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Posts tagged ‘baseball’

Who Are You, And What Have You Done With Albert?

I won’t lie to you – picking on the Angels comes as naturally to me as breathing. Raised a Dodger fan, I learned early that the Angels are like that bratty little sister that wants to tag along with you and your friends. And quite honestly, that whole “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” BS is every bit as bush as the worst of the McCourt regime.

Winners and losers ...

This year, though, it’s almost like they’re trying to make it even easier for me. As long time MB followers know, my heart beats true to the teal of the Florida Marlins. When they made the call to rebrand the team I was on the fence about whether to stay a fan, but I saw how hard they were working to improve and stuck it out. At the top of their shopping list – slugging first baseman Albert Pujols. A decade of play with the St. Louis Cardinals brought personal fame and team success, and he was the biggest free agent to hit the market in years. The Fish seemed to be in pretty good position and looked very much like the only team with any real chance to convince him to switch uniforms – until the Angels swooped in and nabbed not only Pujols but another almost-Marlin, C. J. Wilson. Clearly, the hated Angels were in line for an amazing season. Clearly …

As I write this, Pujols and his Halo teammates are playing in their 26th game of the season, and Albert is still waiting for his first American League home run. Worst still, it’s not just a power thing – he’s just not hitting, period. Pujols, a career .327 hitter is hitting a miserable .206 – barely above the Mendoza – and is only getting on base 1 in 4 times by any method at all. Tonight, the game is only in the second inning and the mighty Albert has already hit into a double play. It’s the worst possible scenario for a guy making $12M a season – not to mention the guys writing the checks. Forced to carry the load not being toted by Pujols, the Angels are 10 and 15 for the season, and the chatter has already started.

I’ll be honest – I figured of all the free agent movement during the off-season, nothing was as automatic as the fact that Pujols would hit the crap out of the American League West. In Miami, we’re tearing our hair out watching Heath Bell blow save after save, but the idea that Pujols could look this confused at the plate is simply shocking. Long considered one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, it’s clear that pitchers simply do not fear him now. Watching a game last week with Pujols up in late innings, I saw a relief pitcher mow Pujols down on three pitches. The guy didn’t even bother nibbling the corners or trying to get Albert to swing at a bad pitch – he just threw the ball past him three straight times. It was as amazing as anything I’d seen.

As a Cardinal, one of the things that always set Albert Pujols apart from his peers was his mental approach to the game. Nicknamed “The Machine” by the media, you just couldn’t get into his head. In a way, it was reminiscent of another elite athlete known for his mental toughness, Tiger Woods. Woods seemed invincible until his carefully crafted world crashed around him; for years he couldn’t find his ass with both hands. St. Louis is well-known as the best place in baseball to play, with knowledgable fans who understand the ups and downs of the game – and knew that even if The Machine got into a rare slump, the old Albert would soon be back punishing the ball. Now, he’s in a new league, a new town and the only support he has is a freaking Rally Monkey.

One wonders just which direction this story will go …

Upon Further Review …

The cry of outrage over last night’s blown umpire call that ruined a perfect game has been every bit as loud as you might imagine. As predicted, umpire Jim Joyce has been the target of a lot of venom and abuse in the media, and that’s understandable. But a series of events since the moment have turned him into something of a sympathetic figure, and have led me to support an idea I never thought I’d embrace.

We all saw the play – the game was covered by no less than 5 broadcast teams, and there’s several mashups of the final call on YouTube. Ground ball … flip to first … safe! The replays clearly show the runner was out by a half-step and Joyce made the wrong call. But it’s worth noting that none of the announcers broadcasting the game thought he was out initially – they, like Joyce himself, thought it was a close “tie goes to the runner” call. Only after seeing the review did anyone realize what had happened. I myself was watching the game, and having seen Miguel Cabrera and his less-than-impressive work ethic in Florida for several years, my first thought was that his lazy ass just didn’t get rid of the ball fast enough (for the record, he ought to have tossed it when Armando Galarraga was approaching first base, rather than waiting until he got there – he made the play a lot closer than it should have been). It was a bang-bang play, and he just got it wrong.

What really makes things amazing to me is the reaction of the two key players in the drama – umpire Joyce and pitcher Galarraga. Every baseball fan has seen disputes between players and umpires, and it always goes the same way – the player is outraged, and the umpire is unmoved. It doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong – neither is ever willing to give an inch, or to acknowledge error.

