Friday, July 07, 2006

Half-Season Leaders Beware!

by Rob Hyman

A warning to three of the eight teams who will hold a playoff position come the All-Star Break:

YOU’RE DOOMED!

I’m sorry to say but it’s a fact that 37.5% of teams in first or in the wildcard at the break are home watching football come October. Since the advent of the current playoff format, 33 of the 88 teams who led at the break, did not make the playoffs. It’s not surprising to hear that the most tumultuous of the positions is the wildcard. Six of the 11 teams in each league holding the wild card spot at the break ended up golfing it up come playoff time. It’s not surprising because the largest wildcard lead to not make the playoffs is three games – which happened three times – ’96 Expos, ’98 Giants (who lost in a playoff game to the Cubs) and the ’96 White Sox.

As for this year, it seems that we’ll keep close to the percentages – keeping one team and replacing the other. The White Sox are the current wild card leaders by 6.5 games over the Yankees and it will almost certainly be either them or the Tigers (currently leading the Central) who will be the wild card.

In the National League, however, will be a different story. At press time the Rockies and Dodgers were tied for the wild card, but there are six teams within three games of the lead. This author puts his money on the Astros to put it together in the second half – just as they have the past two years, but this time pulling out the NL Central title – relegating the Cardinals to the wildcard.

Of the divisional races, the Western divisions have always seen the most uncertainty – staying true to All-Star form only about half the time and this year should be no different. The entire AL West is within four games of one another with Oakland currently holding a slim lead. In the NL West, three teams are within ½ a game with San Fran two games back and the D’Backs, despite all their struggles, hanging on just five games back.

The Central divisions have both held true to form eight of 11 times, as has the NL East – thanks in part to a few slow starts by the Braves throughout the years. Of no surprise, the AL East has held to its All-Star form ten of 11 times. The only blip was last year when the Red Sox held a two game lead on the Yankees at the break. Both teams ended up atop the division with 95 wins, but the flag went to the Yanks, giving the Sox the wild card for the third straight year.

So – who are my three picks to take the plunge? Mind you one again that the All-Star break is not yet upon us and small changes could still occur.

Nevertheless, my three picks to lose out come playoff time are….

1) San Diego Padres – current NL West leaders, but the Dodgers will be here at the end
2) Colorado Rockies – current wild card leaders, but won’t hold on. Look for St. Louis to finish in this spot
3) Boston Red Sox – As predicted at the beginning of the season, I don’t think they have the depth in pitching to combat the Yankee offense and come September, look for the Yanks to take control of the division.

So now– here are Rob Hyman’s official mid-year predictions:
NL East: New York Mets
NL Central: Houston Astros
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wildcard: St. Louis Cardinals

AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Chicago White Sox
AL West: Oakland Athletics
AL Wildcard: Detroit Tigers

Playoffs:

New York Mets over St. Louis Cardinals
Houston Astros over Los Angeles Dodgers

New York Yankees over Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox over Oakland Athletics

New York Mets over Houston Astros

Chicago White Sox over New York Yankees

Chicago White Sox over New York Mets

You can trust me on this one – just like I told you to trust me in April that Cleveland was going to the World Series!

I’ll end this piece with a small bit of trivia…

Name the team to blow the biggest All-Star lead since the advent of the current playoff system. Does it come as a surprise to you that it’s the Kansas City Royals? It did to me – not because they would be capable of blowing a lead, but the fact that they ever had one to begin with is mind-boggling. But the 2003 Royals led the AL Central by seven games over the White Sox and were in first place as late as August 28th. The team ended up seven games back of the Minnesota Twins, finishing 83-79.

Let that be a warning call to Tiger fans out there – you’ve been sub-par for a long time and you’ve still got a half season to prove if you belong. If the Tigers do make the playoffs, I can assure you the White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees will make sure they earn it.

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

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Why Yankee Fans are Embarassing Themselves...by a Yankee Fan

by Scott Silversten

As a long-time consumer of sports talk radio, I often find myself asking, "Why do I listen to this junk?" Honestly, since the advent of the sports talk format, has there been even one meaningful phone call from a listener in radio land?

