They don’t make ’em like Ted Williams anymore

The last man to hit .400 in the major leagues died today at 83. But there was a lot more to Ted Williams than carrying a big stick.
Williams was a flawed role model, but he certainly got one thing right, and it’s fitting that he died on July 5. You see, Ted Williams gave up seven of the best years of his career to be a Marine pilot. Can you imagine Barry Bonds going through boot camp to become a Marine? I didn’t think so. Read more

They don’t make ’em like Lyman Bostock anymore

Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly:
Wouldn’t you love to see, just once, before you die… a major league player call a press conference to demand the club negotiate his contract — downward? “I’m barely hittin’ my weight,” he’ll say, his agent nodding by his side. “Either start paying me a whole lot less or I’m leaving for Pawtucket right now!”

That almost did happen. In 1978, a young, hard-hitting outfielder named Lyman Bostock became one of baseball’s first big-money free agents Read more

Leave Mike Piazza Alone

Rumor has it baseball’s most eligible bachelor is gay.
Mike Piazza says he’s not.

That should be the end of it.

Now, if some player came out and said he was gay, he wouldn’t be the first gay baseball player. He probably wouldn’t be the most prominent either. I’ve been told from a reliable source that a baseball superstar who retired in the 1980s and is now in the Hall of Fame is gay. The same source cited another player, not of the same caliber but who played during the same time period, as gay. He’s dropped hints in interviews, but never come out and said he is.

Don’t bother asking me who these players are. I have no reason to out them. I also don’t have three sources, which is the semi-unwritten rule that separates gossip from fact.

We’ve come a long, long way since 1984, when a magazine published an article titled “Reggie Jackson speaks out about his sex life,” and Mike Royko pointed out the absurdity. He’d never thought about Reggie Jackson’s sex life, so he went around asking other people if they’d ever thought of it. One guy asked if he wore his uniform and fielder’s mitt. A woman said no, then asked if he wanted to ask her about Ryne Sandberg. And Royko eventually came to the conclusion that Reggie Jackson’s personal life was Reggie Jackson’s business, and if anyone else cared, well, that was just pathetic.

Brendan Lemon, editor of Out magazine, sparked Piazza rumor by claiming last summer that he was having an affair with a pro baseball player who played on the east coast. He knew when he wrote it that people would think of Piazza, because everyone thinks anyone with his looks and his money ought to be married by now, and if he’s not, it must be because he’s gay.

Has it ever occurred to anybody that maybe Piazza just doesn’t want to be married?

Rumors about my sexuality have followed me my entire life. Well, since puberty. It came to a head in seventh grade. The playground talk that year was at least as bad as anything on South Park and frankly, it bordered on sexual harassment. I was in a combined 7th and 8th grade class, and there was one 8th grader who was as bad as the rest of ’em all put together, but collectively, to these guys, a girl was a collection of pleasure-bearing receptacles. That’s it. Well, that and a pretty decoration to be seen around, hopefully.

I didn’t participate in that. Yeah, I thought about sex as much as the next guy… probably. But someone, somewhere along the way, taught me to keep those thoughts to myself. But since I didn’t hit on or at least gawk at every reasonably attractive female carbon-based being that walked upright and was capable of verbal communication, I didn’t talk about what I wanted to do to them in bed, and since I didn’t boast of having a huge collection of Playboy and Penthouse and Hustler magazines at home, there was only one logical conclusion: Dave’s gay.

(And you thought I was going to say I was the nicest guy in my class. You’re so silly.)

One day the talk turned to one of the prettiest girls in the class. She was a year older than me, blonde, and the object of that biggest loudmouth’s every desire. Actually I think he would have died happy if she’d ever said more than two words to him. Rumor was that she had a thing for me. I’ve never really given any thought to the idea of whether she did or not. Looking back now, maybe she started the rumor just to make the jerk mad, because he hated me more than Roger Clemens hates Mike Piazza. Who knows. But I didn’t give any thought to it. I wasn’t interested. Why? Lots of reasons.

“You’re missing out on a chance of a lifetime,” one of the 8th graders said.

“A chance of a lifetime would be to buy IBM,” I said. (Scout’s honor. That was how I thought in those days. It didn’t make me popular.)

No, I didn’t see it as a chance of a lifetime. And yeah, she was really cute, but not really my type. I had a thing about girls who were taller than me. I got over it, about 10 years later. And she was blonde. I’ve always preferred dark hair and a past. So her hair was the wrong color and she wasn’t old enough to have a past. But even if she’d been the 5’1″ brunette of my dreams, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to date her, because I wasn’t about to date anyone from that town. I knew I was moving that summer, and I didn’t want to miss her.

