Posted on: June 2, 2010 8:44 pm

You'll tell your grandkids that you saw him play

My grandmother was never a baseball fan, but she did like to tell people that she once went to see Babe Ruth play.

Needless to say, I never saw Ruth. But I did see Ken Griffey Jr., and I do find it somehow appropriate that 75 years to the day after Ruth announced his retirement, Griffey announced his.

He was a great player, maybe the best I've seen in 20-plus years covering the major leagues. He was a great showman, maybe the best I've seen at that, too. He wasn't always perfect, and his career didn't end without some controversy.

But neither did Ruth's.

The day Ruth retired, the New York Times said that Braves manager Bill McKechnie had asked the team to release him a few days earlier. Ruth, according to the account, "said he had been 'double-crossed'" by club president Emil E. Fuchs. He announced that he would ask to go on the voluntarily retired list, and the Braves released him.

Oh, and Ruth was hitting .181 at the time.

Years later, we don't remember how it ended. We remember the Babe, the home runs, the legends.

Just as we'll remember Griffey's home runs, his catches, and the 1995 slide across home plate that beat the Yankees in the playoffs and saved baseball in Seattle. We'll remember that through the 1990s, there wasn't a better all-around player in the game. There wasn't a more exciting player in the game.

We'll remember the day he played in the Mariners outfield alongside his father, and the day he returned to the Mariners so that he could end his career where it began.

"I was raised in Cincinnati," Griffey said last spring. "But I grew up here."

"He IS the Seattle Mariners," Jay Buhner told the Seattle Times that week.

Griffey is the Mariners, but he's more than that.

If you saw him play, you didn't forget him.

And some day, you'll be telling your grandkids.
Category: MLB
Posted on: May 28, 2010 10:42 am
Edited on: May 28, 2010 1:30 pm

3 to watch: The What now? edition

A month ago today, we told you that the Mets were a mess to figure out.

Well, guess what? A month later, the Mets are a mess to figure out.

One week, they're changing three-fifths of the starting rotation, and everyone thinks they might change the manager, too. There's a mess with John Maine, a mess with Darryl Strawberry and a mess with Francisco Rodriguez.

Then the Mets win a series from the Yankees, and sweep a series from the Phillies -- on three straight shutouts . Anyone need reminding that the Yankees and Phillies are the defending league champions?

So now the Mets are rolling again, just two games behind the Phillies in the National League East. Now we see all the Mets' potential, with two ace-like starting pitchers atop the rotation (Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey), with grit that they haven't shown in years, with Jose Reyes looking like himself atop the lineup, with Carlos Beltran coming back sometime (although not soon), with a rebuilt rotation, and with a team that sure does seem to respond for Jerry Manuel.

And a team that still owns the worst road record in the entire National League. A team that plays in a ballpark where it sometimes seems impossible to hit a home run, and still features a key middle-of-the-order hitter (Jason Bay) who has homered only at home.

Oh, and a team that's about to open a road series against the team with the worst home record in baseball.

Sounds like a perfect place to begin this weekend's 3 to watch:

1. At this point, we'll have to assume that Manuel's job is safe for another . . . no, we're not going to say it, because with the Mets, there's always another crisis around the corner. But what about Ken Macha? A week ago, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel , "I can tell you unequivocally, we are not making a manager change on Monday." That was last Monday he was talking about, and the Brewers unequivocally did not change managers that day. Macha was still the manager when the Brewers finally won a home series (against the awful Astros), and we're going to have to assume he'll be there when Santana faces Yovani Gallardo in Mets at Brewers, Friday night (8:10 EDT) at Miller Park .

2. There's still a lot of doubt that Roy Oswalt will actually get traded, given the limited list of teams he's said to be interested in going to, and Astros owner Drayton McLane's limited (or non-existent) history of trading away his favorite players. But one popular destination, at least when baseball people talk about Oswalt, is the Angels, who have been searching for an ace for more than a year now. The Astros aren't on the Angels' interleague schedule, so they won't get to see Oswalt in person. They will, however, get a close look at another even more likely-to-be-available ace, Cliff Lee, in Mariners at Angels, Friday night (10:05 EDT) at Angel Stadium . Lee starts Friday, Felix Hernandez starts Sunday, and Chone Figgins will be back in Anaheim for the first time in a Mariner uniform.

