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It’s time for some electricity in St. Louis

So, the Cardinals just played the Mets in a series that, frankly, I think is one for the ages. Lots of drama, lots of very good pitching, lots of great defensive plays–the obvious best was ex-Royal Endy Chavez jumping about 14 feet in the air to snowcone a would-be Scott Rolen homer, but there were others–and just a lot of other good things. The Cardinals supposedly had no business winning, but the patchwork team did.

Now they’re in the World Series. And I’m not sure if anyone knows, frankly.Two years ago, when the Cardinals were in the playoffs, to hear any St. Louisan tell it, the series was all but won. And this year, the electricity just doesn’t seem to be in the air. It’s almost like nobody can believe it.

I was in Kansas City in 1985 during the World Series. It was… different. Nobody outside Kansas City thought they belonged in the series either, but the city was electric. Everywhere you went, people were wearing Royals hats and shirts. Many–maybe even a majority–didn’t expect them to win, but hey, their team was playing in October and they were going to enjoy it.

St. Louis is usually like that too. But not this year.

As far as the Tigers, I do have to say I’m happy for them and for Detroit. The Tigers haven’t been to a series since 1984 and they haven’t been to the postseason at all in more than 15 years. But now the Tigers have a young team that’s a good foundation for years to come.

But is Detroit beatable? Sure. My 100-loss Royals swept them to end the season. Detroit has a good team, but it has weaknesses. They’re free-swingers. They don’t swing at pickoff throws to first like my Royals’ Angel Berroa, but they haven’t learned the Yankees’ secret of running every count to 3-2 and then fouling off seven pitches before putting the ball in play either. Don’t expect Detroit to wear down Cardinal pitching.

The Cardinals’ main weakness is that the team is beat up. Pujols, Edmonds, Eckstein, and Rolen are all battling one thing or another, and that’s pretty much the heart and soul of the team. But I remember telling one of my coworkers, every time he complained about the Cardinals, that things could be worse. The Cardinals never lost their biggest bat for the season like the Royals did (the not-quite immortal Mark Teahen). And then I said things could be worse, the Cardinals’ biggest bat could be Mark Teahan.

If the Royals without Mark Teahen can sweep Detroit, I think the Cardinals can make this series interesting.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to enjoy watching them try.

Can the Royals be saved?

So the Royals managed yesterday to avoid losing their 100th game this season. They have to win 14 games in a row to avoid their third 100-loss season in four years. While a 14-game winning streak to stave off that 100th loss isn’t impossible, it’s unlikely. This is a team that dropped 19 straight last month, after all.

Keep in mind that the cross-state Cardinals, the winningest team in baseball, haven’t won their 99th game yet.

So what do you do with a team that’s had a worse run than the 1962-1966 Mets, who at least had the excuse of being an expansion team?Get some average players. The problem with the Royals since, well, about 1990, is that they don’t have enough average players. Let’s face it, the addition of Barry Bonds to this team wouldn’t result in very many more wins because big hitters need people to get on base ahead of them if they’re going to produce runs, and they need some protection behind him. The Royals’ two best hitters are David DeJesus and Mike Sweeney. DeJesus isn’t a power threat. The Royals’ biggest power threats behind Mike Sweeney are Matt Stairs and Emil Brown, neither of whom have ever been able to hold down a regular job anywhere else, primarily because they’re average hitters and below-average fielders.

Get two hitters and one pitcher. Whenever I’ve run computer simulations, I’ve been able to turn the Royals into a .500 team with the addition of one good pitcher and one good hitter. Of course, the last time I ran that simulation, the Royals had Carlos Beltran, so now they’d need two hitters to accomplish the same thing. Since David Glass has expressed a willingness to raise the payroll to about $50 million and they’re about to shed more than $10 million in dead-weight salaries, it’s possible for the Royals to pay three $8 million salaries. The question is whether the Royals can manage to attract three $8 million players.

Even though San Diego has been trying for years to unload Phil Nevin, the Royals have never bitten. Nevin wouldn’t be happy in Kansas City, primarily because Nevin wouldn’t be happy anywhere. He’d be bad in the clubhouse, but the Royals only have a few guys who are good in the clubhouse. At least the guy can hit.

Maybe the Royals should take a chance on Rafael Palmeiro. Clearly nobody else wants him, and the steroids are a big question mark. Maybe he’ll never hit more than 14 homers again. Maybe he’ll never play baseball again once Congress gets hold of him. The Royals already have too many 1B/DH types but if Palmeiro can deliver a cheap 25 home runs from the left-hand side of the plate, he’s an upgrade. A slimmed-down Palmeiro would still be the second-best hitter on this team.

Do one thing well. The Royals are at or near the bottom of both leagues in fielding, hitting, pitching, and stolen bases. Doing just one of those things well would make a big difference. Defense is the cheapest of those problems to address. The Royals have been criticized for moving slick-fielding shortstop Andres Blanco to second base and handing him the job. But he’s hitting above .200, which Royals second basemen have struggled to do this year, and he’s making the plays at second, which Royals second basemen haven’t done at all this year. His bat won’t win any games, but arguably his glove won at least one game this past week against the White Sox. Yes, the White Sox made two bad baserunning mistakes and Blanco gunned them down, but with Donnie Murphy or Ruben Gotay playing second, you get away with those mistakes.

A team of seven Andres Blancos plus Mike Sweeney (whose glove can’t hurt you when he’s DHing) and David DeJesus (who wields a good glove in center field) would get about seven fewer hits a week than what it gets now, but it wouldn’t give away runs. The Royals would win a lot more 1-0 games.

Stolen bases are the second-cheapest problem to address. You can draft guys with good speed and/or trade for them, and then coach them. The Royals won a lot of games in the 1970s and early 1980s by relying on guys who could beat out an infield single and steal second or stretch singles to the outfield into doubles, then get driven in by a 3-4-5 combination of George Brett, Hal McRae, and John Mayberry/Willie Aikens/Steve Balboni (in other words, any affordable first baseman who could hit .250 with 25-30 home runs). And for that matter, Brett could steal bases and stretch singles into doubles, and until about 1982 when age caught up with him, so could McRae.

Since the Royals don’t seem to have anyone in the organization who is succeeding in teaching guys how to steal bases, why not find out what Davey Lopes is doing? Lopes has always been one of the best teachers around at the art of the stolen base, even going back to his days as a player.

Scout better. One reason last-place teams usually don’t stay there long is because they get the best draft picks. But from 1997 to 2002, the Royals have managed to draft exactly one #1 who is still in the big leagues. The one they drafted in 2002, Zack Greinke, is 4-16 with a 5.95 ERA. The kid clearly should have been in Omaha this year. A lot of people are giving up on him–he’s been touted as the next Greg Maddux–but critics forget that Maddux went 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA when he was 21.

Part of the difference is that Maddux had veteran pitchers to learn from at 21. I’m not sure that Jose Lima is the best example for young Greinke.

But I digress. The Royals need to start scouting better and drafting better. In 1999 the Royals drafted Kyle Snyder. The Cardinals drafted some kid who was attending college in Kansas City named Albert Pujols. Which one have you heard of?

And yes, I’ve run the numbers. Albert Pujols doesn’t drive in quite as many runs in a Royals lineup and he doesn’t hit for quite as much average with only Mike Sweeney to protect him, but he turns the Royals into a winning team. And for some reason Sweeney hits better with Pujols in the lineup. Imagine that.

The way you get good players when you can’t trade for them and you can’t sign them is to draft and develop them. The way you do that is to scout well. If the Royals aren’t willing to pay their draft picks (Alex Gordon is still holding out for more money), they need to use that money to lure the best scouts in the game. Find the scouts with the best track records and pay them double what anyone else is willing to pay. The result will be a team that drafts smarter and trades smarter.

Is there a bright side? In Mike MacDougal, Ambiorix Burgos, Andy Sisco and Jeremy Affeldt, the Royals have four lights-out relievers. If the Royals can get a lead after the sixth inning, their chances of nailing down the win are pretty good with those four pitchers, assuming good defense behind them. I happen to believe that either Sisco or Affeldt should go back into the starting rotation, but strong bullpens make good starters out of mediocre ones so I can see keeping them where they are. Affeldt’s been roughed up of late, but that’s more of a reflection on his fielding ability than on his ability to pitch.

Greinke has demonstrated that he has the ability to pitch, but he needs to turn that promise into results. Runelvys Hernandez and Denny Bautista have demonstrated an ability to pitch, but both have been injury-prone. A seasoned Greinke along with a healthy Hernandez and Bautista give a solid basis to build from. Given a couple of veterans to anchor the staff and teach them, it could go somewhere. I was too young to know at the time, but I wonder now if the reason the Royals kept Paul Splitorff and Larry Gura around in 1984 when both had ceased to be useful pitchers was to teach their young pitchers how to survive in the majors.

So I think the Royals’ poor pitching is temporary. Now if only I could say the same thing for the management…

David Eckstein signing makes sense for the Cardinals

This is too weird. The Red Sox sign the Cardinals’ shortstop, then the Angels sign the Red Sox’s outgoing shortstop and cut their shortstop, who then signs with the Cardinals.

David Eckstein is overpriced at $3.25 million, but he’s by far the best deal of the bunch, and the best fit for the Cardinals.After the Cardinals assembled an All-Star team at the plate, I’d been saying they needed to let some of their high-priced position players go, get someone who can catch the ball, and concentrate on pitching. Good pitching always beats good hitting, even in the Steroid Era, as Boston demonstrated in this past World Series.

Eckstein won’t pop as many homers as Edgar Renteria or Orlando Cabrera, and he’s not necessarily as flashy with the glove, but he’ll catch everything that comes his way. He’s a better leadoff hitter than the departed Tony Womack. And most importantly, he plays with a lot of intensity and heart. St. Louisans go for that. Joe McEwing was the second most-popular player on the team when he was here. He’s a utility infielder/outfielder. Never was a star and never will be. But he was the kind of guy who would try to score from first on a groundout to shortstop with two out in the inning.

St. Louis fans appreciate that.

When Bo Hart came up two seasons ago to fill in at second base, he exhibited the same kind of hard-nosed play and became a fan favorite. Speaking of which, if you happen to be Walt Jocketty and you happen to be reading this, please feel free to trade Bo Hart to Kansas City. KC needs him more than the Cardinals do.

So Eckstein’s a good fit. He fills the Cards’ hole at shortstop and in the leadoff spot, and will do a good job of catching the ball and getting on base so that Larry Walker and Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds can bat him in. And he’ll do it for $4 million less than what they offered Renteria. That’s $4 million they can spend on pitching.

With what the Cardinals saved by not re-signing Woody Williams, Mike Matheny, and Edgar Renteria, they can just about afford to pay Randy Johnson’s salary.

I think the Cardinals need to make a serious run after Johnson. They can top any offer the Yankees might be able to make, and the Cardinals really were just about two dominating pitchers away from a championship. They’ve landed one dominant pitcher in Mark Mulder. There are no truly dominant pitchers on the free-agent market now, so the Cardinals need to go get one via trade. Johnson’s made it clear he wants out of Arizona, and the Cardinals can make a convincing argument that they’re more likely to win a Series than the Yankees.

Now it’s just time to come up with the players.

Team of destiny?

The Boston Red Sox just won a World Series.

A lot of people won’t understand the irony of that. But lots of baseball fans are shaking their heads with me.It was a story. Facing their arch-rivals in the playoffs, the New York Scum, the S*censored*had the Sox down three games to none. In all of American sports, only two teams had ever come back from 3-0 to win a championship. Both times, it had been in the NHL. No baseball team had done it. Especially not against a baseball team with a $183 million payroll.

Boston did it, with nothing going for it. One of the sportscasters put it this way, after game 3. He asked whether Boston had ever won 4 straight during the regular season. Still, it looked gloomy, but Boston did it.

Next up: The St. Louis Cardinals. A team with the best record in baseball, and a roster that looked like an All-Star team.

Game 1 was a slugfest. Such is to be expected from two teams with depleted pitching staffs. But Boston outslugged the National League All-Stars, er, Cardinals.

Game 2, the Red Sox pitched Curt Schilling, again. There was little doubt Schilling would win, at least not from me. No pitcher has ever been more determined to win a World Series game than Schilling was on that day.

One telling sign: Boston made 8 errors in those two games. The Cardinals normally eat up teams that play shoddy defense. The Cardinals didn’t.

Game 3 was the turning point. Pedro Martinez is a formidable but moody pitcher. When he’s pitching well, he’s as good as anyone ever was. When he’s not pitching well, it’s like extended batting practice. St. Louis expected batting practice.

For three innings it was. Martinez looked shaky. Leading off the third, Martinez allowed Jeff Suppan, the opposing pitcher, to reach base. Suppan pitched most of his career in the American League, where he got about 12 opportunities a year to swing a bat. Then Edgar Renteria hit a long double. Second and third, nobody out, with the big boppers coming to bat. But then Larry Walker hit a ground ball, and for some reason, Suppan didn’t run home. Why? Beats me. But Suppan doesn’t run the bases much. He got hung up after Walker was thrown out at first. What should have been the tying run turned into a double play.

And that was the turning point of the game. From that play on, Pedro Martinez finally showed up at the ballpark. Batting practice over. Enter the 3-time Cy Young Award winner. Boston cruised to a 4-1 victory.

And Boston not only didn’t make any errors, but both of Boston’s most notorious glove handlers, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz–two arguments for the DH, to be certain–contributed good defensive plays with their gloves.

Suddenly St. Louis faced the same odds Boston had beaten a week earlier. But did the Cardinals ever win 4 straight during the regular season? And what did Boston have left? Derek Lowe, a pitcher whose sinking pitches are often matched by his attitude, in Game 4. Tim Wakefield, most likely, in Game 5–a knuckleballer who tends to give up runs in bunches. There was question whether Curt Schilling could come back to pitch Game 6–he had to be sewed back together before every outing and there wasn’t much of anything left to sew. More likely, Bronson Arroyo would have to start. Arroyo was the losing pitcher in Boston’s humiliating 19-8 loss. And in Game 7, the unpredictable Pedro Martinez.

I wasn’t ready to write off the Cardinals.

But then Johnny Damon led off Game 4 with a home run. It proved to be the game winner, as St. Louis only managed four hits against Derek Lowe and three relievers. And Boston’s defense held up once again.

Team of destiny? Maybe, maybe not. I think it was more a team of intimidation. The Red Sox weren’t intimidated, and the Cardinals were.

Both teams look likely to have different makeups next year. Perhaps dramatically different.

But for now, Boston has what it hasn’t had for 86 years: A World Series trophy.

But the Cardinals have nothing to be disappointed about. They were supposed to finish fourth. They ended up with the best record in baseball. With their division rivals looking different next year too, the Cardinals can look forward to next year.

I miss my rivalry

So, the St. Louis Cardinals are traveling across the state for a much-anticipated series with the Kansas City Royals. Even when the series was meaningless, it could always be counted on for at least a few potshots, or something.

Not this year. I was born a Royals fan and I’ll die a Royals fan, but this year, I find myself agreeing with the St. Louis columnist.The Kansas City press has barely even noticed the Cardinals are coming to town. I can’t link directly to the stories because the Kansas City Star requires registration, but they’re all talking about Carlos Beltran.

Carlos Beltran is arguably the most talented human being to ever wear a Royals uniform. George Brett, as great as he was, didn’t have Beltran’s abilities. Bo Jackson did, but he spent less time in a Royals uniform than Beltran, thanks to an injury suffered in his unusual hobby. Maybe Amos Otis had them, but few people outside of Kansas City know much about A. O., and he didn’t have Beltran’s durability. Beltran got better as the season progressed, while A. O. generally got worse.

Now, the Royals deserve credit for getting something for Beltran, which is more than I can say for what they got for Kevin Appier or Jermaine Dye when they sold them off. The Royals pried a starting pitching prospect out of Oakland, who seems to have a knack for developing pitchers without destroying their arms. They also got a line-drive-hitting third baseman who bats left-handed. If he’s half as good as the last one of those the Royals had, they’ll be happy. They also got a catcher who can hit. The last one of those they had was Don Slaught, but Slaught made his name in Pittsburgh. The last one of those they had before Slaught was Darrell Porter.

Getting the first-round draft pick from whoever signed Beltran would have been nice, but this deal gives the Royals the catcher they need now, as well as a starting pitcher they need now, and the third baseman they’re going to need next year.

Only time will tell whether that first-round draft pick would have been another Carlos Beltran or another Jeff Austin, and only time will tell if one of these guys is going to be another Jermaine Dye or if all of them are going to be A. J. Hinch.

I have a hard time not blaming the Royals for not wanting to pay Carlos Beltran $18 million. The Royals would be much better served by six slightly above-average players, each making an average of $3 million. Besides, injuries are a funny thing. The Royals are still stinging from giving Mike Sweeney a lucrative long-term contract, only to see him struggle with injuries the past two years. When you’re the Yankees, you can afford to take that risk. When you’re the Royals, you can’t. Right now, Carlos Beltran looks like Willie Mays. But he’s only an injury or two away from being Andre Dawson. A major injury could turn him into Mark Quinn.

So what’s Jeff Gordon saying here in St. Louis?

He’s lamenting that back in the 1970s, the Royals were baseball’s model franchise while the Cardinals languished. And today, the Royals are able to develop star players but unable to keep them, while the Cardinals field a team of perennial All-Stars. Both teams have their problems, but the Cardinals’ problems don’t push them into last place, and while they disappoint fans, they don’t alienate them.

The sad thing is, the worst thing the Royals could do to the Cardinals this year is trade their best player to one of the Cardinals’ Central Division rivals.

Wait. That’s exactly what they just did.

And maybe, just maybe, after age and media pressure catches up with Carlos Beltran and he turns into more of an Andre Dawson than a Willie Mays, maybe once again, the Royals will be able to afford him, and maybe a little bit of sentiment and nostalgia will kick in, and maybe the more enduring half of dos Carlos who captured the imagination of Royals fans in the late 1990s will decide it would be nice to end his career where he started.

Thanks for the memories, Carlos. I know this doesn’t have to be goodbye.

And I hope you don’t take this personally, but in the meantime, I hope we don’t miss you too much.

Some baseball players entertain; Dave Dravecky changed my life

This evening I looked at the list of short biographies I’ve written. Some were requests. A number of them were people I found fascinating. And in the case of Lyman Bostock and George Brett, they were men who changed the way I lived life.
I asked myself who was missing. And I came up with some names.

Dave Dravecky.

Dave Dravecky. Man, what can I tell you about Dave Dravecky? He happened to be pitching on one of the worst days of my life. I won’t go into details–it wasn’t his fault. The day would have been a little bit better if he hadn’t pitched those two shutout innings, but not much.

Three years later, my dad scored tickets to Game 2 of the 1987 National League Playoffs at Busch Stadium. Dad and I made a career of living in eastern Missouri and hating the Cardinals; we donned our Royals gear and watched Dravecky pitch the best baseball game I ever saw in person, tossing a sparkling two-hitter. Amazing. I remember thinking that must have been what it was like to watch Lefty Grove or Sandy Koufax pitch.

The next season, Dravecky started feeling sick. Doctors found cancer in his pitching arm. They took half his deltoid muscle and froze the humerus bone. The doctors’ goal was to kill the cancer and leave enough arm for him to be able to do things like tie his shoes. Dravecky’s goal was to pitch in the majors again.

You can probably guess what’s next, since the story’s not over yet. He pitched two games for the San Francisco Giants in August 1989. The first game was a drama. Not a masterpiece like the game I saw at Busch, but a solid 8-inning performance that he won 4-3. The second game, he felt his arm start to tingle in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, it broke as he threw a fastball to Tim Raines. The Giants were headed to the World Series that year and everybody knew it, and Dravecky wasn’t going to be able to contribute any further. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking because he’d been through so much. And it was heartbreaking because the Giants lost that World Series, and Dravecky’s left arm probably could have won it for them, and what a story that would have been.

Dravecky’s arm broke in a second place during the celebration as the Giants won the last game of the playoffs. Dravecky was asking God some questions after that. Not “Why me?” but rather, “Why was I so stupid?”

Well, some good came of it. A doctor was examining the x-rays to make sure the two breaks were lining up. The good news was, they were. The bad news wasn’t that he’d never pitch again. The bad news was what else he saw.

The lump was back.

Two surgeries later, the cancer was gone, but Dravecky’s once strong arm was a dead limb. He had no range of motion and he was in pain and it was constantly infected. Two years after his aborted comeback, he had to have the arm amputated. Now he really wasn’t going to pitch again.

So now Dravecky is a former baseball player, as well as an author and evangelist. His 1992 book, When You Can’t Come Back, is inspiring. I read it in high school. Flipping through it to find details for his bio, I decided I really need to read it again.

There are other names that came to mind. Ron Hassey. I’ll never forget a game in 1984, after he’d been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He went from the starting catcher for the cellar-dwelling Indians to a little-used backup for a contender. One day, out of the blue, he was playing first base. Not his usual position. And at one point in the game, he stretched to make a catch, and pulled a muscle. He made the catch, then he collapsed, grimacing in pain. Players surrounded him. And you know what Hassey did? He rolled, squirmed, stretched, somehow made his way over to first base, tagged the base, and made the out. Then they carried him off the field on a stretcher and it was two months before you saw him again.

How he noticed that he could take advantage of the situation and get a cheap out, I have no earthly idea. I admire people like that.

I like people like that. People who give 100%. Even when their 100% is a mere 1% of what it would be on any other day, people who still give whatever it is they’ve got. I don’t know how many people remember Ron Hassey, but I’ll never forget him.

And I know I’ll never forget Dave Dravecky. Dravecky lost everything. For as long as he could remember, his left arm was the reason people were interested in him. Then, one day, it was gone. He learned what he could do with what he had left. He could give people courage. Hope. It took him some time. But he’s afffected thousands of people in a powerful way. Not bad for a guy who wondered what he had left.

There are people who give momentary thrills, and there are people who change your life.

I know which one I’d rather be.

Dave’s formula for winning a pennant

I’ll lead off with my best, like the Royals need to be doing, but more on that later. New Wikipedia entries for the day: Rick Sutcliffe (I couldn’t resist) and Chris von der Ahe. I wrote up Rick, well, because he’s family, and von der Ahe, well, let me tell you about him.
Christian Frederick Wilhelm von der Ahe was the George Steinbrenner of the 1880s. Actually, take George Steinbrenner, Charlie Finley, and Ted Turner all wrapped up in one, and you’re not far off. The eccentric von der Ahe was the clown plince of baseball, and if you called him that to his face, his English was so bad, he’d probably take it as a compliment.

After winning the World Series in 1885, von der Ha Ha, who liked to run around calling himself “der boss president”, celebrated by erecting a large statue outside of Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. But the statue wasn’t of any of his star players. It was a statue of himself. How totally aristocratic.

By 1898 his micromismanaged team was a consistent cellar dweller and literally was a side attraction to an amusement park and a circus. Late in the season, a fire broke out in the stands causing numerous injuries but, remarkably, only one death. He lost the team in the resulting lawsuit. He ended up tending bar in a grubby little saloon. When he died in 1913, the statue got moved to his grave.

Von der Ahe’s team got sold to two brothers named Robison, the owners of a really bad team called the Cleveland Spiders. The owners pretty quickly figured out that the solution to the problem of owning two really bad teams is to shuffle all the best players to one of the teams and make one good team and one incredibly bad team. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders made the 1962 Mets look like the 1927 Yankees by comparison, and the league voted on contraction the next year, killing off the Spiders and leaving the Robisons with one good team. They changed their name the next year, to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Note to David Glass: Buy the Detroit Tigers! Then, after you win the World Series, build a large statue of yourself… outside Yankee Stadium!

It’s probably a good thing I don’t own a baseball team.

So, what’s new? An awful lot.

The Royals’ problems with young pitchers continue… They’ve burned out Dan Reichert, Chad Durbin, and numerous others in recent years, and now their opening-day starter, Runelvys Hernandez, needs Tommy John surgery. I don’t get it. I think the Royals need a new team doctor. Terry Weiss, D.O., where are you?

But the Royals, to their credit, have made two trades this week. Yesterday they acquired veteran left-handed pitcher Brian Anderson from Cleveland, which gives them two dependable left-handed pitchers. In their glory days, they had two lefties named Gura and Splitorff, who fared well against the Yankees in the playoffs. I sure hope history repeats itself. Then I hope the Yankees end up in the cellar. There’s historical precedent for that–and George Steinbrenner looks a little like Chris von der Ahe.

The Royals didn’t land the best impact bat on the market, but they picked up a decent bat in Rondell White. I sure would have preferred Pittsburgh’s Brian Giles, but it was San Diego’s acquisition of Giles who made White available, and supposedly the Royals have been after White for some time. If they’re smart, White will go into left field and Raul Ibañez will move to first base. I could also see them putting White in right field in place of Aaron Guiel, and Carlos Beltran taking Guiel’s leadoff spot. It would be a bold move, but I kind of like starting things off with a bang. He leads the team in home runs, but Beltran’s the ideal leadoff hitter with his blinding speed and high on-base percentage.

Why not combine the two ideas? How’s this look?

Carlos Beltran, cf
Joe Randa, 3b
Mike Sweeney, dh
Raul Ibañez, 1b
Rondell White, lf
Desi Relaford, 2b
Angel Berroa, ss
Dee Brown, rf
Brent Mayne, c

That looks like a lineup that could score some runs to me. It’s better by a longshot than the lineup the Royals used in 1984 and 1985, and both of those teams won plenty. Ibañez is a little uncomfortable at first base, but Ken Harvey can’t hit right-handed pitching and he’s not exactly agile. Brown’s been disappointing but he’s been more consistent, has some pop, and he has good speed so he won’t clog up the bases. Harvey’s better defensively at first than Ibañez, so in late innings he can come in as a defensive replacement and earn his keep. I think Harvey still can be a good player, but winter ball is the place to learn to hit. We’ve got a pennant to win.

