Baseball postsMonday October 20, 2008
Tampa Bay Rays: Champions of the American League
I’ve been rooting for the Rays all year, certainly more than I have for the Mariners, and only slightly less than I have for the Twins. Didn’t know how much I cared for the Rays until the collapse in Game 5, the finger pulling in Game 6, the twisting into pretzels in the 8th inning of Game 7.
I think I was rooting for the Rays not merely because they were the underdog of underdogs but out of some measure of schadenfreude as well. The freude I felt wasn’t so much for the schaden done to the Red Sox (whom I like), or even the Yankees (whom, everyone knows, I despise) but to the Mariners, who were once my team but whose front office effed things up beyond measure throughout the ‘90s and into this decade, until the M’s, who were the Rays of the ‘80s, are now the Rays once again: the worst team in baseball.
But how does the Rays’ success hurt the Mariners? The subhed here says it all. Now that the Rays are World Series-bound, the three teams who have never won a pennant are the Senators/Rangers, founded in 1961; the Expos/Nationals, founded in 1969; and your Seattle Mariners, founded in 1977. And the Mariners are the most embarrassing of the bunch.
Why most embarrassing? After all, haven’t the M’s been around the least amount of time? And haven’t they done the best of the three? Going to the ALCS three times? Fielding future Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson? As well as superstars like Edgar Martinez (who should go to the Hall), Jay Buhner and Jamie Moyer?
And that’s the very reason the Mariners should be most embarrassed. This team should’ve gone to the Fall Classic at least once. Hell, they should’ve owned the damned thing. Because every one of those players mentioned above was on the team at the same time. Future baseball historians are going to look back at the mid-to-late ‘90s Mariners, at the talent stuffing that team, and at how little they accomplished, and go: WTF?
Every team gets a shot. The Mariners had two: the Griffey-led team in the ‘90s, and the Ichiro-led team in the early ‘00s. Neither took. Now look. The M’s are in a hole it’ll take years of smart moves to dig out of; and I don’t know that they have the guys to make those smart moves. I think, despite all the firings, they have the opposite.
Enough of that. Here’s to a team that did the most with its shot. And here’s to seven games.
Reporting the Forecast: Sports Illustrated's Baseball Preview Predictions
I have SI’s March 31st issue, their baseball preview issue, and of course they include their predictions for the coming season. Not sure when this became de rigueur for publications. Growing up in the ‘70s, I don’t remember reading how the experts predicted the coming season in, say, the March issue of Baseball Digest. Were we more of a history-based culture then? This is where we’ve been, who knows where we’ll go? Now we ignore the past, are jittery in the present, pull the future towards us like Al Pacino pulling the fax out of the fax machine in The Insider. Haven’t seen it? See it.
Anyway, SI. Six divisions in baseball and they picked only two division winners correctly: Cubs and Angels. I know. Who knew the Rays would rise, the Tigers and Rockies would tank, the Mets would repeat last year’s September slide? They also correctly picked the bottom-dwellers only twice: Orioles and Pirates. They figured the Yankees would have the best record in baseball (94-68) while the O’s would have the worst (64-98), when it turned out to be Angels (100-62) and Nationals (59-102). They had the Mariners second-place in the West, five games out, rather than last place and 39 games out. They had the Twins in last place in the Central rather than playing the White Sox for the title in a one-game playoff.
None of the four teams remaining (Rays vs. Red Sox, Dodgers vs. Phillies) are the four teams they predicted (Tigers vs. Yankees, Cubs vs. Rockies). Their World Series is a classic matchup of Tigers vs. Cubs, with the Tigers winning. Reality? The Tigers finished the season in last place in the A.L. Central. Yeah, worse than the Royals.
But at least SI's predictions were from last March when 30 teams were in play. ESPN.com’s team of 18 experts made their postseason predictions on October 1 and after just one round only five World Series winners are left. Seven experts predicted the Angels would win it all while five gave it to the Cubs. Poof.
Yes, I know, predictions are fun, but we do too much of it. We predict and events play out, and we predict and events play out, and we never own up. I’m reminded — again — of Ron Suskind’s 2004 interview with an official in the Bush administration:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” ... “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.Is it too easy to say, now, particularly now, that that's not the way things have sorted out?
More Wrigley Blues
One of the nice things about my day job is that I get to have contact — phonically, internetally — with some good writers around the country, and one of the better ones, out of Chicago, is Will Wagner. Poor bastard's a Cubs fan. Wrote a book about them a few years back, and, following their ignominious trashing in this year's NLDS, he's got a good piece on Sports Illustrated's Web site.
All sports fans play games with themselves, and they, and I, go from being the most superstitious lot this side of Salem ("The Vikings scored a touchdown when I held my breath; I'll have to hold my breath from now on") to the most logical thinkers this side of Mr. Spock ("Really, how does this team's victory or loss affect me? My life's still the same. I've still got the same job, the same friends, the same problems. Really, it doesn't affect me at all.").
Will's piece is an example of why the latter almost never works.
People who know me also know I hate me some Derek Jeter, or at least wish him season-ending injury (“hate” is such a strong word), which is why my friend Adam forwarded this article about a Sports Illustrated survey of 495 Major League Baseball players who basically agree with me. In the survey, Jeter got 10% of the votes for “Most Overrated.” He wins again. Cue FOX Sports shot of Jeter jumping up and down as he runs for the hogpile on the pitcher's mound — but this time alone.
But then I read the rest of the survey and just shook my head. Barry Zito was second at 9%. Overrated? The dude's barely rated. He might have gotten a lot of press and money in the past, but these days he's hanging onto the game by his fingernails. Worse was one of the players tied for third: Alex Rodriguez. Now I don't agree with Jason Giambi who thinks that when Alex retires he'll be known as the greatest player ever to play the game, but he'll certainly be ONE of the greatest players ever to play the game. The guy's about to turn 33. He already has: 532 homeruns, 411 doubles, 2316 hits. He's got 1540 runs scored, 1544 runs driven in. Lifetime AVG/OBP/SLG: .307/.390/.580. Not quite part of Bill James' exclusive .300/.400/.500 club, but nearly. Overrated? I've had my nasty run-ins with A-Rod in the past, but that doesn't make the dude overrated.
BTW: My irrational hatred of Derek Jeter, and my daily prayer that he suffers a season-ending injury, or better, strikes out with the bases loaded (again and again and again... and again and again and again), doesn't mean I don't recognize his value. He's a good, possibly great ballplayer: .316/.387/.460. A candidate for 3,000 hits. He's just not as good/great as everyone thinks. Don't even get me started on his defense.
So he’s finally done it.
“Finally,” I suppose, is a measure of exasperation that a feat like hitting 600 homeruns doesn’t deserve. Only five players in baseball history have ever done it (Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Sosa) — and only three if you remove the players tainted by steroids (leaving Aaron, Ruth and Mays) — so the fact that it was done at all should be applauded rather than recounted with an impatient sigh. And I am applauding it. As a Ken Griffey, Jr., fan, who saw him hit his eighth homerun in eight consecutive games in ’93, who saw him break his wrist in ’95 and bounce back to homer five times in the ’95 ALDS against the New York Yankees, who saw him homer 25-30 times in person at the Kingdome, I’m excited. I’m also a little bummed.
When he left Seattle he had 398 homeruns. At the time, he was hitting 50+ per year (in his previous four years, actually averaging 52+ per year), and he’d only just turned 30. Even with the usual slowdown of age, one assumed he might reach 600 in five years. Six at the top. Which would leave him a few more years to go after Mays and Ruth and Aaron. He’d pissed us off, certainly, the way he left, but he’d given us too many good memories for us to wish him anything but the best.
Instead, over 8 seasons, he’s averaged 24 homeruns. Injuries upon injuries. Too much weight. Not enough training. In the beginning of his career he might have been too much of a natural to take seriously the training necessary to prosper at the end of his career.
He won a Gold Glove every year in the American League; not once in the National. He was an All-Star every year in the American League; only three times in the National. He was good, or good enough, in the National League, but he’d once been the best: the only active player to make the All-Century Team in 1999.
And yet, please, another round of applause for Junior as he rounds the bases. It’s too late for him to catch Ruth and Aaron, and probably Mays, but Sammy Sosa’s only 8 homeruns away. Let’s get him out of the way this year, Junior. Then, of the top five career homerun hitters, only one will be tainted.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard