Spring Business

I realize most of my posts have been reactive in the past few weeks--a link here, an excerpt there, a snide remark or two. Not much fresh or original to say while we wait for practice games to start, more trade rumors to fly and final rosters to come into focus.

Here's a link to a SJ Merc story that starts off with some interesting figures re. the spring training business boom in Arizona. The writer makes an implicit case that higher taxes to fund certain civic renovations can be a boon to an entire city or region's economy. Maybe I'm extrapolating too much; beat me, flog me, tie me up and make me watch Passion of the Christ. Or worse, call me a tax-and-spend liberal. I can take anything you dish out.

Sunday is Pun Day

And here's a deliciously bad one from the Chronicle's Scott Ostler:

Randall Simon re-signed with Pittsburgh. That's good news for the Pirates, but a spokesperson for the American Snack Meat Mascots Assn. calls it a "wurst-case scenario."



Why, Greg? Was it the Cold Summers? The Gay Marriage?

from ESPN's Jayson Stark, who by the way has shaved his moustache:

How close did the Cubs come to not signing Greg Maddux? Maybe closer than anyone suspects.

A week before he became a Cub, Maddux phoned his old friend, Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti (who once worked for the Cubs when Maddux arrived in the big leagues). The purpose of the call: to tell Colletti how interested he would be in the Giants if they had interest in him.

The Giants had already slammed into their payroll ceiling. But for a chance to sign a Hall of Fame pitcher closing in on 300 wins, they decided this was a special case.

So they offered Maddux three guaranteed seasons (unlike the two the Cubs guaranteed), for an amount believed to be slightly less than $21 million, plus other perks.

Maddux mulled that offer for a week, then called back to say he'd decided to go back to Chicago.



Hear Hear

from ESPN.com's latest "writers bloc" column:

There's an exploding epidemic in baseball, and, yes, it's 'roids-related:

"Have you ever used steroids?" has quickly become the sports reporters' version of When did you stop beating your wife?

Player denials are manipulated into misleading "Athlete X denies he ever took steroids" headlines.

Way Back...Way Back...

Congratulations to Lon Simmons, one of the greatest voices ever in baseball.

Barry Indecent

On the same day that Clear Channel announces it's knocking Howard Stern from the air in six of its markets, Barry Bonds gives an interview laced with profanity. In some reports, it was snipped to please the community standards of Michael "Captain Renault" Powell (He's shocked, m'sieur! Shocked!), but the Chron (at least online on SF Gate) is running much more robust excerpts, in which Bonds accuses Turk Wendell of resembling a small cat or a type of willow.

Update: I've looked at the chron story again, about 20 minutes after the first viewing, and the first p-word has been changed to "p----" while the second one remains intact. I'm off to do some laundry and see what the print edition is running. This is probably of zero interest to anyone outside the journalism biz (or inside, for that matter), but -- o! nerdy me! -- I find this a fascinating study in copy-editing procedures over multiple media.

In case any of you missed it, here's what Wendell said to get Barry's knickers in a bunch:

"If my personal trainer, me, Turk Wendell, got indicted for that, there's no one in the world who wouldn't think that I wasn't taking steroids. I mean, what, because he's Barry Bonds, no one's going to say that? I mean, obviously he did it," Wendell said. "(His trainer) admitted to giving steroids to baseball players. He just doesn't want to say his name. You don't have to. It's clear just seeing his body."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a man you don't want sitting in the jurybox when you're up on felony charges. In addition from his unfamiliarity with the term circumstantial evidence, he's spiteful that, in his view, Bonds has been catching a break from everyone.

"No one's going to say" that he did it?

I understand that Turk doesn't read too many law reviews, but is he even reading the newspaper? Everyone's saying Barry did it, licorice breath. You're a little late to jump on the bandwagon.



Dusty Rides Again

Of all the reasons to miss Dusty Baker, his candor and independent thinking are perhaps the tops. See what he has to say about the parallels between the steroid crisis and McCarthyism.



