Saturday, December 11, 2010

What if the Beatles hadn't broken up?

I originally moved "A Spot of Red in Cubland" over to in part because I thought it was a bit more appropriate to blog about non-Baseball topics on a site that wasn't hosted by In typical fashion, since making that move, I don't believe I've written more than one or two posts that were non-sports related. So time to change that....

This past week, we passed the 30th anniversary of the day that John Lennon was killed outside of the Dakota in New York City. The increased coverage has had me listening to more solo Lennon work than is really typical for me. Honestly, I've never been a HUGE fan of Lennon's solo work, and prior to this year was content to own a couple of greatest hits type compilations. And honestly, if it weren't for library cards and CD burners, I wouldn't own any proper albums by solo Beatles aside from Harrison's "Cloud 9", "Brainwashed" and the first Traveling Wilburys album.

That is until the magic of iTunes hit me -- I did buy a copy of "McCartney" a year or so ago when a remastered version became available (and really, can honestly say I don't care for it as an album). And then this past October, another round of remastered Lennon albums were made available, and I has a gift card or two to burn -- so no I own "Plastic Ono Band", "Imagine", "Mind Games" and "Walls and Bridges". As with the other solo Beatles stuff, I don't care for it anywhere near as much as my least favorite Beatles album (probably "Let It Be", but might be "Magical Mystery Tour"). But, as a -- I guess -- more mature consumer at the time of purchase, I do find them to be fairly interesting.

So between the press over his 70th birthday and the 30th anniversary of his death, I've spent a bit more time listening to solo Lennon work and thinking about it in the context of the Beatles (which are always in rotation on my iPod). Perhaps it is because I'm finally listening to his music with some kind of recognition of where it appeared in relation to the final Beatles albums, but my thoughts finally turned to the idea of what the next Beatles album might have sounded like had they averted the breakup. Sure, I've made mixes before where I alternated solo Lennon and McCartney hits, but these were greatest hits mixes with no attempt to discern what an actual Beatles album would have been in the early 70's.

Then, my thoughts turned to what I knew of the breakup. I'm far from a scholar, but I have read a couple of books -- on transcribing tapes from the "Get Back" sessions (sorry, it hasn't found its way to my bookshelf in my last move, and can't remember the title/author) and a great history of the Beatles by Bob Spitz. As you may or may not know, the final years of the Beatles were full of turmoil, and I believe every member "quit" the band before McCartney's press info for his first solo album announced things officially. At one point, there was even talk that Eric Clapton would join in to take George's, and later Paul's spot (I think I have my facts correct on "God" replacing Paul, though I'm sure a real Beatles scholar will correct me).

So -- In my head I have a sort of alternate history....everything that we know happened does happen, but pleas to Paul to hold off on releasing McCartney work, and that album never hits as we know it (he does release it, but in a bit different form). He does also briefly quit the Beatles and is replaced by Clapton. During sessions, the other 3 realize that, while a special musical "happening", they aren't the Beatles with Clapton (oh, and Billy Preston, too). So the sessions yield a fantastic one-off album of blues/classic rock n' roll covers, but that is not the next Beatles album. After some time away, the Beatles get together and start to work through the material that all of them had been putting together for their intended solo albums. But realize that they are, and have always been, better together than apart.

So I get through all of this thinking, and do a few quick google searches on the subject only to find that it is a favorite hobby (and blog topic) of Beatles fans all over. Not sure why that surprised me. Also surprised to find out that a lot of what I picked is chosen by my fellow fans. I find that interesting. A couple of articles I enjoyed are an idea on "Alone Together", which while a good article, a title I can't accept mainly because I remember a Crowded House album called "Together Alone." Then there's "Hot as Sun" and an article I point out because it references similar articles and concepts. I'm sure there are an infinite number out there, and these are only just a few that I've found.

So for what it is worth, here is my "next Beatles album." I imagine that the title would be simply "John, Paul, George and Ringo." I did follow a couple of rules:
  1. With one exception, all of the songs had to be from, or at least known to have existed, in the 1970-71 time frame. I imagine this album to have appeared in late '71 or early '72.
  2. Usual "Beatle" rules were followed -- meaning a fairly consistent mix of Lennon vs. McCartney songs. When he agreed to come back, George would have insisted on more than two tracks of his own. He didn't get two that he actually sang, but did get a 3rd song that he helped write. Ringo gets to sing two....because he never really caused much turmoil and it was his plea to Paul that prevented the release of "McCartney" at the same time as "Let It Be". That plea was made in reality, but as we know, Paul did not listen to it.
  3. Tried to keep the running time consistent with what would have been possible on vinyl. I'm a bit over, but assumed that these songs would have turned out a bit differently had they been Beatles songs.
So here goes.....

Side A:
  • We open with "Too Many People". And, yeah, the veiled comments on John do make it into the final. For a time, the album would have included either "How Do You Sleep?" and/or "God", but eventually Paul clears the air and explains that really only one line refers to Yoko in the studio. (As a side note, Ringo and George tell Paul that they don't like Linda being in the studio any more than they like having Yoko around).
  • Next comes "Remember". Of all of John's early solo music, this is the one that sounds the most Beatle-ish to me. Plus, I like the reference to Guy Fawkes and the abrupt ending of the song.
  • Next comes "Instant Karma", which had been intended to be a solo single by John, but was held because the other guys loved it.
  • Then Paul chimes in with "That Would Be Something". George admitted this one was a good one, and I agree with Allyn Gibson that the song is much better once the other Beatles have their input.
  • Then we get "Wah-Wah". You listen to "All Things Must Pass" and you wonder how Paul and John kept some of these off their albums. This one was written when George briefly quit the group, and it's a nice, peppy song. And it's not the best George has to offer, so John and Paul still have the satisfaction of keeping George in the background.
  • So my one big cheat -- "I'm the Greatest" from the "Ringo" album. I picked this one specifically because it's really a Beatles song in a very broad sense. John wrote it, and all four play on it. So while no one really thought Ringo ought to sing more than one song on an album, he gets to sing one that John wrote for him.
  • We close out side A with "Another Day." A song John hates, but Paul won't agree to leave out.
Side B
  • The second side opens with "Mind Games". The song sounds a bit different without Phil Spector's production, but this is one John had been working on as early as the "Let It Be" sessions, and fits perfectly with his love and peace message of the times.
  • Next up...."Dear Boy." Paul always seemed to have one of these kinds of songs ready, although this one isn't nearly as cheesy as "Martha My Dear" or many of his solo hits.
  • "Hold On" is next. The rest of the band wasn't wild about the Yoko name check, but John agreed to put "How Do You Sleep?" on the shelf as long as he could include a song that reflected his love for Yoko.
  • George gets his second track with "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp". Many of you would probably say that this was an odd choice when "My Sweet Lord", "What is Life", "Isn't It A Pity"....and many others have been left off. The reason, to me, is simple....John had already rejected "Isn't It A Pity", and neither he nor Paul were wild about George showing them up as he'd already done with "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" on "Abbey Road". So George throws out this underrated gem.
  • John's "Gimme Some Truth" comes next. As with "Remember", it had more of a Beatle feel to me than some of his other solo songs, and choosing "Imagine" seemed too easy. In truth, "Mother" probably would have been John's contribution, but I've never cared for that one, so I'm sticking with this.
  • "It Don't Come Easy" features an unheard of 2nd song sung by Ringo, but since George gets the co-writer credit, he's happy to have this one make the final cut.
  • And we close out things with "Maybe I'm Amazed"....which is hands down my favorite McCartney song....Beatles, solo or otherwise.
I was very tempted to include "God" in the mix, but couldn't imagine the other members allowing the line "I don't believe in Beatles." At one point, though -- before I had settled on "Remember" -- I had that one closing the album, and the Beatles announcing their break up with the release of the album. But the band never did things with that much forethought, and while was a better storybook ending than what happened in reality, just didn't seem to feel right.

I listen to this collection of songs -- and try to imagine what they'd have sounded like with George Martin producing and I think this is a fine album, though perhaps not "the greatest album never made." But let's face it....."Let It Be" wasn't a great album by the Beatles' standards either. So that's how I see it -- and I'd love any comments you might want to leave.

Thanks for reading.

Jeter, Gonzo, Crawford and Waiting for Lee

So, quick tangent before I get to my main topic....Finding time to write anything is a little tougher when you have a 8-10 month kid cruising the house. I'm as worn as I've ever been in my life, but no way would I trade one second of it for anything. Not conducive for blogging, though.

But, seeing as my last post was in late September, a lot has happened since my last post. First off, the Giants became the latest team to end a long wait for a title, the Yankees were made to look like a 2nd rate team against the Rangers, and the Phillies are starting to look like the 2003-04 era Yankees.

