We have reached a crossroads, and there is a lot going on:
Slightly past the first half, and the Senators cling to a slim lead over the Cubs (I will be encouraging Chuck to change his team moniker to Padres or Angels, more on that later), and resurgent Reds, and the self-flagellant Skipjacks, who seem intent on using reverse psychology with the baseball gods to jumpstart their squad after a hot start and cool June. I agree with E----the race is still pretty wide open, altho if you really believe the Tigers and Blues have a realistic chance at in-the-money finishes, you probably also believe that Pete didn't bet baseball . . .Still, no team is without weaknesses, and as always, the outcome will be highly dependent on which team can catch a hot pitcher down the stretch, and avoid serious injuries to key players (and, remember to buy low, sell high, and never draw to an inside straight) . . .
In the interest of academic honesty, and journalistic integrity, I will review some comments made in my maiden FTB voyage.
The April 22 FTB noted some anomalous early season point relationships, and argued that reversion to the mean would remedy the discrepancies over the course of the season:
2B---Jiminez (2nd, 99 points) versus Kent (10th, 63)
CF---Bradley (5th, 77 points) versus Berkman (24th, 32)
C----Mayne (4th, 80 points) versus Piazza (27th, 31)
SS--Alex "Other Alex" Gonzalez (2nd, 93 points) versus Tejada (22nd, 37)
RF--Mondesi (6th, 80 points) versus (Abreu, 19th, 47, and Dye, 27th, 33)
Update---Jeff Kent has rallied to a 295-235 lead over Jiminez; Berkman leads Bradley, 348 to 320 (but Bradley seems to be solidfying himself as pretty productive player); Brett Mayne still leads Piazza, 179 to 146, but has played twice as many games (62 to 32) to maintain a 30 point lead; in an upset, Other Alex Gonzalex still leads Tejada, 302-293, but Tejada should still comfortably win there (it was 93-37 on 4/22/03), and Abreu has surpassed Mondesi, 328-282, beating Mondesi by 79 points over the past 85 days.
Regarding the 'Hoos staff, I said: "Wahoos---love my sticks, but the pitchers are a Lake Wobegone staff---they are all slightly above average (ex Schilling)--which is a problem, because it leads to trying to play the dreaded shall game, which as well all know, is about as productive as deciding to room with Chuck and split groceries 50/50. The 'Hoos need 3 pitchers to separate from the pack, then let their hitters mash taters like Aunt Jemima on crack." Unfortunately, there has been no pack separation----the 'Hoos pitchers have been both indistinguishable, and worse, no better than average, and currently are packed together like so many mediocre sardines in the pitchers' standings: Colon #36 212 points, Wakefield #37 208, Clement #43 195, Penny #49 182, Peavy #50 180, Schilling #52 179, Seo # 56 177, and Jennings #60 163. Assuming the average team plays 5 starting pitchers, each team should have 5 in the top 60. The 'Hoos have 8. The problem is twofold----the 'Hoos have no pig-in-a-poke April free agent studs (Loaiza, Chacon, et al), and Schilling needs to be a top 3, not a top #52. We are praying for reversion to the mean to happen NOW in 'Hoo land.
Still, I bet E that his diss of Jason Jennings in favor of Seo would be a bust . . ." A nice roster, well-drafted, now, if the Skip can just resist a tendency to over-manage (dropping Jason Jennings . . .for Jae Wong Who? Side bet---Jennings ends up 2003 with 3 more wins than J-W-S). " Jennings has outwinned Seo 7 to 2 since, and leads 9 to 5, but the irony is the 'Hoos picked up both, and neither are likely to finish in the top 10 NL Cy Young voting . . .
I had the Redbird's hapless offense pegged pretty well: "Offense goes down faster than Monica Lewinsky once you get past D. Lee in round 12. If it really is all about hitting, the Red-Birds best hope Milton Gameboy keeps up his Berkman (1999-2002) pace. If it is all about pitching, the RBs could win it all, and instead an asterisk, I'd put 3 standard deviation signs next to his name on the plate, because it'd be a 1 in 100 outcome." Sure enough, the RBs are dead last in offense. They came calling in May, offering Bartolo Colon-oscopy for Jim Thome. I had excess hitting (still do) and was interested in adding a quality hurler to a staff lacking star power. That trade has been one of the 'Hoos worst in memory to this point, with Thome cranking 11 jacks and 155 points (4.2 ppg, versus 4.0 for the full season to date), while Colon has won exactly ONE of his eight 'Hoos starts (1-4), clunking along at 8 ppg, after doing 14 ppg for the 'Birds (who must have fed him better). Has to be one of the worst 8 game stretches in his young career, and RTM should kick in and provide a better second half. I'd still do that trade in a heartbeat . . .
Enough of the rear view mirror.
I am not bitter that E snapped up the 'Hoos 2002 1st and 2nd picks----the Helton-Pujols connection. For a guy who talks about hitting being everything, Schilling was a pretty dumb pick. I should have gone Helton - Pujols (Berkman in center seemed savvy at the time, but his slow start doomed that dubious logic)-----Helton Pujols are on pace for 1,000 points each--that would be an HSL first (there! I said it----insuring that it WILL NOT HAPPEN), and those 2 picks lead the 'Hoos Schilling Berkman insanity by a mere 500 points, which is a lot to give up halfway into the season after the first 2 rounds.
Still---re Helton----he is my fave current player, and the swing he put on his All Star jack did nothing to disabuse me of the notion that he is the best pure hitter in baseball at present. Sweetness.
Along the lines of fave players, I'd offer my all time list (in no particular order):
1) Ted Williams--never saw him play, but the best hitter that ever lived, and my dad named me after him, so that works. The cool thing is that while he was blessed with talent, he probably worked harder at 1) improving his hitting mechanics, and 2) knowing the pitchers, than any player before or since. The gold standard. Pretty witty guy two, and a real renaissance guy---excellent fisherman, and Senator John what-his-name from Ohio thought he may have been the best fighter pilot in the Navy during the Korean conflict. Personifies the number, and best EVER to wear it: 9.
2) Todd Helton---pure hitter, lefty, Tennessee quarterback, and the consummate professional. Goes about his business, never shows up opponents. Lock Hall of Famer, pure enjoyment to watch swing a bat. Would be better as a number 4, 7, or 8, but 17 is ok.
3) George Brett---fell in love with him as a kid watching him hit in Rosenblatt. Power to all fields, line drives everywhere, hustled, but without the Pete Rose crap. Same number as position: 5.
4) Nomar Garciaparra---better shortstop than anyone except A-Rod. The next tragic Red Sox hero, sure HOF, and only has 15 more years to break the curse and ascend into the Sox pantheon with Ruth and Williams. Athletic. Lacks a bit of plate discipline, but no one is perfect. Brett-esque number, but totally different player: 5.
5) Dwight Evans---another pro's pro. Elegant. Ripken-esque in his fascination with coming up with 50 or 60 different stances in a season, and still being able to hit well in all of them. Got better as he aged. Terrific defender, clutch hitter, outstanding plate discipline. Failed to convince John McNamara to sub Stapleton for Buckner in Game 6 of the '86 series. Along with Ron Santo and Darrell Evans, a guy who should be in the HOF. Classic RF number: 24.
6) Wahoo Sam Crawford---not quite old enough to see him play, but a terrific hitter, speedy, good defender, and probably the best all around ball player to come from Nebraska (edging Bob Cerv, Tim Burke, Jeff Hunter, and Zane Smith) . . .beat out Bob Gibson, because Gibson was a pitcher. And it is all about hitting. Played before numbers, but he would have been either #4 or #21.
7) Edgar Martinez. Best pure right handed hitter of our generation. Insanely, the M's were slow to bring him up, citing lack of defensive skills (huh?). Clutch. Patient. Power. Average. If he is not in the HOF, I will personally go to Cooperstown and set things right. #11. As in, he is such a good hitter, he gets TWO sticks on the back of his jersey.
There are more, but I'd offer up these three as some of my best future faves: Albert Pujols (and not because of his defense), Darin Erstad (not the best, but the hardest working), and Mark Teixeira.
