February 2009

‘The List’ is history

In the aftermath of Alex Rodriguez’s steroids mea culpa, seems everybody wants the other 103 names on the 2003 gotcha list revealed. For the sake of fairness, or to prevent further slow leaks, or whatever.

Here’s what everybody is overlooking: That list is essentially moot. I’m of the firm belief that most of the players who came up positive in the 2003 survey testing are by now out of the game.
The basis for that belief? Sheer numbers, which are quite remarkable when you break them down.
Let’s start with the Mitchell Report: Of the 90 players named in that tome, 72 are outta here; and, don’t forget, Sen. Mitchell’s report was compiled four years after the 2003 testing.
So consider this: Between 2003 and 2007, an amazing number of 499 players in their 20s bowed out of the Major League. Of course, a lot of them were victims of injuries or competition. But there had to be many who were just trying to stay a step ahead of the steroids police.
The retirees in that time span obviously also included several veterans implicated or directly tied to steroids issues: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jay Gibbons, Sammy Sosa, Larry Bigbie, Jason Grimsley, Ruben Sierra, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, David Segui, Todd Hundley and Brad Fullmer.
Add it all up, and A-Rod may be the only one of the Gotcha 104 still active in the bigs. … 
KA-CHING!: Ken Griffey’s contract with the Mariners is pretty creative, but it still doesn’t approach Orlando Hudson’s deal with the Dodgers. If O-Dog hasn’t yet chosen an intro song, might we suggest Pink Floyd’s “Money,” complete with cash register sounds?
After the usual incentives for plate appearances (i.e., $150,000 at 175 and 200 PAs, etc.), he is due to pocket $10,000 for every plate appearance from 576 to 632. That would be a neat $50,000 tip per game. … 

JOSE CONTRERAS: Word is, the White Sox righty has “lost” 40 pounds. Nah, he just gave it to Bartolo Colon. … 


Fear the D-backs

The D-backs are flying under the radar in the up-for-grabs NL West, but this is a team for the others to fear.

In winning the division in ’07, the D-backs were considered precocious, with such “kids” as Mark Reynolds, Chris Young, Stephen Drew and Justin Upton playing major roles.
Well, the kids have grown up and form the nucleus of an impressive lineup.
The back of the bullpen is a major concern, but precedent fuels optimism regarding anointed closer Chad Qualls, who has a total of 15 saves in five seasons: the D-backs gambled in 2007 with Jose Valverde, and he covered the bets with 47 saves.
Furthermore, any rotation headed by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren has to be respected. Then there’s high-potential Max Scherzer, a chief reason Arizona signed free-agent innings-eater Jon Garland.
D-backs manager Bob Melvin said he intends to keep Scherzer’s workload in the 170 innings range, and having Garland in the rotation ahead of him should have a fresh bullpen available for Schrerzer’s turns: Garland has averaged 200-plus innings for the last seven seasons, never working fewer than 191 2/3. …
KEN GRIFFEY: Best part of having him back in Seattle? The Mariners clubhouse will finally have someone to cut Ichiro Suzuki down to size. Ichiro has dominated that room for eight years and, judging by the shots leveled by people who have left the organization, his non-team oriented approach has worn thin. Having The Kid as the new go-to guy in the locker room should humble Ichiro. …
BERNIE WILLIAMS: The accomplished guitarist will debut his second CD on April 14. It is titled “Moving Forward.” Perhaps it should instead be called “Moving Backward,” given Bernie’s hope that his play for Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic might lead to a Major League comeback.
Williams, who has begun to write and arrange his own stuff, is totally committed to the music career. But he entertains the baseball whimsy with perfect logic.

“It has taken me a while to realize I share a love for both, but in music I’m going to have an opportunity to play for a lot of years,” he said. “I can play until I’m 80. In baseball, I know my days are numbered.”

An ironic admission: “Days Are Numbered” was a hit for the Alan Parsons Project on its “Vulture Culture” album.

Williams has sat out two full seasons since his fallout with the Yankees. But he is just one of many players who have heard MLB’s siren song and are working this Spring Training to resume careers after long absences.
There is Corey Koskie, the third baseman who has been missing since suffering a severe concussion on July 5,2006. Canadian Koskie, like Williams, hopes his upcoming WBC play might entice a team into giving him a comeback shot.
And Lance Niekro, who last appeared in the Majors as a first baseman on May 2, 2007 with the Giants and is attempting a comeback as a pitcher featuring the knuckleball – an homage to his late father, Joe Niekro. And Jose Valentin, hoping to hook on with the Mets a year-and-a-half after his last at-bat for them.
Topping the dreamers: Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, trying to come back from an 18-year layoff. Hey, he’s well-rested. …

Arbitration trumps Free Agency

Image you are a Major League player. Which would you prefer to be:

A relative youngster with arbitration rights? Or, a veteran finally getting a shot at free agency, with teams fighting over you as the price soars?
Well, in this weird offseason, it was no contest. Arbitration paid, as usual, and free agents took a bath. As in, getting soaked.
Crunching the numbers (which is what happened to most free agents – they got crunched):
  • The 111 players who were eligible for free agency enjoyed a cumulative raise of $267,825,000 over their 2008 salaries, or an average of $2,412,838.
  • The arbitration-eligibles pulled down a collective$298,891,250 last season, and pulled that up to $566,716, 250 — even though only three of them (Dan Uggla, Shawn Hill, Dioner Navarro) actually had to sweat through a hearing.
  • The 94 free agents who signed Major League contracts had their collective pay slashed by an amazing $115,809,000, from $450,467,000 in 2008 to $334,658, 000 for the coming season. (And don’t forget these numbers would be even more startling if we included the 56 free agents who had to settle for Minor League deals.)
  • 30 of the 94 signed for raises.
  • Of those, four Yankees (Damaso Marte, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett) pocketed pay hikes totaling $18.75 million, or $4.68 million a piece.
  • The other 26 received a combined raise of $39,038,000, or $1.5 million a head.
  • The biggest raise among non-Yankees was bestowed by the other New York team, the Mets re-signing Oliver Perez for a $6.5 million salary boost.
  • Smallest raise? Jason LaRue, bumped $100,000 by the Cardinals, from $850,000 to $950,000.
  • Biggest cuts? Five players took eight-figure hits: Jason Giambi ($17 million), Mike Hampton ($13 million), Bobby Abreu ($11 million), Ken Griffey and Andy Pettitte ($10.5 million each).

Flash forward: Cooperstown?

Ever think of Tom Gordon as Hall of Fame worthy? Doubtful. But maybe you should.

Nope, the durable right-hander who is in the D-backs’ camp trying to make the eighth team of his 21-year career won’t enter Cooperstown as anything but a tourist.
Yet he’s unique among the modern dual-career guys who’ve started and closed, the distinction which ushered Dennis Eckersley — 197 wins, 390 saves — into the Hall.
Gordon, who has made 203 starts (the last for the 1997 Red Sox) and 684 relief appearances, has 159 careers saves and 138 wins.
Besides Eck, of the 59 pitchers with 159-plus saves, only two had more wins: ’60s guys Lindy McDaniel (141) and Hoyt Wilhelm (143), who is also in the Hall of Fame.
Pretty good company for Flash. …
OIL CAN BOYD: So he’s thinking of making a comeback at 49, 18 years after throwing his last pitch, for the 1991 Rangers. Good for him. Any mention of the hyper Boyd brings to mind the late and great Gene Mauch, who used to refer to him as “Dip stick” Boyd. …
BOBBY ABREU: I’ve seen some reference to the Angels digging him out of the “bargain bin.” Huh? The guy is 34, has driven in 100-plus six straight seasons and seven of the last eight, has a lifetime on-base percentage of .405 and is the only active player with 300-plus steals and 200-plus homers. The bargain bin at Tiffany’s, maybe. …
ATLANTA: The Rodney Dangerfield of MLB cities. A.J. Burnett, Rafael Furcal, Jake Peavy, Ken Griffey, even John Smoltz have shown it no respect. The city hasn’t been dissed as much since Sherman blazed through it. …

Father and Son: A Griffey special

I’m not a collector. Have spent most of my adult life around baseball cards come to life, so never had a desire to gather the bubble-gum smeared cards in shoeboxes.

