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Posted on: December 28, 2010 7:15 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2010 7:20 pm

Remembering Bill Lajoie

They fought with each other, even as they worked together to build a champion.

They told stories about each other, even as both knew that the partnership worked.

Just last year, Bill Lajoie was telling me how he would hide the old Red Book and Green Book from Sparky Anderson as long as he could each spring training, in fear that Sparky would search through the rosters and come up with more players he absolutely had to have.

Lajoie was the general manager who built the 1984 Tigers. Anderson was the manager who took them to a championship.

Sparky died last month, at age 76. Bill died today, also at 76.

The baseball world will never forget Sparky. The baseball world will never forget Bill, either.

I know I won't.

When I started on the big-league baseball beat, it was with the 1990 Tigers. Sparky was the manager, and Bill was the GM.

Bill ended one of our first conversations by yelling at me. He ended our last conversation while he was GM by cursing at me, and then hanging up on me.

That was Bill, and anyone who knew him would tell you that was Bill. He was emotional, he was volatile, but he was also caring.

And he was one of the best talent evaluators baseball has ever known.

He left the Tigers abruptly after that 1991 season, but he went on to help the Braves continue their mid-1990s run. He helped convince the Brewers to draft Prince Fielder. He helped the Red Sox to the curse-ending 2004 title, then put together the trade that brought Josh Beckett to Boston.

He mellowed in his later years, as he continued working in baseball (he was a special assistant with the Pirates when he died).

I'd remind him of our earlier conversations, and he'd chuckle. It's not like I was the only one Bill Lajoie ever yelled at.

But most of us didn't mind. That was Bill, and the next time you'd talk to him, he was just as likely to give you exactly what you were looking for.

Hey, I'll guarantee you there were plenty of times he yelled at Sparky, too.


If you followed the '84 Tigers, or even if you just want an inside look at baseball scouting (and a response to Moneyball ), get a copy of the book Lajoie wrote along with Anup Sinha, Character is Not a Statistic .
Posted on: November 2, 2010 3:10 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2010 4:32 pm

Yeah, I picked the Rangers, but why do you care?

I picked against the Giants in the World Series, and I was wrong.

There. Are you happy now, Giants fans?

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would care who I picked to win, and even less of an idea why anyone would stop celebrating long enough to berate me for a wrong pick. But there were times over the last week that Giants fans had me convinced they got more pleasure out of me being wrong than they did out of their team winning.

It began after Game 1. It didn't let up, all the way through Game 5.

"It would be nice to see some form of mea culpa from you and the other Brainiacs who predicted a different outcome," wrote Chet, who was at least polite about it.

I'm not sure what this says about Giants fans, but I never got nearly as much e-mail about any of my other wrong picks over the years. And believe me, there have been plenty of them.

Maybe I ought to ask Judge and Prisco if 49er fans are the same way. Maybe it's the Bay Area.

I'm not sure I care. I'm not sure why you care.

But since you do, here it is again:

I picked the Rangers in 5. I was wrong.

Oh well.

Now, can we all look back to what we saw over the last month? Here's what I saw, through three rounds, 17 games witnessed in person, most of the others seen on TV, two train rides and nine flights stopping at seven different airports:

Best game: The very first one, or at least the very first one I covered. It's hard to beat a no-hitter, and in more than two decades of covering baseball, I've never seen anyone pitch as good a game as Roy Halladay did in Game 1 against the Reds.

Best moment: The Giants interrupting their celebration at Turner Field to salute retiring Braves manager Bobby Cox. It was a classy, classy move, and it should make anyone feel better that the Giants got two more chances at celebrating -- both of them uninterrupted.

Best moment II: On the field after Game 5 of the World Series, I was interviewing Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, who grew up in Northern California, has been with the Giants for years and had never before won a World Series. Just then, the fans gathered behind the third-base dugout started chanting, "Thank you, Giants!" Righetti stopped, almost tearing up. "How cool is that?" he said. Then, thinking about the celebration back home, he added, "They're going to tear up the city."

