Sunday, August 31, 2008

Big Z's BiZarre Injuries; A Note On Lincecum's Mechanics; D-Backs Acquire Eckstein

  • Carlos Zambrano scratched from his start:
The Cubs scratched Carlos Zambrano from his scheduled start against the Phillies today
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because he has a tired arm----ESPN Story. This is understandable at this time of year and with the Cubs playoff position secure, it makes sense to sit Zambrano and make sure he's healthy for the playoffs. That being said, Zambrano has had a series of bizarre incidents on the mound in recent years; in fact, some of his injuries have been borderline absurd. This is the guy whose arm was tired from clicking the computer mouse and sending too many emails (believe it or not); who got so excited during one start that he started hyperventilating and had to be removed (sounds more like a panic attack if you ask me); lost a tooth, spat it out and kept on pitching (Zambrano blames too much sugary gum); and now has a tired arm. It's a bit odd, but it's better than having the same type of symptoms as Josh Beckett and John Maine have had that have forced both onto the disabled list and put their seasons in question.
Zambrano's a quirky guy; with quirky habits and a quirky mound demeanor, so it's to be expected that he'd have a series of quirky things happen to him to keep him on the sidelines once in awhile, but a tired arm happens to pitchers as they hit the home stretch and it generally dissipates as the cooler weather comes along and the adrenaline of the end of the season and the playoffs comes into view. In other words, the Cubs are right to take a conservative tact with their ace and it's probably not anything to be overly concerned about.
  • A note on Tim Lincecum's mechanics and those looking to copy them:
My blog gets a lot of google hits from people looking to learn about Tim Lincecum's unique
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mechanics and workout regimens and I speak from experience when I say to those looking to copy Lincecum that they should take great caution in trying to use the internet to find ways to replicate what it is Lincecum does.
Throwing a lights out fastball is something that pitchers are born with and no amount of callasthenics, stretching and copying of the routines of a successful pitcher is going to change that. Even with that reality, there are ways for pitchers to improve their velocity and results within reason. Without the help of a coach or a detailed plan to do what it is Lincecum does, I would hesitate to try and copy it. A pitcher like Lincecum----5'9" (maybe?), 160 lbs (maybe?) and with a 98 mph fastball----has more to do with his physical gifts than to do with what his father taught him; the jury is still out on whether he 's going to be able to handle the longterm workload of being a starting pitcher in the major leagues; only time will tell whether the innovations his father came up with to teach Tim to pitch will bear out.
The odds are that Lincecum would probably throw as hard as he does no matter who taught him and what mechanics he used; the wear and tear and whether or not he stays healthy will be the indicators of the usefulness of his specially designed program and mechanics. The only thing I can recommend for those that are looking for help with their
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mechanics is a book that helped me a great deal and that book was Nolan Ryan's Pitcher's Bible.
After years of trying to find a guide that was easy to follow and actually made sense (and worked), I stumbled onto Ryan's book probably three or four years too late for it to make a great deal of difference for me, but if there are those that are still within the age range to have a chance of proper mechanics helping their career, I suggest they consider this book. It has clear and easy to understand language of pitching mechanics with checkpoints to make sure you're doing things correctly; suggestions for mental preparation and exercises (weight training, stretching and stamina related) for both starters and relievers. The terminology is the key and it was clear enough to jackhammer it's way through the rock hard melon sitting atop my shoulders that I occasionally refer to as my head, so instead of concentrating on the flavor of the moment in Tim Lincecum, I strongly suggest those that are seeking help try Nolan Ryan's book because it helped me and Ryan had a very long, very durable career that wasn't pockmarked by injuries that are occurring today; some of that may have been due to the improved technology to detect problems, but part of it was because Ryan must've been doing something right.
  • Astros 3-Cardinals 0:
Everyone (myself included) ridiculed the Houston Astros and their owner Drayton McLane when his team acquired veteran pitching help at the trading deadline instead of clearing out
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some of their own veteran players for the future, but since the trades acquiring journeymen Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins, the Astros have played well enough for it to be within the realm of reason that they should be included (at least as a mentionable) for a playoff spot. They're 9 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead and they're going to cool off, but from where they were on July 31st to now, it's hard to argue with McLane's argument not to give up. Wolf hasn't been particularly good, but he's been serviceable and Hawkins has been excellent. It could be luck or it could be just belief in his team, but whatever it is it's been just as effective as the formulas and pontificating that others do in making recommendations as to what certain teams should and shouldn't do.
  • Diamondbacks acquire David Eckstein from the Blue Jays:
The Diamondbacks are going for it all right now as evidenced by the trades they've made
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during the season, the latest being for former post-season hero David Eckstein from the Blue Jays. I would presume that Eckstein is going to play second base for the Diamondbacks and he'll provide grit, hustle, post-season hardware and another guy to get on base in front of the Diamondbacks bashers. On the surface it's a good deal, but none of the other deals they've made, most met with widespread approval, have served to snap the team out of their slumber, so who knows if this one will do the trick anymore than the others? It's a good move anyway; Eckstein's a guy you like to have on your team because he does the little things to win games.

The Dynamics Of A Bench Clearing "Brawl"

  • Marlins 4-Mets 3:
After Aaron Heilman's atrocious ninth inning tonight, it's clear the duel between the Mets and the Phillies down the stretch is going to come down to which team's bullpen coughs up
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the fewest games; right now it's a coin flip and that's with the Phillies getting such a stunning comeback year from Brad Lidge. Lidge has had his own issues with blowing big games and having it affect him for an extended period (see Pujols, Albert; 2005 NLCS). That's neither here nor there in the story of tonight's game because of the bench clearing dance the teams exchanged after Mets starter Mike Pelfrey drilled Marlins outfielder Cody Ross.
