It’s been way too long since I last posted. We are at the beginning of a new season and things couldn’t be better. Last season life got in the way of me continuing this blog, but I look forward to this season being a little less…eventful. I’ll update my bio soon as there have been some changes. I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.
For my first “article” this season I thought I’d write about something
relevant to the world in general not just the world of real or fantasy
On April 15th Major League Baseball will celebrate the 60th
anniversary of the integration of America’s sport. The moment
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson ran onto Ebbets Field and took his position
as first baseman* was one that polarized a sport and the nation along
with it. Beyond that it was an event that changed the course of history
for sports fans around the world.
Imagine the world of American professional sports without the likes
of Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan, Rickey
Henderson, Doug Williams, Wilt Chamberlain, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson and
Willie Mays. There are plenty of other stars who have helped to define
the games of baseball, football and basketball, but the men on this
list are some of the most famous names in their respective sports. They
are also names you might not know had Branch Rickey not signed Jackie
Robinson and Jackie not subsequently played well enough to make the
opening day roster for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Jackie was strong enough a person to persevere through the hate and
controversy. He was talented
enough as an athlete to play through the
conflict. He was eventually respected enough to win Rookie of the Year,
MVP, be elected into the Hall of Fame and later to have the ROY award
named after him.
Jackie’s bravery and subsequent success as a player paved the way
for many other African-Americans in their search for equality in life
as well as sports. True, football was an integrated sport long before
baseball, but there was a drought lasting more than a decade after
George Marshall took over the Boston Braves (Washington Redskins) in
the early 1930s. The NBA wasn’t integrated until the 1950-51 season.
The Armed Forces weren’t even integrated until more than a decade after
I’d like to thank not only Jackie Robinson, but all the other
activists that have withstood tremendous opposition in their search for
Thank you Jackie for proving that ability isn’t dependent on the
color of your skin. Thank you for absorbing all of the slurs and all of
the hate-mail to play the game which led the way for the rest of
America. You, along with Roberto Clemente and other pioneers, led the
way for the players I have the privilege of watching every day during
the season as they make awe-inspiring plays and perform athletic feats
that comprise the nightly highlight films. I often comment that I
wasn’t lucky enough to watch some of the great players in the past play
the game I love so much. I wish I could’ve watched The Babe or Satch or
Mick or any of the other myriad legends that have made baseball the
national sport. But I know that none of us would be blessed enough to
see Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Jose Reyes, or Ken Griffey Jr. play
this game had Jackie not opened the door for them.
African-American baseball players are becoming fewer and
far-between as evidenced by a recent study that showed that less than
9% of major leaguers were black. Luckily there are leaders like C.C.
Sabathia, Griffey, Torii Hunter, Milton Bradley et al that are forming
a group to help promote the game to African-American youngsters. The
more children that are exposed to the game, the more opportunities we
have to see the next Babe or Willie or Hawk emerge to tantalize fans.
As the World Baseball Classic proved, Americans aren’t necessarily
tops in the sport. MLB is already without many of the best Japanese and
Cuban players, despite the additions of Ichiro, Daisuke, and Jose
Contreras. Korea’s Seung-yeop Lee is currently playing in China, but
could be playing between the lines at a Major League stadium near you
in the next two years. We should want to see best players in the majors
regardless of race.
If you are watching a game on the 15th of April, stand for the
National Anthem even if you are at home and usually change the channel
while it’s being sung. Tip your cap to a pioneer. While Griffey and a
number of other players will be donning the number 42 in Jackie’s
honor, think about how different, how lacking, baseball would be
without minority players. Then take a second to thank the men
responsible-Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
*(Editor’s note-though Jackie was a second basemen most of his career, his first start was at first base)
I listened to the radio broadcast of the A’s-Angels game yesterday and everything is going along smoothly. Korach and Cotroneo are laughing when all of the sudden the mood totally changes and Korach starts describing the brawl that’s breaking out. I was perplexed because it didn’t seem like there was any lead-in to it. It just came out of nowhere.
