The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Who should be in, who should be out

The trade deadline is tomorrow (Saturday) night at midnight (Eastern time). While not much of consequence has happened lately (other than the Beltran trade in June, and the White Sox acquiring Freddy Garcia and Carl Everett in separate deals), there’s like to be a lot that happens between now and tomorrow night. Here’s how I think teams should be playing their cards going into the deadline:

Obvious Sellers
Diamondbacks – move Finley and Johnson and get something for them
Expos – Jose Vidro will soon rue the day he signed his extension (although I commend him for it). Hopefully everyone will get a chance to bid adieu to Orlando Cabrera before he leaves town
Pirates – same as above, just substitute Benson and Kendall for Finley and Johnson
Blue Jays – plenty to sell here, but the big prize (Delgado) doesn’t want to go anywhere (particularly if he’d be required to stand for “God Bless America”)
Seattle – well, they’d sell if anyone would take what they have, otherwise they’ll release everyone
Rockies – can anyone afford Larry Walker? Anyone? Anyone? How about Todd Helton? Anything of value is yours for the taking – you must take their salaries too.

Teams that probably realize they’re out of it, but don’t have much to sell
– lots to sell actually, but not much they’d want to give up
Reds – everyone on this team has a big “but” that keeps him from being traded
Tigers – great story, great improvement, but not going anywhere this year
Royals – would have been on the first list, but there’s not much to sell
Indians – It doesn’t make sense for them to give up much of anything, unless of course Vizquel is willing to go elsewhere and they could get something for him
Rays – all of the vets are gone already
Orioles – not much that’s desirable, but maybe they could trade the rights to using Cal Ripken in future promotional opportunities. That has to be good for a prospect or two.

Teams that are really done and don’t realize it and should trade
White Sox – corner players here… who needs a corner player (or DH)?
Marlins – it’s been a heck of a run, but it’s time to retool for 2005 or 2006
Mets – will they ever learn? There are lots of good prospects here. Don’t give them up just to get swept in the LDS
Astros – move Beltran, admit defeat, start the rebuilding now
Cubs – they finally went for it, but this year just isn’t the year

A solid move by one of these teams makes things interesting
Athletics – Beane is always good for something, and since the millennium started, the A’s play .700 ball after the deadline – that’s just sick
Rangers – I’m not sure how they’re still in it (and their poor performance against the A’s and Angels recently may really be the end of things), but they’re here
Angels – Moreno’s already invested a lot and the talent pool at high levels is fairly deep, so why not make the push now?
Dodgers/Padres/Giants – when the merry-go-round stops, whoever made the biggest move will win
Braves – supposedly they can’t add any payroll, but Scheurholz is shrewd. They’ll find a way – maybe not before the deadline, but through the waiver wire for sure.
Phillies – at least Larry Bowa is hoping they’re in this group, otherwise he might not survive the weekend. This team was built to win this year, so they’d better start doing that soon.
Red Sox – it likely isn’t for the division title, but the Sox are still pushing for a wild card. They’re in a tough spot with a lot of free agents to be, but they must continue to push for this year. If they’re able to acquire anything close to a third ace (or even what would be a solid #2 on another team), they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in October. Otherwise, they’ll wish they’d gotten something for Nomar before he leaves town

– there’s really nothing else for them to be, although they have little to buy with
Cardinals – a finishing touch or two could solidify plans for the post-season parade
Twins – I’m not a big fan of the Twinkies, but they’re going to be in the playoffs somehow or another. They’re the surprise for this group, but the White Sox proved this week that they’re not a force this year, which by default puts the Twins in the post-season.

By my count, there are twelve teams that should be buyers at this point. Given that there are thirty teams in the league and only eight playoff slots, that’s kind of a lot. Two of the spots are all but sewn up; the Yankees and Cardinals, barring something tragic and unforeseen are virtual locks to reach the post-season as champions of their division. The Twins are the third best lock, since the White Sox are done and everyone else in the Central is just pretending. That leaves nine teams to fight it out for five playoff spots.

There are three team races for division crowns in both Western divisions. The runner-up in the American League West will likely battle it out with the Red Sox for the Wild card. In the National League West, it looks like nearly a draw so far between the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants (assuming of course that the Dodgers come back to Earth – although maybe Paul DePodesta stole some of Billy Beane’s magic second half dust and took it with him to LA). As in the AL, the runner-up will likely battle it out till the end with the runner up in the East, where the Phillies (who are owned by the Marlins) and the Braves (who own the Marlins) will likely decide things in early October.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get a better handle on things by the end of the weekend. Although the way things feel this year, it seems like we’ll have more activity after the deadline than usual.

Mike's Weekend Extravaganza

Marlins – Phillies Series concludes
The Marlins beat the Phillies again yesterday.  This is not news anymore though.  Somehow, the Marlins have managed to beat the Phillies fourteen times in a row in Miami (dating back to last season).  So far this year the Fish have won 11 of 12 against the Phils.  Including last year’s games, the Marlins have taken 23 of the past 26. 

Runs like this are unusual and unlikely in baseball, but for whatever reason the Marlins seem to have the Phillies number.  These two teams will meet seven more times before the end of the regular season, and it’s likely that the outcome of those seven games could decide a playoff berth.  Some Phillies fans disagree, by asserting that there are more games left to play not against the Marlins than against them, but last year’s Wild Card race could have been decided if the Phillies had played only .500 ball against the Marlins.  If they were able to pull that off, we could just as easily be talking about the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies now, but we’re not.

Former Canes part of Miami Struggles
I wonder if former Hurricanes’ sluggers Pat Burrell and Jason Michaels have suggested that the Phils face off against the Marlins at Miami’s Mark Light Stadium.  That’s where Burrell and Michaels used to play when they were Canes.  As I recall, they were actually able to hit there.

What you talkin’ about Willis
Speaking of last year, the trendy thing to say at the end of the season was that Diamondbacks’ rookie Brandon Webb deserved to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year award more than the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis.  Many pundits said that even if Willis walked away with the Rookie of the year award, over the course of their careers, Brandon Webb would prove out to be the better pitcher.  For those of you who have lost track, here’s an update (2004 Stats):

Willis (8 – 6) 3.86 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .274 BAA, -1 RSAA
Webb (4 – 11) 3.68 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, .246 BAA, -5 RSAA

Granted Webb is pitching on a horrible team and that’s certainly not helping his won – loss record.  Willis, though, is holding his own here in year two.  I think he’s proved that he wasn’t a one year (or first half of one year wonder).  Sure, he might not be a future Hall of Famer (Webb either), but he’s a quality major leaguer.

Democratic National Convention Highlights
Did P Diddy make out with Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention?  You be the judge.

Think Twice Before You Eat Another Candy Bar
A woman in Washington (D.C.) was arrested earlier this week for eating a candy bar in the subway station.  Apparently she was warned about this ahead of time.  In the article, it’s noted that because of terrorist threats and the like, it’s necessary to take things like this seriously.  While that may be true in part, isn’t it also true that by taking up valuable police time to handle something like this also makes it slightly easier for a terrorist to do something?

Also, there’s no truth to the rumor that Orioles owner Peter Angelos owns a controlling stake in the vending machines in DC subway stations and that he has encouraged police to prevent anyone from bringing outside food or drink near his machines.

Movie Pick of the Week
If you haven’t seen it already, I strongly encourage you to see Napoleon Dynamite.  It’s simply funny, and if nothing else – at least a little bit different from the standard summer fare.

This movie deserves more of a review, because I doubt you’re just going to go out and see it on your own, so check this out

Well, don’t be a flippin idiot, go read the review and then go see the movie already.
While I despise Sports Illustrated the magazine and refuse to read it, I’ve made a convenient exception for myself with  I particularly enjoy college sports writer Stewart Mandel, and lately, I’ve really come to enjoy the Daily Scorecard, particularly The 10 Spot.  Here’s one of the highlights from Thursday’s 10 Spot:

It's comforting to see Ryan Leaf hasn't lost his people skills. According to newspaper amNew York, UTEP coach Mike Price said earlier this week that he'd be "honored" to add famous bust Leaf to his coaching staff. (It makes a little more sense if one recalls that Price coached Leaf at Washington State.) So a reporter from the San Diego Union-Tribune called Leaf to gauge his interest in the job. Leaf's response: "Man, what the [expletive]? How'd you get my number? If the San Diego Union-Tribune calls me again ... Man, you fools are stupid." Leaf then hung up.

Return of Ankiel

Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel is set to begin a rehab assignment with the Cards Single-A Palm Beach club on Sunday.  I’m thinking of heading up to Jupiter to watch Ankiel.  His story is a sad one (so far) but hopefully he can make it back.

Weekend Highlights
Best Series
:  Lots of repeats from last weekend (just in the opposite parks this week), but the nod here goes to the Phillies – Cubs series in Chicago.  While it’s only one of many series this weekend where both teams are still in the playoff hunt, this series includes two of the teams that are the most likely to make a move (or two or three) this weekend.  If you watch Friday or Saturday’s game, you might get breaking news when a deal goes down (or infer it from who’s playing and who isn’t).  If you catch the game on Sunday, you might get to see so-and-so in his new uniform for the first time.
Best Pitching Matchup:  On Sunday afternoon, Pedro Martinez (Red Sox) faces Johan Santana (Red Sox) in the Metrodome.  We could look back at this years from now as a passing of the baton from the best pitcher of the time (Martinez) to his successor (Santana).  That’s putting a lot of expectations on Santana, but over his last ten starts or so, he’s deserved it (holding hitters to less than a .150 batting average and striking out more than ten men per game).

