Friday, June 09, 2006

Rain, Rain, Come Again

by Rob Hyman

Ever watch one of those rain-soaked games on television where the crowd is nowhere to be found? You know – the ones where you can’t even see what’s going on because the camera is covered with raindrops. Who are those psycho fans who actually stay to watch those games? Especially the ones that don’t even take cover under an overhang.

Well, you can all feel comforted to know that Baseball For Thought has employed one of these psycho fans as one of its writers - yours truly. Do you think I was going to let a three-hour rain delay and a constant rain fall stop me from attending my first ever double-header? No way!

I braved the rain last Saturday and took the 7 Train out to Shea to see the Mets face off against the Giants. And let me tell you folks - it was worth every gallon of water that fell on my head. The games themselves were entertaining enough. The first one saw everything you'd expect:

- Immense booing of Barry;
- Even immenser booing of Kaz, and;
- Armando Benitez coming close to blowing a save

The ushers tried to keep some order during the 1:25pm game that started at 4:01pm. After all, there were still a significant number of fans at the game (maybe 30,000 of the 45,576). Therefore, I only upgraded myself from a Mezzanine Back Row in Right Field to a Mezzanine Box Seat pretty much even with first base. In the process scamming the Mets out of $11.

As soon as Benitez notched his 200th ABS (almost blown save) of his career, however, chaos ensued. About 27,000 of the 30,000 were bolting to their cars to get out of the rain. After all, a three hour wait followed by a three hour game was enough for them.

For me though, I was just getting warmed up. I was one of the appoximately 3,000 that was also in a mad rush -- to find myself a nice cushy $65 seat right by home plate.

The emptiness of the stadium was almost eerie. Getting to watch Tom Glavine pitch and Barry Bonds bat in a high school sized crowd was completely surreal. It almost felt like a scrimmage. But as the innings wore on and the rain continued to fall (even harder now), the intensity of the game picked up and so did that of the crowd.

Maybe it was all the water clogging up my ears, but by the time the game went to extra innings, the loyal Mets fan base sounded as loud as if the place was full. And by the way, yes, the game did go to extras - giving me even more game for my
money. Finally, in the 11th inning, a sac fly brought an end to a spectacularly wet day of baseball, but one I don't regret attending despite my being soaked the entire day.

Final stats:

- Giants 6, Mets 4; Mets 3, Giants 2
- Paid $18 and received $94 worth of seating
- Received 20 innings for the price of nine
- Between the two subway rides and the break between games, read the Saturday NY Times; Saturday Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated

The Mets have another double header on July 8th - anybody want to join me in a rain dance?

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Some Baseball Owners Can Learn from Mark Cuban

by Scott Silversten

With Memorial Day behind us, the pennant races are unofficially underway. However, for the next two weeks, the baseball stories of mid-June must step aside on the front pages of sports sections across the country for a bigger event...the NBA Finals.

Sorry soccer fans, the World Cup may be the world’s biggest sporting event, but in the United States, it’s just not that big of a deal.

The NBA Finals, on the other hand, is a big deal, and this year’s match-up of the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat should have a great amount of intrigue. Making the series even more fascinating is a man who will not take one shot, grab one rebound or commit one foul.

And that man is Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who within the sports universe, is most definitely a maverick.

Cuban has been fined approximately $1 million in his 6 ½ years owning the Mavericks, but the way he has poured money into his franchise while making it his priority to win basketball games makes him an easy person to root for over this upcoming fortnight.

To paraphrase an axiom that Cuban has voiced over the years: There are two types of sports owners, the owners who want to make money and the owners who want only to win, even if that on-court success is harmful to the financial bottom-line.

Now, let’s be honest about something...Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks are not losing money. Cuban shelled out $280 million for the franchise in 2000, and in 2004, Forbes Magazine valued the team at $374 million. With the Mavericks in the finals for the first time, and with American Airlines Center widely regarded as having the best game presentation of any arena in the NBA, there is no doubt that Cuban is not pouring his own money into the team for a chance to win championship rings.

However, the question that must be asked is this: Should owners be required to spend their own money to improve their sports franchises, even if those franchises can’t support themselves by generating enough revenue through traditional avenues?

And while this question applies to some franchises in all sports, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on baseball.

Teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Kansas City Royals do not generate enough money to match many of their competitors. In fact, those teams argue they consistently lose money. Meanwhile, fans complain the owners aren’t doing enough to bring a “winner” to their municipality.

Honestly, is this asked of any other business? If the local store is losing money, but it is considered a town institution, should the family that owns it pour their life savings into running a failing operation?