The off season has also been somewhat tumultuous. As I'm writing, we still don't know if Cliff Lee will be a Yankee or a Ranger or whether or not a mystery team will swoop in at the last minute. Smart money (and a dumb 7th year) says the Yankees get this done now that they have Jeter and Rivera resigned.

Speaking of Jeter -- I was a little disappointed in how the Yankees went about these negotiations, although not surprised. But Jeter has been the picture of class for his entire tenure in the Bronx, and for the club to try out the "greedy player who wants more than he deserves" angle....well, that's a bit of an insult to the fans. We all knew that Jeter wanted to remain a Yankee, that the Yankees wanted him back, and that whatever they paid him -- it would be more than he was worth on the open market. Look, we all know he's an aging shortstop with declining range (that many will say was never that good anyway). He was coming off his worst year of his career, too. But Derek Jeter IS the Yankees. Plain and simple, and if you didn't take care of him, you'd have angered quite a bit of your fan base. I can say that aside from Albert Pujols, he's hands down my favorite player, and I'd have strongly considered turning my back on the Yankees had they let him go. I've been a Yankees fan for a long time, but it has been during Jeter's time in the Bronx that I've been at my most passionate. I'm sure many of you would point out the fact that I sound like a fair weather fan with that statement, but Jeter, much like Ozzie Smith in the 80's, is a guy that I will always root for no matter what uniform he puts on (although I don't ever want to test that out if he should sign in Boston).

The big players in the offseason, though, have been the Red Sox. They pulled off the big move for Adrian Gonzalez -- who was formerly #3 on my list of current favorite players. I saw him play for our local A club, Kane County, when he was coming up in the Marlins system, and saw him play during Spring Training just after he had been traded to the Padres. Right after that, I grabbed him off the wire for my fantasy baseball team, and I've been a huge fan since. He'll do well in Boston, and I'll miss having him play for a team where I was able to root for him. The Sox also added Carl Crawford to play left, and now have the option of trading either Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury for some more pitching. The Red Sox -- on paper at least -- look to have put themselves back in the conversation in the AL East, and will very likely be a power.

Talking to a friend of mine -- a fellow Cardinals fan who spent his college years in Boston. He is now and always will be a Cardinals fan, but did begin rooting for the Sox while living out East. His comment was that the Red Sox have become a bit tougher to like the last several years because they are now just as bad as the Yankees (he, like most other baseball fans, hates the Yankees with a passion). Hard to argue with that after the two moves they've made.

Of course, that is until the Yankees make Cliff Lee an unimaginably rich man and lock him in for 7 years.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Revisiting the NL Playoff Picture

As we head into the final week of the 2010 regular season, I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit a post from a couple of weeks ago... In that post, I bemoaned the fact that the Cardinals weren't able to do the one thing that is required of all good/great teams -- beat up on the little guys. The Cardinals have been terrible against "lesser" competition, and in the time since I wrote that post, they've only gotten worst. You might not realize it, but they've posted the worst record in the NL since the All Star break. Of course, on weekends when they do play a team that still has a shot at October, they surprise by taking 2 of 3. Then they play the Cubs and get swept. And thus you have the frustration of the 2010 season as a Cardinals fan.

But, my intent here is to revisit the teams I talked about in that previous post -- the Padres, the Giants, the Reds, the Phillies and the Braves. Since they've put themselves squarely in the hunt, I'll also touch on the Rockies.

Let's start with the Phillies.....Back in June, it looked like they wouldn't even make the playoffs, but as they have the last several years, they turned on the jets at the right time, and basically wrapped up the division with their recent sweep of the Braves. They head into the playoffs with a rotation that starts with Roys Halladay and Oswalt followed by Cole Hammels. Yeah, they have a great shot at reaching their 3rd consecutive World Series.

The Braves have slipped a bit since my last post. They still have a lead in the Wild Card race, but the 3 teams in contention for the NL West are still in the mix. I think the season is a disappointment for the Braves if they don't make it as the Wild Card, and personally, I would love to see them make the World Series and send off Bobby Cox in style (provided they don't have to go through the Yankees to do that).

The NL West remains the last compelling race in any division in baseball. The Padres decided to quit winning and saw a 6+ game lead evaporate. Since that time, they've spent days alternating with the Giants for the division lead. The Padres play a Cinci team that may be resting stars for the post-season and then welcome the Cubs, who have played better under interim manager Mike Quade. The Giants get the Rockies and then the Diamondbacks. Then the two teams square off in San Fran, and just might have the division and a spot in the playoffs on the line.

Unless of course the Rockies spoil everything by getting back in the groove after stumbling a bit against the D'backs. Troy Tulowitzki has had a September to remember and has been clubbing home runs at an unconscious pace. He's cemented his spot as the premier short stop in the NL, and might just earn a spot in the MVP voting if he can help the Rockies turn October into "Rock"tober.

The Reds, of course, have things basically wrapped up as the Cards are starting to give time to their September callups. Dusty Baker worked magic with the 2003 Cubs, and may be improving on that story with the 2010 Reds.

It is going to be a fun October.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

During last night's Yankees/Rays game, Derek Jeter spun away from an inside pitch, immediately grabbed his left arm and wrist as if the pitch had hit his elbow, and was awarded first base by the umpire. Before taking first, the Yankees trainers came onto the field to check out the damage done. Only problem with all of this is that replays showed that the ball hit the end of the bat -- not Jeter's arm. So he was acting -- and now has thrown the baseball world into a tizzy.

Honestly people, get a grip. Did Jeter fake things and play it up to get on base? Of course he did -- he admitted as much after the game, saying that it was his job to get on base any way that he could. So now, the twitterverse, blogosphere and sports talk radio is abuzz with the great debate: IS DEREK JETER A CHEATER?

Look, this is a fact of life in sports -- not just baseball. How many wide receivers dive for a ball, tumble over things and then come up holding the ball as if they just one-upped the "Immaculate Reception"? Happens several times a game. How many times does an outfielder dive for a ball that bounces on the ground and quickly in his glove and them holds his glove up to sell the catch? Everyone this side of Adam Dunn pulls that one. The flop that gets the charging call -- yep, those are part of the game, too.

I know these things are maddening when they happen against your favorite team. I'm as guilty of villifying a player for these types of things all the time. But I fail to see the side of this argument that would suggest that Jeter's somehow a tarnished idol now, or that this kind of thing is beneath him. This is part of the game, people, and we'll ALWAYS have to live with players trying to get away with some little thing or another to gain an edge. It's not cheating, it's not amoral, it's just a fact of life in the sporting world.

I'm fairly certain that there's perhaps maybe two players in baseball that might have stirred up a bigger mess of ridiculousness than the one that's surrounded Jeter today -- ARod and Manny Ramirez. Aside from those two guys, if ANYONE else does this, we're roundly saluting him as a heads up and savvy baseball player. Dustin Pedroia does that, and he's a "gamer", but somehow it's beneath Jeter. (That's not a shot at a Red Sox, plug in any player you want, and I'd make the same argument.)

Now, having said all this, I do agree that this is just one instance where we see that MLB really could benefit from the use of instant replay. The technology is there, and with a little planning and forethought (I know, not exactly Bud's strong suit), the game can be even better than it is, and I don't think the fan will have to suffer through too much dead time during a game -- or at least won't suffer through any more than they've become accustomed to.

But for now, let's all take a few deep breaths and just realize that this really isn't that big of a deal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time to look ahead

Not exactly breaking news to say that the Cardinals' season is over. If 3 straight losses to the Cubs don't signal the end in humiliating fashion, then I don't know what would. The way it is ending is not quite what I had envisioned -- nor I suppose what most experts envisioned. Some had tabbed the Reds to surprise and win the NL Central, but many of those same experts also picked the Cards for the Wild Card.

What's upsetting is this is a team that clearly has the talent to make a playoff run, and they just don't play up to their potential. When that happens, you start doing what Cubs fans have become famous for -- waiting for next year. The Cardinals future might be equally as uncertain as the Cards, too.

