Monday, August 31, 2009

The George Van Haltren Club


Who is George Van Haltren? I'm sure many of us who follow baseball have never heard of him. Quite honestly, I had never heard of him, until recently.

A quick bio: Van Haltren (l.) was an outfielder who played 17 seasons (1883-1903) in the Major Leagues. He began his career with the Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Chicago Cubs), then played a few seasons with several other teams before playing his final 10 seasons with the New York Giants.

I first learned of Van Haltren while looking up a milestone that Derek Jeter is approaching. Jeter needs 4 singles to become the 47th player in history to amass 2000 career singles. I recognized most of the 46 names on the list, except for Van Haltren and a few others. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a peek at his career and I noticed some very interesting things.

It just so happens that Van Haltren is a member of a very unique and exclusive club.

Van Haltren is 1 of 7 players in major league history with 2000 singles, 500 stolen bases, 1500 runs scored and 140 triples. The other members are: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Fred Clarke, Max Carey and Lou Brock.

Now with legendary names like, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Lou Brock, you may ask, why would I call it the "George Van Haltren Club?" The answer is simple. He's the only member of the club who is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And we're talking about a player who had a .316 career batting average. Yet another player added to the list of players overlooked by the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee.

And this is one very difficult club to join, as you can judge by the members. The only modern-era player is Lou Brock (r.). The other six played in the dead-ball era. One would think this would be a perfect club for Rickey Henderson to be in, but Henderson only had 66 triples in his career. So I have to give Lou Brock some "props"--he's the only player in the last 80 years to join this club.

What's even more interesting and puzzling-- there are 4 active players who actually have a decent shot at joining this difficult club. Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Carl Crawford are all on pace and have plenty of years ahead of them to do it.

Go figure!

How is it that during baseball's infancy 6 players were able to do it, then in the last 80 years only 1 has been able to do it, and all of a sudden-- we now have 4 who are on a decent pace to do it?

Is baseball evolving back to a dead-ball era? I guess this is one of those baseball oddities that makes you go--Hmmmm?

Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal Remind Me of the Days of Ivan Lendl & Mats Wilander


Like many kids in the early '80s, I became a tennis fan because of the eccentric antics of the great John McEnroe. As I began to follow the game more closely and became familiar with the great names, the game became more and more addictive. I remember being disillusioned during the middle 80s, however, when McEnroe started fading, finally losing the #1 ranking to the great Ivan Lendl.

I also remember not liking Lendl very much. For starters, he was too dominant and basically McEnroe couldn't handle him anymore. At first I thought it was just me, but as time passed, I noticed many tennis fans felt the same way. When Sports Illustrated came out with their iconic cover of Lendl, on September 15, 1986, I knew there was something to the displeasure.

That year, for this very reason, I became a loyal follower of Mats Wilander. I guess, Wilander became my replacement for McEnroe. Wilander began to slowly work his way up the rankings, eventually becoming No. 2 in the world. But Lendl continued his dominance. I began to wonder if anyone would ever dethrone him.

Then came the 1988 U.S. Open finals, a rematch of the previous year's final between Lendl and Wilander (l.). Lendl, was the defending champion, having won 3 consecutive U.S. Open finals. Wilander, already had a dominant year in '88, capturing 2 of the 3 Grand Slams (Australian Open and Wimbledon), but he was still stuck at #2. The great Lendl was still ranked #1. In fact, going into the '88 U.S. Open final, Lendl had a 3 year reign at the top of the world rankings.

I remember sitting on the edge of my couch the day of the match. It was already known that if Wilander wins he would take over the #1 ranking and finally humanize Lendl.

It was a nail-biter of a match. Quite frankly, at times during the match, I didn't think Wilander had it in him. Lendl was just incredibly gifted. But finally, after nearly 5 hours, Wilander defeated the mighty Lendl, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. At last, finally, there was a new #1 ranked player in the world. Lendl was human after all.

I have to say, that match has been one of the greatest sporting events, I've ever seen.

Wilander would only hold the #1 ranking for 20 weeks, eventually losing it back to Lendl. But he did his job. He left it all on the court that day. The 1988 Open would be Wilander's 7th and last Grand Slam title. After that excruciating match, he was never the same.

That was a great era for tennis and it's eerily similar to what is happening today with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. When Nadal dethroned Federer at the 2008 Wimbledon finals, it reminded me of the Wilander-Lendl rivalry. Nadal left it all on the court that day. He finally became #1 in the world, but hasn't been the same since. Like Wilander, Nadal eventually gave back the #1 ranking to his arch-nemesis.

But the same way, Wilander proved Lendl was human--Nadal proved Federer was human.

I guess, the difference between Federer and Lendl is that Federer is much more likable. But it wasn't that anyone really disliked Lendl as a person, we just disliked his dominance.


Photos courtesy of SI.com

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Stand By My Vote: Ryne Sandberg Is The Best Second Baseman Ever!


The other day, I was cleaning out my closet and I found my copy of the book, "All-Century Team", with my official ballot still inside. As we may remember, the "All-Century Team" balloting was put together by MLB in 1999, for us the fans to select the best players of the 20th century. The winners were then announced during the 1999 World Series.

My main reason for voting was to cast my vote for Pete Rose, with the hope that he gets elected, which would force Major League Baseball to make an exemption to his lifetime ban and allow him to participate in the ceremonies. Mission accomplished! Rose was selected as an outfielder and as we all may remember, he almost "brought down the house" when his name was called. That was a great moment.

I also voted for Chicago Cubs second baseman, Ryne Sandberg. But what upset me about the ballot was that Sandberg (a.) wasn't even a candidate. I had to put him in as a write-in. I remember being shocked when I couldn't find his name.

I had no problems with the eventual winners, Jackie Robinson and Rogers Hornsby. I mean, who can argue with those two greats. But Sandberg should have at least been on the ballot.

To this day, I still consider him the greatest second baseman ever. Sandberg had some incredible statistics, along with 10 consecutive All-Star appearances and 9 consecutive Gold Gloves.

Sandberg, the 1984 NL MVP, was a low-key man who played the game with respect . He had power, speed and was an exceptional fielder. His .989 career fielding percentage is a Major League record for second baseman. He is one of only three second basemen to hit 40 home runs in a season (along with Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson).

When he retired he held a then-record 277 home runs by a second baseman and had a then-record 123 straight games without an error.

His accomplishments go on and on. Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005, five years after the "All Century Team" balloting. I suspect that not being in the Hall of Fame at the time of the balloting contributed to his exclusion. But that's no excuse, since it was a foregone conclusion, he would eventually get enshrined.

Anyone who knows baseball, knows Sandberg's name should, at least, had been on the ballot for consideration.

Having said that, here's my "All-Century Team" ballot:
Stats courtesy of Wikipedia
Photos courtesy of thecubdom.com

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Michael Vick Is Starting To Make A Difference

Tonight, when Michael Vick takes the field, in his first NFL game since December 2006, there will be hundreds of protesters outside of Lincoln Financial Field, protesting his return. It's a given that no matter what Vick does, there will always be a segment of the population who will never forgive him for his act of cruelty. I get that. And to some degree they are right. But life goes on. And whether they like it or not, Vick is the back-up quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.