3. Josh Johnson hasn't allowed a run in more than two weeks. The Phillies haven't scored a run off a starting pitcher in a week. Josh Johnson is the scheduled starter, against Roy Halladay, in Phillies at Marlins, Saturday night (7:10 EDT) at Sun Life Stadium . Sounds like maybe the Phillies ought to think about scoring a run Friday night against Chris Volstad.

Posted on: April 30, 2010 10:30 am

3 to watch: The who needs April edition

Saturday is May 1, and that means Saturday is the first anniversary of Joe Mauer's 2009 debut with the Twins.

The first anniversary of the first day of an MVP season.

A year ago today, the two teams that would meet for the American League championship were 11-10 (Yankees) and 9-11 (Angels). The team that would win the National League wild card, the Rockies, was 8-12. The guy who would win the NL Rookie of the Year (Chris Coghlan) was still in the minor leagues, and the guy who would win the AL Rookie of the Year (Andrew Bailey) had yet to record the first of his 26 saves.

The point isn't that April is meaningless. But a great season doesn't depend on it.

Which is good news for Cliff Lee, Brad Lidge, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ian Kinsler and anyone else readying for a 2010 debut this weekend.

And good news for this weekend's 3 to watch:

1. Felix and Cliff. Cliff and Felix. That was supposed to be the 2010 Mariners, right? So maybe it fits that Lee's injury-delayed Mariner debut falls on Felix Hernandez bobblehead night, in Rangers at Mariners, tonight (10:10 EDT) at Safeco Field . The M's went 11-11 while Lee recovered from an abdominal strain, and in the crazy American League West, that was good enough to leave them just half a game out of first place. They're one game ahead of the last-place Rangers, who will be just as happy to see second baseman Ian Kinsler make his 2010 debut, after missing the first month of the season with an ankle problem.

2. The Phillies survived Lidge's terrible 2009 season, all the way up to the World Series, so it's no real surprise that they survived when he missed the first 21 games of this season while recovering from elbow and knee surgeries. But fill-in closer Ryan Madson converted only four of his six save opportunities and has a 7.00 ERA, so we'll believe manager Charlie Manuel when he says, "We can always use Lidge back." He returns tonight, although the game we want to see in this series is Mets at Phillies, Saturday afternoon (3:10 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park . That's Roy Halladay (4-1, 1.80) against Mike Pelfrey (4-0, 0.69, and 24 consecutive scoreless innings). Of course, with Halladay's history (51 career complete games, including two in his first five starts with the Phillies), Lidge may not be needed on Saturday.

3. What should we expect from Matsuzaka, who missed the first month of the season with a strained neck? We really don't have much of an idea, do we, which is what makes his 2010 debut, in Red Sox at Orioles, Saturday night (7:05 EDT) at Camden Yards compelling. At his best, Matsuzaka gives the Red Sox perhaps the best 1-5 rotation in baseball, along with Josh Beckett (who had a terrible April), Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz. At his worst -- well, last year Matsuzaka was 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA in just 12 starts.

Posted on: April 25, 2010 10:03 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2010 10:13 pm

3 to watch: The almost Cy vs. Cy edition

This is the week you really wish you could tweak a couple of pitching rotations.

This is the week the Mariners play the Royals -- but 2009 Cy Young rivals Felix Hernandez (pitching Monday) and Zack Greinke (pitching Tuesday) miss each other by a day.

This is the week the Phillies play the Giants -- but possible 2010 Cy Young rivals Roy Halladay (pitching Monday) and Tim Lincecum (pitching Wednesday) miss each other by two days.

That's fine, because this is also the week the Tigers and Twins get together for the first time this season. So, with no power to change rotations, we'll stick with the American League Central rivals to lead off this week's 3 to watch:

1. The Twins never led the division by more than one game last year -- and they didn't even hold that lead until two days after the regular season was scheduled to end. The Twins already lead by three games this year, and one scout who saw them recently declared, "If they had a legitimate closer, they'd be one of the top three teams in baseball." We're not sure about that, but we are sure that the Twins and Tigers played the best single game we saw all last season. Their first meeting since comes this week, in Twins at Tigers, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Comerica Park . Justin Verlander, who finished third in last year's Cy Young voting, faces Francisco Liriano, who is off to the kind of start that could get him into this year's Cy race.

2. Not everyone predicted that the Twins would be this good. Believe it or not, someone (that would be me) picked the White Sox to win the AL Central. Hey, it still could happen, especially if the White Sox keep up this weekend's one game-winning homer a day pace -- or if Jake Peavy (7.66) and Gavin Floyd (8.38) recover to have two of the best ERAs in the AL, instead of two of the worst. Peavy, Floyd and the Sox get another chance this week, with Peavy starting in White Sox at Rangers, Wednesday night (8:05 EDT) at Rangers Ballpark .

3. It's not Halladay vs. Lincecum, as we hoped for. But it is Lincecum against the two-time NL champs, and we'll take that. Over the last two years, Lincecum's ERA against the Phillies: 1.24. The Phillies' run total in the other 338 (regular-season) games they played: 5.07. Lincecum starts against Cole Hamels, in Phillies at Giants, Wednesday afternoon (3:45 EDT) at AT&T Park .

Posted on: March 9, 2010 7:04 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2010 7:06 pm

Goodbye Cactus, Hello Grapefruit

ORLANDO -- I've traded Aroldis Chapman for Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, Angel Guzman for Joe Nathan, Los Sombreros in Scottsdale for Frenchy's in Clearwater, cactus for grapefruit.

After three weeks checking out the 15 teams in Arizona, I've checked out of Phoenix and touched down in Florida (and colleague Scott Miller has left Florida for the desert).

A few sights, thoughts and observations from half of spring training with half the teams:

-- Best story: It doesn't get much better than Chapman, whose name comes up in almost every Cactus League ballpark, whether the Reds are there or not. The other day in Mesa, scouts were debating whether he'd have signed for the same money if he was Dominican rather than Cuban. The consensus: Yes, he would have, because you just don't find left-handed starters who throw 100 mph.

-- Best team: The White Sox, whose road to an American League Central title got a little easier with today's news about Twins closer Joe Nathan. Other impressive teams: The Rockies, the Mariners and the Angels.

-- Worst team: The Indians, even though prospects Carlos Santana ("another Victor Martinez") and Lonnie Chisenhall are getting great reviews.

-- Player who looks the most different: With apologies to Andruw Jones and Geovany Soto, it has to be Matt Stairs, barely recognizable after losing 37 pounds. "When you get to Clearwater, tell [Shane] Victorino that I'm smaller than him," Stairs requested. And we will. Oh, and give credit to Jones and Soto, who both seem to have taken conditioning seriously over the winter.

-- Team that has the most fun: Apologies to the Rockies and the Brewers, but it's got to be the Mariners. Just the sight of Felix Hernandez serving as bat boy in the M's intrasquad game (with "BB" taped over the number on his back) was all the proof I needed.

-- Strangest sight: Walking through the abandoned White Sox clubhouse building in Tucson for the Diamondbacks' Justin Upton press conference. The Sox moved to Glendale last year, but the doors to the empty clubhouse still have Sox logos on them. Next year, all of Tucson will be a baseball ghost town, but for now, it's just half of Tucson Electric Park.

-- Best quote: A tie between Torii Hunter and Ozzie Guillen. Torii on losing to the Yankees in the playoffs: "I couldn't stand up. All I want now is the ring. Not a gold glove. Not the Hall of Fame. My satisfaction would be winning the World Series. If I get that, I'm passing out on the field." Ozzie on whether Lou Piniella will manage past 2010: "They keep paying you, why go see your family every day? We need people like Lou in this game. Lou is what . . . just 65? I thought he was 78."
Posted on: February 18, 2010 7:42 pm

Felix the Mariner

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As the Johnny Damon free-agent soap opera drags on, nobody seems certain what part Damon's wife is playing in his decision (or so far lack of decision).

