Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Unhinged Rantings Of The Baby Boss

  • Hank Steinbrenner prepares the alibis:
In what can only be seen as a psychological attempt to prepare himself for the sheer possibility that his team won't make the playoffs in his first season as Yankees "Boss", Hank
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Steinbrenner affected a melancholy and resigned tone in his statements regarding the rest of this season and 2009----ESPN Story. Among other things, Steinbrenner praises the efforts of his players and adds the caveat that "they're not supermen"; he compares his team's injury struggles with the plight of the Red Sox, saying pitching is "70% of the game" (I'm not a stat-guy but I find these capricious percentages pulled out of one's butt absurd), and claiming that the Red Sox would be in a similar position as the Yankees had they lost Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Last time I checked, the Red Sox had to deal with the Manny Ramirez mess; an injury to David Ortiz that can recur and put him out for the season at any time; lost Curt Schilling for the year before the season even started; and have Tim Wakefield on the DL. Every team has their problems.
There have been nostalgic fantasies of a return to the days of George Steinbrenner; when money was no object; when there wasn't a tirade too nonsensical; when there wasn't someone to fire; when there wasn't a prospect to trade for a fading veteran; but those that are dreaming of a return to the days of George are only remembering the years of 1996-2007,
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when even winning wasn't enough and there was still a potential crisis and everyone's job was in jeopardy. They forget the days of shuttling Dave LaPoint and Andy Hawkins out to the mound; of trading Willie McGee for Bob Sykes, and Fred McGriff and Mike Morgan for Dale Murray; of firing and hiring at random after a bad week; of, like his son, saying things that even a casual baseball fan would frown and say, "What is he talking about?"
It's also conveniently forgotten that the late 90s dynasty in which the baseball world relived the era of Yankee dominance was largely built while George was suspended and unable to interfere with Gene Michael's development of the young players that formed the nucleus of those championship years. Had George been able to run interference, would Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera among others,
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been around to anchor those championship teams?
If anything, Hank has proven himself to be more bark than bite and that's a positive thing for the future of the Yankees even if they don't make the playoffs this year; Brian Cashman has not seen himself undermined in his contract year and forced to do things he doesn't want to do, which makes it likely that he'll want to return; the team still has money to spend and won't make some desperate trades to appease an angry fan base based on the owner's ranting and raving. He may order a ton of money to be spent, but that's better than trading youth for fading veterans and so far he's kept his hands to himself and bellowed when angry; that's better than taking a pitcher like Ian Kennedy and saying, "get him out of my sight", leaving the GM no choice and seeing the pitcher traded for the likes of Paul Byrd to try and win two or three extra games in what might be a hopeless cause.
Even as Yankee fans are probably angry that the Yankees are fading out, they can be happy that the new owner isn't revisiting the days of the early 70s and all of the 80s in which it was clear that the father----who is being feted now and is a likely and worthy entrant into the
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Hall of Fame----didn't know much more about baseball than his son does and demanded that his judgment be acquiesced to even when his baseball people advised him against some of his impetuous, bullying, rage-fueled reactions if things didn't go as he expected them immediately. Having an owner who screams, shouts and explodes, but then calms himself down and doesn't make demands that won't work is better than having one that does the same thing and insists on his mandates being followed whatever the cost. The one thing about the Yankees this year, win or lose, is that they haven't panicked; Hank deserves some credit for that even if the rest of the organization has had to talk him down from the ledge numerous times to keep the raving dictator that is the father from infecting the son, driving him to make similar mistakes that have faded into memory.
  • Is it luck or is it numbers?
Rob Neyer credits luck with the Twins sudden leap into contention with their amazing clutch hitting and .312 batting average with runners in scoring position. I don't know how lucky or unlucky they've been; I just find it fascinating when the stats-obsessed see that the numbers don't add up and attribute the result to luck. Just last year, the same thing happened
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as no one was able to explain the Diamondbacks division title with such a weak record under the Pygmalion Win Theorem; now it's being done with the Twins. Attention to fundamentals could be seen as just as much of a contributor to the Twins leap into first place as luck has been. Some teams----the Angels and Twins----make their own luck by schooling their players from the time they join the organization on the correct way to play. Pitchers throwing strikes; catching the ball; hitting cut-off men and situational hitting may be part of the equation as well even if the numbers don't fit. The following words uttered by a manager or coach: "play the game right or you're not gonna play" may be just as effective as being lucky, but that's my non-mathematical mind at work.
  • Red Sox 19-Rangers 17:
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Al Del Greco missed a 48-yard field goal with time running out to save the win for the Red Sox.
  • Brewers 5-Padres 2:
While it probably has just as much, if not more, to do with playing the Reds, Nationals and Padres, is it lost on anyone that the Brewers have won every game since Prince Fielder almost shoved Manny Parra through the dugout wall?
Speaking of the Padres, with the talk that owner John Moores's divorce may require the Padres to scale their payroll down to the $40 million range, what's the difference going to be in the team's results next year? They're going to lose close to 100 games this year and likely the same next year if that story's true. At least they'll have a chance to be better without some of the dead weight they're carrying this year; and I don't want to hear any comparisons to the Marlins tear-down and leap into contention because the Marlins have something the Padres don't----competent scouting and management.
  • White Sox 9-Royals 0:
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Although I wavered during his yearlong string of excellent pitching, can we now admit that Brian Bannister has settled into what the eyes of many (me, the Mets front office) saw when we watched him in 2006? He's a mediocre journeyman and (at best) a back of the rotation starter who's lucky to be in the big leagues. Period.
  • Astros 12-Giants 4:
The Astros have gotten blazing hot since owner Drayton McLane ordered the series of bewildering moves to bring veterans Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins to a non-contending team, but those moves had little to do with this hot streak. A team like the Astros, built on a powerful lineup, has these types of hot streaks because they run into bad pitching and hitting is contagious. Even with that, it has to be said that if the Wild Card or the NL Central were to require 85 or so wins, the Astros would be right back in the thick of things. With this string of good play, they've gained
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virtually no ground in the division and have no chance of getting back into Wild Card contention, so it's pretty much wasted effort except to validate McLane's meddling and saving the jobs of GM Ed Wade and manager Cecil Cooper, who deserves a better fate than being ridiculed after waiting such a long time to get the chance to manage.
I mentioned luck earlier and am starting to believe it's as important to be lucky as it is to be good and/or smart. McLane made his money in grocery distribution continuing his father's business and made a fortune. Part of that is due to being smart, but part of it must be due to being lucky; it appears he's running his baseball team the same way and with the failures of the more "thoughtful" teams and the overall success of McLane's team since he purchased it despite the criticisms, he may be onto something in terms of luck and not giving up no matter the circumstances.
  • Athletics 2-Rays 1:
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The scoreless inning run that Brad Ziegler is on is amazing and a great accomplishment, but there's no way to compare what Ziegler's doing to what Orel Hershiser did in compiling his 59-straight scoreless inning streak in 1988 as he almost singlehandedly carried the Dodgers to the World Series title. It's way harder for a starter to compile a streak of this kind and if Ziegler approaches the record, that has to be put into proper context.

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