Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Loathe List - Hates a strong word, so I’ll go with Loathe.

For a little change of pace, here are the 10 sports related people I really loathe right now. We'll change this up from time to time.

1. Bud Selig - How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. We had the tie All-Star game. Now we have the All-Star game determine home field advantage in the WS instead of best record. You embarrassed yourself and the game of baseball with your handling of the steroid issue in front of congress. You created a pyramid scheme called the World Baseball Classic and are passing it off as a way to spread baseball throughout the world. You seemingly overlook lopsided trades that don’t include the Yankees. How come the money changing hands in trades always gets approved? Your hair is 2nd only to Donald Trump - okay that has nothing to do with baseball, but really.

2. Terrell Owens - You disgraced yourself, your team, and athletes in general with your constant whining and greed. You’re a great receiver, but you’re an idiot.

3. Curt Schilling - Spring Training hasn’t arrived yet, but the media whore is already talking about the health of his ankle and how great he’ll be and yada, yada, yada.

4. Anna Benson - Hey Anna, guys love hot chicks. Semi-hot chicks who are self-described sluts - not so much. Stop being jealous of the attention your husband gets and disappear.

5. Jeffrey Loria - Prototypical scumbag owner. Granted, the fans don’t exactly turn out for Marlins games, so how do you respond? By watering down the product. They won’t give you a new stadium, so how do you respond? You’ll move. Your team should have been the one contracted not the others that were rumored to be.

6. Barry Bonds - Steroids, ego, full of sh*t. Don’t worry Barry, I’m sure you’ll move up once the season starts.

7. Jeremy Roenick - JR, such a tough, great player. Such a tremendous jackass. Hockey’s version of Curt Schilling. First we had you tell the fans to go ‘f’ themselves about the NHL player’s strike. Then you said that if you weren’t added to the US Olympic hockey team, you would root for the Canadians. Gee, I’m sure that had the members of the USOC quaking in their boots. Time you were put out to pasture.

8. Kobe Bryant - 81 points is quite an accomplishment. You’re a great basketball player. You suck as a person. I’d take LeBron James over you any day.

9. Herman Edwards - Terry Bradway and the Jets front office - This is a shared spot. Herm, you lied about wanting to stay with the Jets and Terry, you lied about wanting him to stay.

10. Scott Boras, Drew Rosenhaus and every other lowlife sports agent. You ruin every sport you touch.

Honorable Mention - The Minnesota Vikings for disgracing themselves.

Yankees vs. Red Sox - The Paper War (Part I)

The Yankees will meet their arch-rivals, the Boston Red Sox, 19 times during the 2006 regular season with a possibility of up to another 7 games in post-season play. While we are still 2 weeks away from the start of Spring Training, fans and the media are already talking about the number of changes in both camps.

The Red Sox said goodbye to Johnny Damon, Edgar Renteria, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Doug Mirabelli, Mike Myers, and hello to Coco Crisp, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, Josh Beckett, Alex Gonzalez, JT Snow, Julian Tavarez, Josh Bard, John Flaherty, David Riske and Rudy Seanez. David Wells or Matt Clement could still go and there will be speculation all year long about Manny Ramirez.

The Yankees jettisoned Kevin Brown, Tom Gordon, Tino Martinez, John Flaherty, Ruben Sierra, Felix Rodriguez, Tony Womack, and brought in Kyle Farnsworth, Octavio Dotel, Johnny Damon, Mike Myers, Kelly Stinnett, Ron Villone, and Miguel Cairo (Al Leiter was signed to a minor league deal, but it unlikely to make the team - God willing). There is a possibility that Carl Pavano could be dealt as well, and the Yankees aren’t necessarily satisfied with Jason Giambi, Andy Phillips, and Bernie Williams as their 1B/DH triumvirate.

The two most important acquisitions of the post-season may have been the Yankees re-signing General Manager Brian Cashman and the Red Sox, after months of turmoil, bringing back Theo Epstein as their GM.

Okay, time to look at the position by position breakdown - as well as a Yankee pre-Spring Training preview. We’ll start today with the infield.

First Base

Jason Giambi vs.
JT SnowKevin Youkilis

Jason Giambi - 2005 was a strange year for Giambi. First there was the apology for nothing - well at least nothing that Giambi would publicly admit to. Then he was close to being sent to the minors (if not for his contract, he could have been released) after hitting just .231 with 6 extra base hits through May. Giambi’s only saving grace was a .345 On-Base Percentage (OBP) as he drew 21 free passes in the first two months. As the baseball coroner was about to pronounce him dead, something suddenly happened as the warm weather arrived in June. Giambi started getting hits. June’s singles (he still only had 5 extra base hits in June) turned into an explosive month of July. Giambi hit 14 of his 32 home runs, batted .355, with a .974 slugging percentage, and a ridiculous OPS (On-Base + Slugging) of 1.498. Over the last 2 full months, Giambi only hit in the .250s, with a combined 13 home runs, and continued to get free passes at a high rate, with 49 combined walks. A very disconcerting stat was just 3 doubles in those 2 months, and only 14 for the year. Giambi is a liability as a 1st Baseman. He’s an adequate fielder, who is pretty good at scooping throws out of the dirt, but is a bit “Knoblauchian” with his own throwing ability. The Yankees are going to count heavily on Giambi returning to as close as possible to his steroid enhanced form. Whether the 35-year old can achieve that remains to be seen.

