Monthly archives: October 2005
The Backlash, Continues
As is well known now, Theo Epstein has declined the contract to return as GM of the Red Sox. Dan Shaugnessy in this article set the stage for this to happen and many see Larry Lucchino's fingerprints on the keyboard. There's questions now about where Boston goes next (think: established GM with Lucchino ties) and how "Theo's guys" like Jed Hoyer and Bill James will fare now. Is there a new chapter of Mind Game to be written on how to tear down a team on the verge of a decade-long run of excellence? (Yes, I'm a big fan of their minor league system.) Did Josh Byrnes smell what Lucchino was cooking and exit stage Phoenix while he could?
On the heels of DePodesta's ouster at the hands of a pasta-stained junta, there's only one more shoe to drop in the expected backlash. Still, I'm beginning to wonder if there's more than just these three shoes. It'd certainly help the metaphor to have an even number. By the time we get to Dallas, perhaps sooner, this will have all shaken out. Chris Kahrl would have a great historical metaphor, some old-school return to a previous government. I wonder what it would be and how it turned out. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. Apparently, I need a lesson.
People will mark the day that the White Sox won the World Series as the beginning of the backlash, though it began at the tipping point the other way. The sabermetric revolution reached the masses -- and the ears of many owners for the first time - with Moneyball. Of course, it started years and years before. Moneyball begat The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz, at least in the eyes of the public, tho it's Moneyball that became shorthand. Sabermetrics was a long, meaningless word with difficult spelling and to date, I'm not sure it's ever been uttered on ESPN without being attached to Moneyball.
As Beane's philosophy spread apostle-like (or more accurately, restarting a tradition of coaches such as Bear Bryant, Bill Walsh, and Vince Lombardi, as well as Paul Richards) to Toronto, Boston, and Los Angeles, as well as other outposts like Cleveland, Colorado, and Texas, the great story of Moneyball fast became legend. Legend, as we all know, trumps fact every time. The legend threatened a tobacco-stained oligarchy because they felt threatened, not that they were. No organization got rid of scouts and when they did fire them, it was never because they were replaced by a laptop. Scouts get fired, regularly, by organizations of all stripes. Almost everyone in baseball understands the "hired to be fired" mentality of the game.
Yet somehow, "fat scout" - the man that found Tim Hudson - was treated differently. Michael Lewis' insensitive nom de anon burned people. It was okay to call a clearly obese man fat if you're "one of us" but not if you're "one of them." The Capote-esque Lewis was anything but. Where it stops making sense is the transference of the vitriol from author, where it would be understandable if pointless, to subject. Billy Beane was that subject and his larger than life persona in and out of the inner circles allowed Lewis to write life writ big. Lewis wrote a story that became a legend, the goal of every writer, but Beane never set out to be a story.
Caught a rung below in the legend was Paul DePodesta. In the story, the former Harvard football player came off as a human laptop, the computer geek, the 98-lb weakling that would use a spreadsheet and Harvard education to get back at the bullies that had taken his lunch money. True? Not really. DePodesta had worked his way up and he was in the "new school" as a creator of information and reverse engineer.
Once the story was out - the negative things about Kenny Williams especially and the seeming disregard for scouting - the backlash began. But the backlash had already begun despite the outer appearance of a 'Moneyball revolution.' J.P. Ricciardi, Beane's former head scout, had taken over Toronto early enough to have an altered account of his team make the book. Mark Shapiro had his own information revolution, with a computer system, psychologists, and his own stathead assistant in place years earlier. Dan O'Dowd was in place in Colorado and several others, including Theo Epstein, were in waiting.
There have been books and columns and insane, fact-ignoring rants in the years since Moneyball came out and became the descriptive term for using business-based methodology in baseball. Most have some basis in friendship - writers protect their friends and more importantly their sources - and in fact. The book short-shrifted scouts in order to make a good story. By writing that good story and shifting it to a Faulknerian good vs bad scenario, Moneyball did as much damage as it did good. Don't get me wrong - it's a phenomenal book. It's a bad legend.
So it's really the book, or the idea of the book, and not the Kenny Williams-Ozzie Guillen Series win that started the backlash. We'll see it in retrospect, but history might say it was the sweep. It might look back and say that "Moneyball never won," either in the playoffs or in front offices. Days after the win, Theo Epstein is unsigned, Josh Byrnes moves to Arizona, and DePodesta is out of a job, stabbed by the oldest of the old school, Tommy Lasorda.
Tampa is an interesting situation, but there seems to be a creeping old-school movement, perhaps a current, where the old boys network is tightening up the ship and getting ready to use the White Sox as their next weapon of choice. "See, we run! We're a team, with chemistry and makeup!" they'll say. "No numbers running this team," they'll say, ignoring Dan Fabian, the Sox information director. A lack of self-awareness, of snap judgements as fast as Guillen's mouth will be the central theme.
"Luck is the residue of design." Branch Rickey is the patron saint of baseball. He's remembered as the man that hired Allan Roth and had the courage to stand up to racism, bringing Jackie Robinson into baseball, a choice of man that is as precious as the act itself. It's too simple to call it luck. The White Sox won the Series because they were the best team, both all season and through the playoffs. What we don't see - and we've looked - is a design, a masterplan. I'll leave that analysis to the analysts, but a cursory look makes it seem almost like the team equivalent of the 'best available athlete' draft strategy.
Carlos Lee was not turned into Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino alone; the money saved became Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez. (Consider them one pitcher, as Don Cooper does.) Freddy Garcia was a happy accident, the near-relative of the manager that came available. At the time, the dollars and prospects seemed high. Russell Ortiz and Kris Benson changed the contract's relative value while Jeremy Reed was simply overrated by statheads. Williams probably enjoys that trade as much as any he's made -- and well he should.
Did Williams make these trades to fill out a rotation and swap Podsednik for Reed, two players with similar skills (at least in theory at the time of the deals)? Unlikely. Podsednik wasn't an expected trade and though Lee had been on the market, I couldn't find any discussion of the deal until it had happened. Once it had happened, even then, people focused on the loss of power. Lee's bat was replaced on the cheap - and possibly with the cost savings - by Jermaine Dye. Chalk another up to Kennyball. Dye had failed in Oakland, almost entirely due to his brutal leg injury. Two years out, he was damaged goods that most didn't want to risk a couple million on. The two moves I liked at the Winter Meetings last season - not that there were many - were Richard Hidalgo to the Rangers and Dye to the Sox. At least I was half right.
Add a castoff catcher with a whiff of BALCO on him, a waiver bait pitcher or two, and some underachieving inhouse players. Simmer, stir, and attempt not to be distracted by the one great player the team has during a cameo appearance. Six months later, World Series. That's hardly the recipe. Teams will talk about the Sox model, but no one outside of the Angels has tried this year over year and there, it's more money than anything despite a Latinization program. Is there a way to intentionally do what the White Sox have done?