So let's look forward instead of backwards.

There isn't anything we can do about the fate suffered by the Vick dogs. We can't turn back the clock. Further punishing Vick is not going to bring them back. So all these protesters should look at the bigger picture.

Dogfighting is still a big problem. What about the hundreds of baby pit bulls born everyday in the inner-cities who are destined to have the same fate as Vick's dogs? Those of us who have forgiven Vick know that this is the bigger picture.

I get the feeling these protesters have no clue about what goes on in the inner-cities. But the Humane Society of the United States does, and they are happy to have Vick on board, because quite frankly, without a high profile spokesman, they were not going to put an end to this problem. Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society says so himself.

I mean, we're talking about neighborhoods where drugs and violence are the rule of law. Neighborhoods like the one Vick grew up in. The Humane Society is fully aware that these kids aren't going to listen to them, but when they show up with Michael Vick--now we're talking.

And now the Humane Society is starting to release videos of Vick going around the country and preaching to kids about the evils of dogfighting.

So if all these protesters got their wish and Vick was rotting in jail, who is going to help the Humane Society save all the baby pit bulls born today that are destined to live a torturous life?

Here is a video released by the Humane Society of Vick speaking to kids in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago's south side:



Again I ask--is this a bad thing?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Joe Mauer Rekindles The Elusive .400 Hitter Debate


It seems like every baseball season, I ask myself the same question--why is it so difficult to hit .400? Why can't anyone just do it once? I'm not asking for it to be done every year or on a regular basis. Just once. Is that too much to ask? I mean, it's been done before, 28 times according to baseball-reference.com. So it's not an impossible task.

All I want is for one guy, just one, to fail 6 out of 10 times for an entire season. In 99% of the jobs out there, we'd all get fired with that percentage of success, but in baseball a 40% success rate would mean $30 million a year--easy. Go figure.

But seriously, it is an interesting question that comes up every time a hitter is even close to the magic number. This season, Minnesota Twins catcher, Joe Mauer (a.) has been getting all the .400 AVG-buzz. Currently, Mauer is at .378, but it's highly unlikely he'll reach the magic .400. Even .378 is an incredible achievement for any hitter, let alone a catcher.

Last night, I did a little numbers crunching and if Mauer plays in all of Minnesota's remaining 38 games he would have approximately 152 at-bats remaining. He would need to get 69 more hits or an average of 1.8 hits per game, in order to finish with a .400 average. It's not inconceivable but highly unlikely. I mean, Mauer is a great hitter, but that's asking for a little too much.

As we all know, the last .400 hitter was the great Ted Williams (b.), who hit .406 in 1941. Since then a few have come close, including Williams himself in 1957. Seven players have had averages of .375 or better since his magical .406 season.

Let's take a quick look at the .375 -plus averages since 1941:

Ted Williams - .406 in 1941
Tony Gwynn - .394 in 1994
George Brett - .390 in 1980
Ted Williams - .388 in 1957
Rod Carew - .388 in 1977
Larry Walker - .379 in 1999
Joe Mauer - .378 in 2009 (current)
Stan Musial - .376 in 1948

As you can see, 7 players, including Mauer, have come close. Think about it, a .375 batting average is 3 and 3/4 of the way to .400. But it's the final 1/4 that is so elusive. Why?

There are hundreds of theories as to why players can't hit .400 anymore. I mean, I've read everything from the scientific standard deviation theory to improvement in pitching and defense to expansion. That's all fine. I get all that. But it doesn't mean that it can't happen once. If one guy hits .400, it's not going to change the standard deviation or make pitchers and defenses any worse.

If 7 guys can hit .375 or better, I would think one of them can conceivably crack the .400 mark.

It's an interesting mystery. When Rod Carew, another Twins' great, batted .388 in 1977, all he needed was 8 more hits and he would've batted .400. Yes, only eight. That year he had 239 hits in 616 at-bats for his .388 average. Had he gotten 247 hits, he would've batted .400.

So I refuse to believe it can't be done. Had 8 measly at-bats gone Carew's way, he would have been the last .400 hitter.

Anyway, this is one of those little tidbits that makes baseball such an interesting game to follow.

And who knows, maybe it'll happen one of these years. I mean, I never thought I would live to see a Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. Low and behold, years after I gave up hope, it finally happened in 2000.

So if a Subway Series can happen-- anything can happen.

Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Mother Turns Her Grief Into A Helpful Cause


"With the second overall pick, the Boston Celtics select Len Bias of the University of Maryland." That was Commissioner David Stern during the 1986 NBA draft. Len Bias (l.) was the most highly touted and highly anticipated pick of that draft.

He was a superstar at Maryland, having one of the most successful careers in NCAA history. Bias was considered by many, the second-coming of Michael Jordan. But unfortunately the world never got to see it happen.

Bias died of cocaine intoxication two days after the draft. It was the most devastating story in the history of the draft.

As we can imagine , it was a devastating turn of events for his family also. Especially for his mother, Lonise Bias. But her nightmare wouldn't end there-- four years later the unthinkable would happen. Jay Bias, Len's younger brother, was shot and killed in a drive by shooting at a shopping mall. The pain was unbearable for Lonise and her family. In future interviews she would say, "I should have been institutionalized. A parent's worst nightmare is to have to bury your child. And when it happens twice, it is just unbearable."

But Dr. Lonise Bias (r.) is one strong woman. Rather than be overtaken by her grief, she decided to dedicate her life to working with families and communities, so that no one else would have to suffer the same ordeal.

Dr. Bias became a motivational speaker, trainer and consultant. She travels around the world speaking to youths about the evils of drugs and violence in our society. She focuses on prevention and intervention and lives by the motto, "hope is not extinct."

She is the founder of The Abundant Life Resources A More Excellent Way LLC., an organization dedicated to helping youths, families and communities by raising awareness and prescribing solutions to the social ills of today.

Dr. Bias is an amazing human being. Through all her pain and suffering, she still finds the strength to help others and to make a difference.

We never got to see Len Bias put on a Boston Celtics uniform and we'll never know what kind of career he would've had. His potential is all that remains alive and it'll be a topic of conversation for eternity.

But I guess in life things happen for a reason. His death has saved so many lives through his mother's work.

What Dr. Bias is doing is a noble and honorable thing and the world is a much better place because of people like her.

Len Bias photo courtesy of SI.com
Lonise Bias photo courtesy of lonisebias.org

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Texas Rangers Are Overdue


As a baseball fan, it's good to see the Texas Rangers in the heat of a pennant race. The Rangers (68-52) haven't had a team this good and this exciting since the late '90s. Currently the Rangers are one game back of the Boston Red Sox in the Wild Card race and they are not quite out of the division race either, trailing the Los Angeles Angels by 5.5 games.

