Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Puerto Rico's All-Time Baseball Team

The Mets lost to the Florida Marlins last night, to start a 3-game series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Hiram Bithorn is believed to be the first native of Puerto Rico to play in the major leagues. He pitched for both Chicago teams, starting with the Cubs in 1942 and '43, then going off to World War II, returning to the Cubs in '46 (missing their appearance in the '45 World Series), and pitching with the White Sox in '47. Trying a comeback in the Mexican League, he was shot and killed by a police officer in 1951. The cop went to prison for it. Bithorn was only 34 years old.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium was built in 1962, seats 18,000, and is home to the Santurce Crabbers, hometown team of Roberto Clemente, and formerly the San Juan Senators. It hosted a special, one-off, Opening Day game in 2001, with the Toronto Blue Jays beating the Texas Rangers, 8-1. And in their last 2 seasons, 2003 and 2004, the Montreal Expos played a few "home" games at Bithorn, meaning that, at that point, they were being ignored in 3 languages: English, French and Spanish. It's also hosted World Baseball Classic games in 2006 and 2009.

An indoor arena, Roberto Clemente Coliseum, is next-door. Clemente's Number 21, Ruben Gomez's Number 22, and Orlando Cepeda's Number 30 are on Bithorn Stadium's outfield wall, not so much "retired" (as so many Hispanic players still want to wear Clemente's 21) as placed in a mini-Hall of Fame.
Puerto Rico's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Orlando Cepeda of Ponce. Hall of Fame, Number 30 retired by San Francisco Giants. Honorable Mention to Victor Pellot, a.k.a. Vic Power, of Arecibo, Willie Montanez of Catano and Carlos Delgado of Aguadilla.

2B Roberto Alomar of Salinas. He is now eligible for the Hall of Fame, but is not in. The Toronto Blue Jays have not retired his Number 12, but have placed him in their "Level of Excellence" at the Rogers Centre. Honorable Mention to Felix Mantilla of Isabela, Felix Millan, Carlos Baerga, Jose Vidro and Joey Cora.

SS Jose Oquendo. Honorable Mention to Sandy Alomar Sr., Jose Valentin, Rey Sanchez and Alex Cora.

3B Jose Hernandez. I was thinking Aurelio Rodriguez, but he was Mexican. Honorable Mention to Mike Lowell, Hispanic on his mother's side.

LF Jose Cruz Sr. Number 25 retired by the Houston Astros. Honorable Mention to Luis Olmo, who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers shortly after Bithorn's arrival in the majors, batted .313 and led the National League in triples in 1945, and in 1949 became the first Puerto Rican to play in the World Series.

CF Bernie Williams. Number 51 not yet retired by the Yankees, but not awarded to anyone else, either. You were expecting me to name Carlos Beltran? Honorable Mention to Juan Beniquez and Jose Cruz Jr.

RF Roberto Clemente. Hall of Fame, Number 21 retired by Pittsburgh Pirates, statue outside PNC Park (before that, it was outside Three Rivers Stadium). Steroid-user Juan Gonzalez is ineligible, and wasn't better than Roberto, anyway. And then there was Ruben Sierra, but I'm not sure I can label him "Honorable Mention," either. I can give that label to Danny Tartabull, although his father, Jose Tartabull, was born in Cuba and is thus ineligible for this team.

C Jorge Posada. Although, like his former Yankee teammate Danny Tartabull, his parents are Cuban exiles. Ozzie Virgil Jr. was born in Puerto Rico, but Ozzie Sr. is Dominican, and both spent their formative years in the U.S. Honorable Mention to Benito Santiago, Sandy Alomar Jr. of Salinas, and Javy Lopez, and to Benjie, Jose and Yadier Molina of Bayamon. Steroid-user Ivan Rodriguez is ineligible.

SP Juan Pizarro

SP Rogelio "Roger" Moret

SP Ed Figueroa

SP Jaime Novarro

SP Javier Vazquez.
Believe it or not, he has now passed Pizarro to become the winningest career pitcher born on the island. Honorable Mention to Jose Santiago, Ruben Gomez, Ricky Bones and Joel Piniero.

RP Luis Arroyo. Honorable Mention to Willie Hernandez and Roberto Hernandez.

Seattle's All-Time Baseball Team

The Yankees come home to begin a 3-game series with the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners' "territory" includes the entire States of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. If I find a player from western Montana good enough to make the Seattle team, I could assign him there instead of to the Colorado Rockies, whenever it is that I do theirs. But British Columbia, even though downtown Vancouver is less than 150 miles from Safeco and Qwest Fields and the Key Arena, is in Canada and is thus included in the Toronto Blue Jays' territory, and thus players from that Province are ineligible.

Seattle's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Harmon Killebrew of Payette, Idaho. Of the 26 big-leaguers to have been born in that State, most of the good ones have been pitchers, like Vernon Law, Ken Dayley and Jason Schmidt.

But "the Killer" -- he's always been a nice guy to teammates, opponents and fans, just not to fastballs -- hit 573 home runs, more than any American League righthander, and helped the Minnesota Twins to their 1st 3 postseason berths (1965 World Series, '69 and '70 ALCS, although they lost them all). They have retired his Number 3. His .256 lifetime batting average is the 2nd-lowest for any nonpitcher in the Hall of Fame, but his career OPS+ is an astounding 143. He had 8 40-homer seasons (in a pitcher's era), 6 times led the AL in home runs, and 9 times had 100 or more RBIs in a season (leading the AL 3 times). He hit more home runs in the 1960s than any player, more than Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson.

While his home park, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, is long gone, replaced by the Mall of America, a street name on the site remains: Killebrew Drive.

Honorable Mention to John Olerud of Bellevue, Washington. He survived a brain aneurysm in college (which is why he always wore a helmet, even in the field) to become a tremendous hitter (.363 for the AL batting title in 1993) and fielder for the 1992 and '93 World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. Also played in the postseason for the Mets (1999), his home-State Mariners (2000 & '01), the Yankees (2004) and the Red Sox (2005). Career OPS+ of 128, 2,239 hits, 255 home runs, 4 100 RBI seasons and 3 Gold Gloves.

Also, Honorable Mention to Jack Fournier, who had a .313 lifetime batting average and a 142 OPS+, and turned into quite the power hitter with the 1920s Brooklyn Dodgers, but who was traded away by the Chicago White Sox for... first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil of 1919 "Black Sox" infamy.

And to Earl Torgeson of Snohomish, who helped the 1948 Boston Braves and 1959 White Sox to rare Pennants for those franchises. And to Lyle Overbay of Centralia, a good hitter against most teams, and usually a very good one against the Yankees. And to Richie Sexson of Brush Prairie, who I'd like to make the left fielder on this team, but he didn't play there enough. And to John Jaha of Portland, Oregon. And... to Ken Phelps, who also came from Seattle and played for the Mariners, and who had a higher career OPS+ than the man the Yankees traded for him, Jay Buhner.

2B Ryne Sandberg of Spokane. There was a time when Spokane was home to 3 extraordinary athletes, who played against each other in the 3 major high school sports, and all achieved greatness in different big-league sports: Sandberg in baseball, Mark Rypien in football, and John Stockton in basketball.

Contrary to popular belief, the Philadelphia Phillies trading Sandberg and Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan DeJesus was not a dumb deal, as, during the rest of Sandberg's career, the Cubs never won a Pennant, while the Phillies won 2 (including '83 with DeJesus). But Sandberg was the 1984 NL Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star, an 8-time Gold Glove winner, and hit 282 home runs, nearly all of them as a second baseman, no mean feat even at Wrigley Field. (Remember, half the time, the wind is blowing in.)

Hall of Fame, Number 23 retired. His nephew Jared Sandberg briefly played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Honorable Mention to Harold Reynolds of Corvallis, Oregon, and to Wally Backman of Beaverton, Oregon.

SS Johnny Pesky of Portland, Oregon. Longtime Boston Red Sox shortstop, should be remembered as a really good, hustling player, and not for one mistake (which isn't even all that clear on the film) in the 1946 World Series. Longtime Sox coach and scout, his Number 6 has been retired by the team.

3B Ron Santo of Seattle. He was a 9-time All-Star, won 5 Gold Gloves (probably would have won more if it weren't for Ken Boyer), had a career OPS+ of 125, and hit 342 home runs at a time when the only 3rd baseman with more was Eddie Matthews. All this with diabetes and a team that never won. Like Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn and Herb Score, he's gone from being one of his club's most beloved players to its beloved broadcaster, but he still hasn't been let into the Hall of Fame. That is a disgrace. (UPDATE: He has now.)

Honorable Mention to Ron Cey of Tacoma, who hit more home runs as a Los Angeles Dodger than anyone until Eric Karros (though Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella hit more for Brooklyn), won 4 Pennants and a World Championship, and also played third for the Cubs. And also to Scott Brosius of Milwaukie, Oregon, for his 4 Pennant-winning (3 World Series wins) seasons with the Yankees including big postseason home runs in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

LF Jeff Heath of Garfield. Though born in Canada, he was a Washington Stater, and an All-Star with the 1940s Cleveland Indians. He reached his only World Series with the 1948 Braves. Honorable Mention to LF Carson Bigbee of Waterloo, Oregon, who hit .323 and .350 in back-to-back seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a member of their 1925 World Champions.

CF Earl Averill of Snohomish. The Cleveland Indians retired the Number 3 of this Hall-of-Famer, one of the top hitters of the hitting-happy 1930s, but the only Pennant he won came with the Detroit Tigers in 1940. He played in the first 6 All-Star Games, including the 1935 Game at his home park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

His lifetime batting average was .318, his career OPS+ a fabulous 133, and despite not reaching the major leagues until the age of 27 -- like a lot of West Coast stars, he could then make more money in the Pacific Coast League, and starred for the San Francisco Seals -- hit 238 home runs. That doesn't sound like much now, even with his late big-league start, but at the time he retired in 1941, it was good for 14th all-time; today, Averill is 220th, and 14th place on the list is held by Manny Ramirez with a steroid-aided 554. Earl's son, Earl Averill Jr., also played for the Indians, and was one of the first stars of the Angels when they entered the American League (as the "Los Angeles Angels") in 1961.

Honorable Mention to Grady Sizemore of Everett, another Indians star at the position. And to Brian Hunter of Vancouver (Washington, not British Columbia) and Jacoby Ellsbury of Madras, Oregon. And to Dale Murphy of Portland, Oregon -- he did play a bit of right field, but I can't move him over.