It's the potato chip plan, a term I learned in the insurance industry. The legend goes that Cornelius Vanderbilt liked his french fries thin - very thin. He sent back a set and a peeved chef shaved them as thin as paper, fried them up and sent them out as a "screw you" to the robber baron ... who loved them, building a snack industry a century later. Happy accidents happen and like Seinfeld says, cinnamon seems to always be the secret ingredient. The White Sox might have some grand plan on a white board inside US Cellular. There might be a formula that Dan Fabian found. Don Cooper might be the next Leo Mazzone. Ozzie Guillen could be the next Casey Stengel (and is about as understandable at times.) Mark Buehrle could be the next Greg Maddux and Jon Garland could be the next Tom Glavine, rattling off wins for the better part of a decade.
And like luck, potato chips leave a residue behind.
The upcoming backlash is a quick snack, the snap judgement of those looking for a reason. The White Sox are a broken bottle, the weapon of opportunity, not of choice. They'll just as soon bludgeon the Yankees and Red Sox with their own checkbooks. They'll ignore the blended approach of Tim Purpura, Kevin Towers, and Walt Jocketty for the more expeditious free-swinging high risk, high reward Angels and White Sox. The backlash will be led by people that would be better served by trying to find a new generation to mold, to find the middle ground that so many refuse to acknowledge exists.
Ever heard a journalist use the scouting scale? Even in the "anonymous" scout quotes we see occasionally, they'll edit out the "he's got an 80 heater" comments, as if the public can't understand. Or is it that the journalists are also kept out of this secret society? I had a long conversation with someone on the scouting side of the street about "makeup." It's the secret sauce of scouts and according to many, it's the big factor in why some first round, cant-miss prospects miss. Bad makeup. What is that? Asked, this person described ten or twelve different factors to makeup and I asked "well, which one is common in the failures?" Wouldn't it be better to have twelve factors to see if one is more important than the other? What if work ethic was the real problem, or pitchability? Arguing makeup is like proving a negative. Scouts would be better served by a more objective approach while statheads could learn a lot from a long talk with a man who's watched more baseball than I ever could hope to.
So watch out. With DePodesta's firing and the upcoming moves, we're likely to see the backlash in full effect. Smile, duck your head, and try not to get too much of it on you. The road of evolution is longer than that of revolution, but much more lasting.
Some have emailed and asked why I haven't been blogging lately. I'll be honest with you - I haven't had much to say. My opinion has always been just that, my opinion and my rule of silence when I can't add to the discussion has held. There was an external happening that shut me down for a while (don't ask, it wasn't bad), but even after that cleared up, I didn't have much to say. I could say plenty at BP or Football Outsiders and at speaking engagements and on my radio show and frankly, there wasn't much left to say here. This has always been the lagniappe for me, my way of directly communicating on topics of interest maybe only to me with likeminded people. It's not the primary outlet, like it is for Alex or Derek or Jon or Mike and honestly, that's always made me something of a second-class blogger.
Each year, new blogs pop up and some blogs vanish. It seems that good guys - Brian Gunn, John Bonnes - burn out but in great fashion leave behind a trail of great work and people like me who follow in their steps. Here's the great thing - you have the chance to be one of the greats. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't, but it's now a chance to be anything. Four years ago, when I started this, I was just hoping to have a voice that someone would want to read. Now, I'm one of the luckiest boys in the world with outlets seemingly all over the place.
So what happens here in the future? I have no idea. We all do our own things and I'm just happy to be a part of the team. My favorite thing has been getting to know the guys here, back at All-Baseball, and across the sport. Even better, many have become real friends and people that I want to sit down and talk to about anything. The future will take care of itself, I think. If I tried to plan any of this, it wouldn't have happened how it has.
I started this as an intro to a baseball piece, but I'll let it stand on its own for a bit and polish up the piece I'm calling "The Backlash". There's more to come from me this off-season. With no book project, I feel like I have more to say, here and elsewhere.
NFL Game of the Year and other Top Selections
I've been a little stingy with major plays in the NFL the past couple of weeks, as I haven't felt strongly on most of the schedule. Things change this week. 3 of the strongest plays I've seen are taking place Sunday, including my NFL Game of the Year! (I've always wanted to be able to post such a hyperbolic sentence.)
5 star Kansas City (+6) over San Diego
KC and San Diego are pretty much equals talent-wise. Throw-in that the Chiefs received a couple extra days to prepare because of last week's earlier kickoff caused by Hurricane Wilma and the number seems to even be more off. Add to this last week's blown loss to Philly and how the Chargers don't have much of a home-field advantage and it just seems like this should be a pick'em game at most. Take the Chiefs and bet the farm. This is such a strong bet that if you don't have a farm to bet, buy one and then immediately bet it.
4 star Oklahoma (+1.5) Nebraska
Remember when the Sooners/Huskers game was the biggest in college football? No game has been affected by the switch to a super conference more than this traditional contest. Oklahoma has started to find itself and its losses have been to teams with a combined record of 21-1 (Texas, TCU, UCLA), so some of the disappointment needs to be graded on the curve. Stoops vs Callahan. Take the Sooners by 10.
Sweeping Through the Competition
White Sox expert Scott Long said that they had the worst bench in the history of the World Series. Willie Harris gets a pinch-hit single and then scores the winning run to clinch the Championship. Geoff Blum, who I thought should have been left off the playoff roster, ends up hitting a homerun in the 14th inning, which gave the White Sox the lead they would never relinquish in game 3. God it has never felt better to be wrong.
On the discussion of people who were wrong, no one has a bigger, fluffier, steaming omelet on their face than Windy City Woody Paige. (Jay Mariotti) I can remember when he was a good columnist, but the Around the Horning of him has made most of his recent work a pale imitation. WCWP has for so long ripped the White Sox, including his predictions of their demise at the end of the 2005 that the World Series crown becomes even sweeter.
You know, Aaron Miles is a decent utility type player, but to think that he was all it took to obtain Juan Uribe. Can you imagine the attention that would have been heaped on Derek Jeter, if he had done the same things that Uribe did defensively during this series? The left side defense of the White Sox in 2005 was as good as I've seen since the days of Ozzie Smith and Terry Pendleton. In a Series that didn't have one standout offensive player, I would have given the MVP trophy to Uribe over Jermaine Dye, but batting .438 in the Series, it's hard to argue against Dye's selection.
It has been bandied around that the White Sox were a team of players having career years. Wrong. Not one position player had a career year. With the starting staff they have coming back, plus their extremely deep bullpen, it's hard to see how the White Sox won't be a playoff contender for the next couple of seasons. Outside of Paul Konerko, there is not one major player that the White Sox don't have an option on for 2006. It will be interesting to see what happens with the most popular Chicago White Sox during the off-season.
Since this is a site known for its baseball and music commentary, here are a couple thoughts on the performers at the World Series.
I ripped Kenny Lofton earlier in the playoffs for wearing a suit from the Chess King, circa 1994. I know this makes me sound like ET's Cujo, but to be fair, Jeannie Zalesko doesn't dress much better. Tonight, when I first saw her, the purple felt coat she sported, mesmerized me. Note to Jeannie: I'm glad you won the Ebay auction on Prince's "Purple Rain" jacket, but maybe you wear it at a Austin Powers costume party and not on national television hosting a World Series pre-game show.
Finally, let me mention that just because the season is over, it doesn't mean that it will be slowing down here at The Juice. Look for a big announcement in the next couple of weeks, as some new things are on the horizon.
