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How to reinvigorate the Royals

Please indulge me one last time this season to write about my beloved, who have currently lost 99 games and are going to make one last valiant attempt to avoid losing 100 this year.
The Royals are a small market. Small-market teams have a rough go of it, yes. But the Minnesota Twins have been doing OK. The Twins have some vision and a plan and they stick with their plan, and that’s part of it. So here’s what we need to do to duplicate that success.

1. Build a superstar. Back in George Brett’s heyday, the Royals had no payroll problems. The fans came out to see Brett, the Royals spent that money to get more players, and since the Royals had winning records, the fans kept coming. In the late 1980s, a bad season meant the Royals didn’t win any championships. But they had winning records. The Royals nearly have that superstar. His name is Mike Sweeney. He’s got a sweet swing like Brett. He’s got plate discipline like Brett. And he’s even more likeable than Brett. When Brett was Sween’s age, he partied as hard as he played. Sween takes care of himself and he takes care of his fiancee and he takes care of his community. The only people who don’t like Mike Sweeney are opposing pitchers.

But Mike Sweeney’s protection in the order is The Mighty Raul Ibanez. Now, The Mighty Ibanez has turned into a good hitter, but he’s not an All-Star. He’s a better hitter than a 50-year-old George Brett. That’s saying something. But to build a superstar, what the Royals really need to do it

And Mike Sweeney needs to get together with Dave Dravecky to put together a project talking about the Christian symbolism in baseball. (Pitchers can’t hit but it’s part of their job. Designated hitters come in and do that part of their job for them. Sound kinda like Christianity? I think so. I think God’s in favor of the DH.)

2. Sign Jim Thome. Jim Thome doesn’t fit into Cleveland’s plans anymore. Blame it on mass insanity. Blame it on tightfistedness. Blame it on whatever. But the Indians don’t want Jim Thome. And guess what? Jim Thome likes Kansas City. I don’t blame him. In Kansas City, if you’re on the highway and you want to change lanes, you use your turn signal and someone lets you. In Kansas City, strangers smile at you for no reason. When the now-departed Miguel Batista arrived in Kansas City at the airport after a trade, some little old lady walked up to him and said, “You’re our new pitcher. Let me get one of your bags.” People are just nice.

Yes, Jim Thome’s going to cost buckets of money. But guess what? He won’t cost more than Roberto Hernandez and Neifi Perez cost combined. So here’s what you do. Rotate Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney between first base and designated hitter. Then try out this lineup:

Michael Tucker, 2b
Carlos Beltran, cf
Mike Sweeney, 1b
Jim Thome, dh
Raul Ibanez, rf
Joe Randa, 3b
Mark Quinn/Dee Brown lf
Angel Berroa, ss
Brent Mayne, c

We’ll talk about the Michael Tucker insanity in a second. Jim Thome’s .300 average and 52 home runs will make Mike Sweeney look a whole lot better to pitch to. It virtually guarantees he’ll hit .340 again, because pitchers will look forward to the half of the time he makes an out. Jim Thome will see good pitches because Mike Sweeney’s on base. Or someone else is. The Royals will score lots more runs. Meanwhile, Mark Quinn and Dee Brown have Jim Thome to learn from. The Royals’ lineup suddenly starts to look like the great Cardinals teams of the 1980s that had lots of jackrabbits who could hit doubles and one really big bat in the middle. Except Mike Sweeney and Raul Ibanez offer better protection than Jack Clark ever had in a Cardinal uniform.

3. Try Michael Tucker at second base. The Royals need a second baseman who can hit. Tucker’s not a great hitter for an outfielder, but he’s a really good hitter for a second baseman. He won’t be a great fielder. But the 1984 Padres solved two problems by moving Alan Wiggins from left field to second base. They got a good hitter at the position, and they freed left field for another bat. The Padres kept Jerry Royster around to play second in the late innings. The Royals can keep Carlos Febles for defense late in the game.

4. If the Tucker experiment fails, move Carlos Beltran to leadoff and Joe Randa to the #2 spot in the batting order. The Royals don’t score any runs because Mike Sweeney doesn’t have enough people on base in front of him. The Royals often give away their first out by having people like Chuck Knoblauch and Neifi Perez and Carlos Febles hitting leadoff. Joe Randa’s no speed demon anymore, but he gets on base. And he’s got enough power that a lot of times, when he gets on base, he gets on second base. Carlos Beltran gets on base. Mike Sweeney needs to hit with people on base. If the Royals were to sign Jim Thome, he’d be worthless without people on base. So disregard the traditional idea that your first two hitters should be your fastest runners, and just get some people on base. Carlos Beltran is your leadoff hitter anyway with him hitting second. Might as well accept reality and work with it.

5. Develop young pitchers. In 1985, the Royals brought in Jim Sundberg, a veteran catcher who couldn’t hit to handle their young pitchers. The formula of young pitchers with lots of good stuff and a catcher who knew how to guide them brought them to the World Series, and, ultimately, to a World Championship. Time will tell if any of today’s young pitchers will turn into Bret Saberhagen or even Mark Gubicza. Since the Royals can’t afford to go sign Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and since they wouldn’t score any runs for them anyway), they don’t have much choice but to take the chance. But since the Royals have been throwing their young pitchers’ arms out (witness Jose Rosado, Chad Durbin, and Dan Reichert) they need to re-think the way they develop their young pitchers. Throw fewer innings and watch more videotape.

And be patient. Greg Maddux spent two years as a so-so relief pitcher and sometime starter before he blossomed into the greatest pitcher of his generation.

Hmm. I’m already looking forward to April 2003.

St. Louis just lost more than a great catcher

Darrell Porter went out to get a newspaper, and he never came home.
That night, it rained in St. Louis. It was as if the earth was weeping. As it should. Now a catcher has gone home to play baseball with late Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. But when this world lost Darrell Porter, it lost more than a former MVP and three-time All-Star. It lost one of the finest examples of a human being who ever played the game. Porter overcame drug and alcohol addiction in 1980. Today, people hold your hand when you’re famous and addicted. In 1980, they just looked down on you.

Darrell Porter didn’t let that stop him. In spring training in 1980, former Dodgers pitcher and recovered alcoholic Don Newcombe paid the team a visit. He asked 10 questions, and said if you answered yes to three of them, you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Porter answered yes to all 10 questions. So he checked himself into a rehab center. He cleaned up. He started going to church and got right with God. And he dedicated his life to trying to keep others from making the same mistakes he made. He figured he became famous for a reason, and he ought to use his fame and name recognition for something.

So he quietly went out helping people. In 1984, he wrote a book. We’re not talking a tell-all book like Jose Canseco plans to write. Don’t get me wrong, Porter told all. But he told about the person he knew best: himself. With brutal honesty. It’s been years since I read it, but I remember him talking frankly about getting together with his buddies and snorting cocaine through rolled-up $100 bills and drinking like tomorrow would never come. He talked about checking into rehab in 1980, and he talked about lapsing once, stopping at a gas station on the way home one day, and buying a beer. He left the empty bottle in his car. Part of him wanted his wife to find it. She did.

He was candid about what drugs and alcohol did to his career. In 1979, he had the finest year a Royals catcher ever had, batting .291 with 20 home runs and driving in 112. Those aren’t just good numbers for a catcher, those are good numbers for Johnny Bench. But that was the end of the road. He peaked at age 27. He played another 8 years, but his career numbers were much more pedestrian. For the rest of his career, he was an average defensive catcher and an average hitter who could occasionally pop one out of the park. His old self only surfaced when the game was on the line. He often told people his drug and alcohol abuse destroyed his career. That’s a bit harsh–he played for 16 years, eight on drugs and eight off–but it’s easy to see that something kept him from being everything he could be.

Porter spoke to one of the Christian groups on campus at the University of Missouri while I was a student there. I’d thought about going, because Porter had been one of my heroes growing up. For some reason I didn’t, and I don’t remember the reason. It might have been that I had a test, or a story deadline. Or it might have been something stupid. Like a story deadline.

That was what Porter’s life after baseball was like. He quietly volunteered his time wherever he was needed. He didn’t go looking for more fame.

A fan recounted meeting Porter recently at a game on a St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussion board. He asked Porter to sign an old poster. He signed it, and then the fan asked him to write “1982 World Series MVP” under his name. The fan recalled that Porter was very flattered to be asked to write that, maybe even flattered that the fan remembered that. Porter wasn’t one to advertise his three All-Star appearances, or the two MVP awards he won in 1982.

