Um… you tell ’em, Jason.

When it comes time to vote on the award for "2006’s Oddest Insults," I’d like to throw Jason Kendall’s name into the ring. Upon hearing that Major League baseball refused to lesson his 4-game suspension for charging Angels pitcher John Lackey, Kendall directed the following harsh words to the powers that be:

"Major League Baseball has turned into a badminton league."

Badminton?

It’s a shame Kendall was afraid to prove his point by using a completely random comparison.

I’ll admit, while I’ve written about sports ranging from basketball to bass fishing, I’m hardly an all-purpose "sports expert." And frankly, aside from tennis, the "net-centric" sports (ping pong, beach volleyball, that version of volleyball you play in a swimming pool) rank among my least knowledgeable. So I may just be out of the loop. But when did badminton get slapped with the "soft" rep? That’s really word on the street these days? Is it really any less rough a sport than, I don’t know, squash? You don’t hear that sport getting the ***** label. Don’t guys occasionally cheap shot an opponent’s kneecap with their racket? Drill a shuttlecock into an opponent’s face? Never? Ever? I’m not saying "pro badminton player" and "NHL enforcer" should be mentioned in the same breath, but is Jason Kendall really giving badminton a fair shake?

And for that matter, when did baseball become known as the "hardest" sport this side of Ultimate Fighting. Did I miss that memo? Obviously, the sport requires a certain amount of strength and endurance. I’m not calling these guys pansies or nothing. But it’s not like the hitting comes fast and furious during your typical nine innings. Except for trying to dislodge a ball from a fielder, the occasional hit batsman, or the rare bench clearing brawl, there are few occasions when a big leaguer even makes physical contact with guys in the other dugout. When’s the last time you saw a team go out and play "physical baseball?" When’s the last time Albert Pujols threatened to lay out  the next guy coming hard into his house (otherwise known as "first base")? And let’s be honest. Half the guys in The Show fall somewhere between "slightly doughy" and "flat out tubby." They’re not equipped for that kind of rough and tumble, anyway. If baseball actually were a contact sport, they’d be among the last ones picked for a team, anyway. Except maybe Kyle Farnsworth. That guy’s pretty freakin’ yoked.

One thing’s for sure, though. If Kendall’s right about the namby-pamby world that is professional badminton, Delmon Young’s probably not the ideal candidate to become the circuit’s first two sport athlete.

Also, wanted to let people know, my brother Brian and I are doing a Dodgers blog for Latimes.com. If you’re looking for a one stop shop for everything a man needs to "think blue," I can’t think of a better place to visit (and not just because I’m totally biased). You can bookmark this link (dodgerblog.typepad.com) or go to latimes.com and hit the link in the sports section. Thanks.

You can’t spell “Steroids” without ” * “

The media’s been keeping it pretty low key, so I wouldn’t blame people for not knowing about this. But apparently, Barry Bonds is enduring some heavy scrutiny at the moment. Two books specifically about his steroid usage are flying off the shelves (I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop up in the next Harry Potter novel as a syringe wielding villain). His new ESPN reality show is being slammed as a transparent (and ineffective) attempt to put a pretty face on a mug that would cause Dr. 90210 to throw up his hands. The Feds are deciding whether or not to charge him with perjury (which raises the philosophical conundrum: Can a guy who’s been lying so long he no longer distinguishes fact from fiction truly be guilty of falsehood under oath?). And just to put a cherry on top, dude can’t even bat his body weight anymore. All in all, 2006 probably won’t go down as Barry’s favorite year.

Unfortunately, 2006 hasn’t been too kind to baseball itself, either. This whole mess is yet the umpteenth reminder of how the "steroid era" will forever taint the sport’s history. Some may  protest that baseball’s investigation into itself is too Barry-centric, especially since some of the retired usual suspects (Big Mac, Raffy, Sosa) could go the entire the probe without getting a phone call. In reality, though, it doesn’t matter if baseball centered its work around Bonds, either Giambi, Canseco or one of the no-names who got nabbed during 2005’s testing. Whatever years the experts have designated under suspicion are permanently destroyed. There’s nothing that can be done about it, whether Barry slides, spends a year in a minimum security prison (Now there’s your reality show) or simply spends the rest of his life as the player (and ex-player) you live to hate. As Neil Young put it, "I’ve seen the needle and the damage done." And unlike that classic tune off Harvest, there’s nothing hauntingly beautiful about it.