I have great respect for Cody Ross. He's rung every single ounce of ability out of his small frame; has bounced from the Tigers to the Dodgers to the Reds to the Marlins trying to find a place where he was going to get a chance to play; he got his chance with the Marlins and has proven himself to have surprising (though streaky) power, a penchant for getting big hits and a toughness that's hard to find. This is a player who was hit in the mouth by an Oscar Villareal fastball two years ago
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and insisted on getting right back into the lineup. With that, it's hard to believe that even Ross thinks that Pelfrey was throwing at him in the second inning of tonight's game. Pelfrey also hit Ross on August 10th and does hit a greater than usual number of hitters, but that's only because he tries to pitch inside and gets a lot of natural movement on his pitches.
After Ross was hit, he cussed loudly and slammed his bat and elbow protector to the ground; Mets catcher Brian Schneider was watching Ross closely to see if anything was going to happen and sure enough, as he was walking to first, Ross let Pelfrey know what he thought of him and from reading his lips and due to the circumstances, he certainly wasn't wishing Pelfrey "luck". Pelfrey responded in kind and the next thing everyone knew, both benches cleared and there was the general milling around that goes on during a bench clearing "incident". There were no punches thrown, but even when there are actual fights on a baseball diamond, they always end up pretty much the same way.
There's the one guy who got angry at the other guy and the two wind up screaming at each other; then the benches empty and the players start holding their teammates back; then there are the guys who started charging in and try to appear as if they want to fight whether they really do or not. Tonight, that character was played by Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs. Jacobs ran onto the field, got spun around and held back in what looked like an audition to make sure he got as much face time on SportsCenter as humanly possible to show how tough and great a teammate he is because he wants to "fight" for his comrade. Then the bullpens come charging in and things cool down...until someone says something and the teams start moving toward one another again. Then order is restored and everyone returns to playing the game. It's the same script just about every time and it's tiresome; if these guys want to fight, then
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get on with it. None of this running around and charging in and yelling and screaming, and it's always the loudest ones who go crawling out of the pile of bodies during the fight
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and head for the nearest exit; it happens every time.
I was involved in a bench clearing fight when I was nineteen, playing on the sandlots and still harboring delusions of being able to play professionally. This was a legitimate fight with guys actually throwing punches, but for the most part, everything else played out predictably with guys holding each other back, trying to protect teammates from getting hurt and showing some solidarity so they look like they're willing to fight even if they're not. In this particular incident, I was holding back one of the main participants along with a couple of players on the other team. (Much like "The Most Interesting Man In the World" with his ice cold Dos Equis, I'm a lover, not a fighter; but I'm a fighter too, so don't get any ideas.) One guy on my team----the biggest guy as it turned out----got knocked to the
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ground and had a cut lip after he yapped long and hard to one of the opposing players during the festivities. This was a prime example of what goes on during these things. (I joined the team we were fighting with the next season.)
In general, a baseball team and it's rosters work out this way when it comes to fighting: there are four or five guys who can actually fight, but don't do it unless they have to; six to eight guys who think they can fight, act like they can fight and charge around like they can fight, but get a brutal beating when they do fight. (I'm not suggesting that Mike Jacobs is one of those guys----he could be the best baseball player/fighter since Billy Martin, but he sure was acting like one of those guys.) Then there are the rest of the players who try to keep the posers and the fighters from hurting themselves or anyone else and keep guys from getting suspended. The number of times in which actual punches are thrown in comparison to the number of times benches clear can't be very good considering that a potential fight is the reason that the players ran out onto the field in the first place.
This also doesn't suggest that there haven't been some genuinely tough baseball players; guys you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Ray Knight was the former Golden Gloves boxing muscle behind the 1986 Mets; Dave Parker was called "Cobra" for a reason; and of course, there was Billy Martin; but then there are the guys who think they're tough, yell like they're tough, but never do much of anything like Josh Beckett and Roger Clemens. The main thing is that these incidents never amount to much because the dynamic is almost always the same, as are baseball players. Sometimes pretense is the better part of valor and it's better to look and act like a guy who's ready to drop the gloves than to actually be a guy who's ready to drop the gloves. Stay thirsty my friends.
  • The 2008 Yankees are ready for the coroner (figuratively):
In a reference from The Sopranos to quote Carmine Lupertazzi from when he decided to shut down the construction of the Esplanade in retaliation during an ongoing back-and-forth
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between the Lupertazzis and the Sopranos: "I haven't wanted to do this..." but he did do it because it was necessary; now, I must do the same thing and declare the Yankees dead.
After today's latest bullpen meltdown and series of mental and physical errors, the Yankees had to sit and watch both the Rays and the Red Sox win to increase their respective leads over the Yankees to 11 1/2 for the Rays and seven for the Red Sox. It's going to be all but impossible for the Yankees to catch up to either team especially with the wounded and journeyman-laden starting rotation and woeful bullpen. Add in that Robinson
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Cano is playing like a guy whose head is everywhere but on his job; that Johnny Damon can't play center field; that Alex Rodriguez is hitting poorly in the clutch and in bad luck; that Joe Girardi is learning on the job; etc, etc, etc.
It was bound to happen eventually and it might have happened had Joe Torre been managing the team instead of Joe Girardi, but their luck has run out and the Yankees of 2008 are officially being taken off of life support, at least in my hospital. Speaking of Torre...
  • Dodgers 6-Diamondbacks 2:
As terribly as the Dodgers have played during the last week in which they lost eight in a
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row including three straight to the Washington Nationals, their win tonight over the Diamondbacks puts them 3 1/2 games out of first place with a record of 66-70. By season's end, no one's going to care if either team makes the playoffs with a record of 81-81 or 80-82 or whatever.
As difficult as I was finding it to diagnose what was wrong with the Dodgers after their flashy acquisitions of Manny Ramirez, Greg Maddux and Casey Blake, it's just as hard to diagnose what's wrong with the Diamondbacks who acquired a power bat/on-base machine in Adam Dunn; a set-up reliever who can close in Jon Rauch and a respected veteran in Tony Clark; they also have the best 1-2 punch of starting pitchers in baseball in Brandon Webb and Dan Haren and they still can't put the Dodgers away.
Some say that it's better to be lucky than good, but Joe Torre's luck from the Yankees seems to be following him to Los Angeles because no matter how awful the Dodgers look, the Diamondbacks are bent on matching them and with that, they're well on their way to blowing this division that they should have wrapped up already given the talent on their roster, how they've augmented it and how far the Dodgers have gone in an attempt to eliminate themselves; but they're still there and the Torre-luck is something that the Diamondbacks aren't going to want to tempt because if they do, they're going to lose.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yankees In A Catch-42

  • Yankees 2-Blue Jays 1:
Imagine you're Joe Girardi and as you sit in the dugout trying to nursemaid your set-up
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men Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez through the eighth inning of a game you must win, you look up at the scoreboard and see that both the Red Sox and Rays are blowing out their respective opponents. Not only that, but the Red Sox happen to be beating up on one of the teams directly in front of the Yankees, the White Sox. With a chance to gain a game on one of the teams you're going to have to pass to get into playoff position and the two direct competitors in your own division winning easily, what do you do?
What do you do as you watch Jose Veras put Carl Pavano's second straight gutty performance (with stuff that could only be classified as mediocre) in jeopardy after Pavano outdueled a pitcher who's on his way to possiby winning 20 games in A.J. Burnett? What do you do, after Veras gives up a hit and a walk and you bring in Ramirez who records an out via strikeout and Joe Inglett, a left-handed contact hitter having a solid year is coming to the plate with one out and the game in the balance?
It's simple you think, I have the greatest closer in baseball history in the bullpen warming up and ready; but bear in mind that the greatest closer in baseball history is going to be 39-years-old later this year; that he's accustomed to only pitching one inning to get his saves; that most of the times he's recorded saves of more than a single inning have been in do-or-die situations; that he's pitched more than one inning six times since August 12th; that he recorded four outs to save another imperative game against the Red Sox just 30 hours before; what do you do?
You think it's an easy decision? Knowing you have to win every game you can? That if you have a 2-1 advantage, you can't simply let Rivera's workload dictate a game's result if losing that game will put you seven games behind the Red Sox and eleven and a half behind the Rays? Do you
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even have a choice? Girardi did the right thing in bringing Rivera in and there may be eighth inning help on the way from Joba Chamberlain, but there are going to be other situations like this over the final month because the Yankees cannot afford to lose games like this in which they're in a position to win. If it was a blowout one way or the other, it's a convenient way to give Rivera the days off he needs, but the situation is such that Girardi had no options and he had to put Rivera in for another eighth inning save. It's going to be this way for the final month of the season and even if the Yankees somehow pull off a miracle and make the playoffs, the question is going to have to be asked, is Rivera going to have anything left to give in October?
  • Mets 5-Marlins 4:
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Kevin Gregg is not a very reliable closer and I could almost hear the Phillies cussing and throwing things in Chicago as Carlos Beltran's two-out grand slam sailed into the right field bleachers of Dolphin Stadium.
  • Cubs 3-Phillies 2:
Yesterday was my first look at Jeff Samardzija and combining him and his fastball (upwards of 95 mph), with Carlos Marmol (a funky motion and another power fastball) and Kerry Wood will give the Cubs a 2008 version of manager Lou Piniella's famed Nasty Boys from the 1990 Reds; the games are going to be over after the sixth inning, sort of like little league.
  • Republican Vice Presidential nominee...Sarah Palin?
This might have been an inspired choice for John McCain if he were ten to fifteen years younger, but in an attempt to appease the religious right/zealot/lunatic fringe of the republican party who cannot stand him, he picked a young woman with almost no experience whatsoever other than a year and
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a half as the governor of the almost forgotten state of Alaska. Do McCain and his advisers really believe that Sarah Palin is going to attract the disgruntled voters of Hillary Clinton? Does he think that they're going to look past her stance on abortion (against it in all cases); guns (enthusiastic member of the NRA); and beliefs (she wants to have creationism taught in schools) and vote for a 72-year-old man whose health isn't all that great and whose mental acuity deserts him from time-to-time and run the very real risk that she's going to have to step in and be the president of the United States? Think about it.
If McCain were 62 instead of 72, then appeasing the radical right wing of the party was a good idea; but the Hillary voters who have a problem with Barack Obama are either going to look at their choices and stay home, or shut their eyes when they walk into the booth and vote for Obama; a minuscule number of women are going to vote based on gender. This was a big mistake and a complete turnaround from McCain's image as a maverick because it wasn't
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done because he wanted to do it, it was done for political expediency.
I believe deeply that the republicans are throwing McCain to the wolves knowing that they're almost assuredly going to lose in November and are looking toward 2012 when they'll be able to run the likes of Mitt Romney or some other more palatable candidate to the radical base and centrists that they need to win. They were hoping to stay close and maybe capitalize on Obama's newness (in every aspect of his story) and just as they threw Bob Dole in to run against Bill Clinton hoping that the Clinton baggage would allow Dole to win, they're hoping that McCain can somehow pull out a squeaker; this pick makes it clearer than ever that they're desperate to the point of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and it's not going to work; in fact, it makes things worse.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Yankees Show Some Fight, But Is It Too Late?

  • Yankees 3-Red Sox 2; "A little fight in you. I like that."
The Yankees and their defiant veterans in Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi showed some
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fight (see the above quote from the Joker in The Dark Knight), but they may have just given themselves a stay of execution and, trust me when I say this because I speak from experience, it's going to be more painful for Yankee fans if this thing is prolonged any further than it has to be.
As I said the other day, I don't believe the Yankees are dead as other hypocritical voices have suggested, but it's got to be put into context what they're going to have to do to get back to even having a chance at making the playoffs as the games dwindle. They have three games with the Blue Jays, a team which (if taking on the personality of their GM, J.P. Ricciardi) would like nothing better than to drag the Yankees down into the muck of mediocrity in which they wallow; in two of those three games, they're facing A.J. Burnett, singing for his soon-to-be-free agent supper; and Roy Halladay, a relentless competitor going for a second Cy Young Award.
After that they play the Rays for the start of six games against the upstart youngsters over the final month. They'll play the White Sox, fighting for a playoff spot of their own and also in front of the Yankees in the Wild Card race; the fading Orioles; the Blue Jays again and the Red Sox for the final three games of the season which are, at this point, unlikely to mean anything to either team. Unless the Yankees take those six games with the Rays and put them in their place, they're not going to be able to even come close to the Wild Card and one way or the other, as long as their using the likes of Darrell Rasner and Carl Pavano as
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starters, they can pretty much forget about the division.
Being three games behind the Twins and five behind the White Sox doesn't help matters either. The Red Sox and Rays will be playing each other six times over the next month, but that advantage for the Yankees will be non-existent because it's unlikely to cause any change in the separation between the two teams and the only way it would possibly help the Yankees would be if they won at least 22 of their remaining games and if any two of the four teams ahead of them collapsed completely, which is highly unlikely.
While it's admirable that the Yankees haven't looked at their current circumstances; that because Hank Steinbrenner has given them a free pass to look toward 2009; and the weak starting pitching that they've been forced to use three out of every five days as reasons to give up, their predicament is dire and no amount of comeback wins----even satisfying ones against the Red Sox----are going to change that reality.
  • Cubs 6-Phillies 4:
With the way the Phillies bullpen gacked up the game last night against the Cubs, it's becoming clear that manager Charlie Manuel's overuse of his relievers, most of whom are
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going to have to pitch in around 80 games apiece if the Phillies are going to make the playoffs, is going to come back to haunt him. With a month to go in the season, Chad Durbin looks exhausted; J.C. Romero looks hurt; and the other pitchers are scuffling as well. This battle with the Mets is going to come down to which bullpen is able to stagger to the finish line because neither team is in the greatest shape right now.
On the bright side for the Phillies, they lost to a team that looks eerily similar to the 1986 Mets. The Cubs are never out of any game because they never stop coming; never give up; and never quit grinding. This comes
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directly from their manager, Lou Piniella. Mark DeRosa has quietly thrust himself into the conversation for National League MVP and they've gotten significant contributions from veterans picked up off the scrapheap in Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson; youngsters like Jeff Samardzija; and players in different roles than before in Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster.
Their bullpen is still going to be a question going into the playoffs, but they've delivered so far and Piniella has a habit of dragging his teams further than any logical reasoning would expect them to go. One of the main reasons that Piniella never won a championship with some high-powered Mariners teams was because they kept running into the Yankees dynasty and getting knocked out of the playoffs; with no similar team in the National League, they're well on their way to the World Series if they keep playing like this.
  • Nationals 11-Dodgers 2; what's wrong with the Dodgers?
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti deserves blame for some of his expensive decisions that haven't
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worked----specifically Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt (remember him?); but the other veteran acquisitions he's made over the past month for Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez and Greg Maddux cannot be questioned. In Joe Torre, they have a manager with a Hall of Fame resume and proven track record of getting his teams into the playoffs no matter what; they have a large corps of young players whose legs should still be as fresh as they were in May; and they have other proven veterans like Jeff Kent and Derek Lowe who come through in the clutch; so what's wrong with this team?
I don't have an answer. The team looks lost; like they can't get out of their own way and are looking toward someone to pick them up on his shoulders and carry them over the last month. Even with all their injuries, the Dodgers should be better than 65-69 and if they intend to make the playoffs, they certainly can't be getting swept by the Washington
They've been lucky because the Diamondbacks made big trades and acquisitions of their
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own and can't seem to get out of their own way either, so the division is there for the taking. Ordinarily, one would look at the management of both clubs and say that the Dodgers have an advantage with the calm, steady and proven successful leadership of Torre; but now that they've lost seven in a row (including those three to the Nationals), I'm not so sure and what makes it worse is that there's not one specific thing to point to as to why they've played like this other than that they're just playing badly and as if they're in a stupor. Torre's getting the big bucks and his reputation is on the line; he'd better figure it out and quick.
  • A different perspective on Barack Obama's acceptance speech:
I doubt that anyone who's been paying attention to Senator Barack Obama over the past year and a half could be surprised that he hit such a tape measure home run with his speech
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accepting the Democratic nomination, but to get a different perspective and to see if he was given his due, I turned to Fox News to see what they'd say about the speech and if they were going to give Obama the deserved credit, and they did----for about a minute----until Brit Hume clumsily interjected Obama's full name into his analysis.
Referring to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" wasn't an accident; it was done with the implication to those watching Fox News, some of whom may be teetering on voting for Obama, that they shouldn't vote for him because his name sounds somehow "un-American"; that he has the middle name of a great "enemy" of the United States; that the unsaid rhetorical question is: "Are you really considering voting for a guy whose middle name is Hussein to be president of the United States?"
Will this work on some people? Probably. But I would also think that those who see
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through this poorly executed charade would be offended at the lack of dexterity with which it was done. Some people like a little sweet talk when someone else is trying to screw them even if they're willing to get screwed; with the way Fox News handled this, it's almost more offensive than the original intent that they think so little of their viewers----conservative and not----that they didn't even try to mask their implications more smoothly.
Like it or not, there has to be a grudging respect given to someone who is so immersed in their scams and lies that they begin to believe their own crud. For a snake-oil salesman like Kevin Trudeau, who's gone from convicted credit card thief and doctor impersonator; to a TV salesman of junk that doesn't work; to
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portraying himself as a leading "consumer advocate" and health adviser is a window into Trudeau's sociopathic nature; but it's also somewhat admirable that he's such a predator that he realized he might get busted and prevented from one venture (selling coral calcium as a cure all; advocating Scientology to cure drug dependancy; hawking the Atkins diet; selling a videotape for a "business" of your very own) and utilized his right to free speech to start writing books about nutrition, medications and getting out of debt. You have to tip your hat to him because he knows the system; works the system; and has a large number of people believing and buying into what he's selling.
It's a similar situation with a "spiritual medium" like John Edward (not the disgraced former Vice Presidential nominee, the guy who "talks" to the dead). His argument would be (if he
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ever admitted what it is he actually does) that he's using his skills at reading people's emotions and desire for closure with departed loved ones to make them feel better about their loss and get on with their lives. His scam is so well-constructed that people believe him despite the absurdity because he, like Trudeau, never leaves character. (Here's a flash: he ain't talkin' to the dead!!!) With Fox News, there's not even an attempt to make things look "fair and balanced"; the truth is right there for those that want to see it.
This is eerily similar to the ruse put on the world that the Russian prime minister is Vladimir Putin and the president in Dmitry Medvedev and that Medvedev is in charge. When the Georgia crisis started, no one even bothered to put forth the idea that anyone other than Putin was calling the shots; that there was a "president" in running Russia as the conflict escalated; that it's unsaid but understood that Putin's still in command and Medvedev takes his orders directly from his subordinate. They tried to undo the open and insulting revelation of the ruse after a few days by thrusting Medvedev into the spotlight, but the damage was already done.
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It's one thing when the true nature of the backroom operators is known to everyone but unsaid with some plausible deniability still remaining, but the openness of the partisanship is so clumsy, so lacking in deftness and so offensive that it's not even worthy or grudging respect; it's like they're saying that you the target viewers of Fox News are so stupid that it's not worth it to even bother trying to plant the seed of doubt anywhere other than in the middle of your forehead with a sledgehammer. If such a maladroit and contemptible attempt is worth any attention at all, it's because it deserves ridicule and scorn. Barack Hussein Obama indeed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yankees Getting Kicked In The Head From All Sides

  • Red Sox 11-Yankees 3; Marlins 4-Braves 1:
Amid the stunned feelings of resignation of their current predicament that are beginning to
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permeate Yankeeland, there are other aspects of the story that are only going to serve to make things worse from the organization itself to the entire fan base. It's one thing to lose; it's another thing to have that loss receive an exclamation point from perhaps the most-despised current member of the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia.
Since his arrival as a full time big leaguer last season, Pedroia has baited, aggravated, irritated and antagonized the Yankees because he's good; because he knows he's good; because he'll tell you he's good; and because he has a penchant for getting big hits. With the Yankees clinging desperately to any chance of climbing back into contention, it must have been tantamount to getting kicked in the stomach watching Pedroia trotting around the bases after his grand slam.
With their division deficit now at 10 1/2 games behind the Rays and the Wild Card deficit at seven behind the Red Sox and 4 1/2 behind the Twins, the Yankees hopes are fading unless
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they get hot and get hot fast. Individuals in the Yankee organization must be feeling the sting of what's happening elsewhere as well. On the same night that Pedroia and the Red Sox hammered the Yankees staff of journeymen and mediocre pitchers; Johan Santana gutted his way through six innings for the Mets; and Josh Johnson was in Atlanta pitching for the Marlins and punctuating his comeback from Tommy John surgery (that the Marlins front office still blames Yankees manager Joe Girardi for playing a large part in making necessary) with a complete game effort against the Braves.
Since much of his perceived ability to manage was based on the job he did in his single season with the Marlins, it should diminish Girardi's resume even further as that same Marlins team may end up 2008 with a better record as they function with a payroll that is 10% of that of the Yankees. Girardi's strengths are there for all to see----he's hard-working, intelligent and relentlessly positive----but the negatives are there for all to see as well. He has
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much to answer for regarding strategy, just as he did two years ago; and he hasn't proven to be any more successful with a $200 million payroll and championship expectations than he was with a $15 million payroll and no expectations. The credit that Girardi received for the Marlins rise in 2006 is dwindling with every competitive day the bargain basement team stays in contention for a playoff spot under Fredi Gonzalez and Johnson's dominance since his return is shining a light (fairly or not) on the fact that he got hurt while pitching for Girardi.
If the Yankees season continues to slide down this road (and they've shown no reason to believe that anything's going to change over the last month), there are going to be questions about the wisdom of everything that transpired from 2007's conclusion until the end of 2008. Even though the Dodgers have problems of their own, Joe Torre's success at getting the Yankees into the playoffs no matter what can't be dismissed if they don't make the playoffs in
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the first year after he was allowed to leave. Was it the smartest thing to let Johan Santana slip through their fingers (especially to go to the Mets) to keep the likes of Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes and whoever else the Twins asked for, especially since they took the Mets deal they didn't really want because they were out of options? It's easy to critique such decisions in hindsight, but since when do the Yankees let money stop them from making a move that would've added an ace in his prime like Santana? Since when does money take precedence over the good of the team?
