Malo Mystery #1...Solved!

A few days back I posted my own top-10 offseason free-agent questions, which I would link to if I could figure out these #@^%& permalinks. Just like that, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has gone and answered my very first one by picking up Esteban Loaiza's $4 million option. I had reported it as $3.5 million, but let's not quibble, amigos mios. Four million bucks for a guy who in his previous seven big-league years had posted an ERA under 4.50 only once. And that was 4.13.

As this and other answers to El Lefty's preguntas come clear, I will rate the quality of the move. The ratings: Muy bien, bien, mezzo-mezzo, malo, really malo.

Paying Loaiza $4 million in 2004: Malo.

Predictions Schmedictions

It's always boring to look back at the pundits' preseason predictions. The last five years, it's basically been Blah blah blah Yankees blah blah blah Yankees blah blah Braves blah blah Red Sox blah blah Braves, with a few Astros, Twins, Giants, A's and Mariners thrown in like croutons in a big Yankees/Braves salad.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the preseason predictions put together by someone who goes by "Tango Tiger" and writes for Baseball Primer. (I should say I think he/she writes for Baseball Primer. The baseball-geek community has more inbreeding than a remote Appalachian valley, and it's hard to tell who's indepedent, who's associated with a certain site, which site is which, etc. Sometimes I think it's just three people writing under a costume box full of fake names. Voros McCracken? Tom Tippett? Aren't those guys from a Dickens novel? "Please, Mr. McCracken, sir, won't you spare us just a crust of bread this morning?" said little Tommy Tippett as he shifted from foot to foot in the snow, greasy rags draped over his thin shoulders.)

So, anyway, this, ahem, Tango Tiger chap or chappette has compiled great preseason predictions which had nothing to do with pennants and championships. Instead, 6 pundits and a bunch of Baseball Primer readers predicted the OPS and ERA of dozens of hitters and pitchers.

The results are fun to read and mildly instructive, too: a few players had solid to very good years under the radar, at least when you look reductively at OPS or ERA. Who knew that Kip Wells had a 3.24 ERA? Or that Luis Gonzalez's .934 OPS was exactly his average from 2000-2002?

Barry Bonds had an even better year than his three-year average, or the pundits, or the readers, could predict. His three-year baseline was 1.231 OPS; the pundits guessed 1.248; the readers guessed 1.268. Barry's actual 2003 OPS: 1.278.

The question is: will it be higher or lower in 2004? I predict lower, given the turmoil he's facing this winter (Balco, grief over dad) and the inevitability of turning 40. I hope I'm wrong.



Manny: Waiving Bye-Bye?

The Red Sox are determined to keep the off-season interesting, eh? They just put Manny Ramirez on waivers, according to reports, which means any team has 48 hours to claim him and the $100 million and 5 years left on his contract.

Rob Neyer speculates that the Sox did this with one taker in mind: George Steinbrenner. George is so fried over the World Series loss that perhaps he would be rash enough to take Manny off the Sox' hands. Otherwise, no one's going to want a harebrained, apathetic, defensive liability, even if he hits 35 homers and challenges for the batting title every year.

For a brief second I thought about Manny patrolling right field at Pac Bell, at least for a couple years until Barry retires/moves to Anaheim, but I realized it was just the Naan 'n' Curry talking, and it wasn't talking pretty. No way, no how. Even if the Sox paid half of his salary from here til doomsday, I can't imagine the Giants doing it. I can't imagine ANY national league team doing it. Ramirez has "Full Time DH" written all over him, starting, oh, in 2005, or so.

But the Sox will certainly try to trade him this winter. It could have a huge impact on the Vlad/Sheff free agent situation. I'm sure Theo Epstein et al are thinking, What's better? Paying Manny $20 mil to play left field, or paying Manny $7.5 mil a year to play for the Orioles and paying Sheff $12.5 mil a year to play RF for two more years?

It's another Mike Hampton deal waiting to happen.

Peter Gammons reports that Manny "likes" Boston but wouldn't mind a trade. He also casually drops that Tom Hicks looked into unloading A-Rod to Boston but refused to take Manny in return.

Has there ever been a mammoth, artery-clogging contract that didn't, for one reason or another, go sour, either because the player broke down and earned his money on the DL (Darren Dreifort, Matt Williams, Kevin Brown) or with obviously declining skills(Jeter, Giambi this year); or because the player realized that lots of money doesn't make up for a shitty location (Hampton -- who, let's recall, said the motivating factor for him was the quality of the Denver schools, except for a certain high school in Littleton, of course) or a shitty team (A-Rod)?

Even Bonds, in the first few years of his massive contract (remember, it was the biggest when he signed in 1993), bitched and moaned about being underpaid. Show me a happy superstar making superstar money and playing at superstar levels, and I'll show you... Curt Schilling? Nope, contract wasn't long enough. Shawn Green? Close, but the jury's still out. He slipped this year due to injury, and he still has two years left on his contract at $16M per.

The only signings I can think of that seems to have paid off are, strangely enough, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson: 83 Cy Young Awards between the two. Pedro's been nagged by injury the past few years, but nothing major. Johnson broke down a bit this year, but I'd say he's been worth it to the D-Backs.

By the way, Derek Jeter's going to make $21 million in the year 2010.

Instead of escalating salaries over the lifetime of a long contract, why not start high and decrease, with a larger percentage tied to performance goals? To a very limited extent, Bonds' contract does this, as the 2006 year ($18 M) doesn't kick in unless he has 500 plate appearances in 2005.

But as the Giambis and Jeters and Ramirezs of the baseball world start to miss significant chunks of time in the next few years, even as full-time DH'es, we're going to look back on the pre-September-11 world of baseball, mumble "Dreifort, Neagle, Dreifort, Neagle" and realize that for a few absurd years, the players got away with murder, and the owners were aiding and abetting.



The Horror

The day after game 7 of the ALCS, as Red Sox fans were headed toward Grady Little's house, pitchforks and torches in hand, I staunchly defended Little's decision to leave Pedro in. (It did no good. Little's body was found the next day with the earlobes cut off and a clove of garlic shoved up his rear end.)

I still feel the same way, although this is the first article I've read that has nudged me a wee bit toward the other camp.



Top 10 Free Agent Questions

Scanning the list of free agents, there's an obvious A+ list:

C: Pudge-Rod
SS: Migs Tejada
3B: Mike Lowell
OF: Vlad Guerrero (aka V-Grr), Gary Sheffield
P: Bartolo Colon (aka Bart Columbus), Andy "Jesus Loves the Marlins More" Pettitte

Just below them are players like Javy Lopez, Luis Castillo, Keith Foulke, Kevin Millwood, Ugie Urbina, Greg Maddux...how weird not to see his name among the elite...and Kaz Matsui?? Does anyone really have any idea how he'll stack up? As good as Hideki Matsui? That would be nice for him. But remember, Shinjo was highly touted coming out of the Japan League, too.

Below that A-minus tier, there are all sorts of intriguing stories to follow that haven't registered on the national radar screen. Here are a handful:

1) Will the White Sox resign Esteban Loiaza for $3.5 million? To me his season screams "Fluke," and he'll no better than .500 next year. Would they prefer to put that $3.5M toward resigning Bartolo Colon? What kind of PR hit will they take by cutting loose their Cy Young candidate (and likely runner-up)?

2) How much money will Roberto Alomar command? From sure Hall of Famer to suspect clubhouse cretin and indifferent egotist in, what, 24 months? From 1999-2003 he averaged about $7M in salary. In 2003 he totaled 5 HR/39 RBI/.682 OPS. Ouch. He'll be 36 in February. Will he get more than a one-year contract at the ML minimum? Will we ever get used to hearing, "Now batting for the pitcher Tanyon Sturtze, Roberto Alomar"?

3) Who'll get a better contract: LaTroy Hawkins or Everyday Eddie Guardado? Hawkins is 30, sleek and throws hot pepper cheese. Eddie is 33, pudgy and barely throws 90. Hawk is a set-up guy, Eddie a "proven closer."

4) Will Li'l Kenny Lofton get any respect? The last two years, the guy has helped a contender in the stretch run and played good to excellent offensive ball in the post-season. In fact, this year he posted his best slugging pct. since 1995. His defense in CF is shaky but there's no reason, other than his ego, that he can't move to left and be a dangerous leadoff guy for a few more years on a contending team (remember, one knock on him is he loses interest fast if his team isn't in contention). Or will he have to sign a one-year deal with the Devil Rays for $750,000 and hope for the best at the trading deadline?

5) How 'bout that Shooter? Let's hope that Beck's second-half surge with the Padres is the start of a long second act in his career. Welcome back, Rodney!

6) Whither Jose Cruz? OK, so we know the Giants aren't going to re-sign Cruz unless, well, unless nothing. But who will? What happens to a ball player when he commits a heinous act in front of millions of viewers and millions more highlight watchers and drags his team down to a disgraceful playoff loss? Who would sign such a man? (Other than Chuck La Mar, that is.) Are residents of the greater Houston metroplex going to start hearing the phrase, "Hello, I'm Jose Cruz, Jr., and I'll be your waiter for the evening"?

7) Will Reggie Sanders play for his 7th team in 7 years? And tell the second daughter that things weren't right? Will he play for the Pirates again after 31 HRs and a .910 OPS, or go on down to highway 61? Why couldn't that bastard hit for a .900 OPS with the Giants?

8) Does Rickey think Rickey should retire? When Rickey says to himself, "Rickey's getting too slow to keep up with these youngsters, and Rickey's getting too old for all this fool-around and travel and dammit, Rickey can't find a decent limo driver these days," then Rickey will retire.

9) Shinjomania! It's not too late.

10) El Gato Numero Cuatro-Ciento? Only two more homers to 400. Will Big Cat re-sign with the Giants, or go somewhere a little more homer friendly so he can bag the two in the first week of April then retire to his heavily fortified home in Caracas? Or will he retire with the realization that there's really no difference between 398 and 400, that the world of baseball statistics is a chimerical pretense of essence, and that life is a cheap existential void, a brief groveling humiliation between the moment the doctor grabs your squishy head with his forceps and the instant the first shovelful of dirt thuds against the lid of your coffin?

I say he signs with the Twins.



Move Over, Don Larsen

Josh Beckett, 23 years old, on three days' rest, in a chilly, howling Yankee Stadium, against a team that had its back against the wall and its pride to restore? A five-hitter? A shutout? A complete game? Throwing mid-90s in the 9th inning?

To win the World Series?

Beckett just threw one of the most impressive game in the history of baseball.

Better than Don Larsen's perfect game (it was game 5; Larsen was pitching at home). Better than Kerry Wood's 20 Ks at the age of 19 or 20; better than any regular-season no-hitter or perfect game, in my book, except perhaps the 12-inning perfect game that turned into a heartbreaking 12 2/3-inning loss in 1959.

Better than Tom Glavine's 1-hitter to clinch the '95 Series? Tough to say, because Glavine didn't pitch the 9th; Mark Wohlers came in for the 1-inning save.

Better than Jack Morris's 10-inning complete game 7-hit shutout to beat the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 Series? No.



Scrap Heaps

Everyone's hot stove is bubbling with speculation about potential trade material like Derrek Lee and Javier Vazquez and marquee free agents like Vlad Guerrero and Kaz Matsui. (Here's a comprehensive list of potential free agents.)

But what about the lower-level pickups that often have an impact? Baseball America has posted a list of six-year minor league free agents, guys who've toiled mostly in obscurity and now have the right to go wherever they wish. Hundreds of them. (Thanks to Steve Shelby's invaluable daily Giants news roundup for the link.) At the bottom of the list are ten players from last year's pool who actually made some noise at the major-league level this year, including the A's Billy McMillon and Adam "pinch-hitting for Jermaine Dye" Melhuse.

Scanning this year's list, there are lots of familiar names, some of them cup-of-coffee guys (Chad Mottola, Rontrez Johnson); some vets who've never quite gotten their shit together (Eric Hiljus, Ruben Rivera); and some fantastic names (Angel Bastardo, Esix Snead, Clint Chrysler).

A few names on the Giants' list are cause for the mildest of concern: Alejandro Freire, who tore up the AA Eastern League this year; Brian Dallimore, who had a much better year than Tony Torcato at AAA; and Matt Montgomery, who had a great year as the AA Norwich closer before a promotion to AAA. But the fact that they've been in the minors for six years means there's an excellent chance that this is the most success they'll ever have. Once in a while, a scout will find someone like Brendan Donnelly after ten years in the minors, but more often these guys are more like Calvin Murray, who fooled everyone by finally having a great year at Fresno with 30-something home runs before his promotion to be Marvin Benard's platoon-mate.

Series 5

'Round about the 6th inning of last night's game, I was going to headline this post Old and In the Way, as the Yankees seem to be retiring, fumbling and disintegrating right before our very eyes.

Silly me.

The Yanks served notice that they aren't going to lose this Series easily. I won't say that they should have won last night's game in the 9th, but with a little luck, both Bernie and Matsui would have had hits and the Yanks likely the lead. That inning was the corollary to Pedro Martinez's pitching in game 7 of the ALCS. As Pedro found out, sometimes you make good pitches and they get hit for hits; as Looper and Urbina found out, sometimes you make bad pitches and they get hit for outs. (That still won't convince Grady to come back to the Sox.)

The Marlins' relievers better start making better pitches, Urbina in particular, because Saturday and Sunday they'll be in the Bronx, facing Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina, and this Series just might come down to holding off Giambi, Matsui, Williams and Jeter in the 9th inning of game 7.



Elbo: Kidnapping and bizarre imprisonment

You know who else needs to get kidnapped? Bud Selig.



Series 4

I don't want the Yankees to win this Series, like most people across the nation, but please, no more whining about payroll. Carl Pavano just outpitched Roger Clemens. Alex Gonzalez just homered off Jeff Weaver. Braden Looper just matched K's with Jose Contreras. The Marlins infield played excellent defense.

Miguel Cabrera is the next Albert Pujols.

The Girlfriend, hoping that she'd make it into the blog, just asked if this is going to go down as one of the most exciting World Series ever. Uh, let's see: Games 1 and 4 were pretty damn good, but 2 was a snore, and the tension of yesterday's Mussina-Beckett duel was diluted by the rain delay and the Yanks' late rally. To make this one of the best Series ever, I'd say we would need a back and forth slugfest in game 5, a Dontrelle Willis shutout in game 6, a seventh game that goes extra innings and the bizarre kidnapping and political imprisonment of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, leaving the broadcast duties to Jon Miller doing his best Vin Scully impersonation.

Sabes Comes Out Swinging

I just got an e-mail from Brian Sabean, or perhaps I should say, "Brian Sabean," since it was sent from tixoffice@sfgiants.com. Here it is. Note the pre-emptive slap at critics.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Brian Sabean"
To: [[El Lefty Malo]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 22, 2003 2:40 PM
Subject: Message from Brian Sabean

Now that we all have a little distance from the end of the Giants 2003
season, I wanted to send a note of appreciation to our valued season
ticketholders for your contributions and support of the Giants throughout
a memorable season. Although we were all disappointed with the outcome of
the Division Series, with a little time to reflect we will remember a wire
to wire first place finish in the National League West, Felipe Alou
guiding a re-loaded Giants team to 100 wins, and many incredible moments
including the walk off home runs by Barry Bonds during an emotional series
with the Atlanta Braves in August.

The Giants organization truly appreciates your presence in the ballpark
that inspired the team throughout the 2003 season. Our ballpark continues
to be the best address in baseball with the Giants and our customers again
leading the way in the National League with over 3.2 million in

A lot will be written and said during the off-season about our plans for
the 2004 Giants team. In fact, some things have already been stated that
do not reflect our approach and commitment to winning. Our track record
over the past seven seasons has demonstrated that the Giants are committed
to providing the resources necessary to field competitive, winning, and
contending teams. This year will be no exception. We have played only 11
games in the past seven seasons that have not had post-season
implications. In fact, only the Braves and Yankees have a better record
than the Giants since 1993. We will continue to work smarter, be
proactive, and make good decisions in putting together next year's team.

I want you to know that we remain committed to making the moves necessary
to put us in a position to get right back into the post-season in 2004
with a goal to continue on to the World Series as we did in 2002. We
appreciate your continued support and look forward to seeing you in the
ballpark next season. Spring training will be here sooner than we think!

Going Seven

The Laz, ever vigilant in his pursual of relevant posting material, forwards a link to an NY Times article that examines the statistical probability of a seven-game World Series. While the probability says a series should go seven 31 percent of the time, the Series has in fact gone the max in nearly half of the past 50 years.

Odder still, if one starts to factor in the real world, i.e., that World Series are played by unevenly matched teams, not by statistical coin flips, one would think the chance of a Series going the full seven would be even slimmer than statistically predicted.

But if one takes into consideration all World Series and league championship series with a potential for 7 games, the reality starts to drop toward the statistical norm. (The Times got the story from the American Institute of Physics.)

Series 3

It doesn't look good for the Marlins, does it? Their ace pitches a great game and loses and won't pitch again til game 7; Aaron Boone proves a better 8th place hitter than Alex Gonzalez. Pudge is contained once again. Jeter's got his big-game mojo working.

(Side note: Did anyone else notice that Beckett looks a lot like Jason Schmidt, except Schmidt's ten times uglier? Same fastball, similar change-up -- Schmidt's is better -- and Beckett throws a curve instead of a slider. Amazing how it takes one guy nearly a decade to figure out his stuff, while another guy is 23, facing the Yankees in the Series, and throwing lights-out.)

So writers who are forced to make definitive statements every day, either by their editors or by their own need to torture their readers with useless blather, say it doesn't look good. But it didn't look good for the Marlins after game 1 of the division series, and it didn't look good for them after going down 3 games to 1 to the Cubs. Pavano vs. Clemens, tonight's pitching matchup, isn't a mismatch the way Kevin Kennedy seemed to think last night. Don't count the Fighting Fish out until the Yankees are dogpiling on the mound.



Speculating Torre

In today's SJ Merc, Skip Bayless, who has emerged as the media leader of the anti-Dusty, pro-Felipe brigade, is now agitating the waters -- y'know, stirrin' em up som'n fierce -- for the Giants to hire Joe Torre when his tenure with the Yankees ends. Which might be as soon as Oct. 25 if the Marlins win the World Series.

His reasoning? Torre has a vacation home in the Napa Valley, and he and Brian Sabean both worked for the Yanks in 1996. I like Bayless, and I liked (mostly) his defense of Alou after the playoff loss, especially when he called burr-shitt-u on the veteran Giants' whispers that, boo-hoo, Alou wasn't such a good communicator. But this was an obvious "rattle the cage" column, something to stir up talk on a slow news day. Because that's what columnists do. (Hey, it worked!)


