November 2005

Step back from the ledge

Tremendous agitation seems to be sweeping Cardinal fandom regarding the departures of Abraham Nunez and John Mabry. From the email I receive, and from reading some of the message boards, it appears that the prevailing notion is that the Cardinals are sitting on their hands, that Walt Jocketty is fiddling while Rome burns.

Come on, folks. Really now.

Why are these developments so disastrous? Did anyone really want the Cardinals to
give Abraham Nunez two years, an option for a third and a guaranteed three-plus million? Nunez had a really nice year, and he’s a fantastic guy. But he also had a career year, and the odds are against him doing it again. From a baseball perspective I think it was wise not to leap into the bidding for a guy whose career line, even after last year, is 248/314/326. I wish Nunez well. I hope he’s a raging success in Philadelphia. But the Cards will be better off giving a shorter, cheaper deal to next year’s Abraham Nunez or Miguel Cairo or Tony Womack.

The same goes for Mabry. Terrific guy. Very useful player in the right role. But to guarantee him a deal at this point should not have been the highest priority. And his 2005 season could well be an indication that he’s slipping, rather than just a down year.

Seriously, I have no idea why people are so up in
arms about this. If you’re a fan, and you’ll miss these guys, that’s cool. I understand that. But the fact that the Cardinals have lost those two guys, and not signed anyone, doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything. And it doesn’t mean next year’s chances have been crippled.

Both Nunez and Mabry are replaceable, from the team’s perspective. I’ll miss them on a daily basis. But from all I can tell, the team is focusing on bigger things. And there will be reasonably priced, useful bench players available in January. Be patient. Don’t jump just yet.


Certain things have come to light, and…

This is disappointing.

Not crushingly devastating, but disappointing. They wait all this time to put out a special edition, and what’s so special about it? No deleted scenes. No commentary tracks. C’mon… you can do better than that. Let’s just say I’m glad I bought the movie long ago and didn’t wait for a special edition.

I did the opposite with Office Space, waiting and waiting and waiting before it was finally given to me as a gift. Within six months, the special edition was released. And I bought it anyway, because it DOES contain deleted scenes and goodies that were worth waiting for.

Anyway. We’ll talk ball soon, OK?


Two Weeks to Go

Sadly, only two more weeks of college football remain before bowl season. I hate how quickly the season disappears. However, if you watched this weekend, you saw why those of us who are fanatical about the game feel the way we do…

* Reggie Bush isn’t human, and that SC-Fresno game was incredible stuff.

* GT-Miami was a tremendous game with enormous implications, the kind of game that shows off the every-week-is-huge nature of college football.

* And of course Harvard-Yale, where the mighty Crimson triumphed for a fifth year in a row. Congrats to Brown on that Ivy League title, but don’t get too comfortable with it.

* Don’t forget the two great finishes, OSU-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas Tech.

Just great stuff. Here’s to one more wonderful weekend, and then a memorable day of conference championships in a week and a half.


Leach's Top-10

It’s been a while. I didn’t stop watching college football, but the enthusiasm does wane when FSU’s season goes south. Ah well.

1. Texas — I think you can put them and SC in a hat, but I just think they have a larger number of really impressive wins. They’ve been absolutely steamrolling teams that range from rather good (Texas Tech) to not bad and better than you might think (Baylor).

2. USC — Either way, it doesn’t really matter who’s 1 and who’s 2. These are the two best teams, nobody is going to beat either one and we should have an incredible national title game.

3. Alabama — They should have lost to Tennessee. But they didn’t. They’re undefeated, in the SEC, and that’s good enough for me. If they can run the table, though, it will be hard to justify keeping them out of the Rose Bowl — LSU, Auburn and then the SEC title game.

4. Miami — After they eviscerated VaTech, I’m with the pollsters — this is the best one-loss team in the country. I’m absolutely dreading an FSU rematch with these guys. Ugh.

5. Penn State — I love the way this team can put up points. Smacking Wisconsin around was a really good win.

6. Georgia — They were docked way too much for losing to Florida. They always lose to Florida. It’s just the way it is. This is a tough team, very complete, and it can do a lot of things well. I expect them to finish the regular season 10-1 and give Alabama a real run in the SEC championship.

7. Virginia Tech — Still a very good team, they just ran into an ultra-motivated and very talented Miami squad. I wouldn’t want to play them next, that’s for sure (hi, UVa!).

8. LSU — Something about this team just doesn’t thrill me, and I can’t put my finger on it. A win at ‘Bama would change that, though.

9. Ohio State — They have two close losses to two very good teams. If I have Texas and Penn State in the top-5, and I do, then I can’t really dock OSU too much for losing to them.

10. Texas Tech — That’s right, no ND in my top-10. Look at all their supposed signature wins — everyone they’ve beaten has turned out to be vastly overrated. ND’s best win is its loss to USC.

Teams to watch: West Virginia, Colorado, Georgia Tech, South Carolina

Game of the Week: Sure, I could say either of the heavyweight SEC games, ‘Bama-LSU or Auburn-Georgia, but I’m going to go somewhere else. Because no matchup makes me grin this week quite like Florida at South Carolina. The Gamecocks keep getting better, and back-to-back road wins are a nice accomplishment. And you know they’ll be geeked for UF to come to town. This will be great stuff. Can’t wait to see it.