If those former classmates get together on Friday nights and drink beer and talk about old times, they probably still think I’m gay.

In high school I was supposedly gay. The truth was, I hadn’t figured out how to talk to girls yet. By the time I was 17, I had started to figure out that you’re not supposed to talk to girls, you’re supposed to listen to them. So I dated a little as a senior. But mostly I was interested in getting out of there with as many accolades as I could so I could get into the college I wanted. One of my coworkers told me I could have girls then, or I could go to college and then get a real job and get rich and then have one of the girls really worth having. And he told me he respected my priorities.

Within a couple of months he was in prison but I took what he said to heart anyway. It sounded good. Just because he did all the wrong things didn’t mean he didn’t know what the right things were.

In college I forgot about that whole listen-to-girls thing, and the result was I had a whole lot more success getting my ramblings published than I had getting dates. There were girls I was interested in. Usually the feeling wasn’t mutual. There were girls who were interested in me. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated that I figured out what they were trying to tell me. Not that it mattered. I don’t think I would have known how to respond anyway. I knew a lot more about writing than I knew about starting relationships with girls.

I know at least once someone questioned whether I was gay during that timeframe, but that was a guy who thought The X-Files was a true story, so I didn’t let that bother me.

I’ve had a couple of post-college relationships. It’s been a while since the last of those. I don’t always understand women. I do understand guys. I understand them really well. I understand them so well that I know one thing for certain: I’ll never live with another guy for any extended length of time, unless that guy happens to be my son.

I live alone right now. A longtime friend who I don’t see very often anymore came to visit back in January, and he observed that I was content with that, but he questioned whether I was happy. He was right on both counts. But I’m picky about women. I don’t want another relationship like either of the last two. So I’m deliberately being a lot more picky this time around. And if the rumors want to fly, let them fly. I doubt they will.

So, what’s this have to do with Mike Piazza?

Well, there are a few differences between Mike Piazza and me. Mike Piazza hits a baseball a lot better than I do. I’m nowhere near as big of a crybaby about my annual salary as Mike Piazza was earlier in his career. But the biggest difference between Mike Piazza and me, as far as today’s headlines are concerned, is that gay activists don’t really have anything to gain by having me wear their badge. Yeah, I can write a little, but there are lots of gay guys who know how to write. Mike Piazza has money and notoriety and prestige.

But having walked one of the same roads Piazza walks, I have to offer up another, far less chic possibility or series of possibilities.

Maybe Mike Piazza knows a lot more about hitting a baseball than he knows about maintaining lasting, serious relationships with women.

Maybe Mike Piazza doesn’t want the distraction of a lasting, serious relationship with a woman while he’s trying to concentrate on hitting baseballs and winning a World Series and getting into the Hall of Fame. Like him or hate him, you have to admit Piazza has a lot of drive. And–gasp–some guys’ drive for success is stronger than their sex drive.

Or maybe Mike Piazza’s just being picky. All too many people marry the first person they suspect will say yes. And often, the result of that is that at some point after saying “I do,” they have to take those words back and get lawyers involved and it gets really messy. It affects every aspect of your life and turns you upside down. It would happen a whole lot less frequently if people would just be more picky.

I’ll tell you something else. None of what I’ve written about me was anybody’s business until I decided to write about it.

Likewise, none of what goes on in Mike Piazza’s relationships is anybody’s business until he decides to talk about it. And there’s every possibility that he never will.

A tale of two catchers who became managers

Two former catchers made headlines yesterday. Both went on later in life to become big-league managers.
And that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

Tony Pena. Tony Pena is the new manager of the Kansas City Royals. He was a popular catcher during his 17-year-career and pitchers liked working with him. Late in his career he went to the mound and smacked the pitcher with his glove and told him to pay attention.

The downside: He was a notorious free-swinger at the plate, which isn’t what Royals’ hitters need.

The upside: He made some gutsy moves yesterday. The Royals lost, but they hung in there against a talented pitcher they’ve never beat. Down by two runs in the 9th, with two men on and two men out, Tony Pena did something. Actually, he did the last thing anyone would do in that situation: double steal. They pulled it off. The two runners didn’t score and the Royals still lost by two, but they didn’t roll over and play dead.

And he was upbeat. He smiled more in those 9 innings than Tony Muser smiled in his whole managerial career.