A note from the Chicagoland Area: L'il Puddin' writes to say that I should consider Shawn Estes for patron saint of Lefty Malo. To wit: St. Shawn.

Maybe in 1997, when St. Shawn went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA and looked uncannily like Barry Zito before we even knew what a Zito was. But Estes hasn't been a Lefty Malo for years, no matter how much loyalty and free toothpicks Dusty gives him. Obviously last week's grisly turn of events has triggered in Puddin's brain a need for emotional transference: in times of acute psychological trauma, the mind looks for receptacles, platforms if you will, to serve as off-loading stations for its own excess baggage of pain and fear. Thus the need to shove ugly blue duffelbags full of Shawn Estes's crappiness into the overhead bins of an otherwise innocent baseball blog.

Verrrrry interesting. That will be $105, please. Schedule another session with my secretary on the way out.



Felix in 2004?

The off-season moves have begun. To no one's surprise, the Giants declined options for J.T. Snow and Eric Young, while to my mild surprise, Felix Rodriguez exercised his player option for $3 million, a couple mil less than the Giants' team option.

Apparently, his agent didn't think he could fetch a minimum of $3 mil for a year on the open market. Or maybe Fifi really really likes San Francisco, or Felipe Alou's constant practical jokes, or the leftover dosages from Barry Bonds' personal training regimen.

So the Giants have Felix whether they want him or not. The question that follows: does a $3 million contract make him affordable? Will Sabean try to trade him? Before you answer, check out this plot thickener. According to this invaluable site, F-Rod's contract has a similar arrangement for 2005: a $5 mil team option or $3.15 mil player option.

The fact that he didn't test the market is a sign that there isn't much enthusiasm for high-priced set-up men, despite (or perhaps because of) the multimillion-dollar contracts parceled out last winter to Stanton, Karsay, Osuna, Hammond, Embree, etc. So it's hard to imagine any team taking on $3 mil for 2004, $3.15 mil for 2005, AND parting with a decent prospect or two.

Or is it? For those who have watched him fail in two crucial post-season situations the past two years, it may be hard to comprehend, but when he's right Felix is a nasty man with a nasty plan, as Fishbone once sang. We may have groaned the past few months when Felix was called in, but that's because we didn't have Marvin Benard to groan over anymore. He's no John Rocker or Todd Van Poppel. Remember when we once actually loved him? When he was blowing away batters with a 95-MPH fastball and nothing else, then handing over the keys to Nen for the ninth? Objectively, Felix is a top set-up guy, a guy that rich teams like Boston, the Yankees and the Rangers both need and can afford.

Now, would they give up a key prospect? (Do the Yanks and Sox even have any key prospects left??)

My guess: Sabean will be in no hurry to trade Fifi. He'll wait to see how Nen fares in spring training and how amenable Worrell is to coming back on the relative cheap. If Nen and Worrell and Herges are all on board come April, Felix will become expendable. Problem is, depending on how desperate other teams are for fireballing set-up men at that point, Sabean might have to dump him a la Livan Hernandez, either getting marginalia in return or having to pay part of his salary.

My wish: trade him for whatever Sabean can get, but don't pay part of his salary. Use the $6 million saved over two years to plow into the salary of a fearsome batsman.

I Sung My Song To Mr. Timmy

We all hate Tim McCarver, but some of us channel our hatred into well-written baseball satire.

Series Un and Deux

Right-o. Monday morning, a full bowl of coffee on my desk and fresh paint on my home office walls. (That's right, Laz, no more "psycho-ward green." It's now more like "Van-Gogh's-missing-ear yellow.")

I'm torn between rooting for a tense, well-played seven-game series that ends with an extra-inning nailbiter; or for the Marlins to beat the Yanks in 5 and get the whole damn thing over with so we can move on to the meaty stuff: helping Sabean rebuild the Giants' roster in fun and creative ways.

A few observations from the first two games:

* Alfonso Soriano's bat got a wake-up call from a hanging Helling slider. But if the Marlins continue to pitch him down-and-away and up-and-in instead of fat-hanger-down-the-middle, he'll continue to be a non-factor in the series. He simply looks lost at the plate. (As does Aaron Boone.)

* The Marlins have a distinct defensive advantage. This gives them, in my mind, an advantage in close games, where a booted ball (like Boone's error in the 9th inning of an already-decided game 2) could have a devastating effect. It doesn't have to be an error -- it could be an outfielder's (in)ability to cut a ball off in the gap, or a split-second pivot at second that proves the difference between out and safe on a double play.

* The Marlins have a distinct baserunning/speed advantage. With Pudge behind the plate -- was that throw he made last night -- from one knee, over Boone's ducking head, to catch Posada stealing simply incredible, or what? -- the Yanks aren't going to be taking chances. The Marlins will be running just as they've been all post-season. Again, one extra base taken or not taken can be the difference in a tight game.

*The Marlins have Beckett starting in games 3 and 7. If he calms the nerves that beset him in his first NLCS start, we might see two of the greatest pitching duels in WS history: Beckett v. Mussina. If the rest of the Marlins' starters can hold up well enough, as Penny did in game 1, this series will go seven.



Grady Update

This morning I jotted a few notes in defense of Grady Little's decision to leave Pedro in in the 8th last night. I hadn't even read columns like this one or this one, but now that I have, boy, am I steamed.

Not one "Blame Grady" column that I've seen has noted that Posada's double was absolutely no different than the pitch Giambi hit off Embree, one batter after Pedro was taken out. In fact, Posada's broken-bat bloop double was hit even worse than Giambi's broken-bat bloop fly out, which is why it fell softly on the grass behind second base. In other words, the Yankees got lucky.

I'll say it again: Pedro made one bad pitch that inning. That's all. Jeter's double was on a fastball high and away; Williams' single was a fastball on the outside corner at the knees. Good pitches. Good hitters put good pitches in play. Do Red Sox fans, and Globe columnists, and Thomas Boswell, and all the other pundits who haven't probably played baseball since little league, if at all, have any idea that Pedro actually made a great pitch to Posada?

Are we really to believe that if Grady brought in Embree to face Matsui and Posada, and the exact same things happened (well hit line-drive, lucky bloop, tie ball game), the media would say, "Hey, Grady made the right call to get Pedro out of there. He was tired. Embree just didn't get the job done!"

Right. They'd be screaming that Pedro is the ace, and 110 pitches is nothing when the season's on the line, and how dare you bring in a guy who sucked all year, and boy, Grady was a real rube to think that just because Embree had had a great post-season to that point, he'd get the job done when it really counted...etc etc etc.

Roll all the hypocrisy up with a big dollop of "Curse" and "bambino," and boy, isn't it easy to write sports columns on deadline?

I don't know if Grady reads El Lefty Malo, but if you do, sir, print this out and keep it in your back pocket all winter.

Heartbreak II

I have never subscribed to the "Evil Empire" blather. I chalked it, and many other complaints about the Yankees, up to Boston whinging and wearing their inferiority complex about their team and city on their sleeves.

But I really really really wanted the Red Sox to win last night. I wanted to see someone, anyone in the Series besides the Yankees in the World Series. Or at least one of the three teams -- Giants, Sox, Cubs -- that hasn't won since B.L.M. -- Before Lefty Malo.

Instead, we've got agony on three coasts (if you consider Lake Michigan an inland sea) and a series that features one extremely boring team and one extremely exciting team that I hope kicks the extremely boring team's ass. By the way, what is it? The I-95 series? The Old New Yorkers Don't Die, They Just Retire To South Florida series? A better comedy writer than I will have a field day with the New York-Florida connection. I haven't even had my coffee yet.

A quick look at last night's game:

No way the Boston fans can blame Grady Little for this one, try as they will. He made the right moves. It came down to two moments:

1) Mussina takes over for Clemens in the 4th innings, 1st and 3rd, no outs; he strikes out Varitek and gets Mueller to hit a one-hop line drive at Jeter, I think, who turns the double play. Scores stays at 4-0. That was huge. (At that point, Elbo and I were sitting at the bar in Yancy's, he wearing his Bernie Williams "51" home jersey, me with a Giants cap but clearly cheering for the Sox, when a Sox fan behind us says to his buddy, "Heh heh, too bad, Clemens just cost his team a chance to go to the World Series." That, my little Boston friends, is called "feeding the curse.")

2) With Williams on first and a run already scored in the bottom of the 8th, Pedro throws an 0-2 fastball down and in to Matsui, but not down and in enough. It was a terrible pitch, and Matsui laid a terrible beating on it for a double down the line. Posada's following hit that tied the game was a good pitch; the pitch to Matsui a bad one. As soon as I saw Varitek set up inside, I moaned "No! Go outside! Away, off the plate! It's 0-2!" But they didn't listen to me for some reason.

Defending Grady:
- Pedro should have been removed earlier? In hindsight, yeah, maybe, but please, honeychild, don't tell me that in theory you prefer Embree or Timlin to Pedro after 110 pitches. He really made one bad pitch in that fateful 8th; the rest was good hitters hitting good pitches.
- Wakefield shouldn't have been pitching in extra innings? Instead of...Scott Williamson, who gave up a homer to Ruben Sierra this series and nearly melted down into Red Sox infamy at the end of game 5 against the A's? Todd Jones? Norah Jones? Wakefield was all but fitted for an LCS MVP ring until Boone's homer. The guy was fantastic in his two starts, and there's no harder pitch to hit out than a dancin' 65-MPH knucksie. The same pitch Boone hit out, Giambi, Posada and Matsui all hit for weak popups or grounders the inning before.