JT Snow - Although the former Yankee prospect hit .327 in 2004, he’s not counted on any more to be a big run producer. That being said, his OPS the last 3 years has been .806, .958, and .708, and the Red Sox are probably counting on the soon to be 38 year-old to play 140+ games at 1st Base - something has not done since 2002. Snow, who had a rough off-season with the passing of his Dad, football great Jack Snow, has a sparking .996 career fielding percentage.

ADDED 2/15 - Terry Francona has decided to split time between Snow and Kevin Youkilis. This may be the first real chance for Youkilis to show what he can do. He's a high on-base percentage guy with average power. He'll be turning 27 during Spring Training, so this could be his last chance to prove himself with the Sox.

Advantage - Giambi - Giambi gets the hitting advantage, Snow the defensive advantage, with Giambi taking the overall edge because he can be the difference maker with his bat.

Second Base

Robinson Cano vs.
Mark Loretta

Cano was a huge surprise to the Yankees in 2005. After being rushed to Columbus in 2004 to showcase him for a trade (the failed 2004 Randy Johnson negotiation), Cano was recalled in May, 2005 as the Yankees slumped and looked for some spark. They found one in Cano. After struggling at the plate and with his nerves through May, Cano forced his way into Rookie of the Year talk with an outstanding summer. Save for a .207 slump in August, which probably cost him the award, The Cano Kid hit .336 for June, July, and September, with 11 home runs and 44 RBI. He saved his best for the stretch run in September, hitting .381/5/16 with a 1.040 OPS. Cano also didn’t shrink from the spotlight, driving in 3 runs in his first post-season game. In 2006, The Yankees will look for Robinson (I refuse to call him Robbie, so there) to improve on his .252 home average, his glove work, and his mental approach, both at the plate (only 16 walks last season) and in the field (too nonchalant at times and forgetful of the fundamentals).

Mark Loretta was acquired in a steal of a deal from the San Diego Padres for veteran catcher Doug Mirabelli. The 34-year old missed 57 games with a heel injury last season, but did manage to hit .280 with a .360 OBP. Finally getting the chance to play full-time, Loretta put together back-to-back career years in 2003 and 2004, averaging .325 with 14 HRs and 74 RBI. If he can return to that form, this could become one of the best deals the Red Sox ever made.

Advantage - Even. Cano is up against the sophomore jinx and Loretta is coming to a new league and coming off an injury plagued season. Too early to call a winner.


Derek Jeter vs.
Alex Gonzalez

(This is based on today’s report that Gonzalez has agreed to a 1-year deal with the Red Sox.)

Derek Jeter - The Captain. Some stat driven Yankee fans complain because Jeter has not put up the same numbers he did from 1998-2001, coupled with his big contract. First off, since when does a Yankee fan care about what a player is getting paid? If they do, they should go root for the Kansas City Royals. He was still criticized by some uninformed fans last year. All he did was go out and hit .309/19/70 with 122 runs scored, 77 walks, and an .839 OPS…as a leadoff hitter! Yes, he doesn’t steal as much since he destroyed his shoulder on opening night, 2003, and he still strikes out way too much (117 last year), but whether hitting leadoff or 2nd (probably will return there with Damon’s acquisition), Jeter will give you everything he’s got, every inning, every game, every season. Those who disagree can kiss my ever-widening ass.

Alex Gonzalez - The career National Leaguer (not to be confused with the other free agent Alex Gonzalez) brings a .245 career batting average to the Red Sox, along with some potential pop (23 HRs in 2004), and a pretty slick glove. Gonzalez has spent his entire 8 year career with Florida and will have to adjust to AL pitching. Then again, with the depth of the Red Sox line up, he shouldn’t have to be counted on to produce too much offensively. His biggest adjustment may have to be the lousy Boston infield. No, not his teammates, but the actual infield. The Red Sox and their opponents both complained about the condition of the Fenway playing surface that could have accounted for Edgar Renteria’s career high 30 errors last season. Barring any changes, Gonzalez will have to make the same adjustment.