Yes!

There has been one, and it occurred on Monday afternoon during the "Michael Kay Show" on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York. I wish I had the caller’s name, because I would give him all the credit, but I don’t, so hopefully he is out there and will read this column.

The topic of the day was, of course, Alex Rodriguez. Not an hour, let alone a day, goes by in New York in 2006 without a discussion about A-Rod. As an athlete or as a person, the Yankees third baseman is dissected more than your typical frog from high school biology class.

Monday’s debate was if Rodriguez had shown up Alay Soler and the Mets with a little bat flip following his grand slam in the third inning of Sunday’s blowout victory in the Bronx. Just another bit of proof that no matter what he does, A-Rod cannot win with New Yorkers.

Now, it would have been no surprise if the afternoon was filled with Mets fans calling to complain about Rodriguez after their catcher, Paul Lo Duca, seriously overreacted to the minor bat flip. Much like his team’s supporters, Lo Duca was probably just frustrated about the Mets quickly surrendering an early 4-0 lead.

No, the shock of the afternoon was how Kay continued to take calls from Yankees fans who welcomed their chance to knock Rodriguez, not necessarily for the bat flip, but for whatever reason they could find – his failure in clutch situations, his phoniness, his bloated contract, etc.

Then came the one reasonable voice and call, of which I will attempt to paraphrase …

"Michael, I’m the biggest A-Rod fan in the world, and I hope he gets traded. Because it makes me sick to see a player and a person I have so much respect for get treated the way he has been treated in New York. It makes me sad to admit that I’m embarrassed to be a Yankees fan."

AMEN!

And it is here that I reach the point of this column...Yankees fans are an embarrassment. And it makes me sad to admit it, because I’m a Yankees fan myself!

Fans of the Bronx Bombers like to pretend they are more intelligent and more savvy than their counterparts throughout the country, but in truth, the only things that set Yankees supporters apart from other baseball aficionados is that they are more obnoxious, more belligerent and more spoiled than the rest.

The treatment of Rodriguez is just the latest example, but in truth, this has been true of Yankees fans for quite some time. They nearly ran both Tino Martinez and Joe Girardi out of town during the early portions of the 1996 season because they were replacing fan favorites Don Mattingly and Mike Stanley, respectively. Ironically, both Martinez and Girardi would replace their predecessors as huge fan favorites, proving another point … New Yorkers have no patience.

Of course, is there a person alive who didn’t already know that!

Now the target of the wrath is A-Rod, who will forever be blamed for the 2004 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. While it’s true Rodriguez was awful in last year’s Division Series loss to Anaheim, what seems to escape most in Yankeeland is that the team would not have even reached October if not for the contributions of Rodriguez during an MVP campaign.

This year’s debate has been over Rodriguez’s failures in the clutch, but even when he does come up with the big hit – witness last week’s 12th inning, game-winning homer against Atlanta, or Sunday’s grand slam – the admiration and cheers do not last for even a New York minute.

Throughout the nation, everyone else is shaking their head in amazement. They ask, “How can you not like an MVP-caliber player who is on track to be one of the 5-10 best players in baseball history.”

However, what really boggles the mind is the way Rodriguez is knocked for being everything we wish our athletes would become.

Among A-Rod’s faults, according to many, is the fact that’s he’s too nice. I’ll repeat that...people hate Rodriguez because he’s TOO NICE! He’s accommodating to the media, he’s honest about his feelings and insecurities, he goes out of his way to sign autographs. It’s so obvious...HE’S A PHONY!

Are fans serious? While there will always be a disconnect with someone who earns approximately $25 million per year, wouldn’t the sports world be a much better place if all athletes acted in the same manner as Rodriguez. Or would fans quietly prefer a sports world littered with athletes who are jerks and criminals?