Since Porter didn’t go running around, looking for chances to make appearances and introducing himself as “Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals,” not a lot of people remember him. But the people who do remember him will miss him.

Porter showed up at the Royals’ spring training this year, some 22 years after he left the team and 15 years after he retired from baseball. He wanted to learn broadcasting. Broadcasters Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre spent some time with him and he impressed them. He worked hard, bought his own equipment, brought it with him, and learned as much as he could from the professionals. If he was going to go into broadcasting, it was going to be because he was a good sportscaster, not because he was Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series MVP and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals. Matthews and Lefebvre wanted to put him on the air this year.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. Porter told his wife he was going to get a newspaper and go to a park to read it. That I understand. If you’re interested in broadcasting, you keep up on the news. I use the Internet to do that, but if you’re a 50-year-old retired baseball player, you might not want to use the Internet. Besides, it’s hard to get Internet access in a park. Why would someone go to a park to read a newspaper in 97-degree heat? Remember, Darrell Porter was a catcher, and he spent most of his career on Astroturf. At Royals Stadium and Busch Stadium in the early 1980s, it could reach 110 degrees or more on the playing surface in the summer. Porter was bearing that heat with all that padding.

And once a baseball player, always a baseball player. He probably just wanted to be outside, away from telephones, away from everything else. If you’re not a baseball player, you don’t understand. I understand.

What I don’t understand is which park he chose to visit. He lived in Lee’s Summit, but he drove to a park half an hour away. Maybe he just couldn’t make up his mind. I remember driving around for half an hour one night back in March looking for someplace to run sprints. But I ended up at a park about five miles from home. I guess it sort of makes sense. But only sort of.

Porter got to the park, but he ran his car off the road. There was a tree stump alongside that wasn’t visible in the grass, and his car got stuck. At 5:26 pm, someone drove past, saw the car on the side of the road, and saw a man lying next to it. The driver alerted police. Police arrived soon afterward and found Darrell Porter, dead. The coroner speculates he was trying to free his car and was overcome by the heat.

He left behind a wife and three kids: a 20-year-old daughter and two teenaged sons. They’re going to have a hard time dealing with this. Their dad was just 50. He was supposed to have 25 years left in him. Now he’s gone, and no one knows why, and although they might not want to admit it, they’re at the ages when they probably need him most. I was 19 when my dad died at 51.

There are a few people out there like Darrell Porter. Genuinely nice people, real people, honest, down-to-earth people. People who want more than anything else just to make a difference, who come in and take charge of a bad situation and leave it a better place when they move on. You have to look for those kinds of people, but they’re out there.

It’s a shame to lose people like that, especially at such a cruelly young age. You can never have too many of those.

Darrell, I’m sorry I didn’t hit that home run for you tonight. I was trying too hard. I’m sure you understand. But I’m going to pay you the highest compliment I know, and when I say this, I mean it, with everything I’ve got.

We’ll miss you.

This year, Selig outshines even Steinbrenner

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. –Proverbs 17:28
Bud Selig has once again opened his mouth and is calling the Minnesota Twins, despite their raging success this year–and not-so-shabby last year–a candidate for contraction.

Translation: Twins owner Carl Pohlad loaned me money a few years ago, even though it was against baseball’s rules, but that’s OK because I enforce the rules, and now he can sell the team to the rest of the owners and I can make them pay more money than he could get by selling the team outright, so I’m going to do him that favor, no matter how bad it makes baseball look.

They talked during the All-Star Game about how Bud Selig once sold Joe Torre a car. That’s appropriate, because Selig is still spewing as much crap as a used-car salesman and he doesn’t know where to stop.

I really don’t understand is why Selig, in this era of corporate scandal that destroyed Enron and WorldCom and Martha Stewart and now threatens the AOL Time Warner empire, is willing to do anything that has even the most remote appearance of corruption. But maybe Selig’s like a 16-year-old with a red Lamborghini, an attractive girl riding shotgun, and a fifth of whiskey. The worst possible outcome always happens to the other guy, right?

And the ironic thing is that in 1995, Carl Pohlad’s company loaned Bud Selig money, because Bud Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers needed money.

Hmm. The Brewers ran out of money. The Brewers’ owner went to the Twins’ owner for money. Interesting.

The Brewers last went to the World Series in 1982. They lost in seven games. The Twins went to the big show in 1987 and won. They went again in 1991. They won. In 2001, the Twins went 85-77 and finished second in their division and even finished second in the wild-card race. The Brewers finished 68-94 and did what they almost always seem to do best: prop the Cubs up in the standings.

I know of a team in the northern midwest that seems like an excellent candidate for contraction. And that team would be:

The Milwaukee Brewers.

Leave the Twins alone.

But don’t get me wrong. Selig isn’t a complete waste. Selig is doing an outstanding job of frustrating George Steinbrenner. You see, before Selig became the most hated man in baseball, Steinbrenner had been the undisputed champion, for about 30 years. But don’t get me wrong. Steinbrenner’s having a great year. Why, last week he accused Major League Baseball of conspiring against him. He wanted superstar outfielder Cliff Floyd. Floyd went from Florida to Montreal to Steinbrenner’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox. Now it’s conspiracy.

That’s the way Steinbrenner thinks. A few years ago, George Brett had dinner with George Steinbrenner. Back in Brett’s heyday, the Yankees and Brett’s Kansas City Royals were big rivals. They met in the playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980. The Yankees won three of four years. At some point in their conversation, Brett noticed his view of Steinbrenner’s face was blocked by a menu, so Brett moved it. Steinbrenner put it back. “I can’t stand looking at you,” Steinbrenner said.

“Why?” Brett asked.

“You beat us too many times in the playoffs,” Steinbrenner said.

Brett asked if beating the Yankees once counted as “too many times.” Steinbrenner said yes.

Now you know why I rooted for the buy-a-championship Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series last year. Yeah, I wanted the Cardinals to go. But I wanted Steinbrenner to not get what he wanted.

But Steinbrenner’s not just an immature little kid who’s not willing to share his toys. Two weeks ago, Roger Clemens was making a rehab start at Class A Tampa. The home-plate umpire was–horror of horrors–a woman! Well, Steinbrenner was horrified. They were mishandling his pitcher.

Earth to Steinbrenner: A rehab start is about throwing pitches to real-live batters to see a few things. First and foremost, does it hurt? Second, can you throw seven innings? Third, does it hurt?

Earth to Steinbrenner, again: Gender has nothing to do with the ability to see, to know the rules, and call balls and strikes.

Earth to Steinbrenner: The male umpires who call balls and strikes in the major leagues seem to have never read the rulebook, because they never call a strike above the belt. So if your theory that women don’t call balls and strikes the way men do happens to be true, having a woman behind the plate was probably a very good thing, and I eagerly await the day when we see women umps in the Big Leauges.

Then Steinbrenner said Ms. Cortesia should go back to umpiring Little League. “She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t that good,” he said.

Clemens’ assesment: She did great.

So tell me who’s a better judge of an umpire’s ability: a loud, rude, obnoxious baseball owner, or a 40-year-old pitcher with 18 years’ experience in the major leagues?

Yep, Steinbrenner’s been in rare form these past couple of months. But he’s been eclipsed by Bud Selig. Pete Rose and Don Fehr are back and spewing as much garbage as ever, as well, and Ted Williams’ kids are doing their best to make everyone forget their dad’s Hall of Fame career. And Reds GM Jim Bowden made the mistake of invoking the memory of Sept. 11 when talking about a possible player’s strike. (He was wrong, of course. Sept. 11 destroyed two towers, but it didn’t destroy New York and it didn’t destroy America. A strike could destroy baseball.)

Yes, they’re all valiant attempts to look stupid. They’ve even managed to drown out baseball’s one-man wrecking crew, player agent Scott Boras. But none of them can hold a candle to Bud Selig.

It’s kind of like 1941. Joe DiMaggio had a great year in 1941. So great, he even won the MVP that year. But nobody remembers that anymore, because 1941 was the year Ted Williams batted .406. DiMaggio was the better overall player, and DiMaggio was the far bigger celebrity, and DiMaggio handled the limelight a lot better. But 1941 was Ted Williams’ year. Nothing could eclipse him. Not Luke Appling. Not Jimmie Foxx. Not even The Great DiMaggio.

2002 is Bud Selig’s year. Steinbrenner and Rose and Fehr and the rest of baseball’s repulsive bunch will be remembered for a lot of things, but saying the most stupid things in 2002 won’t be one of them.

The St. Louis I never knew

Hey, I never said anything about not posting new content here, right? Friday night, Gatermann and I went out to the east side to do some shooting. It was overcast, so we didn’t snap many pictures–I think three between the two of us. We passed some half-demolished buildings with for sale signs in front of them. We passed an apartment complex that advertised cheap rent, and from the looks of the buildings, windows must have cost extra because the buildings sure didn’t have very many. The frightening thing was, there were signs of life in the complex.
We picked up our friend Jeanne (after heading back to south St. Louis–she doesn’t hang out much on the east side, as far as we can tell) and headed north to St. Louis Avenue, home of the Crown Candy Kitchen. Not every St. Louisan knows about the place, which is a shame. Their sandwiches are fabulous, but the real reason people go there is for an excuse to get a milkshake or something else made of ice cream.

Citysearch gave it a one-star review, but they’re smoking crack. The people who’ve actually been there gave it four out of four (and unanimously, I think). Crown was founded by two Greek immigrants in 1913, and they made all the candy and ice cream themselves. The place has stayed in the family ever since, and they continue to make their own candy and ice cream. Those huge multinational conglomerates ain’t got nothing on these guys. Comparing Crown to the ice cream you get in a grocery store or another restaurant is like comparing Schlitz beer to Boulevard.

Crown is across the street from what used to be a bustling commercial district, but there’s not much left in there now besides a hair salon and some social workers’ offices. Two or three of the buildings are condemned. Many of the others obviously were beautiful in their day, and it wouldn’t take much to make them beautiful again. Looking at it made me sad. It hurts to see wasted potential.

If your travels take you through St. Louis, Crown is absolutely worth a stop. It’s just a mile or two west of I-70.

I know the first words my dad will say to me after I die: “David, how come none of your lame St. Louis friends told you about that ice cream joint until eight years after I was gone?”

And he’ll have a point. Living in St. Louis for five years and never hearing about the place is a real shame. It’s 100 times worse than living in St. Louis for five years and never hearing about the Cardinals.

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.

Dave gets a movie rental card

Faced with producing a documentary film, and faced with the increasing prospect of doing it on my own without help from people who know what they’re doing, I went on an excursion last night. Well, first I called up a friend to see if she was doing anything. She wasn’t home, so I decided to do something useful with my Saturday night: research.
I drove to Hollywood Video, filled out a membership form and handed over my driver’s license and a credit card. I came home with two installments of Ken Burns’ acclaimed Baseball series. I wanted to see how Burns did documentaries, particularly how he handled stills and mixed stills with old movies. So I grabbed the 1910s-1920s installment and the 1930s-1940s installment. Then I drove over to Wal-Mart and picked up a couple of frozen pizzas. Then I came home to watch and learn.

Burns usually shoots still pictures the way a cameraman would shoot a scene, either shooting the less-important part of the scene and then panning over to the important part, or shooting a panoramic view of the whole picture, then zooming in on the important subject. When faced with a good, well-composed and well-cropped closeup, he just lets it sit alone. On television, there’s no such thing as a still–the image will jump a little–so you can get away with that more than you might think. He added a little more life with sound effects and voiceovers. For example, when showing a picture of a sportswriter, he added a voiceover and the quiet sound of a manual typewriter. That’s an interesting trick I’ll have to remember–when you can’t engage the eyes with much, engage one of the other senses.

And what about transitions, the whiz-bang stuff that Premiere gives you so much of? If Burns ever used a transition, it was very subtle. Where I looked for transitions, I found only hard scene changes.

But for all his critical acclaim, I was disappointed with the 1910s-1920s installment. Babe Ruth Babe Ruth Babe Ruth Babe Ruth. I had to check the tape to make sure this was Baseball, and not a biography of Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth was (unfortunately) the most important player of that era. But Babe Ruth wasn’t baseball. He was a fat drunk who hit a lot of home runs mostly because he had a ballpark with a nice short porch in right field for left-handed hitters to hit into. And he mostly played right field, so he didn’t have to run around a lot. Yes, in his early days Ruth was a tremendous athelete. But he didn’t take care of himself, and had he played anywhere else, he would have been far less remarkable.

What did Ken Burns have to say about the 1929 World Series? Author Studs Terkel came on and talked about how his buddy had tickets to Game 1 of the series and wanted him to go. He didn’t go. Lefty Grove was expected to pitch. Instead, Howard Ehmke (who? Exactly.) pitched instead. There’s a story behind that, but heaven forbid Ken Burns spend 30 seconds telling that story when he can use that 30 seconds to show a package of Babe Ruth-brand underwear instead.

Screw it. I’ll tell the story. About mid-season, A’s owner/manager Connie Mack went to Howard Ehmke and told him he was letting him go. Ehmke was a veteran pitcher, but he was well past his prime, and Mack rarely pitched him–six of the other pitchers on his staff went on to win 11 or more games that year. Mack was a notorious cheapskate and was known to sometimes only take two pitchers with him on road trips, so far be it from him to keep Ehmke around and on the payroll when he didn’t need him. At that point, the A’s were World Series bound, with or without Ehmke, and the whole league knew it. (No wonder Burns didn’t talk much about the 1929 season–the only noteworthy thing Babe Ruth did that year was remarry.) But Howard Ehmke had never pitched in a World Series, so he pleaded with Mack to let him stick around just long enough to pitch in a World Series game. Now Connie Mack may have been a cheapskate, but he wasn’t a soulless bastard like so many baseball owners of that day and later days. He had compassion on his veteran pitcher and said OK. Now I don’t remember whose idea it was, but they even talked about him starting one of the games. Mack asked him which game he’d like to start. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Ehmke answered, “The first one, sir.”

Absurdity. The best pitcher in the game that year (and for most years to come) was one Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove. You play the first game to win, so you go find your best pitcher to go win it for you. So the whole world expected Lefty Grove would pitch Game 1. So the Cubs, expecting left-handed fireballer Grove, loaded up their lineup with right-handed power hitters. At the last possible moment, Mack announced his starting pitcher would be soft-throwing right-hander Howard Ehmke. Ehmke pitched the whole game. He won, too, striking out 13–a series record.

The 1929 World Series was one of the most dramatic series ever, with the A’s staging a gutsy come-from-behind victory in Game 4, scoring 10 runs in the 7th inning to overcome an 8-0 deficit. Lefty Grove came in to pitch the 8th and 9th and preserve the victory, notching his second save of the series.

But since Babe Ruth sat at home while all this was going on, I guess nobody wants to know about it. They don’t want to know about any of the colorful guys on either team either. Jimmie Foxx was the greatest right-handed home run hitter in the game before Mark McGwire came along. A converted catcher, Foxx would play seven positions at some point in his career. Whereas Ruth began his career as a pitcher for the Red Sox, Foxx wrapped his up as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Like Ruth, he was always smiling. And he was one of the nicest guys to ever play the game.

The rest of the Philadelphia clubhouse wasn’t as nice as Foxx. Left fielder Al Simmons was a vicious hitter–arguably there were two things on that team meaner than Simmons’ bat, and those were Foxx’s bat and Simmons’ temper. It was a good thing the A’s didn’t lose much in those days, because after every loss, Simmons, hotheaded catcher Mickey Cochrane, and hotheaded pitcher Lefty Grove would redecorate the locker room. Connie Mack knew better than to go near the place until after they’d left.

As for Hack Wilson, the Cubs’ star center fielder, well, I’ve heard stories about him. It would have been nice to hear some new ones.

Hopefully we’ll find out a little bit about all these guys in the 1930s-40s installment. After the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1920s ended, the A’s Dynasty replaced it, and Ruth was retired by 1935–his last great season was 1932–so there isn’t much excuse to talk about him.

So while I was able to learn a fair bit about how a movie can come together and look good from discrete elements that are varied and sometimes damaged, I’m less impressed with Burns’ storytelling. To hear Burns tell it, you’d think the only teams that played baseball in that era were the Yankees, Red Sox, Yankees, A’s, Yankees, New York Giants, Yankees, the Chicago Cubs, Yankees, the St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, and the Negro League teams, who rightly or wrongly got more screen time than the non-Yankees MLB teams.

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.