The Rangers, who've been around since 1961, have the unpleasant distinction of being 1 of 3 teams in the majors who have never played in a World Series. The other two hard-luck members of this inauspicious club are the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals. In the Rangers case, we're talking about a 48 year old franchise, so I think they are long overdue.

Earlier this week, the Rangers reacquired catcher, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, from the Houston Astros after a 6-year hiatus. Maybe this is good karma since Pudge is arguably the best player in Rangers history. He was the anchor of those great Texas teams of the late 1990's. Those teams won 3 AL West Championships (1996, 1998, 1999), but couldn't quite get past the ALDS.

Since his departure in 2002, Pudge played in two World Series (2003 with the Florida Marlins and 2006 with the Detroit Tigers)-- so he definitely brings a winning attitude into the clubhouse.

Currently the Rangers are the oldest team in the majors without a championship. Their drought, however, gets overshadowed by the 100 year drought of the Chicago Cubs-- but that's a story for another day.

Usually, it's the Rangers hitters who get most of the attention, but this year, it's their pitching that is keeping them in the pennant race. They have the AL's fourth lowest team ERA (4.16) and, as of today, have given up the fewest runs (522) in the American League. Very impressive, considering over the past few years they have been known as a team with great hitting but poor pitching.

If the Rangers make the post-season, they definitely have the balance to go deep in the playoffs.

And who knows, maybe this is the year they take their name off of that unfavorable list.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Usain Bolt Does It Again!


"Bolt strikes again!" "Lightning strikes twice!" "The Incredible Bolt!" "The worlds fastest man does it again!" Wow! Those are some of the headlines circulating around the world today.

For the second time this week, Usain Bolt has lived up to his name. Today in Berlin, Bolt smashed his own world record in the 200 meters, with a ridiculous time of 19.19 seconds. This follows his record breaking time of 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters, which he accomplished this past Sunday.

The man is simply incredible!

He shaved .11 seconds off of both records and broke both records, exactly a year-to-the-date of setting the old marks at the Beijing Olympics. Talk about coincidences. Here's the breakdown:

100 meters: (-.11)
9.58 seconds -- August 16, 2009 -- Berlin
9.69 seconds -- August 16, 2008 -- Beijing

200 meters: (-.11)
19.19 seconds -- August 20, 2009 -- Berlin
19.30 seconds -- August 20, 2008 -- Beijing

Unless some other athlete does something spectacular between now and the end of the year, Bolt has pretty much sealed every major Sportsman of the Year award. I can't see how, the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News or the International Sports Press Association, can consider anyone else to this point.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Once Proud Hobby Has Fallen Apart


In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, there's a great article by Luke Winn, in which he details the demise of the sports trading card industry. In the article he states that in mid-July Major League Baseball announced it was awarding exclusive rights to produce trading cards using its brand to Topps, starting in 2010. In other words, all the other distributors have gone bankrupt, with Upper Deck remaining as Topps only competitor.

I found the article interesting because last week in my post about the iconic Honus Wagner card, I wrote about the good old days when Topps was the only maker of baseball cards. Once all these other companies came on board, it just wasn't fun anymore. And as years passed, it got to a point that I lost count of how many card distributors there were. By 1994, I lost interest all together and gave up the hobby.

So this news that the industry has fallen apart doesn't surprise me. But it's a shame how corporate greed destroyed such a beautiful hobby for kids.

Winn's article focuses on the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card, calling it the last iconic baseball card. And this may be true. It was an extremely popular card at the time because it was the only Griffey rookie card when he stormed onto the scene as a 19 year old phenom. And the key word here is only.

The article highlights, how the industry spiraled out of control with each passing year. It notes that when Derek Jeter came on the scene there were 8 different Jeter rookie cards and when Albert Pujols came along there were 23 different Pujols rookie cards. I mean, the hobby just got ridiculous. That's like boxing having 5 different heavyweight champions.

Maybe now that Topps is once again going to exclusively distribute baseball cards they may start gaining value again. Future superstars are going to have one true rookie card.

My days as a collector are long over but I'll keep an eye on the Griffey card to see if it gains traction. Sports Illustrated definitely helped its cause with this article. Every bit of attention helps.

Although I doubt it'll ever reach the level of, what I like to call, "the grand-daddy of them all"-- the T206 Honus Wagner card.

Photos courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why 1.12 is the Most Impressive Number in Baseball History


About 10 days ago, I wrote a post about Luis Tiant and his emotional return to his native Cuba. In the post, I mentioned that in 1968, Tiant had a 1.60 ERA, which was the 4th lowest in the past 90 years. Of course before making this claim, I did some research to make sure it was true. But while crunching the numbers, I noticed something rather odd and extremely interesting.

I noticed, how monumental the year 1920 was in the evolution of baseball. First of all, 1920 was Babe Ruth's first year with the New York Yankees. That year he officially made the transition from pitcher to hitter. As we all know, the Babe was primarily a pitcher when he was with the Boston Red Sox. In short, 1920 was the year when the era of the big-boppers began.

Logically this could only mean one thing--pitcher's ERAs would go up. And did they ever. So much so, that it's strikingly noticeable.

Let's put it in perspective:

In the history of the game, there have been 245 (sub-2.00 ERA) seasons. 205 were before 1920 and only 40 were after 1920.

It's only been done twice so far this decade-- Pedro Martinez (1.74 in 2000) and Roger Clemens (1.87 in 2005)

Crunching it down even further--there have been only 36 (sub-1.50 ERA) seasons in history. 35 were before 1920 and 1, yes 1, was after 1920.

That lone season belongs to St Louis Cardinals legend, Bob Gibson. In 1968, Gibson had an astonishing 1.12 ERA. Even amongst all the "dead-ball era" ERAs, it's still the 4th lowest in major league history-- only behind Tim Keefe (0.86 in 1880); Dutch Leonard (0.96 in 1914) and Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown (1.03 in 1906).

It's mind-boggling how Gibson (a modern guy) stands out on a list that only features guys who pitched around 100 years ago.

I know Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak and Ted Williams .401 batting average get most of the attention, but quite frankly, I think those are more likely reachable than Gibson's 1.12. I mean, even breaking the 1.50 barrier has been impossible to do since 1920--so imagine reaching 1.12.

The closest anyone has come in the modern era to joining Gibson (in the sub-1.50 club) has been Dwight Gooden (1.53 in 1985), Greg Maddux (1.56 in 1994) and the aforementioned, Luis Tiant (1.60 in 1968).

For now, Gibson is all alone--and I can see him staying that way for a long time.

Bob Gibson's photo courtesy of SI.com
Mordecai Brown's photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

Monday, August 17, 2009

Usain Bolt Has The Coolest Name Since Tony Hawk


In the world of sports, great athletes are usually given flashy nicknames. But it's not often you have an athlete, who's real name, sounds like a catchy nickname because it personifies his/her incredible achievements.