Time for Buck to Stop Here
With things going so well for the White Sox, you would think it would just be eternal bliss time for most fans of the team, right? Well, almost, as the one thing that I've heard from other Sox fans is how they are tired of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver making such a big deal out of every call which has went Chicago's way.
It's well-documented at this site that I've found less fault than the average baseball fan in how the major calls have went down, but I'm not about to pretend that the White Sox haven't gained from the 4 calls in question. It should also be mentioned that I've praised Buck as the best play by play announcer in football and one of top 5 in baseball, so if anything, you could say I am biased towards him. Having said this it's time for Buck and McCarver to go a little deeper into the situations, when a controversial call is made, instead of proclaiming it as the reason the White Sox are winning their games.
Let's take the Jermaine Dye incident last night. It was the wrong call. OK. Instead of just declaring that this is the reason Paul Konerko was able to hit a grand slam homerun, let's explore the possible scenarios, if the umpire hadn't of sent Dye to first base.
1) In truth, it was lucky for the Astros that the ball hit Dye's bat in the first place, as it would have been ball four and was such a wild pitch, it was possible that if it would have missed him, it could have been a passed ball and scored a run.
2) It's called a foul ball (which should have been the right call, as difficult as it was to see). So another 3-2 pitch is delivered by a reliever who had thrown already a couple of other pitches that were out of the strike zone that Dye offered at. We will never know what would have happened, but this wasn't a Pierzynski play where he was out, if the play was called the other way.
While a lot of the national television analysts have lauded the White Sox for making the plays after the breaks they have received, Buck and McCarver have mainly had the tone of conspiracy theorists, broadcasting like these plays are the primary reason the team has won the games where controversy was involved. Let it be said that not one of these disputed calls gave the White Sox a run or even put the player in scoring position. While the Fox World Series crew has on a couple of occasions acknowledged the great play of the White Sox after these incidents, this has been dwarfed by their overall tone of these events having put the Chicago in the position they are in.
As I've written before, I think the 2005 season has been one where there has been an absence of a great team in MLB. Considering that the White Sox were seen prior to the season as a 3rd or 4th place team in the weakest division in baseball by most prognosticators, it's been hard for most baseball experts to wrap themselves around how this team could be a World Series Champion.
Let me remind everyone that the 2005 White Sox went practically wire to wire with the best record in the AL. This same team finished one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the best overall record in the Majors, and the Cardinals had the advantage of playing against weaker NL competition. If the White Sox win the next 2 games, they would tie the 1999 Yankees for the best single season playoff record. (I'm not expecting this, but it's a possibility at this point.) In a baseball world where the past few World Champs were wild card entries, the White Sox have earned acclaim, no matter what format you are using.
If they win this Series in 5 games or less, I think everyone will need to reevaluate if the 2005 Chicago White Sox weren't a great team, because the strength of the whole pitching staff. Add to this them not having one weak-link position player, either offensively or defensively and it makes up for not having one superstar. (I would argue that Konerko and Buerhle are just below that level.) While it's hard to compare Ozzie Guillen to Bill Belichek, you could make the argument that the 2005 White Sox's are the baseball version of the New England Patriots Super Bowl Champs.
Sure the White Sox have been lucky, but the reason they are only 2 games away from winning the World Series is because they are damn good. If events happen the way I suspect they will, later this week there will be no doubt of this.
Meet Your AL Pennant Champs: Pitching and Coaching Staff
If you've been reading my stuff at The Juice, the one baseball subject I've been consistent on in 2005 has been that the White Sox pitching staff is underrated.
Orlando Hernandez/Brandon McCarthy- El Duque was a disappointment, but his performance in Game 3 of the ALDS versus Boston gave him a lot of absolution. Hernandez is still a decent pitcher, though he might be best coming out of the bullpen at this point of his career. McCarthy finally replaced El Duque as the fifth starter in August and during the last 2 months of the year; McCarthy had an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00. Amazingly, the White Sox had enough depth to keep the pitcher with the best strikeout ratio on the team off their playoff roster. SI's Tom Verducci, just to give you an idea of his talent, mentions McCarthy in the same breath as Felix Hernandez and Francisco Liriano. In my preview of the Red Sox/White Sox series, I chose the Red Sox to win, as I felt the decision to keep McCarthy off the roster and Vizcaino on it, was going to come back and haunt them. So far, it would seem like my furor over this decision was misguided.
White Sox Bullpen
While the White Sox lack a great closer like Rivera or Lidge, their depth in the bullpen makes this a small issue. The top 4 relievers on staff have batting averages against all below .230. (Cotts .179, Politte .181, Hermanson .222, Jenks .225)
When Ozzie Guillen was originally signed to manage the White Sox, I thought it was the beginning of the end, as Ozzie the player, was one of the worst hitters in team history, doing everything a good sabermetrical disciple would abhor. While he sacrifice bunts too often, his work with the pitching staff is so good, it has genreally made up for his giving away runs strategy. An interesting thing about Guillen's coaches is that Harold Baines, Joey Cora, Greg Walker and Tim Raines all played with him while he was with the White Sox. Jerry Reinsdorf has focused on a family loyalty, as all these coaches, plus GM Williams all spent time with the club. This has fostered a good atmosphere in the clubhouse. The new star from the staff is pitching coach Don Cooper, who can talk almost as much as Ozzie.
It will be interesting to see what role the managers have in what promises to be a tight battle between similar teams. One interesting sidelight on this subject is that Phil Garner, while the skipper of the Brewers, had a running feud with the White Sox, especially with broadcaster Hawk Harrelson. So Hawk-haters, here is another reason for you to root for the Astros. The last thing I want to mention is that it's sad that the year the White Sox make it the World Series, the greatest hitter in club history since Shoeless Joe is unable to join them because of injury. The whole thing with Frank Thomas not being part of the White Sox's ultimate success in 2005, reminds me of how the Yankees finally went to another World Series the year after Don Mattingly retired.
Haven't checked my overall record in the last couple of weeks, but I think I'm around 55% for the year. Not great, but a helluva lot better than the college picks over at Football Outsiders. If you've seen those choices, well I hope you've gotten rich going against them. This week I didn't find a single 4 star game this week, but there are some good 3 star selections.
3 star Texas Tech (+17) vs. Texas
In a battle of the unbeaten, the talent-level definitely skews towards Texas, but the coaching of Leach should overcome some of this disparity. Tech gets off fast and the game ends up going down to the end.
3 star Houston (+15) vs. Indianapolis
Many of my favorite gambling rules favor the Texans, as I'm a big believer in going against home teams after Monday Night who are on the road the next week. Add to this a team who gets bombed on the road the week before like the Texans, usually get a few more points. I can only remember a couple of times that a NFL home team is this big of an underdog. Sure Carr and his offensive line are the ultimate sack givers, but Freeney is not 100%. This should be my first 5 star game of the year, but come on, am I going to this big of a bet on the Texans, especially against the best team in the NFL? 3 stars.
Meet Your AL Pennant Champs
Come on, be honest, you don't have any idea who half of these White Sox players are. Oh sure, you've heard their names and have probably even seen many of them play, but the following will hopefully give you a better idea of how the 2005 White Sox have become one of the most unlikely teams to make a World Series.