I actually find the whole "to asterisk or not to asterisk the records" debate kind of funny, because it’s a moot point. The eventual decision won’t even matter, because the asterisk has already been added with permanent marker. Done deal. Forget about it. What do the powers that be think will happen if they decide against some little star or disclaimer at the end of Bonds-73? Or McGwire-583? People will just shrug their shoulders and ignore the Kilimanjaro-high pile of evidence that guys were juicing simply because baseball can’t decide the "fair" way to handle it? I’ve got news for the league. It’s been handled. The decision is out of your hands. The records only mean as much as people respect them and whatever’s been produced by this particular era will forever be viewed with skepticism. Any Big Mac plaque in Cooperstown might as well come with an asterisk branded on it, because every visitor’s eyes will burn one into the metal, anyway. The counterpoint crowd will claim that you can’t add the asterisk because you don’t know exactly how many HR’s by Raffy were tainted. Or if they came off pitchers shooting just as much juice. Or even acknowledge that Bonds was injecting himself like a supporting actor from Trainspotting, but since those drugs won’t make him hit a curveball, what difference does it make? Those people all think they’re arguing against the asterisk. But in reality, they’re pro-asterisk, even if they don’t know it. They may be against a literal "mark" of sorts, but that’s only due to a lack of indisputable proof, not because they think the achievements are pure. Either way, they’re convinced of the cheating and view the records as tarnished. They see an asterisk there, even if they vote against it. In order to truly be anti-asterisk, you gotta think that this whole "steroid" thing is a media invention, an attempt by politicians to get their faces in front of a camera, or some kind of Truman Show farce that ********* the world. Is there anyone who’ll present such theories with a straight face? Nobody I’ve ever met.

The league would be better off closing the debate and focusing on designing the coolest asterisk possible. Perhaps something space age. Or maybe that faux graffiti style that the kids seem to dig. Maybe even Old English script. Whatever. Do something to make it palatable, because the longer they put it off, the more a cloud of shame looms. By condemning and labeling it, the discussion slowly gets killed. Out of sight, out of mind. That might just be the only way to salvage things. We Americans do have a short attention span, after all.

Except, of course, when it comes to baseball.

But it’s still worth a try.

AK

HOF – Yes on Sutter, Screw Rose

Another year, another 365 days goes by that I’m not on the Hall of Fame ballot. Thought maybe this year, with this blog and all, there might finally be a little recognition for everything I’ve contributed to the game. But no. It’s all political and who you know.

Oh, well, guess we better focus on the guys who actually played baseball for a living. Obviously, there’s a lot of noise about this being Charlie Hustle’s last opportunity to enter Cooperstown, but nonetheless being left off the ballot. Rose has an interesting theory about the injustice of his eligibility running out.

"How can I be on a list that expires after 15 years if I’m suspended? It should be that time stops."

Hmmm. That’s a valid point, were this an episode of "Saved by the Bell" or "Out of this World," where time stoppage was a common solution to all of life’s problems. Unfortunately, Pete Rose is not Zack Morris. He’s a dude who wasted those 15 years lying about breaking the rules. Perhaps if he had just come clean earlier, he wouldn’t have wasted all his eligibility time trying deny the incredibly obvious. Especially if you’re gonna eventually admit it in a shameless attempt to sell a book, anyway. Why didn’t he just write the book in the mid-nineties, blatantly milk it for whatever bucks he can get, then leave himself enough time to drum up sympathy before the HOF eligibility expires? Seems like a no brainer to me. But again, Pete’s not the brightest cat in the world, so I wouldn’t expect him to handle even sleazy insincerity with a modicum of common sense. And that’s also why I don’t lose sleep over one of the greatest players in history being denied this honor. He’s too stupid to truly understand what a shame this is in the first place.