RF Roy Johnson of Tacoma. Best of a weak field, he was a good hitter for the Tigers and Red Sox in the 1930s, and played for the Yankees in the 1936 World Series.

Honorable Mention, sort of, to Steve Whitaker of Tacoma. His career totals of 24 home runs and 85 RBIs should be a good season for a player who makes a team like this. The most notable things about him are that he tried to succeed Mickey Mantle as the Yankee center fielder, and that he became the 1st native of Washington State to play for a big-league team in that State, the 1969 Seattle Pilots, a team best known for being the subject, sort of, of pitcher Jim Bouton's "diary," Ball Four.

The team was so bad (How bad was it?), it went 64-98 and probably not even that good, and its owners lost so much money, it was moved after 1 season to become the Milwaukee Brewers. Thus the Pilots' moment in the majors was so brief, Ball Four feels more like a novel, a roman a clef of how ridiculous baseball and its establishment could be in that period, than a true story. Smoke him inside. Is it possible to drown yourself under a shower head? Steve, don't you need a little trim? Yeah, surrrre.

Utility Player: Steve Lyons, born in Tacoma, Washington, grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, so he counts. He played every position, including all 9 in one game (I think there's 3 others who've done that).

Not a great player -- his career highs were a .280 batting average, 5 homers and 50 RBIs, and no 2 of those in the same season -- and he never played in a postseason. In fact, in 1992, he played for both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves, but both got rid of him before that year's World Series in which they opposed each other, and he ended up on the Montreal Expos. He both began (1985) and ended (1993) his career with the Boston Red Sox -- and people wonder why he's nicknamed "Psycho."

He went on to become a good broadcaster, although a controversial one. He's the Jimmy Piersall of his generation, and you can interpret that any way you want, although Jimmy was an excellent fielder in his day.

C Scott Hatteberg of Yakima. Not an especially good player, but a steady catcher and occasionally good hitter for the 1990s Red Sox and 2000s Athletics, and the other choices for a Washington State-born catcher are slim.

SP Sylveanus "Vean" Gregg of Clarkston. Reached the major leagues with the Indians in 1911 -- good timing, as their ace Addie Joss had just died of meningitis -- and won 63 games in his first 3 seasons. But he burned himself out, and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1914. That turned out to be good timing as well, as he helped them win the 1915 and '16 World Series.

SP Fred Hutchinson of Seattle. Starred with his hometown Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, then was a teammate of Averill's on the 1940 AL Champion Tigers. Went into the service in World War II and, unlike Hank Greenberg, did not return in time to help them win the 1945 World Series. But did manage to win 77 games in his first 5 seasons back from the War.

Also the manager of this team, having led the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 NL Pennant, and nearly won another in 1964 but had to leave the team late due to the cancer that would soon take his life. One of baseball's community-service awards, the Hutch Award, is named in his honor, and the Reds made his Number 1 the first they ever retired.

SP Mel Stottlemyre of Mabton. Born in Missouri, but almost a lifelong resident of the Evergeen State. Won 164 games for the Yankees, including 20 on 3 occasions and 2 in the 1964 World Series, before a rotator cuff injury ended his career at age 32. Went on to become one of baseball's greatest pitching coaches, first for the 1980s Mets, then for the 1996-2003 Yankee dynasty.

Has also spent two stints as a roving pitching instructor with his home-State Mariners. There must be something about Washington State that produces good pitching coaches, because it's also produced Mel's sons Todd and Mel Jr., Brad Arnsberg and Tom House (who, as a Braves reliever, was in the bullpen at Fulton County Stadium and caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball).

SP Mickey Lolich of Portland, Oregon. Won 17 games for the 1968 Detroit Tigers, plus Games 2, 5 and 7 of the World Series. Won 47 games in 1971 and '72, getting the Tigers back to the postseason. Unfortunately, he became the subject of one of those really dumb Met trades, when the Mets got him after the 1975 season for a still-in-his-prime Rusty Staub, who was great in Detroit before going to the Texas Rangers and back to the Mets; while Lolich was pretty much done. 

Nevertheless, won 217 games in his career, and at the time he retired, his 2,832 career strikeouts were tops all-time among lefthanders.

SP Tim Lincecum of Renton. "The Freak" looks like he's still in high school, but he sure doesn't pitch like it. The San Francisco Giant starter has, as of right now, these career major league stats: 48 wins, only 20 losses, an ERA of 2.93, an ERA+ of a whopping 150, a WHIP of 1.166, 793 strikeouts, and a strikeouts per innings pitched of 10.5. He's won the last 2 NL Cy Young Awards. And he just turned 26, so he should have, barring a medical or ethical calamity, at least a dozen good years left. 

Put it this way: Baseball-Reference.com already has him, on its "Hall of Fame Monitor," at 38, with a "Likely HOFer" at 100; and on its "Hall of Fame Standards" at 32, with an "Average HOFer" at 50. He should be on his way. All he needs now is a good team behind him.

Among starting pitchers, Honorable Mention to Larry Jansen of Forest Grove, who won 23 games including the Bobby Thomson Game for the New York Giants in 1951, and was also on their 1954 World Championship team. To Larry Christenson of Marysville, a star for the Phillies' near-dynasty of 1976-80. And to Bruce Kison of Pasco, who won 115 games, most of them for the Pirates, including 13 in their 1979 World Championship season. And to Adam Eaton of Snohomish, who played on the San Diego Padres' 2005 NL West Champions and the Philadelphia Phillies' 2008 World Champions, but is now a free agent and hasn't pitched this season.

RP Randy Myers of Evergreen. Appeared in only 10 games for the 1986 Mets, and didn't get into the World Series, but after the trade of Jesse Orosco, he became their closer, and nearly won a Pennant with them in 1988. After the 1989 season, the Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds, and he joined with Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton to form the "Nasty Boys" bullpen, pulling off upset wins for the NL West, the Pennant, and a sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

Also appeared in the postseason with the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 and '97, under his former Met manager Davey Johnson. He gave up Bernie Williams' walkoff home run in Game 1 of the '96 ALCS, but, lucky for him, that game is remembered for another home run, Derek Jeter's game-tying blast that is remembered for the fan who almost caught it, Jeffrey Maier. Won another Pennant with the Padres in 1998, but again lost to the Yankees, and then rotator cuff surgery ended his career.

A 4-time All-Star, his 347 saves were 5th on the all-time list at the time he retired -- he's now 9th, having fallen behind Trevor Hoffman, his teammate on the '98 Padres; Mariano Rivera, his opponent on the '96 and '98 Yankees; and John Franco, whom the Mets got for him, so it wasn't a typically boneheaded Met trade.

Honorable Mention to Steve Olin of Beaverton, Oregon. In 1992, pitching for a terrible Cleveland Indians team, he went 8-5 with 29 saves, a 2.34 ERA and a 1.211 WHIP. He had 48 career saves and an ERA+ of 129, and he was only 27 years old at the close of that season.

The following spring, he was killed with teammate Tim Crews (and teammate Bob Ojeda was nearly killed as well) in a boating accident on an off-day during spring training. We'll never know how good he could have been, but his death may have stopped the Indians from winning the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and from at least getting into it in 1996 and 1998. Seriously, who would you rather have as your closer: The 1992 Steve Olin or the 1997 Jose Mesa?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yanks Don't Give Torre a Break, But We Should

Colin Curtis? Chad Huffman? Unless you read blogs about the Yankee farm system, or live near one of their farm teams, chances are you never heard of them before last night.

But they were a big part of the Yanks' 4-run rally in the top of the 9th at Walter O'Malley's Temple of Greed last night. Trailing the Dodgers 6-2, the Yanks got 4 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks, tied the game, and then won it in the 10th on a home run by Robinson Cannon. Excuse me, Cano.

Alex Rodriguez provided the first 2 Yankee runs with his 594th career home run, and the Yankees beat the Joe Torre-managed Bums.

The Yanks scored those 4 runs off Jonathan Broxton, who might have been the best closer in the National League up to that point. But Torre, who never had to find out before this series, found out the difference between having Mariano Rivera as your closer... and having Mariano Rivera as the opposing closer while you try to close a game with another pitcher.

There are people who are now questioning why anyone ever thought Joe Torre was a good manager. After all, what has he won away from the Yankees?

Well, let's see: The 1982 NL West title with a Braves team that was not as good as the Dodgers of that period; and the 2008 and 2009 NL West titles with a Dodger team that was the best team in a weak division, and all 3 of those teams advanced to the NLCS (although the '82 Braves did not have to face a Division Series).

That's a better record away from the Yankees than the great Casey Stengel had. Or, as Warren Spahn of the 1942 Boston Braves and the 1965 New York Mets said, "I'm the only guy who played for Casey both before and after he was a genius."

Like Stengel, Joe Torre was made into a great manager by having the Yankees to manage. But where would those teams have been without them? Does anybody seriously think that keeping Buck Showalter would have begun the Yankees' 1996-2003 era of greatness? Does anyone think Davey Johnson or Bobby Valentine would have done any better?

It's been said that Joe Torre doesn't know how to manage a bullpen. I don't recall anybody making that argument when his pen was David Weathers, Graeme Lloyd, Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera leading to John Wetteland. I don't recall anybody making that argument when his pen was Nelson and Mike Stanton leading to Rivera.

The most important person in the Yankees' 1996-2003 era of greatness was Joe Torre. Without him:

* Derek Jeter probably doesn't become the regular shortstop in 1996. He might still have become a star, but instead of becoming DEREK JETER, he might have become what Nomar Garciaparra became: A talented underachiever.

* Andy Pettitte becomes another in a long line of post-1978 Yankee starters who don't make it. Where have you gone, Dennis Rasmussen? Clay Parker? Chuck Cary? Sam Militello?

* Bernie Williams becomes the batting equivalent of the same. Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni. Dan Pasqua. Hensley "Bam-Bam" Meulens. Kevin "No" Maas. Roberto Kelly. And the recently deceased Oscar Azocar.

* Paul O'Neill is remembered as a hothead who somehow managed to ride the coattails of Barry Larkin and Jose Rijo to a ring in Cincinnati... and who "punted" a bobbled ball back to the infield.

* Wade Boggs, Tim Raines and Cecil Fielder all retire without having won a World Series. (I almost included Chili Davis, but I forgot he was with the 1991 Minnesota Twins, as was Chuck Knoblauch.)