Best song: No contest. It was the by YouTube sensation Ashkon , the Giants fan who wrote new words to sing along with Journey's Don't Stop Believing. The best line: "I had faith, and I had hope; And thankfully the Padres choked."

Best T-shirt: I never thought about buying one of those claw and antlers shirts that were so popular in Arlington. I did think about getting one of the "Let Tim Smoke" shirts in San Francisco. If you don't get it, check out Proposition 19 on today's California ballot.

Most disappointing team: Plenty of candidates, but it has to be the Twins, who played so well in September to get the best record in the American League, and home-field advantage through the AL playoffs. And they still got swept by the Yankees -- again. The worst part is that the Twins seemed to know what it would take to beat the Yankees. They tried hard to sign Colby Lewis last winter, and they tried hard to trade for Cliff Lee this summer. They didn't get either, and after they lost in three straight, they watched Lewis and Lee win three of the four games as the Rangers ousted New York.

Worst overreaction to a loss: Phillies fans, who sat in absolute disbelief as they watched the final outs in Game 6 against the Giants. The Phillies won 97 games, the most in the majors (for the first time in franchise history). They were the most impressive team entering the playoffs. They have their Big 3 starters ready for another go next year. And because they lost four of six games to the Giants, they're suddenly too old? Come on.

Worst timing for a movie: Isn't that Moneyball movie supposed to come out soon? Any chance they can rewrite it and reshoot it on the other side of the Bay? The Giants pride themselves on being the ultimate anti-Moneyball team, and the AL champion Rangers don't really subscribe to Moneyball, themselves. Funny that in the middle of a World Series between two teams that believe in old-fashioned scouting, the Mets would hire Moneyball founder Sandy Alderson to take over their organization.

Best team: Yeah, as if I'm going to pick anyone but the Giants. They were impressive, with a pitching staff that dominated and a lineup that didn't look good, but did just enough. I'm happy for Cody Ross, Andres Torres and Edgar Renteria, three of the nicest guys I covered in my years on the Tiger beat. I'm happy for Bruce Bochy, one of the best managers in the game, and for plenty of good people in that organization.

Believe it or not, I'm even happy for the Giants fans, especially those for whom this was every bit the lifelong dream that 2004 was for many in New England, or that 2005 was on the South Side of Chicago.

Maybe most of the country didn't care, as evidenced by the low ratings. Maybe it wasn't the best World Series ever.

But you could say the same about the 1984 World Series, and as I know from my time in Michigan, a whole bunch of people in that state consider it the best World Series ever.

Years from now, a whole bunch of people in Northern California will say the same about this one.

By then, maybe they'll forget that I picked it wrong. Or, at the very least, maybe they'll forgive me for it.
Posted on: October 22, 2010 12:11 am
Edited on: October 22, 2010 12:17 am

Texas leads New York in ratings game, too

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In today's column , I wrote about the opportunity the Rangers have this weekend to establish a new identity and build a new fan base by making it to the first World Series in franchise history. In that column, I mention that for the first five games of the AL Championship Series, the TBS ratings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (21.2) far exceeded the rating in New York (13.9).
I then asked TBS how that rating compared to the other cities during its coverage of the Division Series. TBS televises all Division Series games, and one of the two LCS each year.

The answer was that it's not bad. It's comparable to the best ratings TBS received in any competing city -- and far, far better than the Rangers games got locally in the first round.

The Rangers' local rating was last among the eight teams that played in the Division Series, although that can be explained in part by scheduling that had four of the five games played during the day (including two midweek day games). By contrast, the Phillies, Reds and Twins, whose ratings were the best, played only night games in the first round.

