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Posted on: February 20, 2008 7:33 pm
 

Catching up with Albert Pujols

JUPITER, Fla. -- Give St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols points for honesty.

Was he concerned that manager Tony La Russa might not return for 2008 last October?

"I was worried about my injury," Pujols told me Wednesday morning. "I wasn't worried about him coming back."

That doesn't mean Pujols didn't want La Russa back.

"When we re-signed him, I was really excited for him because of our relationship and what kind of manager he is," Pujols said.

As for the injury Pujols was concerned with, it's a chronically strained ligament in his right elbow. It hurt most of last season, and though offseason surgery was an option, he chose to go the rehabilitation route this winter than to go under the knife.

The elbow caused a stir when he first reported earlier this week, especially when La Russa said the Cardinals will have to monitor it and when Pujols said "If it blows out, it's going to blow out. You can't control that."

But during our conversation Wednesday, he said: "I think people made my elbow worse than it really is. I just laugh. They think they know. They don't know. Only I know."

La Russa reiterated on Wednesday that the Cardinals will watch him closely and noted that throwing isn't the only issue for Pujols.

"You can tweak it from swinging, which is what happened last year," La Russa said. "He's got an issue there."

An issue the Cardinals don't need to blow up on them.


Likes: Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire lowering the boom and telling veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez that those big diamond earrings don't fly with the Twins. Not while a guy is on the field, they don't. ... Let's see how Fidel Castro stepping down in Cuba affects the majors. You can bet they're watching closely in New York -- as are several individual clubs -- because a thaw in the Cold War almost certainly means more Cuban players in the majors (without having to defect!) and possibly major-league games in Cuba. How about the Dodgers' spring training camp in 1947, Jackie Robinson's rookie year? They held it in Havana, Cuba. Then they moved to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., the next season. ... Driving across the state on Route 80 and passing, in Clewiston, the Git-N-Split (fast food drive-thru joint) and the Git-N-Go (convenience store). Glad I didn't pass an outhouse with the "Git" theme to it. ... I'm telling you, sitting in a driftwood booth mere steps from the intracoastal waterway at Le Tub in Hollywood, Fla., the other night, munching on a cheeseburger (rated best burgers in the country a couple of years ago by GQ magazine), watching the boats go by and the sun setting, I was seconds from calling both my editor and my wife and telling them I was never to return. Then I woke up.

Dislikes: Rain in the forecast in the Fort Myers area the next couple of days.

Sunblock day? Sneaky sun today. Cloudy for much of the morning over in Jupiter, but the sun was out enough to warrant some sort of protection. We're cooking along in the upper-70s these days at most of the camps I've been to.


Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Can't find a damn thing in this place
"Nothing's where I left it before
"Set of keys and a dusty suitcase
"Car wheels on a gravel road

-- Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Posted on: February 19, 2008 5:34 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2008 5:35 pm
 

Breaking news: All 30 clubs to win World Series!

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Don't believe it? At our current pace, by the end of the spring, one guy from each of baseball's 30 clubs will be on record as guaranteeing a World Series victory in 2008.

The always-fun Kevin Millar was the latest to join the growing parade of big leaguers chirping "We're the team to beat!" on

Tuesday as the Orioles held their first full-squad workout.

Millar joined the Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon and the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran as proclaiming

their clubs the team to beat in '08.

Of course, it's like the old Sesame Street bit "One of these things doesn't belong with the others."

The Red Sox, Mets and, yep, even the Cubs have a reasonable chance of winning this year.

The O's? Uh, no.

That didn't stop the Millar Stand-Up act Tuesday morning though as he worked overtime at deflecting the steroids questions

being fired at Jay Gibbons (15 day suspension for human growth hormone use) and Brian Roberts (named in the Mitchell Report).

"I'm guaranteeing a 2008 World Series," Millar crowed, grin plastered firmly in place. "Everybody else is.

"I'm going on the record right now. We're going to shock the world."

Then he took off after Dempster,

"I don't know who Dempster is in Chicago, but if he thinks he's going to win the World Series, he has to come through us

first," Millar continued. "I'm going deep off Ryan Dempster."

Actually, Millar does know who this Dempster cat is. The two were teammates with the Marlins in Florida several years ago.

Ah, details. They only get in the way, right?

Yep, Millar was revved up good. Lockering close to Brian Roberts, he provided the background noise as Roberts was being quizzed

by reporters about the possibility of being traded to the Chicago Cubs.