And of course, the trade deadline on Saturday night – with wire-to-wire coverage by ESPN all night.

An invitation to Mike Tyson

Dear Mike:

I saw you on television last night being interviewed by ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.  First of all, I have to commend you for how you handled everything.  I, who has a bit of a longer fuse than you, would probably go off on Jeremy Schaap and might even threaten to eat his children or something outrageous like that.  The restraint you showed by simply sitting there calmly and answering Jeremy’s questions was certainly commendable (although hopefully you’ll show a little more aggression in your fight tonight).

On the other hand, I was a little disappointed with how the weigh in and the whole pre-fight show has gone so far.  Usually you’re good for a few more fun comments and other insanity, which I just haven’t seen coming into this fight.

However, I’m writing about something else.  During your ESPN interview, the subject of your financial problems came up and you mentioned that you would never take money from someone.  You said that you might take money for someone for painting their house or something like that. 

And that’s the purpose of my letter.  I’m writing to ask you to come paint my house.  You don’t have to paint the whole place or anything like that - maybe just a room or two.  It probably only really needs a touch up anyway.  In exchange I’m willing to pay you a fair price (but keep in mind, even if I were to declare bankruptcy today, there’s no way that I – like you – could find a way to keep two million dollars after everything was resolved) and even take you out to dinner on South Beach afterwards.

Let me know if you’re interested (feel free to email me) and good luck in the fight tonight.

Your friend,Mike

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Expert Analysis from Reynolds and Kruk - Now on the Radio

In case you were unaware of it, you can get more expert analysis from ESPN’s John Kruk and Harold Reynolds on ESPN Radio.  I was fortunate enough to catch these two geniuses last night on my satellite radio.  They were on the Erik Kuselias’s “The Sportsbash” talking about random things.  Eventually they got to answering the host’s questions about potential deadline deals in baseball.  Both Kruk and Reynolds were of the mindset that a trade of Randy Johnson or Larry Walker wouldn’t happen by the July 31st non-waiver deadline because the deals are just “too complicated” to be completed by that time.

Apparently Kruk and Reynolds were under the impression that the first thought of making such a trade occurred when the question was asked of them live on the air, and that the people who would be involved in making the trade would have the collective brain power of Kruk and Reynolds.  Luckily, well run teams have the foresight to plan for such trades to occur and know ahead of time what’s likely and not likely to occur.  They also employ folks with more baseball savvy than Reynolds and Kruk. 

While it is likely that Johnson and Walker won’t be traded by midnight on Saturday night, it won’t be because the deals are too complicated to complete.  That’s an easy way out and far from the truth of it.  There are many other considerations, including that both players have no trade clauses, that the teams involved in any trade must all be happy with what they’re trading away and receiving in return, etc, etc.  Kruk and Reynolds seemed to miss that point.  They were also misguided, in my opinion, in stating that Johnson and Walker are likely to move teams after July 31st by using the waiver wire.  Kruk confidently stated that many big name players have changed teams this way in past years, but other than Jose Canseco, I can’t recall any.  Sure, there will be some big names and big salaries dangled on the waiver wire, but marquee names like Johnson’s seldom end up changing teams because of it.

If nothing else, at least it was entertaining.

Random Rumblings: The White Sox are still dead

  • The White Sox are still dead and out of the race.  They should give up hope and trade away some contracts before the deadline.  Yesterday’s extra inning debacle was the nail in the coffin.
  • It’s still one day too early for me to comment on the Marlins recent run.  Tune back in tomorrow.
  • Why does Peter Angelos get all worked up about a baseball team moving to Washington, D.C.?  I don’t remember the Redskins getting all upset when the Ravens moved to Baltimore.  This ESPN article points that out.
  • If you’re not sure who to vote for in the Presidential election in November, check out this site (be warned - there's sound after you click on the big picture of Bush and Kerry).  It runs down the whole thing pretty well. 
  • How long can the Rangers stay in the AL West race?  I think by August 15th we’ll all start talking about what a nice run they had, but how we all knew all along that they couldn’t keep it up all year.
  • One of the major downsides of the Ricky Williams retirement is that it’s brought to the forefront how easy (or seemingly easy) it is to hide that you’ve been taking drugs.  In fact, the Miami Herald ran an article that showed every kid in town how to hide their marijuana use.  If people think Mark McGwire talking about andro was bad, Ricky telling everyone how to cover up their pot use is worse.  The implications of it are much more far reaching.
  • Speaking of Ricky, the Herald also reported that Ricky made $16.5 million (gross – before taxes) in his NFL career.  Because of language in his contract, he’ll almost definitely have to pay back $5.5 million to the Dolphins (bonus money he was paid).  He may even have to pay back another $2.3 million to the Dolphins or the Saints for something similar.  $16.5 million less $7.8 million still leaves you with $8.7 million, but Ricky had to pay taxes on all of the $16.5 million I’m sure.  It’s more money than you (probably) and I (definitely) have, but not as much as you might think.  Especially when you have a collection of homes (at least four – each of which is mortgaged) and cars to pay for.  The Herald also noted that Ricky’s property taxes on his two South Florida homes last year (more than $70K) exceeded the payment he’ll receive from the NFL players association ($60K) upon his retirement.  I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more from Ricky when the money runs dry.
  • If the Yankees and Red Sox weren’t seeming part of every national broadcast, would they always seem to be so “popular”?
  • David Pinto posted some interesting thoughts about the impact of how the Pirates handled arbitration with Barry Bonds affected Bonds' career.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Raise the White Flag - the Sox are done

It’s over.  Raise the white flag.  Trade the prospects.  Do what you did in 1997.  Sure, it may feel like the White Sox are close to a division title and possibly even a wild card berth into the playoffs, but it’s all a mirage.

If you’ve watched any Sox games lately, you’ve seen that they’re flat.  A big part of this is surely due to the fact that offensive leaders Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez are not part of the lineup.  Both are on the disabled list.  Take the two biggest boppers out of any lineup, and that team is going to struggle.  Well, that’s where the Sox are now, and they’re not likely to get that turned around anytime soon.

This is that tempting time of year when a lot of teams that really aren’t think that they might be contenders.  Before the Sox think that they are contenders though, I hope they take a step back.  What are they contenders for really - to win their division, to win the wild card?

Quite honestly, I think the answer is none of the above.  Sure, the Sox might drag this out a bit, like last year, and make us all think for awhile that they might win the Central.  But are they really going to get past the Yankees, Red Sox and/or Angels and A’s in the playoffs.  I highly doubt it for many reasons.

Besides, the price they’d have to pay to be in contention is too great.  They’re already going to lose Magglio Ordonez in the offseason to free agency.  Whoever they get there – barring a major miracle – will be a major downgrade.  The Sox are also now thin at catcher for the time being, since they traded away Miguel Olivo in the quest to obtain Freddy Garcia (also losing Jeremy Reed in the deal). 

Like in year’s past, the Sox farm system is filled with potential arms and corner men (in the infield and the outfield).  Many baseball types will tell you that championship teams are built up the middle.  Look at the Marlins last year: solid defensively with Ivan Rodriguez, Alex Gonzalez, Luis Castillo, and Juan Pierre – plus they got solid offensive contributions from all four players.  The Sox just don’t have that kind of talent – not at the major league level in reality, or even at the minor league level in terms of potential.

So it’s time to trade.  Trade anyone and everyone that you can.  Get some quality for the starting pitchers that the team has.  Mark Buerhle has some value on the open market, and it increasingly seems likely that the Sox won’t be able to sign him when he’s eligible for free agency.  Plus, the overuse he was subjected to in the early part of his career surely means that he will continue to be come less and less effective over the coming years. 

Some team might even be willing to take on Esteban Loiaza.  Yes, Esteban was a great pickup for the Sox last year and came out of nowhere to win the Cy Young.  He’s not going to win it this year though, and if the Kenny Williams can pick up a prospect or two in exchange for him, I hope they do it.  Esteban’s best days are likely behind him too.

There’s still one more starter that another team might want – and that’s Freddy Garcia.  Sure, the Sox are unlikely to trade him now that he’s just signed an extension (and another team might not want to take him on since he’s owed $27 million for the three years that follow this season).  But if they can trade him, I would.  The Angels might be in the market for a starter like Garcia, who has some playoff experience.  And in return the Sox might be able to pick up a guy like Casey Kotchman or Dallas McPherson or another one of the Angels higher echelon prospects.

It’s time for the Sox to give up on the 2004 season.  Hopefully they can recognize that and get some prospects for some of their aging talent before the trade deadline consumes us this weekend. 

Whether the same holds true for the Marlins or not remains to be seen.  How the remainder of the series with the Phillies goes this weekend will determine much of that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Torii Hunter: Thug and Fool

So the Twins won round one of the three game set with the Sox this week.  For the most part, the game was uneventful.  The Twins won easily, 6 – 2, it rained a little, and not much happened.  Well, one exciting thing did happen. 

In the eighth inning, Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter barreled into Sox catcher Jamie Burke after tagging up from third on Henry Blanco’s sacrifice fly.  After the fact, Hunter alleged that he was merely trying to ensure that he was able to score the run.  Video replays showed that Burke was not blocking Hunter’s path to the plate and also appeared to show (albeit not perfectly clearly or unquestionably) that Hunter changed his path immediately before reaching home plate so that he could be sure to collide with Burke. 