Here are the city-by-city ratings for the first-round games involving local teams:

1. Philadelphia, 24.6
2. (tie) Cincinnati 21.9
2. (tie) Minneapolis-St. Paul 21.9
4. San Francisco 15.6
5. Tampa-St. Petersburg 12.1
6. New York 11.9
7. Atlanta 11.6
8. Dallas-Fort Worth 10.5

And for the ALCS:

1. Dallas-Fort Worth 21.2
2. New York 13.9

The Texas market far outdid the New York market for each of the last three games:

For Game 3, it was 22.1 in Dallas-Fort Worth, 14.5 in New York. For Game 4, it was 26.5 in Dallas-Fort Worth, 17.1 in New York. For Game 5 (which began at 4 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. CT), it was 18.4 in Dallas-Fort Worth, 12.9 in New York.

Rangers people say that another factor to consider is that cable penetration in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is among the lowest in the country. That makes the low first-round rating more understandable, and the high ALCS rating even more impressive.

Posted on: October 15, 2010 12:44 pm

The counter-argument on Lee

ARLINGTON, Texas -- There was one thing I knowingly left out of today's column on Cliff Lee, and an alert reader pointed it out.

If you haven't yet read the column, here it is . But in short, my argument was that the Rangers' best chance of keeping Lee as a free agent this winter is to beat the Yankees, and possibly go on to win the World Series this fall. The idea is that he would be more hesitant to leave after winning, and they would be even more motivated (and more financially able) to keep him if they won.

But as even one Rangers person said to me yesterday, there is a little bit of a "double-edged sword" here. And the reader, who calls himself RaiderfanNY, was quick to jump on it.

"Your argument is a good one, that the better the Rangers do, the more Lee will want to stay," he wrote. "But there is a separate -- and better -- argument for why Lee will leave. The worse the Yankees do, the more money they will offer him. If the Yanks win the Series, they may decide their rotation is fine. But if they lose to Texas in 6, they'll offer Lee whatever it takes to reel him in."

It's a valid point, but here's why I don't agree with it: The Yankees aren't going to decide their rotation is fine, even if they go on to win the World Series. A.J. Burnett is still going to be a huge question mark, even if he pitches great in what could be two postseason starts (Game 4 in the ALCS, Game 4 in the World Series). Andy Pettitte is still going to be 38 years old, and in all likelihood he's still going to be considering retirement.

The Yankees are still going to want to add a top-level starting pitcher, and the free-agent market offers only one -- Cliff Lee.

Will Lee's price go up the better he pitches? I'm sure his very able agent would say that it will. But in this case, the highest-spending team in baseball is going to be ultra-motivated to sign him, no matter what (barring serious injury). The bigger question, I think, is how motivated he'll be to stay with the Rangers, and how motivated they'll be to keep him.

And I think the answer to both of those questions depends at least in part on what happens in this coming week.

A few other reader questions and comments:

From John:

"What the hell do you mean that the Yankees will see the Rangers without Cliff Lee pitching in Game 1 or 2? News flash -- Game 2 is Saturday. Get a clue."

News flash -- Game 3 in Monday. And Cliff Lee will be starting it.

From Rob:

"While I appreciate the wonderful things Bobby Cox has done, it feels unjust that Cito Gaston retired this season with nowhere near the same amount of media reaction and love. Unfortunately, Cito has never received proper recognition. Could it be because of his color, because he managed up north, who knows?

Cito deserves more credit than he gets for winning back-to-back World Series with the Blue Jays. But Cox is at the end of a 29-year managerial career that included a record 16 postseason appearances. Cito is at the end of a 2 1/2-year second time around with the Jays. It's not the same thing.

From Richard:

"Danny, it's easy to see why you have such sympathy for Conrad. He's a career hack and so are you. You'd be so much better off if you had to come up with only one column a week. Have a nice day. Richard."

From Tom:

"Good piece, Danny. I cringed when I watched Conrad's errors. There is a lot of sympathy, for sure. . . "

Richard, meet Tom. Tom, meet Richard.

And Richard, have a nice day.