Johnny Oates. While Tony Pena prepares for the beginning of his managerial career, Johnny Oates prepares for the end of his life. He has a rare form of brain cancer and a rare attitude about it.

“I don’t think you really understand my situation,” Oates says to the [telemarketer] who called and interrupted his story. “Five minutes is a lot of time to me now, and I’m trying to share it with as many people as possible.”

Oates was most recently the manager of the Texas Rangers. He had previously managed the Baltimore Orioles.

The Kansas City Royals, where everything is wrong

I was pretty happy that the Royals were just a game under .500 a week ago. That’s good for them. After all, their closer, Roberto Hernandez, has been injured all year. Other players are nursing injuries as well. Even the team trainer, Nick Schwartz, is hobbling around on crutches.
That seems like a long time ago now. Cleveland rolled into town, and then Boston, and now the only thing keeping the Royals out of last place is the positively awful Detroit Tigers.

Part of the problem is economics. But the Royals have trimmed their payroll and, comparatively speaking, aren’t throwing a whole lot of money away. There are far fewer high-priced flops on the Royals roster than there are on other teams, and the typical salary of a Royals flop is much lower than that of the flops sitting on the bench in, say, Pittsburgh or Texas or Boston.

The Royals turned a small profit last year. They need to be willing to lose $10-$15 million the next couple of years, which would allow them to get a top-tier pitcher (Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are free agents next year) or a couple of pitchers the caliber of their ace, Jeff Suppan. I’d rather see them go get one veteran pitcher to help their army of young pitchers learn how to pitch. Greg Maddux had Rick Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson to learn from when he was 21. Royals’ pitchers have Jeff Suppan to learn from. He’s 27. Hardly a grizzled veteran.

You have to spend money to make money, which is something I would think owner David Glass would know from the time he spent running Wal-Mart.

And when you look at the billboards in Kansas City versus the billboards in St. Louis, you see a big difference. In Kansas City, Royals billboards have the Royals logo on them. In St. Louis, Cardinals billboards have Jim Edmonds on them. Or J.D. Drew. Or Matt Morris. Fans identify with teams, but they identify even better with players. A lot of Kansas Citians are hard-pressed to identify a current Royals player besides George Brett. Oops, I mean Bret Saberhagen. Oops, I mean Bo Jackson. It’s been nearly a decade since the Royals have had a marquee player.

And that’s their own fault. The Cardinals lost their marquee player to retirement, so they’re making new ones. The Royals have people to promote. Mike Sweeney’s the best hitter the organization has developed since George Brett. Put a couple of action shots of him on a billboard. Carlos Beltran is the most exciting outfielder the Royals have had since Bo Jackson. Put shots of Beltran crashing into the center field wall and stealing a base on a billboard.

They’ve got another really big problem too. The KC front office says it hasn’t discussed the status of manager Tony Loser Muser. I guess their last names should be Loser too.

Muser should be fired just for having Donnie Sadler lead off two games in a row. Just to give you an idea how bad Donnie Sadler is, the Royals ran out of roster spots in spring training, and even Muser had to admit Sadler was the 26th or 27th-best player on his team. But Sadler was out of options, so to send him to the minors, first any team in the majors could have him for virtually nothing if they claimed him within three business days. The rule may state they have to pay the Royals $1.

Not a single team thought Donnie Sadler was better than the worst player on their roster. Not even the five teams with worse records than the Royals. Not even Detroit!

Sadler cleared waivers and packed his bags for Omaha, the Royals’ AAA affiliate. Within weeks, the Royals had enough injuries that Muser could justify bringing back his favorite player.

The Royals’ regular leadoff hitter is Chuck Knoblauch, he formerly of the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. The Royals rented his services (both of them swear he’ll be back next year; I doubt it) for the year. He’s batting about .200, but unlike anyone else on the team, he draws a lot of walks, so he has the highest on-base percentage on the team. And he has good enough speed to be a real pest once he gets on base. As a result, Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney finally have someone to drive home when they get to bat.

Knobby’s been nursing some minor injuries himself, leaving his left field spot vacated. The Royals have several competent outfielders. Michael Tucker generally only plays against right-handers, but he’s played every day in the past, and his defense is superb. Raul Ibanez is one of two Royals batting over .300 and he’s a passable left fielder. Rookie Brenden Berger is unproven but he’s hitting decently.

Who does Muser insert in left field?

His backup shortstop, Donnie Sadler, that’s who.

And what .133-hitting backup shortstop takes over leadoff duties?

Donnie Sadler.

Why?

Donnie Sadler has blinding speed.

What someone needs to tell Tony Loser is that you can’t steal first base, which is why Donnie Sadler is hitting .133. What else someone needs to tell Tony Loser is that a so-so-field, worse-hit shortstop in the National League isn’t going to get any better in the American League. Sadler probably hasn’t seen a fastball since he came over from Cincy last year.

Since the Royals insist on sending all of their good players to Oakland, they really need to take a cue from Oakland. The Royals sent their speedster, Johnny Damon, to Oakland for a few no-good pitchers a little over a year ago. Damon, showing his typical loyalty, left after one season to go play center field in Boston. Left without a leadoff hitter, the Athletics did something unconventional. They inserted another former Royal, Jeremy Giambi (the younger brother the former Oakland star Jason Giambi, who sold out everything to play first base for the New York Scum Yankees.)

Jeremy Giambi has stolen exactly the same number of bases in the major leagues as I have. Zero. But he gets on base, giving the really big sticks someone to drive home. You don’t have to be very fast to score from first or second on an extra-base hit. The people behind him get a lot of extra-base hits, so Giambi scores a lot of runs.

Conventional wisdom says you want someone with blazing speed to lead off, but speed demons who get on base a lot are relatively rare. So most teams settle for someone with good speed who sometimes gets on base. Or with blinding speed from home plate back to the dugout, in the case of the Royals and Donnie Sadler.

But the Royals’ mishandling of Donnie Sadler isn’t the Royals’ only problem. Friday night, rookie Chris George was faced with the thankless task of pitching against Pedro Martinez, the best pitcher in the American League. George held his own, giving up 2 runs in 5 1/3 innings. Martinez was impressed with him. Now, keep in mind that Pedro Martinez has every right to not be impressed by anyone who isn’t Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux.

“That kid has got some talent,” Martinez said. “I was worried when he got hit [by a line drive]. He stood there like a bull. I like that.”

Tony Muser liked what he saw too, but he’s not certain he’s going to let Chris George start again. Never mind what Pedro Martinez says. Martinez has only won 86 games since 1997. What’s he know about pitching?

My guess is Muser wants to hand the ball to Donnie Sadler. After all, Sadler hits like a pitcher.

A kids’ game

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the brightest futures in the National League. Sure, the Mets and the Braves grab all the attention. But look at them. They’re old. The Mets have Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar and Mike Piazza, and all of them are probably still in their prime, but they only have a couple more years of prime left. The Braves have Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and Gary Sheffield, but that’s indicative of the same problem.
The Phillies are loaded with young stars. The Phillies once had a better third baseman than Scott Rolen. His name was Mike Schmidt. I can only think of two third basemen in the history of the game who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Schmidt. In about 15 years, Rolen looks to join them. And the Phillies have a great young catcher in Mike Lieberthal and a great young outfield in Doug Glanville and and Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu. They also have one of the best young shortstops in the game in Jimmy Rollins.

The Phillies’ payroll is going to be $60 million this year. And Rolen, surrounded by these young stars, questions the Phillies’ ability or commitment to win. At the end of the year, he’s out of there.

The Phillies’ strategy should be really simple. Let these young stars get a little better, sign them to the longest-term contracts they’ll take, and play as hard as possible for two years, knowing they’ll probably finish in third place with a winning record, all the while waiting for the Mets and Braves to fall over. If everything were to stay the same, in three years the Phillies would no longer be the third-best team in their division. They’d cruise right past the gray-headed Mets and Braves.

But nobody really knows what the Phillies are going to do. In the past, when they’ve developed minor stars, they’ve frequently traded them. The last time they won anything was 1993, but that was an old team. It’s hard to look to that team for a precedent to suggest what they’ll do now, because keeping their aging stars in the mid-1990s didn’t make much sense. It’s hard to look at the way the Phillies handled players like Mickey Morandini as well. Morandini was a minor star who faded fast. Rolen and Lieberthal are superstars. Future Hall of Famers even, maybe.

In any other sport, there wouldn’t be any question what to do. They’d lock in their six young stars and tell their fans to get ready to enjoy a dynasty. But baseball isn’t any other sport. There’s very little revenue sharing. And Philadelphia’s not a major market. The Yankees are going to spend twice as much as the Phillies spend this year. It’s hard to imagine Philadelphia not being a major market, I know, but that’s how things have become in this sport.

Twenty years ago, players used to express amazement at signing six-figure salaries to play a kids’ game. Today, baseball’s still a kids’ game. And the players have the maturity of children. So do the owners and the commissioner.

There’s a solution to this madness. Bob Costas wrote a short book about it two years ago. It’s short and simple enough that even a moron like Bud Selig could understand it. Today, things have only gotten worse. Fans read Costas’ book in droves and took it to heart, but few of the owners seem to have done so.

If Selig gets his way, the Twins and the Expos will fold at the end of this season. That won’t do anything to stop the same teams from making the postseason again and again. It’ll be the Braves, Mets, Diamondbacks and Cardinals in the NL postseason again this year. And probably the year after.

The Phillies will find that without a salary cap to keep salaries from artificially rising and without revenue sharing to give them their fair share (The Mets have to have someone to play, so why doesn’t the visiting team get half the revenue?) they won’t be able to afford to keep their players. Scott Rolen will test the free-agent waters at the end of this season. I expect he’ll sign with the Braves or the Red Sox. If he signs with the Braves, the Phillies will almost certainly dismantle, because there’s little difference between finishing third and finishing fifth, and it’s a lot cheaper to finish fifth.

And people will wonder what if. Except for Bud Selig and his buddy Carl Pohlad, who got what they wanted. They can just keep counting their money and complaining about how unprofitable baseball is.

Telephones and World Series

Cable guy. My phone rang Friday night.
“Hi, this is [I didn’t catch the name] from Charter, the cable company. How are you doing tonight?”

I knew I should have forked over the extra bucks for privacy guard. “I’d be a whole lot better if you’d take me off your calling list,” I said.

“You don’t even want to hear about our special offers?” he asked.

“Nope. I don’t watch TV,” I said.

He sounded disbelieving. “You don’t watch TV?”

“Nope.”

“You mean to tell me you haven’t watched one second of TV today?”

“Right.” I hadn’t. Actually I hadn’t watched one second of TV since I fell asleep during the playoffs and was rudely awakened by Frank Sinatra singing “New York” at high volume after the Yankees steamrolled the Mariners. Disgusted, I turned off the boob tube (that’s all it shows during the commercials) and went to bed.

“What are you doing now?” he asked.

“Getting ready to go out.”

“Oh, you’re going to a party or something?”

Close enough. “Yep.”

“Oh. Sorry to bother you, sir.” And he hung up.

This is the one time of year I do watch TV. That’s World Series time. Unless it’s Yankees-Braves, in which case I have more important things to do, like clean my toenails. My phone rang last night right after Curt Schilling plunked Derek Jeter. “That’s my phone,” I muttered to no one. “Don’t they know better than to bother me during the World Series?” No one answered. I picked up the phone. “Hello?”

Whoever it was must have wised up. There was no one there. Good thing. If it’d been the cable guy again, I’d have had to tell him it’s not worth $35 a month just to be able to watch seven baseball games with a clearer picture.

A few random World Series observations:

Yeah, I know Curt Schilling beat the Cards, and I wanted a Cardinals-Mariners series. Even still, he’s one cool guy. He doesn’t care who sees him praying just before each start, and he bought a ticket for his dad, who died in 1988 and never saw him pitch in the big leagues, for this game. Having lost my dad at a similar age, I empathize. And he’s just a class act. At the end of the game, as his teammates were coming off the field, he ran out to give them handshakes and hugs. Starting pitchers almost never do that. I have to root for him. Baseball needs more good men like Curt Schilling.

Baseball also desperately needs another commissioner like Bart Giamati. Is it just me, or is baseball commissioner Bud Selig the worst public speaker in the history of public speaking? It really bothered me that he had to refer to a script to present Barry Bonds with his worthless Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award or whatever it’s called. Selig’s speech could be summed up as, “Barry, you had a fantastic season, taking a record that once belonged to Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Mark McGwire, joining the ranks of three of the greatest sluggers of all time, while also having one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons of all time. It’s my pleasure to present you with this award, previously awarded to McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Congratulations.” But it took him what seemed like several torturous hours to say that. What I just wrote isn’t particularly eloquent, but compared to Selig’s speech, it’s practically Shakespearean.

At any rate, I was happy to see Arizona win. I can’t root for the Yankees. Used to be the only team I disliked more than the Yankees was the Mets. But if the Mets were playing the Yankees, I’d have to root for the Mets just because they aren’t the Yankees. Yeah, I know, that sounds un-American this year. But two people I respect–one of whom I respect so much, his picture hangs in a frame in my living room, across from a picture of Abraham Lincoln–feel exactly the same way.

So here’s to Arizona. And to the American League, who next season will hopefully put the Yankees in their proper place.

Fifth.