Before getting into my take on things, I have to say that right before Hunter batted in the 8th, the Sox video team (which was the feed for last night’s game on my cable package) showed Hunter in the on deck circle and I thought to myself that, even though he is a Twin, I very much like Torii Hunter and his style of play.  Even when he’s slumping, Hunter seems to be laughing and having a good time.  And, along with Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones, Hunter is truly a pleasure to watch in the field.

Also before I get into my take I things (and because some commenters are prone to bring up my childhood), I will freely admit that during a little league game (I think I was 11) I barreled into the opposing catcher in an attempt to break up a force play (after a bases loaded dribbler back to the pitcher).  Not only did I knock the ball loose from the catcher, I also broke the catcher’s arm in the process (or the force of the act or whatever).  Now, I’m not saying this because I’m proud of it or anything (I’m not), but just to relate that I’ve lived through something similar to this before (albeit at a much different level than Mr. Hunter).  At the time, I felt like I was in the right, but my actions didn’t change the outcome (I was out) and resulted in someone being injured.  In reality what I did was wrong and misguided, although my intentions were not to injure anyone, but only to try to be safe.  Hunter’s actions yesterday could have (may have) done the same – they certainly didn’t change the outcome and they may have caused an injury.

What Hunter did was wrong and unnecessary.  It accomplished nothing.  He would have been safe no matter what, and as he was charging down the line he could have easily assessed this by judging Burke’s actions.  The throw was clearly going to arrive after Hunter.  For those of you who disagree or think that such a judgement cannot be made between third and home, I’d suggest that it’s been too long since you played the game.  Players of Hunter’s skill must take the catcher’s positioning into account when they are attempting to score like Hunter was last night.  That’s how they know to go head first, feet first, use a hook slide, or go in standing up.  This also allows them to know if they need to step to the left or right to avoid a tag.  To assert that what Hunter did was unavoidable is ludicrous.  He was trying to be a tough guy and to “send a message.” 

Well, he accomplished that I suppose.  He sent a message loud and clear.  He’s a punk.  It’s not enough for him to let the score talk or to let his team’s division titles talk.  He, apparently, needs to talk by taking action that’s not part of baseball – hitting a catcher who’s not going to make a play on him.  I’m disappointed in happy-go-lucky Torii Hunter and I lost a lot of respect for him last night.

It also sent the message that Hunter is not the brightest bulb in the box.  By barreling into Burke, Hunter did put himself at risk for injury, an injury the Twins (or any other team) could not afford to sustain.  He also, although I’m sure this is of less concern to the Twins – but Hunter did express sympathy afterwards, put Jamie Burke at risk for a serious injury.  The extent of Burke’s injuries is not presently known, but he was taken to the hospital last night.  Had a Sox player run into Twins catcher and uber-prospect Joe Mauer (assuming he was healthy and on the field), every self-righteous Twins fan would be calling for the suspension of the aggressive Sox player today.  For some reason, that just seems to be how Twins fans are – it’s almost like a bit of a Napoleon complex for fans of the team from Minneapolis, as they try to prove their supremacy over their big brothers in the big city of Chicago.  I would be curious to hear the reactions from Twins fans today had Hunter separated his shoulder in the collision with Burke and his catcher's gear.  I suppose the blame would, wrongly, be placed on Burke for obstructing Hunter's path to the plate.

There are also allegations that a fan at the game last night took the booing and catcalling too far and threatened Hunter's life.  This is obviously taking things way too far and is inexcusable.

Oh well.  Hopefully Burke is ok and we’ll get some good baseball tonight.  If for nothing else, it will be interesting to tune in and see how Hunter is treated today and if the Sox exact any retaliation.  If they do, this could turn into one heck of a rivalry really quickly (and no, I’m not advocating retaliation – Hunter acted foolishly enough by putting his and Burke’s health at risk.  There’s no sense in risking someone else’s – even if it is Hunter’s).

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ramblings from the Weekend

Other random thoughts from the weekend:

  • With the previous post, this blog crossed the 100,000 word mark.  That’s probably most frightening to me and me alone.


  • Didn’t Johnny Damon have his hair cut and his beard shaved off not that long ago?  Did he sweep it all up afterwards and glue it back on?  He still looks like Sasquatch.  


  • If the Marlins trade for Diamondbacks’ centerfielder Steve Finley, I may be forced to stop going to Marlins games.  If he returns in 2005, I may not renew my seats.  Since my tickets are out in right-centerfield, I’ll have a nearly unobstructed (and completely unavoidable) view of Finley’s incessant crotch scratching.  Hopefully Mr. Loria will include some sort of a provision in any deal involving Finley that will contractually prevent him from rubbing himself throughout the game.  Also, I apologize if you have not noticed this disturbing habit of Mr. Finley’s.  I too was not aware of it until this season, when it was pointed out to me.  Since then, I have been unable to watch Finley – and even Diamondbacks games in general without becoming acutely aware of the issue.  It’s kind of like when you come up to a car accident on the other side of the road when you’ve been waiting in traffic for an hour.  You don’t want to look – you just want to get moving and get on with your life and wish the poor injured people well, but you can’t help it, you go slow and you look.  Please Mr. Finley, don’t give us anything to look at anymore.  Think of the children!


  • Business has apparently improved for the Blue Jays and so they’re allegedly not looking to trade Carlos Delgado anymore (I know I read this over the weekend, and now I can’t find a source for it).  I’m not quite sure if that makes sense, or even if it’s true, but that’s what’s being reported.  I suspect that the Jays would trade Delgado if they could, if only so they could get something (more than a compensatory draft pick at least) for him than simply losing him in the offseason to free agency, but Delgado is unlikely to give-in on his 10-and-5 rights.


  • It’s nearly the end of July and the Rangers are still in first place in the tough AL West.  I find this to be nearly incomprehensible.  Offensively, with young stars like Texiera, Soriano, and Blalock, most everyone thought they’d score some runs.  Pitching was supposed to be the Rangers deficiency, but it hasn’t held them back so far.  Using RSAA, Ryan Drese and Francisco Cordero have been their aces.  Maybe they’ll make an acquisition, and maybe the team as presently constituted is really good enough to win the division.  A staff led by Ryan Drese and Francisco Cordero doesn’t seem to me like one that’s destined for World Series greatness though.  I suppose that’s what everyone said about a staff led by Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis last year though. 

And now we're entering the home stretch of the year for the Marlins.  While that may not be true literally, it is true figuratively.  The Marlins start a four game series against the Phillies tonight (at home).  How they fare during this series could turn the Fish into buyers or sellers as the trade deadline approaches this weekend.  Once the Phils leave town, the Expos return, but that's not always a good thing for the Fish, as they were beat up last week by the last place Pirates and Expos (albeit on the road).

A similar schedule faces the White Sox this week, although they are more firmly ensconced as buyers in the trade market - or at least not as sellers, as they'll square off against the Twins, also in Chicago.  Hopefully the Sox can take the series from the Twins like they did late last month.  If they're able to, they'll put some distance between themselves as we head into the stretch run.

Fox Sells Baseball to Kids with Drugs, Pregnancy, and Porn Stars

For whatever reason, Saturday was just one of those days for me where I was really looking forward to the “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoon.  I’d gotten up early (which for me is a rarity on a Saturday), run some errands, and had felt like a somewhat productive adult by the time I got back to the house in the early afternoon.  While I knew that the “Game of the Week” wasn’t starting until 3 PM, I wasn’t sure what game was going to be shown in Miami.  I figured it would either be the Yankees and Red Sox or the Giants and Cardinals.

Well, because of rain in Boston (which led to a delay and nearly calling the game), those of us in Miami were treated to a largely irrelevant (to us at least) matchup between the Cubs and Phillies.  I suppose maybe the Lords at Fox determined that since the Phils game would have an impact on the Marlins in terms of the NL East race (with the Phillies) and the Wild Card race (with the Cubs).  Most of us – well, at least me – would have preferred to see the Cardinals – Giants game, if only because it was Barry Bonds’ 40th birthday.  It was not to be though.  Little did I know that this was only the beginning of where things would start to fall apart for me on Saturday with the “Game of the Week” (which by the way, Fox has one of and ESPN has one of… I think FX has one – or at least used to also… how many “Games of the Week” can there be).

Making matters worse was that the play-by-play of the Cubs – Phillies game was being delivered by none other than Thom Brenneman.  I would link to some of my other ramblings on Thommy, but that would only cause me to scan through some of what I’ve written before and bother me further.  Brenneman is not much of a broadcaster; his style is better suited to the minor leagues, college sports, or a small market because he is a homer without exception.  This is particularly bothersome with something like a national broadcast (like Saturday’s) when Thom is broadcasting for his preferred team – the Chicago Cubs.  However, since Fox has the exclusive rights to my Saturday afternoons, I tried to put up with Brenneman.  Fortunately, the Yankees and Red Sox agreed to play, even though for awhile it appeared that they wouldn’t.

Once the Red Sox and Yankees got under way, I became thankful for the first time ever to hear the dulcet tones of Tim McCarver.  McCarver, who is another announcer I’ve had little good to say about over the years, is a knowledgable baseball man – and certainly less of a homer than Brenneman, but his Morgan-like reminiscensing about  the days of yore and how men were men and baseball was baseball in his day.  At times McCarver provides insight, but on the whole, he’s more often than not a windbag a la Curt Schilling, espousing his views on whatever he deems fit, whether they are informed or not (kind of like I’m doing right now).

Still, McCarver was a significant upgrade over the bantering of Brenneman (and having the non-homer Joe Buck at McCarver’s side certainly helped)… well, at least he was until the “Scooter” episode.  Fox broke out their new animated “Scooter” early on in the game to teach all of us what a slider or a sinker or some pitch is.  Afterwards McCarver commented that Scooter is part of a concerted effort by Major League Baseball to reach out to a younger generation of fans.  McCarver opined that baseball is often ridiculed for not reaching out to kids, and that ultimately, this will have a detrimental effect on the game – particularly as those same kids become attached to football, basketball, snowboarding, and whatever other “sports” debut at the X Games.  I’ve taken McCarver’s point a little further than he developed it on air, but we all got the gist, and it was a good and fair one, as annoying as those of us from an older demographic might find Scooter.

What happened soon thereafter, though no fault of McCarver or Buck’s, was that Fox turned things around 180 degrees and provided us with decidedly kid un-friendly fare (no, not the – Jason Varitek throwdown).  During many of the commercial breaks, Fox aired commercials for “That 70’s Show” where the Kelso character alludes to having sexual relations in a restroom with his girlfriend, another show called “Quintuplets” where a young, pre-teen actor flirts with a porn star in an attempt to land a date (or at least we hope that’s where it will end).  Other commercials included a preview for Saturday night’s edition of “COPS” (where an officer tells the suspect - on the commercial and, presumably, during the show- “when you hand someone your wallet, don’t hand them heroin”), and another commercial, this one for “The Casino,” showed how bikini-contest models were hired to be “hostesses” in half-skirts to lure patrons into the casino’s bowling alley.  Frighteningly, the most family oriented fare of the Fox’s Saturday afternoon commercial enticements was for Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s “The Simple Life.”  For anyone who’s seen the show before, that’s simply scary.

I’m usually not the first person to comment on something like this (and maybe I’m not here).  I also wasn’t particularly offended by the commercials, particularly as I was watching the game alone, and there weren’t any children around.  It just struck me as odd how Fox could on the one hand promote selling the game of baseball to children (never mind that World Series games start so late that I’m sure kids on the West Coast have a hard time staying up for the conclusion) and on the other hand promoted some of their more salacious shows throughout the broadcast of the game.

Next time, give us baseball, Barry’s 40th birthday (or at least cut-ins to his at bats) and family friendly promotions.  Some of what I saw on Saturday would make the controversial Miller beer commercials, which were shown during last year’s football season, look tame.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Barry Bonds is a Sick Man

For those of you who are having a hard time comprehending the enormity of what Barry Bonds has been accomplishing over the past few years (particularly those of you who think that Scott Rolen deserves the National League's MVP Award so far this year), consider this: below is a list of the all-time top ten single season onbase percentage seasons for all of Major League Baseball, as the list stood coming into the 2004 campaign.

  1. Barry Bonds, 2002  .5817
  2. Ted Williams, 1941  .5528
  3. John McGraw, 1899  .5475
  4. Babe Ruth, 1923  .5445
  5. Babe Ruth, 1920  .5319
  6. Barry Bonds, 2003 .5291
  7. Ted Williams, 1957 .5256
  8. Billy Hamilton, 1894  .5228
  9. Babe Ruth, 1926  .5156
  10. Barry Bonds, 2001 .5151

Three names dominate this list - Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds.  Bonds' three seasons that make this top ten list all have occured consecutively.  Sure, many of you will say that this is just a list of high onbase percentage, and sluggers such as Ruth, Williams, and Bonds will normally, by default, have high onbase percentages because they will be walked frequently so their opponents do not have to risk letting them put the ball in play.  This is true.  However, onbase percentage is a key metric in determining a player and a team's ability to score runs.  Scoring runs - and outscoring your opponent - is what professional baseball is all about.

Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds put their teams in position to win as well as, or better than, any other players in the history of baseball.  It's as simple as that.  Sure, there are dozens of other numbers and statistics and quotes one could use to prove this out.  Many of you reading this probably have already done so.

What is interesting is that Mr. Bonds is gaining some public respect from his all-time great peers on a level that is normally reserved for those in the pantheon of Ruth.  Reggie Jackson has come out this week and said that Bonds is the greatest player in the history of the game.  His evidence for this that Bonds is the single great player on an average (at best) ball club (Jason Schmidt possibly excluded), but still, even though he is being walked at a more than record clip, he is able to carry the Giants into serious playoff contention - nearly on his own.

Are you wondering how Bonds 2004 season is stacking up so far in terms of onbase percentage?  Well, through last night's game, his OBP stands at .619Yes, that's right .619!  Barry Bonds has reached base in 61.9% of his plate appearances.  Should his percentage hold up at that rate for the rest of the season, his lead on the all-time 2nd place single season onbase percentage record (Bonds again at .582) would be an astonishing .037.  That's about the same margin between the all-time leader in the non-Bonds category and the 10th best onbase season of all-time.  In regular person terms, that's about the difference between having a .360 OBP lead-off man (certainly acceptable, but no great shakes) and a .400 OBP lead-off man (where you're talking about a potential all-star).  When you get up to such a high percentage as Bonds', it doesn't seem like a huge difference, but it is.

What Barry Bonds is doing right now is of historical proportions.  Enjoy it while you can.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Baseball Blogs in Mid-season Slump

What’s up with blogging lately?  It feels like we’re in the midst of a mid-summer swoon here.  Maybe everyone’s still recovering from the SABR convention (although I know we weren’t all there).  Or maybe everyone’s just Randy-Johnson-to-insert-team-name-here’d out.  Whatever it is, I definitely feel like blogging in general hasn’t been up to it’s regular standards of late. 
Even the normally prolific (or verbose – depending on your perspective) Aaron Gleeman has shared very few words of late; both his own blog and The Hardball Times have been light on commentary - even resorting to posting the same commentary on both sites at times (thankfully Lee Sinnis continues to provide content on THT daily – even on weekends quite frequently).  Baseball News Blog hasn’t been updated for nearly a week.  It’s also seemed to me (at least since the 4th of July holiday) that Baseball Prospectus is finding it’s way to me later than usual each day.  Granted, The Book of Mike is no exception to this trend.  We’ve been churning out less of quality lately than ever before.  This is a trend we hope to reverse – and soon.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t good baseball writing out there everyday.  There’s plenty of it.  Rich Lederer’s series on Bill James’s Baseball Abstracts has been very interesting.  David Pinto keeps up the regular good work.  There are plenty of others.  It just struck me as interesting that at times you hear about the dog days of summer and how they affect ballplayers.  It feels like it’s affecting some bloggers too.

Please don't take my comments as a knock on anyone in particular - or even anyone at all.  That's not what I mean.  I just find it interesting that, of a group of people who are so dedicated to and passionate about baseball, many of us are getting less written lately than we usually do.  Maybe it's the time of year.  Maybe it's the weather.  Maybe we're all just busy or on vacation, or both.  Who knows?
This is interesting to me for a number of reasons.  First and foremost among them is that sometimes I feel like the blogging community could replace much of, if not all of, the mainstream media eventually.  There are plenty of good to great writers out there (most of the above mentioned included) and plenty of good commentary, news and analysis to go with it.  But then there are slumps like the one that currently seems to be going around.  Blogs definitely aren’t as reliable as ESPN or CNN.  Not that they should be.  For most of us, this is a hobby or a past-time, or a way to just vent and let off some steam.

But I’m slumping right now too, so I’m cutting it off here.  If you’d like, drop me a line or add some comments with your thoughts.  I suspect though that most of you are too lackadaisical to do that right now.

A.J. Burnett starts, Fish Leave Bats at Home

Last night’s game in Philadelphia marked the first time of six that the Marlins and Phillies will face off against each other before the end of July.  The outcome of these games could have serious implications on each team’s ability to make the post-season.  Throughout 2003 and for the early part of 2004, the Marlins have dominated the Phillies.  Going into last night’s game, the Marlins were 6 – 0 against the Phils.  In 2003, the Marlins won 13 of 19 games against the Phillies (including eight wins in a row during the middle of the season and three games late in the year that sealed the Phils fate; the margin in head-to-head victories for the Marlins was enough to propel them ahead of the Phillies and into the National League Wild Card, and eventually the World Series championship.   So going into the game, things seemed pretty good for the Marlins.  It didn’t turn out that way though.  The Marlins lost to the Phillies, and fell another game behind the Eastern Division leaders.
But A.J. Burnett was on the mound for the Marlins last night, and that alone was reason for Marlins fans to be nervous.  Now, that’s not to say that Burnett has pitched badly since returning from Tommy John surgery on June 3rd.  He really hasn’t.  His 4.53 ERA definitely doesn’t jump off the page as sparkling (it’s not), but it’s respectable enough.  His 1.23 WHIP isn’t dazzling, but it too is respectable.  All of Burnett’s numbers are better than the 1 – 5 won – loss record that he has accumulated so far this year (as well as the 1 – 9 record the Fish have accumulated in games Burnett has started – inclusive of those in which he didn’t “earn” a decision).
The Marlins are 25th in the league (out of 30 teams!) so far this year in runs scored with 397.  That averages out to 4.2 runs per game so far for the Fish.  This is definitely not a great total, particularly when you consider that Cleveland (which is first in the league) is averaging 5.7 runs per game and that Anaheim (which is tenth in the league) is averaging over 5.1 runs per game.  The name of the game in major league baseball is to outscore your opponent, and when you’re in the bottom 20% of the league in scoring, you’d better get some great pitching.
Well, the Marlins aren’t getting great pitching from Burnett this year, but they are getting good pitching.  What’s ailing Burnett more than anything right now is that the Marlins aren’t scoring when he takes the hill.  Overall, as noted above, the Marlins are scoring 4.2 runs per game.  When Burnett starts, however, the Fish are only scoring 2.5 runs per game.  This is also a little misleading because in Burnett’s ten starts, the Fish have scored zero or 1 run four times and scored two runs twice.  That’s a total of six of his ten starts in which the offense scrounged up two runs or less.  It’s hard to argue that the offense is giving the team a chance to win the game in those six games because the pitcher is going to have to be nearly perfect to hold a team to less than two runs. 