I would, however, like to throw my two cents into the ring for a guy, my Cardinals bias aside, that should be enshrined. Can we give a little respect to Bruce Sutter, please? The guy was a smokin’ reliever back in the days when relievers threw more than an inning and had beer afterwards. Every day. By design. When you throw 2-3 innings a night in an effort to maintain a lead, that’s truly saving a game. I’m not downplaying Eric Gagne’s achievements, because he’s a **** of a pitcher with an automatic intimidation factor that can’t all be hype. But it doesn’t impress me in the same way as guys like Sutter, Lee Smith, Eckersley, etc. Plus, the guy had a beard that made him look like a cross between a magical hippie wizard and a lost member of the ? Doobie Brothers… with an arm. How do you keep a guy like that out? Do the right thing, voters!

P.S. Willie McGee, too. That’s actually my Cards heart talking, but it still gets a vote.

When I’m Wrong…

… I’m really, really wrong. Let’s see. My prediction for the series: Cardinals over Angels in six. Well, aside from the Cards getting knocked out in 6, the Angels getting knocked out in five, and me apparently having no handle on the strengths of either Houston or Chicago, it was pretty much a flawless call. I guess there’s a reason Peter Gammons is making a touch more money than me analyzing baseball.

Man, it wasn’t easy watching the Cards go down. Second year in a row they’ve gone into the postseason with, theoretically, the most balanced roster from top to bottom, only to come up short. I know they’ve had some injury issues (This just in: Scott Rolen’s a very good baseball player), but it just felt like it was their year. Probable Cy Young winner in Carpenter. Possible MVP in Pujols. Guys like Sanders stepping up. And while there was certainly a huge part of me rooting with my heart, I honestly thought, with all objectivity I could possibly muster, that they were the best team in baseball. But I was wrong, and I’ll very begrudgingly give it up to Houston. In the meantime, my visions of Busch Stadium spending its final days as the house of the World Series champs will remain a mere fantasy. Any chance I could get the Powers That Be to change their minds about bringing in the wrecking ball? Oh well, I’ll get more into my feelings on this as we get closer to Nov. 7th, the scheduled day of carnage (Yes, carnage may be a bit strong, but that’s kind of how it seems to me).

I was also pretty surprised about the Angels, too. Vladdy, what happened, buddy?  I wouldn’t have predicted you going cold like that in a million years. And did you have to share whatever flavor Kool Aid you were drinking with the rest of the fellas?  But you also have to wonder how much Doug Eddings call at home messed with the Angels’ heads. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a Denkinger-esque situation, but on its best day, this was bizarre (When it comes to non-verbal communication, Eddings certainly has no future as a mime), and it absolutely shifted the tide in Chicago’s favor. Like Bartman-gate and the Cubs, or even the Cards in ’85, the fault ultimately lies with Anaheim. They’re professionals, and professionals are paid to rise above adversity. But the entire situation changes if Chicago would have played the next three in Anaheim down 2-0, as opposed to all squared with the wind at their back.  But I suppose any team capable of ripping 3 straight W’s in someone else’s house deserves the benefit of the doubt. In the end, maybe there’s a reason they had the best record in the AL.

Everyone, myself included, has spent the year not giving the White Sox much respect. And from here on out, that’s gonna change. They had 11 more wins than Houston playing in a more competitive division. They’ve got pitching. They’re getting props. The Chicago White Sox will win the series. There. I said it.

Which basically means, if I were a Houston resident right now, I’d be putting all the champagne I own in the fridge to get it nice and cold.

 

Round 2

I’m a writer, and I like to think of myself as a decent writer. On my better days, maybe even a pretty darn good writer. But I’m failing to come up with the words that properly sum up, in terms of accuracy, emotion, and perhaps even pure spite, how happy I was to see the Yankees go down in game five. It’s so hysterically ironic (and appropriate) that a team spending 200 mil + managed to do worse than the year before in their quest to purchase greatness. Truth be told, they spent most of the season flailing about, occasionally getting on nice rolls, but never managing to accomplish anything remotely resembling dominance. I can only imagine how much they’ll spend in the off-season to right the ship, but it’ll be hilarious to watch. I’m gonna put this out there, not because I think it’ll actually happen, but because it would be too classic. Ten words. Bernie Retiring. Milton Bradley. Large contract. NY media. Oh… my!