Ever since the 1970's, the White Sox have been a team known for its power hitting lineups. From the south-side hitmen to the good guys wear black lineups, they have been a team focused on the longball. Bill Melton, Dick Allen, Ron Kittle, Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko are the type of hitters you think of when the White Sox are brought up. Sure this was the franchise that brought us the Go-Go Sox of 1959, a team made up of great starting pitching and a lot of slap hitters, but since then the White Sox have been more about long flyballs than any other style of play.
Much has been written by the major media outlets, describing the 2005 Sox as playing a lot of small-ball, while many in the sabermetrical community have argued this assumption, pointing to how they've been a homerun hitting team. Ozzie Guillen deemed his style as "smartball", which he claimed was a mix of both strategies. For the first half of the season, it all seemed to work, as the White Sox shattered the MLB record for most consecutive games where a team took the initial lead during the game. By getting first inning leads, they were able to take a little pressure off of their starting pitchers. The way the White Sox were able to accomplish this was because of the on-base success of two of their off-season acquisitions, Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi. Let's start with them and work our way through the White Sox lineup.
Scott Podsednik- When Podsednik and relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino were obtained during the winter for Carlos Lee, the trade was slammed, especially by sabermetrical writers as a horrible deal. Instead of going into detail on my thoughts at the time of the trade, I would point you to this piece I wrote in April. Podsednik's stats were so divergent from each other during his 2 seasons with the Brewers that it was hard to know what he would offer the White Sox, but with a .351 OBP, he set the tables well. Before his groin injury, Scott stole 52 bases in 67 attempts, but after this injury, the team stopped playing great baseball, as he had been the catalyst of the offense. Podsednik has had somewhat of a stolen base resurgence during the playoffs, but I wonder how much that has to do with facing pitchers who have trouble with the running game. Either way, the biggest reason you should give Pods your respect is that his fiancee is Lisa Dergan. The first time I saw Dergan hosting a sports show on Fox Sports Net, I thought to myself, well there goes Fox hiring another sports bimbo and damn if I can't take my eyes off this gorgeous creature, with spectacular dimples.
Tadahito Iguchi- A player that the White Sox signed, without ever seeing in person, just from video footage. It can be argued that Iguchi has been the team's MVP. Reminds you of a poor man's version of Roberto Alomar during his prime, which makes him the second best overall second baseman in the AL, behind Brian Roberts. The first half of the season, it seemed he never failed in doing the smallball things that were asked of him. Guillen's continued to use this strategy in the second half, when Podsednik was not a 100%, which is hard to justify, as the bat was taken out of arguably the team's best hitter (Iguchi).
Juan Uribe- Iguchi's double play partner, Uribe has a very unorthodox defensive style, but with his gun, it's hard to argue that he isn't the best defensive shortstop in the AL. The White Sox infield defense was the best in the AL, as Uribe, Iguchi, and Joe Crede were all sensational, a must for a team with a starting pitching staff that focuses on throwing strikes and keeping the ball in play. Stolen from the Rockies for Aaron Miles, Uribe is a free swinger, but the power he offers from his position makes up a lot, for his low OBP.
Joe Crede- There have been a lot of expectations put upon Crede, since he came up with a lot of hype from his minor league days. To most White Sox fans, he's been an offensive disappointment, until the last month of the year. His defense, which has always been top-notch, has gone up another level in 2005, putting him at the top of the game in this category. Crede has played with disc problems in his back this year, but his confidence has risen during the latter part of the season and he has been the White Sox best hitter, since September, which is a great bonus to have, considering he bats 9th in the lineup.
Paul Konerko- Look at the numbers the last 3 seasons and it would appear like Paulie is one of the most consistent players in baseball. Well, the final totals might say that, but in truth, Konerko is one of the streakiest hitters in the game. He's one of those guys who carries a team for a month and then can follow it up with the worst average on the team, the next month. The unofficial captain of the clubhouse, Konerko is a fan and press favorite. This year's playoffs have added a couple million per year to his free agency bundle and has probably made him too expensive for the White Sox bottom line. Other teams should realize that his OBP is 116 points better at US Cellular than on the road. The only way I can see him staying in Chicago is to take a less money, instead counting on making it back and more on the Chicago TV commercial circuit. Konerko is the most popular player with the Sox fans and if he's part of a World Series championship, he will be doing ads like he is 1986 Jim McMahon.
A.J. Pierzynski- During this year's playoffs, Pierzynski has been the breakout celebrity, becoming a household name which very few can spell. Like Iguchi, Dye, and Hermanson, A.J. has been a great off-season signing by Kenny Williams, as he has been the best catcher the White Sox have had since Carlton Fisk. After 2004's nightmare season with the Giants, Pierzynski found few takers and had to actually talk the White Sox into signing him. The pitchers have claimed he has done a great job of calling the game. It's little wonder in a city with such a large Polish community that a guy named Pierzynski would become the newest fan favorite.
Jermaine Dye- One of the 4 new starting position players for the 2005 White Sox, Dye played a solid right field and turned out to be a bargain in what was an off-season filled with over-spending by most teams who participated in free agency. I was pretty lukewarm on his signing, but Dye after a dismal April (.517 OPS), ended up with an overall OBP of .846.
Aaron Rowand- While taking a major step down on the offensive front (2004 OBP: 904 vs 2005 OBP: 736 ) Rowand made up for some of this by playing the best defensive centerfield in the AL. He combined with the speedy Podsednik and underrated Dye to form the best outfield defense that I've ever seen from a White Sox team.
Carl Everett- GM Kenny Williams must have a soft spot for Carl Everett or he also doesn't believe in homosexual Dinosaurs and wants someone else around who shares his beliefs, because Williams has traded for baseball freakiest space cadet two different times. Up until August 27, Everett still had a respectable OPS of .795, but since this period, he has been a weak link in the lineup. During the playoffs he has been awful. If Frank Thomas would have stayed healthy, he would have been the missing ingredient that could have made this team great. Even without the Big Hurt, the White Sox have a good chance of becoming the first World Series champs Chicago has had since 1917.
White Sox Bench
As I wrote before the playoffs, the Sox have one of the worst benches ever to participate in the playoffs. Much has been made of Guillen not using anyone, but his starters to swing the bat versus Anaheim. Well, when you have the choices of Timo Perez or Geoff Blum, it's best to stick to your regulars. The best statistical bat they have on the bench is Chris Widger, so do I need to say anymore. Unfortunately, the White Sox didn't give outfielder Brian Anderson enough at bats during the last month of the season to let him earn a spot on the playoff roster. He has the kind of hitting skills and defensive ability to make him a valuable bench member.
(Look for the Part 2 of my breakdown of the White Sox, which will be focused on the pitching staff.)
2005 Playoff Baseball Blunder Countdown
Since I'm a White Sox fan, I had no idea what it would be like to go to a World Series, but I have to admit that it hasn't felt as great as I would have expected. The Boston series was a little easier than I expected, but it was still thrilling, as the El Duque base-loaded, no-outs Houdini act was the most exciting moment of the AL playoffs. If you asked most White Sox fans, they would have told you that they wanted to play the Yankees in the ALCS, as much like Boston, there is nothing more that people in Chicago love to do than beat a team from the Big Apple. Playing the Angels was a letdown.