Tony Hawk, the skateboarding extraordinaire, for example, has an eye-catching name. It blends perfect with his chosen profession. Hawk is a legend in the world of skateboarding, becoming the first human to ever successfully complete two-and-a-half revolutions, known as a 900. In skateboarding that is equivalent to NASA landing on the moon. Hawk was a master at his sport and when he performed his tricks, he truly looked like a hawk gliding in the sky.

In the world of Track and Field, Usain Bolt doesn't need a nickname, either. His name says it all.

Yesterday in Berlin, Germany, Bolt set a new world record of 9.58 in the men's 100 meters, breaking his own record of 9.69, which he set a year ago at the Beijing Olympics.

Talk about lightning bolt speed.

Bolt shaved .11 seconds off his then-record 9.69 seconds. To put it in perspective, in 1968, Olympian Jim Hines set the then-record of 9.95 at the Mexico City Olympics. It wasn't until 1996 when Olympian Donovan Bailey also set a then-record 9.84 at the Atlanta Games that .11 seconds were shaved off the record. That's a 28 year gap and Bolt did it in one year.

A truly amazing accomplishment. The man's name says it all.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What If, Michael Vick Was Sentenced To Life In Prison?


Last night as I was browsing through YouTube, I couldn't help but notice, how many videos there were demonizing Michael Vick. And to be honest, it didn't surprise me. I understand the anger. What Vick did was heinous and evil. So I can see why so many people will never forgive him for it.

But I believe in redemption and feel everyone deserves a second chance. I further believe that we need to use the wrongs of the past to prevent them from happening in the future.

First of all, I don't condone what Vick did and I agree with those who say his sentence was too lenient. But we live in a country of laws and whether we agree with it or not, he served the sentence handed down to him by the criminal justice system. And as an ex-con he has the right to rehabilitate his life.

Now lets assume all the Vick-haters out there would've been granted their wish--and Vick had been sentenced to life without parole. Heck, lets assume their wishes were further granted and he had gotten sentenced to a life of hard labor in a North Korean prison somewhere...

My first question would be--then what? Everyone would be happy because he got what he deserved. Right?

If sentencing Vick to life in prison would mean that illegal dogfighting would seize to exist, then fine. I could see where they are coming from. But the inconvenient truth is: illegal dogfighting was around long before Michael Vick and unfortunately it'll be around long after Michael Vick.

So if Vick is willing to lend his time to bringing attention to the cruel sport and working with humane organizations to put an end to it--why not give the man a chance?

Many were outraged when the news broke that Vick had signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. But in case they missed it, that's his line of work. Just like a truck driver who gets out of prison would seek work in the trucking industry or a construction worker would seek work in the construction industry. It just so happens that Vick's line of work is lucrative and high-profile. But that's not his fault. It's also not his fault that society has taken it upon itself to glorify and idolize athletes. That's been happening long before Vick came on the scene.

I'm sure that Vick is going to donate a healthy portion of his contract to humane organizations and I'm sure the Eagles will kick in a few bucks themselves. Is that a bad thing? These organizations--The Humane Society, the ASPCA, PETA-- are all nonprofit organizations and need funding. So why not take Vick's money? Why not take the Eagles' money? Why not use his voice to help save all the other defenseless dogs that are probably being tortured even as I write this. The problem ain't going away by throwing the book on Vick.

And who better than Vick to infiltrate the inner-cities, where the problem is more epidemic, and deliver the message? I highly doubt these inner-city kids would listen to some unknown characters telling them what's right or wrong. But they'll listen to Vick. He's one of them. He knows their language. And the question of whether he's doing it from the heart or as a p.r. move--that's not the point. The bottom line is putting an end to this problem.

At the end of the day, we can throw Vick in jail for life, water board him everyday, hang him upside down, you know, whatever-- but that's not going to make the problem go away. All that will do, is stop him from doing it again-- but what about the thousands out there who are still practicing this cruelty? Why not have Vick, with support from the Eagles and the NFL, preaching the message and pointing out his mistakes?

If in the future, Vick's voice can save a few dogs from this violent destiny, then we have to ask ourselves--what's wrong with that?

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Vick Gets A Second Chance


The world of sport's top story today is by far the signing of Michael Vick.

The Philadelphia Eagles have taken a chance on Vick, signing the shamed quarterback to a 2 year deal. Vick will presumably play backup to starter Donovan McNabb.

Not surprisingly, everyone has an opinion in favor or against the decision. I guess I'm no exception. Three things came to mind today.

1) Everyone deserves a second chance. Vick was very humble at the press conference. He spoke eloquently. And he understands people's suspicions and knows only time will vindicate him.

2) The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the elite organizations in the NFL. I'm sure, they did their homework prior to making this decision. Owner Jeffrey Lurie, head coach Andy Reid, McNabb and even special advisor Tony Dungy all brainstormed the feasibility of the situation before signing Vick. There was even a report that the Eagles met with humane groups in the Philadelphia area to get them on board. I wouldn't doubt it.

3) Prior to Vick's arrest we didn't hear much about the cruelty of dogfighting and as far as I'm concerned, it's been around for years. I mean, I've been hearing about it all my life. So maybe having a high profile ambassador may help dramatically reduce the cruel practice. Vick has repeatedly said, he now understands the evil in what he did and will work vehemently with humane organizations to put an end to it. Time will tell.

Although I must say, in defense of Sports Illustrated, they did bring attention to the cruel sport in their July 27, 1987 issue, during the height of this problem. But in the 20 years following the SI cover story the issue died down until Vick's arrest. But that doesn't mean it wasn't happening.

At the press conference today, Vick said, "I was wrong for what I did... I paid my debt to society... Now I want to be part of the solution, not the problem."

So who knows-- if something good comes out of this, maybe this is Vick's calling.

SI cover photo courtesy of SI.com
Michael Vick photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pedro Martinez Debuts On Same Night Tim Lincecum Continues His Dominance


Last night, it was great to see the return of Pedro Martinez. After being out of baseball for almost a year, due to injuries, Martinez, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, was triumphant in his debut. He pitched 5 innings, allowing 3 runs while striking out 5. A respectable performance for the once-dominant pitcher. After the game he admitted to reporters, he's not quite 100% and expects to get stronger with every game. He even jokingly reminded a reporter that he has 3 Cy Young Awards at home. In other words, reminding him that he used to be pretty good in the art of pitching.

However, even Martinez would admit, he will never be the dominant pitcher he was in the past, but he hopes to reinvent himself and hopefully help the Phillies defend their title.

Coincidentally, Martinez' debut was on the same night Tim Lincecum was pitching for the San Francisco Giants. Lincecum, who in my opinion is the second-coming of Martinez, pitched a dominant game, although he ended with a no-decision. He was leading 2-1 in the ninth, but gave up the tying run before being lifted for reliever, Brian Wilson. The Giants would eventually win the game 4-2 in 10 innings.

So far this year, Lincecum is 12-3, with 205 strikeouts and an eye-catching 2.19 ERA. If he continues at this pace, he would join Martinez (1997, 1999, 2000) as the only active pitchers to lead their leagues with an ERA under 2.20. Like Martinez, Lincecum is a strikeout pitcher with impeccable control. In his young career, he is averaging 10.2 strikeouts per 9 innings, a touch better than Martinez' 10.1 per nine innings in his 18 year career.

Neither pitcher has ever issued 100 walks in a season while combining for 11 seasons of over 200 strikeouts. Astonishing control.

It's hard to predict how successful Martinez will be in his latest comeback, but we do know, he's already passed the baton to the skinny kid in San Francisco.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ozzie Guillen Should Have His Own Reality Show


People can say what they want about Chicago White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, but they'll have to admit the guy is a character. Since he took over as manager in 2004, Guillen has thrown a lot of funny tirades with memorable one-liners. Yeah, he has his critics who've called him "shameful" and "unprofessional." But the guy doesn't care. He says whatever is on his mind and to use his words, "doesn't give a [bleep] how it comes out."

Last week he made headlines when he said, "If they hit one of our players, we hit TWO of theirs!" Guillen was referring to a reporters question about, what would happen if he knew the opponents were intentionally throwing at his players.

Personally, I'm a big Ozzie fan, so I put together a list of my 5 favorite Ozzie moments. On paper they don't sound as funny, but they sure heck are hilarious coming from him with his patented accent:

1) Last year, in a locker room tantrum, Ozzie was told that hitting coach Greg Walker was upset at being singled out as one of the culprits, after a White Sox loss.

Ozzie: "Who am I going to blame if my team is not hitting? My wife?"

2) Last year's memorable tirade when he threw General Manager, Kenny Williams under the bus.

Ozzie: "There's only one message I'm going to send-- just be ready because I expect movement Tuesday. I expect Kenny to do something Tuesday, and if we don't do anything Tuesday, there are going to be a lot of lineup changes. That's all I'm going to say about the offense."

"It can be me. It can be [hitting coach] Greg Walker. It can be the players. It could be anybody. I'm sick and tired to watch this thing for a year and a half. I'm not protecting anybody anymore. [Bleep] it! If they can't get it done, Kenny should find someone to get it done. That's it. Another bad game. If we think we are going to win with the offense we have, we are full of [bleep]. I'm just being honest. I expect better from them, if they are in the lineup."

Williams response: "It's never a good idea to throw your boss under the bus, especially when that boss has had his back as much as I have."

3) When asked to comment on Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Jay Mariotti, an ardent critic of Guillen.

Ozzie: "He's garbage, still garbage, going to die as garbage. Why he's so afraid to show up to the ballpark?... Tell him we'll pay his cab. Tell him to tell us where he lives, and we'll bring him to the ballpark and we'll have a conversation."

4) When asked about pitcher, Bartolo Colon's rehab start in Charlotte.

Ozzie: "I worry about Colon because Colon was a big-time Michael Jackson fan..." "He might see the TV and cry all day long. He may be in LA at his funeral, because I can't find him."

5) On catcher, A.J. Pierzynski:

Ozzie: "You play against A.J., you hate him. You play with A.J., you hate him a little less."

One things for sure, only Guillen can get away with some of the things he says. I guess the team, the media and the fans have gotten used to him over the years. I can't imaging any other manager spewing some of the things Guillen says and not having all hell break lose.

When asked whose the best manager in Chicago, he bluntly said, "I am." He then continued: "All the managers the White Sox went through, I have a lot of respect for them, but I don't think any of those managers had more passion for this ball club than me. Nobody. I know it."

In a town where World Series trophies are an elusive piece of hardware, I guess Ozzie, the only manager to hoist one in the last 92 years, can enjoy his moment in the sun.

I wonder what First Fan, President Obama thinks about his manager?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

After 46 Years In Exile, Luis Tiant Returns To Cuba


Most of us live in a world where we take, simple things, such as family gatherings for granted. Usually a family member organizes a BBQ, calls all of his/her relatives-- everyone shows up and has a great time. Not too hard, right? For most of us it isn't, but for some, like former major league pitcher, Luis Tiant (l.), this is an improbable scenario.

Tiant's ordeal began in 1961 when, as a young pitcher, his Cuban team was playing an exhibition series in Mexico. Tiant's dream was to impress major league scouts and hopefully land a major league contract. This was during a time when relations between the U.S. and Cuba were good and Cubans were allowed to travel freely to the United States.

Tiant's desire to pitch in the majors, was furthered by the fact that his father, Luis Tiant Sr., who was also a pitcher, never got a chance to do so. Tiant Sr. was deemed too colored for Major League Baseball and was forced to play in the Negro Leagues. Those who saw the elder Tiant, say, he had the most wicked fastball they'd ever seen. In fact, in an exhibition game between Major League All-Stars and Negro League All-Stars, the elder Tiant showcased his fastball by blowing it past the great Babe Ruth and striking him out with ease.

After the Bay of Pigs military debacle in 1961, Tiant received the news that would change his life forever. The Cuban government ended all relations with the U.S. and no Cuban citizen would be allowed to travel outside the Cuban borders. Tiant, with his aspirations to pitch in the big leagues, made the toughest decision of his life. He decided to stay in the U.S. as a refugee and pursue his major league career, which meant never seeing his family ever again.

Tiant fulfilled his dream. He had a great major league career mostly with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. He was 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA in 19 seasons. His 1.60 ERA in 1968 is the 4th lowest in the past 90 years.

But his desire to return to his native Cuba is what haunted him for most of his life. It was a dream that came true in 2007. That year, Tiant was finally granted permission by the Cuban government to visit his native land, after 46 years in exile.

In the ESPN documentary, "The Lost Son of Havana", which aired last night, Tiant and a film crew documented his 3-month stay in Cuba. Tiant , 67, returned to his old neighborhood and reunited with the few surviving relatives he left behind in 1961 and generations of new relatives he had never met. Friends, neighbors and former teammates all gathered to greet their lost son. It was an emotional reunion. Even the strong-willed Tiant couldn't hold back his tears.

Towards the end of the documentary, when his 3-day stay was coming to an end, a saddened Tiant would say, "I feel like I'm born again now. Now if I die, I die happy."

I guess in life, what may be simple for some is a life's journey for others.

Photo courtesy of the Encyclopedia Britannica

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Honus Wagner Baseball Card Has Taken On A Life Of It's Own


Like many kids growing up, I collected baseball cards with a passion. And today, 32 years later, I still have some of those original cards. Of course, as a kid, I did it more for the love of baseball and the hobby, oblivious of the fact that these cards had value and were big business. It wasn't until my teen-age years that I picked up on the value-aspect and collected them on this front. But by then, some of my original cards, lets just say, weren't exactly gem-mint anymore.