So what’s the point here?  No, it’s not that the Marlins are being hurt by their pitching.  Sure, the pitching has not been stellar.  It surely hasn’t been good enough to win a World Series.  But it’s been decent and steady.  A couple more timely hits or lucky bounces (like the Marlins seemed to get each game last year) would translate into more wins if the club continues to get the kind of pitching that they are out of Burnett.  Had the Fish won half of the Burnett’s starts so far, they’d be four games better in the standings right now, which would put them in first place and solidify them as a contender for a playoff berth, and would also likely mean that they’d be in the market to acquire a player or two for the stretch run.  The truth of it though is that they aren’t.  The Marlins are 1 – 9 in games Burnett starts, and even when A.J. is on the bench, the Fish are struggling.  Still though, if there’s any hope of turning things around, the Marlins need to acquire a bat.  Find a way to make it work with Carlos Delgado or Jason Kendall and let’s see if that can push the Fish into the post-season again.    

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Fish or Cut Bait?

The trade deadline is just ten or so days away and still it’s not clear if the Marlins should be buyers or sellers in this market (or if they should just stand pat).
There are a number of arguments for turning the Marlins into sellers.  First and foremost amongst them are the players the Marlins risk losing after this season is over.  Mike Lowell can get out of the remaining three years of his contract if the Marlins don’t have a stadium lined up (which they don’t).  Whether or not he’ll do this remains to be seen.  Carl Pavano, the team’s best and most consistent pitcher over the course of the 2004 campaign is eligible for free agency as soon as the season concludes.  He will be a highly desirable free agent, and will likely cost more to resign than the Fish are able to offer.  This will be especially true if Brad Penny, another standout starting pitcher, is awarded the doubling or so of his salary that many expect when he becomes eligible for arbitration this offseason.  It is highly unlikely that the Marlins will be able to afford both Pavano and Penny after this season and, if the Fish aren’t going to be in contention for a playoff berth, it would be nice to get at least something for the two of them (and they’d likely be able to get plenty because after Randy Johnson and Kris Benson, there’s not much that’s attractive on the pitching trading block).
However, there big risk for the Marlins in selling off players here in late July is that they’ll turn off the fan base.  This is something the club can ill afford to do.  Despite attendance being up in the neighborhood of 50% year-over-year, the Marlins are still in the bottom half of the league in attendance this year.
So what should the Marlins do?  Well that’s a tough question to answer.  They are still very much in the playoff hunt – for either a division title (which would be their first) or a wild card berth (like they earned last year).  To make it deep in the post-season the Fish will need more consistency all around – from their starting pitching and relievers, and also from their offense.  A number of players have been rumored to come the Fish’s way.  Here are some thoughts…
Steve Finley, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Finley is a nice player, one who seemingly fights off Father Time on a daily basis.  How long Finley can continue to deliver remains to be seen.  Acquiring Finley would, seemingly, force either Juan Pierre or Finley to left field (my guess would be Pierre) and Jeff Conine to the bench.  Finley brings a left handed (which is much needed) bat to the Marlins lineup and he also offers some power. 
If his acquisition would allow the Marlins to put Jeff Conine on the bench, I suppose that’s an upgrade.  While Conine is not an elite outfielder anymore (if he ever was), he would be a pretty solid threat coming off of the bench.
The price that the Fish would have to pay to acquire Finley is the biggest question mark.  Reserve outfielder Abraham Nunez has been widely rumored to be on his way out of town with all sorts of trades, and could be included in a deal here.  I’m not sure that’s worthwhile though.  Nunez for Finley would give the Fish a modest upgrade for the remainder of 2004, but probably not enough incrementally to put the team over the top.  And by 2005 – and certainly 2006 and 2007, the Marlins would probably rather have Nunez around than Finley.
Jason Kendall, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
This deal is a no brainer for the Fish.  Kendall’s game is well suited to the Marlins and he’s an above average catcher, which would fill a gaping hole in the Marlins lineup.  The downside here is purely financial.  Kendall can likely be had for relatively little in terms of players.  The Pirates though would want the Marlins to pick up the remainder of his contract – which owes him more than $30 million.  This is a price that the Marlins probably aren’t willing to bear.  And if they do decide to take it on, they’ll have to accept abuse from nearly everyone for being willing to pay Jason Kendall more than $30 million when they wouldn’t come up with nearly exactly the same money for Ivan Rodriguez, who may be on his way to winning another MVP award with the Tigers this season.
Carlos Delgado, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Acquiring Delgado would effectively end Hee Seop Choi’s contributions for the 2004 season.  While this might be a good thing for the Marlins, it would be detrimental to Choi’s development (although he might be part of the package that’s sent to Toronto I suppose).  Delgado has been hampered by injuries for much of this year, but he’s a slugger like the Marlins have not had since Gary Sheffield left town years ago.  Delgado would be a major upgrade for the Fish and would be a solid acquisition.  Like with Kendall though, the drawback is the price tag, of sorts.  As a 10-and-5 player (ten years in the majors and five with his current team), Delgado has a no-trade clause, meaning that he has the right to refuse a trade to any team.  It sounds like Delgado will reserve his right to exercise that clause, unless of course he gets a contract extension (for well north of $10 million annually) from the club that’s going to acquire him.  Like with everyone else, it’s unlikely the Marlins will be able to commit that kind of money to a single player, particularly an aging one like Delgado.
After that, there’s not much in the way of marquee players to acquire.  Ugueth Urbina may be on the block again, but the Marlins could have had him in the offseason if they wanted him.  There are plenty of other role players who will also likely shift around before (or right after – courtesy of waivers – the trade deadline).  None of those role players though, is likely to make the Marlins a pennant contender (although you can argue that the pickup of Chad Fox around this time last year did just that).
Working in the Marlins favor is that the Braves, who the Fish are chasing, are unlikely to add any big name players too.  Allegedly, the Braves are in a bit of a payroll crisis and are unlikely to take on any more salary before the deadline.  However, the Phillies and Mets are likely to be putting players and salary into their organization before the deadline.

Personally, after taking the business side of the picture into the equation, if I was Larry Beinfest or Jeffrey Loria, I would wait as long as possible before making a move.  Give the team a little more time – as presently constituted – to work its way into or out of playoff contention.  Waiting will also give the team more time to ascertain what the other clubs are doing.  If the Phillies and Mets stand pat, which is unlikely, a strong move by the Marlins might be even more effective than it would be otherwise – since the Marlins would be improving while the other clubs stood still.  If other teams add talent though, it might be in the Marlins best interest to stay as is or to trade off a player or two.  Hopefully the Marlins will go on a nice run starting today against the Phillies and Expos and solidify their position in the playoff hunt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Fun and Excitement Reprieve

Mike is feeling completely uninspired today, so there will be no post.  The White Sox remain, ever so precariously, in first place and the Marlins appear to be more intent upon racing the Expos for the cellar than the Braves and the Phillies for the division title.  It will likely be much the same tomorrow when I hope to be more inspired.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Back from Cincinnati

