The Baseball Report Volume V Issue 4
May 27, 2001
From The Editor,
As always, the staff of The Baseball Report works hard to bring you the most interesting, fun, and interactive coverage of Major League Baseball. In every issue we have a standard AL and NL beat report, as well as some unique columns like Hollis T. Russell's "View From The Cheap Seats," Emily Liner's "Down On The Farm" report, and Michael Frankel's "Playing The Short Hop" column.
Additionally, TBR maintains a website at www.thebaseballreport.com. The site features some "Special to the Web" articles from all of your favorite TBR writers, as well as some new interactive options for your entertainment. The site contains an archive of Volume IV, in case any of you would like to look back on our words of wisdom from last year.
Finally, the site features some special contests, and a special create your own trades section which are then evaluated by The Baseball Report and more!
Check it out at www.thebaseballreport.com. Any feedback would be appreciated.
As always, the staff of The Baseball Report encourages and welcomes
feedback, so if you have an opinion or a comment on the issue, drop me a
line. Similarly, if you'd like to advertise in TBR or on the website, email
Now, onto the issue...
The View From The Cheap Seats by Hollis T. Russell
It is neck and neck as they round the quarter pole. Um…rats, wrong sport, the Derby was a few weeks ago, but the results at this point are similar. After 40 games in this whacked out 2001 Major League Baseball season, very little is going as predicted. Bud Selig has said many times that MLB needs to attain parity and by the looks of these pennant races, his wish might come true.
The 2000 season in which no teams finished better than .600 or worse than .400 is an indicator of this trend becoming a reality.
If each division race is not "neck and neck," then with the exception of the Dodgers in the National League West, somebody that was not expected to be on top is on top. Take the American League Central for instance, all four staff members of The Baseball Report predicted the Twins to finish dead last. Wrong, at the quarter pole in this race, they are leading the pack.
As the Twins are going from worst to first, the Mets are going from first to worst. The Mets, champs of the National League last year are sucking wind in last place in the NL East. They are 6-16 on the road and 2-8 in their last 10 games. Starting pitcher Rick Reed has gone 5-1 with an ERA of 2.52, but Armando Benitez only has five saves. Benitez is being billed $4,000 by the Giants for damage to the clubhouse after giving up the winning hit in last Friday night’s game, the first in a three-game sweep by San Francisco.
Another unexpected leader is the Phillies in the NL East. Most of our experts picked the Braves to be first under the wire, but who would have thought that pitchers John Smoltz and Kevin Millwood would still be on the DL? In 10 of Atlanta’s first 32 games, they have been shut out or were only able to muster one run.
The surprising Phillies under new manager Larry Bowa are leading the NL East by four games. Unfortunately they have just learned that All-Star catcher Mike Lieberthal will be lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Replacement Johnny Estrada, called up from Triple-A Scranton went 2-5 in his first game and is expected to competently fill the void. Rookie Jimmy Rollins continues to be a bright spot as he is tied for 2nd in stolen bases in the NL with 10.
The Cubs, who as recently as last week were leading the NL Central have cooled off and the Cardinals are beginning to build momentum. Homerun King, Mark McGwire, lost due to injury till at least June, might not be a factor but five players in their starting line-up are hitting over .300. Center fielder Jim Edmonds and 21 year old rookie third baseman Albert Pujols were hitting .367 and .377 respectively through the 17th of May. If Pujols can sustain this pace, he projects out to a .381 BA with 61 homers and 188 RBI’s. Stay tuned, Houston and Milwaukee are only one game back so this might be the tightest race this season.
The division that defies belief is the AL West. On May 16th, the Seattle Mariners became the first team to post 30 wins this season. After losing Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, they were supposed to fold their tent and take a hike. Not a chance, this Microsoft and Nintendo hobby is being taken seriously, by the owners and the players. Lou too. Piniella was quoted in the May 17th Everett Herald, "Let’s not try to figure out how we’re doing it. Let’s just keep doing it."
Center fielder Mike Cameron, who came over from the Reds in the Griffey trade, has established himself as Griffey's equal in the eyes of the fans. Although he strikes out a lot, he has seven homers to date, which lands him in the league’s Top 10. But it is his defensive skills that sparkle. In a 7-2 win over the White Sox on May 16th, Cameron made a diving catch in the dirt of the center-field warning track to rob Carlos Lee of at least a double. Jr. Who?
This writer’s pick for Rookie of the Year, Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariner’s right fielder has done nothing less than tear up the league with his bat. His batting average is .365 and he has hit in 21 straight games, just three off the Mariners all-time record set in 1997 by Joey Cora. He has stolen 11 bases and scored 35 runs. He goes by his first name, even on his uniform. He could be the next cult hero in America. You heard it here first.
In addition to these weapons, the Mariners Aaron Sele has a record of 5-0 and Edgar Martinez is in the Top 5 in RBI’s with 30. Jamie Moyer is one of only two pitchers in the AL with six wins and Kazuhiro Sasaki already has 17 saves. Setup man Jeff Nelson has only allowed five hits in his 18 appearances. Somebody needs to find out what kind of noodles these guys are smoking.
Speaking of smoking, Manny Ramirez is on fire. The Bosox right fielder hit his 250th home run in the May 17th matinee against the Twins in a losing effort. He went 2 for 4, raising his batting average to .412 and became the first hitter in the bigs to reach 50 RBI’s this season. Boston is praying that Manny can keep it up until Nomar Garciapara can come back after wrist surgery. With Carl Everett batting .297 and rookie Shea Hillenbrand at .292, they just might make it.
The World Champion three-peat New York Yankees, currently first in the AL East are leading the AL in only one category, stolen bases. If they stay true to form, they just may steal a four-peat.
The Texas Rangers are bringing up the rear in the AL West and their pitching is stinking up "The Ballpark" in Arlington. The bats are working and A-Rod is finally getting into a groove but as Matt Crossman writes in the May 21st issue of "The Sporting News," "The Rangers’ starting pitching couldn’t find the strike zone with a compass and a batting tee." ‘Nuff said about the most disappointing team in baseball.
The closest race from top to bottom is the NL West. 42 year old Ricky Henderson, the utility outfielder for the Pods (featured in this column in Volume V, Issue 1) signed shortly before this season has proved his worth by hitting .284 in 27 games and has nine stolen bases, second on the team.
This column will revisit "The Run for the Rings" again at the halfway pole. It will be interesting to see at that time if four small market teams are still leading the race in their divisions. It has always been said that "The bigger they are, the harder they fall," but somehow that dog don’t hunt in baseball.
Hollis T. Russell takes "The View From The Cheap Seats" for The Baseball Report.
For more on Hollis, check out www.thebaseballreport.com
A Look At The National League by Eric D. Larson
The standings in the National League so far have yet to stabilize, leaving
fans with little time to find reverie in their favorite team at the top.
The Chicago Cubs, once strong and formidable, have relinquished their lead
to the deserving St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. One
week ago, the Cubs possessed the best record in the National League. Now,
after putting together a string of losses reminiscent of previous years,
they have fallen behind the Phillies, Cardinals, and Dodgers – all leaders
in their respective divisions.
St. Louis took the top spot from the Cubs in the most exhilarating fashion
possible, by beating them quite handedly. Jim Edmonds, along with J. D.
Drew and Albert Pujols, combined for a .500 batting average and six home
runs to help sweep the series and steal three games from the shell-shocked Cubs, leaving them dangling once again in mediocrity.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa lauded his team’s efforts. “I can’t say
enough about guys like Albert and J. D. – everybody really. It’s been fun
to watch these guys play.”
The Philadelphia Phillies are also trying to take their share of the
limelight, jumping off to a strong surge. However, Phanatics should not
rest too easy, as the Mets and Braves, previously thought to wage a titan’s
battle in this division, are humbly hibernating for now. But, the season is
still early and the Braves have improved their game of late – acting as the
main contenders in the second slot, although still mired below .500.
Philadelphia hopes are not improved by the injury to Mike Lieberthal, who
tore a ligament in his knee and will remain fallow for the duration of the
season. Lieberthal, whose numbers have been wholly unimpressive this season
so far (.231 and only a pair of home runs), is known for giving his team the
needed drive for success. The Phillies can produce horrific stints of poor
baseball in the absence of the All-Star, while his presence and offensive
contributions seem to create winning records. Reconstructive surgery was
the grim diagnosis but Lieberthal and the Phillies are hoping to find a
more suitable second opinion.
Team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti admitted that Lieberthal was
“appropriately upset about the whole thing.” Ciccotti supports the idea of
another assessment, but the team has expressed the fact that their only
desire is for complete recovery.
Ken Griffey Jr. is also no stranger to sidelining injuries. The Reds
remarked this week that the Cincinnati slugger will not see action for
perhaps another month. His team is being overly cautious in this instance,
but it is perhaps a little late. In their haste to use his bat this season,
Reds management has kept him on the roster and in the on-deck circle for
pinch-hitting situations. In doing so, they have kept his injury fresh and
continuously debilitating, with little results for their effort. After a
final re-aggravation on April 28, the Reds are not willing to take any further
Without McGwire and Griffey at the plate this year, home runs in the
National League have been far from absent.
A couple of other sluggers in St. Louis have kept matters interesting.
Hollywood itself could not have found more drama in McGwire’s replacement,
Albert Pujols. The phenom has his name seemingly engraved atop the hitting
stats in the National League. His .380 batting average is second overall.
He is fourth in home runs and second in RBI. His teammate, J. D. Drew, also
new to the every-day roster, is right along his side, with 14 home runs.
Perhaps these guys are trying to steal a little fan affection from Big Mac.
Perhaps Billy Crystal should be taking notes.
Eric D. Larson covers the National League Beat for The Baseball Report.
For more on Eric, check out www.thebaseballreport.com
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A Fan's Take by Ovadia Labaton
Crime, Punishment, and Pardon
There is an odd and extremely telling picture on page six of the sports section of the October 30, 2000 New York Post. The picture is of Roger Clemens, in a pitchers pose, arm reared back, ready to whip forward as if to hurl one of his “hit this, if you dare” rocket fastballs. His countenance is forceful, a picture of intensity, audacity, and utter confidence, and even more than a bit of anger at his opponent, who dared to even step in the box and try to knock “The Rocket” off course.
There is one problem with this picture. An incongruency that makes the picture seem like an anachronistic throwback to a time when gladiators would hurl spears at opponents for sport. The problem is, instead of a baseball in Clemens’ catapult right arm, there is half of a Mike Piazza’s baseball bat, which Clemens had just splintered with a blisteringly vicious inside fastball. Clemens is about to launch the bat on a ballistic path, sharp edge forward, at Piazza. The reason being nothing more than poor old Roger is stressed-out from being assaulted by the media and fans for beaning big bad Mike in the head only a few months earlier.
Much has been made of Clemens’ innocence and the extenuating circumstances surrounding the incident. It was suggested that Clemens reacted as any athlete might in the heat of battle and adrenaline pumping at incredible levels. Well this is competition, not battle, and athletes do not react by thrown bats made spears at opponents.
Clemens did not simply “react” by dodging, running to the jagged bat, picking it up, and throwing it at Piazza. Even if we allow our gullible selves to even hear the argument that Roger was merely removing the bat from the playing field and tossing it to the sidelines, the fact that the bat went straight at Piazza is pretty clear evidence to Clemens true intent.
Maybe poor meek ol’ Roger, who has always melted and wielded to the media’s forays against him, was under a lot of pressure and should be given the benefit of the doubt. He was in fact tossing the bat from its harmless position lying by the third base side of the pitchers mound to the sidelines. Logically, the third base sidelines would be the wiser direction to toss the bat. For one, it is closer. Secondly, presumably, Mike Piazza was not running from home plate to third, and the line would be clear of base runners. Alternatively, maybe Clemens thought that Piazza was not even going to run to first, or that he had arrived at first in two seconds and the play was over. Sure, anything is possible, but extreme skepticism is certainly warranted.
Even after the actual incident, Roger did not cease his provocation of Piazza. He stared Piazza down, glared at him. What exactly was he doing then? Staring at the pretty face in the front row? Please, Clemens was begging Mike to escalate the fight that was initiated by the beanball and bat hurling.
Clemens action when looked at completely objectively and giving an immense benefit of the doubt, still involves hurling a bat at a batter with whom he has a history. Even with that myopic viewpoint his action is unacceptable and a mistake worthy of serious punishment. At the least, this was a rivalry competitive spirit taken too far, and at most a vicious and dangerous assault with a sharp jagged object.
To try and pardon Clemens is foolish, irresponsible, unnecessary and shows a strong disregard for objectivity and the facts. Clemens’ action was reprehensible, and was dealt with passively, corruptly, and with a strong bias. The media’s reaction at times even made Mike Piazza out as the bad guy. Big bad Mike really got the short end of the stick in this one. Literally
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Your Take on The Issue
In the 8th inning San Diego Padres catcher Ben Davis bunted for a single to ruin Curt Schilling's No-Hitter. The Padres were losing 2-0 at the time. Is this bad baseball? Should he not have bunted?
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Till next time,
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copyright 2001 The Baseball Report
Michael Frankel Editor-in-Chief
Eric D. Larson Assistant Editor
Hollis T. Russell Senior Columnist
Emily Liner Senior Writer
Kevin Burke Senior Writer
Jeremy Weisser Webpage Manager
Susan Levi Director of Human Resources