I haven't been following the hobby as much as I used to over the last few years. I'm still one of those old-school kids that loved the days when Topps was the only maker of cards. I remember in the early 80's when Fleer and Donruss came on the scene, it was like, "who invited them to the party? Now I have to ask mom and dad for more money." But anyway:

Nowadays, we don't have to be baseball card collectors to know about "the grand-daddy" of them all. The T206 Honus Wagner (above) card.

I mean, this card has taken on a life of it's own. Over the years, it has become the "arc of the covenant" of the sports collectibles industry. I can't think of any other piece of memorabilia that gets the kind of attention like the Wagner card. Every time one of these cards are sold, you read about it in the papers or hear it in the local news.

According to the blog, honus-wagner.org, in August of 2008, a card with a PSA-5 grading, sold for $1.62 million at an auction. Now that's what I call, major cash. And yes folks, the card even has bloggers. Kudos to the "Flying Dutchmen."

So why is there so much attention around this one card? First of all, the card was manufactured by the American Tobacco Company and was distributed within the company's packs of cigarettes. Legend has it, only around two hundred of Wagner's cards were ever sold to the public because Wagner refused its production, due to the fact, he didn't want kids buying packs of cigarettes in order to obtain his card. Thus began, it's mystique.

Over the years, every time one of these cards are sold, the press reports the story, bringing even more recognition to the card and increasing its value. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and then-Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, once purchased a Wagner card for $451, 000, tying "the Great One's" name to the card and increasing its recognition. Gretzky would later sell his version of the card, but as it keeps changing hands, it's selling price increases.

Of course, very importantly, Wagner today is still considered one of the greatest players ever. He is a Pittsburgh Pirates legend, so that too, contributes to the cards attraction. Which, in my opinion, is good, because in the end, what the card has done is cement the great Honus Wagner's immortality.

Photo courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Albert Pujols Joins an Exclusive "Exclusive Club"


Last night, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, Albert Pujols, hit a 3-run double to help lift the Cardinals over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-3. This year, Pujols is 8 for 10 with the bases loaded, including 5 grand slams for a total of 27 RBIs. As Stuart Scott of ESPN might say, "Pujols' numbers with the bases loaded are ridiculous." Indeed, the guy is lethal with a bat in his hands, especially when the bases are jammed.

The three RBIs gave Pujols 100 for the season, marking the 9th consecutive season he has reached the century mark. This puts Pujols in a very exclusive club of players who have obtained 100 RBIs in their first nine seasons. Exclusive may be an understatement, as he became only the second player ever to do so, joining Hall of Famer, Al Simmons. In fact, Simmons drove in 100 runs in his first 11 seasons. And Pujols is the only player today who comes close in comparison to the great Simmons.

Like Pujols, Simmons was a superior clutch hitter and an overall, hitting machine. He was the heart and soul of legendary manager, Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics teams, of the 20's and 30's. The Athletics won 3 consecutive pennants (1928, 1929 and 1930), dethroning the mighty New York Yankees, and were World Champions in 1929 and 1930.

Many consider the 1929 club the greatest team ever. On August 19, 1996, Simmons was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, 40 years after his death, in an exclusive, titled: "The Team That Time Forgot"; 'The 1929 Philadelphia A's, not the '27 Yankees, may have been the greatest baseball club ever assembled.' Now that's saying a lot, but when you consider, besides Simmons, the team also featured Hall of Famers, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins and Lefty Grove, you can see where Sports Illustrated is coming from.

Simmons was a career .334 hitter, with 2927 hits and 1827 RBIs. He was a two-time batting champion (.381 in 1930 and .390 in 1931) and his 253 hits in 1925 are the 5th highest total ever in a single season.

Pujols would need to reach 100 RBIs in the next three seasons following this year to pass Simmons. If he stays healthy its quite possible he'll do it, but for now, I don't think he minds rubbing elbows with one of the greatest players ever.

Albert Pujols photo courtesy of profantasybaseball.com
Al Simmons photo courtesy of the National Baseball Library

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Juan Marichal?


Last night, the New York Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox, 2-0, in 15 innings, in a classic pitcher's duel. The Yankees and Red Sox pitchers went toe to toe in a scoreless game, until Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off, two-run home run, in the bottom of the 15th inning. Both teams nearly used every available pitcher they had, in a nail-biter that took 5 hours and 33 minutes to complete.

This morning when I looked at the box score, what immediately jumped out at me was-- the combined 14 pitchers used by both teams. I guess by today's standards, it was a classic pitcher's duel. But it's a far cry from the days of San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal.

Back in his day, Marichal was involved in a few of these long scoreless games and amazingly, he usually completed them . In fact, during his career, Marichal pitched in three games which went 14 or more innings and ended in a 1-0 score. And breathtakingly enough, he completed all three and had a 2-1 record. Whoa!

Of the three, the game which gets the most recognition, was Marichal's classic duel with fellow Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves. On July 2, 1963, Marichal and Spahn matched each other, pitch by pitch, in what many consider the greatest pitching performance in MLB history. Marichal went 16 innings, allowing o runs on 8 hits, walking 4 and striking out10. That was a touch better than Spahn, who went 15.1 innings allowing 1 run on 9 hits, with 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. The one run, was a walk-off home run by Willie Mays, in the bottom of the 15th inning. Here is the astonishing pitching line score from that game:

Milwaukee IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
W. Spahn (L, 11-4) 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 1 2.84

San Francisco IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
J. Marichal (W, 13-3) 16 8 0 0 4 10 0 2.14







Amazing as that game was, Marichal would be involved in two more complete game nail-biters that went to extra innings. On May 26, 1966, Marichal pitched a complete, 1-0, 14-inning shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies. Current Kentucky Senator, Jim Bunning wasn't too shabby in that game either, pitching 10 innings of shutout ball. The Giants scored the winning run off of reliever Darold Knowles with 2 outs in the bottom of the 14th inning.

Then on August 19, 1969, Marichal went the distance, 13.1 innings, in a 1-0 loss to the New York Mets. Tommie Agee hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 14th inning off the Giants ace. Marichal would later say of the Agee home run, "When I close my eyes, I can still see the ball, floating in the air, leaving the park."

I'm not taking anything away from the pitching gem that occurred at Yankee Stadium last night. I'm just comparing eras and pointing out how much the game as changed. Teams today, with the huge amounts of money they have invested in their star pitchers, are more wary of injuries, so pitch count has become a crucial part of the game. Also the heavy dependence on set-up men and closers, have made Marichal's masterpieces a thing of the past.

During his career, Marichal only earned around $135,000 per season, which is pennies compared to what players make today. But unlike today's players, on most nights, Marichal was the starter, the set-up man, and the closer.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com































Friday, August 7, 2009

The 49ers May Be Experiencing Buyer's Remorse


Michael Crabtree (l.), has yet to play one down in the NFL and he's already making demands, as if, he was Jerry Rice. The rookie wide receiver, selected 10th overall, by the San Francisco 49ers, has threatened to sit out the upcoming season and re-enter the NFL draft next year, if his contract demands aren't met.