Here's one thing we do know: Felix Hernandez's wife Sandra is part of the reason that Hernandez is still a Mariner, and will be for at least the next five years.

Asked about the new contract today, Hernandez talked about how much he likes playing in Seattle -- and how much his wife and family like living there.

"Last year, when the rumors were that I might get traded, my wife was sad, because she didn't want to move," Hernandez said. "We wanted to stay in Seattle."

The Mariners were talking about trading Hernandez, and some people with the Red Sox still believe that they weren't that far from making a deal. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, while admitting that he talked to teams about Hernandez, said that one big reason that a trade didn't get done (and might never have gotten done) is what Hernandez told him when the two talked.

Zduriencik wanted to make sure that Hernandez really wanted to stay. Hernandez assured him that he wanted to stay.

Sure enough, Hernandez agreed to a five-year contract last month.

He loves Seattle. And so, he said today, does his wife.
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 8, 2010 5:45 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2010 5:46 pm

Thinking about Selig -- and Gillick

Whatever you think of Bud Selig the commissioner, it's hard to fault the Brewers for paying tribute to Selig the owner. He did bring baseball back to Milwaukee and eventually got Miller Park built. And even if for many of those years the Brewers were awful -- they finally made it back to the postseason a few years after the Selig family sold the team to Mark Attanasio -- without Selig, there are no Brewers and likely no Milwaukee baseball.

But while Selig and his statue-to-be are in the news today , I'm more fascinated by another longtime baseball executive.

It's not that there's any real news on Pat Gillick today. But in a column over the weekend in the Toronto Sun, Bob Elliott pointed out something about Gillick that is truly amazing.

We already know that Gillick was perhaps the best general manager of our generation, building playoff teams in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, winning back-to-back World Series with the Blue Jays and then winning it all again with the 2008 Phillies.

But here's the real kicker: Not one of the three teams Gillick left has made it to the playoffs even once since he's been gone. That's 15 years and counting since he stepped down as Jays GM after the 1994 season, 11 years and counting since he left the Orioles after 1998 and six years and counting with the Mariners.

Yes, the Phillies did make it back to the World Series under Ruben Amaro in 2009, but Gillick was still with the team as an influential advisor. And, as Elliott also pointed out, Gillick has committed to stay with the Phillies.

They want to keep him because of all that he adds.

I'm thinking they need to keep him because of what happens to teams when he leaves.

Posted on: December 23, 2009 3:32 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2009 3:33 pm

Trading 'the guy who's not Lincecum'

Brandon Morrow is a talented 25-year-old pitcher.

He's also "the guy the Mariners drafted when they should have taken Tim Lincecum."

Some labels you just can't shake. Maybe now that the Mariners have sent Morrow to Toronto for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez (great name, huh?), Morrow will get out from under this one. And maybe, after two years in which the Mariners couldn't seem to figure out if he's a starter or a closer, Morrow will develop into one (with Toronto, he'll start out as a starter).

But for one final time, let's think back to what the Mariners did in June 2006, because it symbolizes how much things went wrong in the Bill Bavasi regime, almost as much as the Erik Bedard trade does.
Lincecum was pitching across town at the University of Washington. If any team should have realized what he was and what he might become, it was the Mariners. Seattle had the sixth pick in that June's draft.

The Mariners weren't the only team to pass on Lincecum, who went to the Giants with the 10th pick. But the Mariners were the team that should have been most familiar with him.

It only made matters worse that the M's used their pick on another college right-hander, another Pac-10 right-hander -- Morrow, from the University of California. He was in the big leagues the following year, but in parts of three seasons he's just 8-12 with 16 saves.

Morrow has shown some promise. Lincecum has back-to-back Cy Youngs.

And, we promise, that's the last time we'll bring it up -- at least until Morrow wins a Cy Young, or League helps the Mariners to the World Series, or Johermyn Chavez (whose first name is sometimes spelled Yohermyn) becomes an MVP.

Category: MLB
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