Baseball postsWednesday October 08, 2008
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.
Time flies. Seems like only yesterday I was saying it was a great day to hate the New York Yankees and now it's five days later and they've won five in a row. They won close games and blow outs. They came from behind. Their record is now even (.500) and their run differential is now even (222-223). They're only five games back of the leader of the AL East, which is Tampa Bay, the feel-good story in baseball this year.
But I wouldn't feel too smug if I were a Yankees fan because most of this was accomplished on the backs of the Seattle Mariners, tthe worst team in the American League. By far. The Yankees have faced the M's six times this year and are 6-0 against them. They've scored 50 runs and given up 17. What success they appear to have is partially due to these six games. Without them, the Yankees would look pretty crappy. And, sure, you have to beat the bad teams with the good ones but if I were a Yankees fan here's what I'd worry about: The Yanks only have three more games against the M's this year. After that, they're on their own.
And if I were a Mariners fan — which I kind of am — what would I be worried about? That the firings will stop in the dugout and won't reach the front office: specifically Billy Bavasi and/or Howard Lincoln.
I don’t know about the rest of the season but this day anyway is a great day to hate the New York Yankees. Yeah, sure, everyday is a great day to hate the Yankees, but it’s been awhile since their woes have been so numerous: a 20-25 record, last place in their division by two games, out of first by 7 ½, and without the positive run differential they had last season that indicated they’d probably turn things around. (They did.) After yesterday’s 12-2 drubbing by the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees have now given up almost 30 more runs than they’ve scored.
I don’t know what’s better: that Mike Mussina got chased with only two outs in the first inning by a team who’s best hitter (Luke Scott) is batting .278, or that Mussina would’ve gotten out of the inning fairly unscathed — only one run — but for a Derek Jeter throwing error that set up a bases-loaded walk, a bases-clearing double, a run-scoring single and then a run-scoring triple. Highlights please.
That bases-clearing double, by the way, came from former Mariners prospect Adam Jones, who’s having a pretty good season with the O’s. Meanwhile, several publciations have run articles on Jason Veritek, the Red Sox catcher, who just caught his record-breaking fourth no-hitter on Monday, and who, once upon a time, had been a Mariners prospect as well. In other words, it may be a good day to hate the Yankees, but it's still not a good day to be a Mariners fan.