Tag:San Diego Padres
Posted on: July 7, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: July 8, 2011 12:22 pm
 

HOFer Williams managed his way right to the end

Compared to Dick Williams, sandpaper was as soft as newly laid sod. The business end of a nail was as dull as a polished marble.

Acerbic comes to mind. Irascible. The subtitle of his autobiography, No More Mr. Nice Guy, was A Life of Hardball. There was nothing soft about this man, not until he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

As Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage has said on more than a few occasions since, Williams was not a hugger. But when he finally got his long overdue notice that the Veterans' Committee had elected him, they shared plenty of hugs.

Why it took so long for the basepath Williams followed throughout a tobacco-stained life to lead into Cooperstown, I do not know. He was a baseball genius, one of the most brilliant minds ever to construct a lineup card. But I suspect his delayed Hall entry had something to do with the fact that he pissed off so many people along the way.

Oh, he was his own man all right. And from the time he piloted Boston's "Impossible Dream" season in 1967 through the 1980s, just about every loser within three time zones came begging for him to take over and perform some of his classic turnaround magic.

Problem was, wherever Williams landed, after his new employers got a load of his blunt manner and caustic "charm," the Fourth of July usually came next. It was fireworks time.

"I must lead all of baseball as a target for behind-the-back verbal assaults," he wrote in No More Mr. Nice Guy, co-authored by Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke. "I've been called mean, cruel, insensitive. I've been called a bully. I've been called a bastard and a son of a bitch."

Those who could see through all that, and those whose skin was tough enough, also called him a baseball savant.

"Dick Williams is the best manager I ever played for," Tim Flannery, former Padres utilityman and current Giants third-base coach, once said. "But as soon as he gets out of baseball, I'm going to run him over with my car."

His very first managerial gig was with those '67 Red Sox, a team that had finished ninth in the American League the year before. He steered them to the World Series, where they lost a seven-game thriller to the Cardinals. Then, seemingly just as quickly as he arrived, he was gone. He got into it with Carl Yastrzemski, feuded with owner Tom Yawkey, and Boston fired him in 1969.

It was only the start. In Oakland, he stunned Charlie Finley by quitting on the spot, telling the owner to stick it, after winning a second consecutive World Series title in 1973. He was unhappy with Finley's interference, and with the way the owner publicly humiliated infielder Mike Andrews after Andrews' untimely fielding gaffes in the Series.

In 1976, he was fired by the Angels after a brief tenure that included Williams ordering his players to take batting practice in a hotel lobby using Wiffle bats and balls, driving home his point that the hitters couldn't break anything.

He alienated his players in Montreal -- among other things, calling pitcher Steve Rogers a fraud -- to the degree that the Expos fired him during the 1981 stretch run just a few weeks before Montreal won the second-half (post-players' strike) division title and appeared in the playoffs for the only time in club history.

Locked in a power struggle with Padres president Ballard Smith and general manager Jack McKeon, Williams didn't show up on the first day of spring training in 1986 and was fired.

In Seattle, in the late 1980s, he called pitcher Mark Langston gutless.

But those are just the flashpoints. Legendary stuff, events that make Jim Riggleman's on-the-spot resignation with Washington last month look like a child playing dress-up.

The reason Williams was afforded so many chances to take on all comers was simple: Man, did the guy get results.

The Impossible Dream season in Boston remains legendary, both in New England and beyond.

"One of the best managers I ever played for," Yastrzemski said Thursday. "His leadership in 1967 was very instrumental in accomplishing The Impossible Dream."

In Oakland, he landed in 1971 and won three straight division titles and back-to-back World Series. The Expos improved under Williams, and the Padres romped to their first-ever World Series.

His force of personality was greater than all of those egos in Oakland combined. Reggie Jackson? Vida Blue? Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman? Are you kidding? To mold those guys into one unit pulling in the same direction, that's not coaching. That's managing.

He did not suffer fools gladly, and he did not tolerate threats to his authority. He was of a different age, a time before rookies were rushed to the majors, where managers are expected to provide on-the-job training.

"Playing without the fundamentals is like eating without a knife and a fork," Williams once said. "You make a mess."

If you knew Williams, the last thing you wanted to do was to make a mess around him. His expectations were through the roof. Few could meet them.

"It was all business on Dick's side, and that's what I really loved about Dick Williams," Gossage said Thursday. "No nonsense, absolutely no nonsense. What you saw is what you got, and that's what I loved about Dick.”
 
I can remember standing in the back of a group of reporters in his office after games in San Diego in 1985, a raw kid who was damn sure he wasn't going to ask any stupid questions. Let the cantankerous Williams have at it with someone else.

And I clearly remember greeting him at the winter meetings in '07, a day after his election to the Hall, the gruff old manager just beaming with pride and, yes, as Gossage said, even hugging a few people. It was quite a change, and quite a thing to see the way the Hall has the power to melt even the gruffest of hearts.

"Dick Williams' lasting legacy will be his innate ability to lead, turning franchises into winners wherever he managed," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said Thursday. "No one wore the mantle of 'Hall of Famer' more proudly than Dick."