Advantage - Easily, Jeter

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez vs.
Mike Lowell

A-Rod is coming off an MVP season. He finally relaxed at the plate, hitting .321 with 48 HRs and 130 RBI. In addition, he scored 124 runs and stole 21 bases. Yankee Stadium is tough on right-handed hitters, but A-Rod was oblivious, hitting .351 with 26 dingers, 69 ribbies, and a 1.113 OPS. Rodriguez struggled in the field in the early going as he let the ball play him more often than not. He excelled over the final months though, with just 12 errors overall, and could compete with Eric Chavez for the gold glove this year. Where A-Rod needs to improve is in the post-season or despite the regular season numbers, he’s useless. The Yankees could have just sent a hologram to the plate against the Angels in the ALDS. That’s how invisible Rodriguez was. He had just 2 hits in 15 at-bats, with 1 extra base hit and no RBI. A-Rod needs to find some way to relax this season as well as cut down on the often long swing (he struck out a career high 139 times last season), or he will never truly be accepted by the Yankee faithful.

Mike Lowell, like Snow a one-time Yankee prospect, suffered through a season long slump that saw his offensive numbers plummet like the stock market in ’29. There have been reports that a bad back was the cause, though Lowell has downplayed it. Despite having 500 at-bats, Lowell managed to hit only 8 home runs and drove in 58 runs. He also hit a career low .236. As Yankee fans know from watching the decline of Don Mattingly, a chronic bad back can nearly or completely destroy a career. From 2000 - 2004, Lowell average 24 home runs and 94 RBI. Lowell still played reasonably well in the field, but he has a huge question mark on his back as he brings his questionable health and big contract to Boston. If healthy, this could turn out to be a huge move (remember, this guy came back from testicular cancer). If not, the Red Sox will try Kevin Youkilis and anyone else they can think of to man the hot corner.

Advantage - A-Rod

Tomorrow - Outfield and DH

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

A Goose In Every Pot

I was quite happy when this past November 9th came around. Why? Because all of the elections were over. No more listening, or rather, turning off, countless television and radio ads. No more hearing bullshit, no more mud slinging, etc..not until well in 2006.

How could I forget so quickly. It’s time for the annual baseball hall of fame balloting -- which means it’s time for what has become the annual Goose Gossage, “I belong in the Hall of Fame” campaign. Over the past couple of weeks, Goose has appeared on the radio sports talk shows, internet broadcasts, in every tri-state newspaper, talking about how he deserves to be in the MLB hall of fame.

Goose will ramble on about how guys like he and Bruce Sutter revolutionized the closer’s role. To paraphrase, “no knock on Mariano Rivera, he’s great, but we had to pitch 2, 3, or more innings to get a save”. On and on it goes.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the Goose, he does deserve to be a Hall of Famer. That being said, Goose…please…STOP THE CAMPAIGNING! It was bad enough when Gary Carter did it. I didn’t like him period, but Goose was one of my guys back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s with the Yankees. Now he has become as annoying as any congressman running for re-election.

The results of this year’s voting by the Baseball Writer’s Association (BWAA) will be on announced shortly. We can only hope that Goose is included so that we don’t have to look forward to another “Goose December”.

The System

Speaking of the BWAA - why are these guys the sole selectors of who belongs in the Hall? Most never played the game or not at a high level. Once players are rejected and no longer for election via the conventional way, they can still be elected by the Veterans Committee. At that point, former players have an impact on what players are elected/bypassed. Why not combine the two committees right away? You’d have a better mix of players/writers that have covered/watched the eligible players. You’d also have less of a chance of the writer’s shutting out a player because they don’t like the way that player dealt with them (e.g. Jim Rice). I’d also like to see the “friendly” vote stop. More precisely, writer Joe Blow stops giving a Hall vote to some garbage player just so they can say they received a Hall vote. To me, that’s just watering down the whole process (the Hall itself has become watered down, but that’s a whole other story). If only those deserving get in, then only those deserving should get a vote.

Belated Happy New Year!

On New Years Eve, I thought back to December 31st, 1974. Went to the movies with a bunch of relatives to see Freebie and the Bean (imdb.com link). When we came out it was snowing and was nearing Midnight. We had the news on the radio (my Dad can never get enough news) coming home, when they announced that the Yankees had signed free agent pitcher Catfish Hunter to a contract.

What an awesome feeling. The Yankees had pretty been the dregs of the American League for most of my childhood, but some guy named George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973 and promised to turn things around. Signing Catfish was the first step in that process.

Though he only had one really big year statistically (25 wins in 1975) as a member of the Bombers, he was a big game pitcher, a winner that had a great influence on young pitchers like Ron Guidry. Catfish’s arm was pretty much shot for most of his Yankees career after ’75, but he went 6-1 down the stretch in 1978 as the Yankees rallied back against Boston. If I had to select one guy to pitch a game with everything on the line, I’d have no problem selecting a healthy Catfish Hunter. May he rest in peace.