February 2007

A few quick thoughts

Just wanted to weigh in on a few things — some I’ve been getting email about, and some that nobody but me is likely to care about.

* Mark Redman: To put it bluntly, no thanks. I know Redman was an All-Star, and I know he has the sheen of some decent win totals now and then. But he’s been headed in the wrong direction lately. His strikeout rate, never that great, has just gone off a cliff since his very nice 2003 season. Last year it was a career-worst 4.10, and that’s a very bad indicator. Then there’s ERA+, which is a quick-and-dirty measure of a pitcher’s performance relative to league average. Basically, 100 is dead-on average. Higher is better. Since that very good 2003 season, it’s gone down down down. Redman’s ERA+ in ’03 was a solid 112. Then it dropped to 99 in ’04, 87 in ’05 and 85 in ’06.

* The outfield: Chris Duncan should be the guy in left. I don’t care if he hasn’t improved a single bit defensively. Until and unless he proves last year was a fluke, you need that bat in the lineup. The gap in value between Duncan’s bat and Taguchi’s bat is so much greater than the difference between the value of those two guys’ defense, it’s pretty much automatic in my book. Would I give Wilson the occasional look against lefties? Sure. But 290/360/590 bats don’t come along every day. If you have one, you take advantage of it.

* The NASCAR points system tweaks: bleah. Bad move. They made the "regular season" mean even less. That was the biggest problem, was that you could dominate for 26 races and have virtually no edge going into the Chase. Now that’s even more true. You could have a 300 point lead at the end of race 26, and not even have the lead once the chase starts. Bad. Increasing the value of a win is good, but the rest of it is just silly.

* National Signing Day: C’mon, Marvin Austin. You know you want to go to FSU. Yes, I’m a sick, sick man. National Signing Day is what separates the merely fanatical from the truly sick. I am in the latter category.

Currently playing: Material Issue, Freak City Soundtrack. The Ish were a great, great band and it still saddens me that Jim Ellison took his own life. Wonderful songwriter.

-M.

Bowing down to Prince (and the Marching 100)

So. The Super Bowl.

Well, first of all, hats off to the Colts. They’re Mrs. Dude’s team (not to mention the choice of all her family, all of whom are in Indy), so I was rooting for them once my team was out. Dungy is nothing but a class act, and although I’m not Manning’s biggest fan, he’s gotten more grief than he deserved for their playoff struggles.

But while the game was entertaining, the halftime show was stunning. Prince just bloody rules. He’s a phenomenal performer, an ungodly guitarist, basically the perfect choice. He’s put on two of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. The last time I saw him, about 3 years ago, I thought he’d lost about a half-step. But now it seems that even if his prancing and showiness is down a smidge, he’s making up for it with even more presence and self-assurance. He’s absolutely incredible.

And then you add in the Marching 100, Florida A&M’s marching band.  Many of you may not have heard of the Marching 100, but they’re truly special. Seeing them on the field made me proud to hail from Tallahassee. Good for them, and good for Prince or the NFL or whoever it was that made the decision to have them on the field.

-M.

(currently playing: New Order, Best Remixes)

Quiet, Err. I'm transmitting rage.

I don’t have a great deal to offer to yesterday’s insanity in Boston, but it’s still got me angry today, so maybe posting something will help me be less annoyed. First, disclosure: I spent four years living in Boston, and I absolutely love the city. Second, I also am a big ATHF fan.

Seriously, though, what in the world was the broadcast media thinking by the afternoon yesterday? That is, by the time it was clear these were NOT bombs? Check the photo here to see that it’s clear the thing was a Mooninite long before anyone had to take it into the dark. It seems either lazy or utterly irresponsible that by late afternoon broadcast types were still referring to "suspicious packages" rather than evil cartoons.