My question is, "what is up with this kid?"

First of all, taking this dispute to the media is not a wise thing. The 49ers bluntly have said, they don't negotiate in the media. Second of all, after this fiasco, what makes Crabtree think that teams are going to be tripping over for him in next year's draft? Especially with the great crop of wide receivers scheduled to enter next year's draft. Who is going to want a guy who's painting himself as a stubborn commodity?

Yes, he had an electrifying career at Texas Tech, but lets face it, the Big 12 is not exactly a defensive-juggernaut of a conference. Had he put up those numbers in the SEC, then we might say, hold on, this kid is "the man".

Just look at what happened to Big 12 champion Oklahoma in the national title game. They were scoring, at will, in the Big 12 and when they ran into SEC champion, the mighty Florida Gators, they looked like a bunch of pee-wee leaguers. Florida's brick-wall defense crushed the Sooner's supposed, scoring-machine offense. Oklahoma, coming-off of 5 straight 60-point games, didn't know what hit them in the championship game, losing 24-14. Heck, Texas Tech couldn't even beat Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl, another SEC school, accustomed to playing strong SEC opponents, but not exactly one of the power programs.

Yes, Crabtree is talented, but what's going to happen when he runs into the great defenses of the NFL? Crabtree may just be opening up a "can of worms" for himself. Defenses around the NFL are watching and waiting for this kid, just to see what he's all about.

Does he have the credibility to be holding out and barking demands? I don't think so.

And I have news for Michael Crabtree. The NFL is not the Big 12.

Photo courtesy of flicker.com

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Can One Great Season Get You Into The Hall Of Fame? It Did For Hack Wilson


His name is Hack Wilson. He played 6 full seasons in a career spanning 12 seasons. He ended his career with 1461 hits, 244 home runs and 1063 RBIs. Oh and by the way, he's a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many would argue that even 12 seasons is too short a career for Hall of Fame consideration. Only very special players, the likes of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax or Kirby Puckett make the Hall of Fame with condensed careers. And these players put up Hall of Fame numbers throughout their short careers, which were cut short by forces beyond their control. Wilson put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers in only 6 of his 12 seasons.

So how can Wilson play only 6 full seasons and parts of 6 others and get enshrined, when guys like Tony Oliva had similar short careers and been overlooked?

The answer is simple--1930.

In 1930, Chicago Cubs outfielder Hack Wilson, had what is probably the greatest season in National League history and one of the best ever overall. That year, he hit, a then-National League record, 56 home runs and drove in, a major league record, 191 runs. Yes, that's correct--191 RBIs.

His NL record (56) home runs, stood until 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made it look minuscule. But his ML record, 191 RBIs, has remained untouchable. In 1979, the Veterans Committee found these numbers and their significance, hard to overlook and elected Wilson to the Hall of Fame.

What made Wilson's 56 home runs so special, was that prior to his feat, only Babe Ruth (54-1920; 59-1921; 60-1927; 54-1928), had ever hit more than 50 home runs in a single season. Wilson, can be argued, put the National League on the home run map. Today it may not seem like much, but in 1930, it was a monumental accomplishment. The National League finally had an answer to Babe Ruth. And Wilson obliterated Lou Gehrig's, then-RBI record (175 in 1927), which made it even sweeter.

There will always be debates about who should get elected and who shouldn't. The one thing, Hack Wilson's election has taught us, is that some numbers are bigger than others. For example, former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder, Luis Gonzalez, once hit 57 home runs in a season, but his 57 are microscopic compared to the significance of Wilson's 56.

Even though the career numbers weren't there, with a name, like "Hack", and an eye-popping record, 191 RBIs, how can anyone deny Wilson the Hall of Fame? I wouldn't.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society

Bill Snyder Returns To Kansas State


With the college football season almost upon us, it's good to see the return of an old familiar face. Bill Snyder will be once again patrolling the sidelines as head football coach at Kansas State. Last November, the school rehired their long-time coach, after a 4-year absence. Snyder, 69, seemed to have burned himself out after the 2005 season and decided to retire.

Snyder amassed a record of 136-68-1 from 1989-2005, taking the school to 11 consecutive bowl games. Prior to his arrival, the school had gone to one bowl game in it's previous 93 years. During his tenure the school won 9 or more games 10 times, including 6 11-win seasons.

Snyder's success is attributed to his relentless work ethics. He has a reputation of being a perfectionist and a coach who knows how to win. It's been well-documented how he used to stay in video rooms for hours watching and studying tapes right after games. Especially after his team lost. He is known to be a great motivator to his players and inspires them to win.

Kansas St. has never won a national championship, but one thing's for sure, during Snyder's first-term they at least were in the conversation every year.

Photo courtesy of Kansas State Athletics

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kudos to the Florida Marlins


I have to give credit to the Florida Marlins. I mean, considering all the negativity working against them, year after year, they remain an impressive franchise. Currently, they are 55-50, only 5 games back in their division and only 3 in the Wild Card. The Marlins, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, usually get torn apart whenever payroll is deemed to high for ownership's taste.

This is a team that everyone in their corner keeps derailing and yet, they manage to put together respectable seasons. Not to mention, two world championships. It's mind-boggling, if you think about it. Since their inception in 1993, the team has made the playoffs twice and both times won a championship. That's as many championships as the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians, all of whom were around in 1903 when World Series play began. They've done all this and no one in Florida seems to care.

Both times they've won titles, ownership has eventually dismantled the team. They won a championship in 1997, for owner Wayne Huizenga and he rewards them by trading all the star players and then selling the team. They then win a championship, for current owner, Jeffrey Loria, and he too breaks up the team. I mean, what are they suppose to do? Is there a bigger prize they're suppose to win?

The state of Florida and the city of Miami for years didn't care, either. Apparently, two world championships wasn't good enough to grant them a new stadium. After years of fighting, the team finally got an approval for a new stadium in March of this year. The stadium is scheduled to be complete by Opening Day, 2012. Finally, something positive for the Marlins, but it didn't have to take this long.

With the exception of a small loyal base, the fans in Florida aren't much to brag about either. They abandon their team, like an old pair of shoes. In June, when the Yankees went down to play an inter-league series, there were more Yankee fans than Marlin fans at the games. Derek Jeter got more cheers, than shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Florida's lone superstar. And this is the team (above) that crushed the mighty Yankees in the 2003 World Series. How quickly they forget.

In 2006, current Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, managed to have a respectable year (78-84) with a team made up of mostly prospects. The National League recognized his valiant effort and named him NL Manager of the Year. How did ownership reward him? They fired him. It's like someone said, "how dare you have a good year, Joe. Can't you see, we keep breaking this team up." Besides Girardi's decent year, the team has managed to put together 3 winning seasons (2004, 2005, 2008), since their last championship, all while management kept shipping away their good players. I have to give it to them, they just keep figuring out a way.