However, one time I couldn’t resist morphing from professional sportswriter to fawning little kid — and Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to Seattle brings it all back.
In 1990, he literally was The Kid, a 20-year-old playing through his second season with the Mariners. Pop was nearing the end of his 18th season, sitting on the Reds bench that may as well have come equipped with rockers.
Ken Griffey Sr. saw the sands of time trickling out of his career and was overtaken by a desire to connect with his Kid in a very real sense. He convinced the Reds to release him on Aug. 24, and five days later was signed by the Mariners.
On Aug. 31, the M’s unveiled their cross-generational lineup: Senior playing left and batting second, Junior batting third and playing center.

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They both hit the cover off the ball for two weeks. Then the Mariners pulled into Anaheim for a series against the Angels. Two teams going nowhere, playing out the string, just trying to stay ahead of the chill of the offseason.
Then, on Sept. 14, in the second game of the four-game series, some of the magic dust from nearby Disneyland descended over Anaheim Stadium.
In the first inning, Senior swung at a choice 0-and-2 pitch from right-hander Kirk McCaskill and sent it on a line over the left-center fence for a home run. He circled the bases and was welcomed home by a warm hug from the on-deck batter, Junior.
Then The Kid stepped into the box. The count reached 3-and-0; green-lighted Junior cut at McCaskill’s low-and-outside heater and lined it over the left-center fence for his home run.
Father and son, back-to-back. Never happened before, likely to never happen again.
I worked the Seattle clubhouse after the game, as usual my scorebook tucked under my notepad for reference. As I approached the Griffeys, side-by-side also in the locker room, the singularity of their achievement struck me.
I asked both to sign my scoresheet, and they happily obliged. One below the other, adjacent to their “home run” notations.
It’s the only piece of memorabilia I have, framed on the wall of my office.
So, welcome back to the site of the miracle, Junior.

Rights of Spring

Man, I hate it when Spring Training and actual sounds of the game interrupt that wonderful flow of steroids, government intervention and $$$ news. …

Hate it about as much as New York-style pizza, Arizona sunsets, Clint Eastwood movies and anything by Sade or Jamie Callum (check him outhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdm2A7ZsgH4&feature=related). …

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SELENA ROBERTS: Is anyone else just a little perturbed that her co-authored expose of Alex Rodriguez in Sports Illustrated turned out to be a precursor to her previously-unmentioned book, the release of which has now been rushed up a month by publisher HarperCollins?“A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez” will now hit the shelves on April 14. …

PLAYERS when they sign big contracts: “It’s not about the money.” The same guys, now that the money has shrunk a little, on their way to the retirement home: “Man, it’s just not worth it.” …

SNUGGLES: Yeah, those dumb commercials for the “blanket you wear as a robe.” The part about wearing them outdoors at a Little League game always cracks me up, it is so lame. But darned if a fan didn’t show up wearing a bathrobe (brand unknown) for last weekend’s Notre Dame-UCLA game in Pauley Pavilion. It was a 10 a.m. start, so I guess a good thing the guy wasn’t still chewing his toothbrush. …

STEROIDS-SLASHED STATS: The problem with all this talk about downsizing the home-run counts of alleged cheats is, what do you then do to the teams who profited by them? Do you take away the pennants accumulated by the A’s (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada), Rangers (Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez) and Yankees (too many to list)? …

DUSTIN PEDROIA: At a listed height of 5-foot-9 (and even that, maybe in high heels), he is the shortest American League MVP in 54 years, since 5-foot-8 Yogi Berra earned the trophy in 1954. Joe Morgan, 5-foot-7 and also a second baseman, took NL honors in 1976. For the record, other 5-foot-9 MVPs have been Ichiro Suzuki (2001), Ivan Rodriguez (1999), Terry Pendleton (1991) and Nellie Fox (1959). …

NEIL DIAMOND: Had the Dodgers not skipped out on Brooklyn, baseball might have had an outfielder with the perfect ball name. The singer revealed during the run-up to last week’s Grammy Awards, “I started taking guitar lessons when the Dodgers left Brooklyn. I was so depressed, so my parents bought me a guitar.” …

YANKEES: How many times. in the wake of the A-Rod Week, have you heard one of them insist, “We’ll support him. We’re like a family.” Or, like Family Feud. We shall see. …

Trucking along

Rites of Spring? It begins with the Rides of Pre-Spring.
As new-wave as baseball has become — start with sports’ state-of-the-art website, ballpark organ music replaced by metal rock, facial hair and tattoos a must — it can still roll out quaint traditions.
None of them is as retro as the fuss made everywhere about the departure of equipment trucks to Spring Training camps. It’s trumpeted as a sure sign to the snow-bound and chilled-to-the bone that spring is on the way, never mind what Punxsutawney Phil has to say.
Some teams take the custom to bizarre heights.
For instance, the Red Sox actually preceded the trucks’ pullout with a parade, with Johnny Pesky serving as “Grand Marshal of the Red Sox Spring Training Equipment Truck Departure Parade.”
The Texas Rangers generously announced that, “all media outlets are welcome to cover the truck’s departure.” Coverage? “Frank turned the ignition key, slowly accelerated, and made a nifty left turn out of the parking lot.”

