Everybody needs love, love, love as the late, great Eddie Hinton sang (and as the great Drive-By Truckers currently sing).
It's what I've been saying for years now in lovingly compiling this annual Anti-All-Star team.
Sure, in summers like these, it's easy to bow before Boston's Adrian Gonzalez, do double-takes at Detroit's Justin Verlander, marvel at the Mets' Jose Reyes, be bedazzled by the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista.
But what about the others? What about those who, you know, are practically handed a police restraining order and told to stay at least 500 yards away from this year's All-Star Game in Phoenix (or possibly, hint, hint, face being deported)?
Maybe this isn't exactly their Summer of Love. But we come today offering big hugs anyway: A reserved spot on the don't-stop-believin', always-underachievin', caught-in-the-breezin', ever-deceivin', no-kudos-receivin', latest, greatest, in need of Band-Aids-est 2011 Anti-All-Star team.
You bet everybody needs love, love, love. Especially these guys. ...
Only one thing to say in this most trying of seasons for Minnesota's popular native son: Not well played, Mauer. Not well played at all.
Shrinking from the grand Twins tradition of gritty overachievers who are as aggressive as Minnesota mosquitoes and hearty as the state's ice fisherman, Mauer missed two months with something called "bilateral leg weakness," a term many around the organization seem to believe in as much as "tooth fairy" or "Easter Bunny." Look, nobody doubted Mauer was sore, achy and maybe in need of a break. But the great ones find a way to play even when they're not 100 percent. Especially in the first season of an eight-year, $184 million contract that now looks as long and foreboding as a Minnesota winter. Watch the black ice!
Backup: Houston's J.R. Towles, who, in addition to hitting .184 with a .270 on-base percentage, missed games last month due to "general soreness." I'll tell you what causes general soreness: Watching the Astros, that's what.
This is not pretty. The poor guy finally came back from last summer's concussion only to get knocked back onto the disabled list with a pinched nerve in his neck that required surgery. So he's on ice for another six weeks and you have to wonder whether he'll ever be the same player again. The former AL MVP who once smashed 34 homers currently has four in 231 plate appearances -- along with a .225 batting average and .281 on-base percentage. Manager Ron Gardenhire has been playing his own game of "Where's Waldo" with Morneau and Mauer all season. So far, he's still looking. I think out by Lake Minnetonka somewhere.
Remember when the Braves acquired Uggla last winter and everyone thought their offense would be unbelievable because of him? That was a good plan, wasn't it? And then remember this spring when the sight of Uggla in Fredi Gonzalez's lineup was so enticing? Yeah, looked good, didn't it? Then the season started. Yikes! Uggla's inconsistency and inability to put together any sort of streak continues to help make the Braves pale in comparison to the NL East-leading Phillies. Though he has boosted his homer total all the way up to 14 with 32 RBI (he had 33 and 105 last year), Uggla is hitting .183 with a .256 on-base percentage. Talk about a lemon ... or a Lemmer. Geez, even Mark Lemke finished his career at .246 and .317.
An Anti-All-Star two years running, just call him Mr. Versatility. Ramirez earned a spot on last year's club by loafing after that ball down the left-field line, undermining then-manager Fredi Gonzalez and being a general arrogant punk. A year later, Humbled Hanley's general attitude has been far better ... but his game has crumbled. Here he is, a former NL batting champion (.342 in '09), limping into the All-Star break with a .236 average (career coming into the season: .313), a .324 on-base percentage (.385 career into 2011), seven homers (career-high: 33 in '08), 31 RBI (he had 106 in '09) and just 43 runs scored (he led the NL with 125 in '08). Ugg(la)! With those numbers, he joins his former Florida double-play partner on our team. (Sorry, Edgar Renteria, you were seriously considered for your disappointing season in Cincinnati, but we can't make room for you).
Last time someone disappeared this mysteriously, people were talking about digging into the concrete under an end zone at Giants Stadium in New Jersey to find him. Figgins is no Jimmy Hoffa, but word is the Mariners might spend their All-Star break digging deep into the earth near third base in Safeco Field to see what turns up. Once a dynamic leadoff hitter and team sparkplug in Anaheim, Figgins is neither dynamic nor sparkplug-ish. We're long since past the point where maybe he was having difficulty dealing with the expectations of that four-year, $36 million free-agent contract. The way he's swinging, he would have difficulty dealing with Jennie Finch ... or Charlie Brown. The Mariners are reaching the point where they're going to have to consider eating his contract and moving along.
When word leaked from our top-secret selection headquarters (damn those Mexican restaurants, cheesy enchiladas and pitchers of margaritas!) that we were about to name Bay, he quickly blasted two homers in Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night in an obvious ruse to avoid being picked to this team. We tracked him down anyway. The Mets are to disappointments what King Kong was to the Empire State Building, and Bay has played his part in that. The slugger who slammed 36 homers and collected 119 RBI for Boston in 2009 has looked in a Mets uniform as helpless as Fay Wray or Jessica Lange in the big monkey's hand. A concussion slowed him and CitiField has stripped him of much of his power, but 12 homers and 75 RBI in 155 games over two seasons in New York ain't exactly what the Mets had in mind for that four-year, $66 million deal.