Dick Williams, dead at 82 of an aneurysm?

I pity the Grim Reaper chosen to go get him.






Posted on: July 1, 2011 2:31 pm
 

Short Hops: All-Star Soria back on track (& more)

This isn't about Mariano Rivera. It's about the Royals' Joakim Soria. But as with so many other things regarding closers, it makes Old Man Rivera look even more sensational than he already is.

OK, here goes: If I were to ask you coming into this season whose save conversion rate since July 31, 2007, is second in the game to Rivera's, whom would you say?

Yes, the answer is Soria, a two-time All-Star whose 92.4 rate since that date is second among all major-league closers to Rivera's 92.9.

Now, here's just one more piece of evidence that Rivera is superhuman: In late May, Soria suddenly fell into a hole and blew five of his first 12 save opportunities. It got so bad that after he blew consecutive save opportunities in late May, he admirably went to manager Ned Yost and essentially removed himself from the role. Something that in all of these years Rivera has never had to do.

Yost handled the situation superbly: He gave Soria a few days off to clear out his mind, eased him back into non-save situations in which he could pitch two innings at a time (to work on his fastball command) and then plugged Soria back into the ninth in early June.

The results, again, have been spectacular: Soria has worked 12 shutout innings in his past 10 games and is six-for-six in save opportunities, while holding opponents to an .098 batting average (4 for 41).

"It was not a big change at all," Soria says. "It was just a mind-set, getting my confidence back. Mechanics-wise, there was nothing to change. I looked at video, and I'm not doing anything different."

Soria isn't a closer with overpowering stuff, nor does he have one lethal weapon like Rivera's cutter. Instead, he throws all of his pitches -- fastball, curve, slider and change. Because he depends on location, problems can arise if he goes four or five days between outings.

"He's a command-guy closer," Yost says. "Command guys rebound so much better from that than stuff guys do.

"I've never had stuff guys who have gone through this rebound -- Derrick Turnbow, Danny Kolb, even Eric Gagne."

Soria, 27, right now is reinforcing Yost's history.

"Bad things make you stronger," Soria says. "If you've always been good, maybe you don't realize what it takes to be good until you go bad."

As for Rivera, who mostly has been immune to slumps throughout his Hall of Fame career, Soria, like everyone else, just marvels.

"He's the best," Soria says. "He's done everything in his career, and I don't think he's ever struggled."

-- Soria and Rivera have met once, at the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium in 2008. But they did not exchange trade secrets. "We didn't talk about the game," Soria says. "We just talked about life."

-- Though they clearly could use reinforcements for a beat-up bullpen, and manager Charlie Manuel wants a right-handed bat (the Padres' Ryan Ludwick? The Twins' Michael Cuddyer?), the Phillies are telling teams that they they're tapped out financially. They're close to the luxury tax threshold and do not want to cross it. Of course, they were also telling rivals the same thing last winter before they shocked everyone by signing free agent pitcher Cliff Lee.

-- Emphasizing Philadelphia's need for a right-handed bat: The Phillies are hitting .196 in their past 13 games against lefty starters.

-- The Red Sox, too, say they do not want to push their luxury tax any higher than it already is, which suggests no pricey mid-season reinforcements. But recent history under general manager Theo Epstein also suggests the Red Sox get what they need and, right now, their internal discussions are centering on a hitter. They're not getting much out of right field, which led to the release of Mike Cameron this week.

-- Mariners officials are scheduled to talk via conference call next week to discuss final strategy leading into the July trade deadline. Though Seattle has done a nice job of staying competitive, the recent 3-7 tailspin could spur the M's to deal Erik Bedard. Though Bedard landed on the disabled list this week with a knee sprain, he could be a very good trade chip.

-- Thanks to Milwaukee's road woes, the Cardinals are back in a tie for first place in the NL Central entering the weekend. But one scout who has watched St. Louis recently remains unimpressed. "Colby Rasmus is so inconsistent," the scout says. "Sometimes it looks like he's not even there at the plate." Then there are the times when Rasmus looks like he is there, like when he homered Tuesday and Wednesday in Baltimore.

-- In St. Louis' defense, the Cards have been so beat up this year, but while Albert Pujols is out, at least third baseman David Freese has returned from the disabled list. "Daniel Descalso was playing third base when I saw St. Louis," the scout says. "And I'm thinking, 'These are the St. Louis Cardinals?'"

-- This is the Phillies' rotation we expected: Philadelphia starters compiled a 1.96 ERA in June. Which, according to STATS LLC makes the Phils the first team since July of 1992 to go a full month under 2.00. Both Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs did it back in July, '92.