And what are the various government officials thinking still, in their desire to extort not just one but many pounds of flesh? Thank heavens for the Boston Phoenix, which has offered badly needed sanity. This piece touches on my first hunch in the first place — that the mayor and others knew they screwed up by overreacting, and rather than admit it, they’re trying to put the focus on someone else.

It wasn’t a hoax — by definition, a hoax is intended to deceive. These people didn’t want to deceive. And the things weren’t new — they’d been around Boston for a couple of weeks, just as they’d been in other cities. If it’s such a travesty, why didn’t the "devices" cause chaos sooner? The city and state overreacted hugely, and continued to overreact once it was clear how much they were overreacting. The same goes for the broadcast media reports I’ve seen and heard. Everybody dove into something, and once they were there, nobody could just say, "Whoops, we were really wrong. That’s embarrassing."

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go downstairs, have my breakfast and some delicious coffee, and hope there’s an Aqua Teen episode on my DVR.

-M.

(Currently playing: The Cure, Wish)

Good luck, Mike

At the risk of two overly earnest posts in a short span, I didn’t want to let this sad news pass by without comment. Mike Matheny was a stathead’s punching bag because of his light offensive production, but he was a good guy to deal with, and undeniably a great teammate. It’s a shame he had to stop playing before he was ready.

Matheny was one of the very first guys I dealt with in my first spring on the beat. I was writing a feature on how playing time would be divided among the catchers in 2002. They were going to give Mike DiFelice a decent shot at some real time. So I talked to both guys about it. My first interaction — literally, first time I ever spoke with him — with Matheny was on this topic, and it wasn’t something he particularly wanted to talk about. I tried to coax something out of him by saying, ‘Hey, I’m just doing a look at the situation. I’m not trying to get you in trouble.’

His response? "You couldn’t even if you did try."

At the time I took it as a fairly snide comment, but as I got to know Matheny better, I realized that wasn’t it. It was just matter-of-fact. He knew where he stood. He knew what he could do, what he was about and what he needed to get done.

A couple of springs later, I was writing a piece on what Matheny meant to his pitchers — how much they respected and valued him, and how to some extent he was the conscience of the team and especially of the pitching staff. Several guys gave me good stuff, but Matt Morris put it all in one little story.

"It’s funny," Morris said. "There are games where the starters, we don’t execute pitches but we still win. Everybody’s high-fiving, but I take a peek at Matheny in the corner and he knows. I can see it in his eyes. Yeah, we won, and he’s happy about it. But it’s almost like I put my head down because he knows I got away with a couple."

Yet on the other hand, he would never, ever, EVER sell out his pitcher to a reporter. If the curveball was the perfect call, but the pitcher hung the curveball and it got hit out of the park, well, you can believe Matheny would tell us it was his fault. He should have called for the fastball, he’d say. Never mind that he made the right call. Doesn’t matter. He always had his pitcher’s back. You could scarcely even ask him about how a pitcher had turned things around recently, because it would be tantamount to an admission by him that the guy hadn’t been doing well before.

And that ties in with the other reason Matheny gave me the short answer he did in that first conversation. He took his pitchers’ failings intensely personally — and he’s the guy who fell on his sword again and again throughout Rick Ankiel’s struggles in 2001 and beyond. I wasn’t around in ’01, but several people who were told me that it was often up to Matheny to stand up for Ankiel, to answer the questions after another mystifying and disheartening outing. He did it, because that was part of his job. But he hated it. And he, according to friends and colleagues of mine, became much more guarded as a result of it. I didn’t see him before; didn’t know him before the 2000 playoffs. But I can say this — as Ank’s wildness became more and more a distant memory, Matheny became even better to deal with. He relaxed more.

Matheny was a lifetime 239/293/344 hitter, but he was a **** of a teammate, and that’s worth something. There’s a reason he won the first Darryl Kile Award, voted on by his teammates. And there’s a reason he was a two-time nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. I hope he gets some good family time — and then comes back as a coach soon.

-M.

(currently playing on the speakers: Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel)

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