And that's about it. The Yanks strung together some good hits in the 8th; Mussina pulled a Houdini act in the 4th; Boone happened to swing hard and connect with a knuckleball in the 11th. Start spreading the news.



This Could be Huge

According to a wire report today, the "nutritional supplement" company that Barry Bonds endorses is linked to a much wider conspiracy involving amateur and professional athletes and a previously undetectable steroid known as THG.

The investigation of BALCO, the company Bonds endorses, and its founder Victor Conte has been underway for some time. But today the head of the US Anti Doping Agency claimed Conte was a source of THG, an exotic designer steroid that athletes have been using with the knowledge of coaches and chemists, all part of what the Doping Agency chief described as "intentional doping of the worst sort."

We all know the whispers -- sometimes not so sotto voce -- about Bonds and steroids. If I remember correctly, he's admitted only to using creatine, a legal supplement available at your corner musclehead vitamin store. The drug-testing framework that MLB and the players' union agreed to last year, plus the general acknowledgment that Bonds was amazing, no matter what he's been snorting, plus the sympathy he's garnered by playing MVP-caliber ball while his dad died of cancer, have all muted the accusations this year.

But this news is certain to set off a new round of speculation about Bonds, just as he's beginning truly to grieve for his father, grieve for another disappointing playoff ouster, and start his off-season training regimen all over again. (As I think of him getting up at 5 on a rainy winter day to do whatever he does for training, I think of the old Ricky Watters quote, when asked why he didn't try harder for passes thrown over the middle: "For who? For what?")

Remember what McGwire did when the questions about andro and the injuries and the performance decline all began to swirl around him? He retired. And how many questions has he been asked about steroids since? Well, let's see, it's hard to ask a guy questions when he never shows his face in public.

Despite the multi-millions still on the table for Bonds in the last three years of his contract, would he walk away from it if the public scrutiny of his muscle mass got too intense? If he doesn't retire and pull a McGwire disappearing act, how much of his time will be spent answering not just press questions, but inquiries from baseball officials, government officials, and even grand juries as the company he endorses is pulled deeper into this investigation?

To extend this exercise in speculation a mite further, think of the effect on the Giants as their best player, distracted by drug rumors and investigations, beset upon by the media, perhaps even called upon to testify and miss games, can't match the production they need from him but still pulls in a whopping percentage of the team payroll.

Not only could you kiss goodbye the tenuous goodwill Bonds has built among the press corps and fan base, you could also see the wonderful run of success the Giants have had since 1997 come to its end.

That's a long chain of dominoes, and the first one hasn't really fallen yet, but allow me the pessimism. Indeed, it's an argument for signing long-term a Bonds-replacement type player, not only to buffer the effect of losing Bonds in the lineup, but also to buffer the inevitable sag in support and ticket sales with Bonds out of the lineup for any length of time.

But What Would Jesus Do At the Trading Deadline?

"The good Lord has been looking after us this whole month," McKeon said. "I thank God for the great bunch of players I have."

And He was really combing the waiver wires in August.

The Heartbreak

I understand completely. Perhaps not completely, because the misery of a Chicago Cubs fan is magnified and reflected back to him by a media frenzy; a Cubs' sufferer is egged on by a cottage industry of Lovable Loserness that, like all American suffering, turns real pain into a dog-and-pony show.

Even though the Giants haven't won a World Series in my lifetime and beyond, the Giants aren't lovable or losers, their frustration hasn't been converted into a badge of honor. Which is fine with me.

On the flat tundra of newspapers and TV screens, the Cubs' choke job becomes the same as a little girl falling down a well in Texas or a car bomb in Baghdad: in the hands of the mainstream media, it all turns to a sappy blob of sentimental goo. I nearly gagged when Tom Brennaman, referring early in game 7 to the beleaguered Steven Bartman, said in his self-important faux baritone that the media frenzy (staking out Bartman's house, calling his phone line all night, etc) was an indictment of the sickness of our society, or something like that. You're right, Tom, unless Fox can turn it into a hit reality show, or the local Fox affiliate's ratings go sky high when they trail Bartman to work in their traffic helicopter.

Poor Bartman -- the guy's going to be blamed for the debacle, even though a better team would have shrugged off the bad break and continued to play well, instead of caving in right at that moment. In fact, the series really turned on what happened next. Just after Bartman's interference with the foul fly, Alex Gonzalez booted a double-play grounder that would have had the Cubs out of the inning with minimal damage. Then the floodgates opened.

In last night's game, Kerry Wood had just given the Cubs a lead with his home run. He promptly walked Pierre and Castillo to lead off the fifth, and the Marlins scored three to take back the lead for good. Dreadful. Wood was right when he said after the game that he choked. That's what choking's all about -- getting into a favorable position and tightening up. When a pitcher loses control of the strike zone like that, it is literally a tightening-up of certain muscles, an urgency to do too much that messes up the mechanics and concentration.

There was another key moment in last night's game that one of the announcers noted (I can't remember who -- I was switching back and forth between TV and radio -- and by the way, ESPN radio's Dan Schulman, paired with Dave "Soup" Campbell, isn't half bad as a play by play guy); down 7-5, with two Marlins on and two out, the Cubs elected to pitch to Alex Gonzalez (the Marlin), even Beckett was on deck with no one warming in the bullpen. In other words, a prime situation to pitch around a guy to get to the pitcher. Veres threw two fastballs down the middle, which Gonzalez fouled off; on the next pitch he hit a soft liner into center that Lofton couldn't reach, and two more runs scored. That was the ball game.

I understand how bad it's going to feel on the North Side all winter, especially because, like the Giants in last year's Series, the Cubs were so close. You could count the outs. But I'm enjoying the Marlins. They're about the most exciting team I've seen in a long time, and Pudge is going to get a nice fat contract from someone this winter.

Whoever faces them in the Series is in trouble.



Elbo: "Must be someone from Winnetka"

Yes, the Cubs have found a new way to lose. But it's not really like last year's Giants meltdown. That was just baseball -- Dusty's questionable move to yank Ortiz, the bullpen cracking, Livan falling behind. It wasn't because of the bizarre wild-card influence of a "fan" down the left-field line. It's sort of a more heartbreaking opposite to the Jeffrey Maier incident -- the right call by the umps, the home team on defense. It doesn't really compare to the Brant Brown near-disaster either. I've never seen anything quite like it, at least not at such a critical moment.

Josh Beckett's brilliant start on Sunday now looms larger than ever. So does the Cubs' inability to hold a five-run lead over the same Beckett in Game One. What an incredible seven-game series. And with the ALCS Game Six starting up in an hour or so, I'll be ready for just about anything.

Meanwhile, some columnists are stretching for material in the middle of one of the best postseasons ever. (Best since 1986, I say.)



Dusty Decisions

Oh, Elbo. Don't be cruel, to a heart that's true. Poor Dusty. He takes Ortiz out early, and it backfires. He leaves Prior in, and it backfires.

But unlike last year's game s...s...si...si....six -- don't make me type it again, please -- backfire is a relative term in tonight's case. It really has little to do with Dusty. The Cubs would be in the Series right now if it weren't for some absolute idiot down the left field line who, according to the game report, had beers and other debris rain down upon him as the Marlins' rally kept rolling. Oh, and Alex Gonzalez's error didn't help much. Sheesh.

I was rooting for the Cubs until I saw Pudge Rodriguez line that single to left in the fateful 8th inning and I realized that of all the players I've watched during this post-season, Pudge is the one I've enjoyed watching the most when I think about it objectively. I certainly haven't enjoyed watching any of Boston's Butt-Uglies or the cheerless Yanks. It probably would have been fun to watch Torii Hunter run around the outfield like a younger, smoother Bernie Williams. Except for Jason Schmidt, the Giants were no fun at all; watching their debacle was like watching myself in a dream, running away from danger but getting stuck in place. Nothing... seemed... to... work... help.... must... go... faster... ARARGRARGGGGGGGHHHHH!!! [horrible screams as the demon-beast scoops J.T. Snow up in its jaws].

No, Pudge is the one who's bringing not Giants' joy, certainly, but an overall baseball joy to my joyless postseason. Maybe it's because he hits home runs to left and slaps hard singles to right, all in a single bound. Maybe because he's the cagey veteran on a team full of impish youngsters.

Maybe because, secretly, deep down, I don't want Dusty to go to the World Series with the Cubs and make the Giants look worse than they do already. As soon as he gets there, you know what's coming: endless national media stories, led by Rick Reilly, about Dusty's Revenge, as if it were some third-world gastrointestinal affliction. Argh, there's Larry Baer, doubled over, sweating bullets, scanning for the nearest bathroom stall as Dusty's Revenge strikes his bowels again.

Taking the Cubbies to the Series would elevate Dusty to instant Chicagoland Area immortal; winning it all would be an Enormous Middle Finger, sort of like the Sears Tower with a fingernail glued on top, pointing westward to San Francisco.

Elbo: Turning point?

I wonder if Dusty let Prior keep the ball.