If I were GM, here's my list of priorities:
  • The team may be in the market for a new manager. TLR has been taking it year to year for some time now, but this is the first time I've wondered if he'll come back or not -- and also whether I WANT him back. He's a hall of fame manager, and one of the greatest of the modern era if not all time. But, maybe he's finally reached the end of the line in St. Louis. The team certainly seems to have tuned him out, and with rumored friction with some of the young stars (Rasmus), might be time for a new voice. I'm not opposed to bringing in that new voice, but worry that Mozelik isn't the guy to find him. A bigger concern to me is the fact that if TLR hangs it up, it probably means that Dave Duncan is on his way out, too. Now, there certainly are other great pitching coaches out there, but Duncan is a true wizard and has more reclamation projects on his resume than anyone else.
  • Pujols -- you have to get him signed to an extension this offseason. We, as a fan base, don't want to see what would happen if 2011 opens and talks are stalling.
  • Role players. The team has guys that looked to be solid role players, but all of them seem to have gone in the tank at the same time. Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez, Nick Stavinoah....all have shown they have it in them to put up solid numbers, and all of them have had disappointing seasons. Plus, TLR relied too heavily on rookies such as Craig and John Jay. While they've given an indication that they are legit big leaguers, they just can't match the veteran presence -- such as what Ryan Ludwick brought to the table.
  • A closer. I like Ryan Franklin, and he's been better than any of us had a right to expect. But -- he isn't a guy that is going to close for a World Series contender. It may be that one of the other arms in the bullpen will step up, but I think the team needs to look elsewhere. Perhaps Matt Capps, Brian Fuentes from the Twins will become available. Or, maybe the Twins would look to trade Joe Nathan as he rehabs his injury.
  • Third Base -- We can't trust Freese to stay healthy. A third baseman with a little power and a decent average would do wonders for the offense, and give the team another option behind Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus.
I suppose the optimist -- which I try to be -- believes that a little retooling will do the trick. It might be, though, that some of the pieces that we thought were solid enough are little more than filler. It should be an interesting offseason to watch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Good Teams Beat the Teams They Are Supposed to Beat

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a World Series contender is supposed to beat the bottom feeders, not play to their level. If the Cardinals end up on the outside looking in when the playoffs open, they'll have no one to blame but themselves. Yet again, we see a team that was supposed to be the class of the NL Central drop two games to a team they should be taking 2 of 3 from (if not sweeping). No disrespect meant to the Pirates -- they have some intriguing young talent for the first time in what seems like forever. But, the Cardinals have a payroll that suggests contender, they've signed free agents thinking it enhanced their standing as contenders, and they've made late season trades that are consistent with moves a contender would make. Yet here we sit on 8/25 and they are 3.5 games behind the Reds for the NL Central lead and are 1 game out of the NL Wild Card. Obviously, plenty of time left, but you gotta get it going. NOW. This season won't be considered successful in St. Louis without a solid showing in the playoffs.

Here's a quick look at what's at stake for other NL playoff contenders:
Reds - The season's a success at this point -- no matter what happens. That said, Walt Jockety has done a nice job of mixing veteran players with the young talent that the Reds had developed. This team has really taken on the challenge of being a power in the NL -- not just a surprise.

Braves - Many tabbed them to have a good season, and they've delivered. Winning one last division for the retiring Bobby Cox would be a fitting end to one of the greatest managerial careers in the history of the game. I don't see them letting go of a playoff spot at this point, but Philly always seems to make a late charge, so they may end up the Wild Card. Missing the playoffs is always considered disappointing for a team with Atlanta's recent history, but would be especially painful after the season they've had so far.

Phillies - While currently on a 3 game losing streak, the Phillies are starting to play like the team that many expected them to be when 2010 opened. They are currently tied atop the Wild Card standings, but are only 2.5 out of the division lead. Outside of the Yankees, there probably isn't another team in baseball that will see more negative press for missing the playoffs. If/when they make it to October baseball, they'll be a tough out for anyone with a rotation of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels.

Padres - They've been the surprise team of the year, and they just keep rolling. Their pitching is as good as anyone's despite the fact that it doesn't have the name recognition. Their offense isn't as feared as other teams', but they excel at getting the key hits when they matter. A nice playoff run, and Adrian Gonzalez could be a full fledged star -- not to mention one step closer to being a former Padre. It'd be disappointing, and a little surprising, to see them lose their 6 game lead at this point, but the season is a huge success simply because they played well enough to hang onto A-Gon and Heath Bell all season -- players many predicted would be gone long before the non-waiver trading deadline.

Giants - The division is a longshot at this point, but they're tied for the Wild Card. Buster Posey has had a monster season, and could easily end up winning Rookie of the Year, which would be quite a feat considering the great play we've seen from rookies in 2010. Their big guns in the rotation haven't been as good as expected, but you can't count out a team that can go into a short series with Lincecum and Cain pitching the first two games.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where Did the Fight Go?

I had the best intentions of writing a post about the now infamous fight in Cincinnati last week, but the reality of life with a 6 month old child and 40+ hour a week job (not to mention being old and needing sleep) got in the way. With the extra few days of perspective, my viewpoint changes, and not really for the better.

The Cardinals finally looked like the team most expected them to be during that series versus the Reds. They were ticked at Brandon Phillips calling them "little bitches", and they set out to show him and his team why they were still the team to beat in the NL Central. It was a much anticipated series, and turned out to be a bit of a yawn. With sweep in hand, the Cards returned home to face the lowly Cubs and a roster that looked like it belonged in Des Moines. I was thinking sweep, or 2 of 3 at the very least.

Now that the Cards have dropped 2 of 3, I'm starting to become more and more convinced that this is a team destined to go out with a whimper once October rolls around -- assuming they even make it that far. For the second straight series, the Cardinals can only manage one win against the Cubs. Had the Redbirds shown any streak of consistency at all in 2010, I might chalk this up to the rivalry and the fact that these series against their biggest rival are about as close to meaningful baseball as the Cubs are going to see from here on out. We've seen this series after series with this year's Cardinals, though, and unless that mythical switch is out there just waiting to be thrown, we might be seeing a team falling far short of expectations. A shame, given that so many things are going right:
  1. Wainwright is having his second straight Cy Young worthy campaign.
  2. Pujols has turned things on and just became the only player in history to hit 30 HR in 10 straight seasons.
  3. Matt Holliday is putting up numbers consistent with a guy who commanded huge money on the free agent market.
  4. Jaime Garcia has more than made up for the departure of Joel Piniero and softened the injuries of Lohse and Penny.
  5. Rookie Jon Jay has been raking and is an almost permanent fixture in the 2 hole.
  6. Colby Rasmus still has some room to grow, but is clearly blossoming into one of the team's best players.
In spite of all of this, the Cards still find themselves trailing the Reds on 8/16. Why is that? You can point to some of the under-performers -- Ryan, Schumaker, Lopez, etc. Then there are injuries to guys like Freese, Lohse, Penny and (since traded) Ludwick. The big problem, though, is that the team doesn't seem to play with that "Win or Die" mentality that Tony LaRussa managed teams seem to carry. Tough to pinpoint a simple reason why that is missing, but if this team doesn't find its heart soon, then we'll be talking 2011 much sooner than any of us would have thought.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

ARod reaches 600 and Trade Deadline Reaction

Alex Rodriguez FINALLY hit #600 in his first at bat against the Blue Jays today. I'm sure a nation of Yankee haters can rejoice that the daily updates on ARod will be coming to an end after a day of tributes. The milestone leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I've come to appreciate ARod for the fact that he's finally done what I'd always wanted him to do -- cut out all the "I need to be the perfect superstar ballplayer" crap and just turned into a ballplayer. The flip side is that he's an admitted PED user, so his 600 doesn't mean as much as a guy like Ken Griffey Jr. reaching the same level. I guess in many ways, ARod has come to represent what I started to dislike about the Yankees betweeen 2002 and 2008 -- the excess, the flaunting of their financial power, the ability to hate without admitting you respect the team/player. Those were cornerstones of Torre's early years, and I felt like after losing the World Series in 2001. But still, it's a milestone, and I think years from now, as the dust settles from the steroid era, I think ARod will get his due for being the player that he is.

Last weekend also saw the non-waiver trading deadline come and go. For all the talk that it would be a quiet deadline this year, it sure seems like there was a lot of activity. The Yankees added Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns and Kerry Wood. I was pleased with all three acquisitions, and think this might strengthen the team to a point where they'll be awfully tough to beat in October, providing their starting pitching returns to full health. Wood is a player that I was especially pleased to see in pinstripes. I've watched his career from the beginning, and really was annoyed with the way the Cubs shuffled him out of town. He adds depth to a bullpen that has been struggling of late.

Down in St. Louis, it has been a bit of a mixed bag. The Cardinals ripped off 8 straight wins after the All Star Break, but have been a model of inconsistency since. Most frustrating for me is that they seem to play poorly against teams they should be beating. Both Houston and the Cubs are teams that are struggling and there really is no excuse for expecting a team to take 2 of 3 games in a series from these teams. But, time and again, we've seen this team lost 2 of 3, and that just doesn't give you a good feeling as we get closer to the end of the season. Cincinnati hasn't show much sign that they are going away, and a team with championship aspirations MUST pad a lead against the lesser teams in the division.