Actually, it’s the fans themselves who are the phonies. They will cheer drug users and wife-beaters, steroid cheats or gamblers, but dare you fail in the seventh inning or later, and you will be booed and despised for your failures and deficiencies.

Instead of applauding Rodriguez next time he hits a big homer or makes a great defensive play, fans should try cheering him when he struggles or fails in the clutch. They should cheer him for being everything we want our athletes to be, a role model that children can actually look up to and admire.

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Baseball For Thought - a Four Month Review

This week on Wild-Card Wednesdays, we take a look back at all of our previous opinion columns. Yes, all. Four months' worth, to be sure. As we get set to depart from the blogger platform, and to our new, permanent home at www.BaseballForThought.com, here's a look back at the columnists- and columns- that have filled the pages of this site since March 2006.

Apart from our increasing readership, part of the reason we are moving in the first place is the rigidity of the blogger system- reliably creating an organized, searchable archives system is nearly impossible. So we're taking today to manually list and link to every column, including bolding those that received significant outside linking or a much larger than normal traffic spike, for example. What's great about BFT's completely opinion-column based format is that many of the pieces stay relevant long after they're written. Enjoy!

Doug Silversten, "The Big Picture", alternate Mondays
1. Straight A's for Billy Beane (June 26) - Why Billy Beane is the best GM in baseball. Maybe the best ever.
2. When Wins and Losses are Meaningless Stats (June 12)
3. Closers are Overrated. All of Them. (May 29)
4. Memo to Yankee Fans: Deal with it (May 15) - "Injuries happen. Deal with it. Every team has injuries, but only Yankee fans seem to think it is their right to replace injured stars with other superstars."
5. Pedro Is a God (May 1)
6. How I Almost Got Bobby Valentine Fired (April 17) - Doug comes clean with his involvement in the scandal at Wharton that almost got an ex-Mets skipper fired
7. Of Course It Matters (April 3) - Why Jose Reyes is overrated
8. NY Times' Murray Chass is Losing It(March 20)- Our columnist disagrees with a writer from the NY Times
9. The Longest Month (March 6) - Why March is the worst month of the baseball calendar


Alan Eliot, "The Stories We Tell", alternate Tuesdays
1. And Reyes Makes Three (June 27) - Alan discusses Jose Reyes' recent offensive outburst in light of the considerable hype he has received
2. A Primer: Steroids and HGH for Non-Medical Students (June 13) - A simple review of the science behind steroids and HGH
3. Speaking of "The Franchise"- Beltran, Reyes and Wright (Part II - Defense) (May 31)
4. Speaking of "The Franchise"- Beltran, Reyes and Wright (Part I - Offense) (May 30)
5. Mets' Season in Haiku (May 16)
6. It's All Baseball, Really (May 2) - How baseball seeps into everything we do
7. Mets Fans: Get Excited! (April 18) - "Question: What do the Mets, Tigers, Royals and Brewers have in common? Answer: Counting teams that were around in 1988, they are the only teams in major league baseball not to finish in first place at least once since that year."
8. A Mets Fan in Philly (April 4)
9. On Children, Grown Men and Baseball (March 21) - Alan discusses the inner child of every baseball fan, in light of recent allegations against Barry Bonds and other suspected steroid-users.
10. The Mighty Dinger (March 8) - Our stab at interviewing our favorite hall-of-famers for their take on the home run
11. Death of an Immortal (March 7) - On the shocking death of Kirby Puckett - "And that's how it is with baseball greats. We place them on pedestals, until they are less mortal men than legends. In our imagination, they are always hitting .406, or belting #715. We can do this, because to us, at some level, these men will always be the young baseball players that they were."