Well, I’m back from Cincinnati and my first SABR convention today.  Actually, I got back last night – which, not coincidentally, was also about the same time that I finally got comfortable spelling Cincinnati.  For whatever reason, I really struggle with that word. 
To be brief, the city and the convention were great.  I stayed at the Westin, which was the host hotel of the convention.  It’s a very nice hotel in the downtown area, which is within walking distance of the Reds’ Great American Ballpark and even the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium.  According to my latest Green Book, the Westin also plays host to four or five National League teams when they come to town (although the Cardinals were down the street at the Hyatt Regency this weekend).  Other than the elevators, which there were few of and the ones they had were slow, everything about the hotel was great – especially Westin’s signature Heavenly beds.  You wouldn’t think a little thing like a bed could be so pleasant, but it would make me pay a few extra bucks for a Westin over another hotel that didn’t offer something quite so nice.  Anyways, on to the conference…
I arrived on Thursday morning, and while I was far from the first person to register, I arrived in time to see many of the presentations.  Overall, I was highly impressed by the presentations, the presenters, the written work, and everything done by my fellow members.  Granted, some presentations were better than others, but what I found was that the biggest thing separating the best from the not-quite-best was how polished each work was in terms of presentability, form, and format.  The analysis and research that went into each presentation was stellar.  Even topics that didn’t seem to be particularly interesting to me – such as a history of baseball in 1900 in Virginia were very well done and held my attention.
My favorite presentation was Andy McCue’s “Rickey vs. O’Malley and the Mysterious Buyout Clause.”  McCue’s presentation, which won an award for the best at the convention, was informative and interesting, even though it was on a topic that I knew nothing about beforehand.  Mr. McCue was particularly impressive in his handling of questions taken after his presentation, as many of the questions were only loosely related to his subject matter.
During McCue's speech where he accepted his award, he said something which I found to be really true.  I'm paraphrasing here, but you'll get the idea:
"For those of you first-timers here at the convention, don't be intimidated.  I remember my first SABR-event many years ago, and it was very intimidating.  I think all of us go from being the most knowledgeable baseball person amongst our friends, family, co-workers, or whatever little group we're in.  Then you come to something like this and you feel like you know less about baseball than anyone in the area.  That's not really the case.  We all have our specialties and things that we know.  You just have to enjoy it all for what it is..."
Andy's sentiment was really true.  I remember thinking throughout the weekend that it was a really intimidating group of baseball knowledge.  I am almost positive that I was less intimidated on my first day of high school, college, and graduate school than I was during my first few days walking around the SABR convention.  I started to go with the flow though and feel more comfortable everywhere and around everything.  Next year should really be fun.
Although I was late to the panel, the discussion of the 1919 World Series and the banishment of the White Sox who allegedly helped to throw the series was also very interesting.  It was also nice to see Alan Schwarz in person after reading his articles for so many years.
The reason I was late for the White Sox panel was that I went on a tour of the Great American Ballpark earlier in the morning.  The tour ran long, but was well worth it.  I have been on many stadium tours, but this one was far and away the most informative.  I suspect that our guides were handpicked, as our guide noted before the tour began that he was nervous about giving a tour to a group of SABRen.  He held his own though and even provided some trivia that stumped everyone in the group (I think he picked up a few tidbits too that he’ll use on future tours).  We learned a lot about the stadium – particularly it’s rich history in terms of what has been carried over from Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium).  If you’d like to see some pictures from the tour, click here to send me an email, and I’ll send you a link to where they can be found on Ofoto.
On Friday night a group of more than 700 of us attended the Cardinals – Reds game.  While the game itself was exciting (back and forth, decided late), everyone was talking about one thing: Jim Edmonds catch.  In the 8th inning Edmonds scaled the centerfield fence and took away a home run from the Reds’ Jason LaRue.  It was the second homer that Edmonds has taken away from LaRue and the fourth he’s robbed from the Reds in the last two years.  While Edmonds is regularly good for highlight reel quality catches, this one was particularly noteworthy as most of his body was on the home run side of the fence when he caught the ball.  To those of us sitting in the outfield seats, as soon as the ball left LaRue’s bat, we all felt it was destined for the seats.  And it was.  We just didn’t anticipate that Edmonds would go over the wall to bring it back in for an out.  I haven’t really seen replays of the catch, but I can still see it in my mind.  If you check out my pictures, you’ll get a good idea of what an impressive feat it was.  There’s one of me standing in front of the centerfield fence.  I’m about six feet tall and there’s a lot of room between the top of my head and the top of the fence.  Edmonds had to make an NBA quality leap just to get on top of the fence – let alone to get into position to catch that ball.
I also had a fair amount of Skyline Chili while I was in Cincy.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s the most famous food (that I know of) from Cincinnati.  In fact, Skyline Chili is even the official chili of the Reds (does your favorite team have an official chili?).  Before I arrived in town, I thought that making a visit to Skyline Chili would be similar to visiting the Varsity in Atlanta.  Well, it’s not.  I’m fairly comfortable in stating that there are more Skyline Chili’s in Cincinnati than there are McDonald’s.  This is probably a good thing, but still very unusual.
There’s lots more to say about the SABR trip and all the fun I had, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  I’m sure that plenty of other folks will be sharing their thoughts about the experience soon.  If you didn’t make it this year, I strongly encourage you to attend next year’s convention in Toronto.  I know that I won’t miss it.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Vacation... Again

The Book of Mike is on vacation, again. This time Mike will be in Cincinnati for the SABR convention. Regular blogging will resume again on Monday. Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Marlins Slighted, Yankees and Red Sox remain over-hyped

The plan for today was to hand out The Book of Mike’s official mid-season awards. However, last night’s introduction to the Home Run Derby got me fired up about something completely different, so that’s what I’ll be ranting about today.

To warm up for last night’s festivities, ESPN showed some of (in their eyes) the greatest home runs of all time. On Sportscenter later there was even a top ten list. The list was pretty much what you’d expect: Carlton Fisk’s home run to win game 6 of the 1975 World Series for the Red Sox, limping Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run off of Cy Young Winner Dennis Eckersly to win game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Bill Mazeroski’s shot to win the Series for the Pirates, and Bobby Thompson’s shot heard round the World. Other lesser known dingers also made the list, such as: Kirby Puckett’s game winning home run in game 6 of the 1987 World Series, Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 Series against the Phillies, and Bucky Dent’s homer into the net above the Green Monster which won a one game playoff for the Yankees.

What was left off the list completely – not even shown in the montage of decisive home runs in meaningful games – was a recent homer that changed the course of one team’s World Series fate. It was a walk-off, game ending home run hit by a lesser-known player in extra innings. For some reason though, it’s not even as well known as a similar shot hit a round earlier in last year’s playoffs – Aaron Boone’s dramatic blast to win the ALCS against the Red Sox last year.

Of course the forgotten home run is Alex Gonzalez’s line drive blast in the twelfth inning of game four of the 2003 World Series. This game lacked for nothing in terms of drama. More than 65,000 fans were on hand on a balmy night at Pro Player Stadium. Future Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time (or the modern era) Roger Clemens was slated to make his last start in the Major Leagues for the Yankees (although that later changed, as Clemens will start for the National League in tonight’s All-Star Game). The Yankees entered the game with a two games to one series lead, and a win in game four would nearly cement a series victory for the New Yorkers.

The unexpected came from Marlins starter Carl Pavano, who pitched a gem of a game (8 innings, 1 earned run, 0 walks). Pavano’s performance bettered Clemens (who went 7 innings and allowed 3 earned runs), and appeared to position the Fish to even up the series at two games apiece. However, in the 9th, it appeared that Pavano’s mastery might be lost forever (and maybe it has been anyway) when the normally solid Ugeth Urbina entered the game for the Marlins in the 9th and squandered the lead by allowing a two-run triple to Ruben Sierra (a triple to Ruben Sierra!). Even before these late inning dramatics, baseball fans everywhere knew that they would remember this game for a long time, if only because most felt that it was to be the Rocket’s last appearance in a Major League game, because of the flashbulbs that pulsed on every potential last pitch from the Rocket, and the standing ovation from the fans and players when the Rocket came off the field after the seventh and it was clear to everyone that he would not return.

But the real drama was still to come. By this point most everyone knew that the Yankees, winners of four of the previous seven World Series titles, had not lost an extra inning World Series game since 1964 (well before any current Marlin player was born – heck, before having a Major League Baseball team in Florida was even conceived of). To all in attendance (myself included) it appeared that Pavano’s mastery and the Fish’s early lead was just part of the storyline. You know how it goes: Yankees face adversity, Yankees continue to struggle, Yankees fight back and win. Everyone expected to go home that night with the Yankees having taken a commanding three games to one lead over the Marlins.

However, after failing to score in the tenth, the Yankees loaded the bases with one-out in the eleventh inning – and were still somehow unable to score. The Marlins’ Braden Looper continued to hold the Yankees scoreless in the 12th, which brought the Marlins to the plate in the bottom half of the inning with a chance to win the game. Contrary to popular wisdom (even amongst Marlins fans), Yankees manager Joe Torre left enigmatic pitcher Jeff Weaver in the game for a second inning to start the twelfth.

Weaver did not enter the game with anywhere near the pedigree of Yankees starter Roger Clemens, but no one does. He also wasn’t fit for the role of Dennis Eckersley, then of the Oakland A’s, as the closer brought in to wrap up a game that was well in hand for his club. A mid-season acquisition for the Yanks, Weaver was a talented youngster who just hadn’t been able to put it together in New York. Torre was giving him a chance for redemption now though. And with the Marlins sending slick-fielding shortstop Alex Gonzalez to the plate (a man who was barely batting .100 in the post-season at that point), it seemed like a pretty safe gamble.

But it wasn’t. Gonzalez quickly stepped in an promptly lined a pitch from Weaver down the left field line. Although I haven’t seen the replay recently, I recall having two initial thoughts when it happened: one, I hope that ball gets up a little more – so that it isn’t caught, and two, I hope it stays fair if it’s going where I think it’s going. Gonzalez’s blast did stay fair, and it did keep climbing. The ball nearly struck the Marlins banner for their 1997 World Series Championship, meaning that it had cleared the fence and signaled a win for the Marlins in the game. A walk-off home run from the most likely source to win a World Series game and swing the momentum in the Series 180 degrees. From that point forward the Fish never looked back – easily taking game five at home and game six on the road to claim their second world title in six years.

Somehow though that home run is relatively forgotten, even though it is less than one year away. In many ways, it’s similar to the Red Sox Carlton Fisk’s dramatic game six home run in the 1975 World Series. Both homers were of the walk-off, extra inning variety and caused huge momentum swings for their clubs. Fisk’s home run had the advantage of coming later in the series. Fisk was also a star before he hit that ball and his dramatic dance down the first base line surely helped to cement the blast in everyone’s mind.

More likely though the reason that we remember one home run more than another is the uniform that was being worn when the homer was hit. Fisk’s home run is part of Red Sox nation lore. The Red Sox set up their fans for the end of the curse, only to come back in game seven and lose to the Big Red Machine. That last part – that the Sox lost the Series – is almost always forgotten. Sure, it won the game, but that was about it for the Sox. It delayed the end of their season by one game.

