11th and Washington

11th and Washington: February 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

In a change for baseball, A-Rod says something

An article in The New Yorker this week (and last week, this being a well-deserved double issue) sorts out some misconceptions when it comes to famous quotations.

Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in “Casablanca” says “Play it again, Sam”; Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last”; Vince Lombardi did say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quite often, but he got the line from someone else. Patrick Henry almost certainly did not say “Give me liberty, or give me death!”; William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words “War is hell”; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man.”

Yogi Berra is mentioned in the piece as well, quite amusingly, in fact: "... when Yogi Berra said 'I didn’t really say everything I said' he was correct."

But at least it's refreshing to think that athletes and coaches once said something of substance when interviewed. Talking to high school football players after a game can often be painful for a reporter, and the media coaching scene in Bull Durham was funny because it's true. Baseball America does us a service when it recaps the minor league season each September with some of the best quotations from some of the game's best prospects.

So it was news today when Alex Rodriguez spoke frankly about his relationship with Derek Jeter and how it is no longer as tight as it once was. I particularly liked when he spoke freely about his contract: "I love being the highest-paid player in the game. It's pretty cool. I like making that money."

Personally, I'm not sure if this Rodriguez-New York relationship can work, but I did admire the player before he joined The Empire, and I'd prefer not to hate him, even if I hate the Yankees. Sadly, he'll enter the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, but at least he'll reclaim the all-time home run crown and remove the stain that is sure to affix itself sometime this season when it's no longer held by Hank Aaron. And then, by the time Albert Pujols is done, it might be held by a Cardinal for the first time since Babe Ruth knocked Roger Connor down a notch.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why I love this game

For Valentine's Day yesterday, there was a story on Mets.com in which various players and other baseball people explained why they loved the game so much. I know I'm a day late, but the snow and the warmth of home made me lazy yesterday, so here is how I would answer the question, "Why do I love this game?" This is just what I could come up with off the top of my head at the moment. I'm sure if I saved it for a few days, adding to the file periodically as something else came to me, I could drag it out much, much longer.

I love that there's history, nostalgia -- that people care so much about what the game was in the 1920s, 50s, 70s.

I love that it's the summer game, it's part of what you do during those lazy, hazy days.

I love that people make a point to visit as many ballparks as they can, that they keep blogs and write books about their travels. Who brags about how many different bland NBA arenas they've seen or how many football stadiums they've entered? After Lambeau and Soldier Fields, is there a pull to a place because of where it is, not who it is?

I love the cool breeze in the concourse on a hot, humid summer day.

I love the minor leagues, the small-town ballparks -- new as they are -- with outfield berms, tiki bars, dizzy bat races and seats so close you can smell the pine tar from the on-deck batter.

I love those smells: pine tar, grass, hot dogs, peanuts.

As annoying and cliche as they may get, I love stadium traditions, like "Sweet Caroline" in Brooklyn and "Lazy Mary" at Shea Stadium.

I love balls hit into the gaps with runners on base and the anticipation that builds -- will the runner score? Will the batter make it to second? Can he stretch it into a triple?

I love arriving when the gates open, of rushing into a nearly empty ballpark, of hearing the low music echoing off of the empty seats while the home team takes batting practice, their voices and laughter audible amid the crack of the bat and the pounding of gloves.

I love the uniforms and how the players wear those of their teams for the All-Star Game, rather than generic ones like those of hockey, basketball and football players.

I love that whenever I go on vacation between April and September, I check the schedule of the local team and plan an extra day to get to the park.

I love that I have friends who are always up for a game.

I love that I went to my first game in 1983, and I still feel the same excitement at least once a year on the way to the ballpark.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Laying Trachs to the AL East

The right-shoulder injury sustained by Kris Benson leaves the Orioles in a lurch, because the team felt rather comfortable up to this point with its pitching situation. Baltimore went out and spent more than $40 million to bolster the bullpen and expected Benson to anchor an otherwise young but up-and-coming rotation. Left-hander Erik Bedard led the Birds with 33 starts in 2006, Daniel Cabrera brought his ERA down by nearly a run and raised his strikeout-to-walk ratio by almost a full point after the All-Star break, Jaret Wright came over in a trade from the Yankees to add another experienced arm, and Adam Loewen was expected to fill out the final spot and continue his development.

But now the Orioles have to find someone to fill Benson's slot, and the reports are it will be free agent Steve Trachsel. ESPN.com's Rumor Central posted on Feb. 2 that Trachsel prefered to stay in the National League, with the Cardinals, Astros and Nationals considering him. Now, suddenly, it appears he's willing to go to the junior circuit.

The problem -- which could be quite amusing, so long as you're not an Orioles fan -- is that if he chooses Baltimore, he chooses the AL East. And he chooses to face lineups -- those of the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees -- that will be less than forgiving for a pitcher making an adjustment to the designated-hitter-heavy wallops packed by AL batting orders. Look at what Randy Johnson experienced in his two years in the AL, and he didn't have to face the Yanks.

Both Bedard and Cabrera started a slew of games against that triumverate in 2006, so Trachsel should expect to face them a total of eight or nine times this year. On 11 different occassions, when Bedard went out to the mound for the first inning, he found himself looking at one of those teams in the opposing dugout, facing the Jays five times and the Red Sox four. Cabrera went up against Toronto four times.

I just find it hard to believe that Trachsel would be willing to join Baltimore and face that kind of potential bombardment, when the Cardinals and Astros apparently wanted him to come in and bolster more experienced and starting staffs on teams that have better postseason chances than the Orioles do.

As a Mets fan, I was happy to have Trachsel around for 30 starts in 2006. He was the longest-tenured Met and clearly enjoyed the celebration when the Mets clinched the NL East. But when he struggled in his Game 3 start in the NLCS, hurt his leg and then, apparently, asked out of the game, he lost some respect in the clubhouse, reports have said. It was unlikely he was coming back to the Mets. And considering that he's now 36 years old and the Mets have younger options in John Maine, Oliver Perez and even Chan Ho Park, I think I'd prefer they take their chances with one of those, even with three out of five starting spots officially unaccounted for.

But man, there could be some fireworks on those days Trachsel toes the rubber against the AL East's big three.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

$126 million can certainly buy some charisma

I noted once before that Barry Zito is an avid amateur photographer. That's sweet. So am I, which is why I like it.

But the guy is a little loopy...


Friday, February 02, 2007

The Yankees of college baseball

The University of Texas had an alumni baseball game last week, inviting former Longhorns back to campus to play a little ball. But rather than outfitting them in UT uniforms, they have them bring the jerseys of their parent clubs -- ostensibly to show off just how cool they are that they have so many former players scattered around the major and minor leagues.

But I can't say I blame them. I'm a big fan of baseball uniforms and designs, and I pitched a fit when Major League Baseball floated the idea of outfitting the All-Star teams in matching uniforms, rather than letting the players each wear their team colors. Thank god that didn't go through.

So while there's a little arrogance here by the Longhorns, I can't say I mind it. It's a nice touch.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tying them up in Philly

First Chase Utley and now Brett Myers. The Phillies are tying up their young stars with multi-year contracts and buying them out of their arbitration years. It's definitely a good move (when not applied to Pat Burrell, at least not with a no-trade clause), but it only makes you wonder ...

If Utley can get $85 million for seven years and Myers nets almost $26 million for three, what is Ryan Howard going to get? The slugging first baseman has played roughly 1 3/4 seasons and won the National League Rookie of the Year and MVP after them. Howard, who still has a couple of years before he's eligible for arbitration, let alone free agency, is at least worth $100 million over seven years, and how he performs this season and next -- depending on when he gets a deal -- will determine whether he loses or adds years and/or money.

The Phillies are doing what the Indians have been known to do over the years: Locking up their young stars early, before they come close to sniffing their value on the open market. It's a good move for both team and players. The team gets them without having to get into any bidding wars, and the players get their money guaranteed while they're at the height of their youth and energy. Sure, they may be leaving some dollars on the table in the event they surpass what they've done to this point, but that's what the incentive clauses are for -- All-Star appearances and postseason awards often bring in bonus money, with additional bonuses for multiple honors, such as what Barry Zito got should he win -- try to contain your laughter -- several Cy Young Awards for the Giants. (He'll get $500,000 for the first, $750,000 for the second and $1 million for a third. He even gets solid bonuses for finshing anywhere in the top five.)

As the Phillies stand now, three-fourths of their infield and two-thirds of their outfield are homegrown. With Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn on the way up, should Aaron Rowand get traded, the entire outfield could be covered by players who passed through Reading and Scranton on their way to Philadelphia. The infield has only third baseman Wes Helms as the hired "gun," while catcher could be manned by the developed Carlos Ruiz or the free-agent signee Rod Barajas.

On the mound, only two of the six starters came up through the system, though Adam Eaton was initially drafted by the Phillies before being dealt away. The bullpen includes a balance of farmhands -- Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary, Eude Brito -- and others brought in via free agency. As of this writing, the 40-man roster contains at least 21 homegrown players (based on a quick count, without much in-depth fact-checking), though at least 11-13 of the 25-man roster should be players the Phillies developed themselves (with five or six of eight position players among those).

That's some good drafting, international scouting and player development.

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