"Guaranteed World Series," Millar said of Roberts. "Cubs or Orioles, either way."

Likes: Kevin Millar's best days may be behind him, but he's one of those guys who add character to baseball. Football is simply too serious to mine for humor -- at least, that's the way most football coaches and players seem to see it. ... Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie telling me, regarding his outstanding rookie season last year (7-5, 3.70 ERA in 32 appearances, 26 starts), "I was pleasantly surprised, for sure." Honest to a fault. "I came into the rotation doing what I did, competing against the best hitters in the world in the best division in baseball, I was really pleasantly surprised. Now I have to build off of it because one year is only one year." ... Netflix. ... The Rock Me Gently Jeep commercial featuring the old Andy Kim hit. What an acting job by the animals -- or the computerized animals. ... Morning coffee strong enough you can chew -- especially when you're in the car and off to the next camp at 6:30, 7 in the morning.

Dislikes: Subway commercials congratulating Jared for keeping all those pounds off for 10 years. With whatever money they're paying him, he should keep himself from blimping out again. Wait, could that be the start of a Blimpie campaign?

Sunblock day? Cloudy, cool and sometimes rainy today in Fort Lauderdale. Why, I probably should have even worn long pants to camp today. Horrors. ...

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Pale invaders and tan crusaders
"Are worshipping the sun
"On the corner of walk and don't walk
"Somewhere on U.S. 1"

-- Jimmy Buffett, Floridays

Posted on: February 18, 2008 6:48 pm
 

Now THIS is a special instructor

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Reclusive Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax has an aura about him that I've seen from very few others. Muhammad Ali, certainly, when he made an appearance at the Los Angeles Angels' camp last spring in Tempe, Ariz. Other than that, I'd have to think a long time to come up with someone else.

What's interesting when Koufax appears at Dodgertown, as he usually does a few times each spring, is that the players react almost like fans themselves. And that's partly how it was Monday morning when Koufax showed up for a special tutoring session with a couple of Dodgers pitchers.

"I didn't know anything about this stuff until this morning," manager Joe Torre said. "It's a treat."

Koufax, tanned and trim in a lime green golf shirt and khaki shorts, spent 30 minutes or so working with reliever Scott Proctor and non-roster invitee Chan Ho Park on some back mounds just off the Dodgers clubhouse and administrative buildings.

"Park and Proctor both asked about it when they saw him here," Torre said. "He's aggreable to helping out when he can, but he's got a schedule."

Koufax has a good relationship with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and appears to have a comfort factor with Torre. The two have known each other since the 1960s, when Koufax was at the top of his game and Torre was breaking into the majors. Both men are from Brooklyn, which gave them something in common, and each played in the National League, which sometimes put them on the same turf.

"I remember a Saturday in Milwaukee when he was pitching against us," Torre said. "I was 20, 21, and went up to hit and he struck me out three times in a row.

"The fourth time I said, 'I'm not going to let him strike me out this time' and I popped up. All you wanted to do against him was not strike out. He put that in your head.

"That night, we happened to be in the same restaurant, and that was the first time we talked socially."

Koufax sent Torre a telegram when the manager won his first World Series with the Yankees in 1996, and when Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he said Koufax was one of the first people who called.

"He's been a very special friend," Torre said.

After that '96 World Series win, appearing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, Torre remembered it was raining so hard that his leather jacket was ruined and he looked like "a drowned dog."

"I get home and the phone rings, and it's Sandy," Torre said. "He didn't even say hello. He just said, 'I bet you're glad you said yes to that, huh?'"

Torre said that he expects Koufax to drop by to visit, help coach or offer tips a handful of times this spring.

Likes: I like Andy Pettitte, I really do. But he needs some time to pass and he needs the season to start. That's going to do him a whole lot more good than Monday's press conference. ... Don Mattingly in Dodgers camp and, hopefully, for now, the troubles with his estranged wife in his rear-view mirror. Mattingly, thought to be Torre's eventual successor as DOdgers manager, will be a special assignments coach this year. He was going to be Dodgers hitting coach but personal issues -- which came to a head when Kim Mattingly was arrested for public intoxication and refusing to leave his property -- interrupted that. ... Tommy Lasorda back as Dodgers manager for a week in March when the other half of the club is playing exhibition games in China. ... Who knew there was a Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter?

Dislikes: Eric Gagne's tepid "apology" to his Mitchell Report appearance. ... Disappointed in Shelby Lynne's new disc Just a Little Lovin' covering some of the songs of the legendary Dusty Springfield. My first mistake probably was in not simply cutting to the chase and picking up a Springfield disc insteada. Lynne's effort is intentionally stripped down, but there's no grit. No soul. It's like the music of Dusty Springfield for Lovers of Elevator Music.

Sunblock day? Odd mix of morning rain and mugginess yielding to a hot Florida sun meant you'd better have the sunblock within reach. Zoomed up into the upper 80s today despite the stiff breeze.


Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"There ought to be a law
"With no bail
"Smash a guitar
"And you go to jail
"With no chance
"For early parole
"You don't get out until you get some soul"


-- John Hiatt, Perfectly Good Guitar

Posted on: February 17, 2008 5:21 pm
 

The richest Marlin

JUPITER, Fla. -- As you know, I'm here to help. Which is why I spent time with Florida closer Kevin Gregg seeking information to help shield him from the IRS.

See, here in the land of minimum wage (first you must realize all of baseball is Fantasy Land, which is how the Marlins' $17 million player payroll for 2008 pretty much qualifies as minimum wage), Gregg is the highest-salaried Marlin this season. He's scheduled to earn $2.5 million.

But that doesn't qualify him for some special club in which the highest-paid players from each team gather to have peeled grapes served to them. He isn't hanging with Alex Rodriguez and Barry Zito over the winter.

In fact, while Pedro Martinez (who isn't even the highest-paid Met) is driving some cherry-red Cadillac SUV that looks custom-built, Gregg is still tooling around at home (Corvallis, Ore.) in a 2004 Dodge 1,500 Quad cab.

"Nothing special," he says.

Memo to the IRS: See, don't read "highest paid" next to Gregg's name and allow your ears to start ringing. Make sure you hear the complete phrase, "highest-paid Marlin." Which is like being seated at the kids' table at a 50th wedding anniversary.

What else does being the highest-paid Marlin get Gregg?

Not an Armani suit.

"No, no," he says. "My most expensive suit probably cost a couple hundred bucks. Got it at Portobello's (in New York). Went in there and bought four suits, six shirts, six ties, some socks ... I think all of that was right at $1,000.

"I don't live a lavish life."

Gregg's salary is a nice raise over the $575,000 he made last year, earned by his becoming the Marlins' closer in '07 and converting 32 of 36 save opportunities.

He'll celebrate his 10th anniversary this year with his wife, Nicole. They have two children, daughter Ryann (6) and son Max (3). The Greggs did take a nice vacation during the off-season, though it wasn't an around-the-world junket. They went to Hawaii.

"We've talked about it for years," Gregg says. "We've never been on a vacation."

Nope, the richest Marlin (by 2008 salary standards, anyway, does not live a lavish life.

A good life, yes. But it's not exactly surf-n-turf every night.

"Oh, no -- I still eat macaroni and cheese and peanut-butter-and-jelly with my kids," Gregg quips.

Likes: What a nice guy Kevin Gregg is. Say one thing for the Marlins: You get to meet a lot of new guys every spring. ... Marlins pitcher Scott Olson good-naturedly tweaking Dontrelle Willis in absentia, saying, "Obviously, the loudest one of everybody is gone from last year." ... Sunday afternoon on I-95. Traffic is about as light as you'll ever see it. ... A Saturday night working in the hotel room with a pizza for dinner, a cold Mountain Dew, and a good college basketball game on the tube. Well, that final part didn't work Saturday as Indiana clobbered Michigan State. ... Bruce Springsteen's Girls in Their Summer Clothes from the Magic album. What a great song. ...

Dislikes: OK, this is small and whiny, but now Subway is serving pizza. Which I put in the same category of their toasted sandwiches. They're both simply things that bog down the usually overworked people behind the counter and hold up the line.

Sunblock day? Mostly. Temperatures in the 80s, but there was a morning shower and it clouded up later in the day.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Well some say life
"Will beat you down
"Break your heart
"Steal your crown
"So I started out
"For God knows where
"But I guess I'll know
"When I get there"

-- Tom Petty, Learning to Fly

 

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 16, 2008 5:43 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2008 5:44 pm
 

Pedro, Pelfrey show age in different ways

If healthy players are happy players, then Pedro Martinez apparently is feeling very good this spring. Had a fun exchange with him early Saturday morning in which we started talking about how long he's been playing, which led me to ask how long he wants to play.

"I'm 36. How many years after 36 did Roger (Clemens) play?" Pedro demanded.

Well, that's difficult to say, I told him, given how Clemens keeps un-retiring. But he played until he was 41 or 42 I told Martinez, momentarily blanking that he actually was 44 during his half-season with the Yankees last summer.

"Well then, when I'm 41, 42, we'll talk," Pedro shot back. "So far, let's not talk about that. I'm only 36. I'm still a young buck. Unless (baseball) says goodbye. Tom Glavine was 41 last year when he pitched here. Do I look that old?"

Absolutely not, I told Pedro. Besides, I teased him, looking for a rise, you're prettier.

"I'm not prettier!" Pedro shrieked. "I'm handsome. Pretty is my wife."

About that time, reliever Scott Schoeneweis, who had been listening from a couple of lockers down, chimed in.

"You're a snappy dresser, though," he kidded Pedro.

-- One other exchange worth passing along: Mike Pelfrey, the 6-7 right-hander, is dressing across from newcomer Johan Santana, which is interesting in that Santana could have been Pelfrey's ticket out of town. At various times this winter, Pelfrey's name popped up in proposed packages to Minnesota for Santana.

I asked Pelfrey whether it was a restless winter for him, and he gave me the cliche ballplayers' answer that you try not to pay attention to the rumors.

"You hear stuff from friends, and whatever happens, you've got to make the most of it," Pelfrey said.

The most interesting part of the discussion, and a glimpse into how excited the Mets are to have Santana, came when Pelfrey said this about the former AL Cy Young winner: "It was a huge pickup for this team. I would have given up the whole farm system for him."

Santana's a great pitcher and all, but if Pelfrey doesn't become a general manager when his playing days are finished, you'll know why.

Likes: The father and son (who was perhaps 10) playing catch in the parking lot at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie when I pulled in early Saturday morning. ... Chien-Ming Wang losing his arbitration case the other day and being awarded a $4 million salary instead of his requested $4.6 million. Sorry, Mr. Wang, no malice, but $4 million is still a nice raise over the $489,500 you earned last year. ... This sign on the dugout fence of one of the Mets' practice fields: "No seeds, No tobacco, No gum." Gee, no wonder they couldn't hang on and win last year if that's how they prepare for the season. ... The New York Post's Mike Vaccarro, one of the good guys in the business, is working on a follow-up to his 2006 book Emperors and Idiots, about the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. His latest work is a book on the 1912 World Series between the Red Sox and the New York Giants. 1912, huh, I asked him. "My goal is to never write a book again where I have to talk to somebody," Vaccarro quipped. "You can't libel the dead."

Dislikes: The Mets' black warmup tops. Ugh. ...

Sunblock day? Most definitely. Hot sun, temperatures up to 82, 83 degrees Saturday on the eastern side of Florida. Outstanding.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I ain't got much sense

"But I still got my feet"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Girls in Their Summer Clothes

Posted on: February 15, 2008 3:22 pm
 

The wolves await Pettitte

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Whoo hoo, spring training at last! Time to break from the storm of steroid disc--

Ah, not so fast. One thread running from the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., all the way down south to the Yankees' spring base in Tampa, Fla., having to do with the one player not retired who was deposed earlier this month, is extraordinarily interesting and relevant.

What you've probably heard about Andy Pettitte, that he's caring, sensitive and earnest, is true. Which brings up an important question: How will Pettitte, whom the Yankees have given permission to arrive a few days late to camp, handle things once he arrives?

"That's a hell of a question," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who remains close to Pettitte after managing him in the Bronx for seven seasons. "I don't think anybody knows what the answer will be."

Even better questions are these: Will the subject dog Pettitte, 35, so badly that it affects his game? Will it haunt him into a premature retirement? He's already pondered retirement in the past, and talk about a sensational story. Not only did he admit using human growth hormone, but he obtained some of it from his father.

Plus, while he may be a good guy, let's not nominate him for sainthood. The guy may have come to the truth, but he arrived slowly and late. Upon release of the Mitchell Report, Pettitte said he used HGH twice. Now, suddenly, it's more than that.

"I feel for Andy," Torre said. "I've been with him for a long time and I still feel close to him. He always enjoyed the fact that there were others there for the press to talk to instead of him.

"I'm sure he'll be uncomfortable. I know he's a professional and he'll get through it, but it won't be comfortable for him."

Another Dodger who came of age in the Yankees' organization when Pettitte and Clemens were there, pitcher Scott Proctor, remains surprised that Pettitte finds himself in this predicament.

"You never expect something like that," Proctor said. "We all have to deal with temptation, and there are many different ones. The decision he made, he has to live with now."

Lots of people thought that Jason Giambi never would be able to play in New York again after he was caught up in the BALCO web because he cares too much about what people think of him, but GIambi hung in there and made it work.

Pettitte now faces the biggest challenge of his career, and who would have ever figured that perhaps Giambi, of all people, would be in position to offer a piece or two of advice?

Likes: Ryan Dempster predicting the Cubs will break their 100-year drought and win the World Series this year. What's he supposed to say? that he came to spring training thinking about a second-place finish? Or getting to the playoffs but getting knocked out in the first round by Arizona, like last year? Maybe Joe Namath's "guarantee" that the Jets would win the Super Bowl was shocking in 1968, but is it so shocking that one of today's players would be so bold as to come out and say something like that? Times have changed. People say all sorts of things today. Sometimes they even believe what they say. ... David Letterman on The Late Show revealing an "incident" related to Roger Clemens' appearance before Congress this week: "Clemens vehemently denied using steroids and at one point got so angry he snapped the Washington Monument in half like a twig." ... XM satellite radio in my rental car this spring. ... Doc's All-American burger joint in Boca Raton. Excellent cheeseburgers, and juicy.

Dislikes: Are we going to have to track down every one of the 89 players fingered as guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs in the Mitchell Report this spring? We are? It's going to be excruciating reading every day over the next three months.

Sunblock day? Absolutely. Strong start to the spring in Vero Beach, where it was a hot sun and about 75 degrees on Friday.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

For all you people included in the Mitchell Report. ...

"I ain't got the time

"And if my daddy thinks I'm fine

"He's tried to make me go to rehab

"I won't go, go, go"

-- Amy Winehouse, Rehab

Posted on: February 8, 2008 5:02 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2008 9:14 am
 

Orioles getting younger, smarter

In dealing Erik Bedard to Seattle on Friday and Miguel Tejada to Houston in December, Baltimore president Andy MacPhail acquired 10 different players, and even if the Orioles now may have to summon Charlie Brown to be their opening day starter, this is exactly the kind of thinking this decrepit organization needs.

Amassing young players -- not sending Snoopy's master to the hill.

The Orioles, rotting to the core in the Peter Angelos years, stink. They're long overdue for an overhaul, and the fact that MacPhail now has been able to pull off two major deals in the past two months signals that things are as promised when he accepted the job, that he's got the freedom to re-make the team without Angelos' mitts interfering.

The crown jewel of the haul is Adam Jones, a 22-year-old phenom from Seattle who likely will be Baltimore's opening day center fielder and one day could be an All-Star. The rest of the prospects acquired from the Mariners and Astros range from hard-throwing pitching prospects to unpolished position players.

Maybe not all of them will turn out. Maybe many of them won't click.

Odds are, however, that Jones and at least a couple others will -- lefty Troy Patton and righty Matt Albers, perhaps? -- and that still leaves the Orioles far ahead of where they are now.

Without Bedard, one of the best young pitchers in the game, the Orioles right now probably can't even hazard a guess on their opening day starter.

And that makes things even worse for Baltimore than they were last year, or two or three years ago, when the Orioles knew who would start on opening day?

Au contraire.

Enough of swinging for the fences in Baltimore. Boog Powell is gone, Brady Anderson's one year of power was a mirage and so, too, have been the Orioles. The standings over the past decade have shown as much and the fans have spoken by a mass exodus from Camden Yards.

Baltimore's current run of 10 consecutive sub-.500 seasons is the worst in club history. Tejada, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Roberts, B.J. Ryan, Bedard ... new hopes have come, new hopes have gone, and all it's proven is that you can slap a new coat of paint on the house, but if the wood is bad, it ain't going to last.

The Orioles need depth, not sheen, and they finally have an executive who understands this.

It was a heavy price to pay for Seattle, five players for a lefty pitcher who can be a free agent following the 2009 season, but the Mariners are buoyed by the hope of last season's second-place finish (six games behind the Angels in the AL West) following a three-season freefall.

Man-for-man, they don't yet measure up with the Angels, AL West winners in three of the past four seasons. But Bedard and Felix Hernandez present an imposing one-two punch atop the Seattle rotation, and free agent Carlos Silva joins Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista to lengthen a rotation that should keep the Mariners in contention for much of the summer at worst, and, with a few breaks, maybe even sneak past the Angels at best.

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