Sarah, "The Fanatic's Wife", recurring columnist for Wild-Card Wednesdays
1. No Pun Intended (June 7) - Sarah vents about bad jokes in headlines
2. An Open Letter to Carlos Delgado (May 17)
3. My New Boyfriend (April 19)
4. The Lost Weekend (April 5) - The Fanatic’s Wife offers a reality check to those men all wrapped up in fantasy
5.
Spaghetti Arms (March 22)

Scott Silversten, "Age of Reason", every Thursday
1. Time to Revisit Black Sox Scandal? (June 29)
2. Summer Solstice Baseball Thoughts... (June 22)
3. A-Rod and the Fallacy of the "Not Clutch" Label (June 15)
4. Some Baseball Owners Can Learn from Mark Cuban (June 8)
5. Patience Should Not Be a Four-Letter Word (June 1) - Scott argues that the Yankees fans should be more patient with a player like Melky Cabrera
6. Steinbrennerization of Baseball (May 25) - "The definition of “Steinbrennerization” reads as follows: The inability of an individual to see the big picture in a sport in which failure is commonplace for even the greatest teams and players."
7. Mets Pitching in Flux (May 18)
8. A Proposal for MLB Realignment (May 11)
9. Red-hot Reds (May 4) - "And while it may be too soon to start daydreaming about a Cincinnati-Detroit World Series – it might be dubbed the “Sparky” Series after former Reds and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson – there is renewed hope in the Queen City that it could be a summer of fun after all."
10. My Baseball Wishes... (April 27) - "If there is a higher power looking down on the sports world, these are the things we will see on a baseball field this season …"
11. The Comeback Giambino (April 20) - Scott discusses Jason Giambi's startling return to dominance
12. Play Ball! The Season Starts in the Bronx (April 13) - A play-by-play of sorts for Yankees Opening Day 2006
13. Can't Take Your Eyes Off Bonds (April 6) - "This is a column about Barry Bonds. I didn’t want to write it, and you probably do not want to read it. But I did, and you will, because Barry Lamar Bonds is the most compelling athlete in sports history."
14. Brew Crew Looking Good (March 30) - Brewers fans have reason to be excited in 2006
15. Gary Sheffield: Malcontent (March 23)
16. A Growing Global Sport (March 16)
17. Roger Clemens, the Best of the Best (March 9)

Matt Sandler, "The Critical Fan", Alternate Fridays
1. Movie Review: "The Sandlot" (June 30)
2. Book Review: "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders" (June 16)
3. Movie Review: "Fear Strikes Out" (June 2)
4. Book Review: "The Devil Wears Pinstripes" (May 19)
5. Movie Review: "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings" (May 5)
6. Book Review: "Fantasyland" (April 21)
7. Movie Review: "Bang the Drum Slowly" (April 7)
8. Book Review: “The Numbers Game” (March 24)
9. Movie Review: "The Pride of the Yankees" (March 10)

Michael Carlucci, "The Yankee Diary", alternate Mondays
1. Yankee Diary #9 (July 3)
2. Yankee Diary #8 (June 19)
3. Yankee Diary #7 (June 5)
4. Yankee Diary #6 (May 22)
5. Yankee Diary #5 (May 8)
6. Yankee Diary #4 (April 24)
7. Yankee Diary #3 (April 10)
8. Yankee Diary #2 (March 27)
9. My Deal with the Devil (March 13)

Jeremy Bird, "Bird's Eye View", alternate Tuesdays
1.The Arms Race: Rookies dominating on the hill (June 20) - Jeremy profiles five first year hurlers who are making a difference
2. Not exactly the Reggie Bush-Vince Young-Matt Leinart Show (June 6) - On lessons learned from recent MLB drafts
3. The Babe's Tainted Record (May 23)
4. Losing My Innocence in St. Louis (May 9)
5. The Kansas City Royals: Baseball, Wal-Mart Style (April 25) - "Ultimately, Glass’ business model with the Royals does what it did while he ran Wal-Mart: screws over the players, other businesses, fans and taxpayers. It also loses baseball games, by the hundreds."
6. Why Fantasy Baseball is Ruining my Spring (April 11)
7. Intelligent Farming (March 28) - Jeremy goes down on the farm to explore the components of a strong baseball farm system and explains why the Angels will dominate the American League West for years to come.
8. The Politics of Baseball in the Nation's Capital (March 14) - "With the negotiations over the stadium finally over (for now at least), we are left to ask a question that has perplexed politicians, voters and baseball fans across the country: are we better off as a society spending millions in taxpayer money to subsidize a bunch of millionaires?"

Rob Hyman, "The Weekend Warrior", alternate Fridays
1. Links to the Past (June 23)
2. Rain, Rain Come Again (June 9) - "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."
3. Where Should Your Rooting Interests Lie? (May 26) - Rob ponders the collision of gambling, fantasy and reality
4. Classy Women of Baseball (May 12)
5. Here's to the Locals (April 28)
6. The Four Questions of Baseball (April 14) - "I’m getting myself into the spirit of Passover. That being said I’d like to pose to the world Rob Hyman’s four questions of baseball."
7. March Madness, for Baseball Fans (March 31)
8. Mets Don't Know When to Fold 'Em (March 17)

"Wild-Card Wednesdays" appears Every Wednesday

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

MLB, Time is Running Out

by Jeff Bird

Step right up and watch your baseball at prime time now, because when the playoffs get here you’ll be out of luck. What is it with Major League Baseball? Take your pick, ESPN, Fox Sports, TBS, WGN, you can find a game on and get your baseball fix during the regular season. Championship time rolls around and we get shafted by Major League Baseball. Money talks and television markets rule when playoff time arrives. Playoffs and World Series games don’t even begin until 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Eight months have gone by and watching baseball to one o’clock in the morning is still a sore spot with me.

The real problem here is the loss of our national pastime. MLB, do not complain when the next generation does not attend or watch baseball games. Kids are losing interest in the game of baseball. I have seen it firsthand in our local baseball association. Kids play soccer and baseball, but when it comes to a choice between the two, they choose soccer. Some kids choose Xbox, Playstation or Gameboy as their ‘sport.’

I hear you, where does MLB showing playoffs games late have to do with kids not liking baseball? I believe it's but one factor. The game has turned into a long drawn out boring affair. Day after day check the box scores of games that have lasted four hours or more. No excitement, no anticipation and definitely no strategy. Why is that? Several years ago MLB instructed the umpires to keep the game moving. Keep batters in the box, move the game along. What has happened? It’s worse than ever today. Batters adjust their batting gloves, move the hat, adjust the gloves some more, maybe now let the pitcher pitch the ball. That’s not the baseball I grew up on, Koufax, Gibson, Drysdale, just to name a few kept the game moving. Is it MLB, the pitchers, the batters, or the prima donnas that rule in baseball that have created this long boring game we call baseball?

Baseball was exciting for me growing up in the Midwest. I mentioned Koufax, Gibson, Drysdale, that does date me somewhat. Those days and that kind of baseball are gone, I would hope that MLB gets a handle on the problems of today’s baseball and preserves our national pastime - and I hope that better baseball will lie ahead.

Jeff Bird is a guest columnist and BFT reader

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

Monday, July 03, 2006

Yankee Diary #9

by Michael Carlucci

Sunday, June 25

I played real-life baseball today. Well, I played softball in Central Park. For four innings. Then it rained. I did not have a chance to display all my skills (the cannon arm, the opposite field power, the aggressive baserunning), but I did score one of our two runs. I also made a perfect throw to the plate from center field, in plenty of time to get the runner, but the catcher missed it. We were losing by a large number when play was halted.

In any case, the thing I remember most about my day is not softball but my abject terror as I sprinted back to my apartment. I am afraid of lightning. It did not matter that I could, in fact, see no lightning. All the elements were there: summer rain, distant thunder, wind swirling, skies dark and dreary. I knew that lightning could strike at any minute. And then what would I do? Stranded in the middle of Central Park, I knew my only chance was to make my way home. Fast. But then my legs couldn't cooperate anymore, and I suffered the horrible feeling of being terrified and wanting nothing more than to sprint away but also of being paralyzed and unable to cater to my fear. So I walked as fast as I could, knocking down anything in my path, until enough blood flow returned to my legs to allow me to run again, at which time I did run but continued to knock down anything in my path. I could not waste precious seconds altering my straight-line path home to safety.