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The Phillies touted their truck getaway as a great “photo opportunity.” Bet Philadelphia paparazzi were all over that one.
BTW, ever wonder what’s in those trucks, besides the basics of balls and uniforms?
Among other contents, the Phillies’ truck included:
  • 15 cases of gum (regular and sugarless)
  • 2 cases of sunflower seeds
  • 10,000 12 oz. cups (the drinking kind)
A-ROID? A-FRAUD? How about A-Freud. With all his insecurities, Derek Jeter fixation, self-admitted thing for muscular women and obsession with how he is perceived by others, Alex Rodriguez could keep a room full of Sigmund Freuds busy for weeks. …
IRONIC aside by Gerry Fraley at Foxsports.com, alluding to the widespread steroids culture in the Texas clubhouse which Rodriguez had just joined: “If the Johnny Appleseed of steroids in baseball is ever identified, it is likely that he will have played for the Texas Rangers.”
Well, connecting some dots … Brian Downing ended his career with the Rangers in 1991-1992, the perceived dawn of the steroids era. Downing, whom I covered with the Angels in the ’80s, was absolutely one of my favorite people, a genuinely nice guy and passionate player.
But he was also known as the Incredible Hulk for bulking up following his 1978 trade from the White Sox to the Angels. Downing had totaled 26 homers in five seasons in Chicago, then had six seasons of 20-plus with the Angels. Incredible, or Inflatable, Hulk? …
WITH THE RYAN Howard settlement, the Phillies dodged arbitration hearings with all 10 of their eligible players. But peace between the clubhouse and the front office came at a steep price. The 10 resulting contracts represent a total commitment of $151,520,000, with $53,020,000 of that on the ’09 payroll. …
THE NY MEDIA has been in full Rodriguez-bashing mode, but what about the NY fans? They’re being remarkably tolerant, at least as reflected in a N.Y. Daily News poll of whether Rodriguez remains Hall of Fame worthy, in which votes are running virtually even under the three possible sentiments: (a) Yes, he’s still a dominant force; (b) No, this is the last straw; (c) Maybe, but he needs to come clean. …
Keep on … well, you know what.


Enough!

You get the full nickel’s worth this morning …

At some point, reaction to the steady, endless flow of steroids revelations goes from disillusionment, dismay and disappointment to downright anger.
We’re at that point.
How dare these punks mess with our game? And I’m including the spineless GMs who keep signing suspected cheats, those Pavlovian ESPN directors who keep feeding endless reels of home runs, even the chicks who love the long ball.
Mess with the game? Darn right. We’re deep enough into the steroids era for the ‘Roid Rats to have set their own legacy — and it’s dark.
Here’s a couple of ways they have taken a crayon to baseball’s masterpiece of significant accomplishments:
  • More than half (14 of 26) of the MVP winners since 1996 either tested positive for steroids (Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, etc.), were self-confessed users (Ken Caminiti) or have been strongly implicated by a variety of sources (Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa, etc.).
  • Of the 12 top career home-run hitters, five have links to performance enhancers.
Asterisk? How about erasers? Out with them.

Grin and ‘bear’ it

We all know it’s been a bearish free-agent market. If you talked to Chuck (as the Charles Schwab ads urge you to) he’d tell you to stay away.