I've already sent my angry e-mail to my Giants customer service rep, Bob, about the name change. I'm sure it went straight to the Pee-Mag himself. We can simultaneously kid ourselves and satisfy our insatiable appetite for cheap puns by saying, "Oh, but Pac Bell at least had a nice ring to it," but the truth is, we were all bitching and moaning when the Giants announced the Pac Bell sponsorship a few years ago. Larry Baer is right: I'll keep supporting those Giants with my hard-earned and increasingly rare cash, no matter what the ball park's called. ("Monsanto Yards"? "Karl Rove's Field of Dreams"?)

So let's just keep calling it "Pac Bell," just like we keep calling the other one "Candlestick."

And maybe they'll start serving the following dish next to the garlic-fry stand:

"By far the most diabolical dish I've heard tale of here in Tokyo has nothing at all to do with whales. It seems that in some restaurants, they will put live baby eels in a large bowl of water with a big block of tofu at the bottom. The bowl is heated, and as they become uncomfortably hot, the baby eels burrow down into the cooler tofu. There they are cooked alive, and served like an olive loaf. Any discussion of evil cuisine begins and ends with this recipe."

Elbo: Don't call it 3Com

It's really not that much worse, is it? I didn't have any great love for Pacific Bell Corp., and I don't have any special negative feelings for the former Southwestern Bell Corp.

Sure, there was a vaguely marine feel to "Pacific Bell Park" that somehow reflected the aquatic theme of the ballpark, which made the name somehow more tolerable than other stadiums' noms de corp. And "PacBell Park" rolled off the tongue a lot more smoothly than, say, "Continental Airlines Arena."

But I'd rather have the new name than see the Giants play under the Enron sign that loomed over centerfield throughout the power crisis. F that.

Can we still call it "The Phone Booth"?


Get used to it: SBC Park. Just grit your teeth and repeat after me: "paying off the debt service," "paying off the debt service," "paying off the debt service"....

Elbo: Knock down, dragged out

From Lefty O'Doul's interview in Lawrence Ritter's essential The Glory of Their Times:

"Of course, a lot of things are different today. When I was playing, it was an unwritten law that if a batter ever hit a pitch when the count was three balls and no strikes, the next time he came up there, boy, he was knocked down four consecutive times. They're always yelling about the 'bean ball' nowadays. Be better off if they forgot about it. Hell, they've got an iron helmet on their head, haven't they? They look like steel workers. If I was pitching today I'd see if I couldn't skip a few off their noggins.

We didn't wear an iron helmet. We wore a felt hat. I saw many a ball coming right at my head. When I pitched for San Francisco in 1921 I hit 19 men. On purpose. No way to say how many I missed! Then when I became an outfielder the shoe was on the other foot. Shoe was on the other foot, see? They hit me in the legs, hit me in the back, broke my elbow, broke my rib. That's all right. Let the ballplayers fight themselves out of it. Drag the ball and spike the pitcher.

Why are the general managers and the managers always hollering about bean balls? They don't have to go up there and hit, do they? What are they screaming about? And the umpires, going out and warning a pitcher about throwing bean balls. Fining him. How does the umpire know? The ball could have slipped, couldn't it? A pitcher is a human being. Not a lathe. Not a piece of machinery. The ball could slip, right?

When I hit .398 they were knocking me down all day long. The catchers used to say, 'Well, here you go, Frank,' and I'd duck. Nobody interfered. They left us alone. We worked our way out of it by ourselves."



War, Children, It's Just a Shot Away

Thanks to the Laz for the headline and the link to today's Dan Shaughnessy column in the Boston Globe, which excoriates Pedro Martinez for being a big baby and, far more interesting, nods to a rumor that the Hell's Angels will be guarding the Yankee bullpen for games 4 and 5.

Shaughnessy's column is typical Boston media hysteria. Yes, Pedro is a diva; yes, Manny is a man-child. A lot of superstar athletes are. They've been undereducated and overpampered all their lives. It should only be a surprise when a star is actually reflective, humble, and well-spoken, a Luis Gonzalez or Shawn Green or Carlos Delgado type.

Shaughnessy gripes that Boston stars are all whiners and rapscallions and prima donnas until they go elsewhere, when suddenly, no longer treated with kid gloves by the Boston front office, they become normal human beings. Shaughnessy's prime example is Roger Clemens, who as a Yankee is now a cross between -- no, I am not making this up -- Audie Murphy, Winston Churchill, and Cy Young.

Shaughnessy must be referring to the way war-hero Murphy liked to crack Mike Piazza's helmet with 98-mph fastballs, then throw bat shards at him in the World Series.

Pedro is a demon for being a big baby; Clemens's more recent misdeeds are given a big pass. For some reason, Boston fans (and sportswriters) can't quite bring themselves to appreciate Pedro for what he is, the best American League pitcher of the past 5 or 6 years and only equaled, maybe, by Randy Johnson in the same time period. So he throws at people's heads. Not very nice, but he's not the first and won't be the last. (For the record, El Lefty Malo does not condone deliberately throwing at batters' heads. If a pitcher wants to send a message, aim for the ass. It won't break any bones, and it's in fact harder for the batter to get out of the way.)

This isn't the first time Pedro has been the target of Boston ire. He complained about talk-radio negativity earlier this year which demonstrated two things: Pedro's a sensitive guy and should listen to NPR; Boston fans are idiots for trashing Pedro. They'd probably run Bob Gibson out of town, too. The media certainly would, given that Gibson was as intimidating to reporters who dared to ask stupid questions as he was to batters who dared to bunt or hit big home runs off him. And don't think for a second that race isn't a factor, especially in Boston.



Elbo: Overheard at the Haven

During the tenth inning of Game One of the BoSox-A's series, a barely coherent Hockey Haven regular was overheard fighting with his neighbor at the bar over whether Johnny Damon looks more like "a Mexican Indian" or "a half-Asian guy."

Turns out Damon is half Thai, on his mom's side. Who knew?

I'm still picking the Cubs in five, and the Yanks in six. If the Cubs can polish off the Marlins quickly -- and I think they can -- they can front-load the rotation for the World Series. Advantage Cubs. Good for them.




Dodger Sale

News reports today tag Frank McCourt as the new owner of the Dodgers, pending MLB approval of his $400 million offer. I know he's a best-selling author, but that's still a lot of money. I'll bet you this is just a front so he can gather material for his next memoir, Angelos's Ashes.

Right Field Blues

I just read in the Contra Costa Times that Brian Sabean thinks the pool of available free-agent right fielders is "probably as good as it's been in terms of the profile of guys and the impact they could have on teams."

The list that precedes his comment starts with Vlad Guerrero and Gary Sheffield, of course, both of whom Pee-Mag has gone on record saying the Giants won't pursue, although maybe Barry can ask Pal Gary to pull a Karl Malone/Gary Payton move, and play on the cheap for a year to get that ring.

The others on the list: Raul Mondesi, Rondell White, Jose Guillen, Shannon Stewart, Raul Ibanez, Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett, Brian Jordan, Reggie Sanders, Ruben Sierra, and Juan Encarnacion (who would have to be non-tendered in arbitration proceedings).

More than half we can file under "Please, God, don't let them do it": Mondesi, who couldn't figure out that to start on a potential champion Yankee team, he only had to play better than Juan Rivera; White, who seems to do his off-season training with Jeffrey Hammonds; Juan-Gone, who likes playing for Detroit, except when he doesn't; Everett, for all sorts of reasons; Jordan, who's a fine upstanding fellow but in serious physical decline; and Sierra -- wait, are you kidding me?? was Joe Roderick giggling when he including Sierra on this list?

That leaves Encarnacion, who seems to be putting it together, slowly but surely, but more homers and a higher OBP would be nice; Guillen, who might finally be growing into the five-tool guy scouts drooled over for years; Stewart, who supposedly is a terrible outfielder and therefore not a great fit for Pac Bell... although Durham-Stewart at the top of the order might be worth the defensive trade-off; and Ibanez, who only hit 18 homers this year with half his games at Kaufmann Stadium; he'd hit about 10 all year with the Giants.

If I had a magic wand, I'd wave it and put Guillen in right field with a contract that still leaves money for a power bat at first base and a decent #2 starter.

Another note on 2004 rosters and contracts. In my half-assed analysis the other day, I completely forgot about Matt Herges, whom the G's can and should re-sign fairly cheaply via arbitration. That means good-bye Worrell; Herges is about as good a set-up guy as there is, and if Nen isn't ready on Opening Day, Herges is more than able to do what Worrell did this year. So that's likely to free up at least a couple mil.

Queer Eye for the Broadcast Guy

Last night, me, Elbo and the Laz settled in for some Yanks-Sox on the public airwaves accompanied by some fine Hollandisch brewskis, rum, a bag of limes and a hip flask of Jim Beam -- hey, not only was it 5 o'clock somewhere, it was 5 o'clock in my living room.

During the pre-game sequence, in which the announcers sit with the field in the background, smile at the camera and discuss the inane "Keys to the Game" or whatever, I got my first good look this year at Fox's baseball A-team, so to speak.

Tim McCarver sported a really bad dye-job, sort of a rust-maroon color that looked like the sofa in my dad's ski cabin; Joe Buck tried to look kind of serious and sexy with his blow-dried comb-over and vaguely downtown glasses; and Bret Boone, a.k.a. Mr. Frosty Tips, definitely knows how to pump iron and apply hair product.

And I thought, what the hell is this, a fern bar?

