment there are 156 days, 14 hours and 30 minutes until Opening Day 2009. In the meantime, we’ll be renting baseball movies. Stay tuned for reviews that will be, no doubt, as shamelessly subjective as this recap.

Jason Giambi: Role Model

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Let me begin by saying that I’m not one of those people who think athletes have an obligation to serve as role models of morality for the kids who worship them. That’s one of the reasons usually named in the litany against athletes whose behavior deviates in any way from the straight-and-narrow. I see no reason why someone who can swing a bat from here to Kingdom Come has to live up to fans’ ideals of righteous living; those who demand such a thing, in my opinion, have a lot of chutzpah. It just so happens, though, that Jason Giambi, simply by living through his own trials and tribulations, has unwittingly become a role model–or at least a good case against steroid use.

Giambi is one of the few baseball players to admit having taken steroids. Since he’s been honest about it, we can believe it when he says he’s stopped taking them. The irony is, Giambi was sick as a dog when he was on drugs, and his performance suffered dismally. Last season and the year before he had some wretched physical ailments, and he looked like a zombie. Now that he’s stopped taking drugs and has begun the healing process, he’s playing better, at the age of 37, than he has in years. Not exactly a walking ad for steroid use.

Then there’s the matter of the golden thong: without so much as a blush, Giambi recently admitted to wearing a gold lamé thong whenever he’s struggling out of a slump. Not only that–he’s shared his thong with other Yankees, who swear the thing works. I realize that some people might not think this is great role model behavior–but kudos to Giambi for being without shame about a minor touch of kink. Between that, the bristly moustache and a few lost pounds, Giambi’s exuding sensuality, a sure sign of robust health. Put simply–the guy is HOT .

Yankee manager Joe Girardi points to Giambi’s health as the main reason he’s been grand-slamming and tearing up the field lately. “He’s been healthy, he’s been strong, he’s running well, he’s been playing good defense,” Girardi said. “It’s good to see guys come back when they’ve had some injury-plagued seasons — to come back, rebound and do the things that you’re used to seeing them do.”

So here’s to you, Jason Giambi: You went down the dark path and came back a better player, possibly a better person. You did it for yourself, not for anyone else–but don’t think it’s gone unnoticed or unappreciated.


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The Devil’s In The Details: Tampa’s Name Change

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(Updated October 24, 2008, at end of post.)

First time I heard about the Tampa Bay Devil Rays dropping the Devil from their name was last week, in the aftermath of the rumble with the Yankees down in Florida. Which just goes to show that what’s in a name isn’t always descriptive: a Devil by any other name can still raise hell a-plenty. You can see the whole skirmish here—it shows the fight while a talking head supplies the background of who did what to whom and when. In the wake of the battle, players from both teams got suspensions to be enforced at the start of the season. I’m wondering what an incident like this before the season even starts might mean for Joe Girardi’s management, not to mention Steinbrenner Junior’s custodianship of the Yanks. We’ll have to wait to find out–but meanwhile, 1934867182_c51e41a081_m.jpgthe Rays’ name change should not go unnoticed.

My first thought was that some Christian fundamentalists had pressured the team to stop glorifying the forces of evil, but my research turned up nothing in this vein; however, the Church of Satan did weigh in.

Although the true reason behind the name change remains unclear, the head of the Church of Satan, Magnus Peter H. Gilmore, believes the team made the move to spite the church.”We were in the midst of negotiations for the souls of some of their players when thecos-smalln.jpg organization low-balled us and we had no choice but to walk out.”

For a minute I thought I’d stumbled onto the website of The Onion, but in fact this was on a blog called The Serious Tip. I’m told it’s a joke, but it reads like the gospel (ahem) truth to me!

Tampa Bay claims they gave the Devil his due in the hopes of reinventing the team and climbing out of the cellar this season. Whatever their reason, Tampa Bay, or The Rays as they’re now called, have proven that changing a team’s name isn’t a major trauma with monumental logistical problems. As owner Stuart Sternberg put it, “We were tied to the past, and the past wasn’t necessarily something we wanted to be known for.”

That said, I am taking this golden opportunity to raise, yet again, one of my ongoing baseball issues: the powers that be in Major League Baseball should ask, or encourage, or even demand, that the Cleveland Indians trash their outdated, racist name, and their offensive logo along with it. I’m not saying they should call themselves Native Americans—just something, anything, that isn’t an insult to the indigenous people of this country. If the Devil can be ousted, then surely a symbol of ignorance and racism can be quietly retired.

October 24, 2008: Is it some kind of miracle? They drop Satan from their roster and suddenly Tampa Bay is the hottest property in Major League Baseball. As of this writing, they’re one-on-one with the Phillies in the World Series, and I must say I greatly enjoyed watching them kick Red Sox butt. After watching them play the Phillies, I’d say Tampa has a better than even chance of becoming World Champions. I’m rooting for them, even though they now constitute a serious future threat to my Yankees, unless this year is a one-shot fluke. Who can resist this story? Besides, I feel a bond with the Rays: this post brought more viewers to my site than any erotic story I’ve posted, and nearly as much as other sex-themed material. The number’s over 1400 and counting. To give you an idea of what that means, my post on the film Tropic Thunder drew 270 readers, average for a non-sexual topic; the one on the Masturbate-a-thon got 839 hits, about average for sex. People Google “Tampa Bay Devil Rays name change” and they end up here. I hope some of you guys stick around to read some of my other stuff. Meanwhile...Play Ball!