To managements credit, they've gotten some very good players for their superstars. Ramirez came over from the Boston Red Sox in the Josh Beckett trade and starter Ricky Nolasco came over from the Chicago Cubs in the Juan Pierre trade. They got closer Matt Lindstrom in a minor league trade with the New York Mets. Outfielder Cody Ross came over from the Cincinnati Reds for cash. And the team still has high hopes for the prospects they got in the Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis trade with the Detroit Tigers.

Hopefully with the opening of their new stadium, the Marlins will be able to sign some of their promising players to long contracts, with Ramirez being priority number one. But let's give credit where credit is due, those guys on the field and in the dugout, keep playing the hands their dealt and keep figuring out ways to look respectable doing it.

Photo courtesy of SI.com

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baseball's Steroid Scandal is Getting Old and Boring!

In the words of the great Joe Morgan, "it's clear to me someone has an agenda here." Morgan is absolutely right. This whole baseball and steroids thing is, quite frankly, getting old and sickening.

It's obvious that whoever is leaking the names of the 104 players, who failed the now infamous random drug test in 2003, is doing so in a strategic and well-organized fashion. I mean, who are they trying to kid?

First, there was Alex Rodriguez. His name, coincidentally, gets leaked out right before the start of the regular season, when baseball is on every one's mind. Oh, and guess what? The Sports Illustrated reporter who broke the story just happened to be releasing a book, titled, you guessed it, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez. A keen marketing strategy? You betcha.

Now in the heart of the pennant races, two more names (David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez) get leaked, this time to the New York Times. Is it a coincidence that their names get leaked out together? Again, who are they trying to fool? Now the chatter is: Are Boston's two world championships (2004,2007) tainted? My, oh my, what a coincidence that the Boston Red Sox are in a classic pennant race with the New York Yankees. It wouldn't surprise me if a sports writer from the New York Times, tries to shove a book down our throats one of these days.

Just in case they are putting one together and just need the finishing touches on it, my suggestion for a title is, "Tainted Sox". And why not make it a little poetic, by putting a picture of Curt Schilling's famous bloody sock on the cover?

This whole thing has become a repulsive joke. Fans around the world don't care for it anymore. The players are getting tired of it too. Yankee pitchers, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, suggest they should just release the whole list and get it over with. "Just bring it out", a sickened Rivera said. Quite frankly, he's right.

Why keep fueling this mess? The usual suspects (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens) are already in the doghouse. McGwire, a one-time lock for the Hall of Fame, hasn't received more than 25% of the vote in his 3 years of eligibility so far. Palmeiro is the next suspect to become eligible, in 2012, and I doubt he's getting in.

Keeping this list under lock and key is unfair to the players who were clean because it hangs a dark cloud over them too. Release the names of the cheaters and exonerate the good guys. But no, it has to be done in a devious and calculated fashion. And we all know who the "big fish" is. We know who the media hopes is on that list. I'm sure every news organization is salivating, hoping to be the one's who get Albert Pujols, if he's on the list. This isn't fair to him or any other great player. He has vehemently denied ever touching the stuff. Why should he have to answer questions and deal with this dark cloud?

Personally, I don't think Pujols is on the list, but I suspect he's the coveted prize for those involved in this "ponzi scheme".

Brian Schneider, catcher for the New York Mets, put it best, in the NY Daily News: "The games are still going to go on and the fans are still going to come because they love the game. Get the damn list out and let's get it over with."

Damn, I hope they listen to Schneider.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The 300-Game Winner Is Extinct! Truth or Myth?


When San Francisco Giants pitcher, Randy Johnson, beat the Washington Nationals on June 4 for his 300th career victory, a familiar chant began in the baseball world. The same chant uttered when Tom Glavine posted his 300th career victory. "Is Glavine Last of the 300-Game Winners?", was the headline in The San Francisco Chronicles on July 30, 2007. Similar headlines were echoed in newspapers and websites throughout the country.

When Johnson won his 300th game, the headline in Yahoo! Sports was, "Unit could be last of the 300-game winners." In USA Today, "The Big Unit could be the last 300-game winner." Broadcasters, television commentators, radio disc jockeys all chanted the same thing. On and on it went and whenever Johnson's name comes up, we hear the same broken record.

My take on the issue is-- all that talk is pure baloney!

First of all, lets take the case of Mike Mussina. Whose to say, had Mussina not retired, he wouldn't have been the next 300 game winner? Mussina retired at age 39 with 270 career wins. In his final year he was 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. These numbers for certain would have garnered him a 1 year, quite possibly a 2 year deal, with the New York Yankees. With the way the Yankees are playing this year (63-42 as of today), Mussina could quite conceivably win 15 games this year, had he not retired. Once a pitcher gets to the high 280's and sees 300 around the corner, chances are he'll stick around and at least try and achieve this elusive milestone.

The last 10 pitchers to win 300, reached the magic number at an average age of 41.5, with Greg Maddux (38) and Steve Carlton(38) being the youngest and Phil Niekro (46) being the oldest. Johnson reached the milestone at age 45. Mussina was on track to reach 300 or at least hover around it by age 42. Feeling he had nothing more to prove, Mussina decided to retire and exited gracefully. But he could very easily have hung around and gotten the 30 wins he needed to reach 300.

But Mussina's retirement was good for these "no more 300-game winner" theorist. Had he stayed, he would have been a threat to their theory.

Maybe they're not keeping an eye on C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Whose to say, barring injuries, these guys won't pitch until they're 43 or 44 years old? Maybe they have a different mindset than Mussina. Maybe 300 is vitally important to them and they'll hang around if they see themselves in the same position as Mussina.

Sabathia,29, needs 172 more wins and if he pitches until, lets say 43, would need to just average around 12 wins per season. A few 15 to 20 win seasons in the nose-end would dramatically lower that average for the tail-end of the remaining 14 seasons.

Halladay, 32, needs 158 more wins and if he pitches until age 43, would need to average around 14 wins per season the remainder of the way. But what if he's the next Jamie Moyer and pitches until he's 46? Then he'll need to average just 11 wins per season.

Same thing with Oswalt, who needs 165 more wins, and if, he too plays until 43, would need to average 15 wins per season. But for all we know, he could be the next Phil Niekro and pitch until he's 46. In Houston, he definitely has the best mentor, Nolan Ryan (above), who also retired at 46.

The point is, saying there will never be another 300-game winner is ridiculous, since so many different scenarios can happen. If these 3 pitchers stay healthy and continue pitching with the success they've had, by the time all 3 are 40, they'll be hovering around the 280 mark. Then the only questions would be, how long can they, like Jamie Moyer, remain productive, and if so, how long would they be willing to stick around?

Judging by their work ethics, I can see at least one or two of the three, pitching well into their 40's and being successful. Then our old familiar chant would make headlines again: "Is Sabathia Last of the 300-game Winners?" or "Halladay Could Be The Last 300-Game Winner" or "Oswalt Is The Last Of His Kind."

Photo courtesy of A. KAYE