ESPN Weirdness

For about a week now, I can't access any part of ESPN.com's MLB site. Not the front page, not the individual stories. It doesn't matter how I try: type the URL directly, click on the MLB link from the main ESPN.com page (which I can access just fine), or click on links to individual stories from outside sites.

Has anyone else experienced this?



Calm Before the Storm

Not much happening this week. A few arbitration cases, a swirl of speculation about BALCO, the sound of equipment bags being loaded onto planes headed for Florida and Arizona.

With all the talk about steroids, I loved the following quote from Jason Schmidt re. his run-in with Felipe Alou after the playoff loss last year:

As for Schmidt and Alou, the pitcher said he no longer harbors ill feelings toward his skipper for giving the Game 4 start to Jerome Williams and suggesting to reporters that Schmidt did not want the ball because his elbow was hurt. "It was (four) months ago and testosterone was flowing at the end of the game there," he said.

Sigh. Remember the good old days, when having too much testosterone simply meant being a macho asshole, not a macho asshole dope fiend?



A.J. Pay Day

Looks like the Giants' new catcher A.J. Pierzynski will make $3.5 million this year after beating the Giants in arbitration. Story of this off-season: Even when the Giants make a good trade they lose.

Various Sundries

* A few different reactions to the A-Rod deal. The first one is unprintable on a family blog. The second is more along the lines of this article by CNN's Sports-Biz guy Chris Isidore, that although the Yanks have compiled perhaps the greatest lineup ever, the deal is an indication that everyone else will now pay less money for top stars:

So it's safe to assume that the best player in baseball is worth about $9 million less a year in today's market than he was three years ago. When the best players cost less, it means more teams can afford them.

Another reaction is that the A-rod deal will spur the owners to line up behind John Henry and call for a salary cap. Over the players' dead bodies, which, given the allegedly rampant use of steroids, is a loaded metaphor these days. Perhaps as the players' testicles start shrinking from all that juice, their collective bargaining stance will weaken.

Yankees' fans shouldn't necessarily be embarrassed -- although if that's how they feel I certainly won't argue -- but in a way I feel sorry for them. Steinbrenner has completely removed the pleasure of rooting not only for one's team but for the young guys in the farm system of one's team. Now that the mid-90s homegrown class -- Jeter, Bernie Williams, Posada, Rivera -- is growing up (and old), Steinbrenner doesn't have the patience to rebuild the system. We've seen this before when Steinbrenner went nuts in the late 70/early 80s and drove the team into a relative doldrums for half a decade (from 1988 - 1993, the team's win totals were 85, 74, 67, 71, 76, 88). (Side note--to be honest, before I looked up those numbers, I thought the bad spell lasted from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, but in fact the Yanks did quite well from '83 through '87.)

* At least Greg Maddux didn't sign with the Yankees.

* I'm probably late to the party, but I just found this analysis of Brian Sabean's "Make Mine Mediocrity!" campaign of 2004. Funny, the piece discusses Sabes' baseball equivalent of dumpster diving, and I have finally read it after it's gone from premium to free. It's kinda like rain on your wedding day.




I took to task a few days ago a story on Bonds and steroid use that ran in the Washington Post. For a broader look at the problem of bandwagoneque sportswriters, John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters has a nice piece from last week that quotes Leonard Koppett and discusses the grander arc of the baseball/steroid hysteria.



Mad Dog in the Fog?

Well, whad'ya know? ("Not much, how about you?" is the proper response.) As of today, the Giants are on the short list of suitors for Greg Maddux, the mad dog disguised as a librarian.

My first thought was, "Uh oh, Dustin Hermanson is going to be really upset." But I shrugged that one off pretty quickly.

The Chron's Henry Schulman says P-Mag is getting involved in the negotiations, which probably means he sees the return value of paying a little extra for a Hall of Fame pitcher on the cusp of win #300. Plus the sale of Giants' "Maddux 31" jerseys....uh oh...wait a second...we have a number conflict. Nen, 31. Maddux, 31. Who's going to blink? We're making two assumptions here, of course: 1) Nen comes back and 2) Maddux comes aboard.

It would be a nice problem to have.