When discussing the Angels, it must be asked, how did this team ever get to the ALCS? The starting pitching seemed worn down, while their offense was pretty miserable, as it's best player, Vladimir Guerrero seemed to be a shell of his normal self. As I wrote before the playoffs, 2004's Yankees, Red Sox, and Twins were superior to all 2005 playoff clubs. It seems even more apparent after watching the mediocre play so far. (I also wrote that the Yankees would be World Series champs and that the Red would beat the White Sox in the first round, so this might be the only thing I've been right about, prior to the playoffs.)
The only team that has looked like a quality team has been the White Sox. I'm sorry, but this notion that some have that the umpires cost the Angels the World Series must have not been watching the same pathetic hitting lineup that I was. Let's go over the 7 mistaken calls that have occurred this post-season, in order of severity of blunder. Let's start with the toughest calls to make and work our way up to the easiest.
7. The catcher's interference call which happened between Pierzynski and Finley was a tough call to see, considering that Finley was able to hit the ball enough to seem like a normal swing, especially from the angle the home plate umpire had. Of all the calls that went against the Angels, I think this play was the most costly, though, as they lost a run and potentially more from this decision.
6. The infamous 3rd strike was caught by Josh Paul, but it was extremely close to a trap and I can see why Eddings and the other umpires missed it. The "mechanics" of Eddings were wrong and I'm sure that MLB will revise their rule book to try to cover this situation, but Josh Paul should have made sure. The idea though that this play cost the Angels a victory is very shaky, considering Buerhle was pitching so well, the Sox bullpen is deeper and the Angels hitting was abysmal.
5. The Figgins' hit that was caught by the Angels fan was closer to being a ground rule double than the announcing team gave it credit for. I think it would have bounced to the top of the wall, but it was possible it could have rolled over from where it was set to hit. The commentary that Figgins most-likely would have made it to third was even more questionable, as the umpire made the right call, by giving Figgins a double and letting the runner come home from third. Considering how all the close calls had went against the Angels, I was actually rooting for the umpires to give them the run.
4. The pick-off play on Podsednik was obviously a missed call, but if you see the angle that the 1st base umpire had, well you can see why he made the call he did.
3. While the NLCS has had less controversy, the third strike on Edmonds, before he was thrown out for arguing was a pathetic call. This wasn't even close to a strike and for Edmonds to get thrown out of the game, was one of the worst examples of an umpire forgetting that in the post-season, players deserve a little more of a leash.
2. The original missed call of Escobar's phantom tag was awful, as it's plain to see that he has the ball in his non-glove hand, then he makes it even more obvious by throwing the ball to first. I know many of you are thinking, but it was corrected. Right, but this list is based on ranking of how tough the play was for the umpires to make. Hopefully, all the umpires that were involved in these mistakes listed will rest up for the 2006 season, as MLB needs to bring in some fresh faces, as too many on these crews struggled during the League Championship series.
1. You might be wondering, well what bad call that has happened in the playoffs was more egregious than these 6. Simple, Fox's hiring of Kenny Lofton as a pre-game analyst. Terrible Call. I've never liked the concept of throwing a current player into the playoff booth, as they have little or no experience broadcasting. While I will admit that I thought Al Leiter was great and that Mike Piazza was pretty good this year, overall I think it's a mistake. (Lou Pinella has worked for a season in the broadcast booth in the past and being a manager, I think he offers some good insights.)
· I'm not surprised to see that many of the best pitchers in the NL playoffs have come from the AL. (Clemens, Carpenter, Hudson, Muldar, Suppan, Pettitte) The AL has just produced a lot better pitching over the past 10 years.
Dear Penthouse Forum,
I moved to Chicago in 1989 to work for Marshall Fields and this was the year I really became indoctrinated in my hatred towards the Cubs. I would argue that 1984 was the year that the baseball balance of the city began to tilt very heavily towards the Cubs, as WGN was growing, Harry Carey was becoming the voice of the team and the Cubs were actually good. By 1989, Chicago had been transformed as a "Cubtown", as the bleachers became the yuppie party central that it is today. When you live in a city where only 20% of it roots for the team you follow, it becomes less of healthy rivalry. Add to this that the city's number 1 newspaper (Chicago Tribune) are also the owners of the Cubs and most White Sox fans have become an angry, paranoid group of people, much like how Derek described.
Are White Sox fans more dysfunctional than Cub fans on other subjects? I would guess not, but the second-class citizenship White Sox fans endure in the Windy City definitely makes them this way on the subject of baseball. So long-suffering baseball fans in Chicago have a team in the World Series, which should be a moment of bringing the city together, right? Uh, I believe I can speak for most White Sox fans in saying: If you weren't with us before, we don't want you now. We respect Cub fans who attend their park because you love the game, not just the party. We also respect the Cub fans who refuse to root for their city's other team (White Sox), as we would do the same, if you were about to break Chicago's baseball curse. Now for the other 50% of Cub fans, the bandwagoneers who are just looking to hang out with a winner for a change, watch the World Series and enjoy it, but next year, go back to your bleacher party and leave us alone.
Lukewarm Football Picks
Last week I touted my overall picks, well I stunk it up on Saturday, as my Big 12 knowledge must be questioned after Saturday. So off we go for this week, but first, let me address one football issue. The Minnesota Vikings like to have naked ladies gyrate for them, when they go out on a party boat. I say, hey, whatever brings team unity is what's most important. My problem is that these same players imported their artistic dancers from Atlanta. Are the strippers from Minnesota not good enough for ya. I mean for christ sakes, doncha know that the gals from the Twin Cities are pretty hot in their own right. What in the name of Vern Gunderson are you not using Minnesoda talent. Next time, call the local Deja Vu and say you betcha to Lina
(3-star) West Virginia (+7) Louisville
No game is a 4 star this week, but going to Morgantown is the toughest place the Cardinals will visit in 2005. Last week was a great set-up for this, as the Nittany Lions had the biggest win they've had in years, while the Wolverines lost a game that has created a must win. Just think what the spread would have been at the start of the year between the Trojans and Fighting Irish? USC is just too talented, while Carroll is Wies' equal on the sidelines. OK, so I under-rated the Buffs a little too much, but these are the kind of games Mack Brown does well in. His team is at home against an opponent which doesn't have the players to match-up. I still think the Longhorns will lose a game before the end of the year, but not this week. Miami (Ohio) was one of my surprise teams before the season and they have not lived up to my touting. They are too good of a team not to be a bigger favorite, at least that's what I'm saying on Friday.
(3-star) New Orleans (+5.5) Atlanta
Home sweet San Antonio. Look for the Saints to show up, unlike last week in Green Bay. In a game that should set quarterbacking 15 years, take the superior defense (Buffalo), who's playing at home. Houston has been much worse than their talent-level, while Seattle is not a 10 point favorite over hardly anyone in the NFL.
Let me begin by stating this is not a review of Jeff Stryker's newest flick, but instead a breakdown of game 2 of the White Sox/Angels series. When I was just a tyke, I can remember reading about the Bill Buckner's of their time, the passed ball by Mickey Owen and Fred Merkle's baserunning Boner. Well add Josh Paul to this dubious list. As a White Sox fan, I don't take great pleasure in this, as Paul played for the Sox parts of 5 different seasons. He's a scrappy player, who happened to grow up in Chicago, was White Sox fan as a child and just as importantly to Sox fans, hated the Cubs. A very sad irony, as I'm guessing Paul, prior to this series, considered the match-up, the best scenario he could ask for.
Breaking down the play, I felt Tim McCarver was a little too definitive in declaring Paul caught the ball. I don't know if the home plate umpire made the right call or not, but it was close and in the NFL world of replay, I'm not sure you would have reversed it, because conclusive evidence is questionable. Earlier in the broadcast, McCarver had mentioned Paul was working on a book on calling a game, interviewing past and present catchers on their strategic moves. I would hazard to guess that McCarver was interviewed by Paul and feels some infinity for a current player who's respectful, instead of acting like, oh, someone like Deion Sanders. I feel badly for Paul, but he made a mistake by not making sure the out was made. I hope Josh Paul has gotten the advance on his upcoming book, because if he hasn't, it might be difficult to sell a strategy book by him at this point. He should have a really interesting epilogue, though.
Someone who should face some questions is Mike Scioscia. After pulling Jose Molina for a baserunner, Sciosia chose not to move his brother, Benji over from his DH spot, instead inserting Paul. Why I question this decsion is that Escobar is not good at holding on runners and either Molina gave the Angels the best chance to keep the White Sox from being able to steal a base. Even if you discount that factor, when Escobar had pinch runner Pablo Ozuna on first, this was the time Scioscia should have brought in a new pitcher, as the Escobar/Paul battery was like putting Ozuna on second. The White Sox knew this, as Crede waited on the first two pitches, so Osuna could get in scoring position. This almost backfired, as Escobar threw two strikes to begin the at bat.
Now to Doug Eddings and his Denkinger future. The guy is a young ump and all I can say is that he might want to go under an assumed name when he visits Anaheim. Also, Doug, I would make sure to wear your mask and chest protector, even when you're working 1st base. Let me mention that earlier in the game, Eddings made the correct call on a very close play at home plate, calling Aaron Rowand out. While not as big of a play, as the Escobar 3rd strike, Eddings enthusiastically rang Paul Konerko up on a check swing that at the least seemed to deserve to be called by the 3rd base umpire on an appeal. It was a tough night for Doug. In the press conference following the game, Eddings looked like Bambi staring down an oncoming 18-wheeler. Wisely, 2 veteran umpires, who behaved like they were Johnny Cochran and Robert Shapiro, trying to protect their client, accompanied young Doug during the questioning.
Now let's get to the final person involved, A.J. Pierzynski. If you were going to ask, what player on either team would be the protagonist in a controversial play, it would have to be Anthony John. Part Eddie Haskell, part Dennis the Menace, Pierzynski just might be the ultimate love him if he's on your team, hate him if he's not player in all of Major League Baseball. I can't tell you the pleasure I would have had, if the White Sox would have been playing the Twins in the 2002 playoffs and the Twins' Pierzynksi would have "trapped" the ball and not tagged White Sox's batter Josh Paul, who would have run to first base, keeping the game alive. Unfortunately, it happened a bit differently.
I'm sure if I was reading this piece, I would be questioning the author's ability to be like Fox News, you know, FAIR AND BALANCED. Well, let me begin by saying, I've waited a long time to have a walk off hitting moment, in a playoff game. Well, Crede's double should have been a triumphant moment, but instead I felt more muted in my reaction than any other time the White Sox have done something of a similar fashion. I hope the series is won by the White Sox in 5 or at the most 6 games, as I don't want Josh Paul to be seen as the new Scott Norwood. On the other hand, if this is the only way the White Sox wind up in the World Series, I'm desperate enough to throw Josh under the team's charter bus.
So it's been mentioned that the White Sox don't have the curse of the Bambino or some tavern's billy goat, but let's not kid ourselves, the Black Sox scandal is the most infamous incident in baseball history. A team that had won a championship just 2 years before throws the 1919 World Series, because of being unfairly treated by their owner, Charles Comiskey. No goat being excluded from attending a game, no player who is sold to your biggest rival to finance a Broadway show can match the overall sleaze factor of having members of your team purposedly lose World Series games. I will say that no matter if you believe Eddings blew the call or Paul was the one with the brain cramp, we can all agree the White Sox received a major gift. (Remember the White Sox won a game where they managed no earned runs.) So off to Anaheim, a place that has been far from being a Disneyland for the White Sox. No Colon, a Vlad missing his Implaer bat, Washburn with a strep-throat induced washboard stomach, plus now the Angels have to fight more than just fatigue, but the mental conflict that a game was given to their opponent.
Things look good for the White Sox, but knowing the past, I'm just waiting for a Bartman from the O. C., who swings a rally monkey over the railing, costing Scott Posednik a pennant cinching catch. Having a reprieve, I have nightmares of Garret Anderson hitting a 3-run homer to send it to a game 7. Game 7 is not something a baseball team from Chicago can be comfortable with. Sure this sounds like the hallucinogenic ranting of a man who has no confidence in his team. Well, welcome to the insecure world of the White Sox fan. We're Number 2! We're Number 2! Until the White Sox make the final out of the World Series, I can think nothing more.
PLEASE NOTE: Make sure to read Will Carroll's excellent piece below on how the off-season shakes out for most team's in MLB.
Yes, it's that favorite time of the year when just before getting to the free agents and trades that theoretically culminates at the Winter Meetings (this year in Dallas), we get the roulette wheel of managers and GM's losing and getting new jobs. Let's take a look at the openings with my bold and sure-to-be-wrong picks:
Yankees: Joe Torre looks safe. He's an icon and has a big contract. It does look like Brian Cashman will be leaving. It wouldn't surprise me to see a late, high-dollar offer from Steinbrenner to keep Cashman in pinstripes, but Damon Oppenheimer is universally believed to be the next GM in the Bronx.
Marlins: Once Lou Piniella decided to be Torre's replacement-in-waiting, Joe Girardi realized that it wouldn't pay off to wait for the Yankees job to open. Instead, he'll take what Piniella turned down, an interesting Marlins club. There's plenty of pitching and Miguel Cabrera, so winning - even in this division - is possible quickly. Some are saying that Josh Beckett's recent checkup might be prelude to a big trade.
Devil Rays: The Rays (or whatever they're called by the time spring training rolls around) will be all new. The GM position is open, kind of. New owner Stu Sternberg had a "shadow team" in place all year, but they're more operations than on-field focused. Andrew Friedman could be named GM, though the team is expected to give him a mentor. John Hart would be ideal, but even though he turned the Rangers over to Jon Daniels, it isn't expected that he would move to Tampa. One name you'll likely hear is Gord Ash, now Asst GM with the Brewers. You'll also probably hear Gerry Hunsicker's name a lot. As far as manager, it's up in the air. Joe Girardi will likely take the Marlins over the Rays, leaving Ken Macha and Joe Maddon as candidates with a couple internal options. The interesting move might be to bring Bobby Valentine back from Japan, something he seems interested in.
Phillies: Billy Wagner is the big name free agent, but who's there to sign him? Ruben Amaro, the AGM under Ed Wade, will handle those negotiations for now, but do you let an AGM make that decision unless he's going to get the job long term? Possibly. Amaro is the leading candidate right now, though Gerry Hunsicker and Brian Cashman would be good fits as well.
Nationals: Bud Selig still says "soon." Getting a new owner in Washington has been a monumental task, supposedly now slowed by the post-season. MLB sources indicate that there's a lot of factors slowing things down, but the biggest is that the bidders keep topping themselves, finding new money, consolidating groups, and strengthening the bids. If MLB completely screwed up the handling of this deal from four years ago until now but still makes a couple hundred million bucks in the deal - much of which will stay in the Commish's fund - then who are we to say they were wrong? At least two of the groups say they don't want Jim Bowden back and have asked the Commissioner to "tie his hands" during these final negotiations. That shouldn't complicate things unless Selig and DuPuy drag the sale beyond the post-season awards timeframe. Once a new owner is named, the real speculation begins. Brian Cashman is the choice of one group while Boston whiz-kid Josh Byrnes is the choice of at least one other. Frank Robinson will be back as manager if he chooses.
Cubs: Everyone's back. Dusty Baker should have his contract extension announced shortly after the World Series. Seriously.
Diamondbacks: Jeff Moorad is pulling the strings here, so a GM might not have quite the power that most have. This isn't a bad thing, but a former GM like Dan Evans or Kevin Towers might not like the downgrade. Bob Gebhard is in the role and is believed to be a key to keeping Mike Rizzo, the Snakes' well-regarded Scouting Director on board. Any new GM is not only going to have to watch Moorad over one shoulder, they'll be tutoring Matt Williams to take the job at some point.
Mariners: Bill Bavasi will survive the winter, though some of my Japanese sources tell me that there's a move afoot to bring Bobby Valentine back from Japan and into the GM's role. We'll see if the M's use their Japanese connections to try and bring Kaz Matsui, Hideki Matsui, and Daisuke Matsuzaka into the fold. The Japanese team for the World Baseball Classic - to be led by Sadaharu Oh - could look like the M's Triple-A roster. The other interesting note here is that with Bryan Price out as pitching coach, we have our first major change in variables for the Mariners' Pitching Puzzle. Price will likely land in Arizona. We'll know soon if it was Price or something else.
Reds: Dan O'Brien gets another year to do something. The team is in the midst of a sale, so changes anywhere are unlikely. Yes, that means that the Reds will likely not make many moves and probably will head to spring training with the same roster they have now, four solid OFers and all.
Royals: Allard Baird seems safe for another year, but many said that about Ed Wade just a few days ago. While some like Baird and blame the problems on stingy ownership, he certainly hasn't shown much during his tenure. The question is, who would be better? Perhaps David Glass could hire Rob & Rany to Run the Royals. That's not such a bad idea.
Orioles: With Mike Flanagan now in sole control, he'll quickly sign Sam Perlozzo as manager, taking the interim tag off. His next task will be to spend the money that Peter Angelos is going to throw at the free agent market. It was Dallas where Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez signed their massive deals. Angelos is likely to sign at least one massive deal and the rumored "Boston Three" of Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and Bill Mueller actually fits with the O's needs, assuming they can also grab a pitcher or two.
Pirates: Jim Tracy is in here and Dave Littlefield has another year left before the team is sold. Both will need progress from the core of young players that came up this season. How Tracy fills out his coaching staff will be very interesting.
Dodgers: The Dodgers let Jim Tracy go and I'm sure there were reasons. Pittsburgh looks to be a nice fit and gives Paul DePodesta a chance to get his own guy in. Terry Collins has been with the Dodgers for a couple years and seems to be the leading candidate for the job. He'll look like a genius if the Dodgers just stay healthy, making them a favorite in the NL West.
Tigers: No more rah-rah. The Tigers now have Jim Leyland and no one knows what to expect. His experienced staff is expected to have more latitude than most, especially Lloyd McClendon who was brought in just in case Leyland burns out as he did in Colorado. Leyland won't have much say in personnel, but that's not such a bad thing. Figuring out Ivan Rodriguez will be the team's biggest priority.
Rangers: Don't expect big changes from Jon Daniels. He was mentored well by John Hart and has been handling contracts and trades anyway. They may lose Orel Hershiser, who wanted both the GM job and to be interviewed for the Dodgers managerial opening. He got neither. Hershiser seems to be a great pitching coach, so I hope he stays.
Red Sox: Theo Epstein is young, smart, good looking, and plays in a band. Oh yeah, he has a World Series ring too. I hate that guy. Expect him to add "rich" to his resume as well when John Henry re-signs Epstein as GM.
A's: Everyone is assuming that Bob Geren, once Billy Beane's best man, will get the job as manager. They also assume that Beane and his merry band of moneyballers don't value a manager. They do, but like everything else, they have a price and Ken Macha - who wanted more influence on personnel - wanted more than the price they had in mind. Geren is the lead candidate, though whispers that Bud Black is a Beane favorite have been heard. Pitching coaches seldom make good managers, so this might be more classic Beane contrarianism. Then again, it could just be trying to weaken the Angels.
Playoff Comments and Red-Hot Football Picks
I'm really happy that the rest of America is getting a chance to see how the White Sox were able to win 99 games. Sure they have seemed to have had an inordinate amount of luck in 2005, but they also play some of the smartest, most entertaining baseball I've ever watched. I wrote at the beginning of the year that the acquisitions of Pierzynski, Iguchi, and El Duque were great moves, even though to clear up the salary they needed for these players, they would have to trade Carlos Lee. Well, for the regular season, Hernandez was a bust, but the reason the White Sox management picked up Orlando was for his big game pitching ability. His appearance in the 6th inning, inheriting the bases loaded and shutting down the Red Sox, without a run, will go down as one of the great pitching moments in playoff history. (On a related note, it seems to be the time to cut loose Marte from the playoff roster. Please insert McCarthy. He could mean the difference coming out of the bullpen in a long series.)
There has been discussion about how Ozzie Guillen learned to manage most from Bobby Cox. Guillen has also credited Marlins managers Jeff Torborg and Jack McKeon, as skippers who have had influence on him. Ozzie has seemed to developed the magic touch with a pitching staff that Cox has, but as a person, he seems to have little in common with his mentors. I would say the manager his style reminds me most of is Billy Martin. Fiery, unconvential, and always a great quote, both Guillen and Martin have that small, middle infielder chip on the shoulder is a great motivator. I would guess that like Martin, Guillen will wear out his welcome after 3 or 4 years, but the charismatic personality he possesses, much like Billy had, will drive teams to overachieving in the short-term.
Everytime Paul Konerko has a spectacular fielding play or hits a big fly, I have mixed feelings. Most of me is happy, as he's the most important weapon in the White Sox lineup, but I also realizes it makes him more and more money in the free agency market. Considering the shallow free agent talent pool that is available this off-season, I would guess Konerko is already too expensive for the White Sox, but now he has really ridden up the salary ladder, as some team with deep pockets, who needs to make an off-season splash will have to consider making him a Thome-like deal. In a city like Chicago, especially with the blue-collar fan base the White Sox have, Konerko is the biggest fan favorite I've seen since I've been following the team. Much like the last Sox player to fit this description, Robin Ventura, I would not sign him to anything more than 9 million a year, which I suspect will be about 3-5 million less per season than will be needed. You're an excellent power hitter and great team leader, Paulie, but slow-footed first-baseman, who will be turning 30 over the off-season is not a good financial bet.
The announcing crew for the Sox(s) series were Rick Sutcliffe, Chris Berman, and Mike Piazza. While he started slowly, I thought Piazza did a credible job behind the microphone. The biggest negative for Piazza being in the booth, was that gave less airtime for baseball's best color analyst, Rick Sutcliffe. The biggest positive for Piazza being in the booth was that it gave less airtime for Chris Berman. Sutcliffe is cocky, but backs it up, with great analyis and humor. Berman is living off his 1980's decade, when he had some innovative touches in delivering sports highlights. Much like a buffet table or a well-dressed list, Berman should be kept away from play-by-play.
ESPN radio has hired John Franco to provide color for the Astros-Braves series. I highly recommend listening to him for an inning, as he has the vocal delivery of a second-rate character on The Sopranos. Just another case of some East Coast executive deciding who should be hired for a national telecast. Sorry, but most of America doesn't want to hear a thick accent, be it East Coast, Southern drawling, or Minnesoda Fargo-flavored. If you do have such a voice, you better make up for it by being highly opinionated and a natural born entertainer. (See Dick Vitale.)
This Week's College and Pro Picks
If you gave up on me, after the first couple of weeks, let me mention that I've been a combined 8-2 in the colleges and 6-3 in the NFL over the past 2 weeks. For the year, I'm 13-10 in college (+9 on the star basis) and 10-8 in the NFL(+11 on the star basis). Let's see if I can continue it up this weekend.
3 star Texas Tech (-4) over Nebraska
Starting off with 3 Big 12 games. The Huskers have been a lucky team to start off the season undefeated, winning close games with Pittsburgh and Iowa State. With the 5th consecutive home game to begin the year, the Huskers have a chance to go 5-0, but they've seen nothing like the Red Raider passing game. The Big 12 South is far superior to the North. Staying on this same theme, take the points with the Aggies, as they are the better team and McNeal will make enough plays to help them win outright. OK, now forget everything I just said, at least in regards to Baylor. The Cyclones are the best team in the North and rebound from a tough overtime loss at Nebraska last weekend.
Darkness on the Edge of Town
"I'm the luckiest man alive."
These words are uttered by Tom Stallfamily man, business owner, and backbone of the Millbrook, Ind. communityin the opening act of A History of Violence (New Line Cinema), the newest effort from director David Cronenberg. Tom and his wife have just made passionate love in the attic of their home, role-playing as quarterback and cheerleader. It's an innocent game for an innocent couple, recalling the excitement of a youth the two weren't lucky enough to share. The problem is, it's the last innocent moment that either character will have. It's a dark and scary world outside of Millbrook, and dusk is closing in on this perfect family in this perfect town.
Darkness, in this case, comes in the form of a pair of drifters who hold up Tom's diner ("A good place to eat"). As viewers, we know these men because the film opens with their banter in a protracted scenea scene that reveals vile cruelty and the murder of a young girl. Nevertheless, their presence is a fleeting one, as Tom reacts to the drifters with the self-assurance of man who's handled a weapon before. Both men are dispensed of in the blink of an eye. It's the first of many bursts of violence in a film about just thatand much moreand it brims with the satisfaction of a righteous vigilante.
And righteousness is what we're supposed to feel; it's what Cronenberg (The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch) is setting us up to feel, and more. Everyone who dies in A History of Violenceeveryone who gets his comeuppanceis a Bad Man with Bad Intentions. What elevates this material above the level of Death Wish (1974) and Dirty Harry (1971), however, is the way Cronenberg makes you deal with it. His violence is fast, wet, and brutaland he consistently hangs on the images for a few extra frames, never letting the audience off the hook. He understands that for every violent action there is an equal and opposite emotional reaction, and he wants us to understand that too. It's this awareness that makes A History of Violence the moving experience that it is.
2005 Playoff Preview
When it comes to predicting the 2005 MLB Playoffs, I can't say I feel strongly about any of the series, except for the Cardinals over Padres. Last year, I felt good about most of 2004 playoff picks and guess what, I was perfect, with a little help from the Yankees choke job.
White Sox vs. Red Sox- The best first round match-up, as these 2 teams have extremely different strengths. The Red Sox seem really worn out, at this point and their pitching is a huge question mark. I would have chosen the White Sox to win in 4, as their starting pitching is superior, but the FUCKING moronic decision to not put arguably the best pitcher they've had the past month, Brandon McCarthy, on their post-season roster I think will come back to haunt them. Add to this the most pathetic hitting bench in the history of playoff baseball and the White Sox are going to need lights out pitching. Over the last month, the White Sox should have been playing Brian Anderson 4 times a week, as his overall game is superior to Perez, Everett, Posednik (post-July), and Blum. These 2 young players should have been on the playoff team, with Perez, Blum, or Vizcaino beginning their search for a major league roster for 2006. Outside of Homer Harrelson, it would be hard to find a big supporter of Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen's decisions from the off-season up than myself. Well take me off the bandwagon. I'm guessing these 2 felt some kind of loyalty to their more veteran players, but McCarthy is a difference maker, as he's the best strikeout pitcher on the roster. Oh yeah, he's not on the playoff roster and I can just see this be Chicago's undoing. Bullshit reasoning by Williams and Guillen costs the White Sox the series? As a fan, I hope not. As an impartial observer. Take the Red Sox in 5.
Yankees vs. Angels- Neither team is as good as the 2004 model, but I would rate them as the 2 most likely teams to win the World Series. If Randy Johnson was starting 2 game in this series, it would be a no-brainer pick, but counting on Chacon and a less than stellar Mussina, it becomes more of a coin flip. If Colon wins both of his starts, put the Angels into the next round. As good as Bartolo has pitched this season, he's not someone I would want to put all my chips on. Yankees have the best offense and it's hard to go against a team with Rivera. Yankees in 5.
Braves vs. Astros- A lot of experts have the big 3 starters of Houston leading them to the World Series. What many are missing is that Smoltz is the best playoff pitcher of his generation and Tim Hudson isn't too shabby, either. The Braves offense is superior, but the Astros have a great closer, something the Braves do also, but he also just happens to be starting game 1. Should be a great series. Braves in 5.
Cardinals vs. Padres- What looks to be a mismatch could be tighter than expected, as Cardinal pitching has been shaky over the past month. What makes this more of an issue is the Padres will have a chance in both games Jake Peavy takes the mound, so if he comes through, it could come down to San Diego stealing one game. Cardinals in 5
If you didn't notice from my selections, I suspect these will be some great first rounds. In the League Championship series, look for the Yankees to avenge last year's gag against the Red Sox, winning in 6.
What a rollercoaster season it has been for the Yankees, as they looked dead in the water earlier in the season, but somehow patched up a starting pitching rotation with guys like Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon and now have a chance at another world championship. The American League has been the far superior league once again, though I would argue that last year's Yankees, Red Sox, and even Twins are better than any team of 2005. Hard to go against any of the 4 American League representatives versus the National League competition, though the Braves and Astros starting pitching would give the NL the best chance. Yankees in 6.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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