Yours are as good as mine. I have no clue who will win the HSL, and to offer a prediction would be like guessing where the stock market will be on Oct 1.
The home field thing is a joke (but it is consistent with Selig's reign). Give it to the team with the best reg season record that makes the Series. Helton's home run was gorgeous (did I say that already???). The outcry surrounding Randall Simon is absurd---the guy was just playing around. Dusty Baker's (I love him) comments regarding the performance of different races in different climates were puzzling at best. I wonder how long a white manager would remain employed if he said something along the same lines. I was not offended, but was a bit surprised that the media sort of gave Dusty a free pass. The Home Run hitting thing is more fun than the game. The performances were unbelievable; Pujols and Giambi were amazing. They should, however, bag the semi-final thing, and take the top 2 of the semi-final 4.
Visit www.sandlotsticks.com to see some of the most beautiful wood bats made. Chris Corso is a cool guy, and he is battling MLB's ridiculous bat manufacturing restraint of trade rules and regs. I got several of his bats for the Cardinals this summer, and they look good, and hit better than any wood bat (which means ANY bat) I have ever swung. Rock maple rocks.
Get Moneyball, and read it. It is maybe the best book I've read on baseball. Nice to know the A's have adopted the 'Hoos blueprint for success----draft HITTERS that mash and walk. Don't waste large amounts of money on pitchers, because they are far more unpredictable than hitters. There is a harmonic convergence between wall street and baseball. Three teams in MLB get it (A's, Red Sox, Jays). There is still a lot of luck involved, but look for those 3 teams to have a lot of success over the next decade, REGARDLESS of money spent on players. I guarantee you will love this book.
Cards finished 5th in USSSA 14-under state, played last weekend at gorgeous Sandlot park. We lost 9-7 to the Gladiators, whom we had beaten 3 times (no losses) during the reg season. They went on to win state, which made our loss that much more bitter. One throwing error in the second inning ended up costing us 4 runs. We had a runner on second with a run in, and our #3 hitter up in the 7th, and he ripped one, but out, to the warning track in left. Despite the tough end at state, it was a great season. All our kids improved, some remarkably. And all of them had fun. Some are done with competitive baseball, some will try to play in high school; 3 or 4 have a chance to be VERY good high school players, and I think two have a realistic shot to play in college. I am REALLY going to miss being on a field from March thru July next summer. The beauty of the game is contained in its simplest aspects---the leisurely pace of an hour pre-game warm-up, the ups and downs of every game, the satisfaction of playing well. . .the ball squared up and ripped to the gap, the improbable catch in center field, a perfectly executed hit and run, an impromptu pre-game game of pepper in the outfield. The feel of pine tar on a bat handle, calluses hardening over a season, the sweet sound of hard wood perfectly placed against the ball. The sense of accomplishment of finally beating a tough opponent, the disappointment of a season-ending loss. Seeing players work to improve, improve beyond expectations, and enjoy the game both because it is inherently so difficult to play well, and yet so fun to play at all at any level. It is a metaphor for life on so many levels, and yet it is so simple, so elegant, so beautiful. We are fortunate and blessed to be able to play it when and where we want, and for those with kids that play, enjoy every pitch, savor every at bat, celebrate every inning and every accomplishment, because they are all incredibly beautiful, and incredibly precious.
I have found that if you spend a lot of time with kids learning to play, you become more accepting of your own shortcomings, and the shortcomings of MLB players. They disappoint when they don't perform, but the sheer challenge of the game (and life), at any level, leads me to, over time, want to celebrate the small victories far more than complain about what did not go right. I can really resonate to the southwest corner inscription at Memorial Stadium----it is not the victory (altho that is nice), but the action. . . in the deed, the glory.