The trade deadline was a bit quieter in St. Louis. The team was in the mix for Roy Oswalt, but had to settle for Jake Westbrook. Westbrook, who is a groundball pitcher, seems like an ideal guy for Dave Duncan and the Cardinals pitching staff, and the depth helps negate the injuries to Lohse and Penny, not to mention gives you some protection against Jaime Garcia hitting the rookie wall. The trade did spell the end of Ryan Ludwick's time in St. Louis and I'm very sorry to see him go. His was a great story and you love seeing a guy like that stick with things and finding his chance to be an everyday player. His playing time had slipped due to injury and the emergence of hot-hitting rookie John Jay, so something had to give. Ludwick should fare well in San Diego. They're a team that reminds me very much of the Cardinals of the last few years, and they should have a regular spot for "Luddy" in their outfield. They are a possible playoff opponent, should the Cardinals hold off the Reds, so you do worry a bit about him coming back to haunt his old team.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

D. Lee - Loser, Part 2: ....And we have our answer

I had started out the day thinking about my post regarding Derrek Lee and the possibility that he'd veto any deal that would send him to a contender. One very plausible reason that Lee would veto a trade -- something I knew about but wasn't thinking of as I wrote my entry -- is because his daughter suffers from a rare disorder called Leber's Congenital Amaurosis. You can read more about Lee's Project 3000 here.

I would give Lee a pass here if I truly believed that was the reason, but there is some evidence to suggest that a bigger reason is just that Lee would prefer to draw his salary and finish out the season with the Cubs and doesn't care in the slightest about having a chance to compete down the stretch -- and of course rebuild some of his value as he heads into free agency.

The topic came up on WSCR's "The Mully and Hanley Show" this morning as the hosts spoke with Chicago Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers. You can listen and judge for yourself, but to me, Rogers tone of voice confirmed what I've thought and written about -- that Lee doesn't put much importance on winning. Rogers even mentioned that when asked about going to a contender, Lee commented that he'd "...been on 100 loss teams before..." when he was in Florida. Hardly sounds like a guy that values the ring, huh?

And now we have proof as ESPN1000's Bruce Levine has confirmed that Lee will turn down any opportunity to join a contender, in spite of the fact that we know that both the Rangers and the Angels have inquired about making a deal. I can now say, with certainty, that Derrek Lee is the PERFECT poster child for the mess that the Cubs have become.

Monday, July 26, 2010

D. Lee: How to admit you're not a winner without actually saying so

When he was first traded to the Cubs, I thought that Derrek Lee was as classy of a player as there was in the NL. He also chose that time to start putting up some pretty impressive numbers, and so I thought the Cubs at least had a player around that I could root for. Now, in 2004, I was probably closer to being a bandwagon Cubs fan than I've ever been at any time in my life. Let me explain that real quick -- I grew up a Cards and a Yanks fan, but lost touch with baseball a bit when basketball was top dog in sports. I also drifted away from the Cards a bit because of some down years and then Tony La Russa's decision to force out my all time favorite player -- Ozzie Smith -- in favor of Royce Clayton. Had the Cards won the NLCS in '96 and faced the Yankees in the World Series, this point would be moot. 1996 was also the year I had moved to the Chicago area, and was dating my future wife, who is a HUGE Cubs fan. I had so much fun watching the 2003 post season through her (and other Cubs fans that I know) that it was tough not to get a little caught up in things. As 2004 opened, my wife and I made our first trip to Spring Training in Arizona, and it seemed like the Cubs were about to put it all together. Statistically speaking, they had a better year than many realize, but what you saw playing out in reality was a team built to win that had put itself in position to do just that -- and then choked the whole thing away with as unlikeable group of players as I've ever watched. Chief among them for me -- Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou and (possibly my least favorite player of all time) LaTroy Hawkins. In '05, I made the first of my yearly treks down to Busch Stadium -- this one for the final time at the second version of the park -- and it rekindled my love of the Cardinals.


(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Sorry, that was quite a tangent....but does speak to the respect I had for Derrek Lee. He's hit .282, averaged around 25-26 homers, stolen over 100 bases and driven in 983 runs in his Cubs career. He's played gold glove caliber defense for most of this time, and has won the award in '05 and '07. He also won the Silver Slugger award in '05. He had done all of this with a quiet grace, and I took him as a player coming into his own that lead by example. He was easy to root for. The one thing I always bristled at -- and, yes, largely because of my rooting interests -- was that the Cubs had their answer to Albert Pujols. Sorry, Derrek Lee has NEVER been anything other than a poor man's Pujols on his best days.

Earlier this week, Jayson Stark of ESPN tweeted the following:

A source who has known Lee for years says it's "highly doubtful" he'd waive his full no-trade to OK any deal at this stage.

My opinion of Lee has been on the decline over the last few seasons, and I think it may have bottomed out with this revelation. Obviously, until we get to the end of this season, we can't close the door on the topic, but to me, this confirms what I've started to suspect for the last couple of seasons -- that Derrek Lee just isn't a player that is driven to win. I started to notice a shift in his body language the last few years and saw signs that he was far to nonchalant towards the game. Sure, there were the flashes of anger as he'd slam his bat down after striking out at a key moment in a game or when he'd hit into a(nother) double play -- it got to a point where the sports media here in Chicago started calling him "DP Lee". He rebounded nicely in the second half last year and I thought his impending free agency coupled with the arrival of Rudy Jaramillo would be key factors in a big year for Lee.

That hasn't been the case. He's currently hitting .251 with 11 HR and 44 RBI. Not awful numbers, but not what you've come to expect from D-Lee. According to, his runs above replacement has dropped from 45 in '09 to 4 in '10. Pretty big drop, huh? His wins above replacement has slipped from 4.7 to .4 in the same time. I've also heard mention on WSCR (a Chicago sports/talk radio station) that both Lee and Aramis Ramirez were players that had refused instruction from Jaramillo earlier in the season. They may not have agreed with his teachings, but given the sluggish start both players got off to, there is no earthly reason why you wouldn't talk to your hitting coach to see what he might suggest.

If Lee refuses to be traded to a contender, that cements it for me. (How could a Southern Cal native not see the benefit of playing in LA?) He's just another player out there who puts up good numbers, plays the game well during his time and then fades into the background after he retires. I think Lee has the talent to have been an all time great player -- if not at least an all time great Cub. As it is, I don't think he'll be all that fondly remembered....He'll be missed next year certainly, but 10 years from now, I don't think he pops to mind as a defining player of this current Cubs team. And that's too bad, because I think we're seeing proof that he is all too good a representative of this decade's Cubs -- talented, capable, but ultimately forgettable.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I-55 Showdown, Lou Retires, Cards Finally Lose a Game

The Cardinals opened the second half with 8 consecutive wins. During the run, they played as well as they have all season. The offense, for the most part, resembled the one that we all expected coming into the season. The most gratifying of the wins in this stretch was a come-from-behind win vs. the Dodgers last Sunday -- all with Albert Pujols taking a much deserved day off. Birthday boy Allen Craig filled in at first and had a big day -- driving in 3 runs, including the tying run. Matt Holliday, who is starting to look like a player worthy of being a team's highest paid, drove in the winning run. The Cards followed up the sweep of the Dodgers by taking 3 of 4 from the reeling Phillies before falling 2-0 in extra innings yesterday. From here, the scene shifts to Chicago as the I-55 rivalry is renewed. I've said time and again that for my money this is the best rivalry in baseball. The one element truly missing, however, is that it is extremely rare to have both teams in position to win it all. The last time this rivalry was ratcheted up due to a playoff berth was 2003. Both teams have been in the mix since, but that was the last time that you saw the off-field quotes that make a rivalry all it can be.

We also learned this week that Cubs manager, Lou Piniella, has decided to hang it up after this year. His time in Chicago hasn't been as successful as many had hoped. He did lead the Cubs to two consecutive division titles in '07 and '08, but both times the team was swept out of the playoffs. In '09, it was the Cardinals turn to win the division and get swept by a team from the NL West. 2010 has seen the Cubs underperform at almost every turn, so it comes as no surprise that Lou is ready to move on.

So the spotlight in Chicago shifts to the search for a new manager. Many expect Hall of Fame 2B Ryne Sandberg to take over, as he's paid his dues managing in the Cubs minor league system for the past 4 years, working his way up from low A to the AAA Iowa Cubs. I've had the pleasure of seeing him manage several games at for the single A Peoria Chiefs, and have to say that I'm surprised at the great job he did working with the young players. That said, I really hope that he doesn't get the job. I am always of the belief that your franchises great players get nothing but trouble when they return to manage/coach their team. Too often, you're just setting yourself up to boo and ultimately fire one of your great players. With apologies to Cubs fans that might read this, I really don't see the Cubs being World Series contenders over the next few years, and in this day and age, no manager gets long to prove he's the right man for the job. I would expect the 2011 Cubs to be similar to the 2010 edition, so you've already got one down season for Ryno if he gets the job. It could be as soon as 2012, then, that you start to wonder about his job security. Ryno's been far too classy of a player and now manager to put him through that.

I do think the Cubs need to promote the guy, though, and would think making him the bench coach/manager in waiting is a good move. Some other names that have been floated are Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Bob Brenly, Pat Listach and Freddi Gonzalez. I'd be shocked of Girardi leaves the Yankees for the Cubs -- even though he is an Illinois native and began his baseball career with the Cubs. Torre would be intriguing, and would be amenable to a shorter term deal, but the fact that he'd be replacing a retiree that is younger than he is to manage a team that doesn't appear to be WS ready -- well, that makes me skeptical. I don't know much about Listach, who currently coaches for the Nationals. Gonzalez is believed to be the man that will replace Bobby Cox in Atlanta.

That leaves Brenly, and I really believe he'd be a fine choice. He's better equipped to ride out some of the bad contracts as the team phases out some of its veteran players (Soriano, Zambrano, Ramirez) in favor of a younger team (Castro, Colvin, Wells). I think Ryno would have a great influence on these guys, and Brenly's no-nonsense, "Just play hard" attitude would help to teach them the right way to play like a big leaguer. A younger Piniella would likely have been better for them, but you sense that he came to Chicago thinking a title was almost assured and that he didn't have much to do besides sit on the bench and let it all come together. Not to suggest that he hasn't done a better job than many give him credit for -- winning the division two years in a row is an accomplishment that you can't really discredit. But I also don't think this is the same guy that managed Cinci to a title and turned the Mariners into perennial contenders.

But first things first, the Cardinals are in town. I expect the Cardinals to take 2 of 3, losing on Friday, then winning both weekend games. No matter what, it will be a great weekend for baseball.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

As it often goes in New York, much ado about nothing.

The Yankees said their official goodbye to George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard last night, and as always, the Yankees do these things in a way few other teams can match. The ceremony was followed with a thrilling walk-off win as Nick Swisher delivered a game winning hit in the bottom of the ninth. Earlier in the day, New York papers made an issue out of the fact that none of the current or former Yankees players attended the funeral of Bob Sheppard, and have made a particularly big deal out of the fact that Derek Jeter did not attend the service as the team's representative.

I understand the point, and while I'm mildly surprised by it, this is just one of those things that proves that players in New York deal with media pressure that few other markets can match. Especially in the case of Jeter, you are a little surprised, because he's crafted a public persona that exudes class and he always seems to know the right thing to do. At the same time, we tend to forget that its not at all uncommon for people to deal with these types of situations in their own way, as Jeter and Joe Girardi both suggested before and after yesterday's game. So I agree that it is a little surprising to see the franchise that does ceremony so well not send at least one player to the funeral, I really don't see why its the big deal that it is being made out to be.

In the same article about Jeter, the point is made that the game was a fitting tribute to the Boss, but that it would have been even more perfect if Jeter had been the hero of the game. Personally, I think it was more fitting that Swisher was the hero, because he is a perfect metaphor for what has been so right about the latter half of the Steinbrenner reign and what was so off about the lowpoint in the 80's. For all the talk of the Yankees buying their championships, they have had their greatest success when the team is built around homegrown players and guys that were acquired through shrewd trades. You've got the core four players (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera) along with other farm products like Cano and Gardner. There are the big names of A-Rod, Teixeira and Sabathia -- the Yankees have always signed big name players -- but its moves like Swisher that really make this a team that I root for. The same could be said for the Torre lead dynasty. Swisher, to some degree, reminds me a bit of Paul O'Neill. I don't mean to suggest that Swisher is as good as O'Neill was, but when the Yankees sent Roberto Kelly to Cinci for Paulie, O'Neill wasn't an every day player. He wasn't one for his first season or two with the Yankees, either. Swisher wasn't supposed to be one, but became one after an injury to Xavier Nady opened up more playing time.

Swisher has responded to playing in New York, and you can bet that the Boss would have had kind words for his play over the last season and a half. He's far from the best player on the team, but he's been as important to the Yankees success in 2009 and 2010 as any player out there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All Star reaction, Odds & Ends

The 2010 All Star Game is in the books. The streak is over. The NL finally won a game. Ding dong the witch is dead.

Honestly, I thought it was a good game. It kept me watching, which isn't always the case with these exhibitions. I've already blogged about things I don't like about the affair, but the game itself is always fun for me. As a kid, I used to marvel at seeing all of the different uniforms, seeing all of these great players that I idolized playing on the same team. I'm sure this will come off as a little cliche and really sappy, but I still get that feeling watching the teams come out -- even if FOX does try to sap ever ounce of enjoyment out of the telecast by making the pre-game drone on and on. Didn't mind the "All Stars Among Us" stuff, but do we really need a cast member of Glee out singing extra songs? She did a great job with the anthem, but I guess I've grown a bit weary of anything to do with that show.

But, yeah, the NL did it. So whichever team decides to play well enough to represent the NL gets home field advantage. I still hate that wrinkle, by the way. If I had to choose right now, I'd say that the Yankees and Braves will meet in the World Series this year -- and I say that with an attempt to strip away as much bias as I can. I'd love to say Cardinals/Yankees in the WS, but honestly, don't want that to happen because I don't want to be forced into rooting against one of my favorite teams, and I just don't think the Cards are playing well enough to get there. There's a lot of time, obviously, to change that, but as of the 1/2 way point, doesn't look like they are going to get the job done.

I haven't been as active the last few days, so a few random thoughts -- some baseball, some not:
  1. It has been a horrible year for Cubs fans, but Marlon Byrd has been a pleasant surprise. I thought he'd be a bust for Chicago, but as it is, he's the one player on that team that I enjoy watching this year. Glad to see him come up big in last night's game.
  2. I know the LeBron/Wade/Bosh thing is old news by now, but that introduction ceremony? C'mon -- even the Yankees don't trot guys out like that. It made Jason Giambi crying as he put on his pinstriped jersey look positively normal. I was always taught that as you play sports you should always act like you've done good things before and expect to do them again. I think that also includes don't celebrate like you've won a championship when you just signed a couple of players -- no matter who they are.
  3. Sticking in the NBA -- Kyle Korver has a new fan in me for having the guts to stand up at a press conference to announce his signing with the Bulls and admit that he hated Jordan and the "Unbeata-Bulls". Good job, Kyle. I love it.
  4. Also had no problem with Joey Votto saying he didn't congratulate Byrd because he's a Cub. Maybe not the classiest moment ever, but all sports are better off when there's animosity between teams and players. There's far too much back slapping and chit chat these days.
  5. Wrote a full post on Steinbrenner, but one more note on the guy....I think he was great for baseball and he made the Yankees great for baseball. I know most people hated him and hate his team, but that's what is good about them. Love 'em or hate 'em, you tune in to watch 'em. That's good for the game no matter how you slice it.
  6. Speaking of the Yanks -- people were up in arms as they ALMOST traded for Cliff Lee last week. "The Rich Get Richer" is what I heard from a few friends. Look, I get why the Yankees and their payroll are not popular, but when you've got the prospects to get a deal done, it has nothing to do with the rich getting richer. It has to do with smart baseball people understanding how to market the talent in their farm system. When they sign Cliff Lee to a big contract during the offseason, complain all you want. Until then, understand that trading is about having what the other team needs, not flexing your financial muscle.
  7. Another note on that topic....How come nobody ever cites the fact that other teams contribute to the problem? I apologize for picking on the Cubs again -- well, no I don't -- but look at the deal they gave Soriano. No one else was offering anywhere near that much money. So after that deal, there were a bunch of players saying "I think I'm worth Soriano money." During the same off season, they overpaid for Mark DeRosa, which in hindsight worked out well, but at the time was questioned by writers here in Chicago. They also overpaid for Jason Marquis. The next year they extended Zambrano's contract and spent too much on Milton Bradley. I know that some of the spending is done to "keep up with the Jones" -- or Steinbrenners as the case may be -- but its always the Yankees fault when you talk about the contracts. Not arguing that the Yankees don't deserve a bigger share of the blame, just pointing out that a lot of teams give out a lot of dumb contracts that end up driving the asking prices higher, and soon you get the Yankees signing Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett and most teams can't afford one of those guys.
  8. I love the World Cup, but the final was brutal. Still, I am going through some serious withdrawal and can't wait for the Premier League to start back up in August. There are two things that I won't miss about the World Cup.....Soccer snobs who tell me I can't properly enjoy the game because I didn't play and American sportswriters tripping all over each other to say how boring the game is and that it's still not "on the rise" in this country. Both camps -- go away now. The snobs do more to hurt fandom over here, and the writers should be ashamed for going to the same well every four years. Come up with something new already.
  9. Ok, a non-sports diversion. Last September, they re-released the Beatles' catalog, and I've been slowly updating my collection. I bought the remastered White Album today -- which has a lot of great music, but as a whole has never been my favorite Beatles album (Abbey Road is far and away my favorite, followed by Revolver, then Sgt. Peppers, then Rubber Soul). Listened to it during my afternoon commute, and was struck by 2 things: (a) Even when they weren't at their best, the Beatles made more interesting music than most could only dream of and (b) I have yet to find a double album that wouldn't be better as a single album. I mean, if the greatest band ever can't make a great one, who can?
  10. Almost forgot -- Bob Sheppard. I have only been fortunate enough to go to Yankee Stadium (the old one) once. It was back in 2000 and I saw the Yanks and Clemens face a young Barry Zito and the A's with some tickets that a co-worker had been given. The Yanks were losing 2-1 late in the game, when my co-worker says "It's a school night for us. Do you mind if we take off at the end of the 7th?" No problem -- I was sure that I was jinxing them, and we did have an hour's drive back out to CT. So we leave, get to the car and turn on the radio to hear the end of the game. Right as we turn it on, we hear David Justice hit a home run to win the game in the 9th. The two things I'll always remember from that night are that you don't ever leave a game early and Bob Sheppard's voice is even more amazing in person. I'm glad I got to hear it for myself at least one time.
Thanks for reading.

The Boss

(Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News)

I had intended to put this up last night, but a failing wireless router and a more-entertaining-than-I-expected All Star Game got the better of my evening.

It's hardly news at this point that George M. Steinbrenner III passed away on Tuesday after suffering a massive heart attack. It was widely reported over the last few years that his health was slipping, but this was a bit of a shock just the same. To paraphrase Derek Jeter at the All Star Game -- you just always thought the Boss would be there.

Many tributes have already been written, and will be far more eloquent than anything I could come up with, so I won't waste much space actually eulogizing the man. I will say that the news hit me a bit harder than I really suspected. Growing up in the 80's, I'd have probably been counted among those that didn't like the guy -- although I wasn't old enough to really understand much about him. Most of my opinions at that time were formed by what I'd heard my Dad say, and he thought he was a jerk. I believe most Yankees fans -- I guess I should say most baseball fans -- thought he was just this side of the devil, if not Satan himself. He was loud, boisterous, intolerant, quick tempered, and he pushed baseball into an age where most consider players to be overpaid jerks who are out of touch with reality. And, in truth, the 80's were years where I was a much bigger Cardinals fan than I was a Yankees fan (though I did always claim both teams). I should also point out that during this time, I fancied myself as a future NBA star -- a thought that is so far beyond laughable if you know me that I have to laugh as I type that -- and was far more invested in the Boston Celtics and the NBA at the time than I was in baseball.

As the 90's opened, I did start to follow the game a bit more closely, and was among those that wasn't all too upset when George was banned from the game. Of course, this also coincided with Buck Showalter and Gene Michael gaining control of baseball operations and starting to turn the franchise around. When Steinbrenner did come back, he balanced the larger than life personna that many saw with a guy who would let his baseball people do their jobs, and we all know how that turned out. He somewhat reclaimed his free spending ways after losing the World Series in 2001, and I've always maintained that is why the team didn't win it all again until 2009. By this time, Hank and Hal had taken over things, so while "Big Stein" was still in the picture, he wasn't the force he'd been in the past.

Over the last two days, we've been flooded with story after story about what a giving man he was, how nice he could be -- if you didn't work for him -- and how he was great for baseball. The most descriptive word that keeps popping up to describe him is "complex"....which is completely appropriate, because you also heard reminders that he was twice suspended from baseball -- once for illegal campaign donations and then again when he'd paid a gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. And no mention of Steinbrenner would be complete without talking about how he fired manager after manager after manager.

When someone passes away, we have a tendency to focus on the positives of the person. It is hard to do that with a guy like the Boss. When he was banned from baseball the second time, Yankees fans at the old stadium stood and applauded for 90 seconds. Yet, if you polled most Yankees fans today, I think the majority (myself included) would say they liked the Boss and will genuinely miss him. And I think most honest baseball fans would admit that among the reasons they hated the guy was the fact that didn't own their favorite team. He was a flawed man, and you couldn't always understand why he did things he did. But, you hear a story of how he interacted with kids, made an employee's mom feel like she was the most important person at a game or picked up a the tuition for the child of one of his fired office employees and you realize that for all of the negatives you could throw out he really was a decent person. Even a Boston sports writer wrote a touching tribute to the Boss. My favorite part of the article is when he points out that the Red Sox were better for having Steinbrenner's Yankees to keep up with -- a point that is true of many teams in baseball. Some of us loved him, many of us hated him, and often times we did both. He helped change baseball from the game that our fathers grew up with into the game that we know and love today.

R.I.P. Big Stein. We'll miss you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Getting caught up.....

Started out the week intending to continue commenting on the All Star Selections, specifically how I don't think Strasburg is among the "snubs". I started writing that last Sunday night, and here we are a week later, and haven't finished that thought. In lieu of a bunch of disjointed posts, I thought I'd just get a bit caught up on things I had wanted to cover over the last week.

  • All Stars -- I know that many wanted to see Strasburg make the NL team - and he might yet be an injury sub - but I don't think it was a big deal that he was left off. In fact, I think there are a number of more deserving young pitchers that have earned a spot ahead of him. Jaime Garcia, Matt Latos and Tyler Clippard all deserve to be there.
  • I know that Ubaldo Jimenez is the choice of most to start for the NL, but I think Josh Johnson has been the better starter. Of course, hard to argue with 15 wins.
  • Felt like 1999 again on Wednesday, as a record number of HRs were hit. Remember when it was like this EVERY night?
  • We almost saw a near perfect game last night (Saturday) as Reds rookie Tim Wood carried the Perfecto all the way until the bottom of the 9th. While he was more hittable, Roy Halladay matched Wood with zeroes all the way, and the Phillied ended up prevailing in extra innings. I really felt bad for Wood -- as you almost feel like this is a game that could end up having a negative effect in the long run, because he almost certainly feels like he let his team down in the end.
  • Wood is just the latest rookie to have an impressive night. Rookies have been the big story this year, and I can't remember a year that has been dominated by youngsters like 2010 has. Here is a quick rundown of what a rookie All Star team might look like. Don't think this would be a bad team at all....
  1. Catcher - Carlos Santana - CLE - Only hitting .425 through 29 games. Buster Posey could back him up. You lose some on offense with him....he's only hitting .389 through 38 games.
  2. First Base - Ike Davis - NYM - The guy that Mets brass wanted to shield from being viewed as the savior of the club keyed the team's turnaround by hitting .337 with 11 HR and 40 RBI in his first 75 games.
  3. Second Base - Scott Sizemore - DET or Neil Walker - PIT - Weaker position for the rookie class, but both of these guys have serious potential and are hitting at or near .300.
  4. Third Base - David Freese - STL - OK, giving the nod to my team over the more hyped Pedro Alvarez. But Freese earns it, checking in hitting .361 with 4 HR and 36 RBI.
  5. Shortstop - Starlin Castro - CHC - He's been a brighter spot for a struggling Cubs squad, and drove in 6 runs in his debut. He has struggled a bit after his first night, but he's only 20.
  6. Outfielders - Jason Heyward - ATL, Tyler Colvin - CHC, Brennan Boesch - DET - Heyward is the most known of the trio, but Colvin has played his way into regular playing time in recent weeks. Boesch has the best stats of the three with a .397 average, 12 HR and 49 RBI.
  7. Starters - Jaime Garcia - STL, Mike Leake - CIN, Stephen Strasburg - WAS. Garcia has been as dependable as any starter for the Cardinals, and has stepped up with 8 wins after injuries to Kyle Loshe and Brad Penny. Leake make the Reds opening day roster bypassing the minors completely and has already racked up 109.2 innings and 6 wins. Strasburg, of course, is THE guy we were all waiting for, and he has not disappointed. While I'll continue to make the case that others are more deserving of All Star spots, there is no denying that Strasburg has lived up to the hype through his first several starts and looks like he could turn out to be a once in a lifetime type of player.
  8. Relievers - Neftali Perez - TEX - Perez has 23 saves for the first place Rangers. When baseball Pundits spoke of him early on, you hear the classic phrase "...his stuff is nasty."
Now we head into the All Star Break....the Home Run derby is on tap for tomorrow night -- an event that really isn't as exciting as it used to be, and something promises to give us several more hours of Chris Berman than anyone this side of his mother really cares to listen to in a single evening. But, despite my complaints, I usually watch and generally enjoy the event. The game itself should be interesting. We have a great mix of veteran and new talent at the game, and I really am rooting for the NL to finally break through and win one. See you on the other side of the break, and as ever, thanks for reading.

** Stats courtesty of **

Fix this please....

I have no doubts that by the time we sit down to watch the 2010 All Star Game, many of the "crimes" committed with the initial roster will have been corrected. I enjoy the debate, but usually feel like too much fuss is made over the rosters. This year is proving to be an exception, as we've seen a few head scratchers. The biggest one, and the one that tips me to the side of really being annoyed, is Omar Infante. I have nothing against Infante -- I like him as a player, recognize his value to the Braves, and generally root for these types of guys to do well. But, aside from a week or two when he was filling in for an injured Chipper, Prado or Escobar, he hasn't come close to resembling an everyday player. But Infante was chosen for the game, while the likes of Joey Votto -- arguably the second best first baseman in the NL -- sits at home. Most opinions, mine included, point to this being an attempt by NL Manager Charlie Manuel to add some flexibility to his roster to try to end the NL's losing streak. Of course, as we all know, this game "counts", and I've always felt that it was one of the dumber wrinkles that we've been subjected to during the "Reign of Bud". Of course, he is listed on the ballot for the final vote, and has an early lead, so hopefully, the fans will get this one right. No guarantees, though, because when you look at the list for the final NL spot you realize that everyone listed deserves to be there over Infante.

Selig and Fox long for the days of Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse (in the 1970 All Star Game). The fact of the matter is that today's player just doesn't approach the game the way that guys did back in the 70's. In Rose's day, a passion bordering on obsession was a must for a major leaguer -- after all, many players still needed jobs in the off season to get buy. Even the lowest paid players in today's game make salaries that are out of the common man's reach. Your body is what you depend on to bring in that money, and you can understand why the idea of a break in the middle of a long season might be appealing. You can also understand why a guy like A-Rod (who, like Infante, is going to Anaheim while more deserving players are left on the outside) might simply let himself be tagged out rather than trying to knock the ball out of Yadier Molina's hand. We can long for these days all we want, but they're not coming back. The game is different now, and trying to put artificial importance on what's approached as an exhibition is foolish.

The real baseball fans are going to watch the game no matter what -- even if the game moves to ESPN or MLB Network. The fringe fans are going to lose interest at some point, and home field in the World Series won't change that. You can argue that it works as a short term fix, but I don't think it works long term.

We'll always have room for debate when it comes to the All Star Roster, and it adds as much fun to the process as frustration. Debate is fun, but Bud's attempt to place importance on an unimportant game is starting to move past debate and leaving us with a serious injustice.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Torre vs. Yankees

I honestly have grown weary of interleague play. The first few years, the novelty carried it. Things peaked for me in 2003, when the Yankees made their first trip to Wrigley. During that series, I watched Roger Clemens battle Kerry Wood in an attempt to win his 300th game. Both pitchers were dealing, and the Cubs ultimately won the game on a late rally. Of course, that just cemented my belief that I am a jinx -- as I very rarely saw the Cubs win up to that point, and now saw them play like a good team against my favorite team. The years have tarnished that game somewhat. Of course, that was the same season of the infamous "Bartman" game, and then the Yankees won in extra innings of ALCS game 7, only to come up short against a Marlins team that probably shouldn't have made it to the World Series, and I'd have been rooting for had it not ruined the post season for everyone in my household (my wife is a HUGE Cubs fan).

Since 2003, the matchups seem less and less magic. Since I don't live in NYC, or even NY state, I don't get overly excited for Yankees/Mets. I don't live in Missouri, so I don't have much reason to care about Cards/Royals. I do enjoy the Sox/Cubs rivalry, but not having a rooting interest just makes it a diversion. But the geographic rivalries have been a bit watered down by 6 games every season, just like the unbalanced schedule has taken some of the magic away from great divisional rivalries like Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Cardinals and Giants/Dodgers. There have been seasons where the number of games have added to the tension, but more often, it just allows the hype machine to annoy us to the point of not caring. I mean, the first Cubs/Sox series here in Chicago featured two teams that didn't look to be going anywhere. So unless you're born and bred in the city with the geographic rivalry, I don't think you really feel the excitement of these games more than any other series.

Of course, there are exceptions, and we just finished one for this year -- Joe Torre's first series managing against the Yankees. So many subplots -- most of which don't really deserve space in print -- but there's no denying that Torre will go down in history as one of the great Yankee managers of all time. Maybe the greatest, because he did his thing in an era where you can't so much as belch without it becoming news. Torre's become synonymous with the cool and collected demeanor -- the steady calm that always seems to rise above the fray. But, during last night's rubber game in the series, you could see the agony on his face as the poor man's Rivera that he's got in LA failed to nail down the win. It was a thrilling win for Yankees fans, and a heartbreaking loss for Torre and Dodger nation. Torre in LA has never seemed that weird, until I saw photos of Torre greeting Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera. Other members of the current Yankees obviously played for Joe, but these 4 guys were such a big part of Torre's run. It was strange, and one of the first times I've really felt bad for the losing team while watching a Yankee win.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My All Star Ballot

Right -- so I'm sure you're sitting there thinking -- Wonder who Chris is voting for on his All Star Ballot. Right, biggest question I get each summer. (if you can't pick up on the sarcasm....)

So, without further ado, my AL picks are:
  • 1B - Miguel Cabrera -- Tough call between Miggy, Morneau and Konerko for me. Probably wouldn't notice Paulie if I didn't live in Chicago. Picked Miggy because he had more RBI and HR than Morneau
  • 2B - Robinson Cano -- No contest for me here. Cano has been crushing the ball, and he's underrated on defense.
  • SS - Derek Jeter -- I have to be honest....I voted Jeter because he's my favorite player. He's having a typical year by his standards, but really would have voted Jeter unless he was having an awful year.
  • 3B - Evan Longoria -- His New Era cap commercial almost killed it. But he's got great all around numbers, and gave him the nod over Beltre because of the steals.
  • C - Joe Mauer -- Really, a popularity pick. Mauer's having a decent, but not great season. No one else jumps up and gets your attention though, so voting for the name.
  • DH - Vlad Guerrero -- Raise your hand if you thought he was all but done. I don't care if its the Texas affecet -- he's having a great year.
  • OF - Carl Crawford, Jose Bautista, Torii Hunter -- I think Crawford may be the best all around outfielder in the game. He can beat you so many ways. Bautista has come out of nowhere and is having a great year. Probably a player or two more deserving than Hunter (Hamilton, Wells, etc), but always liked Torii and felt like the home town team needed someone in the starting lineup.
  • 1B - Adrian Gonzalez -- I almost always check Pujols off and don't think twice. But looking at stats, AG is right there with big Albert, and the Padres have been a pleasant surprise. Tie-breaker with to Gonzalez because he's a West Coast guy and its a West Coast All Star site.
  • 2B - Martin Prado -- I could make an argument for Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks and Kelly Johnson. Went Prado because the Braves are playing great right now, and this guy just seems to be the classic unheralded guy that is getting it done.
  • SS - Hanley Ramirez -- Really, really, really wanted to vote for someone else here because of his display after getting benched for dogging it. He deserved the benching, but the stats didn't give me a good enough reason to vote for someone else.
  • 3B - Scott Rolen -- Ok, a little bit of a vote with the heart here. Rolen's bounced back nicely after returning the NL, and no one else was so much better across the board. Wright, McGehee, Freese, Zimmerman were all considered.
  • C - Yadier Molina -- Ok, I'll be accused of voting for the guy on my favorite team, but ignored the stats and went with the guy that calls a great game and shuts down the running game. Average aside, he's not terrible on offense, either.
  • OF - Ryan Braun, Andre Ethier, Carlos Gonzalez -- Ethier's tailed off after returning from injury, but still has great numbers. Braun is as consistent as they come, and honestly, you need the big bat if you hope to beat the AL. Gonzalez is a bit of a surprise, but as I was comparing stats, noticed his numbers match up favorably with Braun. I thought that earned a vote. I really wanted to vote for Jason Heyward here, but his recent slump makes it a tough sell.
So there you go. I really hope the NL wins this year -- I'm more a fan of the NL style of game than the AL, plus it is getting boring seeing the AL win every year.

Is Strasburg an All Star? Join the debate.....

My cousin (and fellow blogger over at and I have long talked of how great it would be to have our own radio show where we could talk sports and debate the topics of the day. The great thing about it would be that we both generally see things the same way, but differ just enough to stir a lively debate. He's written a great piece advocating Stephen Strasburg being named to the 2010 All Star team. Fulfilling our long held dream, I'm taking on his piece with my $.02. I would love to hear your comments, as would he, so please feel free to comment here, or over at

I've heard good and bad arguments for Stras-mas, as it has been called, to extend to the All Star game. The two best reasons I can come up with to support his inclusion are:
  1. The All Star game determines home field for the World Series, and Strasburg gives the NL a better chance at winning.
  2. Strasburg is a huge draw for the fans, and the All Star game, at the end of the day, is for the fans.
Honestly, the fan in me would like to see him get a shot to pitch against the best of the AL, and I wouldn't be the least bit upset if it happens. I think Bud Selig has already tarnished the game by pinning home field on it, so including a player that has only made 4 starts to date, and will only make 2 more before the break, is no big deal.