Wasn't there an Armistead Maupin short story about two aging queens who bring home a young club boy, expecting to bring a little spark back to their bed but find only that the morning dawns with an even deeper melancholy? No? OK, how about a TV show? McCarver can be the bitchy know-it-all, Buck the careerist whose sex drive left him years ago, and Boone the dumb jock whose favorite songs are "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."

First episode, the trio has to descend into the Boston Red Sox locker room after a killer loss to the rival Yankees. The Sox, with their snarling answers and (mostly white) shaved heads are played by the Aryan Brotherhood Mime Troupe of Pelican Bay. All sorts of hijinks ensue.




Having taken a sharp Elbo to the ribs, I'll concede that a Pedro Feliz without additional plate discipline is not a viable candidate for the Giants' starting first base job in 2005. (Consider me slapped upside the head with a wet Jose Hernandez.) I hereby launch my attempt to teach P-Happy some fiscal discipline, thus preparing him as a viable candidate for California governor in 2006. The funny accent certainly won't hurt with the voters, as we've just found out.

I wasn't thrilled about Fox carrying the Cubs-Marlins game 2 last night instead of Sox-Yanks game 1, but it gave me a chance to appreciate the low-key work of Al Leiter, hired to be the expert commentator working with Steve Lyons and Tom Brennaman. Leiter doesn't have much broadcasting skill or panache -- at times he was so low-key he was barely audible -- but he brought great insight into the matchups and strategy, especially pitching. No surprise. In fact, I think his expertise also forced "Psycho" Lyons to drop his usual clown act, and he responded with some equally sharp analysis, leaving Brennaman as the solitary (and seemingly requisite) Fox windbag. In game 1, Leiter mumbled just a few seconds before Sammy Sosa's dramatic ninth-inning homer, "Urbina better not throw him a hanging slider." Ten seconds and one hanging slider later, the game was headed to extra innings.

The other blessing in disguise with Sox-Yanks on cable (which I do not have) was catching the second half of the game on the radio with ... ahhh... Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. It was like coming home after a long business trip and sleeping in my own bed again. I'm not a huge fan of Morgan's ESPN.com columns, but he's great during games, and there's no smarter, better, more comfortable broadcasting duo in baseball.



Elbo: Once again, begging to differ regarding Pedro Feliz

I'm going to have to voice my dissent with El Lefty regarding Pedro Feliz. I don't think he will develop better strike zone judgment next year, or any year. Pedro Feliz will turn 29 in April and will once again walk approximately one-fifth as often as he strikes out.

Coming into this year, Feliz had walked 16 times and struck out 78 times for an ugly .21 walk-to-K ratio. Did he finally learn to lay off those breaking pitches in the dirt just a LITTLE more often in 2003? Nope. He walked 10 times and struck out 53 times for an even uglier .19 walk-to-K ratio! The league is catching up to Pedro's flaws faster than Pedro is learning to wait out major league pitchers. Generally speaking, his power waned after August 1 (despite a brief display of heroism in Houston) -- maybe that's when people started watching film of him striking out on curveballs out of the strike zone, or popping up on high-and-tight ones. Nearly every pitch I saw him hit out of the park was a mistake fastball at the belt -- although, of course, good hitters do that too.

Point being, examples of people getting over this kind of problem after age 29 and still being successful major leaguers are very few and far between. Most people like this are washed up around age 30, and almost no one like this plays every day after age 30. In fact, among MLB regulars aged 29 and over, the worst BB/K ratio belonged to well-traveled shortstop Jose Hernandez at .26. You wouldn't make Jose Hernandez your first baseman, would you?

I admit Pedro's power displays were encouraging (.515 SLG in 235 AB in 2003; .418 SLG in 608 AB for his career), but he's best deployed as a pinch hitter and bench player. Either way I sure wouldn't bank on him playing 1B in 2005, unless the Giants want to have the worst everyday first baseman in the major leagues.

The Giants' First Off-Season Salvo

Sabean held his first post-disaster press conference yesterday, and the early bombshell is that 2004 payroll will drop from the mid-$80 million range to the mid-$70s.

According to Henry Schulman's calculations, the Giants have 9 guys under contract for 2004 for a total of $50 mil: Bonds, Grissom, Alfonzo, Perez, Durham, Schmidt, Rueter, Nen and Christiansen. They hold rights to several more: Eyre, Williams, Nathan, Feliz, Brower (?), and of course the rookies who came up at or near the end of the year.

Right now, here's the 2004 lineup and the holes that need filling:

2b Durham
3b Alfonzo
LF Bonds
CF Grissom
C Torrealba
SS Perez

I think Torrealba over a full year would be good for at least 10 homers and a .325 OBP; not great, but not that much different than Santiago's per-year averages with the Giants. (Lo and behold, Yorvit's career OPS is 10 pts. higher than Benito's.) Neifi hitting every day? Hey, how about that defense!

I'm putting Fonzie 2nd because I'd rather have more power in the 3 slot. However, if the Giants can sign a great #2 hitter, (i.e., high OBP, good speed, and left-handed) Fonzie could hit 3rd. For the fifth slot, there's no waffling: they need a masher, a real long-ball threat behind Bonds, the guy who's going to take over the lineup when Bonds is done.

The key will be that #2/#3 slot. I would even say re-sign Snow on the cheap for another year or two and let him hit second -- high OBP, left-handed, lack of power isn't as bothersome -- except that his lack of speed is, as we all painfully found out, a real killer.

But let's face it; it's all about trade-offs, yet again. If Snow for a couple mil a year means the ability to sign a legit #2 starting pitcher and a masher to protect Bonds, that might not be a bad solution, speed be damned. Durham and Snow getting on base at a .375 clip in front of Alfonzo, Bonds and oh, I don't know, let's just say Vladimir, seeing how SF's burgeoning Russian immigrant population would make him feel right at home, well, that wouldn't be so bad, would it?

All who would feel good with the following opening day 2004 lineup, say aye:

2b Durham
1b Snow
3b Alfonzo
LF Bonds
RF scary Vlad-type masher
CF Grissom
C Torrealba
SS Perez

Back that up with a rotation of Schmidt (ligament pending), an outstanding #2 pitcher not named Ponson (Vazquez?), Rueter, Williams and Hermanson, and hey, I'm starting to feel a warm tingle.

Now for the bench.

I'd start negotiations immediately to bring Hammonds back for a million or so as a 4th OF, although I'm sure some Angelos, I mean idiot, will bet good money that Hambone can play every day and put up big medical bills, sorry, I mean numbers. But he'd be a great 4th; enough power to spell Bonds occasionally; strong D; runs well.

Feliz will again be super-utility guy in training getting paid next to nothing. Galarraga's likely gone, so he can start at 1b (if my Snow plan takes effect) against tough lefties; he can spell Fonzie at 3b. Another year learning 1b and better strike zone judgment, and P-Happy might be ready to take over 1b in 2005 or 2006.

Backup catcher: aren't there a million grizzled unshaven left-hand hitting 35 year old catchers out there who'll play for $500,000 and a chance to secretly cavort in SF's gay clubs? Gregg Myers, come on down! Or there's always Alberto Castillo. Either way, not a big problem. Yorvit will probably catch 145 games anyway.

5th OF: If Linden's ready, the job's his.

Backup inf: we've got Feliz already for 1st and 3rd; Perez can slide over to 2nd; but we need a backup shortstop. Is Ransom ready? From what I understand, his glove has been ready for a couple years. He might be Aurilia-like, in the sense that he was nothing with the bat in the minors.

That makes 13 position players, good enough for now.

What about the bullpen?

Nen, no fool, will take the $9 million option. But will he ever pitch again? Remains to be seen. If not, the Giants will need a closer. The might have to swallow hard and pay Worrell more than they want.

Nathan, despite his playoff meltdown(s), deserves a big role. Brower proved incredibly valuable as a long guy/spot starter. Bring him back. Christiansen will be back and probably much better, given that he came off Tommy John rehab and into the fire this year. I like Eyre, too; I'm not sure if he'll be too expensive to bring back. With Nen, that makes five; with Worrell, that makes six, with Correia and Zerbe at AAA.

Does all that fit into $75 million? If somehow the Giants can spend about $15 million for a big #5 bat and a pretty good #2 pitcher, not overspend on Worrell and get Snow back at bargain rates, that would leave them about $10 million to resign the bench guys, the arbitration-eligible, and the farm boys.

The silver lining to this year is that they won 100 games and auditioned some young guys who showed a lot of promise, Wiliams, Linden and Correia, specifically. It makes me feel a bit more hopeful that there won't be a rock-bottom at the end of the Bonds years.

More Losers' Complaints

For the record, Ken Macha is now a bad communicator and disrespecter, too, according to the undertalented Terrence Long. Seems that the frustration of losing in the first round of the playoffs is best relieved by telling the media that in fact the clubhouse has been in turmoil all year.



Elbo: More fearless predictions in print

Looks like Trot Nixon thinks the Sox have Jesus on their side. But unless Jesus is going to bat leadoff and play center field until Johnny Damon returns, I'm afraid the Sox are going down. I pick the Yanks in six games.

But will they be champs? Mark Prior has looked utterly unhittable so far in the postseason (and during most of August and September too). With Kerry Wood looking nearly as good, Dusty Baker can rest his bullpen. As a result, Zambrano and Clement need only be serviceable starters that deal it out for five solid innings. Sure, the Marlins surprised me in the first round, but the Giants really gave away that series too. The Cubs won't give anything away. I like Chicago in five in the NLCS, and at the moment I believe they'll win the World Series over the Yankees in six.