GM Brian Cashman has made some mistakes, but he's still a good GM; even with that, there have to be questions about his motivation in making these moves. The rookie mistakes that Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have made stem from allowing Cashman to try and
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lower the payroll at the expense of doing what's best for the organization in the short run. As I've said before, what is Cashman's motivation to slash costs? What difference does it make to him what the team payroll is unless he's trying to garner some credit for himself as to how wise he is with a dollar? To think that the Yankees, with their almost limitless resources, needed to save the money that Santana would have cost is absurd. After all the money wasted on the likes of Carl Pavano, what difference would another $20 or so million added to that $200 million have been if it meant a playoff spot?
Unless things take a drastic turn, there are going to be angry and rightfully indignant questions from the Yankees fan base as to why these decisions were made to play for three, four and five years down the line when the nucleus of the team is aging so rapidly. How many stellar seasons from Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter does Cashman think are left? What are they going to get out of Jorge Posada as he returns from injury? There's no doubt that Yankee
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fans were spoiled by the four championships in five years and Torre's annual trip to the playoffs even if they got knocked out in the first round; now they're learning what life is like if they're transitioning to a younger and more frugal organization. The one thing that should make Yankee fans angriest is that there was no reason for the attempted payroll reduction and reliance on young players. They have a new ballpark on the way that is going to provide a windfall; they have an established brand that is going to make money no matter the condition of the team; why cut corners on the bench? On the bullpen? Or the starting rotation?
Even if, as expected and whether Cashman's there or not, the Yankees make big plays for the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Ben Sheets and whoever else, it's still not going to explain why they decided to become frugal in 2008 and started spending again when the grand plan didn't work immediately; and to think the empty threats of Hank Steinbrenner are all of a sudden going to turn into decisive (and occasionally
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ill-advised) action just like those of his father and are going to fix things lends credence to the question as to why they decided to go down this road in 2008 at all; it adds to the poignancy of wondering what the purpose of all of this "looking toward the future" was from the start.
Teams like the Ahtletics, Padres, Rockies, Marlins, Twins all have an argument for scrimping and saving here and there----the Yankees don't. This all began with Cashman's decision to go young and become the object of admiration of others, saving money that he wasn't under a mandate to save and finding bargains where he didn't need to find bargains. While the previously mentioned teams have found inexpensive and productive "finds" doing business their own way, the Yankees don't have to do that, which leads to the question as to why they tried to develop a startup when they can afford to purchase established goods; why they did the equivalent of buying swampland in the Everglades when they can afford to buy land on Park Avenue. Because the plan looks like it's going to fail and the Yankees are just going to go back to throwing money at their problems which, even without a championship since 2000, at least got them into the playoffs, makes it look all the worse. What was the point?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Uncle Charlie's Bizarre Strategic Decision

  • Mets 6-Phillies 3:
Charlie Manuel's main attribute as a manager is that his players like him, like playing for
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him and, for the most part, play hard for him 24/7. They know that he's in their corners as evidenced by his frequent ejections and, even when he does strange and unexplainable things (think of the theme from The X-Files), they do as they're asked and don't question him publicly. Even though Manuel abuses his relievers, and overmanages in times of stress, the bottom line is that the team wins for him rather than in spite of him. The manager of the Phillies before Manuel, Larry Bowa, was a strategic ace who the players hated----and it showed in their results. Even when they had playoff level talent, they were never able to make it over that hump for Bowa; the argument could be made that if they had a manager for whom they wanted to go above and beyond the call of duty, if for no other reason than to save his job, they might have wound up with a better record in one of those years. Even with
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that, Manuel's most diehard supporter in and out of the Phillies clubhouse has to wonder what's going through his head when he does some of the things he does.
In tonight's game against the Mets, the Phillies entered the eighth inning with a 3-2 lead. Having been overused up to this point in the season and due to last night's 13-inning affair, J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin were apparently only available in an emergency; because of that, Manuel had to use former lefty specialist Scott Eyre for two innings and veteran journeyman Rudy Seanez as his eighth inning man. Seanez retired Luis Castillo and David Wright before allowing Carlos Delgado's second homer
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of the night to tie the game. After Carlos Beltran's infield single, Manuel removed Seanez and inserted closer Brad Lidge with the game now tied.
Disregarding that Lidge gave up the hits that scored three runs for the Mets, why was Lidge even warming up in the beginning of the eighth if Manuel wasn't going to use him while he still had a lead? In what has been a brilliant comeback season for him after two subpar years with the Astros, Lidge has not been used for more than a one inning save once this year----not once; yet Manuel not only had him warming up in the eighth inning, but only used him after the save opportunity was gone! It made no sense on so many different levels that it's going to be hard for the reporters to get viable answers from Manuel as to what he was thinking because there's too much to have to explain away.
First of all, if Manuel says that Clay Condrey, Durbin and Romero weren't available; that he
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didn't want to use the rookie Andrew Carpenter in that situation; that Seanez was his best and most reliable option and didn't want to use Lidge for more than one inning in a relatively meaningless game in late August, then fine; that would be a legitimate explanation; but he had Lidge warming up anyway! He ended up using Lidge in the eighth inning anyway! If the guy was warming up, what was he warming up for if he wasn't going to be used to save the game? Once the call was made to warm Lidge up, then why wasn't he brought into the game to pitch to Carlos Delgado, who has crushed Seanez in his career? Then he brought Lidge in as there's one runner on base in a tie game, has him intentionally walk Ryan Church after the runner, Beltran, steals second and sees Lidge give up a game-losing double to a rookie in Daniel Murphy. It literally made no sense whatsoever.
Add in that this game was, in the cosmic scheme of things, meaningless. It's late August and if the Phillies had held on and won, they'd have had a lead of 1 1/2 games; it's clear by now that this season the National League East is going to come down to a similar war of attrition as it did last season with the managerial gaffes and who abuses their pitching staff more being the deciding factors. The difference last year was that Charlie Manuel and former Mets manager Willie Randolph traded inept maneuvers throughout the entire month; it just turned out that Manuel was luckier and got better and guttier performances from his players; now the Mets have a manager in Jerry Manuel who has an idea of what he's doing and if it comes
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down to which Manuel is a better strategist, then the Mets are going to win.