In this case, when Galarraga saw Joyce give the “safe” sign, he smiled – not a smirk, but a smile of serenity … of fate. He was angry, he was disappointed … but accepting. He didn’t get throw his glove or get in the face of the umpire (that was saved for Tigers manager Jim Leyland and the rest of the infielders) – he simply composed himself and got out the next man to end the game.

Joyce, too, reacted in a way you might never expect – he admitted his error. More than that, he owned it. Clearly distraught after the game, he went down to the Tigers locker room afterwards to meet with and apologize to Galarraga personally – shocking, in light of the recent antics of fellow umpires Angel Hernandez and Joe West. He accepted responsibility for his mistake, talked to the media, and took his place behind the plate for today’s game, despite an offer to take the day off. While nothing can undo the error, his reaction to is has been as honorable as the rest of his twenty-year career.

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

As I indicated yesterday, I do not support using instant replay for cases such as this. Umpires like players are human and make mistakes, and in my mind, the perfect game could just as easily been lost by Cabrera letting the ball pass through his legs. That said, there is a rare opportunity for a form of redo that I believe is worth considering.

The Commissioner of Baseball has the ability to make rulings and overturn results “for the good of the game”. I believe this is a perfect opportunity to do just that. Reversing the blown call will not give Galarraga or his teammates the opportunity to celebrate his perfect game, nor the fans the chance to witness history. But it would correct two wrongs. First, by changing two at-bats in last night’s game (changing the last hit to an out and negating the final at-bat), Armando Galarraga would take his rightful place alongside Roy Halliday and Dallas Braden as the owner of a perfect game. Perhaps more important, he would give Jim Joyce a graceful way to avoid having his entire career – one that many players have stated publicly is among the best of the best – relagated to a footnote compared to this one mistake. It’s the right answer for the two men and the game, and is one rare case where I believe such post-game meddling is justified.

UPDATE: As usual whenever Bud Selig has the chance to make a decision (think “ending the All-Star game as a tie”), he’s made the wrong one. Instead of righting a wrong, he’s going to throw the entire umpire community under the bus by advocating additional use of instant replay:

“While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed,” Selig said in a statement. “Given last night’s call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features.”

Nice leadership, Bud …

Looking For A Little Place In The Country?

Everyone dreams of a wonderful place to spend their retirement. Some dream of a lanai on the Big Island, others a penthouse balcony in Manhattan, but a lot hope for a little country home they can call their own. Well, if you have a little change jingling in your pocket, have I got a deal for you!

We’ve all seen the Kevin Costner baseball flick, “Field of Dreams.” For those with a short memory, Costner’s Ray Kinsella is an Iowa farmer who follows the advice of a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field. Amazing things happen, and the catch phrase “If You Build It, He Will Come” (#39 in the American Film Institute’s list of famous film quotes) was born.

Universal Pictures build a real diamond in a real Dyersville, Iowa cornfield for the shooting, and when they left it turned into a real tourist attraction – and now it can be yours.

The baseball diamond is part of a 193-acre tract that Don and Becky Lansing have had in their family for more than 100 years.

The Lansings are asking $5.4 million for the field and surrounding farmland plus the house used in the movie, two souvenir stands and six other farm buildings.

The sale will be conduced without stipulations, meaning the new owner could potentially plow under the field, just as the fictitious Ray Kinsella was urged to do by his bankers in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

“We love the land and the field, but it is time for us to head to the locker room,” said Becky. She added “we are getting up there in years and it is time to think about retirement.”

Both Costner and co-star Ray Liotta were rumored to be interested in buying the property, but that was just an urban myth. The unfortunate reality is that most small farms (and yes, this qualifies as “small”) are bought by neighboring corporate tracts, which could result in the field being restored to it’s earlier pre-baseball condition. But it’s not too late to step in and buy your own little piece of heaven – interested parties may contact real estate consultant Ken Sanders about the property at (414) 803-4220 or e-mail him at kensanders20@gmail.com.