Then again, I really thought the Giants and A's would advance.

Macha and Melhuse and Dye, Oh My

In case anyone's wondering, Jermaine Dye is 3 for 18 career vs. Derek Lowe, with no walks and 4 K's.

Sacramento Sabermetrics

You like numbers and stats? Check out Top Jimmy's early-morning number crunching on today's recall vote, a dispatch from deep in the belly of the capital beast.

Choakland, Or, A Chapter in Which We Ask Ourselves, "Whose Curse is Worse?"

The outcome was obvious at the end of the 7th inning, after Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson knocked skulls in the outfield and Damon was taken off in an ambulance, and after Fox shamelessly replayed the sickening collision until I had to turn away and go wash some dishes. (Hey, Fox, why not throw in a couple dozen flashbacks to the Lawrence Taylor-Joe Theismann orthopedic summit while you're at it?)

As Damon was being gingerly lifted onto a stretcher, a dazed Jackson walked back to the Boston dugout, where a few Oakland fans in the front row started taunting him and David Ortiz. Classy! One A's fan actually motioned for the 6-foot-11, 350-pound Ortiz to come up into the stands and get down to business. Uh, right. A second fan was promptly escorted by security up the concrete stairs in a perfect metaphorical omen (wait, aren't all omens metaphorical?) of what was to transpire: a chokehold.

Grady Little, bless his soft heart, tried to make it not so by playing his infield in with runners on 2nd and 3rd and only one out in the ninth and a sinkerball pitcher (i.e., ground-ball machine) on the mound. In other words, Little was practically begging the A's to hit a weak chopper or 20-bounce bleeder through the drawn-in infield and let not just the tying but the winning run to score. He compounded this bonehead move by playing his outfielders back near the warning track, which sort of makes sense since Jermaine Dye was at the plate....

Oh, sorry. That wasn't Dye. That was Adam Melhuse pinch-hitting for Dye. Maybe Ken Macha knew something the rest of us didn't, like Dye was 0 for 40 lifetime against Derek Lowe, but...Adam Melhuse?

The questionable moves turned out to matter not, as Lowe channeled some prime-time Greg Maddux and threw two inside sinkers to strike out both Melhuse and T-Long. As George Plimpton used to say, "Game over, dude."

Back on this side of the cursed Bay, the fallout from the Giants' disaster is starting to swirl around our heads like the topsoil from a Ukrainian potato patch. (Wait, aren't all metaphors ominous?) Turns out that no one really liked Felipe Alou this whole time, the crusty old fart. We were all mispronouncing his name. It's not "Ah-Loo," or "Ah-Low," but "Ah-Loof."

Peter Magowan, aka Pee-Mag, went out of his way to defend His Aloofness, something he never would have done for Dusty. The big complaint seemed to be that Alou didn't let players personally know what was happening; the batting order was chaotic all year; and the final straw was benching regulars Cruz and Santiago for the final playoff game. Dusty, by the way, forgot to tell Shawn Estes that he'll probably be left off the playoff roster again for the NLCS, something Estes learned from the media yesterday.

(The best criticism I've read so far -- find the entry for Monday 10/6 and scroll down to item #3 -- has little to do with Alou's personality and more to do with the playoff roster construction, which we have to assume is a product of the front-office minds as well as Alou's.)

Is this Aloufness a molehill upon which the media will pile dirt all winter in order to have a mountain of a story come spring training? Or is there really something to this? Bottom line question number 1: is Alou in fact a detriment to the team when it comes to attracting good players?

If he had a reputation for being distant before he signed on with the Giants last year, it sure didn't faze Fonzie, or Ray Durham, or Marquis Grissom. Or, if they had reservations, they were quickly overcome by the number of zeroes on a certain line of the offer sheet that came through the fax machine. Grissom in particular most likely knew what he was getting into, having played for Alou in Montreal. And if Aurilia, Snow and Santiago -- seemingly the three big offendees, other than Jason Schmidt -- don't like playing for Alou, well, presto! They won't be next year, anyway. (There was also the report that Joe Nathan was steamed about getting yanked in game 3 after he opened an inning by walking a batter on four pitches. Guess what, Joe: that was probably the best move Alou made all series.)

Bottom line question number 2: does His Aloufness make his players play differently, i.e., worse? Would the Giants have been happier, and warmer, and winners of 110 games if it weren't for him? Would Cruz, coddled and pampered by, say, the loyalty and fuzzy wristbands of Dusty Baker, have likewise coddled and pampered that fly ball right into his snug leather glove instead of letting it fall to the crabgrass? Would Marquis, knowing how much his manager loved him, have chosen to stay securely at 2nd base in the middle of a rally with Alfonzo at the plate instead of acting out his insecurities -- begging for some kind, any kind of attention from his manager-cum-father-figure -- and trying unwisely to steal third, thereby killing a rally at a crucial moment in a crucial game?

Let me take a shot at answering those two uber-questions: Maybe and No. Maybe a top-line pitcher will be in negotiations with the Giants this winter but realize, as he looks back on the weirdness surrounding Jason Schmidt and the non-start in Game 4, that the Alou-Righetti chain of command isn't to his liking. But I think that would be counteracted by the wide-open spaces of Pac Bell Park, where 420-foot home runs go to die in the center fielder's glove.

And no, zillions of teams have rallied around hatred for their manager (let alone a mild annoyance bordering on dislike) to actually play better and with something that resembles competitive fire.

Back on the other side of the Bay (step right up, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to play... "Whose Curse is Worse!"), Tejada can scream all he wants about Derek Lowe's fist pumping, which allegedly is an obscene gesture on small Caribbean islands; the fans can scream about the interpretation of the obstruction rule and Steve Palermo's pinkie ring; and everyone can bitch and moan about those mean Boston fans, picking fights and yelling at the A's wives in the stands...

There's always so much more to complain about when you lose.



If That's All There Is, My Friend, Then Let's Stop Dancing

El Lefty Malo usually does not shy away from the bare and bitter truth. El Lefty Malo tries hard to hold onto the handrail and look defeat in the eye. But the last couple days, I felt like a partner in a relationship that's coming to its inevitable end, a participant in one of those awful, endless, torturous conversations about what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how impossible it is to fix it. At a certain point, the conversations have to end. Why didn't Felipe... how come JT didn't get a better jump... can't Torrealba hold on... how could Cruz...


In every stretch of every season, every team, even one as good as the Giants, plays like a stinking sulfurous fumarole. The Giants picked a bad time to play their absolute worst ball of the year. They were outshined. They sucked.

Change the division series from best of 5 to best of 7, sure; it'll make for better ball overall. I don't know if it would have helped the Giants.

(Thought of day: are the Giants becoming the Atlanta Braves of the West?)

Elbo expertly summed up the goodbyes we should expect in the next month or two. Some will be sad. JT gave us a lot of heart. My best Pac Bell moment was his home run off Armando Benitez to tie the playoff game against the Mets in the 9th. Second-best: had to be Benito's home run against the Cards in last year's NLCS, which soared several rows over my head. (Ah, if only Jon Miller were on the call: "A high...majestic...drive...headed toward the left-field bleachers!") Let me tell you something: You were a rock, Benny. Felix was a lot of fun when he wasn't driving us bananas. Aurilia never let us get too comfy with the facial-hair-or-not question. For a while he was the best hitting shortstop in the National League, including one glorious year when he hit the living shiznit out of the ball.

Let's enjoy the rest of the playoffs and pray for a Cubs-Red Sox series. That way, whoever wins, several hundred thousand real baseball fans will experience a purer joy than any, except perhaps the joy of their own wedding days and the births of their first children.



Elbo: Developing a bad attitude toward former heroes

So long, Sir Sidney. Just like in Baltimore, you never really learned how to pitch out of trouble.

Jose Cruz Jr: Thanks for all those diving catches, but I'm afraid the option is not mutual.

J.T. Snow: There were times I thought you were wretched, and there were times I defended you. And the last thing you did was go in hard. But good luck back in Anaheim or wherever.

Rich Aurilia: In a way, it's hard to imagine you playing anywhere else. But in another way, you're gonna.

Tim Worrell: Hope you taught Matt Herges a thing or two about pitching the eighth.

Benito: The new stadium looks great down there, and so does the Giles-Nevin-Klesko lineup. Enjoy.

Dustin Hermanson: Welcome to the rotation. Would you believe you're the Number Two guy now?

Felix Rodriguez: Maybe someone in the American League will swing at your slider and miss. It hasn't happened in the NL in about two years.

Marvin Benard: Have you been on our team this whole time? Thanks for 1998 and 1999, anyway.

Have I mentioned how much I like the Oakland A's?




Elbo: Flash update on lineups

Alou says he's going with Jerome today. I'm okay with this. Not sure if the Original Lefty Malo is.

Also, Jeffrey Hammonds will replace Cruz in right field, rather than the Mighty Pedro. And Yorvit Torrealba will do the catching and bat eighth.

Still feeling the Beam this morning. The one I drank during the game? That wasn't the last glass.



Game 3 Rehash

Consider this an experiment in writing when under the influence of suicidal tendencies. I have never, ever seen a team work so hard to lose a playoff game. The Giants actually had to go out of their way to lose today's game, and they did. They succeeded. They got their wish.