I don’t like brawls or bean-ball wars, but I found myself smiling about it for several reasons. First, it was great to see that there is a competitive fire during an early May series against the team that the A’s will likely be battling all season for the AL West title. Second, I could only imagine what it looked like to see the 6-foot, 180-pounds when soaking wet Kendall take on the 6’6” 205-plus pound Lackey. I thought it might look something like my 10 year-old brother taking me on.
The last reason I was smiling was because it’s a great feeling to have your opinion supported. Before the season began I wrote an article (my first article ever actually) on Oaklandclubhouse.com titled “A Growing Rivalry: A’s and Angels”. This article sparked a spirited debate on the A’s fan forum in which some people said that no such rivalry existed and others argued that it did and it was stronger now than it had ever been. I stand by my opinion that this rivalry is working its way up to one of the top three in baseball (behind the Yanks-Red Sox and Giants-Dodgers). This type of thing is exactly what was needed to lend an even tenser atmosphere to the rest of the games these two teams play. The A’s should want to grind the Angels into the ground this season after the Angels have clinched the division on the A’s home field two seasons in a row.
After watching the video I can see what agitated Kendall enough to charge the mound (because it definitely wasn’t the inside pitch). Lackey took umbrage to Kendall’s unwillingness to get out of the way of the pitch and decided to voice that in an R-rated fashion. This is Kendall’s M.O. and Lackey should not have been surprised. It’s one of those things where you hate it when you play against a guy like that, but love having him on your team. I’m surprised by Scioscia’s stance on the matter. Lackey was the instigator of the situation with his choice of words and the fact that this is supposedly not the first time he’s called Kendall out on the subject. I do question Gaudin hitting Quinlan, but the rules of baseball say you have to defend your teammate.
Other notes on the game: Bobby Kielty’s catch to rob Vlad of a hit in the 3rd was a great one. I have no idea how he didn’t break his wrist or hurt his shoulder. It was great to see Crosby put a charge into a pitch like he did when he hit the three-run homer, but he has got to lay off of the down and away slider or go back to poking it into right field like he was when he was successful last season . He’s going to be pitched to like Erubiel Durazo was if he keeps swinging and missing on that pitch against righties. I know he’s still getting comfortable, but as a guy that is potentially going to hit third again as the season progresses, he’s got to show better plate discipline. He seems to be pull happy early on.
I took a look at ESPN’s best living pitchers list and thought that I was seeing things. Then I started second-guessing myself, thinking, “Nolan Ryan’s still alive, right?” How in the world is he not even in the Top10? I’m flabbergasted! I know that people like to discredit him because of his Win-Loss record and the fact that he didn’t pitch in a lot of playoff games (nine in his 27-year career), but the fact is he has the most career strikeouts and another record more untouchable than that with seven no-hitters. Don’t get me wrong, all of the guys on the list are great pitchers, but Ryan has to bump someone off. We are talking about a guy that only had an ERA over 4.00 in two seasons, his first and last. Is he a victim of his longevity? It’s not his fault he was able to withstand 5,386 innings pitched over his 27 years. If you take out his first four seasons and his last, he averaged about 225 innings a year. 200+ strikeouts in 200+ innings every season with an ERA anywhere from the high 2’s to mid 3’s and he NEVER won a Cy Young? What a travesty. Ryan was beaten out by pitchers seemingly having career years when he finished high in the Cy voting and was a victim of his own “effective-wildness” when it came to walks. I agree with critics that will ask who you replace with Ryan. I just think you have to have a space for him.
I watched yesterday’s Bonds on Bonds and was glad they told the story about Christopher Laub, the child suffering from cancer that wrote to Barry when Bonds was going through rehab for his knee. I may take a lot of heat for my opinion on this, but I don’t care. This is exactly the reason why I will continue to only worry about and cover a player’s on the field performance. While I laud the positive things a player or manager does off the field, I won’t criticize him for the negative things he does off of it. Professional baseball players range in age and many are still young men. They come from different areas of the world and different social classes. They are people just like co-workers at our jobs or parents of other children your kids go to school with; they just happen to be very talented at playing a sport and are usually compensated handsomely for that talent. I’ve said before that I’m glad I don’t live my life under a microscope because I’m not perfect.
A veteran writer put it perfectly to me when I was covering my first game this pre-season, “The first three or four pages of the Sports section of the newspaper all focus on things that go on outside of the white lines and that’s sad.” At what point did athletes become idols that we put on a pedestal only so we can watch them fall? In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were the saviors of baseball, now they are, along with Bonds, poster-children for baseball’s Steroids Era. Giambi for some reason got a “get out of jail free” card on this subject and I’d love to know why that is. Is it because he plays in the Bronx Zoo and all that matters is that he puts up numbers to help them win it all? How does that erase his wrongs, but Barry can’t get any slack? For McGwire and Sosa it’s different because they don’t play anymore and their testimonies (or non-testimony in Sosa’s case) in front of Congress put them in the national spotlight in a negative way. Mark Grace brought up a good point during this particular episode when he mentioned Barry’s comment about members of the media cleaning out their closets before they come to look at his. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” The Good Book has some pearls of wisdom in it, that’s for sure.
I’ll put myself out there and describe a situation where as I’ve grown, I’ve learned how valuable this lesson is. When Alex Rodriguez signed his enormous contract (10 years, $252 million) with the Rangers, I thought he was just another greedy athlete. I didn’t take into consideration the fact that it was what someone was willing to pay him. How many of us would turn down a raise at our job? Most of us that are stellar workers think we are grossly underpaid. On top of that, Rodriguez was already a proven commodity, having gone 40/40 three years prior to his free agency. Now, there are players coming out of high school and the draft that are getting guaranteed millions before they even step onto a major league diamond. That’s a problem and agents like Scott Boras are making this more of a trend, but again if GMs and owners continue to pay this type of money, then they are letting the players set the market. This ties into other topics like a salary cap, but I’m not going to digress into that now, I just want to show readers that I’m not trying to be “holier than thou”. Fans of professional sports need to understand that these athletes are just as imperfect as you and I.
Hope everyone’s Monday was good, but I know Johnny Damon’s wasn’t. He went 0-for-4 in his return to Fenway Park. I’m not sure why Peter Gammons didn’t think that Damon would get booed. I’d say the crowd was about 70/30 booing/cheering (they definitely weren’t saying boo-URNS.) until Damon tipped his cap before his first AB. It was a classy move and sounded like it swayed some of the boo-birds, evening out the amount of Damon’s detractors and supporters.
On the other side of things there may not have been a happier guy Monday than Tim Wakefield. After Josh Bard struggled behind the plate with Wakefield’s knuckleball, Theo Epstein made the move to get Mirabelli back from the Padres sending Bard, a minor league pitcher and cash to San Diego for Wakefield’s favorite battery-mate. Bard, who was stabbing at the knuckler, was (obviously) using the wrong approach. Because the ball sinks so much, especially Wakefield’s, stabbing at it is probably more difficult than trying to hit it. Mirabelli arrived with much fanfare, receiving a police escort to the stadium while changing in the car on the way. Not quite Superman in a phone booth, but the BoSox got the win and Wakefield pitched well.
On a side note: the “Looks like Jesus. Acts like Judas. Throws like Mary.” catchphrase is hilarious. It’s one of the more creative “burns” I’ve heard or seen in baseball in recent memory.
A thought on the game-When David Ortiz came up with two on in the 8th, I thought he should’ve been walked. I would gladly load the bases and pitch to Manny Ramirez any day before I pitched to Papi (unless Ramirez is hot). I don’t think Ortiz has to remind any of us what he’s capable of in close-and-late situations. Manny is Manny, but I have more confidence pitching to him. It may even be a situation that calls for Mariano Rivera to be warming up in the event Ortiz gets up with a man in scoring position. I’m not second guessing Joe Torre in any way. I’m not an idiot. I’m just stating my preference in choosing the lesser of evils.
Watched the video of Esteban German being struck in the face by a fly-ball he lost in the sun. It’s not a pretty sight and made me wince and cry out in sympathy-pain. German (pronounced her-mon) stayed down a while and trainers tended to his lacerations for some time before he got to his feet. German worked his tail off as a utility infielder for the A’s before going to the Rangers and now the Royals. He’s taken well to his role-as a utility player or “super-sub” for the Royals and is still getting used to the outfield. I hope he recovers quickly. His versatility is a bright spot for a KC club with little to look forward to other than the return of Zack Greinke and the probable debut of Alex Gordon this season.
With his catch against the wall in right-center field on a deep fly off the bat of Tim Salmon, Mark Kotsay proved again last night why he should’ve won the Gold Glove over Torii Hunter last season and why he should win it for the first time this year. You can argue until you are blue in the face that Hunter is the best defensive center fielder in the AL and the only point I will agree on is that he makes a lot of highlight reel plays. That’s not to say Hunter’s not an elite center fielder, but Kotsay rarely leaves his feet because he doesn’t have to and he has arguably the strongest center field arm in baseball. Hunter only played 98 games last season due to injury, but deserves credit for holding up physically while playing half of his games on the Metrodome turf over the last several years. Call it a matter of preference, but defensively I’d take Kotsay over Hunter six times out of 10. Grady Sizemore is slowly moving into their class.
It was good to see Barry Zito have a strong outing, but I will not be happy if he signs with the Halos in the off-season. I’m hoping he ends up with former A’s pitching coach Rick Peterson in New York with the Mets. I know Giants fans may not like seeing him go to San Diego or to the Dodgers. There’s a chance he could end up across the Bay with the G-men. How much would Giants’ fans like a rotation consisting of Morris, Zito, Lowry and Cain if Schmidt isn’t re-signed?
I whole-heartedly disagree with Baseball Tonight analyst Jeff Brantley’s pick of Jonathan Papelbon as his #1 guy to start a franchise with over the weekend. Even if he wanted to take a pitcher, you can’t go with Papelbon. He’s been a shutdown closer, no doubt (and how smart do I look for getting him near the last round in my 15 team 5X5 fantasy draft?), but he also hasn’t blown a save and had to rebound yet. Everyone says that’s the true test of a closer. Granted if he keeps pitching the way he is he won’t ever have to go through that, but it’s inevitable. If he wanted to take a young pitcher, Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Scott Kazmir, or Felix Hernandez would’ve been better picks. The other analysts went the smart and popular way picking Albert Pujols.
Enjoy all the games on tap today. Mark Buerhle has already given up a three-run bomb to Pronk and C.C. Sabathia looks good in his return from a torn oblique. I love early morning baseball. It’s better than fresh coffee for getting the day started. Brad Halsey is taking Rich Harden’s place in the rotation versus the Angels today. If Halsey can trust his fastball, his other pitches should prove effective. Have a great Tuesday.
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Kevin Frandsen made his Major League debut last night, going 3-for-4 with three runs and got hit by a pitch. Hitting second in the lineup, he grounded into a double play in his first at-bat, but he was solid after that. He won’t hit for power, but he has a nice stroke. Somewhere his brother D.J. is smiling. D.J. Frandsen passed away in September of 2004 due to complications from a Wilms tumor, the most common form of Kidney cancer in children. He was 25 and had suffered for 19 years, losing both kidneys and surviving a transplant. As all parents are, Frandsen’s were very emotional as Kevin stood in the box for the first time as a major leaguer. As he approached the plate, he tapped his upper back. He has a tattoo there that says simply, "D.J." Frandsen is a talented player with amazing make-up. Being brought up due to an injury to Ray Durham, Frandsen may not stay in the big leagues after Durham is healthy. Look for Frandsen to be a mainstay in the Giants infield beginning maybe next year. Good luck to him.
On the other side of the spectrum, the "bat-throwing" incident involving Delmon is exactly what he and baseball don’t need. Delmon is a great player, but he can’t let his frustration with not being called up to The Show affect his play. There are a lot of Devil Rays fans waiting for him to help turn the organization into a winning one. I won’t be surprised with any suspension longer than 20 games. Some said that Eijah Dukes was a bad influence on Young when they played together last season (when Young had his first run-in with an ump, chest-bumping an umpire while at double-A Montgomery), but Dukes has made great strides and has been on his best behavior this year. Young will probably get a whoopin’ from big brother Dmitri. Let’s hope that he learns from this experience. He will be a special player, but whether he ends up being viewed by baseball fans as the next Ken Griffey Jr. or the next Barry Bonds will depend on how he let’s this incident change him (or not change him).
Rich Harden’s injury doesn’t come at a good time for the A’s. Aside from Swisher and Chavez, the offense is still trying to find itself (the series with the Royals should help) and the other starters in the rotation have struggled to find consistency. Esteban Loaiza has struggled and hasn’t found his velocity, Huston Street has yet to return fom a minor pec injury, and Joe Blanton is waiting for April to end and hoping May of ’06 is better than May of ’05 (he went 0-2 in five May starts last season with an ERA of 13.26). In my opinion, Barry Zito isn’t worrying about a trade or where he’s going to play next season, but he also isn’t pitching as well as he could and should be. The A’s are undefeated in Harden starts and face the division rival Angels and a tough Cleveland Indians team this week. The A’s (and my fantasy team) need Harden back healthy fast. He’s earning comparisons to Mark Prior for all the right and wrong reasons… The good news is that Frank Thomas looks like he’s shaking the rust off and Dan Johnson is improving like the team knew he would.
I want to touch on Albert Pujols a little bit (I’m going to try and write a longer blog on him soon). Great to see him starting at a record pace. 13 homers in April? Good Lord! If the new Busch turns out to be the hitter’s park it seems to be right now, Pujols could hit 50+ homers every year. He has 214 homers in his first six years and he’s only 26. I won’t say he will do it, because you never know when he’ll start getting the Bonds treatment, but I won’t be surprised if he hits 60 homers this year. He is the greatest right-handed hitter of all time (I thought this last year, before Kurkjian and Gammons started saying it.) LaRussa says he’s the greatest player he’s ever coached. Stockton Ports’ coach Todd Steverson was the Cardinals’ minor league hitting coach during Pujols’ only year in the minors. He said that you could tell when Pujols was taking soft-toss that he had something extra in his swing and that he was a tireless worker. This proves that talent + hard work = success. Young players of any sport should look up to Pujols, not only for his performance on the field, but also because of his contributions off it. The Pujols Family Foundation is committed to "the love, care, and development of people with Down Syndrome and their families", as well as helping Dominican families living in poverty. Isabella Pujols, Albert’s adopted daughter (born to his wife Diedre before she met and later married Albert) has Down Syndrome. Albert has very strong faith and is as great a man as he is a baseball player. He will carry the torch, if he isn’t already, along with players like A-Rod and David Wright into the Post-Steroids era.
Last topic this week-Barry Bonds. I’m not sure how many A’s fans are Giants fans as well, but I am. No matter what the circumstances, until concrete evidence comes out proving that he took steroids, I won’t say he did. You can assume what you want and we are all entitled to our own opinions. I won’t tell you that you are crazy if you think Barry juiced. It’s unjust to condemn him without a positive test. Barry may be the most hated figure in baseball ever and I’ve talked to someone who interacted with him in the Giants club house on a regular basis that says Barry and his attitude brought this upon himself. I root for Barry and will continue to root for him. I didn’t get the privilege of watching Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, or any of the other great players that have been integral parts of baseball. I do get the privilege to watch Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez and Albert Pujols. I get to see their greatness with my own eyes (thanks to MLB.com, MLB TV and ESPN). I get a sense of satisfaction and honor watching history take place. My dad told me stories about some of the greats from baseball’s past that he watched and I’ll be able to tell my kids about the players I’m watching. Why shouldn’t I cherish that? Great players do things both at the plate and on the mound that leave me shaking my head in awe.
Hope you enjoyed my first blog. Check in early next week for my next post. Thanks to my buddy Brian for letting me borrow his laptop during the NFL Draft to write all of this! (We died a little inside when the Raiders passed on Matt Leinart, but we will survive.)