Gonzalez’s home run, hit in a jersey trimmed in teal, turned around the Marlins fortunes in the series. Instead of looking at a three games to one deficit, the Marlins were now even at two games apiece. This huge swing is lost on most fans though. Marlins fans will remember it with the same reverence that Red Sox fans recall Fisk’s homer, or that Yankees fans hold for Bucky Dent’s blast, or that Dodgers’ fans hold for Gibson’s pinch-hit drama against the best pitcher in the game at the time.

It’s a shame though. If it doesn’t happen in New York (for the Yankees, Mets, Giants, or Dodgers - even Babe Ruth's famed called shot, which has in recent years been proven on film to have not taken place, still lives on as one of baseball's greatest feats), in Boston (for Peter Gammons and the rest of Red Sox Nation), or sometimes in other major media markets (like Chicago – Cubs only – or Los Angeles), it doesn’t seem to count. That’s a shame. One South Florida example struck a chord with me. I’m sure there are plenty of others in places like Kansas City (where only a home run that was taken away because of Yankee protests is nationally remembered), Cleveland and Seattle. The world has become a much more globalized place with information available instantaneously everywhere. Hopefully some of us can start to use that to recognize achievements – in life and in sport – that occur outside of the New York metropolitan area (which apparently includes Bristol, Connecticut).

Monday, July 12, 2004

Revised Predictions at the All-Star Break

The All-Star break is upon us now. That means there are no games tonight, but there’s the home run derby. Tomorrow night, there’s only one game, but pretty much everyone who’s anyone is playing in it, so you can’t miss that. Wednesday night is a sad night though, at least for us fans. There will be no games on Wednesday night (unless of course you’re able to find a minor league game in town or on the tube). If you’re looking for something to do, why not go to church? Here’s a fun one that you can find out a little bit about before you go (don’t get all worked up, it’s just for fun).

Back to baseball though… we’re just a bit past the mid-way point in the season, and the All-Star break gives us some time to look back at what’s happened so far this year and to try to make an attempt at predicting what will happen over the remainder of the season. Today, I thought I’d take apart my early season predictions and see how things are looking (in case you don’t believe me, here are my initial predictions from the archives). Tomorrow I’ll look at my original forecast for awards and on Wednesday I’ll provide some analysis on the Marlins start to the season. Now let’s get into the division commentary (and I apologize in advance if the smoke from the local wildfires has caused enough of a haze in my mind to influence my picks)...

American League East
In April, I picked Boston to win the division. As it stands right now, New York is leading by seven games. At this point, I can’t pick against the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers look like a mortal lock to win the division again this year, and if the team falters even ever so slightly, we’re likely to see Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, or at worst, Kris Benson find his way to the pinstripers before the postseason.

The big surprise in this division to date is the Devil Rays. Just about everyone, other than me, picked the Rays to finish last (as they always have). Granted, I only picked the Rays to finish fourth in the division (they’re currently third), but coming into the year, no one expected to hear Juan Pierre say “they’re the best team in Florida right now” after the conclusion of the Marlins – Devil Rays six game interleague set. It remains to be seen whether the Rays can keep up their solid performance of late over the remainder of the year, but they do have some great young talent. Carl Crawford will be on display in Houston tomorrow, but the Rays best young prospect, B.J. Upton, is still in the minor leagues (although likely not for long). The Rays could become a team of the future (although they’ll probably need a few more good arms to really accomplish that). If they keep winning like they did in June, soon we’ll be comparing the 2004 Devil Rays to the 2003 Marlins (another team that started atrociously slowly but came on strong… and you know how that ended up; no, I’m not saying the Devil Rays will find their way into the playoffs this year, but they could be exciting to watch, which is a definite improvement).

American League Central
Cleveland and Detroit have both surprised in the early part of the year (positively), but neither is really a threat to win the division at this point. Both clubs are more than five games out and don’t really have the depth or the experience to make a serious run.

Kansas City has been a huge disappointment this year. Carlos Beltran is already gone and the team is 15.5 games out of first place. The only remaining questions for the Royals this year are who will be traded and who will be traded next.

The race for the division title comes down, as it seemingly always does, to the Twins and the White Sox. At the break, the Sox have a half-game lead over the Twins. Look for both clubs to make some moves before the trade deadline, but I doubt there will be any blockbusters (although the Sox acquisition of Freddy Garcia was pretty big, if just for name recognition).

I’ll stick with my pick of the Sox though.

American League West
Originally I picked Anaheim, and I’m still doing that today. The Angels are only 2.5 games back in the division and nearly everyone, from the Rally Monkey on down, has been hurt so far this year. If the Angels are healthy, they’re my pick. And if Randy Johnson or another top tier pitcher is really available at the deadline, don’t put it past Arte Moreno to go and get him for the Halos.

Texas has been the surprise of surprises this season. Somehow they are in first place at the All-Star break. I don’t recall seeing anyone pick them to finish higher than last place, and given how poorly the Mariners are playing this season, even a monumental collapse wouldn’t put the Rangers in the cellar this season.

National League East
The Phillies were and are my pick to win the division. What I didn’t really see coming was the surge by the Braves. As the trade deadline approaches and the races start to heat up, the Braves are the real wild card left in this thing. No one is really sure if the Braves are buyers or sellers (there have been rumors of Andruw Jones, J.D. Drew, and Russ Ortiz being traded away by the deadline). If the Braves make a move or two and solidify their 25-man roster, they could make a serious push for the division title or the wild card.

The Marlins are still in the hunt and I’ll stand by my pick for them to finish second in the division, but you’ll have to wait until Wednesday for more insight on the Fish.

National League Central
The Astros aren’t looking like the team I thought they’d be at the start of the year. Despite acquiring Carlos Beltran last month, it looks like the ‘Stros are an also ran this year. They’re 10.5 games back already, and don’t be surprised if you see Carlos Beltran and Roger Clemens playing in different uniforms by August 1st.

St. Louis is another surprise team, and in a big way. Coming into the season, nearly everyone (myself included) thought that the Cards would run a distant third in the division to the Cubs and Astros, but so far this year that hasn’t been the case. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite; everyone else in the division is trailing the Cardinals by a big deficit. St. Louis goes into the All-Star break with the biggest lead (7 games – tied with the Yankees) of any team in any division. Whether they can hold onto that lead, I’m not sure. With the Cubs coming back healthy, it could be a good race. It’s not going to be Houston though, so I’ll pick the Cardinals (I just can’t bring myself to pick the Cubs).

National League West
Three teams are within two games of first place right now, and the race is too close to call, but the real story in this division this year (other than that Bonds guy) might be the Diamondbacks fall from grace. Arizona is twenty-seven games below .500 and 18.5 games out of first place. 2001 World Series champion manager Bob Brenly has already been fired (allegedly for mis-using his bullpen and causing injuries – in addition to the losing) and aging veterans (i.e. Randy Johnson) are reportedly on the trading block.

Bonds’ Giants have also been a surprise this year. Despite being written off as recently as May, the Giants have turned things around and are now only one half game out of first place in the division, and if the playoffs started today, the Giants would be the National League’s Wild Card representative.

The Dodgers are leading the division right now – ever so slightly, and my pick at the start of the year, San Diego, is only two games back. This race is too close to call, so I’m going to hedge my bets. San Diego or whoever makes the biggest deadline deal will win this division.

Wild Card
Initially, I picked Oakland and Florida to win the Wild Card titles in their leagues.

In the American League, I still like Oakland, although Boston currently has a one game edge on the A’s. Anaheim and whoever ends up on the short end of the White Sox – Twins race are also all right there. However, over the past three seasons Oakland has proved to be a second half team. They’re always helped by the wheelings-and-dealings of GM Billy Beane and I’m convinced that they know something about training and conditioning (particularly for pitchers) that other clubs don’t. We’ll see if that holds up this year.

In the National League, the Marlins are 3.5 games back of the Wild Card lead right now. That isn’t a whole lot of ground, but there are six teams ahead of them. Included in those six are Milwaukee and Cincinnati, both of which are likely to fade away by mid-August. Also ahead of the Fish are San Diego and Atlanta. I think both of those teams will either position themselves for a run (by adding talent with deadline deals) or give up on the season (by trading for prospects) by the end of the month. So the Wild Card race could come down to just the Giants, Cubs, and Marlins.

If it comes down to that, as painful as it is for me to admit, you have to give the edge to the Cubs, solely based on starting pitching. After Jason Schmidt, no one on the Giants staff intimidates you. With the Cubs, there are seemingly guys in double and triple-A that you wouldn’t want to face. The Marlins chances are dicey at best. As the team is presently constituted, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough there to get them to the post-season. They’re a little bit short on pitching and a little bit short on hitting, and last season’s timely hitting phenomenon has seemed to slow down to a more normal pace.

World Series
Originally I had Anaheim facing off against the Marlins in the World Series. I’ll still stick with the Angels, but instead of the Fish, I’ll take the Phillies to represent the National League in this year’s edition of the Fall Classic.

I could be wrong though. We’ll see come October. My initial predictions were close, but not quite on the mark. Anything can happen in these next few months though…

Friday, July 09, 2004

Credit when credit is due

I’m usually the first person to rip ESPN for poor coverage, over promotion, and any number of other misdeeds, so I felt it was only fair to commend the network for some highlights this week. First of all, last night – on what’s usually a slow night for entertainment (given that Friends is off the air and it’s usually a travel day in baseball) – ESPN showed “The Natural.” Granted, it was interrupted by commercials, but it was still fun to see on television. Even though I own the DVD, I watched it.