Posted on: October 12, 2010 1:17 am

Giants-Phillies will be good, if they can score

ATLANTA -- In four games with the Braves, the Giants hit .212 as a team. They scored 11 runs. They struck out 43 times.

And they won.

More power to them, right?

Yeah, and good luck to them if they try to do that against the Phillies.

That's not to say the Giants have no chance in the National League Championship Series that will begin Saturday night in Philadelphia. No team in the league has someone who can match up as well with Roy Halladay as Tim Lincecum can, and no one has a second and third starter who can match up with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels as well as Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez can.

"I think we have a whole pitching staff that can match up with anyone," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "We've just got to try to get our offense going a little."

Sanchez, who bats second for the Giants, hit .125 in the series against the Braves. So did Andres Torres, who leads off. Add in Juan Uribe, who hit .071, and you had more than a third of the lineup combining to go 5-for-46 with two runs scored and no runs driven in.

And they won, because their pitching was so good -- or because the Braves lineup was even worse.

The Giants understandably believe in their pitching. The Giants also, realistically, realize it's going to be near-impossible to beat the Phillies by averaging fewer than three runs a game.

"They've got a lineup that can really swing," Cody Ross said. "But we've got a really good pitching staff."

Because the Giants were able to finish the Division Series in four games, by beating the Braves 3-2 on Monday night, they also have that pitching staff set up the way they want it.

Lincecum, who won the last two NL Cy Young Awards, will be on a full week's rest for his matchup with Halladay, the likely Cy Young winner this year. Cain can go in Game 2, Sanchez sets up for Game 3 back in San Francisco and rookie Madison Bumgarner, who pitched so well in Monday's clincher, gets a home start in Game 4.

And the Giants will hope to get them a few runs. Very few, in all likelihood, but maybe just enough.

"That's how we've been playing all year," closer Brian Wilson said.

With Lincecum vs. Halladay, with Pat Burrell returning to Citizens Bank Park to try to deny the Phillies a third straight NL pennant, this is the NLCS matchup that neutrals had to be hoping for. It's a whole lot more compelling than Phillies vs. Braves would have been, given the gap between those two teams that became so obvious in six head-to-head matchups in the final weeks of the season.

Maybe the Phillies will prove that the gap between them and the Giants is just as wide. But maybe the Giants' pitching will shut down the Phillies' lineup the way it just shut down the Braves' (admittedly much weaker) lineup.

Maybe the Giants hitters will be able to get going just a little, as Sanchez hoped for.

The Giants believe it's possible.

"It's going to be a great series," Sanchez said.

It will be, if only the Giants can score a few runs.
Posted on: October 11, 2010 2:57 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2010 6:21 pm

Glaus at 3B, Conrad sits for Braves

ATLANTA -- Bobby Cox is as loyal as any manager, but he's also realistic.

So for what could be the final game of his 29-year career, the Braves manager has chosen to sit Brooks Conrad, the infielder who has made eight errors in the last seven games, and whose error allowed the Giants to score the winning run in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday.

Troy Glaus will play third base for the Braves in tonight's Game 4, with Omar Infante moving to second base.

"He needs a day off," Cox said, referring to Conrad. "He needs to get away from it."

Cox also dropped the struggling Jason Heyward (0-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series) to sixth in the order, with Matt Diaz moving up to take Heyward's normal second spot.

Glaus has 1,337 games of major-league experience at third base, and he made the play of the series there, starting a game-saving double play in Game 2. But Cox has been hesitant to use him at third (he played just two major-league innings there in the regular season), because at this stage of his career he has almost no mobility.

"We'll see how it goes," Cox said.

Glaus, who played a week's worth of games at third base during a rehabilitation assignment late in the season, expressed confidence in his ability to handle the position.

"I've played there for a long time," he said. "I'll try to make all the plays I'm supposed to make."

Playing second base is no problem for Infante, who came to the big leagues as a middle infielder. In fact, when Chipper Jones was hurt, the Braves played Infante at second with Martin Prado at third. Then Prado was hurt, and Conrad played third until two huge errors there convinced Cox to move him to second base.