* And Mariano Rivera becomes a pitcher the Yankees don't know what to do with, and is inevitably traded to a team that does figure him out. Maybe he doesn't become the greatest relief pitcher ever -- or, at least, the greatest 9th-inning man ever -- but he still becomes one of those guys you always regret trading, unless, of course, you don't trade him.

Instead, the Yankees did not trade Rivera, and he became the 2nd-most important person in the dynasty. Jeter, a distant 3rd. With Jeter, but without Rivera, the Yankees do not win the Division in 1996, lose the ALCS in '98, lose the ALCS in '99, don't make the Playoffs in 2000, lose the Division Series in '01, and lose the ALCS in '03.

Mariano Rivera is the difference between the 1996-2003 Yankees being the 1996-2003 Yankees... and being the 2006-present Mets. He's also the difference between Joe Torre being a manager who is going to the Hall of Fame after he retires, and being a pretty good ballplayer and slightly less than that as a manager, who will only be getting into the Hall of Fame by buying a ticket.

And Joe Torre is the difference between Mariano being The Closer, and being just another pitcher who didn't make it in Pinstripes.

It is true that Joe Torre used mediocre relievers such as Paul Quantrill, Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth too many times. It is also true that he didn't have better options, and blame for that must be laid at the feet of the House of Steinbrenner: George, Hank, Hal and "surrogate son" Brian Cashman.

There are people who complain that Torre falls asleep in the dugout. Funny, they said the same thing about Stengel.

Nobody ever accused Davey Johnson of falling asleep in the dugout. Yet, if not for John McNamara using Calvin Schiraldi and Bill Buckner too long, Davey would be the man who managed all that talent on the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers, and never won a World Series -- and remove that one fat pitch Dave Smith gave to Lenny Dykstra, and Johnson never even wins a Pennant.

It is interesting to note (as Vin Scully, the 60-year voice of Torre's current team, would say) that some people now harp on the Pennants Torre failed to win as Yankee manager: 2002, '04, '05, '06 and '07. That's 5. What about the 6 he did win: 1996, '98, '99, 2000, '01 and '03?

Does it all mean nothing now? Should we claim that, because he (or perhaps, putting words in Torre's mouth, Tom Verducci) wrote some inflammatory things in a book, Torre deserves no credit for what he did in New York? Should we just pretend that someone else was managing the no-hitters of Dwight Gooden, David Wells and David Cone? That someone else was managing the big postseason homers of Bernie, Jim Leyritz, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Jeter, and Aaron Boone?

Should we forever condemn Torre for not being able to get along with Alex Rodriguez -- who, for all his talent, is not an easy guy to get along with?

No, he's not. And Torre didn't get along with Gary Sheffield, or Randy Johnson, and had trouble getting along with Wells. He's not alone in any of those regards, is he?

But Torre was able to get along with O'Neill, and Fielder, and Roger Clemens, and Jason Giambi. They weren't exactly picnics.

The current Yankees, managed by Joe Girardi (a Torre disciple, in case you've forgotten), were required to play 3 games against Torre's current team, and were under no obligation to let him win any of the games. The Yankees won 2, the Dodgers 1, and the Yankees are quite fine with taking 2 of 3 at Dodger Stadium, 4 of 6 on a Western roadtrip.

But they could have torched him to the New York media, or the Los Angeles media, neither exactly known for holding back when a verbal catfight is available for the reporting. They didn't. Even A-Rod, who has more reason to be angry at Torre than any current Yankee, took the high road. And so did Torre himself.

If the "past combatants" can, why can't the A-Rod fanboys? And fangirls?

What "fangirls" am I talking about? People like this:

Back in 2005, in the wake of the 2004 collapse, of which A-Rod was a notorious part, I was in the upper deck of the old Stadium, and sitting in front of me were two chicks -- I won't call them "ladies" -- wearing those dark blue Yankee T-shirts with the white lettering and numbering, and both were RODRIGUEZ 13s. And when A-Rod came to the plate, one of them said, "Oh my God, he's so hot."

That pissed me off. I said to her, "He's a loser. He chokes in the clutch."

Without missing a beat, she turned around, and said, "So what, he's hot."

I felt like placing a call to the cemetery in Canton, Ohio, to see if Thurman Munson was turning over in his grave.

There are some people who think A-Rod can do no wrong. As if the postseason failures of 2004, '05, '06 and '07 were not his fault at all. That, if he'd been treated right (whatever that means), what he was able to do in the fall of 2009 would have been done several times before.

Surely, there were others to blame. Surely, players like Sheffield, Giambi, Hideki Matsui, and even Jeter himself occasionally disappeared at the October plate.

Surely, Torre made his mistakes:

* Yes, Torre shouldn't have pitched Mariano for so many 2-inning stints in 2001.

* Yes, he should have kept Jeff Weaver (I still can't see that name without adding, at least in my mind, the word "Fucking") off the postseason roster in 2003.

* Yes, he should have let Jose Contreras know that he might have to pitch Game 5 of the '03 Series because of questions about Wells' back.

* Yes, he should have had that steroid-ridden blob David Ortiz plunked, to let him know we weren't going to put up with his shit anymore.

* Yes, he should have had the Yanks bunt on Curt Schilling's jury-rigged ankle.

* Yes, he should have changed his postseason rotation a couple of times.

* Yes, he should have pulled the team off the field and told the umpires we're not coming back on until the bugs are gone, and if the umpires decided to forfeit the game to the Indians, lodged a protest with the Commissioner.

But Torre won, unlike Buck Showalter. And he did it without getting drunk and embarrassing himself and others off the field, unlike Billy Martin.

It's time to admit that, without Joe Torre, the Yankees would still be looking for their first World Championship since the Disco Period. And that the Mets would still be New York's Number 1 team. Instead of what the Mets are, which is (in more ways than one) Number 2.

Joe Torre may never manage, or even set foot, in the new Yankee Stadium. But he deserves our gratitude.

UPDATE: Joe made his 1st visit in 2010, as part of the George Steinbrenner Monument dedication. In 2014, he was elected to the Hall of Fame, and got his Number 6 retired and his own Plaque in Monument Park.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Los Angeles' All-Time Baseball Team

Yes, that's Jackie Robinson in a
UCLA baseball uniform, circa 1940

The Yankees led 3-0 yesterday on a Mark Teixeira home run, but A.J. Burnett imploded for the 5th start in a row, and the Dodgers beat the Yankees 9-3 at O'Malley's Temple of Greed.

Anyway, in commemoration of this Yankee visit to Los Angeles, I finally managed to go through a massive list of players – over 850 to choose from – to do an all-time all-star team of players from the Los Angeles Dodgers' "territory."

Eligibility has nothing to do with whether the player in question actually rooted for the Dodgers growing up, or even if the Dodgers were already in Los Angeles at the time.

The only requirement is that the player had to have been trained as a player – "grew up," for want of a better term – in one of the following California Counties: Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Orange and Riverside Counties are, for my purposes, the "territory" of the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim. San Diego and Imperial Counties are for the San Diego Padres. Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Stanislaus Counties are the ones I've assigned to the Oakland Athletics. And the rest are for the San Francisco Giants, who may end up with the 2nd-best "talent pool" of any of the 30 teams.

But with so many to choose from, the L.A. area may be the best of the bunch. How strong is this team? I can take either of 2 starting pitchers, promote one of my "Honorable Mentions" at shortstop, and end up with a Hall-of-Famer at every position except catcher -- and even that has an asterisk, as Gary Carter was born in Culver City, Los Angeles County, but grew up in Fullerton, in the Angels' home of Orange County.

Los Angeles' All-Time Baseball Team

1B Eddie Murray of Los Angeles.
One of only 4 men – 3 to do it honestly – to collect 3,000 hits and hit 500 home runs. And he won 3 Gold Gloves, and probably would have won more if Don Mattingly hadn’t come along. Helped the Baltimore Orioles win the 1979 American League Pennant and the 1983 World Series. Number 33 retired. Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Bob Watson of Fremont, Los Angeles, and Cecil Fielder of La Puente. (His son Prince Fielder grew up in Melbourne, Florida, and thus qualifies for the Tampa Bay Rays' all-time regional team.) Mark McGwire of Claremont is ineligible, and you know why. Same with Jason Giambi of Covina. And neither one was better than Murray, anyway.

2B Jackie Robinson of Pasadena. Let me tell you how strong this position is for the Dodger region: Bobby Doerr of Fremont, Los Angeles is in the Hall of Fame. Chase Utley of Long Beach probably will be. (UPDATE: So much for that idea.) Freddy Sanchez of Burbank is already a 3-time All-Star. And none of them match the performance – let alone the impact on the game and on society at large – of Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Of course, Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, and Number 42 retired not just by the Dodgers (even though he played for the Brooklyn version, retiring before they moved to L.A.), but by Commissioner Bud Selig for all of baseball.

And, to think, I almost didn't include Jackie because he was born in Georgia, though his mother moved the family to Pasadena when he was 1 year old. Going the other way, Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Portland, Oregon.

SS Nomar Garciaparra of Bellflower. From age 23 to 29, he was one of the best players you'll ever see. At age 32, he briefly recaptured his former greatness. But injuries turned him from "What a player!" to "What might have been."

This guy hit .357 and .372 in back-to-back seasons (as a righthanded hitter!), 4 times hit over 40 doubles (twice reaching 50), and 4 times reached 100 RBIs (twice reaching 120.) He seemed like a sure bet for 3,000 hits and the Hall of Fame. As it is, he finished with a career batting average of .313, .361 on-base, .521 slugging, .882 OPS and 124 OPS+.

But "just" 1,747 hits and 229 home runs. And note that the Boston Red Sox did not win a World Series until after they traded him, then won one 3 months later, and another 3 years after that. Hmmmm... He does rather fit "the steroid profile"... But no serious accusation has ever been made against him.

I wonder if the Sox will ever retire his Number 5? And, by marrying Mia Hamm, he's no longer even the most accomplished athlete in his own marriage. On the other hand, he's married to Mia Hamm, which ain't bad at all. Fortunately, their kids look like Mom, and not like "Nosemar."

Honorable Mention to 2 other Red Sox shortstops, Rick Burleson of Downey and Vern "Junior" Stephens of Long Beach; and to Mike Young of Covina.