I have no problem with a manager doing something that appears odd if it's done for a reason. It doesn't even have to be a good reason or one I agree with; a reason with some basis in logic is enough. Had Manuel stayed with Seanez and not had Lidge throwing it would've been one thing, but he ended up using his closer regardless and he lost the game. It was another example of Charlie Manuel's way of running things biting him on the behind and what made it worse is that it was a completely unexplainable decision not just because it didn't work, but because it was stupid.

The Mets Lose; The Yankees Lose; Replay Is On The Way; And...A Shot At Love?

  • Phillies 8-Mets 7 (13):
With the combination of that Phillies lineup and Citizens Bank Park, no lead is really
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completely safe, so it's hard to give the Mets too hard a time for blowing a 7-0 lead. That being said, one of the main reasons that the Phillies were able to come back and win last night's game at all had nothing to do with the Mets shaky bullpen (they really weren't all that bad last night); it had to do with the Mets putting their bats away after they'd built that seven run lead.
Common sense said that with Pedro Martinez a mere shadow of what he once was, the Mets bullpen and the Phillies lineup such as they are, things were going to tighten up as the game wore on. Once Jamie Moyer was out of the game, the Mets allowed the likes of Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre and Rudy Seanez to keep them off the scoreboard and that is more of a reason why they lost than anything their bullpen or the Phillies lineup did. Had the Mets cashed in on just one of their potential rallies while they still had a comfortable lead, the game would have been pretty much over; the Phillies bullpen pitched well, but too often this season, the Mets have appeared to become comfortable with a lead that should be safe and have gone on cruise control allowing their opponents an opportunity to chip away at that lead until it's gone.
This isn't new; one of the multitude of reasons the Phillies were able to catch the Mets last
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September was because the Mets started playing stupid by getting thrown out stealing bases and not cashing in on opportunities to score insurance runs. Since they have more competent dugout management now in Jerry Manuel, I wouldn't expect them to make similar fundamental mistakes as they did last year; sometimes pitchers give up homers and blow games like the Mets staff did last night; but it wouldn't have been a problem had they been able to score two or more runs off of the types of pitchers they faced in the middle innings last night; if there's a reason the Mets blew the game, it's not because of the bullpen, it's because they stopped scoring.
  • Red Sox 7-Yankees 3:
If last season's comebacks by the Phillies and the Rockies proved anything, it's that a team is not dead until they're officially dead. This is one of the reasons I've been reluctant to
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join to armchair undertakers and start a Yankees postmortem. Things can turn around very, very quickly if a team gets suddenly cold and another team gets suddenly hot; and to mention the change in dugout leadership for the Yankees from Joe Torre to Joe Girardi as a reason for the premature autopsy isn't adequate enough to think the Yankees are done; Torre's new team, the Dodgers, is in the midst of a collapse even after making baseball's splashiest improvements at mid-season. I do not believe that the Yankees are done...yet; but they're well on the way unless they start doing one simple thing: winning.
Alex Rodriguez is getting the blame for the Yankees inability to come through in the clutch last night and hitting into two double plays and making an error, but there are other culprits as well and some were integral parts of the Yankees teams from five-plus years ago. Andy
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Pettitte, whom the Yankees needed to deliver a virtuouso performance, allowed ten hits and six runs in 4 2/3 innings; Jason Giambi, who wasn't part of the Yankees dynasty, but has gotten some big post-season hits, went 0 for 4 and vapor locked in the field allowing an extra run to score. ARod's gaffes were prominent and more is expected for a player with ARod's paycheck and abilities, but he wasn't the only culprit in this loss.
Unless the Yankees start performing on the field----and I mean players other than ARod as well----there's not going to be a comeback. They still have time to save their season and get back into playoff position, but it's not going to happen by someone else's hand; the Yankees intimidation factor is almost gone and they need to put down this revolt at the hands of their former whipping boys like the Rays; if they don't make a move soon, their playoff streak is going to end; Girardi will get the blame, but this has been a team effort from the championship players like Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera all the way through to ARod; there's plenty of responsibility for everyone if they don't turn things around.
  • Replay is on the way:
I have no problem with instant replay being used to correct missed home run calls. (The Derek Jeter "homer" in the 1996 playoffs in which Jeffrey Maier interfered with Tony Tarasco's
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ability to catch the ball is often referenced as a prime example of a call that
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would have been reversed, but what would the call have been exactly? A ground-rule double? An out? A do-over? What?) The problem I have is with the instantaneous implementation of this new tool. There are going to be bugs that have to be worked out that may end up causing more trouble than just going forward over the final month of the season under the old system and putting replay in next year would. Jumping right in headfirst with such a drastic change strikes me as the type of thing that Vince McMahon would do with the ill-fated and embarrassing XFL, and I doubt that the MLB commissioner's office would want to be compared with someone such as that.
  • A Shot At Love with...the Prince of New York?!?
Believe it or not, I got an email yesterday asking if I'd be interested in auditioning to be a
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contestant on A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila. Why they asked me is beyond even my massive brainpower, but this ain't gonna fly for several reasons:
A) my fiancee is unlikely to approve and, while petite, she has enough knowledge of Tae Kwon Do and Israeli martial arts that she'd turn Tila Tequila into her personal hand puppet.
B) as stunning as I am (see the picture in the upper right hand corner of my duplicate site----MLBlogs site----I love it when you call me Big Poppa!), I'm not enough of a sexually ambiguous pretty boy to fit in on that show; they want would be models, tanned and rippling; my wiry 175 pound days are over and have been traded in for a head-breaking 200.