Granted, the money we are talking about is much greater, but it’s the same basic principle. Teams like the Marlins and Royals need to be able to survive on their own merit. Even owners with the best of intentions cannot be asked to waste millions and millions of dollars on an annual basis.

This also opens another baffling question: Don’t teams that are losing money each year eventually have to reach a point in which they are forced to fold? Or is the Major League Baseball Players Association correct...are owners cooking the books?

Sports league such as MLB and the National Basketball Association are private companies, but if they are truly public trusts, it’s time for owners to open their books to the general public. If the Royals can’t survive financially, it’s time for David Glass to prove that to his constituency.

It is a sad but true fact that in many cities across the country, NFL mini-camps garner more attention this month than the local baseball teams. And that’s a testament to the NFL’s financial structure, in which every team is healthy and, with the right decision-making, has every bit of the chance to compete for a title as teams in bigger markets.

The same cannot be said of baseball. When Bud Selig called the success of the Minnesota Twins an “aberration” a few years back, he was essentially correct. In Oakland, the Athletics’ recent run of strong seasons is a credit to General Manager Billy Beane and the organization, but even Beane’s teams cannot withstand the loss of marquee players on a yearly basis.

Baseball long ago ceded its standing as the national pastime to the NFL, but the interest gap continues to widen as fans of small-market ballclubs realize their season does not extend much past Memorial Day. The addition of the wild card, and the fact it keeps at least some of these teams in a playoff race, has done more to save baseball than Cal Ripken Jr. or Mark McGwire could have ever hoped to accomplish with their individual feats.

Cuban has said publicly that if the opportunity presented itself, he would strongly consider purchasing either the Pirates or Chicago Cubs. As baseball fans, we can only hope that becomes a reality.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

No Pun Intended

by Sarah (The Fanatic's Wife)

For this installment of The Fanatic’s Wife, I take off my “wife hat” and put on my “English teacher hat” to express my feelings about the back cover of the NY Post and Daily News. You know what I am talking about: the bold headline that graces us with its wit every morning. I am lucky enough to work in a high school where free copies of these papers are delivered. How wonderful it was to hear all day, “You’re a son of a PITCH! Miss...I said pitch...not bitch!” Of course, “Son of a Pitch” was the brilliant headline used in response to the news about Randy Johnson’s estranged son.

I always ask myself what would happen if the sports writers couldn’t think of a pun one day…I think they often scrape the bottom of the barrel. For example, all the Daily News could come up with yesterday was “Runaway!” about the Boston/Yankees game (although I do think the exclamation point added a lot…really). It was a painful game to watch, but at least the Post came up with something, “Kickin’ the Beckett.” Ha ha…you are so creative! It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode when the dentist becomes Jewish just for the jokes. Someone (a priest?) asks Jerry if the jokes offend him as a Jew. “No,” he replies, “it offends me as a comedian.” Same here—make stupid jokes about beating the Red Sox all you want. They don’t insult me as a Sox fan. These asinine puns offend me as an English teacher.

But as they say: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In that spirit, I offer you some of my own pun-tastic baseball headlines:

Either Clement sucks or is rained out: “In-Clement Weather”

Clement has a great night: “My darling Clement-tine”

Delgado is hurt or has a bad night: “Carlos Delgad-no!”

Anything about Johnny Damon: “Sell-out traitor!” (just had to put that in there).

Crisp does something weird: “Loco Coco”

Schmidt gets bombed: “Schmidtty!”

David Wright does anything: “Wright on!,” “Wright away!,” “In his Wright mind!” The possibilities to pun this man’s name are almost endless. The Post and News must love him.

I appeal to the punsters who think of these headlines: please stop. Nobody thinks you're being clever or funny. And if you won’t stop, I challenge you to take on some of the more difficult names in baseball: Encarnaciòn, Valverde, Betancourt. Go ahead. Pun them. I dare you.

"Wild-Card Wednesdays" appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Not exactly the Reggie Bush-Vince Young-Matt Leinart Show

by Jeremy Bird

Let’s just say the MLB is no NFL or NBA when it comes to draft day.

Today's top picks: Luke Hochevar and Brett Sinkbeil. Aren't you excited? Hochevar and Sinkbeil? If you have honestly heard of either of these guys, I tip my cap to your knowledge. If you have heard of both of these players, you are officially obsessed.

The Royals, in the team’s first ever No. 1 pick, selected right-hander Luke Hochevar, most recently of the independent Fort Worth Cats of the American Association. The Florida Marlins took Brett Sinkbeil as their first pick at No. 19, from Missouri State University. What a media-drawing 1-2 punch.