Preach it!

Here’s to Jayson Stark, who gets it entirely right.

It’s staggering to me that there were people who actually left Johan Santana off their ballots entirely. Colon had a nice year, and he’s a fine pitcher. But it’s insane to suggest that he was a better pitcher than Johan Santana in 2005.


The biggies in the AL

I already weighed in on both AL Cy Young and AL MVP back in September, and my choices pretty much stand. Johan Santana was simply the best pitcher in the AL this year, and it wasn’t even all that close. A-Rod was the best offensive player in the AL — he led the league in home runs and slugging and finished in OBP, while also stealing 21 bases in 27 tries — and he played solid defense at a valuable position on a playoff team. I love David Ortiz too, but there’s really not even much of a discussion here in my opinion.

As for the full ballots, here’s how I’d go:

Cy Young
1. Johan Santana
2. Mark Buehrle
3. Bartolo Colon

1. Alex Rodriguez
2. David Ortiz
3. Michael Young
4. Miguel Tejada
5. Vladimir Guerrero
6. Travis Hafner
7. Mark Teixeira
8. Jhonny Peralta
9. Manny Ramirez
10. Johan Santana

To a hero from my younger days

As I believe I’ve mentioned in this space, I grew up as a Red Sox fan. For a wide variety of reasons, I’m no longer a fan of them or of any one team. But favorite players are favorite players, and today is the birthday of perhaps my favorite player ever, Dwight Evans.

I hadn’t thought of Dewey in quite a while, until I saw his name listed in today’s baseball birthdays. And it was fun to think again about the player he was.

Evans had just the kind of skill set that sometimes goes underappreciated. He was a truly great defensive right fielder, but not really dazzling to watch, so even though he won eight Gold Gloves (eight! as a right fielder!) he’s not necessarily remembered the way some of the flashier defenders are. He had power, but not spectacular, 40-homer power. He hit plenty of home runs, and plenty of doubles, and was always a threat. And of course he got on base. Maybe Dewey was the initial source of my obsession with OBP that runs to this day.

In addition to it all, my impression was always of a class guy, a guy who did things the right way, a respectful guy. Of course, what one perceives of a ballplayer when one is 12 is not necessarily how it is, and I’ve never met Evans or dealt with him in any way. But this much is definitely true: he’s on the list of people that I’d be heartbroken to find out weren’t good folks.

I can’t argue that Evans is a Hall of Famer, nor can I really argue that he should have been the 1987 MVP, but in both cases, I do wish he’d gotten a little more attention. It’s sad to me that he’s already off the HOF ballot.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and many thanks to Evans for being one of my favorite players. My signed Dewey rookie card will always be one of my prized possessions.


AL rookie, manager

There’s probably no award about which I’m more ignorant than AL Rookie of the Year.

1. Joe Blanton
2. Gustavo Chacin
3. Jonny Gomes

No disrespect to Huston Street, who is one of my favorite players after covering him at the College World Series twice. But I’ll take a starter over a reliever nearly every day, unless the reliever is both spectacular and rubber-armed. Gomes is a terrific hitter, and I give him the nod over Chris Shelton, whom nobody seems to be paying any attention to.

1. Ozzie Guillen
2. Eric Wedge
3. Ken Macha

Lots of viable candidates here. Joe Torre did a great job, and Mike Scioscia is consistently one of the best in the business. A case could even be made that Terry Francona belongs on the list. But I’ll take Guillen and his 99 wins.


Awards Season

Awards season has arrived. Unfortunately, I don’t have a vote on any of the awards, so I have to reveal my choices here. So, dear readers, consider this a You’re Not a Golfer Exclusive!

I’ll do one every day or so, sometimes with more comment (NL MVP, Cy Young), sometimes with less (AL Manager).

Rookie of the Year is the first award announced, so it’s the first one I’ll weigh in on. It’s only a three-name ballot.

Here’s how I’d go in the NL.

1. Ryan Howard — I know he only had 312 at-bats. He was just a beast even so. A 288/356/567 line is awesome, as is 22 homers in 312 at-bats.

2. Jeff Francoeur — Just like Howard, it’s not the number of ABs, it’s what he did with them. Francoeur smacked 35 extra-base hits and slugged .549. I’ll take that.

3. Zach Duke — And another in the same category. Brilliance in a small period of time, to me, outweighs being decent over 500 at-bats or 150 innings.

I know most Cardinal fans would probably vote for Willy Taveras, after seeing so much of him. And if Taveras ever starts drawing some walks to improve on that OBP (.325 as a leadoff man? ouch), or adds some extra-base hits a la Carl Crawford, he’ll be something special. But for now, a guy with a line of 291/325/341 doesn’t impress me even if he gets 700 at-bats.

One other note on Taveras: some advanced metrics have ranked him as an excellent center fielder, but he never looks good when I watch him. He can fly, but he always looks like he takes bad routes to balls. I’d love to hear what people think of him defensively.