Honorable Mention also to Osborne Earl Smith, born in Mobile, Alabama and a graduate of Locke H.S. in Los Angeles. He won 13 Gold Gloves, made 15 All-Star Teams, collected 2,460 hits, and helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the 1982 World Series and the 1985 and 1987 NL Pennants -- but his career OPS+ is just 87. I don't care how good Ozzie's defense was: His bat would kill rallies, so Nomar, once a really good fielder himself, is the starter. Still, he's in the Hall of Fame, and Cards have retired his Number 1.

3B Eddie Mathews of Santa Barbara. Born in Texarkana, Texas, but moved with his family to California when he was 6 years old, probably to escape the Dust Bowl and head for "the land of milk and honey."

The only man to play for the Braves in all 3 cities, he reached them in 1952 in Boston, stayed with them until 1966, their first season in Atlanta, and was the most popular player on the team for all 13 years in Milwaukee. Also has the distinction, with New York Giants catcher Wes Westrum, of being on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, dated August 16, 1954. (Apparently, there was no "Dreaded SI Cover Jinx" yet: Mathews went on to have a great career.)

With Hank Aaron, he set a record for most home runs by teammates, 863. (While they were together, from 1954 to 1966, Aaron hit 442, Mathews 421.) Hit a total of 512 home runs, including 47 in 1953, a team record that Aaron would later tie, but not until Andruw Jones in 2005 would it be surpassed. Led the Milwaukee Braves to the 1957 World Championship, hitting a walkoff 10th-inning homer in Game 4 and fielding the final out in Game 7, and the 1958 Pennant. Won another World Series while playing out the string with the 1968 Detroit Tigers. Also managed Braves, including in 1974 when Aaron hit Number 715. Hall of Fame, Number 41 retired by Braves.

Honorable Mention to George Brett of El Segundo. Born in West Virginia, and older brother Ken Brett (who nearly makes this team as a pitcher) was born in Brooklyn, but they grew up in Dodger territory. Mr. Kansas City Royal. Only man to win batting titles in 3 different decades: 1976, 1980 (.390!) and 1990. Royals have been to postseason 7 times with him, never without him. (UPDATE: That's not longer true.) 1980 AL Pennant, 1985 World Championship. Career batting average of .305, OPS+ of 135, 3,000 Hit Club, 317 homers despite playing his home games at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Hall of Fame, Number 5 retired.

Also, Honorable Mention to Darrell Evans of Pasadena, Doug DeCinces of Sepulveda and Terry Pendleton of Oxnard. Evan Longoria of Bellflower still has a ways to go.

LF Ralph Kiner of Alhambra. Born in New Mexico, but has lived most of his off-season life in the Los Angeles area. He only played 10 seasons due to a back injury cutting short his career at age 32. But he led the National League in homers in each of his first 7 seasons, had 2 50-homer seasons while playing his home games in spacious Forbes Field, put together a career OPS+ 149 (wow), and hit 369 home runs.

At his pace, if he'd been able to play until he was 40, he would have had close to 600 homers, and might have been a serious threat to get to Babe Ruth's then-record of 714 home runs well before Hank Aaron got close to it.

Hall of Fame, Number 4 retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. And if patience is a virtue, then Ralph is a saint, for he has been an employee of the New York Mets, as a broadcaster, from Day One, April 11, 1962. A wonderful man, now 87 years old.

Honorable Mention to Roy White of Compton, and Garret Anderson and Ryan Braun, both of Granada Hills, Los Angeles. (UPDATE: This was before the PED revelations about Braun.) Also to the Meusel brothers of Los Angeles, who would have been perennial All-Stars had the All-Star Game existed in the 1920s: Bob of the Yankees and Emil, a.k.a. "Irish," of the Giants. And to Joe Rudi, born in Modesto, the home territory of the A's, for whom he would play in both Modesto in the minors and Oakland in the majors, but grew up in Downey, in the Dodgers' territory. And to George Foster of the 1970s Cincinnati "Big Red Machine," born in Alabama but raised in Lawndale, California, who hit 348 home runs, including 52 in 1977, most in NL play between 1965 and 1998.

CF Duke Snider of Compton. That's right, Da Duke o' Flatbush went straight outta Compton to the little ballpark on the edges of Flatbush, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. Ya wanna make somethin' of it?

Strange thing is, the 2 best players the Brooklyn Dodgers ever had, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, were both from Los Angeles (or close to it); while the best player the Los Angeles Dodgers have ever had, Sandy Koufax, was born in Brooklyn, but did nothing for the Dodgers until well after they moved. The Duke, at least, not only had one of his best seasons, including a great World Series, in 1955, but was still a solid contributor to their 1959 Series win in his hometown. And at the time of his 1964 retirement, his 407 home runs were 10th all-time. Hall of Fame, Number 4 retired.

Honorable Mention to George Hendrick and Eric Davis, both graduates of Fremont H.S. in Los Angeles. And to Lyman Bostock of Manual Arts H.S. in Los Angeles, a .311 career hitter with a 123 OPS+ when he was shot and killed in 1978, not yet 28 years old.

RF Tony Gwynn Sr. of Long Beach. The greatest player the San Diego Padres have ever had. Helped them win their only 2 Pennants, in 1984 and 1998. His .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season remains the highest in MLB since 1941. Hall of Fame, Number 19 retired, 3,000 Hit Club. His brother Chris Gwynn once batted .300 for the Kansas City Royals, but his son Tony Gwynn Jr. grew up in Poway, thus qualifies (by background, if not yet by talent) for the San Diego All-Time Team, rather than the Los Angeles one.

Honorable Mention to Floyd Caves "Babe" Herman, born in Buffalo but raised in Glendale. Phil Rizzuto, who grew up watching him with the Brooklyn Dodgers, thought Herman should be in the Hall of Fame. The Scooter had a case: Herman batted .324 lifetime, an OPS+ of 141, hit 399 doubles even though he had his last full big-league season at age 33, and in 1930 batted .393 with 241 hits, 48 doubles, 11 triples, 35 homers, 130 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.

The problem was that Babe played his first few seasons for the "Daffiness Boys" Dodgers, and he was the daffiest of them all. He frequently protested that he was never, as commonly thought, hit on the head by a fly ball. When asked if he was ever hit on the shoulder by one, he said that didn't count. He never, as commonly thought, tripled into a triple play. But in 1926, thanks to a baserunning mistake by Dazzy Vance, a Hall of Fame pitcher not used to reaching 3rd base, Herman did double into a double play, resulting in the old joke that the Dodgers have 3 men on base: "Yeah? Which base?"

Moved west well before the Dodgers themselves did, playing for a "hometown" team, the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and starring there, batting .346 at age 41, before returning for a cup of coffee to a Dodger roster ravaged by the World War II draft in 1945.

Additional Honorable Mentions to Tom Brunansky of West Covina, Dwight Evans of Chatsworth, Los Angeles, and Jeff Burroughs of Long Beach. What about Darryl Strawberry of Crenshaw, Los Angeles? Well, he's gone back to the Mets for employment – nothing wrong with that – but he's been saying that not only would the 1986 Mets have beaten the 2009 Yankees, but they would've beaten the 1998 Yankees. If he believes that, then he must've started dipping into his stash again.

C Earl Battey of Watts, Los Angeles. He was the backup to Sherman Lollar with the 1959 AL Champion Chicago White Sox, but the Sox made a bonehead move trading him to the Washington Senators. The Senators became the Minnesota Twins, and Battey became one of the best catchers in baseball, reaching 4 All-Star teams and winning 3 Gold Gloves. He helped the Twins win the 1965 AL Pennant and very nearly the World Series – ironically, striking out against Sandy Koufax for the last out, against his hometown team (although that Game 7 was played in Bloomington, Minnesota).

Honorable Mention to Mike Lieberthal of Westlake Village, Los Angeles, whose stats almost all top Battey's, but is hurt by the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies won a Pennant in 1993, Lieberthal arrived in 1994, his last season with them was 2006, and they've made the postseason every year since he left. He’' their Donnie Regular Season Baseball. Good guy, but that record hurts him here.

SP Bob Lemon of Long Beach. A hitter converted into a pitcher, helping the Cleveland Indians win the 1948 World Series and the 1954 AL Pennant. Later managed the Yankees to the 1978 World Championship, which makes him the manager of this team as well. Hall of Fame, Number 21 retired by the Indians. As he himself would have said to one of his players, "Nice job, Meat."

SP Don Drysdale of Van Nuys. At Van Nuys High, he was a baseball teammate of Robert Redford. Speedy, headhunting righthander helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1959, '63 and '65, teaming with Sandy Koufax to form one of the few righty-lefty Hall of Fame pairs ever.

In 1968, he pitched 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, breaking a Walter Johnson record that stood for 55 years, and would stand for another 20 until another Dodger, Orel Hershiser, broke it. Unfortunately, an injury ended his career at age 33 the next season (as one ended Koufax's career at 31), but he still reached the Hall. Number 53 retired, and "Herbie the Love Bug" got Number 53 in Big D's honor. Later became one of the game's most respected broadcasters.

His 2nd wife was former UCLA women's basketball star Ann Meyers. They are the only husband and wife both in their respective sports' halls of fame. (Unless Nomar gets elected to the Hall as a manager, which seems unlikely.)

SP Jim Lonborg of Santa Maria. "Gentleman Jim" won 22 games for the Red Sox in their 1967 "Impossible Dream" season, including the tense finale against the Twins, to clinch the Pennant, all while doing National Guard duty on some weekends, not knowing if, as Curt Simmons was to Korea to nearly cost the Phillies the Pennant in 1950, he'd be called up to serve in the Vietnam War. (He wasn't.) He won Games 2 and 5 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, but was called on to outpitch Bob Gibson in Game 7 on 2 days' rest (Gibson had 3), and got pounded.

He broke his leg in a skiing accident in the offseason and was never the same, although he became a fine reliever for the Phillies and helped them win the NL East in 1976, '77 and '78. Retired to become a dentist. On Cheers, the photo of a righthanded pitcher wearing Number 16, hanging over the bar, meant to be Sam Malone (Ted Danson), is actually Lonborg.

Lonborg won the AL's Cy Young Award in 1967, the 1st year it was given out to the most valuable pitcher in each League, and the NL winner was also from the L.A. area: Mike McCormick of Alhambra and the San Francisco Giants.

SP Larry Dierker of Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. A terrific pitcher for the Houston Astros in the 1970s, later broadcast for them, managed them to the NL Central title in 1997, '98 and '99 before a bout with cancer (which, thankfully, he survived) ended his managing career. Number 49 retired.

SP Scott McGregor of El Segundo. Was a teammate of Murray's on the late Seventies, early Eighties Orioles. Arguably should have been the Most Valuable Player of the 1983 World Series. The Yankees let him, and the actual '83 WS MVP, Rick Dempsey, get away in a 1976 trade for pitcher Grant Jackson. That trade was necessary to win the '76 Pennant, but in '79, when Dempsey was becoming one of the game's best catchers, and McGregor was part of an Oriole rotation that helped them win the Pennant, and Thurman Munson was aching and then dead and the Yankees really needed another starter, it became a bad trade.

SP Jack McDowell of Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. Black Jack was the ace of the Chicago White Sox team that won the AL Central in 1993 (he won the AL Cy Young Award) and was in 1st place in 1994 when the strike hit. But the Yankees traded for him, and his performance in the 1995 Playoffs against the Seattle Mariners became legendary for the wrong reasons. He blew it, and got booed off the mound at Yankee Stadium. He lifted his middle finger to the fans, and while the New York Post called him JACK THE FLIPPER on its back page, the Daily News, for once, went further than the Post, and called him JACK ASS. After blowing a lead in Game 5 of that series, and the series itself, the Yankees let him go.

He went to the Indians and helped them win the AL Central in 1996, but it was all downhill from there. There was no obvious injury, he just lost it. It got into his head. He's since gone on to a music career, first with a band named V.I.E.W, now one named Stickfigure.

Honorable Mention to Mike Scott of Santa Monica, whose greatness, and thus his place on this team, must be doubted because he was 110-81 when his home park was the Astrodome, but just 14-27 when it was Shea Stadium – and that was a pitcher's park, too.

I was going to add Barry Zito, who was born in Las Vegas, which is considerably closer to Los Angeles than to San Francisco, Phoenix or Denver, to this team, as he is easily the best of the 23 MLB players to have been born in Nevada. But he grew up in San Diego, and thus qualifies there, not here.

RP Dan Quisenberry of Santa Monica. The submarining righthander for the Kansas City Royals got the last out of the 1985 World Series, and once held the record for saves in a season, 45.

In fact, the L.A. region has one heck of a bullpen: Honorable Mention to Jesse Orosco of Santa Barbara, Todd Worrell and Tim Worrell of Arcadia, Rod Beck of Van Nuys, and Robb Nen of Los Alamitos. Strange that both Quiz and Beck died young.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

U.S. Deservedly Out of World Cup

Well, today we saw a game that shows that the U.S. has a lot further to go than we thought.

Ghana scored in the first 5 minutes. Clint Dempsey was brought down in the penalty area, leading to a penalty-kick goal by Landon Donovan and extra time. But in the 3rd minute of said extra time, Ghana scored again, and it drained the life out of the U.S.: 2-1, and we're out, and fairly so.

There can be no excuses:

* Can't blame the weather: It wasn't bad, and Ghana also had to play in it.

* Can't blame the opposition's rough play: It wasn't especially rough.

* Can't blame the officials: They weren't very good, but they did give us the one penalty we deserved, and they didn't wave off any fairly-won goals, unlike the last 2 games.

* Can't even blame bad luck: The bad luck we had with that winning goal waved off against Slovenia was an "equalizer" for the good luck we got with the Hand of Clod goal against England, which (it can now be said) we did not deserve.

The game had the result that it did because the U.S. played like a team that was satisfied just to be there, and because Ghana played like a team that wanted to win. In fact, if Michael Essien, one of the stars of Chelsea's Double-winning side, had been available for Ghana, it might've been 3-1 to them in regulation.

The U.S. once again played like a good second-half team. But soccer games have two halves, and we didn't play well in the first half in any of our 4. We got exactly what we deserved: Into the knockout stage, and no further.

We were ranked 14th in the world, and that's about right. We are not one of the best 8, and it showed today.

The first part of America's struggle with soccer is over: The game has been sold to the country. Now comes the more important part: Finding players who will not be content to merely show up in Brazil in 2014, but will observe the Herman Edwards Rule: "You play to win the game."

France and Italy, two major powers of the game, were laughably bad, even scandalously bad, in this World Cup. We weren't. But we were still not even close to being good enough. And there's a lot of work to do before we will be ready for Brazil '14.

*

It could be worse: At least the U.S. didn't start The Great Johan Santana against his former team, the Minnesota Twins, and lose 6-0 at home, to a 3-hit shutout pitched by... Carl Pavano, The Yankee Who Wasn't There.

The Mets are a joke, and I don't care how close to first place they currently are.

And Dustin Pedroia, so soon after hitting 3 home runs in a game for the Red Sox, broke a bone in his foot, and will be out for several weeks.

The Yankees, baseball edition, are doing fine. The Yanks, soccer edition, not so much.

*

Days until the World Cup Final: 15. 2 weeks.

Days until the New York Football Challenge at Red Bull Arena: 27. 4 weeks.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th career home run: 30 (estimated). 1 month.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 41, starting Friday night, August 6, at Yankee Stadium II. 6 weeks.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 49. 7 weeks.

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 51.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 70. 10 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 78. 11 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 79.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 89. Under 3 months.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 105, on Friday, October 8, at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, against the Dallas Stars. The schedule was released this week.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 121, on Sunday, October 24, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Then the Rags come to the Prudential on Friday, November 5. The first game of the season against the Islanders is on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at The Rock.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 112.

Days until the next North London Derby: 148, on Saturday, November 20, at New Highbury. The English Premier League schedule has been released as well.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 153.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 328 (estimated). About 11 months.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 504.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 659 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 747.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 845 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,108 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,317.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,771 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,795 (estimated).

A-Rod's 593rd Beats Bums

Yankees 2, L.A. Bums 1. Alex Rodriguez hit his 593rd career home run off Vicente Padilla, and, in a National League park (Walter O'Malley's Temple of Greed at Chavez Ravine), CC Sabathia took advantage of the NL's rule that pitchers have to come to bat, and plunked him, after Padilla had plunked Robinson Cano.

When he was Yankee manager, Joe Torre would never have let him do that. And I thought Joe "managed in the National League style."

Well, maybe not. After all, Frank Robinson, who certainly is no stranger to retribution in the pitcher-batter matchup or on the basepaths, never won a Pennant as a manager the way he did 4 times as a player.

Anyway, Joe is now the manager of the Dodgers, and in 2 seasons has won 2 NL Western Division titles, and might have won another Pennant or two, except that his hitting instructor is Don Mattingly, and The Curse of Donnie Baseball remains in effect: No team with Donnie Regular Season Baseball in uniform has ever won a Pennant.

The media is still discussing the rift between Torre and A-Rod, and saying that A-Rod's game-winning homer -- a clutch homer, to be sure -- is "A-Rod's revenge."

Talk about burying the lead. Why is nobody talking about how the Yankees got another piece of revenge for New York by beating the L.A. Bums, who never should've been allowed to continue with the name "Dodgers"?

If Joe Torre has disgraced himself in any way, it's by taking a job offered by that organization.

But I have noticed something: Neither Joe nor Alex said anything unkind about the other yesterday, before or after the game. Could it be that both are trying to stay above this sort of thing? In other words, Alex is being mature about this, and Joe is being... the man everybody but the A-Rod fanboys and fangirls thought Joe always was.

A.J. Burnett goes today, and he's been the team's biggest question mark lately. Here's hoping Dodger Stadium, a pitcher's park -- and its mound, often thought by players frustrated with losing to the Dodgers to be too high and too close to the plate? -- straighten him out.

Four hours until U.S.-Ghana. The winner takes on the Korea-Uruguay winner in the World Cup Quarterfinals. I actually think the U.S. could make it to the Semifinals, but that would most likely put them up against Brazil or the Netherlands, and then it would be bye-bye, Stars & Stripes. But that would still be our best finish ever, and I would gladly take it.

As long as none of our players did something stupid in the defeat. You know, like Wayne Rooney.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Minnesota's All-Time Baseball Team

The Yankees begin a 3-game Interleague series in Los Angeles tonight, and I do want to do the all-time team from the Dodgers' region -- most, but not all, of Southern California -- but the fact that nearly 2,000 players from the State of California have reached the major leagues makes that a long task, and I might post it tomorrow.

The Mets begin a 3-game Interleague series with the Minnesota Twins tonight. Yes, I'm doing it for all 30 teams' "markets." For the Twins, this will include the entire States of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. I thought of including the westernmost sliver of Wisconsin and the northern tier of Iowa, but decided to leave those to the Brewers and the two Chicago teams, respectively.

Minnesota's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Kent Hrbek of Bloomington. A local boy made good, having lived within walking distance of the Twins' former home, Metropolitan Stadium. Just barely made it to the team before they moved into the Metrodome. (The Mall of America stands on the Met's site now.) Career OPS+ of 128, 293 home runs, and starred on the Twins' only 2 World Series winners, 1987 and 1991. Number 14 retired by the Twins.

Honorable Mention to Darin Erstad, easily the best of the 15 players born in North Dakota (Jamestown; remember that Roger Maris wasn't born there), also in the Twins' "market." Oddly enough, the 2nd-best North Dakotan-born ballplayer is also a 1st baseman, Travis Hafner.

2B Mark Ellis of Rapid City. A solid performer for the Oakland Athletics since 2002. He and Jason Kubel already have more home runs than any player born in South Dakota, Ellis leading 82-80. (Kubel, though, grew up in California.)

SS Gene DeMontreville of St. Paul. Played more 2B, and went to high school in Washington, D.C., and played over 100 years ago, but pickings for Minnesota-born shortstops were very slim. Best season was 1897, when he batted .341, hit 27 doubles (but only 3 homers -- it was the 19th Century) and had 93 RBIs for the National League edition of the Washington Senators, a team that was contracted out of existence 2 years later. Played on a Pennant-winner with the 1900 Brooklyn Superbas (forerunners of the Dodgers).

3B Paul Molitor of St. Paul. Had one of the best nicknames ever, "the Ignitor." Despite having all kinds of injuries that kept him from a full season in 7 different years, he got 3,319 hits -- that's 9th all-time. Among players who debuted in the Lively Ball Era (1920 to the present), he's 5th behind Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Carl Yastrzemski. Among players who debuted after 1963, he's 1st. (Put it this way: Fellow St. Paulite Dave Winfield has 3,110 hits, and he's over 200 behind Molitor.)

Lifetime batting average, .306; OPS+, 122. Only 234 home runs, but 605 doubles and 114 triples, and Milwaukee County Stadium, where he played most of his home games, was not a great hitters' park, no matter how many homers Aaron and Eddie Mathews hit there. Helped the Brewers win their only Pennant in 1982. Hit .353 in 1987 (and still finished .010 behind Wade Boggs for the batting title). Moved to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 and helped them with the World Series. Closed his career with his hometown Twins, batting .341 at age 39, .305 at 40 and .281 at 41 in 1998.

Along with Frank Robinson, this Hall-of-Famer is one of the most underappreciated great players ever. Number 4 retired by the Brewers.

LF Dave Winfield of St. Paul. Could have been easy to predict he'd become a Hall-of-Famer, as he was born on a great day in baseball history: October 3, 1951, the day Bobby Thomson hit the You Know What. (Then again, Willie Mays Aikens was born the day Willie Mays made The Catch, and he underachieved.) A member of the 3,000 Hit Club, 465 homers, 540 doubles, 8 times had 100 or more RBIs (and just missed 2 others), a career OPS+ of 130 (meaning he was, roughly, 30 percent better than the average player in his league for twenty-two freaking years), 7 Gold Gloves.

The 1st great player for the San Diego Padres, he should have been the next great player for the New York Yankees, but after an awful 1981 World Series, it seemed as though neither George Steinbrenner (who called him "Mr. May") nor the Yankee Fans (who preferred the Pennantless Don Mattingly) gave him a fair shake.

Even today, 9 years after his election to Cooperstown, his Number 31 has not been retired by the Yankees, having been given to a great player like Tim Raines, but also to lesser lights like Dan Naulty -- and now, to Javier Vazquez. (The Padres have retired 31 for him.) No Monument Park Plaque for him, either. Hank and Hal, if your father wasn't willing to honor him this way, what are you waiting for? Finally won a World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992, hitting the 10th-inning double that won the clinching Game 6, before going home to the Twins.

Honorable Mention to Walt "Moose" Moryn, also of St. Paul. He briefly played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (including 1955, but not enough to be included on the World Series roster) before becoming a good hitter and a one-time All-Star with the Chicago Cubs.

CF Eldon John "Rip" Repulski of Sauk Rapids. With a name like "Repulski," it's better to be nicknamed "Rip" than "Repulsive." With a name like "Eldon John," maybe his nickname should have been "Captain Fantastic."

Played all 3 outfield positions, but since I've got Big Dave in left and Mr. 61 in '61 in right, I'm putting him in center. Had the nearly-musical real name of Eldon John Repulski, and hit pretty well for the 1950s St. Louis Cardinals before an injury made him turn out to be just a candle in the wind.

Honorable Mention to Dave Collins, a speedster who also played all 3 outfield positions, and might have been the best player ever from South Dakota -- Rapid City. And yet another outfielder ripped by Yankee Fans during his stay in The Bronx, which was briefer than that of Winfield and Maris.

RF Roger Maris of Hibbing. Lived only the 1st 7 years of his life in Minnesota, but grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, which is also (since 1961, anyway) in the Twins' sphere of influence. Yet another right fielder (along with Winfield, who played all 3 outfield positions in Pinstripes) for the Yankees who was not fully appreciated, and indeed ridiculed, in his time.

Roger won the American League's Most Valuable Player award in 1960, hitting 39 home runs. He somehow managed, through all the nonsense hurled at him, to hit 61 in '61, which teammate Mickey Mantle -- himself having hit 54 that season -- called "the greatest feat I ever saw." It broke the record of 60 by Babe Ruth, and it still stands today. Shut up, Mark, Sammy and Barry: You had your chance to do it the right way, and you chose not to. It got him another MVP award.

He was also a great glove man and a tough baserunner. Injuries limited him to 275 home runs, and he retired at age 34, but played on 7 Pennant winners, 5 in New York and 2 in St. Louis with the Cardinals, winning World Series in 1961, '62 and '67.

The Yankees retired his Number 9 and gave him a Monument Park Plaque in 1984, and it's good that they did, because he died a little more than a year later. There is a Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, at the West Acres Shopping Center. When told of the plans for it, he said, "Put it where people will see it, and where they won’t have to pay for it." His wishes have been respected, far more than they were in 1961.

C Joe Mauer of St. Paul. I don't know what it is about St. Paul that produces great players, for the Twins and otherwise, but the "little brother" of the "Twin Cities" keeps cranking them out. Mauer has done some cranking of his own, having won 3 AL batting titles already (he hit .365 with a 170 OPS+ last season -- as a catcher!). He currently has a career OPS+ of 135, 2 Gold Gloves, the 2009 AL MVP award, and he's only 27. At this rate, barring a medical or ethical calamity, he will have his Number 7 mounted at Target Field and his plaque mounted at Cooperstown by the year 2026 or so.

Honorable Mention to Wes Westrum of Clearbrook, the catcher of the New York Giants' 1951 NL Champions and 1954 World Champions, and who also briefly managed the Mets. Also to Terry Steinbach of New Ulm, who backstopped the Oakland Athletics postseason teams of 1988-92, before closing his career with, you guessed it, the Twins. Jason Varitek was born in Rochester, Minnesota, but grew up (for want of a better choice of words) in Altamonte Springs, Florida. And I wouldn't give him an Honorable Mention anyway. He is not honorable, unlike Mauer, Westrum and Steinbach.

SP Albert "Chief" Bender of Crow Wing County. A Hall-of-Famer from the Chippewa tribe, and like Jim Thorpe a graduate of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, he would hear fans yell "Indian war whoops" at him, and yell back, "You lousy bunch of foreigners! Why don't you go back where you came from?"

He had a fantastic career won-lost record of 212-127, and an ERA of 2.46, good even for the Dead Ball Era. He helped Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics win 5 Pennants and 3 World Series from 1903 to 1914, and is credited with words that are still true, a century after his prime: "A pitcher who hasn't control hasn't anything."

SP Bullet Joe Bush of Brainerd. Briefly a teammate of Bender's, helped the A's win the World Series in 1913 and and the Boston Red Sox in '18, before being one of several players Sox owner Harry Frazee sold to the Yankees, where he won the Series in 1923. Also won Pennants with the A's in '14 and the Yanks in '22, going 26-7 as an easy choice for the Cy Young Award -- if there had been one at the time. Played for some bad teams, too, but still won 196 games.

SP Jerry Koosman of Morris. Won Games 2 and 5 (the clincher) of the 1969 World Series for the Mets, and helped them win the 1973 National League Pennant as well. In 1976, became the first Met lefty to win 20. But in just 2 seasons, went from 21-10 to 8-20 to 3-15. It was painful to watch.

Then the Mets got rid of him, and, for his home-State Twins, he went 20-13 and 16-13 for a not-very-good team. The trade wasn't a total disaster for the Mets, though: They got Jesse Orosco. How's that for an amazing occurrence: The Mets have won 2 World Series, and they traded the man who got the final out in the 1st for the man who got the final out in the 2nd. Won 222 games, 140 of them for the Mets.

SP Jack Morris of St. Paul. He won 254 games, including 161 in the 1980s, the most in the decade. Helped not 1, not 2, but 3 teams win World Series. Started the 1984 season by pitching a no-hitter on April 7 (tied with Ken Forsch for earliest in the calendar year), and ended it with the Detroit Tigers as World Champions.

The Tigers let him go after 1990, and he went to his hometown Twins, and pitched and won Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Going 10 innings. At age 36. Pitching a shutout. At the damn Metrodome. Against a good Atlanta Braves team. The Twins let him go anyway, despite 18 wins -- 22 if you count the postseason -- and he went 21-6 for the Blue Jays as they won the World Series. I don't care if his career ERA is 3.90: He pitched most of his home games at Tiger Stadium. Put him in the Hall of Fame!

SP Rick Helling of Fargo. The best pitcher born in North Dakota, he graduated, as did Maris, from Shanley High School. He went 20-7 for the Texas Rangers in 1998, and won 93 before injuries ended his career. Won a World Series ring with the 2003 Florida Marlins.

RP Tom Burgmeier of St. Cloud. One of several relievers tried by the Red Sox before they settled on Bob Stanley. Maybe they should have settled on Burgmeier, a tough lefty who saved 24 games with a 2.00 ERA for the Sox in 1980. The relief ace the Sox finally needed, Keith Foulke, was born at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, in the Twins' region, but grew up in Texas.

MGR Tom Kelly of Graceville. Actually moved to New Jersey when young, graduating from St. Mary's High School (now Cardinal McCarrick) of South Amboy, but went back to Minnesota and managed the Twins to their World Series wins. Terry Francona was born in South Dakota, but grew up in Pennsylvania, so he doesn't make this team as either a player or a manager.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Raising Hell in Arizona, Bring On the L.A. Bums

The Yankees concluded their 3-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix last night, and what a conclusion. After A.J. Burnett got knocked around the yard on Tuesday night, losing 10-4, Andy Pettitte came through once again, and it was the Yankees' turn to batter the Snakes' bullpen, 9-3. And last night, the Yanks came back from 4-2 down and 5-4 down.

In the top of the 10th, Curtis Granderson hit a home run to give the Yanks a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the 9th, Mariano Rivera loaded the bases with nobody out. He was actually in a bigger jam than he got himself into in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in the same ballpark. But this time, he got out of it with no runs coming home.

Mariano may be the first Caribbean pitcher whose age is suspect in the other direction. Are we sure he's really 40, and not 35?

While these last 2 games aren't full revenge for the 2001 World Series, they sure did feel good. To get full revenge, we'd have to beat the Diamondbacks in a World Series. You know, like the Mets would have to do to us, which will never, ever happen, and that won't be our fault. Besides, it's not like we have to live in the same metro area with a million or so Diamondback fans.

Of course, there's another way to get full revenge on the Diamondbacks: Steroid testing on Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez. '01 D-back Matt Williams has already been caught, but that's hardly enough, even if he did hit a home run in that Series. It made him, fairly we thought, the first man to hit World Series home runs for 3 different teams.

*

In addition, the Yankees gained another game on both the Red Sox and the Rays. The Sox took a 6-5 lead over the Colorado Rockies into the bottom of the 9th at Coors Field in Denver, but Jonathan Papelbon gave up home runs to Ian Stewart and... remember this guy?... Jason Giambi! Papelbum blows it again.