Rolling along with our little Maddux assumption for a moment...the rotation would ostensibly be Schmidt, Maddux, Rueter, Williams and either Tomko or Hermanson. Hermanson hated the bullpen in St. Louis and came to SF in part because of the chance to start. Tomko has also been mostly a starter; his greatest worth is his durability. My bet would be on an unhappy Hermanson moving to the bullpen. Of course if Schmidt can't answer the bell in April, Maddux would be bumped to #1 and both Tomko and Hermanson would crack the rotation.

Given the Cubs have offered Maddux a reported 2 yrs, $12 M, it seems the Giants would have to go either longer or more expensive (unless Maddux is giving a West Coast discount to play near his home in So Cal). 3 yrs, $15 M? $18 M?


More on steroids:

Oakland Raider Tyrone Wheatley had a couple interesting comments in a Chron piece today. Here's a reprint:

Wheatley -- who sought Conte's services in performance strengthening and recovery on the advice of other athletes -- said he has every vitamin and nutritional supplement he buys tested by an outside laboratory for traces of illegal substances before he ingests them.

"The NFL tells players that we are responsible for everything we put into our bodies, so why would I put myself at risk if my vitamins or fish oil capsules or protein powder somehow had become cross-contaminated during manufacturing?" Wheatley said. "How else can I be certain that my bottle of vitamins hasn't been contaminated, because they might be bottling THG or steroids on the other side of the room?"

Thursday's indictments, Wheatley said, don't represent a dark day for sports but illustrate a double standard in the world's top arenas.

"There is a win-at-all-costs culture that says unless you do spectacular things on the field or on the court, you're nothing special,'' Wheatley said. "Is it OK that athletes are shot up with drugs to keep them playing with broken bones and torn ligaments but not OK when they take supplements to keep them on the field?"



Two Quotes Re. Steroids

Here are two quotes in an excerpt from the Washington Post's piece on the BALCO indictments, which include Barry Bonds' childhood friend and personal trainer Greg Anderson:

"Common sense tells you that if they've got Bonds' personal trainer," one baseball source said yesterday, "they're only one step away from having Bonds."

Bonds has consistently denied using steroids, and there is no indication he will be charged.

"I am saddened by the news of the indictment against my trainer and friend," Bonds said in a statement. "I don't know the state of the evidence and it would be inappropriate to comment on this matter."

I'm biased. I love Barry Bonds for what he does for the Giants and for allowing me to watch one of the greatest baseball players of all time. It's as if I've been sitting in the Fenway bleachers watching Ted Williams day after day. Or Stan Musial. Or Willie Mays. I know he's that great, and so does everyone else around me, which only adds to the sense of community and wonder. Like when I'm actually there on his 39th birthday and he throws out a Diamondback at the plate in the top of the 9th to preserve a tie, then first pitch, boop, home run off the lefty specialist Mike Myers. Get me rewrite? Hell, no, it's perfect.

Will my memories of that day, and so many other days, be diminished if Bonds, as the above anonymous "baseball source" says, is only one step away from getting busted for doping his body?

That's a tough question. I'm not even sure how to answer. I guess my estimation of him as a ballplayer will go down a big notch. He'll be proven a liar and a cheat. The 73 home runs will have an asterisk. (Just as Mark McGwire's 70 should have had, since he all but admitted he used andro.) Even with drugs, Bonds will still be one of the greatest of this era, but trying to defend him will be, at best, splitting hairs; at worst, an abdication of moral decency.

I've written this before on this blog, but I'll repeat it. Much of America and the press would love to see Bonds go down. He's arrogant, he's weird, he's private, he's childish, and he's black. He doesn't play the game. He doesn't let people love him, project themselves onto him. He doesn't give good quote. He's not good for business -- not like A-Rod and Air Jordan and Giambi.

I'm not saying sportswriters are racist (although I am saying that a lot of sports fans are racist); I'm saying that as mostly white guys, sportswriters don't understand him. If they were black, they might not, either. But at least they'd be on the same side of the cultural divide. (Ralph Wiley of ESPN last fall wrote a long piece on the complexities of race, culture, Bonds and other baseball superstars that's well worth reading in this context.)

