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Posted on: May 20, 2008 4:20 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2008 4:39 pm
 

I thought he HAD retired

Mike Piazza formally announced his retirement Tuesday. No farewell tour, no rocking chairs and no standing ovations.

Another character from baseball's Steroids Era just sort of quietly disappearing into the good night.

He finishes with 427 home runs (39th on baseball's all-time list); 1,335 RBI (80th); a .922 OPS (47th) and 12 All-Star appearances. No catcher in major-league history hit more homers than Piazza -- he passed Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk in 2004.

All of this, and yet I'm going to need every bit of his required five-year waiting period to wrestle with the question of whether I'm going to check his name when it appears on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Because nearly as surprising as his ascent from being a 62nd-round draft pick was the fact that his name did not appear in last winter's Mitchell Report.

Bulked up as he was during the peak of his career, Piazza did not pass the eye test in the late 1990s and early 2000s while clubbing 30-plus homers a season. And he did not pass the eye test again toward the end of his career when he mysteriously seemed to wither away.

Is it fair?

If Piazza never juiced then, hell, no.

But if those offensive numbers are artificially inflated, well, then, is THAT fair to all of the other players who did things the right way?

It's terrible that this is the prism through which we must view things today. But by irresponsibly opposing drug testing for years, Don Fehr and the players' union have brought this on themselves.

Likes: What a great story, Jon Lester throwing a no-hitter. ... That the only other no-hitter ever pitched against Kansas City was by none other than Nolan Ryan. ... The Cubs' Geovany Soto cracking an inside-the-park homer. That's the only play more exciting than a triple. ... This Los Angeles Times story on singer Sly Stone's interest in making a comeback. It contains one of the best quotes I've read anywhere all year. Context: A "golden moment" for Sly and the Family Stone was at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, during which the band performed the song Higher and a crowd of 400,000 sang the words back. Now, from the story, here's Sly: "Everybody I saw was full of peace, it was a spirit there that was just peaceful and cool. The thing I really remember is I went to whatever was the main street there and I got a bologna sandwich. And it was so hot. And I never open a sandwich to look what's going on, but somehow I thought that time that I would do that. Because it was hot and I didn't think bologna sandwiches were hot. And I opened it and there were people running across the meat. And, I thought, 'Whoa.'" ...

Dislikes: Don't want to hear any more about the umpires blowing Carlos Delgado home run call against the Yankees the other night. It was an 11-2 game. The Mets won. Because it was in New York, though, we're going to hear about it for weeks, and the periodic debate about instant replay will be going strong. ... Madonna's new disc, Hard Candy. Not that I'm a big Madonna fan to begin with, but I do enjoy all sorts of music and I like some of Madonna's earlier stuff -- Material Girl, Angel, whatever. But I picked up Hard Candy for my wife for Mother's Day, and most of it gives meaning to the word "monotony." It stinks.

Lyric:
"Into this life we're born
"Baby, sometimes we don't know why
"And time seems to go by so fast
"In the twinkling of an eye
"Let's enjoy it while we can
"Won't you help me sing my song
"From the dark end of the street
"To the bright side of the road"

-- Van Morrison, Bright Side of the Road

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 15, 2008 1:26 am
 

Lackey pitches like an Angel

Look out, the Los Angeles Angels just got stronger.

A lot stronger.

Maybe that sounds funny on a night that saw the Angels endure a 5-1 beating by the Chicago White Sox. But that's small picture stuff.

Big picture? Ace John Lackey, who finished third in last year's Cy Young voting and led the American League in ERA, stepped onto a big league field for the first time in 2008, and all he did was look like he hasn't missed a step.

Lackey slammed the door on the White Sox for seven innings, holding the Sox to one run and six hits.

He was dominant, retiring 10 consecutive Sox batters during one impressive stretch and holding Chicago to one hit from the second through the seventh.

He worked ahead, pumping first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 26 batters he faced -- including eight of his first 10.

He threw 99 pitches, 67 strikes, and basically looked like a Triple Crown thoroughbred out for a training jog. Of course, part of that may have to do with the fact that the White Sox rank 13th in the AL in batting average, seventh in runs and ninth in on-base percentage.

He was, quite simply, just as the Angels remembered him.

"It's good to have him back," said Jered Weaver, who took Lackey's opening day start and is 2-5 with a 4.86 ERA in nine starts. "We all work off of him, that's for sure."

"The challenge now for John is to maintain that from start to start," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

If you would have asked the Angels this spring whether they would have taken a 24-17 record and first place in the American League West in mid-May while playing without their top two starting pitchers, they may have strained their hamstrings leaping to say yes.

Yet, thanks in no small part to Joe Saunders (6-1) and Ervin Santana (6-0), there they were.

And who knows? Maybe this missed time will be beneficial down the stretch.

Lackey led the Angels with 224 innings pitched last season and, though he remained reasonably strong into the playoffs, he did get bounced around by Boston in his lone playoff start (four runs, nine hits in six innings).

Assuming he remains healthy the rest of the way, Lackey figures to clock in somewhere around 160 innings pitched by season's end. You figure that can only help come the stand-tall days of September and October (if the Angels advance to the postseason for the fourth time in five years).

"We'd rather have had him these last six weeks and take the chance that he wouldn't be fresher in October," Scioscia said. "If the benefit is that he'll be fresher, I don't see any silver lining."

Lackey won 19 games last season and Kelvim Escobar, who remains on the disabled list with shoulder issues, won 18. Escobar continues rehabbing at the Angels' spring training base in Tempe and the reports now are far more encouraging than they were this spring when the right-hander became so frustrated he said he thought he'd be out for the season.

Still, there is no timetable for when -- or if -- Escobar will return in 2008.

Likes: My pal Sam calling to tell me I overlooked a couple of key points in my rave about the burgers at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Mich., in the Bull Pennings post from the other day. In addition to everything else I said, two other cool things about Miller's: There are only four things on the menu -- hamburger, cheeseburger, onion rings and fries. And, it's all on the honor system -- when you finish eating and drinking, you simply walk up to the bar and tell them what you had. Sam, who has spent a few evenings in Miller's in his life, has very good input -- these are two more endearing aspects to the joint. ... Angel Stadium. The remodel they did several years ago was terrific, and they keep it in great shape. ... The Marlins and the Rays, what fun we're having now, eh? ... The Sunday New York Times.

Dislikes: Gas prices. Nice summer we're about to have.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"She is beautiful, she is small
"She don't wanna play basketball
"There's no tellin' what she might do
"Before her doin' days are through
"But right now she can't even crawl"

-- John Hiatt, Georgia Rae

 

Posted on: May 10, 2008 8:31 pm
 

Cheeseburgers in paradise

DETROIT -- Eric Mack does a terrific job writing our major league Power Rankings each week, but I've got to admit something:  While I read them each week, I don't wind up carrying any single one of them around with me in my work bag (sorry, E-Mack).

I do, however, carry around a different sort of Power Rankings everywhere I go. A little less than three years ago, GQ magazine ranked the "20 hamburgers you must eat before you die." Being that a good cheeseburger is still one of this life's great joys, I tore out the list long ago and filed it in my computer bag.

Which is why I was sitting in Miller's Bar (no relation) in Dearborn, Mich., at lunchtime the other day munching on two cheeseburgers before driving downtown to Comerica Park. GQ had Miller's ranked No. 8 in its burger list, I was staying in Dearborn so ... it was a no-brainer. And what a lunch. The burgers were big and juicy, and the cheese and bun both stuck onto the meat as if the trio was meant for each other. It's Velveeta cheese which, isn't necessarily gourmet, but you want a cheese that melts well on the burger, and it was delicious.

There are no windows in Miller's -- it's like blocky and solid, like a fort. And there are no plates -- the burgers arrive on wax paper. It's a beautiful sight.

No. 1 on the list is the Sirloin Burger from Le Tub in Hollywood, Fla. Been there several times, eaten several burgers (outstanding) and it's my favorite place in Florida. It's right on the Intracoastal waterway and the view is outstanding.

So far, I've only hit those two of the 20 on the list. Pretty much an average as paltry as that of the Tigers right now, I know. But part of it is this: There are a few burgers in the rankings that I just don't have much of an interest in.

The California Burger at Houston's in Santa Monica, Calif. (No. 6)? Maybe it's great. But sorry, I don't have an interest in avocado and arugula on my burger.

The Buckhorn Burger at Buckhorn in San Antonio, N.M.? I'm sure it's grand, but green chilis on a burger don't do it for me.

Besides, there's no major-league team in New Mexico, so I don't know when I'd be there anyway. But there is a major-league club in Seattle (well, it isn't playing like one right now), so the Double Bacon Deluxe with Cheese at Red Mill Burgers (No. 17) might be a go sometime soon.

And the Phillies will be worth checking out, so perhaps the Rouge Burger at Rouge in Philadelphia, or the Kobe Sliders at Barclay Prime (No. 5), also in Philly, might make it onto my lineup card.

Hey, this list is one reason I hold onto my computer bag so tightly. My notebooks filled with various interviews for upcoming columns? Heck, I can replace those.

Likes: The Florida Marlins spending $70 million on Hanley Ramirez? Be still, my heart. And the word is, if the Marlins are still contending near the July 31 trade deadline, they may spend some dough to get some help. ... Steve Lopez's terrific book The Soloist. Lopez is a metro columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and the book follows a homeless man who plays the violin and cello on the street. The man, Nathanial Ayers, once was a music prodigy at Juilliard in New York and was the subject of several Lopez columns. It is one terrific read. ... The prospect of getting to my local CD store in the very near future and picking up several things on my list, including Mudcrutch, the new Rolling Stones Shine a Light disc and a few other things.

Dislikes: Don't tell me Toronto's Vernon Wells is going to miss several more weeks again this year. He is? Damn.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"We weren't in love, oh no, far from it
"We weren't searchin' for some pie in the sky summit
"We were just young and restless and bored
"Livin by the sword"

-- Bob Seger, Night Moves

Posted on: May 9, 2008 11:22 pm
 

Yankees' plane done left

DETROIT -- How are things going for the New York Yankees right about now?

Well, let's see. Reliever Chris Britton was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday. He had a 9 p.m. flight out of Detroit.

Reliever Jonathan Albaladejo worked 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief Friday night before departing with a 2-and-0 count on Placido Polanco in the sixth inning here Friday night with a sore right elbow.

"I think that occurred around 9:10," Yankees manager Joe Girardi noted.

So the Yanks were sending word to Britton: Abort flight!

"He'll turn around and come back now," Girardi said.

And Albaladejo will fly to New York for an MRI on his elbow.

"At first the pain was like a needle going into my elbow," Albaladejo said. "I just couldn't do it no more. It was kind of like a burn."

According to Girardi, it's either a strained muscle or sprained ligament. Either way, the Yankees' bullpen took another hit.

Oh, and Hideki Matsui's 17-game hitting streak came to an end. OK, so he wasn't exactly close to the club-record 56 put together by a fella named Joe DiMaggio back in 1947. Still ... Matsui was 0-for-4 when he came up to bat in the ninth with Bobby Abreu on second base, two out and the Yanks trailing 6-5.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland called for closer Todd Jones to intentionally walk Matsui. Shelly Duncan ended the game with a fly ball to center.

"I wasn't surprised at all," Girardi said of Leyland's interesting strategical maneuver which involved putting the go-ahead run on base. "You're talking about a veteran player who has been in this situation a long time vs. a young man who hasn't been in it much at this level."

Oh, and entering the game? Matsui led the AL with a .426 on-base percentage, and his .345 batting average was second in the AL to Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who checked in at .346.

Likes: Toronto's Roy Halladay already having pitched four complete games this season. ... Detroit's home whites. ... The out-of-town scoreboard -- in whatever stadium you're sitting in. ... Former umpire Bruce Froemming now hanging around press boxes. ... The cheeseburgers at Miller's Bar in Dearborn are fabulous.

Dislikes: Interstate 75 closed for a couple of miles just south of Detroit as Michigan's never-ending road construction continues.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"It's a beautiful day
"Don't let it get away"

-- U2, Beautiful Day

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 7, 2008 10:56 pm
 

I like mine with lettuce and tomatoes. ...

One of those only-in-baseball characters passed away, Pat Santarone, the former head groundskeeper at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Back in the day, Santarone and George Toma, the old groundskeeper in Kansas City (who now tends to Minnesota's spring fields in Fort Myers, Fla.) were the Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron of their profession.

Anyway, one of the most interesting things about Santarone was the tomato-growing contests he and Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, the former Orioles' manager, would engage in each summer. The plants were down the left-field line, and the Orioles players used to have a grand time egging on the two combatants.

Terrific quote from Weaver in Roch Kubatko's soulful obit on Santarone in the Baltimore Sun regarding who had the better crop of tomatoes each summer: "Well, he was there when I'd go on the road, and I think there was a little tomfoolery," Weaver said. "He might have been pinching off some of my buds."

You can read Roch's entire piece here.

Likes: Cliff Lee of Cleveland, now with an 0.84 ERA. Wow. ... In Detroit this week, the honeysuckle trees on the grounds of the Dearborn Inn are absolutely gorgeous. And oh my, the fragrance is intoxicating. Smells like spring. ... The fact that Ty Cobb's name is listed on one of the Comerica Park walls with all of the other Tigers whose numbers have been retired, but they left the place for Cobb's number blank. He played before baseball teams wore numbers on their uniforms. ... Detroit Beach Pizzeria and Restaurant, serving outstanding pizzas and Italian food down in Monroe since 1966. ... Leo's Coney Island in Comerica Park. Coney dogs, mmm.

Dislikes: A total of 75 students were arrested in a drug bust at San Diego State University, a bust that included guns? And one of the students arrested was majoring in criminal justice and another was majoring in Homeland security? You've gotta be kidding me. Nice, real class there.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Well it was Saturday night, I was sitting in the kitchen
"Checking out the women on Spanish television
"Got a call from Paul who was just let out of prison
"He said hey listen, there's something I'm missing
"I said I'm on it, honest, it's on its way
"You're gonna get your money in a couple of days, okay?"

-- Fountains of Wayne, Strapped for Cash

Posted on: May 3, 2008 9:29 pm
 

Angels on the mound

John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar combined for 37 victories last season, so when they both went onto the disabled list to start the season, there was every reason for the Los Angeles Angels to cough, wheeze and sputter for the season's first several weeks.

So what happens? Left-hander Joe Saunders and righty Ervin Santana each start 5-0, matching Frank Tanana (1978) as the only Angels ever to go 5-0 in the month of April.

More impressive, it's only the second time in major-league history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, that one team has had a pair of pitchers go 5-0 or better in the month of April. The only other time: Aaron Sele and Rick Helling did it for the 1998 Texas Rangers.

Who, no coincidence, wound up winning the AL West that season.

"We have to keep going, keep it up," Santana said after knocking off Oakland on Wednesday to go 5-0. "I'm 300 percent, 500 percent positive that I can do better."

Santana's math may be a tad off, but he was smiling as he said it and his point was made.

"Joe and Ervin have kind of matched each other pitch for pitch," Angels manager Mike Scioscia says. "They've really been the lead dogs for our rotation."

And the woofing is only going to get louder. While Saunders takes his 5-0 record into Sunday's series finale against Baltimore, Lackey will make his third injury-rehabilitation start for Rancho Cucamonga Quakes -- also on Sunday afternoon. So far, so good with Lackey, and the Angels have him tentatively scheduled to rejoin their rotation on May 14 in Kansas City.

Posted on: May 1, 2008 7:01 pm
 

Terrible news in Colorado

If you picked one player whose long-term absence would cripple the Colorado Rockies, it wouldn't be 2007 Most Valuable Player candidate Matt Holliday. Nor would it be face-of-the-franchise first baseman Todd Helton, nor starting pitcher Aaron Cook.

Without question, it would be shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

And losing him until at least the All-Star break with a torn tendon in his quadriceps is every bit as devastating for the Colorado Rockies as you can imagine.

Tulowitzki isn't simply a flashy glove. He wasn't just a hot Rookie of the Year candidate in '07.

No, in his one season on the job, Tulowitzki emerged as the Rockies' team leader and model player. Manager Clint Hurdle does not hesitate in saying that things turned around for the Rockies in '07 about a month into the season, when Tulowitzki steadied himself, gained some confidence and took off.

He led all NL rookies last season in hits (177), RBI (99), runs (104) and total bases (292). And according to Stats, Inc., his .987 fielding percentage is the best all-time by a rookie shortstop.

The crushing blow for the Rockies, however, is this: Tulowitzki's importance cannot be measured simply in numbers. As a rookie last season, the kid wouldn't hesitate to bark at a teammate if he thought the guy wasn't doing something the way it should be done -- or, worse yet, loafing.

The only thing that might be more rare than a rookie directing traffic in a major-league clubhouse is everybody else listening. That's the true measure of Tulowitzki's value, and how much respect he commands in the Rockies' clubhouse. Even when he was a 22-year-old rookie, the Rockies took their cues from him.

He was off to a rough start this season, hitting only .152 with one homer and 11 RBI. He already had committed two errors after being charged with only 11 in all of 2007.

The ironic thing is that Tulowitzki dropped 10 pounds over the winter, wanting to get lighter because with Kaz Matsui gone, Tulowitzki knew that he probably would spend much of this season batting second.

And always wanting to make sure to do things the right way, Tulowitzki knew that in the No. 2 hole, he would need his legs more. That particular batting slot demands moving runners over, a higher on-base percentage and perhaps even stealing more bags.

Hurdle was impressed not with the results of Tulowitzki's body-sculpting, but with the forethought that went into it. Again, there was his shortstop, anticipating a play, and then making it.

I loved Hurdle's spring quote when, after Tulowitzki made a backhanded glove-flip to second so start a double play, someone asked him whether it wasn't a little too flashy.

"Come on, guys," Hurdle responded. "Let an artist paint. Let a musician play."

He could say this partly because he knows flash is the last thing TUlowitzki is about. As the manager told me during another conversation in Arizona, "He's not about the bling. He's about trying to get outs."

In Tulowitzki's absence, those outs now will become even more difficult for a struggling Rockies club to obtain.

Colorado will miss him dearly. So, too, will baseball fans who appreciate it when a player comes along who pretty much embodies all that is right about the game.

 

Posted on: April 27, 2008 10:00 pm
 

Happy Anniversary

To who?

Why, to the memory of one of the greatest managerial meltdowns in major-league history!

Yes, sports fans, Tuesday is the 25th anniversary of former skipper Lee Elia's all-time classic in Wrigley Field, when he shredded Cubs fans in a profanity-laced tirade that quickly became one of the most bootlegged tapes this side of a Grateful Dead show.

If you haven't heard it yet -- or if you have, but haven't played it in awhile -- it's just one more reason to be thankful for the existence of Youtube. Check Elia's rant out here (be forewarned, it's very R-rated, though exquisitely poetic).

It all started after the Cubs suffered another loss, this one 4-3 to the Dodgers, and some fans tossed beer and hurled insults at Cubs Larry Bowa and Keith Moreland as they came off the field.

"A few moments before, someone was calling MOreland a fat redhead and Bowa a Pygmy shortstop," Elia reminisced last week to the Chicago Sun-Times. "It just set me off."

Uh, yeah.

"We've got all these so-called f------ fans that come out here and say they're Cub fans, who are supposed to be behind you, ripping every f------ thing you do," Elia ranted to reporters on that fateful day. "I tell you one f------ thing, I hope we get f------ hotter than s---. Just to stuff it up them 3,000 f------ people that show up ever f------ day. because if they're the real Chicago f------ fans, they can kiss my f------ ass, right downtown, and print it!"

He went on to note that "85 percent of the world is working, the other 15 percent come out here. A f------ playground for the f------ c----------."

Incredibly, Elia -- whose Cubs were 5-14 at that point, in last place in the NL East -- kept his job for another four months before being fired that August.

All these years later, Elia, now a special assistant to Mariners manager John McLaren and a beloved figure in the Mariners organization, is revisiting the long ago moment that turned him into a sort of cult hero. Through an Illinois-based memorabilia dealer, Elia is selling an autographed baseball that contains a 20-second sound chip in which he parodies his tirade with a positive message to Cubs fans. The ball, which is scheduled to be unveiled Monday at Harry Caray's Restaurant in downtown Chicago, also has the inscription, "And print it!"

Elia, a surivor of prostate cancer, has designated a portion of the proceeds for Chicago Baseball Cancer charities. Best part of all might be that the ball also will come with an mp3 copy of the unedited tirade.

For more information, call 1-800-581-8661 or go to www.leeunplugged.com.

Likes: Umpire Kerwin Danley released from the hospital. What a scary moment Saturday night, when he was drilled with Brad Penny's mid-90s fastball and he lost consciousness. And  what a blessing that he wasn't seriously hurt. ... Tampa Bay in first place, even if the Rays are tied. What a thing in the AL East in the final days of April. ... The Lee Elia rant. I've had a copy of the tape for years, and it is just so staggeringly entertaining. And to think how times have changed: That happened today, it would be all over ESPN, CNN, other assorted cable channels, the Internet, national radio, etc., within the hour. Back then, one radio guy who was in Elia's office had his tape recorder, and it went out on a Chicago radio station and then those in the inner circle of the Chicago media got themselves tapes of it, and it spread from there.

Dislikes: That one of the Cleveland Indians -- Grady Sizemore? C.C. Sabathia? Fausto Carmona? -- has yet to show up at a Cavaliers NBA playoff game wearing a Washington Wizards cap. You may recall Cavaliers star LeBron James showing up at Jacobs Field during the Cleveland-New York playoffs last fall wearing a Yankees cap?

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"She's like so whatever
"You can do so much better
"I think we should get together now
"And that's what everyone's talking about"

-- Avril Lavigne, Girlfriend

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com