A heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack

October 19th, 2006 → 3:36 pm @

Hey Mets fans, remember Armando Benitez? Come on, I know you do: he’s the guy that a) blew Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, b) blew Game 2 of the that year’s NLDS. c) blew Game 3…actually, I’m not a sadist. If you want the gory details, you can read all about them on your own.

Bill Wagner was supposed to finally put an end to the Benitezes (and Braden Loopers) of the world parading through Shea. He’s a flame-throwing stud who has topped 35 saves in six of the last eight years, and he was injured the two other years. But since arriving in New York, Wagner has been anything but the Sandman; if anything, Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” would be more appropriate entrance music. I know: Wagner had a great second half. I know: he converted 21 straight save opportunities. I also know that in 1999, Benitez saved 42 games and had an ERA under 2.00.

It was only the fact that the Mets had a four-run lead that allowed the team to escape with a win last night, as Wagner did his best to make So Taguchi this year’s Chad Curtis (or Bucky Dent). (It’s never a good sign when a closer’s “diary” entry is headlined “This One Didn’t Get Away From Me.”)

The Mets might very well beat the Cardinals tonight and head to Detroit for Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday. Once there, Wagner likely won’t matter much; the Tigers are gonna smoke whichever one of these teams limps its way to the pennant. But Wagner’s struggles are a perfect example of why I think Omar Minaya is — and I’ll try to put this delicately — not the sharpest GM at the winter meetings. Wagner’s 35, and he’ll collect $11 mil a year until he’s 38. He’s also 5 feet, 10 inches (a full four inches shorter than Mariano)…which means Minaya the miracle worker is on the hook for another $62 million over the next three years for two pitchers (Wagner and Pedro) who are both shorter than I am and both weigh about the same as I do…and I’m not a big guy. If you could short baseball players, I’d put a lot of money on these two not being worth it in 2008.

I know it’s possible (albeit difficult) to spend a buttload of money and still lose a buttload of games without any previous success to show for it (see Knicks, New York); Minaya seems intent on demonstrating how easy it is to spend a boatload of money as a way of crippling your team for years to come. And when they don’t win this year’s World Series, all he’ll have to show for it is the fact that his team played further into October than the Yankees.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Billy Wagner & Not so oblique references to Billy Joel songs & Omar Minaya

“History,” managers, money, and Murray

October 18th, 2006 → 8:42 am @

Ah, yes: the burden of getting back into the swing of doing “work” work. It allows time for that flurry of midnight-on-Sunday posts, but some weekdays are tougher…

Which doesn’t mean there’s not time for some thoughts and updates. (Drumroll, fanfare, etc).

* The Mets loss last night has Jayson Stark claiming that a Cardinals NLCS victory would make history: “When the calendar says it’s October and a team that won 83 games is on the verge of beating a team that won 97 games, that’s more than just an upset. It’s an upset that slips instantly into the realm of myth and legend.” I call bullshit. Wild-card teams have won the World Series three of the last four years. The Mets are missing their ace, their starter, and one of their starting outfielders. The Mets were favored, with most of the ‘experts’ giving them the series in six or seven games, but no one expected a route. Coming back from an 0-3 deficit? That’s history. Beating the Mets in a seven game season? If it happens, it’s a good story for another week or so, or until whichever NL team makes it gets its ass handed to them by the Tigers.

* In his ESPN.com Insider column, Buster Olney discusses what makes a successful manager. (It’s clearly more than simply winning 95 games. See Little, Grady.) Olney puts “Can he lead/does he engender respect” first, with in-game strategizing third (out of four). I’m with Buster on the lack of importance of in-game management, and I generally agree with the “can he lead” thing, although I think the single most important job a manager has is getting a bunch of rich, indulged, jealous, back-biting man-children to stay inspired during the course of an exhausting, numbing, 162-game season.

* For those of you actually interested in how the publishing industry wastes money, Monday’s Journal article (“Dream Scenario: In Era of Blockbuster Books, One Publisher Rolls the Dice”) is well worth reading. Unfortunately, it’s only available to online subscribers. It’s essentially a summary of how Holt managed to put all its eggs in an incredibly leaky basket; the most amazing thing about this article is that the book’s editor, who charitably can be said to have cost his company more than a million bucks, decided to cooperate with the reporter.

* And, of course, there’s good old Murray. The Chass-man has been on a roll this week; such a roll, in fact, that the mere thought of discussing each and every one of his articles makes me feel slightly ill. But here are some quick highlights:

In Monday’s column, Chass writes that while it’s “difficult to imagine a worse performance” than the one Steve Trachsel turned in on the mound for the Mets, the Elias Sports Bureau — Chass’s handy substitute for, you know, reporting — tells him that actually, some pitchers have fared worse in the playoffs.