Where I start to have a bit of a problem with things is when you start to wonder how many players the Nationals will send to the game. While there are other guys manning third base with better numbers (David Wright, Scott Rolen, David Freese to name a few), I find it hard to go too deep down the list of NL thirdbasemen before you hit Ryan Zimmerman. He's been a solid player for a couple of years, but has been somewhat underrated after a strong rookie campaign. He's putting up his usual solid numbers this year, and is among the best in the game on defense. Does Strasburg get the nod over a full time player if only one Nat is representing the team in Anaheim? If I thought the fans would vote him as a starter, I'd feel differently, but I think a guy like Wright will be the starter on name recognition and his home market alone (although I'm not meaning to suggest he hasn't earned the spot).

I also think Tyler Clippard gets slighted if you put Strasburg on the team. Clippard has been a revelation out of the pen, and has become one of the best setup men in the game. It's equally a testament to his potential and an indictment of the Nationals' rotation to point out that Clippard is among the wins leaders in the NL, but I think it does warrant considering the former "Yankee Clippard" for a spot.

I do think the All Star game is meant to reward the players who have had a solid first half. By letting the fans determine the starters, you already routinely see undeserving players starting the game. So I don't think it's a slam dunk to hand a spot to a guy that didn't even make it to the majors until early June -- especially when it comes at the expense of a guy that's been getting it done since April 6th. Strasburg is an exciting talent, would be a huge draw for the fans, and likely bring a number of casual fans to the game. I'm just not sure I completely agree that it's the right thing to do for a game that has already been subject to some poor decisions on the commissioner's part.

Please join the debate and leave a comment.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Time to give Josh his due

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game against the Marlins. Ubaldo Jimenez tossed a no-no against the Braves. Stephen Strasburg has set the record for most strikeouts through the first 3 starts of a career. Mike Leake skipped the minors and made it until mid-June before losing a game. Tim Lincecum, despite a few rough outings, is having another typically stellar year for the Giants. Adam Wainwright is looking more and more like the #1 starter in the Cardinals rotation. Armando Galaraga pitched what many are already calling the first 28 out perfect game in history. Rotations everywhere -- especially in the NL -- are dominated by young, up and coming pitchers. And sooner or later, Cuban import Aroldis Chapman will get the call from AAA Louisville to help settle down the Cincinatti Reds starting rotation.

It just might be the biggest year for pitchers since the dead ball era ended. Yet for all of the talk about other names, one pitcher out there continues to amaze with little hype, if any at all. Josh Johnson looked like a star in the making after going 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA and 133 Ks in 2006. His 2007 season ended early and Johnson hit the DL after only pitching 15.2 innings. Tommy John surgery followed, but Johnson made it back to pitch towards the end of 2008. Johnson was decent, but took some time to settle in as his control returned. 2009 saw him return to the form many expected as he won 15 with a 3.23 ERA and 191 Ks. As we opened 2010, many expected Johnson to be a Cy Young contender.

He struggled out of the gate this season as he failed to go deeper than 6 innings in each of his first 4 starts while posting a 1-1 record. Then on April 26, he tossed a complete game giving up only 3 hits and 1 earned run, and it looked as if he had turned a corner. He followed that game with two somewhat rough outings vs. the Nationals where he gave up 5 ER in 12 total innings, but did record one win. From that point forward, the man has been among the best -- if not the best -- pitchers in baseball. He's in the midst of a sting of 8 games where he's pitched at least 7 innings in every game except one, and has not given up more than one earned run in any of those starts. He's seen his ERA shrink from 3.35 on May 8 to 1.80 after a dominating 8 inning, 6 hit, 1 run performance against one of the best teams in baseball - the Tampa Bay Rays. He's also faced the Phillies' Roy Halladay twice in that span -- losing one as "Doc" pitched a perfect game and winning the other.

He's a sure bet to be an All Star and has put his hat into the ring for the NL Cy Young. If Johnson pitched anywhere besides South Florida -- where you might be pitching in front of a crowd of 3,000 on a good night -- he'd be a household name. As it is, he might just be the most underrated starter in the game.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day 2010

Most of this is a post I wrote for Father's Day last year. This year's Father's Day is still special for all of the reasons that I wrote about last year, but also for the fact that I'm celebrating my first one as a Dad. My daughter, Quinn, was born this past January, and the last 5 months have been an incredible ride. All that I can say is that I've been told by many people over the years what it feels like to be a Dad, and never understood a single word of it until I saw that little face looking back at me on the day my daughter was born. My heart skips a beat everytime I see her smile at me. Its the greatest feeling in the world. Later today, I'll be taking her to her first Kane County Cougars game, and I can't think of too many things that I've been more excited for in my life. Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there, and if you haven't done so yet -- go call your dad right now and wish him a Happy Father's Day.

****************************** From 2009 ********************************

My Dad has basically had it with baseball. He has always been a Yankees fan, but for the most part refuses to watch a game. As with most kids, my Dad bought me my first glove -- taught me how to catch, how to swing a bat, how to curve up the bill on my hats so I didn't look like a dufus. I do wish he'd have taught me how to pitch, because as a lefty, it seems as if you don't have to be that good to stay employed.

(a shot of my Dad and I while on vacation last summer in Petosky, MI)

DSC_0069.JPGThe modern athlete has taken a toll on his love for the game (and sports in general, truth be told) and the Players strike in 1994 was the final straw. He has not set foot in a Major League Baseball stadium since....although he will take in a Minor League Game on occasion. As with many fans who grew up in the 50's and 60's, my Dad's favorite player is Mickey Mantle, and "the Mick" is the reason he became a Yankees fan. Even though he has sworn off the rituals of being an active fan, he does still read a few books about the game and its history, and surprises me with a story or two about players that he has seen. One of my favorite baseball/Dad memories is watching the movie "61*" with my Dad. It was a fairly well made movie, and for those of you who haven't seen the film, it tells the story Mantle's and Roger Maris' chase of Babe Ruth's single season home run record during the 1961 season (one which many would argue he still has). My Dad actually feels bad today at the thought of how pro-Mantle he was at the time, and says that he remembers my uncle taking a club or a bat to a tree in their backyard any time Maris would homer and Mantle would not. My Dad is the reason that I love the New York Yankees -- even though he isn't as big of a fan as he was when he sat me down to watch Reggie Jackson back in the late 70's, it is still something that means a lot to me because it is something I share with my Dad.

My maternal Grandfather is a HUGE Cardinals fan. My first memories of actually attending a game are of seeing Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals play in the old -- but not oldest -- Busch Stadium. To this day, that is my subconscious measuring stick for any ballpark I visit. He also used to take me to see the Springfield (IL) Redbirds, the AAA team for the St. Louis Cardinals, which has since moved to Louisville, KY and on to Memphis, TN. I used to have a closet full of those plastic batting helmets that he would buy for me and my sister when we'd go to games. He's told me stories about Dizzy Dean and Bob Gibson, and gave me my one real piece of baseball memorabilia -- a commemorative Coke that he bought for me at Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. I still have the Coke, and it has never been opened (I'm told that makes it worth more money, but you couldn't give me enough to part with it). During the 2006 playoffs, I exchanged emails with my Grandfather talking about the games. He has a habit of butchering players' names whether he's saying them or writing them, so it made for some great laughs reading his nicknames for players. When I think of that team, I think of two things -- those emails and Cadillacs. Why Cadillacs? Because he was so excited that they won the Series that he used it as an excuse to go buy a new car.

My paternal Grandfather is sadly no longer with us. He passed away in 1992, and I miss him to this day. He was the kind of man that I didn't always appreciate when I was a kid. He didn't spoil us with toys or anything like that, but I came to realize that of all the men I knew, he may have been one of the finest. He loved to watch baseball -- mostly the Chicago Cubs, although he also rooted for the Yankees. I think the thing that I really learned from him was how to watch a game and appreciate players that were good -- even if you hated the team they played for. I can remember sitting and listening to him talk about Darryl Strawberry. I have always hated the Mets, and aside from his Yankee tenure, have never been a Strawberry fan. But I remember that my Grandfather enjoyed watching him play. I wish I'd have made more of an effort when he was alive to simply stop by his house and sit and watch a game with him, but I'd like to think that he knows that I always think about him when I sit down to watch a game.

I've been told by several people that I'm not a real Yankees fan or a Cardinals fan because I try to root for two teams. I understand why you might think that, but I have to disagree. I feel like my love of the Yankees in some way pays tribute to my Dad and my love for the Cardinals pays the same to my Grandfather. It's a cliché, but baseball has always seemed to be a special thing that a kid shares with his Dad or Granddad.

I've been extremely blessed to have these three men play such a huge role in my life. I've tied everything to baseball for the purposes of this post -- what else would you do when you're writing something on -- but that is just one small and unimportant reason why I'll be thinking about all three of them tomorrow.

I love you, Dad.

I love you Grandpa George.

I love (and miss you) Grandpa Alf.

Thanks for everything. And thank you for reading -- now go call your Dad and wish him a Happy Father's Day.