Question of the day: The Yankees released 46-year-old Jesse Orosco today. Does he have anything left? Are the Royals interested in taking a chance on another situational lefty who spent his glory years in New York? I’d be tempted to sign him, if only to mentor the few young pitchers the Royals still have on the roster who aren’t hurt. He certainly knows how to stay healthy; the guy’s been on the DL once in his life.

And I see the Yankees sent disappointing Jeff Weaver to the minors. Steinbrenner’s obviously not happy with him; he didn’t send him to AAA, which would be the most normal thing to do (you generally don’t send pitchers with five years’ experience to the minors), but he sent him to A ball. Three steps down. Weaver can’t be happy. Not that I’ll cry for him–he’s the pitcher who picked a fight with Mike Sweeney two seasons ago. But it’s nice to see Steinbrenner regain his old form. Or something.

The Royals came to me this weekend

Once a year, the Royals come to St. Louis. And, inevitably, I’m doing something the weekend they’re here. This year, I wasn’t. So Gatermann and I went Saturday night. He rooted for his team, and I rooted for mine.
The Cards won that one. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Starting pitcher Darrell May is a flyball pitcher, and Busch Stadium isn’t nearly as imposing to power hitters as it was 20 years ago. Now the Cards are loaded up with people like Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, and, well, May got rocked. Then the Royals’ weak bullpen got rocked.

The big surprise was the number of Royals fans there–it wasn’t quite like the number of Cubs fans at a Cards-Cubs game, but it was significant–and, well, they were loud. As the first inning started, the Royals fans in the $11 seats above my section started chanting, “Let’s go Roy-als” and clapping and stomping. They had more energy than Royals fans in Kansas City. I thought it was hilarious.

I was wishing I’d worn my Royals shirt. Fans dressed in enemy colors didn’t used to do well at Busch Stadium, but Gatermann told me that’s very different today. Everyone sitting around me was good-natured and polite and had a sense of humor about my allegiance.

As we walked out, one guy complained about being harrassed for being a Royals fan, but I couldn’t tell how serious he was.

And I have to say I was very impressed with the play of Cardinals’ rookie second baseman Bo Hart. He’s already a fan favorite, but when you come up and get multiple hits in your first three games in the big leagues, you’re bound to become a fan favorite. He seems to be a scrappy player with a lot of guts and a lot of heart, along the lines of former St. Louis fan favorite Joe McEwing, or Anaheim’s David Eckhart, or former Met and Royal Keith Miller. I found myself cheering for the guy, even though I was rooting for the other team. You don’t see a lot of players like him.

The encouraging thing to me was that the Royals won the other two games of the series. I know the Cards aren’t having their best season, but they’re a strong team with two superstars who are of at least equal cailber to the Royals’ two superstars, and position by position, they’re the stronger team anywhere but first base.

I still don’t think my Royals will win the World Series. But this is going to be a fun year.

Phillies’ signing of Thome is about confidence, not wins

The Phillies just signed the most popular slugger in Cleveland Indians’ history, inking a 6-year, $87 million deal.
Analysts note that with Thome in the lineup instead of Travis Lee, the Phillies would have scored about 70 more runs last season. They still would have been fourth in the league, even with those extra 70 runs. That’s not enough to guarantee you’ll be the fourth team in the playoffs.

Analysts also noted that for the past few years, Thome has spent a good deal of time as the DH rather than playing in the field, and they doubt Thome will be capable of playing first base for the last year or even two years of his contract.

Also, last week, Philadelphia signed David Bell to play third base, replacing Placido Polanco. Bell’s a better hitter than Polanco, but not by much. Bell’s a better fielder than Polanco (at least at third), but not by very much.

But this trend isn’t about fielding. It’s not so much even about scoring runs. I’m not even convinced it’s about winning ball games. This is about confidence.

You see, a year ago, the Phillies had the best third baseman in baseball and the second-best third baseman in their team’s history (second only to Mike Schmidt, who is one of the three best third basemen who ever lived). The Phillies offered Scott Rolen a pile of money to sign a long-term contract. But Scott Rolen wasn’t convinced the Phillies wanted to win badly enough. He refused a couple of offers, slumped, got into some arguments with manager Larry Bowa, and eventually was traded to the Cardinals for whatever they could manage to get for him, preferring that to losing him to free agency.

It wasn’t that long ago that Philadelphia lost Curt Schilling, one of the best pitchers in the game today, pretty much the same way.

Rolen rediscovered his swing, and helped the Cardinals get to the postseason. Schilling dueled Randy Johnson for the Cy Young Award two years straight, and along with Johnson was the hero of the 2001 World Series, and was practically unbeatable up until the 2002 postseason.

Meanwhile, the Phillies looked like they’d given up and entered a rebuilding phase as they got ready to open an expensive new ballpark. And Philadelphia fans are notoriously unforgiving. We’re talking fans who’ll boo Santa Claus.

And the Phillies have lots of young, exciting players whose contracts are running out.

Signing David Bell and Jim Thome proves the Phillies are willing to spend some money. This will make unhappy players play better (witness Scott Rolen’s performance after coming to St. Louis versus his so-so performance in Philadelphia last year). Bell has become one of those players who always seems to find himself playing for a winner. Young players need that influence. Bell, at least theoretically, brings value beyond the numbers he puts up. If it were about numbers, the Phillies would have acquired Joe Randa, who makes much less money, and the Phillies could have had Joe Randa for a bag of baseballs and a vial of dirt scraped off one of Mike Schmidt’s spikes. But Joe Randa’s never played for a winner.

And Jim Thome’s a big, burly, buff guy who hits monsterous home runs by the truckload and excites fans. The Phillies haven’t had a truly great power hitter since Mike Schmidt. In his best year, Schmidt hit 48 home runs and batted .286. Jim Thome hit 52 home runs and batted .304 last year.

In 1997, the St. Louis Cardinals were missing something. They had the opportunity to trade for Mark McGwire. McGwire hit a bunch of towering home runs and captured the fans’ imagination and helped the Cardinals lure some other great players, most notably center fielder Jim Edmonds, to St. Louis.

The Phillies want Jim Thome to come in and be Mark McGwire.

The Phillies covet former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine. Glavine’s been one of the best left-handed pitchers in the National League for the past decade. The Braves and Mets are also interested in Glavine. But the Braves made him a half-hearted offer and seem to be more interested in unloading salary than in making another playoff run. The Mets are coming off a last-place finish and they’re trying to find someone willing to take Jeromy Burnitz and Mo Vaughn’s contracts. Meanwhile, the Phillies have just signed two of the most coveted players in the free agent market. The Phillies’ offer is comparable to the Mets’ offer. Glavine wants money, of course, but he also wants to win another World Series before he retires. Who do you think he’s most interested in pitching for now?

David Bell alone doesn’t make the Phillies a better team. Jim Thome alone makes the Phillies a marginally better team. David Bell plus Jim Thome plus Tom Glavine signal a commitment to win, at least for the next few years, which will draw out the best in the players they have and make other players interested, as well as draw fans, which creates revenue, which can be used to pursue other quality players.

Those are the ingredients of a dynasty.

Now the Phillies just have to figure out how to mix them properly.

Baseball strategy 101

Bottom of the ninth inning. Two out. The lightning-fast Rafael Furcal on third base. The aged Julio Franco on first. Down by two runs. Two men left on the bench: Wes Helms, who’ll be pinch-hitting if pitcher John Smoltz comes up later in the inning, and Steve Torrealba, your .059(!)-hitting third-string catcher.
You’ve got to stay out of the double play because you want to get to Chipper Jones, who hits Robb Nen as well as anybody. You have no choice but to save Helms. And Julio Franco isn’t fast anymore, but he’s always faster than your third-string catcher.

What do you do?

You call down to the bullpen, where Greg Maddux is warming up, and have him run for Franco, that’s what you do.

Insanity? Probably. But here’s how I see it.

Maddux can still run the bases. He can almost certainly run the bases better than Franco. You have to get Chipper Jones to the plate at any cost. If Jones hits a homer, the game’s through, so the rest is a non-issue. If Jones doesn’t hit a homer and Wes Helms has to hit for Smoltz and the Braves end up only tying the game, no problem. Helms is a first baseman. Helms stays in to play first. Maddux stays in the game to pitch. The result is just an unconventional double switch.

And Maddux is exactly who you want pitching in extra innings in a do-or-die game. Normally a starter, Maddux can give you innings. And Maddux could potentially contribute with his bat.

But it’s all a non-issue now. The Giants closed down the Braves with Jones in the on-deck circle. The Giants are coming to St. Louis.

So it’s Angels-Twins in the AL, Giants-Cardinals in the NL. The usual suspects of October are going to be watching from their living rooms.

It’s a very different October.