Then, on Tuesday, Chass acknowledges he was wrong, but naturally he’s not to blame: “Although it said here yesterday that Trachsel’s outing wasn’t the worst start in a postseason game, Elias Sports Bureau determined that by one measurement it was.”

Finally, in today’s Times, Chass helpfully explains that players want higher batting averages: “Going 2 for 17 means Wright is hitting .118. That beats .063 (1 for 16), but it is nevertheless a minuscule average…”

As always, Chass’s columns are free to the reader, unlike the paper’s other sports columnists…

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Book Publishing & Buster Olney & Jayson Stark & Murray Chass

Coming through in the clutch to the tune of a 7.94 ERA

October 16th, 2006 → 12:36 am @

So many people are gushing over Oliver Perez’s 5.2 inning, 5-run outing last night in St. Louis you’d have thought Pedro hobbled out of the Mets’ clubhouse and pulled a Schilling. ESPN called Perez the game’s unsung hero because “he kept the game close — before the Mets’ offense exploded — and went deep enough to give the bullpen a much-needed break.”

Topping that, the Times‘s peerless Murray Chass* wrote, “Perez did not resemble Sandy Koufax or Mickey Lolich, but he did the job the Mets needed him to do in their 12-5 victory. Of such efforts heroes are made, in this case an unlikely hero.” Then, citing the Elias Sports Bureau (Chass’s favorite “source” — he’s cited Elias 17 times since the baseball season started), Chass wrote, “Perez, after all, had a 6.55 regular-season earned run average with the Pirates and the Mets, and that is the highest E.R.A. ever for a pitcher making a postseason start of any kind, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.” I’m pretty sure Elias doesn’t keep stats like this, but I bet it’s one of the only times a pitcher was called a hero after giving almost a run an inning and doing his best to give up a lead.

To wit: Perez gave up a run in the first, gave back a 2-1 Mets lead in the third, and, after the Mets scored three in the 5th, coughed up a home run to perpetual power threat David Eckstein in the Cardinals’ first at-bat in the bottom of the inning. (For those of you keeping track at home, Eckstein hit two home runs in 123 games this season…which, granted, is a bit off of his career-average of a four-bagger ever 31.5 games.) Before being yanked in the sixth, Perez gave up two more homers, although the Mets’ six-run explosion meant even Perez’s best efforts couldn’t bring the Cards back in the game. Context is everything, I guess. (Or, perhaps, in the world of sports reporting, reality is nothing.)

* Increasingly, the Times seems to feel that Chass is, well, peerless as well. Chass’s piece is nowhere to be found on the homepage for the paper’s sports section, and, in what increasingly appears to be a trend, Chass (unlike George Vecsey, Dave Anderson, or Harvey Araton) is the only one of today’s sports columnists who’s piece you can read without being a member of TimesSelect.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Murray Chass & Sports Reporters

You can’t always get what you want

October 16th, 2006 → 12:14 am @

My LCS wish-list:

* Tigers beat A’s in a seven-game series
* Mets sweep Cardinals

Apparently, either I got it wrong or the baseball gods thought LaRussa was still lurking around like a sunglass-wearing sex-crime parolee in the Oakland dugout.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs

This is how sportswriters make the offseason seem exciting

October 16th, 2006 → 12:05 am @

As Jerry Remy pointed out at the end of the year, Boston is “probably the only place in the country where there’s a baseball story in both papers every single day of the offseason.” That’s a lot of column inches to fill, and not a lot of news to fill them with. Which is why it pays to be creative.

Take the “Baseball Notes” column in Sunday’s Globe, in which we learn that…

* Manny Ramirez might be the answer to the White Sox’s left fielder problem…but only if Boston can get someone like, say, Freddy Garcia in return
* The Yankees and the Cubs might be swapping third basemen, with A-Rod going to the Chicago and Aramis Ramirez coming to New York
* Barry Bonds might be going to the Orioles, and
* Kevin Millar might be coming back to Boston (Schilling and Francona will undoubtedly head the welcoming committee).

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the most likely scenario is that none of these things actually happen…and I’d be shocked if more than one actually did.