So, about this latest Wash Post piece and the above quote from the "baseball source"... what follows won't sound objective, but trust me, I'm trying:

If I were the journalist, I'd be embarrassed to include such a trashy quote. "A baseball source" could be the guy who sweeps up garlic fries in the Pac Bell bleachers after night games, for Christ sake (although it's probably not). And is it really "common sense"? Not really. It's circumstantial evidence, at best. When a guy comes home with blood on his jacket 10 minutes after a jogger was found stabbed in the park, common sense tells you it's an angle that needs to be investigated, but it's not a presumption of guilt, which is basically what the anonymous source above is implying.

I won't be surprised if it turns out Bonds has been juicing. (Or Sosa, or Giambi, or Clemens, or anyone. I have no illusions.) But I also know that what seems obvious to practically everyone -- Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction; George HW Bush is a shoe-in for reelection; the Soviets will crush the U.S. hockey team at Lake Placid -- can turn out to be the opposite of what we thought. That's why this country is built on the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Bonds's quote is worth parsing, too. In his statement (which could well have been crafted by a flack or a lawyer), he makes no attempt to backpedal away from his relationship with Anderson, whom he calls "my trainer and friend." This could be a case of reverse spin -- ie, a lawyer saying, "Barry, if you backpedal now, everyone will smell a rat."

But think how often people pushed into corners try to spin their way out by backpedaling and obfuscation. (One year it's "weapons of mass destruction," the next it's "weapons of mass destruction-type-kinda-sorta-programs in theory." I guess it depends on how you define "is.") But Bonds' statement was simple. Instead of saying "I have no comment about my former associate," or "I will not comment on the investigation," Bonds re-asserted the connection: my trainer, my friend.

Whatever Bonds's conscience, or his past drug intake, you have to admit it's admirable. These days, common sense would tell you to run, hide and leave your ex-trainer and ex-friend to dangle in the wind.

W(h)ither the Dodgers

I just got back from L.A., where my Grandma Ida celebrated her 90th birthday. She drives a red Grand Am named Sophie, loves to roast chickens and plays bingo as much as possible. Life is good. A native L.A. girl, she's also a lifelong Dodger fan, for which I can never forgive her. I almost bought her a Giants cap for her birthday, but she might not have seen the humor in it and quite possibly might have socked me in the nose.

Over dinner, we all discussed the sad, sad story of the Dodgers, agreed upon the venality and pox that inhabits the earth in the guise of Rupert Murdoch, and clucked our tongues. Well, I clucked somewhat disingenuously, secretly glad that one of the world's nastiest media congloms had, Nosferatu-like, drained the lifeblood from one of the world's most vile sports teams. But we definitely agreed that Kevin Malone was a dolt who, if ever again applying for a job, should be forced to stand naked on one leg and spell "Darren Dreifort" backwards fifty-five million times or for five years, whichever comes last.

So the conversation -- it included several aunts, cousins and uncles, all consigned to live overmediated fossil-fueled lives of shallow consumption in the warm sunny nether regions of our state -- turned to this McCourt chappie, this silver-haired Hub denizen, this lad of land, who's now the principal owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. No one was convinced that McCourt had any grand designs to restore the Think Blue glory of Billy Russell-to-Davy Lopes-to-Steve "Is Not My Padre" Garvey, of Steve Yeager with a bat shard in his throat and Dusty's wristbands and Reggie Smith getting pelted with batteries in the cold right field of Candlestick. (Those, as they say, were the days, made all the sweeter by Reggie coming to the Giants for his final year in 1982 and nearly leading them to an improbable playoff appearance.)

Indeed, the overwhelming sentiment amongst my kin was that McCourt is making a land grab. Privately-owned Dodger Stadium is perched on some mighty fine downtown LA real estate that could stand some developin'. I don't know much about LA zoning or real estate shenanigans or even going rates of urban acreage, but I could see McCourt -- he of the deep abiding love of the Dodgers -- flipping the team and the property, or selling off the chunks of land around the Stadium for development, for a nice sum in a few short years.

Now, with that cynical speculation out of the way, let us turn to another development: Paul DePodesta. Looks like the young Turk of the foul mouth and prodigious laptop database skills (see: Moneyball) will be the new Dodger GM. Panic for Giants' fans? I guess there's a lot of concern because DePodesta + Dodgers = Beane + a lot more money. Or seems to =.

Is Harvard Paulie going to run circles around Sabean, Garagiola, Towers and O'Dowd? First of all, he won't have Steinbrennerian, Johnhenrian, or even Artemorenian wads of cash to flash. Reports have the Dodgers payroll shrinking to $85 million in the next couple of years, with thin operating margins due to heavy debt leverage.

So, roughly, they'll be in the same boat as the Giants. And just because DePodesta has squatted for years on the bearskin rug of Wise King Beane doesn't mean his skill sets translate to Dodgerville, where media scrutiny is greater, expectations are higher and only 30,000 fans a night is a serious bummer. If he embarks on a Moneyballish brain reign, jettisoning or foregoing overvalued Tejadas in favor of undervalued Hattebergs, will he have a thick enough skin to withstand the LA siren call for starpower?

Memo to Paul: Never underestimate the shallowness of the LA luxury box crowd.

True, the Giants, like a black-and-orange Blanche DuBois, have recently relied upon the strange incompetence of their NL West neighbors. And at least in LA, that crutch will be gone if/when DePodesta steps in.

To be honest, I grudgingly would like to see the Dodgers become a real franchise again, going toe to toe with the Giants for the division crown each year. That would be fun. As long as they finish behind the Giants in the standings. No way am I going to let Grandma Ida get all up in my face.



No Duh

Thanks to Fogball, my new favorite Giants blog, for a great roundup of sale items at last year's Giants' Wives Auction. To follow up the auction, the wives are now selling a cookbook of Giants Appetizers. I laughed hardest when I read the following direction from Rich Aurilia's guacamole recipe: "Slice avocados (discard the pits)."



Lineup Takes Shape

Felipe Alou said at a meet-n-greet luncheon yesterday that he would bat Barry Bonds third this year, a slot he hasn't occupied since Dusty Baker flip-flopped him and Jeff Kent in mid-2002.

According to the Merc and the Chron, Alou also said Alfonzo would hit cleanup; his second-half and playoff performance last year shows that he's shaken off the early pressure of moving to SF. I hope Alou's right.

Alou mentioned that Snow would slot into the 2-hole--I assume that means only against RH pitchers -- and that Neifi Perez would bat 8th.

So here's where we stand vs righties:
1) durham
2) snow
3) bonds
4) alfonzo
5 - 7): grissom, tuckohrham, pierzynski, in some order
8) perez

and vs lefties?
durham, bonds and alfonzo will remain in the same places. feliz will be at first base and NOT a good candidate to hit second. that means Grissom, Hammonds or Pierzynski would slot in there. Given AJ's high OBP and left-handedness, he seems the best candidate. Then Hammonds/Grissom/Feliz slotted 5 to 7...

Mulling this over, it seems to me that a healthy Hammonds could be the key to the Giants season. If he puts up 20-25 HR/.350 OBP, he'll be a huge help. Given he's about to turn 33 and that even in his best seasonm, he only managed 20 HRs playing half his games in Coors Field (.920 OPS in 454 total ABs), it's not statistically likely.

But these are the hopes and dreams when one is a Giants fan in Feb. 2004.



Dame El Agua de Melao, Meat!

A couple blog shout-outs:

* I just got my first taste of Fogball, a Giants-biased site that goes into excruciating (and I mean that in the best possible way, baby) detail on Neifi Perez's defensive value. Others have raised the question whether Neifi's defense is so damn good it'll make up for his offensive weakness. The Fogballers get closer to an answer than I've seen before.

I also found the following link on their site, which was like a 5-year-old finding a stash of candy... Damas y caballeros: Presentamos El Diccionario Oficial Del Lefty Malo.

* One of my favorite blogs is Ball Talk, run by a Cubs fan named Alex (an excellent and right honorable name, I might add). I only have permalinks to baseball bloggers who publish regularly and (for the most part) with high-grade shit. Ball Talk is one of them. Check out his recent entry about the sketches of his favorite ballplayers he made as a kid. Great stuff. As was his 1.27.04 entry listing baseball's top 10 gay icons.



I Cannot Get Insurance Anymore

Yikes, I just read that Robb Nen's contract is uninsured. So forget what I wrote a few days back about how it might not be such a bad thing for him to miss the season. That was predicated on insurance paying much of the $9 million Nen is owed in 2004. Fortunately, Robb Nen is not a regular reader of this column. As far as I know. Heh heh. Nervous chuckle.



Around the Horn

Thoughts from around the majors this morning...

* The Rockies say they're now pursuing players with talent and character because overpaying for character-less players was a disaster. "I know people don't want to hear this," general manager Dan O'Dowd said, "but we've learned from the past that having players without character doesn't mean anything, even if they have skill."

Who exactly was he talking about? Mike "I'm Here for the Schools" Hampton? Denny "It's All About the Handicapped Children" Neagle? Todd "Don't Bug Me, I'm Meditating For Peace" Helton? Terry "The World's Cuddliest Hell's Angel" Shumpert? Did "Rocky Mountain High" actually refer to pills floating around the Colorado clubhouse?

Dan O'Dowd's words smack of double desperation: first, he's smearing departed players with a broad brush, as if it were their fault they took Mile High contracts without bringing a full load of faith, hope and charity to work everyday. Second, he's huffing and puffing to create a smoke screen for the fans, who are probably altitude-sick over the Rockies' continued Commitment to Crappiness. O'Dowd wants them to think, oh, it's not Dan's fault those so-called stars were in fact miscreants. Poor guy was bamboozled.

The sad truth is that nothing has ever worked, and nothing will ever work. Baseball at 5,280 feet is a freak show. It messes with the pitchers' minds. It blows out the bullpen. It creates the illusion that Neifi Perez is a good hitter. It turns good hitters into weenies on the road, where they can't adjust to real breaking pitches. Forget it, Dan. Let some other schnook give it a shot.

Better yet: dismantle Coors Field brick by brick, move it to Monterrey, Mexico or Portland, Ore., (but leave that stupid waterfall behind), and make Denver the triple-A baseball town it was meant to be. Major league baseball at that altitude is a travesty.

* The Brewers have agreed to a "full-blown" state financial audit, according to a headline on SI.com. Sounds good, yep. The Brewers have gone back on their promise to build a good team with a competitive payroll in exchange for a publicly-funded stadium. The locals are gathering around Miller Park with torches and garlic, ready to storm the gates. Bud wants to sell the team. Time for truth and reconciliation, right?

Ah, but read to the end of the AP story, and you'll realize that this so-called audit is to a certain extent a PR exercise: the Brewers do not have to itemize in several categories, which any financial reporter will tell you is a red flag. Even when your company is public and Fortune 100, it's easy to cook the books (just ask Andrew Fastow and John Rigas). When the company is private, well, I'll be shocked if Wisconsin's auditors uncover anything significant. Except for Wendy Selig-Prieb's silver ninja nipple rings.

* Brian Sabean declares that he absolutely, positively did not have sex with that woman, and that he won't trade Edgardo Alfonzo to the Yankees. The Chron's Henry Schulman reports that in an online chat with Sk8trPimp, LilJess and SFKidMace, Sabean wrote, "Hey, doodz, I jus wna say that E-Alf iz tha gr8st n no way r u gna C a trade 2 th fking yanks."

Sabean claims that Brian Cashmoney is his homey from da block and hasn't even sprinkled his digits on the cellie-cell n shit. Or whatever those crazy GM kids are saying these days.

Plus, he said, the Yankees have nothing left to trade. Thus, I maintain that, if the deal goes down, it'll be a three-way (the thought of which always gives me a bit of the creeps, unless it's with Kim Ng of the Dodgers). OK, that was uncalled for. But better to let off a little testoterone-driven steam on my blog than to let it build up to violent proportions.

Final thought: if Boston fans can't have peaceful fun after the Pats win their second Super Bowl in three years, what the hell is going to happen when the Sox finally win the Series?


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com