Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

They made the call – we call them out

Let’s have a little fun: Every spring,
numerous experts don their Nostradamus caps to make predictions for
the upcoming season. They wag tongues, start arguments … then
retreat into the Unaccountability Zone.

Their forecasts are always forgotten,
gradually erased by actual events.

Not this time.

For the fun of it, I preserved some
random prognosis made in February by a few of these town criers.
Let’s see how they made out; the first set of stats is the prediction
[with the actual final numbers in brackets].

BILL JAMES (IN HIS HANDBOOK 2010)

  • Josh Beckett: 15-9, 3.62 ERA [6-6,
    5.78]
  • Clay Buchholz: 10-8, 3.91 [17-7, 2.33]
  • Jon Lester: 13-10, 3.85 [19-9, 3.25]
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka: 12-10, 4.02 [9-6,
    4.69]
  • Tim Wakefield: 6-5, 4.03 [4-10, 5.34]

  • Francisco Rodriguez: 42 saves, 2.67
    [25, 2.20]
  • Johan Santana: 17-8, 3.08 [11-9,
    2.98]
  • John Maine: 9-9, 3.86 [1-3, 6.13]

  • David Wright: .302-23-99 [.283-29-103]
  • Carlos Beltran: .282-24-91 [.255-7-27]
  • Jose Reyes: .285-14-67, 57 steals
    [.282-11-54, 30]
  • Report card: Matsuzaka, Wright, Reyes – not bad. The rest – My tea leaves could’ve done better.

BILL CHUCK

  • AL postseason teams: Yankees, Rays,
    White Sox, Mariners.
  • NL postseason teams: Phillies, Braves,
    Cardinals, Rockies.

Batting average: .500 (must be noted
picked Rangers last in AL West).

ROB NEYER

  • AL postseason teams: Yankees, Red Sox,
    Twins, Rangers.
  • NL postseason teams: Phillies, Braves,
    Cardinals, Rockies.

Batting average: .750, excellent
(although, again, must be noted picked Giants-Padres No. 4-5 in NL
West).

Nothing personal, fellows. Just
remember you don’t voice your conspicuous opinions in a vacuum.

Dodgers set for a Donnie-brook

While Joe Torre took a split-squad of Dodgers on a Spring Training tour of Taiwan, I got to hang out with Don Mattingly and the rest of the Dodgers in Arizona and was impressed by his first-ever managerial baby steps.
I’ll probably get to do it again in a few weeks when Mattingly further cuts his managerial teeth in the Arizona Fall League, and look forward to having him in the National League.
Probably, so is Bruce Bochy. Remember the Giants manager’s July 20 call-out of Mattingly, running the Dodgers in the wake of Torre’s ejection, for doubling back on the mound dirt – leading to the forced removal of Jonathan Broxton and three runs and a 7-5 comeback win?
That gaffe merely continued the accelerated education of Mattingly, who perpetuates the East Coast lineage of recent Dodgers managers, following Grady Little and Torre.
One necessary fallout of the trend to import skippers is bypassing deserving candidates within the Dodgers’ own system. Tim Wallach, their Triple-A manager the last two seasons, just got the Mike Scioscia treatment. So we can probably expect to see Wallach in the offseason scrub for managerial openings elsewhere.
Scioscia managed the same Albuquerque team in 1999, but with Davey Johnson having been brought in to run the big club, took a job in 2000 with the Angels. Wonder how that move turned out?
For whatever reason — and the franchise has been through three different ownerships in the interim — the Dodgers have avoided in-house managerial promotions since former shortstop Bill Russell took over for Tom Lasorda in the middle of the 1996 season and went 173-149 in his two years.

The Roberto Clemente I knew

Before he became a god, he was just a great ballplayer.

Before he became a saint, he was just a scintillating entertainer.

Before he gave his life to help others, he just gave his all to help win ballgames.

Before everyone began to worship Roberto Clemente, I was already on knees in front of his altar. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I had the privilege of regularly watching the idol of my youth, who remains the most electric athlete I’ve seen in a long life of watching and chronicling athletes.

Three snapshots that won’t fade from my mind’s album:

1. It was late in the nightcap of one of those makeup twi-night doubleheaders, the ones without a curfew. The first game with the Cardinals had gone extra-innings, and Game 2 was also in the 10th. The Cards seemed assured of beating both the Pirates and the rising sun: Bases loaded, one out. The batter (I believe it was Bill White) pulls a wicked line drive to right field that has base hit and two runs written all over it. 

After 20-some innings and seven hours in Forbes Field, everyone is tired. But Clemente is not too tired to think. He backs up a few steps and taps his glove, as if preparing to make the catch. Lou Brock, the speedy runner on third base, tags up.

The ball lands about 10 feet in front of Clemente, who has already broken into a sudden sprint toward it. He short-hops the ball and in virtually the same motion fires a typical strike to the catcher – forcing Brock on a clean hit to the outfield. The Pirates go on to win a few innings later.

2. When Harry Walker inherited Danny Murtaugh’s job as Pirates manager in 1965, he also inherited what many construed as the Clemente paradox: Great hitter, weak run-producer. A selfish player who lived for his average?

Walker waited a season to see for himself, and he saw Clemente win another batting title with a .329 average — but produce only 65 RBIs with his 194 hits, only 10 of which were home runs.

The following spring, Walker met with Clemente and bluntly asked him to try to hit for more power and not focus on his batting average. Given his legendary pride, Clemente felt insulted, but he also thought, “Okay, if that’s what you want …”

Harry Walker managed the Pirates for two more years, and in those seasons Clemente hit 52 homers and drove in 229 runs — while still batting .336.

He could turn it on at will, like that.

3. Then, just the man’s mannerisms, an everyday joy.

When he swung and missed, he would spin around like a top, as if trying to screw himself into the ground. The basket catches; he rarely caught a routine fly above the knees. Routine throws were always underhanded, with a whip-like motion that put more mustard on the ball than others could generate overhand. And when he had to make a serious throw, he again had no equal — but he did have radar for instincts. He would dig balls out of the right-field corner and have them flying toward the infield even before he was fully turned around — always on the mark, on the fly.

As another round of Roberto Clemente Award talks begin, thought you might like to know a little about the ballplayer behind the humanitarian legend.

Managing to improve

Wow, those four months sure went by like nothing … Anyway, I’m all-Tweeted out and back … 

Between retirements and performance-motivated changes, the approaching offseason could feature an unprecedented turnover in the managerial ranks.
So here’s something to chew on:
Changing managers can make a difference on the field, even though you’ve been forever spoon-fed the idea that they really don’t influence wins and losses.
Colorado’s Jim Tracy experience last season should have routed that myth for good. But, just in case skeptics persist, consider the more recent history.
And I don’t mean just Buck Showalter, who instantly made baseball again relevant in Baltimore. He is just one of five new men on the job, most of whom have had an immediate and positive impact on their teams.
The exception is Arizona’s Kirk Gibson, whose winning percentage (.400, 16-24) is virtually identical to that of predecessor A.J. Hinch (.392, 31-48).
The four other before-and-after snapshots:
  • Ned Yost, Kansas City: 12-23 (.343) to 37-46 (.446).
  • Edwin Rodriguez, Florida: 34-36 (.486) to 23-23 (.500).
  • Showalter: 32-73 (.305) to 9-4 (.692).
  • Daren Brown, Seattle: 42-70 (.375) to 4-2 (.667).
Add ‘em up, and teams which replaced managers during the season were playing .376 ball (151-250) before the moves and have played .473 ball (89-99) since.
Change for the sake of change — as managerial moves are often greeted? Nope; I’d say change for the sake of improvement. 

A Buccaneer-full

About the only one who had a worse Sunday than Daniel McCutchen was yours truly.
I covered the Pirates’ game against the D-backs in Chase Field and, while working simultaneously on a couple of pre-game items, pretty much butchered a short on Delwyn Young making his first Major League appearance at third base.
Among these original sins (before they were corrected), I placed Aki Iwamura on the Bucs roster a year prematurely (essentially dealing for him from Tampa Bay a year before the real GM, Neal Huntington, did) and cast Andy LaRoche as a first baseman.
I had more egg on my face than a guy having a really hard time in an egg-catching contest.
All the Bucs fans who blasted and lampooned my reportorial skills on the Pirates were right-on.
Mea culpa, and apologies Pirates Nation.
The worst part about the warranted criticism of my Bucs boners?
Contrary to the perception, I know and dearly love the Bucs. My baseball DNA includes having been the biggest Pirate fan on the planet during the years I was growing up in Pittsburgh. I felt like I slighted my own baseball heritage.
Daniel McCutchen will get over it. Maybe I will, too.

For Red Sox & Yanks, faster is better

The length of Red Sox – Yankees games has generated a lot of controversial talk lately. Players on those teams generally attribute the slow pace to their styles of disciplined play. Working deep counts to their advantage is a big part of their success formulas.
But does it pay for them to also play deep into the night? The answer might surprise you.
In games lasting longer than 3 hours and 20 minutes (an arbitrarily-chosen benchmark), the Yankees last season were 31-25.
Under the same conditions, the Red Sox were 27-17.
Meaning, both the Yankees (72-34) and Red Sox (68-50) were actually more successful in quicker games.
Thought you might like to know. I know Joe West does.

On a Clear day, you could laugh forever

I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Clear, the longtime Angels coach and uncle of the closer for the franchise’s first AL West title team in 1979, Mark Clear.
Bob Clear, claimed by heart problems at 82, was a jovial baseball throwback whom everyone affectionately called Bobaloo. Not sure where the nickname originated; perhaps it derived from the nightclub of a sitcom icon of Clear’s generation — Ricky Ricardo, of “I Love Lucy” fame, and Club Babalu.
At any rate, Clear enjoyed being the butt of a joke manager Gene Mauch would frequently pull on unsuspecting baseball writers who prided themselves on their knowledge of the game.
“Is that right?” Mauch would begin. “Well, then, can you name the four Alous who have appeared in the big leagues?”
The three Alou brothers who were contemporaries — and one time appeared together in the Giants’ outfield — were well-known: Felipe, Matty and Jesus.
But no one could name the fourth. After a suitably long pause, Mauch would point down the bench and say dryly:
“Bobaloo … “
Never failed to get a laugh, as corny as it now seems.
RIP, Bobaloo … 

Bowa hospitalized

Dodgers coach Larry Bowa had to be rushed to a local hospital due to abdominal pains during Friday’s exhibition game with the Cincinnati Reds.

Bowa was admitted to Banner Estrella Hospital, where he was being examined by Dr. Kenneth Landis, the Dodgers’ team physician.

The 64-year-old Bowa is the Dodgers’ regular third-base coach but was seen leaving the field at Camelback Ranch in the middle ofr the game.

Oops, Bengie did it again

Bengie Molina is trapped in his personal “Groundhog Day.” On screen, Bill Murray doesn’t get the girl. On the free-agency trail, Bengie doesn’t get … it.
Yes, that’s it, he just doesn’t seem to get it. Bengie navigates free agency as if it was a cobblestone street strewn with banana peels.
Coming off his finest offensive season for the Angels back in 2005, the two-time American League Gold Glove catcher hit the market selling hard, looking for a three-year deal commensurate with his established reputation. Molina has that quiet confidence easy to mistake for humility. The big demands hidden behind that veneer turned off a lot of suitors.
Molina remained on that market until February, when he signed a one-year deal with Toronto — for $4.5 million.
Yes, the exact figure he just accepted, four years later, from the Giants. He also took a similar path back to the Bay, having hit the market looking for a three-year contract, then gradually easing up on his expectations. He had been primarily locked in with the Mets who — doubtless recalling the 2006 experience — waited for Molina to come around to taking one year with an option.
Bengie’s new at-bat music in AT&T Park has to be “Oops, I Did It Again.” That would replace Springsteen’s “Born To Run.”

In Cooperstown, there are no slam dunks

Some people never learn.
Referring to Chipper Jones, a lead writer for a respected national Web site this morning throws away the line that the Braves third baseman is “likely headed to Cooperstown when his career ends.”
That comment appeared less than 24 hours after baseball writers had again proven to be unblinking sentries in front of the Hall of Fame. Daily journalism is littered with future-Hall-of-Famer-this and headed-to-Cooperstown-that, but time and again we see that it ain’t easy sneaking through baseball’s pearly gates.
In the myopic prism of his era, Jones is a terrific player.
His career card entering the 2010 season, which will be his 16th:
.307 average with 426 homers, 1,145 RBIs, 7-time All-Star.
Here are some other sets of numbers:
(a) .312-309-1,261 and 7-time All=Star.
(b) .290-339-1,493 and 7-time All-Star.
(c) .288-399-1,425 and 5-time All-Star.
(d) .284-493-1,550 and 5-time All-Star.
(e) .265-398-1,266 and 7-time All-Star.
Pretty comparable, huh? The point? None of the five belonging to those numbers made the Hall of Fame on the most recent ballot. None even came close.
In order, they were (a) Edgar Martinez, (b) Dave Parker), (c) Andres Galarraga, (d) Fred McGriff and (e) Dale Murphy. Combined, they received 478 votes — or slightly more than the 420 which made Andre Dawson the year’s lone selectee.
In fact, Galarraga, didn’t even make the 5 percent cut required to remain on the ballot for next winter’s election.
This is not to pass judgment on Chipper or his future chances, only on those who too lightly wield Cooperstown-knighting swords. 
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