Stewart is 25, now has 44 career home runs, including 25 last season and 8 so far this year, counting last night, and looks like a rising star. Giambi is 39 and is pretty much done, it was only his 3rd homer of the year, but the 412th of his career. It's the biggest favor he's done the Yankees -- really, all of humanity -- since his 2 homers, and those 4 straight 8th-inning hits off Pedro the Punk Martinez, on October 16, 2003 made Aaron Boone's homer possible.

The Rays' loss, 5-4 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to the San Diego Padres, wasn't nearly so dramatic, but the winning run was singled home in the 7th by another former Yankee, one of last year's World Series-winning heroes, Jerry Hairston Jr.

The Yankees are now 2 1/2 games ahead of both the Sox and the Rays, but the Rays are 2 back in the loss column, the Sox 3.

*

The Yankees have today off, and fly out to Los Angeles to play 3 with the Dodgers at Walter O'Malley's Temple of Greed. This will be the first time the Yankees ever play a regular-season game against a team managed by Joe Torre. His pre-Yankee managing jobs were all in the National League, and he never won a Pennant before coming to the Yankees, so the only games we ever played against him were spring training or, while he ran the Mets, the Mayor's Trophy Game.

To Met fans, the Mayor's Trophy meant everything. But Yankee Fans agreed with Billy Martin. Say it with me: "It's an exhibition game, George! It doesn't mean anything!"

But, for those of you who do think it means something, the Yankees held the all-time lead in that exhibition game, which ran from 1963 to 1983. The Yankees won it 10 times (1964, '66, '70, '71, '72, '74, '75, '76, '78, '83), the Mets 8 (1963, '65, '67, '68, '69, '73, '77, '82), and there was 1 tie (1979). The Mets won the first game, 6-2, on June 20, 1963 at the old Yankee Stadium; the Yankees won the last game, 4-1, on April 21, 1983 at Shea Stadium.

Of course, in the games that really matter, the Yankees lead, 4-1. Those are the World Series games between the teams, the only games that deserve the name "Subway Series."

The Yankees have played the World Series against the Los Angeles edition of the Dodgers 4 times: 1963, Dodgers swept, clinched at Dodger Stadium; 1977, Yankees in 6, Reggie goes boom, boom, boom, clinched at Yankee Stadium; 1978, Dodgers took the first 2 in L.A., Yanks took the next 4 straight, Graig Nettles put on a fielding clinic at 3rd base in Game 3, Reggie Jackson had his "Sacrifice Thigh" in Game 4, Lou Piniella singled home Roy White to win Game 4 in 10 innings, Bob Welch fanned Reggie to end Game 2 but Reggie launched some 450-foot revenge in Game 6, clinched at Dodger Stadium; and 1981, Yanks took first 2, but Bums took next 4, clinching at Yankee Stadium.

That last one, I was just short of 12 years old, and I still haven't gotten over that ignominious defeat. George Steinbrenner actually apologized to Yankee Fans for the loss. I don't know what he was apologizing for: He wasn't the one who failed to hit or failed to stop the Dodgers from hitting. Still, how many team owners, in any sport, would apologize to the fans for failing to win the whole thing?

Dodger Stadium is now 48 years old, and the 3rd-oldest active MLB park, behind only 98-year-old Fenway Park in Boston and 96-year-old Wrigley Field in Chicago. The other L.A.-area park, whatever the Angels are calling Anaheim Stadium these days, is the next-oldest in the American League, at 44, a few months older than the Oakland Coliseum. I'm getting old: There are only 4 big-league parks still in use that were in use before I was born, and only one other that was in use before I was old enough to watch baseball, Kansas City's 37-year-old Kauffman Stadium (which I knew as Royals Stadium).

In Brooklyn, the Dodgers were affectionately known as "Dem Bums." In Los Angeles, they're just bums. Once, they were the franchise of Jackie Robinson. Now, they are identified first and foremost with man who moved them out of Brooklyn, Walter O'Malley. Second, with that sanctimonious tub of goo, Tommy Lasorda. Third, with Steve Garvey, who "is not my Padre."

Fernando Valenzuela and Kirk Gibson are long gone. The Dodgers haven't won a Pennant in 22 years. That's not as long as some teams have had to wait, but when you consider that they won 9 Pennants and 5 World Series in their first 31 seasons in L.A., that the Angels have since won a World Series, and that the Lakers just won another title, it makes the Dodgers look like failures.

For crying out loud, they've now lost more National League Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies (3, 1983, 2008 and '09) than they've won from them (2, 1977 and '78). The Phils are thought of as postseason successes now; the Dodgers, postseason failures. That's an even bigger shock than the Phillies pulling off a "miracle" full of "magic" and the Mets a "collapse" and a "choke" -- twice (2007 and '08)!

Where have you gone, Orel Hershiser? A region turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Up For Grabs: Donovan, LT, Santana

What an excruciating game between the U.S. team and Algeria today. Yet another goal waved off for no visible reason, and with all the missed chances, we should have kicked the living shit out of them, 5-0. And with England actually having scored a goal and taken a 1-0 lead over Slovenia -- I can't believe it was a Tottenham cunt who did it, Jermain Defoe -- a draw would no longer help the U.S.

It was still 0-0 after 90 minutes. Fortunately, since there is a running clock at all times except for halftime and genuine emergencies (such as a 1980s-style pitch invasion), there is this wonderful, horrible concept called injury time (sometimes known as stoppage time, but not "extra time," as the U.S. sportscasters don't seem to get, that's what "football" fans call overtime in knockout round games), and in the 91st minute, Landon Donovan got his Michael Thomas on.

"It's up for grabs now! Donovan! Right at the end!"

For those of you from the U.S., who don't know who Michael Thomas is, well, it took 19 years after it happened for me to find out, and I'm ashamed enough about it for both you and me. There is no reason for you not to know about this momentous match on the 26th of May 1989.

Michael Thomas is the Bobby Thomson of England. Although there's no evidence, as with the 1951 Giants, that there was cheating going on, and Bruce Grobbelaar has never received the kind of abuse that Ralph Branca unfairly did.

The U.S., as they did in 1994 and 2002, but not in 1990, 1998 or 2006, advance to the knockout stage. Their next game is this Saturday, at 2:30 PM Eastern Time, against Ghana. Ghana are the only African nation to advance to the knockout stage in this first-ever World Cup staged on that continent, so they can't be taken lightly. But I like America's chances. If we win, we advance to the Quarterfinals, the following Friday, July 2, also at 2:30, against the Korea-Uruguay winner.

That's the real Korea, not Kim Jong Il's slaves. That one might be tougher, but I think we can do it. Then comes the Semifinal, which would be on Tuesday, July 6. I'm not as confident about winning this one, if we get that far. The Final is on Sunday, July 11, also at 2:30, at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.

Right now, if I had to bet on a country to win it, I'd bet on Germany. As an American of partly English and partly Polish descent, I'm not happy about that, but I think they're the team most likely to advance. Not necessarily the best team, but England won't do it because they have too many fools, Argentina won't do it because their fat drug-addicted egomaniac cheater of a coach will fuck it up, Spain won't do it because they always choke, Italy won't do it because they're senile, and the Netherlands won't do it because something always stops them.

UPDATE: Spain didn't choke. They did cheat their way to the title, though.

*

Lawrence Taylor, along with Frank Gifford and Joe Namath 1 of the most heralded football players in New York Tri-State Area history, was indicted for rape, among other charges, in connection with the 16-year-old prostitute he patronized a few weeks ago.

Taylor is a known abuser of women, a (recovering?) drug addict, and even when clean has been a disgusting person, who doesn't seem to grasp the concept of remorse.

Some people call LT the greatest defensive player in the history of American football. I call him a chump.

Oh, what's he gonna do? Actually, he's got nothing to lose by hitting me, since he's probably already going to jail for the rest of his life.

UPDATE: Taylor pleaded guilty on March 22, 2011, and was sentenced to 6 years probation as part of a plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. He had to register as a low-risk level one sex offender.

*

But right now, Johan Santana is probably thanking God for both Landon Donovan and Lawrence Taylor. Because it was revealed today that the Mets' ace was himself investigated for rape, in the Orlando area in the off-season. No charges were filed because the cops decided they couldn't prove lack of consent, and, unlike LT's hooker, she wasn't underage.

But now we know, at the very least, that The Great Johan Santana cheated on his wife. The halo is gone. He's not as bad as LT, and he may not even be as bad as Kobe Bryant. But the press isn't going to protect him from womanizing revelations the way they did Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and even (as the new biography suggested) Reggie Jackson.

Remember: So many people wanted the Yankees to mortgage their future to get Santana. Including Phil Hughes. The Yankees said no to the seductions of Johan Santana -- that "No" was heeded. (Speaking of which, Joan Laporta and everyone else at Barcelona are a bunch of cunts.)

The Mets made the trade, and Santana has made... absolutely no difference for them. They're still the same joke of a franchise in June 2010 that they were in September 2007, their last month of play without him.

Of course, the Yankees still have Alex Rodriguez. "At least Santana didn't use steroids." We think. But if you're looking for the more moral player, which of these two would you take, as they are right now?

Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has his 5th title, the Lakers their 11th -- their 16th if (as you really shouldn't) you count their 5 from Minneapolis, and now they're only 1 short of the Celtics' all-time lead.

Maybe I should do a list of the Top 10 New England Sports Chokes. A list the 2010 Celtics would make, although they wouldn't be as high on that list as the 2010 Bruins. Maybe I should do that list. But not tonight.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Arizona's All-Time Baseball Team

In honor of the Yankees playing the Arizona Diamondbacks this week, I present the all-time lineup for players from the Grand Canyon State.

Note that this does not include players from colleges based in the State, such as Arizona State's Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds. Only players who were born, or at least grew up, in Arizona.

1B Chris Duncan of Oro Valley. Son of former player and longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, and brother of Cleveland Indian (and former Yankee flash-in-the-pan) Shelley Duncan, he's battled injuries and is now in the Washington Nationals organization. But before getting hurt, starred for the St. Louis Cardinals (under the watchful eyes of his father and manager Tony LaRussa), and helped them win the 2006 World Series.

2B Ian Kinsler of Oro Valley. Tomorrow is the Texas Ranger star's 28th birthday, and he's already deserved more than the 1 All-Star selection he’s gotten.

SS Mark Grudzielanek of El Paso, Texas. Texas? El Paso is 429 miles from Phoenix, but 747 miles from Houston. Besides, if I didn't pick Grudz, or put him at 2nd base where he played a few more games, I would have had to go with Solly Hemus of Mesa, Arizona, not much of a player, and a racist manager whose bigotry nearly wrecked the St. Louis Cardinals before they could become the 1964-68 championship team.

Grudz only made 1 All-Star team and only won 1 Gold Glove, but he's got a .289 lifetime batting average, over 2,000 hits, and in 1997 led the NL in doubles with 54. Although best remembered as a Montreal Expo, he reached the postseason with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 and the Cardinals in 2005. After not playing last season, he's now 40 and playing out the string with the Cleveland Indians.

3B Jack Howell of Tucson. Hit a few home runs for the California Angels (as the Anaheim team was officially known) in the 1980s, including, famously, a broken-bat shot at the old Yankee Stadium.

LF Billy Hatcher of Williams. An All-Star with the Houston Astros, and the MVP of the 1990 World Series with the Cincinnati Reds.

CF Hank Lieber of Phoenix. Reached the Giants in 1933, too soon to be included on the roster of a team that won the World Series, but did play in the 1936 and '37 Series that the Giants lost to the Yankees. Three times an All-Star.

RF Andre Ethier of Phoenix. The Dodger kid could turn out to be something special.

C Tom Pagnozzi of Tucson. Not a great hitter, but won 3 Gold Gloves with the 1990s St. Louis Cardinals. Ron Hassey, another Tucsonian, is the backup (as he was so often), which shows you that the State is a little weak at the position.

UT Rex Hudler of Tempe. Gotta love Rex the Wonder Dog, who could play any position. Too bad he couldn't hit at any of them.

SP Alex Kellner of Tucson. Once won 20 games for the Philadelphia Athletics. Big deal? He did it after 1932 (in 1949, to be precise), so, yes.

SP Gary Gentry of Phoenix. In 1969, as a rookie, he won 13 games for the New York Mets. On September 24 of that season, he tossed a 4-hit shutout against the Cardinals at Shea Stadium -- the Mets knocked Steve Carlton out of the box with 5 runs in the 1st, no less -- to clinch the National League Eastern Division title, the first ever postseason berth for the Mets after their first 7 seasons -- as New York Post sportswriter Leonard Schecter put it in his book about the team, 7 years of bad luck evening out in one year.

Gentry also started and won Game 3 of the World Series. Unfortunately, he suffered an elbow injury, only won another 33 games in the majors, and was done at age 28. Still, it’s enough to get him on this team.

SP John Denny of Prescott. Struggled with the Cleveland Indians, but won the 1983 NL Cy Young Award, leading the Philadelphia Phillies to a Pennant -- a rare occurrence before 2008.

SP Gil Heredia of Nogales. Won 15 games for the Oakland A's in 2000, as they won the AL West and nearly interrupted the Joe Torre Yankee dynasty. But he only pitched one more season and was gone. No relation to Dominican Republic native Felix Heredia, who gave me some agita with the 2004 Yankees.

SP Brian Bannister of Mesa. The son of former pitcher Floyd Bannister (who grew up in Washington State and thus doesn't qualify for this team), he’s another decent player the Mets get away. A lefty like his father, he’s won 34 games in 3½ seasons for the Kansas City Royals. At least the Mets got Ambiorix Burgos for him, right?

RP Lerrin LaGrow of Scottsdale. In the 1972 ALCS, pitching for the Detroit Tigers, he hit Bert Campaneris of the Oakland Athletics on the foot. Campaneris responded by throwing hit bat back at the mound. LaGrow ducked, and wasn't hurt. He then went on to 8-19 and 7-14 seasons for the Tigers as the team got old in a hurry. The Chicago White Sox converted him to a reliever, and he kept them in the 1977 AL West race for a while.

A couple of years ago, my work resulted in me having to contact LaGrow's office. He’s now a real estate agent and business broker in Scottsdale. How can I put this politely... I still think Campaneris overreacted, but I understand why he did it. LaGrow is not a nice person. But, for a little while, he was a good pitcher.

Honorable Mention to Ralph Kiner and Vern Stephens, two star sluggers of the late 1940s and early 1950s, who were born in New Mexico, which, since 1998 anyway, is in the Diamondbacks' territory. However, both left the Land of Enchantment as children and grew up in Southern California, Hall-of-Famer Kiner in Alhambra and All-Star Stephens in Long Beach.

Fred Haney, a full New Mexican, wasn't much as a player, but managed the Milwaukee Braves to National League Pennants in 1957 and '58, winning the World Series in '57.

Burnett Bombed Again, Mets vs. Tigers

The Yankees lost 10-4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks last night. Once again, A.J. Burnett didn't have it. I'm getting concerned: Just when Javier Vazquez seems to be fully straightened out, the Pieman isn't getting the job done.

Neither is Chan Ho "Taken Out of the" Park. Maybe he's too busy watching Korea in the World Cup. Eyes on this hemisphere, Chan Ho.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Yankees are counting on Andy Pettitte tonight, to bounce back from a bad loss.

Whoever is in charge of showing scoreboard highlights at Chase Field showed a replay of Luis Gonzalez (cough-steroids-cough) hitting that looper that won the 2001 World Series for the Diamondbacks. And in the crowd of 47,000, which is about double what the Snakes usually get at home, there was a considerable amount of... booing!

Once again, Yankee Fans took over an opposing ballpark. And Phoenix is not a short trip like Boston or Baltimore (both a little over 200 miles), or even a comparatively short one like Cleveland (500) or Detroit (700) or Chicago (900). We're talking 3/4 of the way across the country. There must've been a lot of frequent-flier miles cashed in.

After all, when it's 90 degrees in New York and New Jersey, the place you really want to go to is Arizona.

Yankee Fans watching that game must've gotten hot under the collar, but... I think you know what's coming here... it was in Arizona, so it was a dry heat.

*

The Mets start a three-game series at Citi Field against the Detroit Tigers. Interleague play. It's got to go, except for March and October. Spring training and the World Series, that's it.

The Mets and Tigers have almost no history together, aside from two notable trades:

* December 12, 1975: The Mets trade Rusty Staub and some guy named Bill Laxton to the Tigers for Mickey Lolich and Billy Baldwin -- not the one from the Long Island-based acting family. Lolich was one of baseball's best pitchers between 1964 and 1973, but he got hurt, did next to nothing for the Mets, and while he retired as the all-time leader in strikeouts by a lefthanded pitcher, this was a trade the Mets regretted big-time, as Rusty continued his great hitting in Detroit, before they got him back for a decent end to his career.

* December 7, 1984: The Mets trade pitcher Walt Terrell to the newly-crowned World Champion Tigers for Howard Johnson. Terrell gave the Tigers more than Lolich gave the Mets, but HoJo became the greatest third baseman in Met history. Which is like calling Gerald Ford (who lived most of his life in Michigan and was himself a Tiger fan) the least damaging Republican President of the last 50 years. (Well... he was.)

The Tigers won the World Series in 1968, the Mets in 1969. The Tigers finished 2nd in the AL East in '69, but well behind the Baltimore Orioles, whom the Mets defeated in the World Series. The Tigers reached the postseason in '72 (lost the ALCS), the Mets in '73 (lost the World Series).

A Mets-Tigers World Series looked very possible between 1984 and 1988, but it just didn't happen. The Tigers were a net 7 1/2 games out of first place for those 5 seasons (their 15-game final AL East lead of 1984 wiped out by being 15 back in '85), the Mets at a net tie for first place in those seasons, buoyed by huge NL East wins in '86 and '88 to go with close losses in '84, '85 and '87. But the two teams just couldn't both get it done in the same season.

In fact, since Jesse Orosco threw his glove in the air on October 27, 1986, the Mets and Tigers have either reached the postseason a combined 7 times, and had 8 other close calls between them, but each has won exactly 1 Pennant in that time (the Mets in 2000, the Tigers in 2006), and each lost the World Series in 5 games in the season in question.

In fact, despite the fact that the Tigers, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers won 31 Pennants between them from 1904 to 1956, the Tigers have never played a New York team in a World Series. The Fred Merkle "Boner" of 1908 kept the Giants out of a World Series that the Tigers were in.

Either the Giants or the Tigers were in the World Series every year between 1933 and 1937. The Tigers won a Pennant in 1940, the Dodgers in 1941; the Tigers in 1945, the Dodgers nearly so in 1946. But then the Tigers went into a decline that would last until the 1960s, by which point the Dodgers and Giants were in California. When they finished a strong but not close 2nd to the Yankees in 1961, came oh-so-close in Detroit's riot year of 1967, and won it all in 1968. And when the Tigers finally played a California team in a World Series in 1984, it wasn't the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants, but the San Diego Padres.

The only time the Tigers have ever played a New York team in the postseason was the 2006 American League Division Series. After the Yankees won Game 1, their bats went silent, and the Tigers took advantage to win 3 straight, and then swept the Oakland Athletics in 4 straight for the Pennant, with Magglio Ordonez joining Bobby Thomson and Chris Chambliss hitting a walkoff home run in a Playoff game for the Pennant.

(Hank Aaron hit a walkoff to clinch a Pennant, but that was in the regular-season, in the pre-Divisional Play era. Jack Clark hit what turned out to be a Pennant-winning homer in a 9th inning of a potential clincher for his team, and Tony Fernandez did it in an 11th, but both did so in the top half.)

The Mets thought they were going to join the Tigers in the 2006 World Series, until the 9th inning of Game 7 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, when Yadier Molina joined Jack Clark and Tony Fernandez (in his case, the 11th inning) as players who hit what turned out to be a winning homer in the top half of the last inning of a potential Pennant clincher for his team. He hit it off Aaron Heilman, who interestingly enough, is on the Diamondbacks now, as they play the Yankees this week. (Hope springs eternal for the Bronx Bombers!)

And the Tigers went on to play like a team that did not belong in the World Series, losing to the Cards in 5 games. The 2 previous Tigers-Cards World Series both went 7, with the Cards winning in 1934 and the Tigers doing so in 1968. Each of those was one of the better Series ever played, but the 2006 edition may be the worst that I can remember.

Had the Mets beaten the Cards, would they have beaten the Tigers? It's hard to tell: They were better on paper, but the games aren't played on paper, they're played on grass (and, all too often, on plastic), and, besides, we're talking about the Mets here. The Mets would have found a way to screw it up.