Best of luck in the second half. WHW TB
THRU JULY 13, 2003
Top Hitting Team: Senators, 3654.5
Worst Hitting Team: Redbirds, 3113.0
Top Pitching Team: Skipjacks, 2309.0
Worst Pitching Team: Wahoos, 1484.0
Week MVP of the Year: Todd Helton, 499.5
Cy Young of the Year: John Smoltz, 394.0
through Week 15
WHO'S HOT LAST THREE WEEKS
through Week 15
WHO'S HOT LAST THREE WEEKS
I was watching a Braves-Mets game the other day at the health club, and caught the match-up between Russ Ortiz and Jeromy Burnitz. Ortiz set Burnitz up by going outside, inside, outside, and just when Burnitz thought that Ortiz was going to sneak an inside fastball past him, Ortiz threw him a nasty curve ball which Burnitz chased to a point about three feet off of the outside part of the plate, making him look like a complete idiot (so what else is new). The best part was that Ortiz then turned around so that he wouldn't show Burnitz up and cracked a muttley-type smile (reminding one of Snickler after sandbagging poor old E in a game of Hearts). Cracked me up.
Has anyone else noticed that Russ Ortiz bears a remarkable resemblance to Ray Ramano, the star of Everyone Loves Raymond? Or that Burnitz, with his Marine cut and linebacker eyes, looks like a Cyborg. Yeah, I can see why the doctors wanted him.
It's getting tougher an tougher to pick up any deals in the Free Agent draft. Last week I put in for Jeriome Robertson, Marlon Byrd, Darrell May, and Justin Speier, only to have all of them snapped up by the competition. At least I got the consolation prize, Jolbert Cabrera and Desi (Loooooo-ceeeeeee!) Relaford. What a bargain.
I don't know how many of you saw the All-Star game on Tuesday night, but it was a classic. Just when it looked like the National League had the game in hand and were going to gain the home field advantage for the World Series, rookie Hank Blalock steps up to the plate against Senator stopper Eric Gagne and blasts Gagne's best stuff over the center field fence to power the junior circuit to victory. A fantastic finish, although I fully expect Gagne's confidence to be shattered and his wheels to come crashing off for the balance of the season as the Senators' closer. Why wouldn't he follow suit with every other Senator closer in recent history.
Did anyone see Bonds' nice quote about not wanting to overtake Hank Aaron on the All-Time Homerun List, but being content to own the Sultan of Swat? Here's what he said:
"Babe Ruth's numbers are the only numbers I care about," Bonds said. "As a left-handed hitter, I've wiped him out. To the baseball world, Babe Ruth is baseball. I've got his slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks. And I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about it anymore."
What a great guy. It's hard to imagine why this guy isn't universally adored.
I loved the recent article on Rickey Henderson after he was picked up by the Dodgers for the rest of the season. The guy has been playing his guts out for the Newark Bears for one more chance to play major league baseball. Here's my favorite excerpt:
Henderson is part physical marvel, part baseball sage, part peacock and part stand-up comedian. He mangles names and spouts malapropos with the best of them.
Told Newark had a sellout crowd of 6100 for Opening Day this year, Henderson's reaction was, "Everybody loves Rickey."
Love that third person.
In the "Same Time, Last Year" department, through 15 weeks of last year the Skipjacks were leading the league with 5533.0, followed by the Cubs* with 5421.0, the Reds with 5356.0, and the Senators were a distant 4th with 5075.5. The Redbirds trailed the field with 4504.0 at this time last year.
If any of you are despairing over your position in this year's standings to date, or over your lot in life in general, I offer hope. Looking back at 1998, that magical season of the Blues, through 15 weeks of that season the Senators were in 1st place with 5461, followed by the Bronx Bombers with 5361, followed by the Blues with 5263. The 12th place Pirates were way back at that point of that season with 4237 points. In the end, however, the Blues won the whole enchilada with 9787, almost 700 points ahead of the 2nd-place Chiefs and more than 700 points over the 3rd place Senators, who finished with 9083. The point? The Blues scored enough points in the last 13 weeks of the season to not only make up the 200-point gap between 1st place and 3rd place in Week 15, but enough to win this league by a whopping 700 points. This means that even the lowly Tigers, and the almost-as-lowly Blues could potentially make up enough ground during the last 13 weeks of this season to overtake all other comers and win this thing outright in 2003. In other words, nobody's out of this thing yet.
That's it. Have a great weekend. Skipper
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