            On to the final four. As a Cards fan, I’m with my boys 100%, and really do think they’re gonna come out on top. But I don’t love the prospect of them facing a team with Petite, Oswalt and The Rocket in the rotation. That’s nastier than R.Kelly having a night out with 3 underage hookers and a fleet of camcorders. But Carpenter’s gonna win the Cy. Morris and Mulder are nothing to sneeze at, either. Not having Reyes doesn’t help matters, but I do like Izzy (although Lidge is flat out sick, and if it gets to some late inning showdowns, our odds do decrease a bit, for sure). But St. Louis has been the best team in baseball all season for a reason. They’ve dealt with injuries, including Rolen, arguably their second best player, who’s been out basically forever. They’re balanced. They’re ego-free. And they’ve got a few guys like Eckstein and Sanders who’ve been there, done that, and that experience is crucial when you get down the stretch (although you wouldn’t know it from the way Boston crashed and burned). I would never count Houston out, but I’m not scared, either.

            In the AL, this should be a great series. I’m rooting Angels, partially because, as a 15-year Southern Cal resident, I feel it’s something of my duty to go local, partially because I really like the guys on that team and the way Moreno spends with purpose in mind, as opposed to name dropping (like, say, the team they beat to get here), and, well… because I predicted Cards over Angels in 6 in an earlier entry. Unless the Angels advance, I can’t be right. I really like being right. I’m a little concerned about this Bartolo Colon injury, but really only if Washburn’s still sidelined with what seems to be the worst illness since the bubonic plague. Last I heard, he had a temperature of 117 and was speaking in tongues. Well, assuming he can pitch 6 innings sometime in the near future without dry (or wet) heaving, as good as Colon is, I think the team can win a round without him, as evidenced by the scrap they showed coming together when he went down. But it’s never easy when your best arm can’t take the hill. And Ozzie Guillen does have a right to yap about the lack of respect they’ve been getting all season, especially down the stretch. Even though they didn’t play their best ball when it nearly counted the most, they still got the job done, and nobody gave them much credit afterwards. Of course, now everyone’s jumping on the Chicago bandwagon in a last second effort to give props, which almost guarantees they’ll choke. The media can never be right. Unless it’s me. Because I’m stubborn.

Just wondering. If Lou Pinella disagrees with a call while doing commentary during the ALCS game 1, is he gonna sprint down to the field and scream at the ump? That would be beyond awesome. If I ran Fox, it would be in his contract.

Oh, did I mention the Yankees lost? Just wanted to make sure.

2 Days Worth of Playoffs Musings

If I were a Red Sox fan, I’d be really worried. Not about this round against Chicago. They might as well resign themselves to the fact that they’re out, barring some kind of miracle, which I don’t think they can muster two years in a row. Granted, they’re a dangerous team to count out, I’m shocked they’re in this position in the first position, and they’re good for at least one win at Fenway. But it’s hard to buy winning out 3 straight. But that’s not even why Chowder heads should be freaking. What they should be worried about is the Graffanino error. Scarily reminiscent of Buckner, dontcha think? And while I know I’m not the first to make the comparison (frankly, if this comparison even slightly blew your mind, log off now, because you’re too stupid for me to appreciate your readership), I’m a very superstitious guy, and think of this choke as the baseball Gods looking down on Beantown and saying, “Psyche! Hope you enjoyed ’04, boys! Because you ain’t winning again until 2090! And here’s a little reminder of the pain you thought was long gone.” Brutal! But such is sports. At least y’all got the Pats… for now.

C’mon, Angels! Papa needs a new pair of shoes… to keep kicking the Yankees with! (I didn’t actually put any money on the series) But let’s pull this out, boys! It’s too early for my St.Louis-Anaheim series prediction to already be down the tubes.

Just wondering. Did they even bother securing venues for the “if necessary” games 4 and 5 between St. Louis and San Diego. If I ran Petco, I’d feel pretty secure scheduling a monster truck pull the day after game 3.  Some things are pretty much done deals. And speaking of St. Louis dominating in the postseason, Yo, Atlanta, wanna pick it up, fellas?  While I like our chances in a 7 game series against Houston more than five, I’d rather avoid them altogether. That top starting 3 is scary. And Clemens must be seriously motivated after not getting a CY with an ERA under 2. I’ll skip that one, thank you very much.

I’m happy for Giambi. I don’t condone anything he did in the past, and he deserved the heat he took. But he also took his lumps like a man, and owned up to it, even if in occasionally vague terms, more than any player whose name has popped up in the BALCO era. And the guy was left for dead coming into this season. The Yanks were talking about releasing him. Everyone thought he’d be in the minors. And he was coming off tumors, parasites, and a seriously wounded psyche. There are some who would say the health issues came as the results of steroids, but they honestly don’t know. Nobody knows. But even if these obstacles were the results of Giambi’s own doing, he still had to overcome them. And he did an incredible job of it. On top of it all, he’s a good guy, even if he’s a good guy who tried to cheat the game. That doesn’t make him a bad person, just a flawed one. He paid a price, and moved on with class. So I’m glad to see him win.

Just a Few Thoughts

A DH can be the MVP.

            I’m not saying this because I think they should hand the award to Papi. You can make a legit argument for A-Rod, and I wouldn’t criticize anybody who voted for him. He’s a great bat, a great glove, and a great all-around player. But this idea that Ortiz doesn’t deserve it because his job is somehow gravy since he doesn’t play the field is ridiculous. Personally, I’m not a fan of the DH. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching National League baseball, but I think it removes a wonderful element of strategy from the game. But it’s completely unfair to penalize a guy for a playing a position that Major League baseball mandates exist in the American League. If you have a problem with the rules, write Selig. But as long as it’s listed on a lineup card, it’s as legit as any other position and deserves the same amount of respect for excellence achieved. And while it is true that Ortiz only rarely ever steps on the field wearing a glove, he’s also left with half the chances to maintain a level of brilliance. Yes, manning the hot corner is an extra challenge for A-Rod, but it also allows him to receive admiration on a day when he goes 0-4 with three strikeouts by making a couple run saving grabs. In a weird way, one provides a safety net for the other. Ortiz, though, has no cushion. Every time he grabs a bat, he’s expected to do damage, and big time damage at that. And he’s come up huge this season. 144 RBI’s. .342 with men in scoring position. (His actual BA is .295, which really shows how good he is when it counts) I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I’d be willing to bet that he came through this year in more high pressure, must win scenarios than A-Rod. Than anyone in the league. Period. Plus, he carried his team for a good chunk of change. Again, I’m not saying he’s a lock. But anyone dismissing the idea as farfetched is missing the point entirely.

I’ve been joking with my brother Brian (http://bk.mlblogs.com/) all September that, if undecided between Carpenter and Willis for the Cy, the tie should go to the better batter. Now I’m not so sure that wouldn’t be what broke the tie for me. Their stats are so close, and while Carpenter’s team is going to the playoffs, that’s been a done deal for St. Louis since roughly August, with no real pressure on Carpenter to perform other than for pride, achievement and hardware. Willis, though, has been carrying his team in a futile battle for a wild card spot, and doing it brilliantly. It’s not his fault his division is ten times as competitive as the Central. And in the end, both pitched incredibly well. But Dontrelle’s a good enough hitter to actually hit 7th this season. And while that may seem arbitrary, so much of the actual voting is, anyway. In a weird way, this arbitrary reasoning for Dontrelle at least relies on something tangible.

Bartolo Colon wins it in the AL. If for no other reason than to keep a Yankee from winning. 

Congrats Padres. You fended off the semi-surging Giants. With any luck, you’ll even finish out at .500 en route to your inevitable first round sweeping, while either of the more deserving Phils or Astros start their vacations early. Well done, kids. Well done.

Prediction: Yanks win the East. Cleveland takes the wild card. Someone in the Red Sox clubhouse will secretly resent Schilling for an entire off-season.

World Series: Cards v. Angels. Cards in 6.