Rest Day Sports Rant

This being the first of two rest days on the 2009 Tour de France, it would be easy for me to claim the need to take a blogging rest day as well. But as much as our readers might vigorously support that notion, we soldier on … :-)

– File this under “You Knew It Was Coming,” but apparently the David Beckham Experience is being branded a failure. When Becks signed with the LA Galaxy two years ago, he was declared the second coming of Pele and the Man To Save Soccer In America. Hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it? Two coaches gone, a GM buried and now the once and future captains of the Galaxy are at odds with each other. I have nothing against Landon Donovan calling out Beckham for his role in the heavy-handed orchestration of control of the team. Donovan is every bit the world-class player Becks is, and unlike Beckham played by the rules and came home to the Galaxy from Europe when he was supposed to. Now, he did screw the pooch by venting his spleen to a reporter (who promptly put it into his new book) rather than to Beckham directly, but hell – how’s he supposed to talk to Becks when he’s off in Italy? Beckham is back in SoCal now, and none too pleased with the whole thing, and is trying to defend his professionalism. Personally, I think any semblance of professionalism – at least as it relates to his commitment to the Galaxy – has long since left the station. All he can do now is ride out his time with the Galaxy, do what he can to raise the image of soccer in LA and hang out with Tom C and those other galaxians until he can split town for good. UPDATE: Bring on the humble pie. Donovan and Beckham had their little talk, and there’s no question who’s who’s bitch now. Donovan’s quote for the media: “We’re getting past it, we’re moving on,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of things I regret. I regret the way that I went about this process and I also regret some of the things I said.”

– C’mon, tell the truth: you thought Lance Armstrong would have cracked on the first big climb of the Tour, didn’t you? It’s OK to admit it – you won’t be alone. Lance was beyond riding age when he retired 4 years ago; to be riding competitively at 37 is some kind of freak show. But then, he’s already demonstrated a superhuman will once before … or rather, seven times. After the first nine stages, Armstrong sits 8 seconds behind the yellow jersey and 2 behind his teammate, Alberto Contador. The team time trial, won in dominating fashion by Armstrong’s Astana squad, put so much time into their competitors that after only a week this tour has come down to pretty much a two-man race. Contador won the first season after Armstrong’s retirement, and his break from Lance to leapfrog him in the standings mid-week shows that he perceives Armstrong as much as a rival as a teammate. Lance performed remarkably well in the Pyrenees, and should maintain his position until the Tour reaches the Alps in a week. That’s when the race will be won, and that’s when it’s gonna get really interesting around the Astana team dinner table …

– Major League Baseball has reached the All-Star break, the traditional mid-point of the season, and with that pundits will look back to the first half for signs of how the season will play out. Naturally, I’m one of them … :-) So what have we learned so far? Well, with the single exception of the Dodgers, the National League sucks this year. We’ve seen it play out that way in the All-Star game for the last few years, but now we’re seeing it in the standings. LA has the best record in baseball, but you have to pass three American League teams before you get to the next best from the NL – and that’s only because Philly’s won five in a row. I mean, the Marlins are only 2 games over .500 and are still in the race – not pretty. The Dodgers are putting up balanced numbers, and have only gotten better since the return of ManRam, so barring some un-Torre-like tent folding, expect them to have a spot in the World Series. The AL’s a little trickier to handicap – Boston was out of the gate quick but is fading, and the Yankees bought bats are finally starting to come alive. The Angels lead the west for the moment, but they’ll remember they’re the Angels by the playoffs and insure that whoever takes the East takes the pennant. Should be an interesting second half …

– By any definition, the death of Steve McNair is tragic – another celebrity gone far too young through less than natural causes. But watching the coverage of his death, the investigation into his murder, and his funeral over the weekend, I noticed one significant difference from most of the recent deaths in the media. McNair was killed by his 20-yr-old girlfriend, who then shot herself, While it was noted that McNair was married with children, you’ve seen very little of them. I don’t know if it was a deliberate decision by the news media (unlikely), a result of the actions of the family during this period (possibly) or just luck, but the wife and kids have avoided the media circus that traditionally enveloped anyone near the celebrity in question. In this case, that’s a great thing, since they really aren’t the story and shouldn’t be forced to deal with the grief and embarrassment in public. I’d like to think that somehow the media recognized that sticking a microphone and camera into the widow’s face and questioning her about her husband’s girlfriend on the way to the funeral was wrong. I guess we’ll see, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope for next time.