Oct 12

Thoughts On A-Rod, Washington Nationals And Playoffs

This has been a compelling postseason and it is getting more intriguing with each day. At the start of the season I projected the Giants and Yankees to meet in the World Series, and that’s still in play.

The Yankees’ showing makes them hard to figure out, but one thing is for certain, and that’s things will never be the same for Alex Rodriguez and how he’ll respond to being benched for this afternoon’s game is anybody’s guess what it will do to that clubhouse over the next five years.

Rodriguez played the good soldier when Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for him and ended up homering – twice. He was the same last night when Eric Chavez batted for him. Both had to be blows to his fragile confidence and pride, but being benched is another animal.

Joe Girardi’s actions have stripped Rodriguez of his emotional armor in a far worse way than Joe Torre dropping in the batting order several years ago. Back then, Rodriguez was still a dominating player, but one going through a slump. Torre also had cache in managing four World Series champions.

However, Rodriguez, through the aging process, injuries and it has been suggested the residual effect of his admitted steroid use, is simply not the same player anymore. Whether is year is an aberration remains to be seen, but remember he’s 38 and what player gets better and more productive as he gets older. Other than, of course, one of baseball’s greatest cheaters, Barry Bonds?

And, the beauty of all this is the Yankees have him for five more years, in which they’ll pay him in excess of $100 million. It’s hindsight now, but they should have let him walk when they had the chance. Odds are there were no teams that would have given him Yankee money, but late owner George Steinbrenner ended up bidding against himself. With an increased luxury tax coming, the Yankees will be forced to reduce payroll and they might have a completely different look, and maybe one no so dominant.

If Rodriguez is indeed on the decline as it appears, having him get all that money for not producing will undoubtedly cause a strain among the players. How can it not?

However, Rodriguez was greedy and wanted every last time and the Yankees were smug and arrogant in their free-spending ways. They both got what they deserve.

Another impression about the postseason is the arrogance of the Washington Nationals. I like Davey Johnson, always have, but their GM Mike Rizzo is annoying. I couldn’t agree more with my colleague Joe DeCaro’s post this morning on Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg. It was beyond arrogance for Rizzo to suggest the Nationals would be back many times to the postseason.

I covered the Orioles for ten years and I remember what Cal Ripken once told me. He appeared the 1983 World Series, and afterward said he thought he’d get back every year. Ripken didn’t play in another postseason game until 1996, a mere 13 years later. There is no guarantees in sports. The Nationals might never get here again during Strasburg’s career, regardless of how good it evolves. Then again, Strasburg has already had an arm injury. What if he has another and his career is cut short?

Above all, I have to wonder about the feelings among Strasburg’s teammates toward management. The pitcher is on record saying he wanted to pitch, so they can’t hold that against him. But, management is sending a bad message to the players. What if they never get here again? How will they feel about Rizzo’s decision?

Meanwhile, the Giants are an interesting story. As they were two years ago, they are pitching reliant. They got by Cincinnati without Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but they won’t be able to get away with that in the NLCS. Lincecum pitched brilliantly in relief, looking like his old self. This is a very good team that is flying under the radar.

Also in that position are the St. Louis Cardinals – they know what to do in October – and Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals could have the chance to defend their title without Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols, something few thought would be possible. The Tigers, meanwhile, have the game’s premier pitcher in Justin Verlander and one-two punch in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Cardinals vs. Tigers in a rematch? That wouldn’t be bad, either.

 

Oct 07

Interesting Start To MLB Playoffs; Intriguing World Series Possibilities

It has been an interesting start to the baseball playoffs. The play-in games put a different spin on things, but I’m hearing a lot of criticism of the single game format and it would be fairer to have best two-or-three. It probably would, but MLB doesn’t want to take the chance of playing in November.

A possible solution would be to incorporate at least one day-night doubleheader during the season among division opponents only. You would still have the same number of games, but a doubleheader a month would eliminate six days from the calendar, which would give MLB a week to tinker with the format.

There are a lot of interesting story lines. The one that stands out for me would be the fallout should the Cardinals run the table again like last season. In 2011, it was a special story because of how they came from behind during the season to make the playoffs and how they rallied in the World Series. This year would be an asterisk because of the “Infield Fly Game,” which will forever be a part of baseball lore.

It was predictable the MLB hid behind the “umpire’s judgment” clause and didn’t comment on whether it was a good call or not. With all this technology that showed it was a blown call, it is a shame a team is home possibly because an umpire made a bad call.

The Cardinals face the Nationals, with the first two games in St. Louis. I don’t like this format. The Nationals had the best record and shouldn’t open on the road. Who can’t see the Cardinals winning at home and stealing one on the road? There should be a reward for having the best record.

At the start of the season I predicted the Yankees and Giants in the Series and it could still happen. The Reds stole one in San Francisco despite losing their ace Johnny Cueto. He’s questionable for the rest of the series, but the Reds accomplished what they needed in getting at least a split.

In the American League, the Tigers and Orioles need to protect their home field and win the first two. Should they sweep the first two, I can see them taking one on the road. However, it is far harder to think they’ll win two on the road.

Just playing out some possible World Series scenarios that would be interesting.

ORIOLES vs, NATIONALS: Two teams horrid for so long are poised for prime time. About 50 miles apart, this has the potential to develop into a real interleague rivalry over time. Washington’s manager, Davey Johnson, used to play for the Orioles. Nobody could have forecast them meeting in the Series. The Nationals have a better rotation, but the Orioles have the better pen. Both hit for power.

ATHLETICS vs. GIANTS: Another potential geographical rivalry. They met before in the Earthquake World Series with the Athletics sweeping. The Giants might have the best rotation in the playoffs, but are already down a game.

YANKEES vs. GIANTS/CARDINALS: The Yankees’ power against the Giants’ pitching would be intriguing. Power vs. power. The New York angle for the Giants is long gone. … A Yankees-Cardinals match-up would feature the two winningest World Series teams in history.

Regardless of the World Series pairings, I’ll watch. I always do. Even when it is the Yankees or Phillies.

Jul 10

Five Ways To Fix The All-Star Game

When I was growing up I used to love the All-Star Game. The game meant something to me because it was clear it meant something to the players. When two of my favorite players – Pete Rose and Ray Fosse – met at the plate during the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, it was clear it was not just another game. At least to those two.

FOSSE/ROSE: When the stars played with passion.

At one time they played two All-Star Games. These days there’s not too much of a game at all. It stopped being special when the vote was returned to the fans – ironically, in 1970 – because that’s when it became a popularity contest. Any election where a person can cast an indefinite amount of times is a farce by definition.

As far as I’m concerned, the game officially jumped the shark with interleague play. Soon after, MLB did away with the league offices and merged the umpires. And, of course, let’s not forget the farce of having the two leagues play with different rules regarding the DH.

Baseball’s All-Star Game is by far superior to other sports, but that doesn’t mean changes aren’t necessary. It doesn’t need tinkering, but an overhaul of serious proportions.

Here’s what I would do:

1. It is a pipe dream, I know, but the first thing would be to eliminate interleague play, thereby creating a distinction between the leagues. The leagues will always be blurred to some extent because of free agency and movement of players. Interleague play is a gimmick that has taken luster from the All-Star Game and World Series.

2. Knowing MLB will keep interleague play as long as Bud Selig is around, the next step would be to cut the nonsense about the winning league having home field in the World Series. As long as the fans vote and it is a popularity contest, having it have such an impact in the postseason is a contradiction. The notion of a fan vote, having each team represented and trying to play everybody is the opposite in essence of having the winner determine the Game 7 site of the World Series.

3. Take away the fan vote. Another pipe dream, but I’d rather eliminate the popularity contest angle. Maybe the managers and coaches, or players, or scouts, or media. The stipulation being you can’t vote for your own players.

4. Why should every team be represented? It’s like everybody getting a trophy in the second grade. The only caveat being the host city having a player on the team. Assuring each team being represented often ends up having a deserving player being snubbed.

5. Expand the rosters to include a lifetime achievement participant. If a player is at the end of his career and has been a perennial All-Star but is having a sub-par year, include him on the team. For example, had Chipper Jones had not made it as a late entry, then a spot should have been reserved for him. Give the public a chance to say good-bye.

Jul 08

Reggie Jackson Should Shut Up; Wally Backman Defends Gary Carter

It must have been frustrating for Reggie Jackson when he questioned the validity of several Hall of Famers, including Gary Carter. I mean, nobody had been talking to him lately and he was out of the limelight.

Several of Carter’s teammates, including Wally Backman, came to his defense.

“Who is he to question?” Backman told the Bergen Record. “At least Gary was a complete player. It’s unbelievable Reggie would criticize a great guy and great player who’s passed away. Show some respect.”

Respect?

When it comes to respect to others, Jackson has no clue. He’s for himself first, second and to hell with everybody else.

Backman is right in that Carter was a more complete – and team player – than Jackson ever was. Some players tend to rub people the wrong way and what I’ll remember first about Jackson is not the three homers in the World Series game against the Dodgers, but for his derogatory comments about Thurman Munson, him ignoring Billy Martin’s signs and for scuffling with Martin in the dugout at Fenway.

Among his other comments in Sports Illustrated, Jackson said: “I didn’t see Kirby Puckett as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Gary Carter as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Don Sutton as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Phil Niekro as a Hall of Famer. As much as I like Jim Rice,  I’m not so sure he’s a Hall of Famer.”

Honestly, Puckett (3,000 hits), Sutton and Niekro (300 wins) are milestone stats that have meant automatic entry into the Hall of Fame. It’s the same way with 500 homers. Had Jackson hit 450 homers, would he be a Hall of Famer? I’m not so sure.

And, speaking of landmark honors, what about the Yankees’ retiring his number? Take away that World Series game and Jackson’s penchant for beating his own drum, it’s a reach to call him one of the great Yankees worthy of that honor.

 

 

 

Jul 02

Josh Thole To Talk With Buster Posey?

Very interesting note from ESPN this morning. Mets catcher Josh Thole said if Giants and NL All-Star catcher Buster Posey doesn’t contact him, he’ll reach out to him to give tips on how to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Too bad Dickey can’t bring his own catcher.

It’s a great gesture by Thole, and one that shouldn’t be underestimated. We know it’s silly, but the winning league gets home field for the World Series. Yes, that’s easily one of baseball’s most inane rules. But, it is a rule, and it could come back to bite the NL.

Suppose for a moment the NL loses by a run, with that run being scored on a passed ball by Posey with Dickey pitching. Would kind of stink wouldn’t it?

So, the call could be worthwhile.

Of course, the best line I ever hear about catching a knuckleball came from Ball Four, when Jim Bouton wrote, “let the ball stop rolling then pick it up.”