Now, three more huge errors convinced Cox to leave Conrad out of the lineup entirely.

"I talked to him," Cox said. "I told him to hold his head high, and maybe he'll get a pinch hit and win a game for us."

Coming off the field after batting practice today, Conrad could have easily avoided questions by quickly going to the clubhouse, but once again he willingly stopped and took questions.

He said he didn't sleep well Sunday night, but said today's talk with Cox was "another sign of what a great manager Bobby Cox is."

Conrad also thanked Braves fans who applauded him in the outfield during batting practice.

"I've had a lot of nice comments from the fans," he said. "That's really meant a lot to me."

The Braves trail the Giants two games to one in the best-of-5 series. Cox will retire at the end of the season.


For some great perspective on Conrad, check out Braves beat writer Dave O'Brien's blog today on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website.
Posted on: October 10, 2010 1:31 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2010 5:08 pm

Saito to replace Wagner on Braves roster

ATLANTA -- The Braves will take injured closer Billy Wagner off their playoff roster and replace him with Takashi Saito before today's Game 3 against the Giants, in a move that could well end the 38-year-old closer's career.

Manager Bobby Cox announced the switch in his pregame press conference, saying that Wagner's oblique injury was too serious for him to return anytime soon. By making the roster move mid-series, the Braves can't bring Wagner back if they advance to the National League Championship Series.

Technically, Wagner would be eligible to return to the Braves roster should Atlanta qualify for the World Series, but it seems a longshot that he would even be ready for that. Wagner continues to say that he will retire at the end of the season.

Wagner came to Turner Field today hoping to prove he could pitch, and doctors gave him an injection this morning. Wagner said the doctors first asked him whether he was definitely retiring, because by attempting to throw he risked a muscle tear that could jeopardize his ability to pitch next season.

The assurance was given, and so was the injection. But it didn't help.

"I was hoping for a miracle," Wagner said.

Wagner was hurt while pitching the 10th inning of Game 2 on Friday night in San Francisco. He said today that it felt "like somebody shot me in the side."

Saito pitched very well for the Braves this year, but he was left off the initial playoff roster because of a shoulder injury that cost him most of the final two weeks of the season. He continued to throw, and the Braves determined that he was healthy enough to pitch.

The Braves waited until today to make the change, hoping that Wagner would recover enough to give them hope that he could return, even for the NLCS.

Posted on: October 8, 2010 6:33 pm

Lincecum was great, but he wasn't Halladay

PHILADELPHIA -- Tim Lincecum pitched a great game for the Giants the other night.

Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter.

Tim Lincecum struck out 14, but he also allowed two hard-hit doubles. Roy Halladay, as one Reds official put it, gave up a lot of six-hoppers to the infield.

Tim Lincecum faced a Braves lineup that, with no Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, is not really playoff-quality. Roy Halladay faced the team that scored the most runs in the National League.

Tim Lincecum benefitted from hitters who swung at pitchers out of the strike zone all night long. Roy Halladay made pitches in the strike zone and was so perfect that the Reds could never square the ball up.

I hate to even bring any of this up, because Lincecum deserves huge credit for an outstanding performance. But a column in the New York Times Friday suggested that Lincecum had actually done better, based on his "game score," and the idea picked up some support among those who value statistics above all else.

It was scoffed at by most baseball people who watched the two games.

"One's a no-hitter, one's not," one scout said simply. "End of story."

Reds manager Dusty Baker agreed.

While the stat guys value strikeouts over other outs, Baker said that Halladay "wasn't trying to strike guys out."

Baker watched the Lincecum game on television, and of course he was impressed. But he still put it a notch below what he saw in person from Halladay the night before.

"That's one of the best-pitched games I've ever seen," he said. "And I've seen a lot of them, and faced a lot of them. And I'm not taking anything away from what Lincecum did."

Neither do I.

It was a great game. It wasn't Halladay.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or