I have stunned many friends who have seen me in the presence of lightning. I even left my wife in the dust as I sprinted home from Penn Station one time. She had to carry my bag, as it had a metal clip and I knew it would be the end of me if I carried it. I have never been able to give a satisfactory answer to her question, asked repeatedly, why it was OK for her to be struck by lightning. She deserves a lot of credit for putting up with me, that's my answer.

Wednesday, June 28

This is a great day. Home-run machine Scott Proctor (why is Torre still so high on him?) gave up the go-ahead shot in the top of the twelfth, and it seemed we were doomed. But then A-Rod quieted the boos and made my 11 year-old nephew's prediction of a walk-off home run accurate. This is the other side of the ninth-inning disaster against the Marlins last week. I felt some sympathy for Bobby Cox, who angrily threw his hat to the ground in frustration after the ball cleared the wall. Maybe this will buy A-Rod a little patience from silly fans who disapprove of his performance.

Sunday, July 2

We just finished crushing the Mets, and it was particularly amusing because they jumped out to a 4-0 lead and couldn't contain their glee. Carlos Delgado and David Wright had huge smiles when Joe Torre summoned Ron Villone to replace the beleaguered Jaret Wright after only one and two-thirds innings. But they were not smiling at the end of the game.

Did you think that Paul LoDuca's reaction to A-Rod's grand slam was childish? I did. What was the problem? A-Rod's tour of the bases was not preceded by the type of long, admiring look at the magnificent trajectory of the ball that justly irks many opposing players. This was an exciting moment for a maligned player accused of never coming through in precisely these situations. The Yankees had trailed 4-2 at that point, and his homer gave us a lead we never relinquished. Besides, to paraphrase the Met catcher's most expensive battery mate, "Who's Paul LoDuca?" Well, I guess he has a temper, but he's also an undeserving All Star with an OPS of .727. Also, he apparently shaves his eyebrows. I don't know for sure, but if you look carefully there's a womanly shape. In any case, he said something unpleasant to A-Rod as the latter crossed home plate. LoDuca's frustration sums up his team's frustration, and it was fun to watch his petulant display.

Carlos Beltran, the more mobile half of the Mets' clobberin' Carlos couple, hit two meaningless solo home runs, including one in the ninth inning with his team down ten runs. This was an A-Rodesque, stat-padding game if ever there was one. Actually, I don't really believe that. All runs are important. But there is something a little odd about a player thanking a deity (by craning his neck and pointing directly up) for deliverance of the divine home run when such intervention only brings your team within nine runs. Then to wear a smile in the dugout afterward, even while your namesake is striking out, gives the appearance of a player who cares more about stats than about his team. Incidentally, do these players -- who are all copying, I believe, soon-to-be *Home Run Champ's practice -- pray in the same manner? Can you imagine a church full of people worshiping this way? (My apologies to Billy Crystal, who once asked why venerable old ballparks are always called "Cathedrals of Baseball" rather than "Synogogues of Baseball." But if we're talking baseball players, it's a cathedral.) If I were a deity, I would not respond well to some jerk pointing up at me. It's rude to point. I don't think I would allow you to look directly at me either, especially if you were a Met.

Not that I hate the Mets. I really just don't care about them. My sense is that they have a very good team, but that this week's 1-5 performance against two strong American League teams is not a coincidence. They have two terrific pitchers in Glavine and Martinez, three terrific position players in Delgado, Wright and Beltran, and many other good players (including the vastly overrated Jose Reyes, whose current hot streak has temporarily elevated his value). But they do not have any legitmate competition in their division, will coast to the title, and be in great shape for the playoffs. It's just that their team is probably worse than five or six American League teams.

This ends this year's subway series (I don't believe the teams will meet again in the postseason). It was a tie, three games all. The Mets got two of their wins by beating a tired Randy Johnson. Maybe that says something about the Mets. Or Randy Johnson. Or both.

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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