The only household names of the first round were relatives of former baseball stars. Preston Mattingly, the son of former Yankees Don Mattingly, went to the Dodgers with the 31st overall pick, while Kyle Drabek, former MLB pitcher Doug Drabek’s son, went to the Phillies at No. 18.

(The only other household name would be Tampa Bay’s pick: Long Beach State third baseman Evan Longoria, who we all hoped was related to Eva, but that turned out to be a bad rumor).

So, there was no Reggie Bush controversy. No Vince Young hype. No Matt Leinart speculation. Who cares?

Today’s 50-round MLB draft marks the first step towards Cooperstown for some future baseball stars. It marks the hope and optimism for many teams looking to build clubs for the future (enter Royals and Marlins). And, most important, for fans today might have brought you years of bleacher happiness. Only time will tell.

And because I hate the crystal ball futuristic predictions, let's take a look at some lessons from recent drafts instead. Here are my top four:

1. No. 1's are often overrated. The No.1 pick in recent years has not become an immediate impact player. Pat Burrell and Joe Mauer are probably the most prominent players selected No. 1 in the past 10 years (Burrell went in 1998 and Mauer in 2001).

Here are some of the other No. 1 picks: The Devil Rays signed Josh Hamilton to a $3.96 million signing bonus in 1999. Hamilton has been on Major League Baseball's suspended list since Feb. 18, 2004 after being suspended for violating MLB’s substance abuse policy. Other selections since 1996: Kris Benson (Pirates, 1996), Matt Anderson (Tigers, 1997), Adrian Gonzalez (Devil Rays, 2000), Bryan Bullington (Pirates, 2002), Delmon Young (Devil Rays, 2003), Matthew Bush (Padres, 2004) and Justin Upton (Diamondbacks, 2005). Not exactly franchise players.

Looks like it will be a few more long summers in Kansas City.

2. No. 2 picks are money. In the past 10 years, Josh Beckett, Travis Lee, Mark Mulder, J.D. Drew (although he ended up coming back and going No. 5 after rejecting the Phillies in 1997), Mark Prior, Rickie Weeks, and Justin Verlander all went as No. 2 picks.

Weeks was drafted in 2003 and Verlander in 2004. Those guys are already impact players. Looks like Colorado fans should be excited about Greg Reynolds, today’s No. 2 pick. He has recent history on his side.

3. Better late than never. Many of today’s biggest stars were drafted after Round 20. Kenny Rogers, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Shane Spencer, Paul Lo Duca, Wade Miller, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and Marcus Giles were all selected in Round 20 or later. Jonathan Papelbon was picked in the 40th round. Who will be the next Mike Piazza, who was selected in Round 67?

4. Only time will tell. Since 1965, when MLB started its free agent draft, only 20 drafted players have advanced directly to the majors without playing in the minors. The last was Xavier Nady, who was drafted by San Diego in 2000.

Of the 37 prior Major League Baseball drafts, many tout 1985 as the best draft year ever. It was the year of Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Mark Grace, Barry Larkin, Walt Weiss, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and B.J Surhoff (who went No. 1 - proving the overrated No. 1 theory).

When will we know who are the great major leaguers from today's draft? You'll be watching them in the 2009 and 2010 All-Star game.

So, unlike the NFL or NBA drafts, today is not a sexy, media-driven day. It is, however, a day that will shape baseball for years to come. I look forward to cheering for (and against) some of the players who started their journey to the majors today.

Jeremy Bird's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, June 05, 2006

Yankee Diary #7

by Michael Carlucci

Sunday, June 4, 10:00 am

There is much exuberance over the Yankees' recent stretch of excellent play. Actually I am not sure about that. It seems like the kind of thing that people say when the team is doing well. I mean, what's there to be exuberant about? You still have to get up and go to work, no matter how many wins the Bombers collect. Let's say I've allowed myself some moments of joy -- except Thursday night, when I was despondent over Kyle Farnsworth's horrible blown save.

Still, we are 8-2 in our last 10, even with Farnsworth's meltdown and, of course, our spate of devastating injuries. Why? Several popular theories have been posited. One theory, advanced chiefly by Yankee apologists, is that the farm system has stepped in to save us. Mocked by talent evaluators for years, the Columbus Clippers have indeed acquitted themselves well.