Here is a sentence you never want to hear from the manager after you give a guy a seven-year, $126 million deal: "I think he has bottomed out." Yet that was Davey Johnson's assessment of Werth just this week after the outfielder, hitting .218 for the season, limped through June at .154. The other night, he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Ramon Ortiz. Yes, that Ramon Ortiz. Werth didn't want to hit in the middle of the lineup earlier in the year, probably helped push his manager over the ledge with cryptic comments about the team needing change and even was hitting leadoff for awhile. In other words, what all of this added up to was tangible proof of what the critics said last winter, that this was not a guy to build a team around. At least he's in D.C., so what the hell -- just toss his money onto the colossal national debt pile. Right?
Nobody was quick enough to snap the photo, but Ramirez was last seen making his escape while flipping a middle finger to everybody in the game. That's essentially what he did after failing a performance-enhancing drug test for a second time in roughly two years. The crème de la crème of this one, though, came when Manny immediately retired like a coward instead of staying active to face his 100-game suspension. Many people alibied for his deteriorating game over the past couple of years, respected people like Joe Torre, and Manny just crapped on them all. When you look up the definition of Anti-All-Star, Manny's dreadlocked mug is right there. Together, if Manny and Milton Bradley (another Anti-All-Star hero) want to continue their careers, we've got just the place. It's hotter than Phoenix, but supposedly Skipper Beelzebub is a players' manager.
No shortage of candidates here: Jack Cust, who is delivering no pop to the Mariners, and Jorge Posada, who couldn't bring himself to play that night against Boston when manager Joe Girardi batted him ninth, received consideration. But given Dunn's monumental struggles after signing a four-year, $56 million deal last winter, the blood-red carpet is rolled out welcoming him to this team. How bad has it been for poor Dunn, who initially did not want to DH but opted to do so for a chance to win in Chicago? When he singled against Kansas City's Jeff Francis on Sunday, it snapped an 0-for-19 slump overall ... and it was only his second hit in 56 at-bats against lefties this season (.036). When Chicago fans actually rewarded him with a sarcastic standing ovation, Dunn tipped his batting helmet. Now let's see what the second half brings.
You bet we've named a three-man rotation this year. There were so many deserving candidates:
Start with Lackey, who has a fighting chance to make his five-year, $82.5 million deal one of the worst in Red Sox history. He's 5-8 with an airliner's ERA: 7.47. His Fenway Park ERA is more than a run higher at 9.17. He has surrendered five or more earned runs in six of 13 starts this season, and in 31 Fenway Park starts since signing with the Red Sox, he has surrendered five or more earned runs 11 times. Side note: Boston signed Lackey and Mike Cameron on the same day -- Dec. 14, 2009. Any medium- to small-market team devoting nearly $100 million to those two would be doomed for years.
Greinke missed April after bruising ribs playing basketball as spring training was starting. The Brewers have one of the most important seasons in franchise history riding in no small part on acquiring Greinke, and he's off shooting hoops? This after admitting this spring that he didn't give 100 percent last summer for the Royals after they dropped out of contention. Quick, somebody check: Does Marquette have any scholarships remaining?
Kazmir is looking for his next team after the Angels decided they would rather eat $14.5 million than send him to the mound again. How bad was he? His went 0-5 with a 17.02 ERA in five outings at Triple-A Salt Lake just before his release. And he's not even Mormon.
Closer: Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn
Say it ain't so, Wild Thing! Charlie Sheen told Sports Illustrated he took steroids while playing Wild Thing in the classic Major League and his fastball went from 79 mph to 85.
We can only hope Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon were tested while filming Bull Durham.
Did you watch fireworks on the Fourth of July? Whatever you saw, it wasn't nearly as spectacular as the way Riggleman blew up his own career. He had his reasons for quitting, and some of them were even good ones. But Riggleman handled his resignation so poorly that he never will manage again, and the reputation of a good organizational man is in tatters. Only one executive I spoke with was even remotely sympathetic. His reasoning: A club should not pick up a manager's option and string him along the way the Nationals did because while players have free agency, a manager cannot look for a job while employed by a club ... and then if the club doesn't pick up his option, it's often too late for him to find a job elsewhere. Still, even the executive who spelled this out wouldn't recommend Riggleman's escape route.
Bench coach for the Anti All-Stars is Eric Wedge of the Mariners. Did you see the way Seattle dropped that 1-0 decision to San Diego on Saturday? Cameron Maybin went to first following a seven-pitch at-bat ... after ball three. He thought he walked. Nobody caught it. He wound up scoring the game's only run. Bad enough the umpires missed it, but how did nobody in the opposing dugout catch it? Guaranteed, Tony La Russa or Jim Leyland wouldn't have missed that one.
Meantime, special mention to Butch Hobson, managing Lancaster in the Independent Atlantic League (IAL), for this epic meltdown and ejection.
Great line from an anonymous source in this month's Vanity Fair profile of the McCourts: Given his irresponsibile behavior and mountain of debt, McCourt is like a "financial suicide bomber."
Here's an idea: By reuniting him on this team with Manny, maybe McCourt can get something for the $20.9 million he still owes Ramirez?
Diamond killers! Graciously, Bono and the boys agreed to replace the sod in ballparks following dates on their 360 Degree tour, but with the season going on, the grass hasn't yet had time to set. A Marlins-Athletics game in Oakland was nearly canceled last week following heavy rain because the sod was in such bad condition. There have been complaints in Anaheim, too. Memo to infielders and outfielders regarding ground balls: Watch out for the bad hops, it ain't always a beautiful day following U2!