C) I have an awful temper and would probably prefer not to have it on video or run the risk of the fuse being lit by the types of people who choose to go on those reality shows.
It is because of these main reasons, and many other ancillary ones, that I respectfully have to turn down this opportunity. I think the world (mine and everyone else's) is better for this decision.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Talent Evaluators ARE Talent Evaluators And Guys Sitting In Booths Are...Well, Guys Sitting In Booths

  • Mets 9-Astros 1; the non-expertise of the non-experts:
I don't know if anyone----including anyone with the Mets----could possibly have predicted
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that Mike Pelfrey would become the consistent, strike-throwing, winning machine he's become. If he didn't have any ability, the Mets wouldn't have taken him with the ninth pick in the draft in 2005, but it would've been considered ludicrous to think that he'd be on track to winning a possible 17-18 games in his first full big league season after his struggles in the brief chances he received in 2006 and 2007. The geniuses on sports talk radio would have scoffed and shouted down any caller that even dared suggest such a thing; and if anyone did call with that opinion, and called back now, they'd be dismissed as guessing and being lucky as if they were at a roulette table. That Pelfrey's doing it throwing little more than a hard sinking fastball and when his team so desperately needed him to step into the breech left by the injury to John Maine makes it even more impressive.
Pelfrey always had the physical goods to succeed in this way----he stands 6'7"; throws in the mid-90s; has a hard sinking fastball; and a clean motion----but to make it this quickly is
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stunning and I wouldn't expect to hear any of these self-styled experts admit that they were wrong when they were "evaluating" Pelfrey based on nothing more than his results; and even if they do admit they were wrong (usually in an unapologetic aside while maintaining their arrogant, all-knowing tone), they still succeeded in riling up the gullible fan base whose opinions change with every pitch.
The credit for Pelfrey's rise will undoubtedly go to new pitching coach Dan Warthen and manager Jerry Manuel; the truth is that Pelfrey started turning the corner under the loquacious former pitching coach Rick Peterson and manager Willie Randolph. For all of his blather, Peterson is a fine and astute pitching coach whose shelf-life working with the same pitchers is a short one. He does his research;
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knows the science and psychology of working with pitchers young and old and has a track record of success. His problem is that his message is eventually lost because pitchers tune him out.
Years ago, I was watching a televised Mets spring training throwing session with a friend, a former professional player whose experiences had left him cynical about baseball and it's machinations; in the session, former pitching coach Bob Apodaca was talking to veteran Al Leiter as he did his work; Apodaca was rambling about the effectiveness of a change-up, blah, blah, blah as Leiter politely nodded while looking down and kicking at the dirt in front of the rubber. Turning to my friend I said, "You do know that Leiter did not listen to one word Apodaca just said," to which he twisted him mouth and shrugged an acknowledging laugh. It's the same thing with most coaches, but more so with the more cerebral and long-winded ones like Peterson.
If I had to give an expiration date to an organization that was thinking of bringing Peterson in and intends to have the same nucleus of a pitching staff, I'd say it would be 2 1/2 to three years before the pitchers start tuning him out. It gets tiresome to have someone repeating the same things over and over again with numbers that pitchers don't want to hear and advice that they could (and probably do) recite to one another when in private and goofing on the coach and his well-intentioned advice. Sometimes a different voice isn't even needed; the pitchers on the Mets staff who seem to have improved since Peterson's departure may have done just as well without any pitching coach at all
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because they would've been perfectly happy to have been left alone.
There are plenty of talent evaluators in baseball who don't know much more than the broadcasters do; but there are plenty who know what they're looking at and can analyze a player's potential. The criticism is one thing, but it's the complete inability to admit when one is wrong and that they don't realize that they know literally nothing about baseball that is the most irritating thing. That they still have some credibility despite their obvious stupidity, and the hypocrisy they're going to show as they discuss the rise of Mike Pelfrey makes it all the worse because they're still clueless and are too clueless to even realize that they're clueless and if they do realize it, they're still arrogant enough to refuse to admit it.
  • Rangers 9-Royals 4; Nelson Cruz's latest chance:
The last month of the season should be interesting to get a gauge on whether or not Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz is ever going to be able to translate his minor league production to the majors. He got off to a great start last night by going 3 for 5 with a homer
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and a double, but at age 28, it's time for him to prove he can do it in the majors.
The thing about Cruz that's so aggravating is that he murders Triple A pitching. His numbers this year alone playing in Oklahoma are mind boggling: AVG-.342; OBP-.429; Runs-93; RBI-99; Home Runs-37; Slugging-.695; OPS-1.124; Stolen Bases-24. And this isn't just one career year; the guy's done this before in the minors----Cruz minor league stats. The one thing I have to ask is why the Rangers left him in the minors for so long? He at least deserved another opportunity to play at least part-time in the majors even though he's failed before.
Cruz is always going to get chances with other organizations even if he doesn't make it with the Rangers because those other organizations are going to look at those numbers and sign him just to see if he can fulfill that potential for them. With the Rangers out of contention, they should put him out there every day and see if he can perform for at least a brief time in the majors and deliver those results; worst case scenario, they'll showcase him for another organization and trade him because the talent is there and those numbers are accrued by that talent and not just a player feasting on Triple A pitching.
  • More little league nonsense:
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There's more to this story----Yahoo Sports----than just a kid who can throw too hard for the other kids. I'm no fan of little league; the oft-repeated cliches that it's about oneupsmanship and selfishness among the parents, among other things, are all true; but if this is such a big problem, why don't they solve it by putting the kid in a higher league? He'll advance faster if he's dealing with better competition and the other kids won't have to deal with his fastball. I wouldn't be surprised if other issues start to leak out about this and it won't be that the kid's simply too good.