But they are not the reason the Yankees sit precariously atop the American League East. Even including the surprise rookies of last year, Cano and Wang, the Yankees do not have any above-average young players on their roster. Let's have a look:

1) Chien-Ming Wang. He is an interesting pitcher, with some terrific performances to recommend him. But he is inconsistent, does not strike out enough hitters, and currently sports a bloated 4.82 ERA. One stat worth noting is that he leads the league in ground ball outs. The Yankee infield is hardly a defensive juggernaut, and I suspect he would have collected more ground ball outs, and thus fewer hits, with even league-average defense. Sadly, though Derek Jeter is a great player, he is a poor defensive shortstop. Cano is not a solid defender either. So with those two range-less middle infielders, the league's most extreme ground-ball pitcher can't succeed. Also, in his defense, Wang possesses a league-best ratio of innings-pitched-to-home-runs. Still, he is not a great pitcher, and never will be.

2) Robinson Cano. He is largely overrated. His defense is sub-par, he lacks plate discipline, and he does not appear to have power. He sees fewer pitches than almost any other player in the league. And that is not solely a product of youth: Kevin Youkilis, also a second-year player, sees more pitches per at-bat than any other hitter in the American League. Remember Nick Johnson? He, too, had a knack for working pitchers even as a rookie. Perhaps Cano could eventually learn to be more selective, but it's more likely he'll be Alfonso Soriano without any power. The point of being selective is not merely a difference in style. It's the difference between winning and losing. Hitters have only one goal: not to make an out. Since you generally only reach safely about 30% of balls put in play, a primary means of avoiding outs, and thus helping your team score runs, is to draw walks. Also, most starting pitchers are the best the opposition can throw at you, and the idea is to make them work so they won't be around by the seventh inning. Robinson has a different approach, hacking at nearly every pitch and walking only 7 times in 209 plate appearances. He has 48 singles, 12 doubles and a paltry two homers. His OPS is a barely-acceptable .726.

3) Scott Proctor. Too old to be considered a prospect (he's 29), Proctor is included because he came up from Columbus last year. He is one of Torre's favorites, but I'm not sure why. After his difficulty in Oakland in the second game of the season, he had a nice run. But that run is over, and it's foolish to expect he has another one in him. He has 16 walks in only 33 innings, which is simply terrible. His ERA is 3.55, which is a run and a half better than his career number, but is still too high for a short reliever.

4) Melky Cabrera. He hasn't played poorly, but he's hardly an acceptable corner outfielder. The main reason is that he lacks power. A corner outfielder must slug at least in the low .400s, but Melky is at .367. He has hit for average and, to his credit, drawn a fair amount of walks. But the Yankees do not have an offense good enough to live with his lack of production. Yes, the Yankees have scored more runs than any other team, but that won't continue if both corner outfield spots and second base continue to put up anemic power numbers. No offense, however talented in other places, can carry a weak bat. Especially not the Yankee offense, which has to support a mediocre starting staff.

Another theory is that Bernie Williams has found the fountain of youth. His defense is still atrocious, easily the worst in the league. And while he has hit better than the last two years, particularly from the right side, he's still way below a league-average corner outfielder.

So why are they winning? Mike Mussina, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez, in that order. After 50-odd games, Moose is the leading Cy Young candidate. If he was the 2004-5 vintage Moose, the Yankees would be five games back. Jorge, trudging on despite some injuries, has an impressive .900 OPS and is masking others' lack of production. But if those others were even league-average, then the Yankees would have a true advantage and not merely give back the offensive gains they make at short, third, first and catcher.

Derek Jeter, with his .936 OPS, is having his finest season since 1999, when he should have won the MVP. Giambi, at 1.071 OPS, is easily the Yankees' best hitter and carried them through April. Finally, A-Rod, endlessly criticized by Yankee fans and haters alike, is having another fine season, with a .950 OPS.

The point is not to be fooled, folks. The Yankees are winning because of the usual suspects, plus increased production from Jeter and Mussina.

Here is a reality check. Aaron Small, last year's 6-foot five inch, strong-jawed Cinderella, pitches later today in Baltimore. He has been one of the league's worst pitchers, having given up 30 hits in less than 20 innings, along with 9 walks and 6 homers. Yes, last year was a fluke, and the Yankees should have known better.

A four-game series with the hated Red Sox looms, and, thanks to the Red Sox' ineptitude, the Yanks actually have a chance to create some room in the standings for themselves. But just as likely is a regression to the mean for our overachievers, and unhappiness for all the good Yankee fans.

Sunday, 6:20 pm

Are you people convinced that Aaron Small is a terrible pitcher? He should be removed from the roster immediately. The only bright spot is that he won't get to pitch against the Red Sox, who won today and are now in first place. With any luck, Small won't pitch for the Yankees again.

Michael Carlucci's column, "Yankee Diary", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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