I’ve also come to like Gary Miller’s Clubhouse Confidential articles. While I’m not a big fan of Gary Miller in general (it’s hard to cheer for on air personalities who urinate on police officers, who are outside, from inside of buildings), his articles are entertaining and provide insight you don’t find anywhere else.

Yesterday I was also ready to commend ESPN for pulling John Kruk’s articles from their site. For whatever reason, I wasn’t even able to find a Kruk archive yesterday. Today though, it’s back, well, at least a new article. Sad, but true. I think ESPN would be better served by picking a kindergartener each week to upload a piece using only crayons.

Update: Apparently I’m not the only blogger to have noticed these sorts of developments this week. Another frequent ESPN bashing blogger, Aaron Gleeman, had some positive things to say about the network today over at The Hardball Times.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Sox Turn Triple Play, Nothing Else Good To Say

Ugh. The White Sox lost 12 – 0 to the Anaheim Angels yesterday, a team that I suppose the Sox will be fighting it out with for the rest of the year for the American League Wild Card title (but that would only be if the Sox start winning again). Yesterday’s game was highlighted by very little for the Sox, well other than a 5 – 4 – 3 triple play. The Sox are now 2.5 games behind the Twins (farther behind now than they were ahead last week after sweeping the Twinkies) and have lost five in a row (including three painful defeats at the hand of the Cubs).

All of this makes last week’s trade that much more painful. Since I haven’t commented on it yet, to recap, in last week’s trade with the Mariners, the Sox shipped starting catcher Miguel Olivo, top prospect Jeremy Reed, and prospect Michael Morse and received pitcher Freddy Garcia, catcher Ben Davis, and an undisclosed amount of cash in return.

Sox General Manager Ken Williams said that the trade was done to try to push the Sox over the top in their push for the playoffs this season. While this may be true, and that point could be argued extensively, the trade most certainly mortgages the Sox ability to win in the future.

Miguel Olivo is a 25-year old catcher. If he was still in the minors, he would likely still be regarded as an uber-prospect, even at the relatively advanced baseball age of 25. But he’s not in the minors, he’s in the majors, and he’s playing more than capably (somewhere between well and at an All-Star level would be a fair way to put it). In exchange for Olivo, the Sox acquired Ben Davis. Like Olivo, Davis was highly regarded as a minor leaguer. However, Davis hasn’t gotten the job done in the majors. Davis is a lifetime .237 hitter, and is probably not Olivo’s equal defensively. So, at catcher, the Sox got two years older, more expensive, and less productive. Doesn’t sound great so far.

The big upside to this trade is that the White Sox acquired Freddy Garcia. To Sox fans, this seems great, because all of us remember Garcia and his Mariners shutting down and sweeping the White Sox in the 2000 playoffs. Sadly, that version of Freddy Garcia has not been seen since 2001. Garcia regressed in 2002 and 2003, but has been better so far in 2004 (for the most part). However, he’s not the youngest guy in the world (28) and he’s scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Well, he was going to be a free agent until the Sox decided to ink him to a 3-year, $27 million extension that will keep him with the Sox through the 2007 season earlier this week. I suppose this is also good news, because at least Garcia and Davis won’t just be summer rentals for the Sox.

There’s much more bad news though. In order to receive this downgrade at catcher and upgrade in the starting rotation, the Sox also had to part with outfielder Jeremy Reed. Reed has been off to a somewhat slow start to date this year, but he is still widely regarded as one of, if not the, best position prospects in baseball. Since Reed was drafted out of Long Beach State in 2002, Sox fans had hoped to see an outfield consisting of Carlos Lee, Jeremy Reed, and Magglio Ordonez. Now Sox fans will certainly never see Reed in the outfield in a Sox uniform, and with Garcia’s extension, it may be even less likely that Ordonez will be back with the Sox after this year (which, if that’s the case, hopefully the Sox will get something for him – other than a compensatory draft pick which they will most likely misuse).

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

At Shortstop and batting 3rd for your Florida Marlins, Nomar Garciaparra

Well, I’m certainly not breaking this story here, but in case you haven’t heard it already, the latest Marlins trade rumor is that the Fish are interested in acquiring Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra for the upcoming stretch run.

Shortstop is one of the Marlins glaring weaknesses, at least from an offensive standpoint, and Garciaparra would represent a humongous upgrade over the incumbent, Alex Gonzalez. However, Garciaparra is set to become a free agent at the end of this year, and it’s unlikely that the Marlins could come up with the more than $10 million dollars required annually to retain Nomar’s services.

The rumors regarding Nomar indicate that the Marlins would have to give up a position player and a pitcher, and would receive Red Sox starter Derek Lowe in return as well. The specific Marlins rumored to be in the deal are some combination of Alex Gonzalez, first baseman (slash DH in the American League) Hee Seop Choi, and starting pitchers Brad Penny and Carl Pavano.

If Choi was included in the deal instead of Gonzalez, it is likely that Garciaparra would be asked to play first base. On the surface this seems odd, but Gonzalez is superior with the glove. Putting Nomar at first is still unusual though. He’s a great offensive player, but not a prototypical first baseman. While it is an easier position to play, I suspect it’s not easy to learn to play in the middle of a pennant race in a new league.

In the short term, this could be a positive move for the Marlins. Nomar would bring a major offensive upgrade, and swapping Lowe for either Penny or Pavano is pretty much a wash, this year at least. Lowe, like Garciaparra, is a free agent at season’s end, and the Marlins are unlikely to be able to afford his asking price, so it would be a summer rental. On the other hand, by keeping their current players, the Marlins retain the rights to Penny for a few more years and are more likely to be able to afford the less pricey Pavano after this season.

Long term, this is a difficult trade to justify. You’re talking about giving up some combination of two young, low salaried players, for slight upgrades who are older and make considerably more money, and who might be lost to free agency come November.

Before the Fish make a trade like this – or any other trade – they really need to consider whether or not they’re actually contenders in this race. Currently, the Marlins are closer to first place in the NL East than they are to the Wild Card. Given how competitive and hot the teams in the NL Central have been this year, it appears that will remain the case over the rest of the season (meaning that the Marlins best chances of reaching the playoffs are by winning their division). However, Philadelphia, with a bigger payroll and deeper pockets to acquire more talent, is both likely to make a move and equipped to go on a run and put the division title on ice fairly quickly.

While it’s sad, it’s also important to be realistic. The Marlins did win the World Series last year, and they started out strong this year, but since going 8 – 1 to open the campaign (including five wins against lowly Montreal), the Fish have won 35 games and lost 40. If that trend keeps up, the Marlins won’t be looking at any sort of a playoff run this year. So before the Marlins start mortgaging the future on winning this year, let’s make sure there’s actually a chance to win something this year. If there isn’t, the Fish would be better served to trade towards building another pennant contender for the 2005 or 2006 season.

An interesting, but unrelated sidebar, to this trade rumor is what number Garciaparra would wear if he played for the Marlins. As a member of the Red Sox, Garciaparra has always worn number 5. No Marlin has ever worn number 5, as it was retired prior to the Fish’s inaugural 1993 season, in honor of executive Carl Barger, who did much to bring a major league team to South Florida. While Barger’s accomplishments were significant, he was part of the original ownership group – one that today is not highly regarded by Marlins fans and one which has virtually no connections to the current ownership group. If the Marlins acquired Garciaparra, I wouldn’t be surprised to see number five unretired and to have Barger’s name only retired and memorialized on a flag in centerfield (much like other clubs do with players from eras before numbers were used and for executives).

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The World's Greatest Golfer

The Book is back - again. Sorry if it seemed like it took longer than I originally made it seem like - it may have actually - and that I didn't post much while I was away, but we're almost back to normal here. No, I don't have anything baseball related to say just yet. Quite honestly, I've been out of the loop - nearly completely - for more than a week, and I wouldn't even know what to say today. So here's something about golf, until we get back to baseball tomorrow...

As has been widely reported ad naseum already, Tiger Woods isn't playing like the best golfer in the world lately. He hasn't won a major in the last eight they've played. Well, I've got news for you, he definitely isn't the best golfer in the world right now.

There are many alleged reasons why Tiger is no longer the world's top player. These reasons range from golf-related things, like Tiger firing his swing coach, Butch Harmon, to non-golf-related things, like Tiger getting engaged. The impact of both of these is likely
overstated. From the golf perspective, with or without Butch Harmon, Tiger wasn't going to be able to play at the level he was at a few years ago. No one has before him and, obviously, no one has done so indefinitely. With regards to the non-golf things, I'm sure Tiger knew about girls before he met his fiancé.

None of that matters though because though because the best player in the world is clearly North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il. As was widely reported recently, Jong-Il carded a (believed to be) world record score of 34 on a regulation length course, giving him a score of 38 under par. Even on his best day – and possibly even on a miniature golf course – Tiger Woods could only hope to achieve such scores. Making Kim Jong-Il's score even more impressive is that he set this record with the first (and allegedly only) round of golf that he ever played. He even recorded five holes in one (meaning that on the other 13 holes he took only 29 shots or slightly more than 2 shots per hole – you're talking an eagle on every hole).

Now I'm not saying that you should believe the propaganda that has been issued by the North Korean government about their leader's golfing ability. But if you do, and particularly if you're Tiger Woods and this sort of thing keeps you up at night, don't worry about it. Kim
Jong-Il is afraid of flying
, so I don't suspect he'll be jumping on a plane to get him to the States so that he can participate in the next Masters or U.S. Open.