Bad pitches, bad defense, and perhaps the worst clutch hitting ever displayed in a playoff game. It's gotten to the point that when Jose Cruz Jr is up with the bases loaded and one out, I feel the defense has the advantage.

The defense feels that way, too, apparently. The Marlins walked Neifi Perez to load the bases with one out to get to Cruz. Do I need to repeat that, because I know it's stunning: they WALKED NEIFI TO GET TO CRUZ. The Marlins had more respect for Neifi Perez than Cruz with runners on base.

I turned to Elbo, whose Jim Beam I was rapidly throwing down my gullet, and said, "I don't think anyone's manhood has ever been insulted more in the history of baseball." And this was a couple innings after Neifi led off an inning with one of those awful slug bunts that I've never seen him do anything with except pop up into foul territory. And he did it again.

Hey, Jose, you're less dangerous than Neifi Perez. Let that sink in for a moment.

And then...oh, it hurts just to type this.

What can I even say about Cruz's dropped fly ball? How about the next batter, Alex Gonzalez, whom Worrell walked even though Gonzalez was trying to bunt? How about the 1-2 pitch to Pudge that was across the plate at the letters, instead of on the outside corner at the knees?

If this series continues the way it's going, my lasting image will actually be none of those things. Instead it will be Marquis Grissom, getting thrown out trying to steal third base with one out and Alfonzo at the plate. The pitcher Fox had gotten no one out -- Conine had simply saved a home run with a spectacular catch -- and was on the ropes. The Giants' hottest hitter was up, and Grissom tries to steal third on Pudge. That was just about the biggest bonehead move I've ever seen at ANY level of baseball.

Hey, but he's great in the clubhouse. He's a team leader. He's cheap, and he plays every day. Fuck all that--give me an asshole malcontent masher who'll stand behind Bonds in the on-deck circle and eat pitchers for lunch. Bring back Albert Belle, for fuck's sake. Just don't torture me anymore with this punch-and-Judy crap, with "team leadership" that falls apart like a house of cards in the playoffs. What the hell is going on? This is a total meltdown.

This has frightening parallels to the Mets series in 2000. Will this be the Giants team of that series, that rolled over for Bobby Jones (for Christ sake) the next day after a devastating extra-inning loss? Or will this be the team of last year's division series, that was backed against the wall by the Braves, then won the next two against Glavine and Millwood?

It's gotta be Schmidt tomorrow. No question. And Feliz in right field.

If I don't post anything tomorrow, you'll know who won. Or more precisely, who lost.

Call The Doctor

Is it just me, or does ALDS sound like a horrible neurological disorder? "The symptoms are acute, but the patient seems stable, doc. We'll have to monitor the situation closely to make sure this doesn't become full-blown ALCS."

Barry Zito did his Lefty-Malo best yesterday to make sure the Red Sox don't catch any of that nasty ALCS going around. (I heard it often breeds in pools of water that stagnate in hotel air ducts.) With all the nicknames for the curveball -- hammer, yakker, deuce, Uncle Charlie, hook, bender, 12-to-6 -- I think a new one should prevail: The Zito. The Zito is like a 75-mph Eephus pitch. The Zito turns grown men's knees to jelly. The Zito? Holy Toledo!

Despite the super-cool Lefty Malo-ness of the Zito, I'm not really an A's fan, unlike other lifetime Bay Areans who think those split-color caps are cute. In fact, I'm rooting for the Sox. If the Giants can't win the World Series, here's my order of rooting preference:

- Sox
- A's
- Cubs
- Twins
- Yankees
- Marlins
- Braves

That's right, Yankees over Braves and Marlins. The only thing worse than having to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during the post-season and contribute to the ratings, and thus the advertising revenue, of the Fox network, is having to hear the Braves' fans do the Tomahawk Chop to that tinny, computerized drumbeat and the same two notes, over...and over...and over....if Dostoevsky were alive, he'd wake up before dawn, pale and greasy and sweaty in his unheated bedroom with peeling paint and mold on the wainscotting, his jaw would hurt from gnashing his teeth in his sleep, and he'd hear that noise ringing in his ears..."ohhh oh oh oh...ohhh oh ohhhh...." coming from the mouth of 38,000 (yes, folks, plenty of tickets still available) overweight suburban Atlantans who all think that one World Series title out of 12 straight division championships is, hey, not so bad.

Of course, if the Cubs beat the Braves, we have to watch thousands of idiots in bright blue waving signs with pencil sketches of Harry Caray's face and maudlin homilies such as "Let's Do It for Harry" or "Harry Says 'Cubs Win'!" or "Harry was an Incoherent, Incompetent Drunk, Which is Why Wrigley Fans Relate to Him."

I have to confess that I kind of like the Yankees. Not as much as the Red Sox, but certainly more than the Braves and Cubs. I love how Mariano Rivera looks like Death warmed over, like there's very little flesh on his face to hold back his grimacing skull; I love Bernie Williams' smooth glide and guitar playing; I like how their owner is a complete asshole but, unlike many MLB owners, he actually wants to win.

But all this is moot; stout yeoman Woody will flummox the Fish today, the Little Kahuna will make Florida fans puka tomorrow, and we'll be off to the NLCS, against which the human immune system has no known natural defense.



Rethinking Ponson

I was in the shower this morning thinking about how fine the line is between getting an out and giving up a hit.

To wit: In Jeff Conine's first at-bat yesterday, he hits a wicked one-hop shot that Alfonzo drops to a knee and spears. In the box score it's a 5-3 ground out. Conine in the fifth inning chops down on a nasty sinker, it bounces about 8 times before Aurilia gloves it in the hole and throws a second too late to first. Infield single.

One out later, Hollandsworth does practically the same thing, squeezing a grounder into left field. Five feet left or right, and it's a double play. Then Pierre hits one well to right, a line-drive single to score a run. Next up, Castillo makes terrible contact on a chopper over the mound; so bad in fact that the Giants can only get the force as another run scores. Then Pudge bloops one into right to tie the game. To end the inning, almost to reinforce the point I'm trying to make, Derrek Lee smashes one to the right-field wall that Cruz catches on a line. Inning over.

That's six balls put into play in the critical 5th inning. Four of them are not hit with authority. Two of them are, but only one becomes a hit.

And we go apeshit over Ponson (myself guilty as charged) for pitching badly. No, he's no Schmidt. He can't just blow people away. But sometimes balls put into play don't find fielders' gloves, no matter how well the pitcher threw the pitch.

I believe the infamous fifth musketeer Voros McCracken has investigated this statistic, or phenomenon, or sabretrend, with calculations that will make your brain sag like the seat of Manny Ramirez's uniform pants.

Could it be that Ponson in fact pitched quite well yesterday but had an unlucky 5th inning? Should we rag his ass because Luis Castillo, the crafty little bugger, hit a slow chopper over the mound for an RBI groundout instead of a one-hop bullet right at Durham for an inning-ending double play? If he had done the latter, we might well be saying today that Ponson pitched quite decently (for a fat guy).

Tomorrow is the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement on which we, les juifs, the Members of the Tribe, both forgive and ask for forgiveness for everything that has passed since the previous Yom Kippur. That's a lot of stuff. I usually start with all the thank-you cards that once again I forgot to send.

But this year, I forgive Sidney Ponson. And in turn I ask him for forgiveness for my calling him a "fat fucker" in the middle of the 5th inning yesterday. Oh, and I forgive Shawn Green for being a Dodger.



Game 2 Rehash

In his post-game interview Bonds said, ""They played better. They won. That's the end of it. Go away."

That's about the best summary possible. The Giants deserved to lose; Bonds was the only one who played with any playoff intensity. I haven't seen that much slop from the Giants for a long time.

Pitching: Ponson throws an 0-2 wild pitch that moves runners up in the 1st; next pitch, what would have been a double-play grounder instead scores a run. Ponson in the 5th coughs up the lead, and the momentum. Jimmy Sac just weighed in with the disturbing comparison of Ponson to Wilson Alvarez, another mid-season trade for a fat American League pitcher whom the Marlins cuffed around like a spongy roll of Charmin. El Sid could have sacked up and given the Giants a couple more innings once he got a 3-run lead; he did not. More opprobrium for Joe Nathan, who looked like he was just happy to be back in the bigs. Sorry, Joe, that was April. This is October.

Hitting: When they had the chance to stick the knife in, the Giants choked. After Feliz tripled, Durham walked, Snow singled, they had the lead again, 5-4. 1st and 3rd, no out. Then in what I say was the key at-bat of the day, Aurilia popped out without getting the run in. Bonds walked intentionally. Alfonzo and Santiago also pop up. Three at-bats, nothing out of the infield. Momentum back in the Marlins' dugout. Ridiculous.

Defense: A fucking travesty. Cruz ran a long way for Pierre's ball and slipped. Understandable, but not good. Then Snow muffs one for a run; Grissom muffs one for another run. Even Santiago could have done better blocking Ponson's wild pitch in the 1st. Sure it was a wild pitch, but to win World Series, players have to save each others' asses and make great plays.

Today the Giants made excuses.

Start rubbing your Woody bobbleheads now to build up that mojo, folks. We're going to need it.

Post script: OK, I'm pissed off, but at least I don't root for a team whose home crowd can't even make enough noise in their own yard to drown out a bunch of drunk Cubs fans.


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