-- Quietly, Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick is resurfacing and showing why he will be in demand on the July trade market. He's at 51 RBIs in 78 games after finishing April with a .198 batting average and a .294 on-base percentage. That followed his miserable debut in San Diego last summer when he hit .211 with six homers in 59 games after his acquisition from St. Louis. There have been differences between this year and last: A calf injury nagged at him last year, while this April he was hitting the ball hard, just right at people. "I played terrible last year," Ludwick says. "I wouldn't say I've been playing great this year, but I've been doing what I've been known to do and what they brought me over to do. Drive in runs. Last year, every time I came to the ballpark I was stressed out, wondering if I was going to be able to make contact."

-- Know what's funny? The cover of Florida's media guide is a collage of small photos of historical highlights in Marlins history. And right there front and center, albeit at the bottom, is a photo of Jack McKeon in uniform. No need for updating there. Well, except he's wearing No. 15, and this time around, he's No. 25.

-- Angels manger Mike Scioscia, by the way, is still marveling about McKeon's enthusiasm for managing at 80. Scioscia and the Angels saw McKeon in his 2011 debut a couple of weeks back.

Likes: All-Star voting results coming soon, with the game soon to follow. ... Derek Jeter nearly set to resume his chase for 3,000 hits. ... Kerry Wood off of the DL and back in the Cubs' bullpen. ... From rocky NFL labor talks to rocky NBA labor talks to ... baseball labor talks still quiet and positive. ... The smell of neighborhood grills over the Fourth of July weekend. ... Modern Family boxed set, season 1. I'm just catching up to a show I haven't watched. Very funny. ... My sister's frozen key lime pie. Delicious.

Dislikes: Missed Jason Isbell coming through my town last week because of work commitments. His latest disc with his band, the 400 Unit, Here We Rest, is outstanding.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Driving in to Darlington County
"Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July
"Driving in to Darlington County
"Looking for some work on the county line
"We drove down from New York City
"Where the girls are pretty but they just want to know your name
"Driving in to Darlington City
"Got a union connection with an uncle of Wayne's
"We drove eight hundred miles without seeing a cop
"We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing. ..."

-- Bruce Springsteen, Darlington County

Posted on: June 20, 2011 8:23 pm
Edited on: June 20, 2011 8:43 pm
 

San Diego's home plate freeze-out

The Padres have been shut out a major-league leading 12 times so far, and it ain't no accident.

Chris Denorfia punched a leadoff triple Saturday against Scott Baker in Minnesota. Being the first inning, the Twins played their infield back, conceding the run.

But Jason Bartlett struck out swinging. Then Chase Headley struck out swinging. And then Ryan Ludwick flied out.

Nine innings later, the final was Twins 1, Padres 0.

Enough about their troubles in Petco Park.

This is a bad, bad offensive club at any park, your choice.

The Padres can't even come up with eight hitters to bat in front of their pitcher when they're safely ensconced in the National League.

In the AL? Forget it. They've got no chance at fielding a presentable designated hitter.

The Padres' 242 runs entering Monday's series opener in Boston ranked last in the majors. Slugging percentage? Last. Total bases, triples and OPS? Last, last and last.

Losers of five in a row into Monday's Fenway Park tour, the Padres, who also have lost nine of 11, are hitting .225 this season with runners in scoring position.

In other words, about the same as their overall .232 batting average (29th in the majors).

With the halfway mark of their season not arriving until next Tuesday's game against Kansas City, the Padres are on pace to break their club record for shutouts (23, set as an expansion team in 1969 and then equaled in 1976).

The major-league record for being shut out is held by the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals, who were blanked 33 times.

Meantime, in the fourth inning Monday night in Fenway, the Padres failed to score after a leadoff triple for the second time in three games: Jesus Guzman roped one against Andrew Miller to start the fourth, before Orlando Hudson popped to right field, Cameron Maybin fanned swinging and Anthony Rizzo flied to left.

The beat goes on.

Likes:
Jack McKeon managing at 80 is going to be fascinating.

Dislikes: Absolutely crushed over the death of Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band, who left us Saturday far too early at the age of 69. It's hard to believe we'll never see him up on stage again, blowing those beautiful and powerful notes from his saxophone, goofing with Bruce Springsteen, lending such great soul to the mix. Didn't know if I could make it through, but I dug out the 2000 Madison Square Garden and the 2009 London Calling DVDs last night and punched in several tracks, and realized again that these tours, that band and that Big Man have been such a gift over all these years. It is so sad that we'll never again see that band in that configuration on tour, but we'll be able to remember what the mind begins to forget -- the fun, the energy, the inspirational moments and the poetic lyrics -- through the magic of modern technology and, for that, I'm eternally grateful.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"We played king of the mountain out on the end
"The world come chargin' up the hill, and we were women and men
"Now there's so much that time, time and memory fade away
"We got our own roads to ride, and chances we gotta take
"We stood side by side, each one fightin' for the other
"We said until we died we'd always be blood brothers
"Now the hardness of this world slowly grinds your dreams away
"Makin' a fool's joke out of the promises we make
"And what once seemed black and white turns to so many shades of gray
"We lose ourselves in work to do, work to do and bills to pay
"And it's a ride, ride, ride, and there ain't much cover
"With no one runnin' by your side my blood brother
"On through the houses of the dead past those fallen in their tracks
"Always movin' ahead and never lookin' back
"Now I don't know how I feel, I don't know how I feel tonight
"If I've fallen 'neath the wheel, if I've lost or I've gained sight
"I don't even know why, I don't why I made this call
"Or if any of this matters anymore after all
"But the stars are burnin' bright like some mystery uncovered
"I'll keep movin' through the dark with you in my heart
"My blood brother"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Blood Brothers