Still, my pet peeve of the piece is the following: “Bill Belichick might want to purchase a Tigers jersey. Jim Leyland has proven he’s the best manager in baseball.” Leyland is a great manager, and he did a good job this year…but guiding a team with three 20-HR players, two 19-HR players, and a staff with a 3.84 ERA (and two players who throw 100-MPH heat) to the playoffs does not, in itself, mean a heck of a lot. Sort of how last year’s White Sox victory didn’t mean Ozzie Guillen was a genius any more than the Marlins’ ’03 victory meant Jack McKeon was a genius.

(Leyland is a helluva lot of fun, though. I wish I’d TiVo’d it, but in the post-game on-field presentation after the Tigers finished their mercy killing of the A’s, Leyland was asked something along the lines of whether this was the highpoint of his life. Leyland — who toiled in the minors for the Tigers from ’64 to ’69 — said something along the lines of, “No: I wanted to be Yogi Berra, not Casey Stengel.” Then he gave a wan grin and shuffled off the on-field stage. Undoubtedly to have a smoke and kiss a fan.)

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Sports Reporters

Remember, this is Peter Gammons talking

October 13th, 2006 → 7:09 am @

“What did anyone expect to see when the Yankees were losing Saturday night? With the Yankees, and a growing extent the Red Sox, childish joy is not a part of the equation.”

— Peter Gammons, “Torre is not part of Yanks’ problem,” ESPN.com Insider column, October 11, 2006. (You’ll need an ESPN Insider account to read the whole piece, which was posted yesterday.)

It’s not that surprising that the image of Jim Leyland kissing a fan through a screen — an image of childish joy if there ever was one — is one of the most enduring images of the Tigers’ annihilation of the Yankees in the ALDS.

This’ll likely be the last post of the day: I’m about to head out to take a train to Boston and will be in a (non baseball-related conference) the rest of the day. So I’ll leave you with one last thought: it’s a good thing George Steinbrenner vetoed his baseball operations staff and decided to spend his money on an aging and gimpy Randy Johnson instead of a fleet-footed and still very elite Carlos Beltran in the ’04 offseason…althought right now, I’m sure the Cardinals disagree.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Carlos Beltran & George Steinbrenner & Peter Gammons

My playoff wish-list picks, based on nothing other than pure emotion

October 12th, 2006 → 10:12 am @

What’s been missing in your life? That’s right: my totally unfounded, purely emotional picks for the playoffs. Here they are:

This is a tough one. I’ve been pulling for managers instead of teams recently, and on the whole I think Ken Macha is a dolt; I also like Leyland. However, I do like Billy Beane a lot, and feel kind of sorry for the A’s — all that playoff futility can get old quick (just ask the Yankees). Mark Kotsay was one of the nicest guys I met last year; Jay Payton was one of the biggest dicks. As far as Detroit goes, I’ve hated Pudge ever since he stole the ’99 MVP Award from Pedro. (Oh, and George King? Fuck you.) But Magglio has one of the best under-the-helmet afro-mullets imaginable, it’s hard not to love a guy who can throw 103 MPH (and doesn’t always know where the ball’s going), and there’s the whole ALDS thing. So I’m going for the Tigers in seven…based on nothing other than what I want.

This one isn’t so hard. The factors pulling me towards St. Louis are: my many friends who are Cards fans; the fact that my father grew up in Missouri (although on the KC side); the way St. Louis fans always stay classy. The factor pulling me away is Tony LaRussa. I can’t stand the man.

With the Mets, I also have many close friends who are fans (including my publisher…and who else really matters?). There’s the Pedro factor — the only way I could root against the man is if he was wearing pinstripes — and there’s something undeniably appealing about the way Omar Minaya has managed to convince the world that his impressive collection of boneheaded moves (paying $43 million for a 35-year-old closer; paying $52 million for a 34-year-old pitcher with a lengthy history of physical problems) qualifies him as a certified genius.

So I’m going for the Mets in a sweep; it’d only be fitting that LaRussa, who’s been swept twice in the World Series already, get swept out of the playoffs once again.

World Series

Cardinals versus Tigers
That’s easy: a Tigers sweep

Cardinals versus A’s
Also easy: A’s in a sweep. This would be doubly satisfying because of LaRussa’s history with the A’s.

Mets versus Tigers
The toughest one to call. I’m an AL guy; plus, there’s a chance Leyland will make out with the first guy he sees, so I have to go with the Tigers in 7.

Mets versus A’s
I’m going with the Mets. It’ll make those people in New York who can’t stand the Yankees happy, we’ll get to see Pedro dance on the field, and David Wright can continue his assault on Derek Jeter’s mantle as the most overrated player in baseball.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs