11th and Washington

11th and Washington: February 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Rocket returns to the launch pad

As expected, Roger Clemens leads the United States' 30-man roster for the World Baseball Classic. If he is still there on March 2, when the rosters become final before the next day's opening games, we'll at least know that he's healthy enough to pitch competitively. But will he go beyond that? His agent still says that retirement is the "lead horse" in the race, but it hasn't reached the finish line yet.

So here's my prediction: If his health fails him again, like it did at the end of last season, the WBC will be his curtain call. He's done. He'll get the U.S. as far as he can, probably to San Diego for the semifinals at least, and then bow out. His number will be retired in Houston before the season is over and in five years, the year he enters the Hall of Fame, the Red Sox will make it official and put No. 21 up on the edge of the roof. (While not officially retired, no Boston player has worn 21 since Clemens left town.)

If he's healthy, he'll play on. He'll accelerate his conditioning to be in mid-April form in mid-March and carry the U.S. as far as he can. He'll then take a step back, rest up for a week or so and recover from the higher-intensity efforts so early in the year before resuming his training. Unable to re-sign with Houston before May 1, he'll use that month to conserve his energy for the long haul of one more season. September was his worst month of the 2005 season -- and he didn't do too well in the World Series, either. He was worn down. Taking a month off at the start of the season should keep him healthier later into the calendar. He only went 1-1 in five April starts last year anyway because the Astros weren't scoring runs for him.

Clemens insists he won't decide whether or not to play this year until after the tournament concludes. Whether that means the final game for Team USA or the March 20 tournament final -- which we all hope are one and the same -- is not clear. But with that timetable, the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees won't be able to wait around. They'll have to set their rosters and rotations. The Yankees already have six starters -- Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Shawn Chacon, Chien-Ming Wang, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright -- for five slots. These teams can't wait around for Clemens' decision, though they'd certainly make room for him if he did suddenly decide on March 21 that he wants to sign with one of them. At this point in his life, however, I feel Clemens will want to have the flexibility he's had the last two summers, with the opportunity to be away from the team to watch his sons play their high school games and to travel to Lexington or Salem or wherever his eldest son Koby is assigned.

If there's one thing we're assured it's that we'll see Roger Clemens dial it up one more time, most likely March 7 in the United States' opener against Mexico. I don't think we can predict what he'll do until we know whether his body holds up, but unless a healthy Clemens is part of a gold-medal winning U.S. squad, I think a refuled Rocket will return to Houston for one last season. If Nolan Ryan can pitch five seasons -- only three of them up to his stellar standards -- in Arlington and have that be enough to wear a Texas cap on his Cooperstown plaque, three stellar, Cy Young-worthy summers in Houston might get Clemens a star on his bronzed likeness.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

So long Sammy

Apparently for Sammy Sosa, the chance to reach 600 career home runs is not worth the "humiliation" of earning a roster spot in spring training or not being given a starting job.

It's been reported that Sosa is considering retiring rather than accepting the only contract offer he's received this offseason, from the Washington Nationals. (Which, if he does accept it, would make him the first big-name player to play for both the Baltimore Orioles and the Nats. Keith Osik, Hector Carrasco, Deivi Cruz and New Jersey native Jeffrey Hammonds became the inaugural members of that club last season.)

[Note: On Wednesday, he did reject the offer.]

While there are some parallels to Sosa's situation and that of Jerry Rice, who retired last year rather than accept a limited role as the fourth receiver on the Denver Broncos' depth chart. The one that stands out most to me is that Rice retired despite needing just three receiving touchdowns for 200 in his career, a number he probably could have reached even as a fourth receiver. Sosa needs only 12 home runs to become just the fifth player in major league baseball history to slug 600. He hit 14 last year in 102 games.

But Sosa has another significant factor, that of course being steroids. He was an Oriole last year when Rafael Palmeiro — one of the players with whom Sosa appeared before Congress nearly a year ago — was revealed to have tested positive, an announcement that came just days after his milestone 3,000th career hit. Not only would Sosa now be playing his home games in front of some of those same members of Congress, but he would certainly have to put up with further speculation as he neared the magical 600. Or maybe he's just afraid that hitting 600 would bring more recognition from Congress.

If Sosa wants to retire, that's certainly his right. There's no doubt he's made enough money to secure himself for the rest of his life, especially in his native Dominican Republic. Heck, he "earned" $17 million for batting .221 last summer. I'm sure with the right advisors and investments, I could make $17 million last the rest of my life, and I'm eight years younger than the 37-year-old Sosa. There are, however, three notable players — former superstars — who have swallowed their pride and accepted what they might consider to be below-market, even "humiliating" contracts to keep playing, perhaps because they have something to prove: Mike Piazza, Nomar Garciaparra and Frank Thomas. Piazza and Thomas could have easily retired with their respective 397 and 448 home runs rather than accepting $2 million from the Padres for this season (as Piazza did) and $500,000 from the Athletics (Thomas, though it could reach $2.6 million with bonuses).

I used to like Sosa. In 2003, I wanted to believe that his corked bat episode — which came to light just two days after Congress' resolution congratulating him on 500 home runs — was a mistake, one of the few things to which I'll admit I agreed with Bud Selig. But Sammy seems to have grown cranky in his old age. Remember when he blew up at Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly in 2002 when the columnist asked him to take a steroids test? Looking back, maybe that was the beginning of the end for the Slammin' One. That was before the corked bat, before the sneeze that broke his back, before the man who once knew enough English to understand the humor in saying, "Beisbol has been berry, berry good to me," left his statements before Congress to his lawyer.

At this point, however, I don't really care how he goes out. In a what-have-you-done-lately world, Sosa's more than used up the goodwill from the Great Home Run Chase of '98. It'd be nice to see the milestone of 600 home runs — he'd be the first Latino ballplayer in the club — because if Barry Bonds can be praised for it, Sosa deserves to be too. But I'm not going to lament his absence from the game if he's taken his last at bat.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Future programming on MLB's own network

If the Yankees are the Fox reality TV show of MLB (the one you love to watch because you either want to see the next Kelly Clarkson do well, or you love the train wreck that is the talentless hacks getting their comeuppance while continuing to insist that they're great even as they're packing their bags and heading home), then the Red Sox are the daytime soap opera.

Like resin through the pitcher's fingers, these are the days of our lives -- as Red Sox Nation turns ...

It's no surprise that Theo Epstein returned as GM. If you ask those New Englanders, everyone's been saying he's been orchestrating Boston's off-season moves since November despite not being officially employed by the team. Everything they do in Boston, it seems, is punctuated by the dramatic background music and soft-focus lens of an afternoon serial production.

In the vein of aligning the major league franchises with characters from The Simpsons, how would the majors look if the teams were paired up with television shows? In some cases, but not all, the city is the obvious answer. In others, there's a distinct character to the team that lends itself to a comparison with television programming. More of a seat-of-my-pants impulsive comparison than a researched philosophical study, these pairings reflect a team's more recent trends than an overall historical characterization. Just so we're clear.


Atlanta Braves = Law & Order: Despite a rotating cast (and one or two older guys who are there through it all), they remain steady and consistent with a steadfast, businesslike approach.

Florida Marlins = The Planet's Funniest Animals: Campy and ridiculous, you have to either be a diehard or a child to sit through it.

New York Mets = Love Monkey: In the country's largest city, this is the story of a small-name label trying to compete with the big boys.

Philadelphia Phillies = Cold Case: Long dormant and forgotten by all except those whose loved ones are involved.

Washington Nationals = E-Ring: There's a gray, old man set in his ways who's unafraid to speak his mind and an outfit unable to affect any significant changes without first slogging through all the red tape. If they were still the Expos, they'd be Cheers -- sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name (and it's never too crowded) and there's always a seat for you right where the action is.


Chicago Cubs = ER: Not only for the Chicago connection, but also for the propensity to feature several varied and recurring injury situations.

Cincinnati Reds = Emily's Reasons Why Not: Looks promising after the first pitch, but then you don't need much more than one viewing to see that there are major problems with development.

Houston Astros = The O.C.: Is it me, or does it seem like all of the principle contributors are white?

Milwaukee Brewers = I Love the 80s: Filled with people born just before (and now even in) the 1980s who are trying to bring back those 20-year-old glory days.

Pittsburgh Pirates = I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!: You wonder how these fringe "stars" are still considered celebrities and you know that the truly good ones, with talent, will put it to use somewhere else.

St. Louis Cardinals = Smallville: In small-town middle America, a super man with a red-and-yellow logo on his chest performs feats the likes of which no one has ever seen.


Arizona Diamondbacks = Star Search: In this competition of mostly unknown talents, who will emerge as America's next superstar?

Colorado Rockies = Star Trek: They're above us all, literally, trying to survive in the thin air.

Los Angeles Dodgers = America's Next Top Model: Where aspiring stars come from all over America to bask in the spotlight, but all too often tend to wither under the pressure.

San Diego Padres = Lost: Comes out of nowhere (well, virtually nowhere) to have a stellar 2005. Shot in a beautiful setting with a leading man who used to be a star several years ago and is looking to make a comeback.

San Francisco Giants = Matlock: They may be old, but don't put them out to pasture just yet. Plus, they have that enduring mystery in Barry Bonds. (Alternate: Antiques Roadshow, which doesn't need much explanation.)


Baltimore Orioles = The People's Court: Punctuated by characters ready to sue at the drop of a hat and with ridiculous defendants who paint themselves into a corner with statements that are soon proven falls. Not to mention former friends who then turn on their pals.

Boston Red Sox = As the World Turns: As discussed.

New York Yankees = American Idol: You either love 'em or you hate 'em.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays = Romper Room: Just a bunch of kids running around playing.

Toronto Blue Jays = Hockey Night In Canada: The excitement just doesn't quite translate south of the border.


Chicago White Sox = Sports Night: Struggling to get noticed in their own field, they may not be loved by everyone, but you know there will be some entertaining comments and back-and-forth dialogue.

Cleveland Indians = Veronica Mars: Underrated and overlooked, but the fans know what everyone else is missing.

Detroit Tigers = Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: They spare no expense, have a guy who likes to shout a lot (Dmitri Young; Ty Pennington), and in the end you're probably in tears.

Kansas City Royals = Fear Factor: It's always fun to see just how far other people will go for big money. Some will eat bugs, others will voluntarily play in Kansas City.

Minnesota Twins = Arrested Development: Loved by fans and praised by pundits, but prematurely sent out to pasture by the head honcho.


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim = He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: One powerful young man and his slightly-less-gifted allies take on all comers. Plus, they attempt to claim most of the known universe as their home base. (Another option was TNT's The Closer, but I question how many people know of that show.)

Oakland Athletics = The Office: Not sure it would work without anyone else leading the way, so enjoy it while he's there.

Texas Rangers = Walker, Texas Ranger: No, wait, it works: Take a reliable concept (a cop show; a starting pitcher) and make him a Texas Ranger and somehow, it's just ridiculous (Chuck Norris as a martial-arts-master Ranger; Kenny Rogers).

Seattle Mariners = Yu-Gi-Oh: First a hit on the Pacific Rim, then a stateside success; also features a zippy, diminutive Japanese icon.

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