Posted on: June 15, 2011 8:01 pm
Edited on: June 16, 2011 12:02 am
 

Love Letters: The Asinine Edition

As I periodically do, a reminder: The term "Love Letters" is simply a tribute to a column in one of the newspapers I read as a young boy in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press. So if you're looking for something steamier, well, go to your local Congressman's office or something. ...

FROM: Karl T.
Re: Weekend Buzz: Gonzalez, Fielder, Kemp packing heat

Asinine ... what a magnificent word!

And it can be used for sooo many occasions.

FROM: Jeff A.

I'm shocked that you didn't mention Jose Reyes. He may be the best player in baseball at this time. Give the man his props. He is doing more than any of the guys you mentioned. Those guys don't glove as well as he does. The man has what, 33 multiple hit games. Other ball players are awed by him.

But Mets owner Fred Wilpon says it's asinine (or something to that effect) for him to expect Carl Crawford money, so how good can he be?

FROM: Rich B.

Scott,

As a Red Sox fan, I was torn when they made the Adrian Gonzalez trade. I mean, I knew we were getting a great power hitter, but I had my reservations about the trade for two reasons: 1. I didn't want to give up Casey Kelly, and, 2. I didn't like that the Sox were blocking Lars Anderson's path to the majors. So ... now I'm not sure if I was right for the wrong reasons, or what!

Listen, Anthony Rizzo is going to be a good player. But few are ever going to be Adrian Gonzalez. So stop beating yourself up and put your mind to use on the next big dilemma of our time: Five Guys Burgers and Fries or In-N-Out?

FROM: David R.
Re. Weekend Buzz: Indians' losses are rival Tigers gain

Scott,

Should we really be all that surprised about the Indians collapse? Let's be honest, they were a nice feel-good story to start the year, but now their lack of talent is finally catching up. There is no one in the rotation that is any more than a 3 starter, Shin-Soo Choo isn't hitting, Travis Hafner is hurt, and outside of Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, I don't see much else talent-wise. The Indians have been overachieving all season.

But here's the thing: Choo should be hitting far better, and Carmona at times looks like a top-of-the-rotation starter. That said, the overachieving looks like ancient history.

FROM: Jason
Re.: Arsenal of young studs has Royals set for serious rise

This sounds all good and I do agree but ... what about their true natural hitter, Clint Robinson? Why is he overlooked? His numbers are sick, and I believe he is their best hitter -- he has batted over .300s consistently. I would like to know where he fits in, as he is the oldest, I believe.

You're right, the guy is unbelievable. He's hitting .372 in June alone at Triple-A Omaha. But he's a first baseman and Hosmer is at first. The Royals have too many good young players, and when was the last time you heard that?

FROM: Jason
Re.: Griffey Sr. taking long road back to bigs

I liked your article on Ken Griffey Sr. I'd like to see him get his chance to manage in MLB, but not sure if he will ever get the chance.

I don't think so, not being that he's already 61. He's still got fire, though: I heard a rumor that he was recently suspended for three games for bumping an umpire during an argument.

FROM: Mike B.

Scott,

I'm sure I'm not the only one to point this out to you, but just in case -- you do know that greater Bakersfield has a population of over 600,000 people, don't you? The only thing bush league about Bakersfield is Sam Lynn Ballpark. And the only thing preventing a new ball park is that little thing called the economy. To be honest, I haven't seen a tumbleweed around here for years.

I'll tell you this: There's nothing bush league about the Moo Creamery. That place can bring it. The Toasted Almond ice cream is incredible.

FROM: Barry W.
Re.: Killebrew was no killer, except when it came to slugging

Nicely done. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a cocktail party where Mr. Killebrew was as well. I spoke with him for a few minutes and he couldn't have been nicer and seemed just so happy to be there. Later, as we all grabbed some dinner, he walked over with his tray and stood at our table and asked if we minded him sitting in the empty chair at our table. Can you imagine that? He joined us that night, casually, and I peppered him with questions about who was the toughest pitcher on him, etc. We had more than a few laughs. And then, at the end of the night, a friend of mine and I were walking down the path towards the exit, when suddenly I felt someone literally jump on my back. It was Mr. Killebrew. Walking between me and my friend, he throw his arms over our shoulders and with a giant smile said, 'Where are we going now?!'

Also attending that dinner was Steve Carlton, and I just remember thinking what a huge difference there was between the two men not only in attitude but just the ability to be themselves around other people. I can tell you that it is a story I tell over and over, and it is one of my nicer memories. Our time here is short and the majority of us do not leave much behind, but a form of immortality can be living forever in someone else's stories and memories. Hopefully I am able to do justice to his memory each and every time I do tell that story. I can tell you that each and every time I tell the story, I do so with a genuine smile on my face. Thanks for the column.

That is a fabulous story. And thanks for telling it now.

FROM: Jay D.

I remember meeting Mr. Killebrew as a youngster before a Cleveland Indians' game, and even though I wore the hat of the opposing team, he was SO nice, SO gracious! I have tried to keep the exactly same smile and the exact same attitude toward kids that he did. He may have been small, but, the sporting world lost a true GIANT.

With sadness,
Jay D.
NE Ohio

FROM: Brian

"Listed at 6-feet, 190 pounds, until cancer slipped a final fastball by him Tuesday. ..." Really? A man loses his life to cancer, and you're making baseball metaphors? I typically enjoy your columns but this line is unprofessional, disrespectful and a literary stretch I'd more likely expect to find in a high school publication.

The man spent his entire life playing baseball, involved in baseball, and is a Hall of Famer. What should I be doing, making roller derby metaphors?

FROM: Bill H.

Scott,

Great piece on one of my first baseball heroes. I watched him play for the old Senators and blossom into a tremendous slugger. Even when the Nats became the Twins and I couldn't stand them, I still rooted for Killebrew and followed his career closely. This is a genuinely sad day for baseball, one many modern fans may not understand.

Our responsibility is to help make them understand, my friend. Thanks.

Likes: Praise be for day baseball, the MLB Extra Innings television package and XM/Sirius radio broadcasting all those days. Because when I landed flat on my back, ill, Wednesday, with a fairly significant fever for the first frickin' time in 11 years, it sure was nice to have baseball on the telly. ... Pittsburgh -- the Pirates! -- at .500 on Wednesday, the latest point in the season they have not had a losing record since 1999. ... Midnight in Paris, the new Woody Allen movie. Not great, but entertaining. ... The slice of "royal wedding cake" I had in Kansas City last week in the hotel restaurant. There was some celebration going on downtown honoring the late Princess Diana and, in relation to that, the pastry chef at the hotel "recreated" the actual cake served at Diana and Charles' wedding back in 1984. It was sort of like carrot cake -- had that consistency -- only it was cinnamon-y. And the frosting was thick as bathtub caulk. It was delicious -- and the most expensive darned piece of cake I think I've eaten in my life ($8.75 a slice!).

Dislikes: Clarence Clemons, stroke victim. Many prayers for Bruce Springsteen's Big Man, who is fighting the battle of his life. Here's to the man who brought so much joy, soul and music to so many others.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"When the change was made uptown
"And the Big Man joined the band
"From the coastline to the city
"All the little pretties raise their hands
"I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh
"When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half
"With a Tenth Avenue freeze-out"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Tenth Ave. Freeze-Out



Posted on: May 24, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: May 24, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Heath Bell looking like short-timer in San Diego

As the Padres' home struggles deepen, chances of the club finding a new home for Heath Bell this summer appear to be increasing.

Bell is a closer who isn't getting much work, and he's headed for free agency this winter. The Padres briefly broached a contract extension with him this spring, but those talks were very general and have not been revisited since camp ended.

"I love it here, and I don't want to go anywhere," says Bell, who just had a house built in the area. "But because I've beat that drum into the ground, I think people are tired of hearing it."

Because the Padres were 19-29 and last in the NL West heading into the middle game of a three-game set with St. Louis on Tuesday, the reality is that odds of a trade are increasing.

Several clubs -- including Texas, according to CBSSports.com sources -- have inquired recently about Bell. The Padres, not yet eager to pull the trigger, are in listen-only mode and, sources say, want to wait a little longer and see how things play out.

The Rangers, who recently inquired about Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan, are described as simply checking their options while they, too, evaluate how the season develops.

As for the Padres, barring a dramatic turnaround, there will be no reason not to deal Bell.

He's pitched in just three of the last 14 games. Petco Park, where the Padres went 45-36 last summer, has turned into their very own little shop of horrors in these post-Adrian Gonzalez days.

The Padres are 8-19 at Petco, the worst home record in the majors. Six of their nine shutouts this season have come at home. The splits bear out the carnage: In 27 home games so far, the Padres are hitting .202 with just 60 runs scored. In 21 road games, the Padres are hitting .265 with 106 runs scored.

Manager Bud Black held a stern team meeting following Sunday's loss, the finale of a three-game sweep by Seattle.

"I'll give it everything I have for the Padres until the team says otherwise," Bell says. "Until Jed [Hoyer, Padres general manager] tells me I'm no longer a San Diego Padre.

"In my own quirky head, I still think something will happen at the end of the year and I'll stay here. It's wait-and-see. But I understand the business part. We've got to play well and get some fans in here."

Likes: Boston at Cleveland meaning something for both teams in late May. ... Kyle McClellan, the Cardinals' starter who is doing a great job of stepping in for fallen mate Adam Wainwright. ... The job general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson are doing in Arizona. ... Secretariat. Caught up with it on DVD the other night. Very enjoyable. ... The Reagan Diaries. Whatever your political persuasion, it's a fascinating peek behind the Oval Office curtain. But jeez, does the man ever whine every time Nancy leaves town. ("With Nancy gone, I think this must be the loneliest place in the world."). ... The music of Treme, the great HBO show starring New Orleans (along with real actors).

Dislikes: Aw, Animal Kingdom ran second in the Preakness. There goes my interest in horse racing for the season.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Sittin' in the kitchen, a house in Macon
"Loretta's singing on the radio
"Smell of coffee eggs and bacon
"Car wheels on a gravel road
"Pull the curtains back and look outside
"Somebody, somehere I don't know
"Come on now child we're gonna go for a ride
"Car wheels on a gravel road"

-- Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road




Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:53 pm
 

Short Hops: 3 thoughts on the Marlins (and more)

The Florida Marlins are off to the best start in club history, Josh Johnson is pitching like a Cy Young winner and Anibal Sanchez is threatening to re-visit No-Hitter Land. A lot is going right for the Marlins, and it couldn't be coming at a better time. This summer isn't just about this summer for Florida. With a new stadium set to open in 2012, these aren't your typical cut-rate Marlins. They need to stir interest and sell tickets and bring a strong product into their new ballpark to set a solid foundation.

This isn't to say the Marlins are looking to flex their financial muscle. But they're definitely looking to win, and behind Johnson, Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, they've got three starters going in the right direction. And, in Leo Nunez, they've got one closer consistently nailing things down.

Three thoughts on the Marlins as they tangle with Philadelphia this week:

1. Johnson is incorporating a slower curve with the help of Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire in an effort to work deeper into games. He's thrown more than 200 innings in his career just once, in 2009, and both Johnson and the Marlins would like to get him to that level consistently. Already, he throws a fastball, slider, sinker and change-up. With a fastball that already kills at 94, 95 m.p.h., the curve that is clocked around 77, 78 is leaving hitters with little chance.

2. The Marlins are off to their best start with All-Star Hanley Ramirez off to one of his worst, which bodes well for them for later this summer. Because, as one scout says, "Hanley will hit. He always hits." The man who has hit the most home runs of any major-league shortstop since 2006 started the season with none in his first 23 games. He's currently hitting just .195 with one homer and 13 RBI. While the Marlins wait, first baseman and team leader Gaby Sanchez, plugs along as one of the game's most underrated players.

3. Without question, the biggest difference in this year's Marlins is at the back end of games. Florida's bullpen is second in the NL with a 2.59 ERA. Last year's Marlins ranked ninth in the league with a 4.01 ERA and ninth in saves (39). This year, Nunez's 11 saves (the Marlins' total) are tied for third in the NL. Brian Sanches, Randy Choate and Ryan Webb have been instrumental in the improvement.

-- The Marlins are expected to pursue a third baseman at some point this summer, but veteran Greg Dobbs has been outstanding there in the wake of the fractured elbow prospect Matt Dominguez suffered late in spring training. Dobbs' steady glove and .359 batting average and .411 on-base percentage have eased some of the Marlins' pain.

-- One scout, who was in Seattle for this weekend's White Sox-Mariners series, on Milton  Bradley being designated for assignment Monday: "He was going through the motions. Good for Jack [Zduriecik, Mariners' general manager]."

-- Among the reasons to believe Cleveland is for real: On Monday, the Indians' +48 run differential was best in the majors. Next-closest in the American League: The Yankees, at +38. Next-closest in baseball: St. Louis at +44, followed by the Phillies, who were even with the Yanks at +38.

-- Those watching closely the final two months of last season know that Cleveland right-hander Justin Masterson's 5-0 start is no fluke. Masterson's 2.86 ERA from Aug. 4 through season's end in 2010 ranked ninth in the AL. Currently, his 2.11 ERA is fifth in the AL. "The last six weeks last year, he was able to repeat his delivery more often," Indians manager Manny Acta says. Part of that is, pitching coach Tim Belcher has helped him institute a series of checkpoints in his windup and deliver, which allows the 6-6 Masterson to be more efficient at making in-game adjustments. It's also allowed Masterson to reduce his walks. Over 47 innings pitched this year, he has 34 strikeouts and just 13 walks.

-- The Twins' -68 was by far the game's worst run differential. Nobody's even close: Next-worst are the Dodgers and Houston, each at -35.

-- One scout on the Cubs: "They have no speed, and not much power."

-- The Padres have been shut out a stunning eight times in 34 games, twice as much as anybody else (the Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox and Athletics each has been shut out four times). Indications are, Petco Park is getting in the heads of newcomers like Brad Hawpe (signed over the winter) and Ryan Ludwick (acquired at last July's trading deadline) and others.

-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Petco, where he's also managed several games as Colorado's skipper: "I think the worst damage it did when it was first built was to the home team. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth you could hear from across the other side when this thing was first built. I think it's been tinkered with since. I think perception is so huge in this game. The first thing hitters look for are flags and distances. Actually, I just try and get them focused saying, 'Look at all that grass out there. There's room for all kinds of hits. Let's focus on that.'"

-- More Hurdle on Petco Park: "I've got to believe if you put Tony Gwynn in here, you know what? He'd get a lot of hits in here. I do believe that, unfortunately, there's this thing called the male ego, and if that number's big out there [on the outfield fence] and you think, 'I’m still going to hit it out', before you know it, you're doing more grunting and manipulating your swing just to try and hit it out rather than just hit it hard."

-- Outstanding: Angels outfielder Torii Hunter's at-bat music for his first trip to the plate at home each night is the theme from Sanford & Son, the old television show. It started as a joke last week when Hunter was in a slump.

-- Great line from Larry Stone, the excellent baseball writer for the Seattle Times, on the rise of Justin Smoak: "The Mariners are trying to coax Pat Meares out of retirement so they can do it with Smoak & Meares."

-- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on counterpart Mike Scioscia earning his 1,000th win managing the Angels on Sunday: "You manage for 100 years, you will have 1,000 wins." Seriously, Guillen added, "I think it's a great thing, especially when you manage the same ballclub."

Likes: The "20 Greatest Games" on MLB Network is a cool feature. Watched the network's treatment of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris' 1-0 classic for the Twins over Atlanta, with Morris and John Smoltz in studio. It's worth seeing. ... White Sox outfielder Mark Teahen says he still keeps in touch with some of his ex-Royals' teammates -- the few left from when he was there. ... Glad to see LaTroy Hawkins (shoulder surgery) back in Milwaukee's bullpen. ... Latest CD rave: The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love. Man, that woman can sing.

Dislikes: Gatorade used to be so easy. You worked out, you sweated, you rehydrated. But now, there's Gatorade for before your workout (Prime), during/after your workout (Perform) and post-workout (Recovery). What if you drink them in the wrong order. Then what happens? ... So now Kate Hudson is in this Something Borrowed? Does she choose her roles, or handlers? And to think, there was such hope for her after Almost Famous.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"You're the reason I changed to beer from soda pop
"And you're the reason I never get to go to the beauty shop
"You're the reason our kids are ugly little darlins'
"Oh, but looks ain't everything
"And money ain't everything"

-- Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, (You're the Reason) Our Kids Are Ugly

 

Posted on: May 2, 2011 11:14 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 11:37 pm
 

Baseball, history re-connect a decade after 9/11

SAN DIEGO -- Last time baseball came this close to Osama bin Laden, it went dark for a week while the United States shook off the horror and the world regained its breath, both slowly staggering forward after 9/11.

I was in Dodger Stadium on the night baseball returned in September, 2001, and the raw emotion still resonates from a night that did what baseball does when it is at its best: It brought communities together. Coaxed smiles. Provided, for a couple of hours, a shelter from the storm.

Monday night, 24 hours after bin Laden's death, you could trace a line drive straight back to that horror and tragedy.

In Pittsburgh's clubhouse here, three ballgames played out silently on the televisions in the background before batting practice. But the television with the sound up was tuned to CNN and its news coverage. Pitcher Chris Resop talked with a teammate about Homeland Security.

Over in San Diego's clubhouse, pitcher Mat Latos hung a navy blue "USA" basketball jersey in front of his locker. For the first time on a non-Sunday, the Padres were wearing their camouflage jerseys honoring the military.

"We never take it lightly," Padres closer Heath Bell said. "But it means a little more tonight."

The game might exist in its own corner of the world, but so much of that corner is woven into the rest of life the way a baseball is stitched together by its seams. And so there was no stepping away Monday, no tuning out. Not that anyone wanted to.

Several clubs offered various forms of free tickets to games. As the Padres offered two free tickets to any active or retired military member for Monday night's game, infielder Orlando Hudson was lobbying to take that several steps forward.

"I think there should be free tickets all around the game of baseball," Hudson said. "And free tickets to the playoff games, basketball games and hockey games."

Emotions came from every angle, probably much like you encountered on a Monday unlike any we've had in a long, long time.

"I just think everybody feels like they have the pride of the United States in them today," said Bell, the Padres closer and son of a U.S. Marine. "But I don't think it should be a day of celebration.

"I don't think killing a guy is a reason to celebrate, because I don't think we should stoop to their level. After 9/11, they were jumping up and down. I don't want us to be doing the same thing. ... I'm totally behind my country, but it's hard. Half of me wanted to kill the dude, and the other half of me thinks killing is wrong.

"I was proud when I heard we gave him a proper burial. I think it was a class act by the United States.

The Pirates earlier in the day visited the Navy SEAL training base on Coronado Island, just minutes from the team hotel and Petco Park. It was a tour planned long before Sunday's historic day, and it reinforces the fact that baseball -- all sports -- is not an island unto itself.

Pittsburgh trainer Brad Henderson has been bringing small groups of Pirates to the Navy base for the past several years, since a former minor-league trainer in the Pirates' system left and went to work as a trainer for the Navy SEALS (which stands for the Navy Sea, Air and Land teams).

There is a man on base named John McTighe, who serves as a special assistant at the Navy Special Warfare Command center -- where all of the Navy SEALS report to run through their early training -- and he is a native of the Pittsburgh area. He sets up the tours when the Pirates come to town. Sometimes the players are able to shoot the Navy's guns. Monday, they went out on boats.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, McTighe invited Henderson to write letters to the other major league clubs, and now many take the same tour the Pirates do when they come to San Diego.

"It's a treat for us," Henderson said.

It's not just a one-way street. In gratitude, the Pirates -- and other clubs -- leave behind autographs and memorabilia to be auctioned off. Last year, Henderson said, these baseball items helped the Navy SEALS raise some $90,000 for the families of fallen soldiers.

With adrenalin still in the stratosphere on both sides as news tidbits continued to rocket around the globe, the feeling as Pittsburgh visited Monday was unlike any in the past.

"There was a sense of accomplishment in the air," Henderson said. "This is what those guys do. They go and look for the bad guys.

"They weren't patting themselves on the back. They completed their task, and now they've moving forward."

Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed on that horrific day after the heroic "Let's roll" passengers overtook the hijackers, is about an hour east of Pittsburgh

"It was fun for us, knowing we were standing in the same spot where all the Navy SEALS stood," Henderson said. "Knowing that this is where they all started, including the group that got bin Laden."

Knowing that, he said, was pretty darned special.

 

Posted on: April 29, 2011 1:43 pm
 

Short Hops: Yanks, Zo-rilla, Padres zeroes & more

-- The Yankees are doing exactly what they need to do in the first few weeks of the season, and that's take advantage of home cooking. They opened with 11 of 14 games at home, and through May 1, they play 18 of their first 25 games at home. So far, they're 10-5 at home, and they've got a chance to continue to pad their home record while they play 46 of their first 79 games at Yankee Stadium. The flip side, and the reason it is important for Joe Girardi's club to build up as much collateral at home as possible: From Aug 1 through season's end, the Yankees are home just 20 times (nine home games in August and 11 in September).

-- Zo-Rilla is back: Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist has crushed four homers in his past five games, including one each in Thursday's day-night doubleheader in Minnesota. He had a monster doubleheader, collecting 10 RBI, giving him 18 over his last five games and 25 for the season. Impressive, yes, but his best moment might have come right after the game when he quipped to reporters, "This must be what it's like to feel like Sam Fuld."

-- Tampa Bay is 13-3 since April 10 which, yes, is the best record in the majors since that date.

-- Kansas City was the last team in the majors to lose a series this season, and now look at the Royals: six losses in a row. The Yankees were the last team in the majors to lose consecutive games, to the White Sox on Monday and Tuesday.

-- Seattle's historically bad offense last summer looks positively Ruthian compared to what the Padres are doing (or, rather, NOT doing) so far this season. San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez-less lineup has been shut out seven times in the month of April. That, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is a major-league record. When the Padres score just ONE run, they're 9-9.

-- Yes, it's a different deal this year for the Padres from their 90-win team of a year ago. Ryan Ludwick (.202, four homers, 11 RBI), Brad Hawpe (.143, 23 strikeouts in 63 at-bats), Orlando Hudson (.238, .300 on-base percentage) and Jason Bartlett (.231) have gotten off to miserably slow starts, and there are growing questions regarding whether cavernous Petco Park is defeating hitters mentally. That was one key to last year's group -- which included David Eckstein, the Hairston brothers, Jerry Jr. and Scott, and Tony Gwynn Jr. -- the bottom line was winning, and there was no griping about Petco. "You've got to be mentally tough to get through some things," Padres manager Bud Black says. "That's part of being a total player, part of being a total, major league professional player. It works the same way if you're a pitcher in a small park. It works the same way for pitchers in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Houston."

-- The Dodgers' Andre Ethier takes a 24-game hitting streak into this weekend's series with San Diego, but it could be in jeopardy Friday night. Ethier lifetime is hitting .077 (1 for 13) against Padres starter Clayton Richard.

Likes: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen saying the other day he has his closer -- outfielder Brent Lillibridge -- following Lillibridge's great, diving catches in Yankee Stadium. ...  Andre Ethier's hitting streak at 24 games. ... The way Brandon Phillips always refers to the "Redlegs", not the "Reds", in his tweets (@DatDudeBP). ... Great casting on Hawii Five-O. Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan (son of James) are really good together. ... First listen reaction to Steve Earle's new disc I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive: Outstanding. The disc might even be better than the title.

Dislikes: If you see me at Fast Five, please come up and say hello. Maybe that would then distract me from my next move: Jumping off of a bridge. Man, summer movie season stinks.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Now listen youngster, be on your way
"Don't bother me til a later day
"I like my men like I like my whiskey
"Mmm, aged and mellow"

-- Little Esther, Aged and Mellow Blues

 

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