The most sobering aspect isn’t even the number of truly high-profile free agents who remain unsigned a week before Spring Training camps pitch their tents.
It is the number of players who have signed for significant pay cuts, a rarity during better times.
The Top Ten hits (and, really, this is just the tip of the iceberg):
  • Jason Giambi: $15.75 million ($21 million with Yankees to $5.25 million with A’s).
  • Mike Hampton: $13 M ($15 M with Braves to $2 M with Astros).
  • Andy Pettitte: $10.5 M ($16 M to $5.5 M with Yankees).
  • Carl Pavano: $9.5 M ($11 M with Yankees to $1.5 M with Indians).
  • Pat Burrell: $7 M ($14 M with Phillies to $7 M with Rays).
  • Omar Vizquel: $4.9 M ($5.3 M with Giants to Minor deal with Rangers).
  • Jason Varitek: $4 M ($9 M to $5 M with Red Sox).
  • Angel Berroa: $3.95 M ($4.75 M with Dodgers to Minor deal with Yankees, valued at $800,000 if on big-league roster.
  • Juan Uribe: $3.5 M ($4.5 M with White Sox to Minor deal with Giants, valued at $1 M if on big-league roster).
  • Brad Penny: $3.5 M ($8.5 M with Dodgers to $5 M with Red Sox).
Given this climate, incidentally, you have to wonder about the mental states of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for getting those fat deals from the Yankees. It takes a mighty strong personality to shrug off feelings of guilt often spawned by such discrepancy.
Only one of those three appears to have it. We’ll see how they hold up to the scrutiny. … 
COMMISSIONER Bud Selig, former president Bill Clinton, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and media magnate Ted Turner highlighted the guest list for Thursday night’s gala celebration of Hank Aaron’s 75th birthday. You wonder who will show up for Barry Bonds’ 75th birthday party in 2039. Aaron’s fete was held in a downtown Atlanta hotel; Bonds will probably be able to hold his in a tool shed. … 
MATT BUSH: Well, Peoria will be a safer place this spring without the Padres’ troubled former No. 1 draft pick. Borrowing from the official police report of the recent incident that led to the club designating him from assignment, it didn’t take long for him to go from shouting that he is “Matt (bleeping) Bush” to becoming Matt (bleeped) Bush. …

Return of the Holdout

Here’s what I love about the Manny Ramirez situation: It’s a good old-fashioned holdout, that long-lost tradition which used to spice Spring Trainings.
With the Dodgers his lone overt suitor, this isn’t about maximizing free agency, but about holding out until El Lay sweetens the deal.
This bit of flashback couldn’t be better placed. The Dodgers have a rich lore of holdout episodes, most starring that late agitator of a GM, Buzzie Bavasi.
Two of his favorites:
Don Drysdale-Sandy Koufax, 1966 — The mound’s dynamic duo became a demonic duo for Bavasi, negotiating in tandem for a shared $1 million across three years (or $167,000 annually apiece at a time Willie Mays’ $125,000 topped baseball’s books). Don and Sandy did the Ed Sullivan Show in New York while the Dodgers were training in Vero Beach. The 32-day stalemate ended on March 31, with Koufax ($125,000) and Drysdale ($110,000) each signing one-year deals.
Maury Wills, 1963 — The year after he stole 104 bases and the NL’s MVP Trophy, Wills held out for a $5,000 raise and finally took a meeting with Bavasi. It did not go well, Wills recalls.“I thought I was going to get a big raise, but after 10 minutes in Buzzie’s office, I was still happy I was on the team.”

SPEAKING OF flashbacks: So many free agents signing Minor League contracts that come with Spring Training invitations (a remarkable 38 at last count) means camp competition for jobs — virtually killed off in the modern era by guaranteed contracts — will again be fierce. …

JAKE PEAVY: Good as gone. When the Padres screened a video retrospective of highlights of their first 40 seasons at their awards banquet last week, two significant contributors to that history were omitted. Trevor Hoffman, who has already left. And, yes, Peavy, who must be packing his long johns for those cold April nights in Wrigley Field. …

KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: Even though he remains unsigned, he already is one of the best-paid free agents coming out of this winter. Reason: The deferred portion of the contract he signed with the Reds kicks in this year at $5 million, continuing until 2025. …

GOING DEEP: But you won’t go far. The ultimate condemnation of this home-run era, and the undeserved fascination with the long ball, is that now half of the top dozen on the all-time list have never played on a World Series winner. They include Barry Bonds,Griffey, Sammy Sosa, Harmon Killebrew, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez. …

JOE TORRE: Fans don’t share the frothing New York media’s verdict that “The Yankee Years” soiled his Bronx heritage. In an ongoing New York Daily News poll, their sentiment is 69-to-31 for retiring his No. 6 over dismissing him for having tarnished his legacy.

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