January 29, 2008

Johan, Johan Johan Johan, Jo-han, Jooo-haaan...

Oh thank Christ.

It's not definite yet, and most Mets fans are desperately trying to restrain their jubilation until it is, but summer in Queens is looking a whole lot brighter. I was really starting to think we were going to be watching Livan Hernandez pitch every five days. This... this is better.

And in the National League! In a pitcher's park! When the season starts I'll buy some fine wine, crank up the music, and just watch that beautiful, beautiful, changeup. Then I'll rewind the Tivo and watch it again. (I mean, assuming he doesn't blow his elbow out in spring training... now please excuse me while I go knock on every piece of wood within a five block radius).

My best guess for happiest human on the planet tonight: Willie Randolph.

I do feel for Twins fans, though, who in my experience are a pretty excellent bunch, and deserve better. The best pitcher in baseball for four promising but wholly unproven prospects? All is forgiven, Omar. Guillermo who? Looks like that trip to the Holy Land paid off right quick.

UPDATE: Just heard on SNY's SportsNite that Santana refers to his change as "the butterfly." Hold me.

Baseball Player Name of the Week

We have a tie!: Ferd Eunick and William Adolph Wambsganss, both of the 1917 Cleveland Indians.

Not much information is available online about Fernandas Bowen Eunick, but I imagine his was not an easy life. According to Baseball Reference, he's "also known as Fred." Ferd was born in Baltimore in 1892, died there 67 years later, and on August 29, 1917, made his first and last appearance in the majors. He lasted all of two at-bats, getting a hit in neither of them.

Bill Wambsganss, by contrast, had a long and successful career, but he's remembered almost exclusively for making the only unassisted triple play in World Series history, in 1920, against the Brooklyn Robins. "You'd think I was born on the day before and died on the day after," he said decades later.

Gotta love the body language, in the photo above, of the runner getting tagged for the third out.

Of course, I'm just the latest in a long line of observers to fixate on Wambsganss' name. Soon after he arrived in Cleveland, Ring Lardner wrote a limerick:
The Naps bought a shortstop named Wambsganss,Who is slated to fill Ray Chapman's pants.
But when he saw Ray,
And the way he could play,
He muttered "I haven't a clam's chance!"
Anyway, they don't name 'em like they used to. Also on that 1917 Cleveland team: "Pop-Boy" Smith, Red Torkelson, and Braggo "The Globetrotter" Roth.

January 27, 2008

Get To Know Your New New York Players, Part 2: LaTroy Hawkins

Last time, in Part 1, we vainly looked for dirt on Brian Schneider, the Mets' apparently ludicrously wholesome replacement for Paul Lo Duca (dislikes: junk food and steroids; likes: puppies and signing autographs for kids). Now it's time to look at the Yankees' only major newbie of the offseason to date, 35-year-old reliever LaTroy "Well He Can Hardly Be Worse Than Farnsworth" Hawkins of Gary, Indiana. Personally I'd prefer Ronnie "The Hawk" Hawkins, but what are you going to do? This guy may be the only thing standing between Joba Chamberlain and the 8th-inning role, so read on for information regarding tarps, 'roids, media boycotts, and sign-stealing.

I confess I had completely forgotten this, but Hawkins was the losing pitcher when David Wells threw his perfect game in 1998. I'm predisposed to like him, because remember that crazy rainstorm last summer in Colorado, when the Phillies endearingly ran out to help the grounds crew with the tarp? Well, the Rockies didn't exactly distinguish themselves there, as just one single home team player offered assistance -- and that was, of course, LaTroy Hawkins.

More recently he went on the radio and, with sentiments I suspect an increasing number of fans can relate to these days, announced that he doesn't care about steroids:
LaTroy Hawkins: “It’s not any of my business. First of all the thing is I don’t care. Only person cared about that was [Commissioner Bud] Selig. I don’t care about it. That’s just my own personal opinion.”

Page: “You don’t care if hitters are juicing up?”

Hawkins: “No, I don’t. That’s just my personal opinion. Still got to hit the ball, brother.”

Indeed, though unfortunately, too many hitters have had an easy time doing that against Hawkins recently. He had a good 2007 (oddly pitching much better at home at Coors Field), but rough sailing for a few years before that; Cubs fans certainly weren't too fond of him, and the feeling may have been mutual. Also, it seems Hawkins has, or had, a bit of a running feud with umpire Tim Tschida. In 2004, he had to be restrained while arguing calls and was suspended three games...

...an animosity which apparently stems from an incident in 2002, when Hawkins was with the Twins, and Tschida asked him to move his bullpen chair -- because the Red Sox were accusing him of stealing signs. Excellent! Anyone prepared to steal signs from the Sox, or at least make the Sox think their signs are being stolen, can't be completely useless... although: I can't help but notice Hawkins' career ERA against Boston seems to be 5.79.

On top of that, I'd say there could be some potential media trouble on the horizon, based on this Hawkins interview on Sportznutz dating back to his unhappy time in Chicago:

TH: What was your rational or thinking at the time you were named the closer when you decided not to speak to the media?

LH: Because I didn’t want them to start a soap opera. It was plain and simple.

TH: Did you do it because you didn’t want the media to approach you perhaps if you had a bad game?

LH: No. That was my intention in the first place and all that other bullshit, that wasn’t my intention. You know how they are – the media here. Always looking for something. Write (about) what’s on the field.

TH: You previously played in Minnesota, a lot smaller market than Chicago. How would you compare the media in Minnesota to Chicago?

LH: It’s not even comparable. Minneapolis and Chicago – there’s a big difference.

TH: Did you have a better relationship with the media in Minneapolis than you do in Chicago?

LH: Nope. I had one guy in Minnesota, Souhan, with the Star Tribune. Only guy I talked to...

...TH: Do you plan on keeping up with the media boycott as long as you are here?

LH: It’s not actually a boycott. Actually, I speak when I feel like speaking. Plain and simple. When I feel like speaking, I’ll speak. And when I don’t feel like speaking, I’m not going to speak.

Right then. What could possibly go wrong in New York? Say, LaTroy, there's someone I'd like to introduce you to. Have you met Mike Lupica?

...LaTroy? Where are you going?

January 25, 2008

Get To Know Your New New York Players, Part 1: Brian Schneider

With spring training just around the corner, it's time to take a closer look at some of the new lambs to the slaughter players we'll be watching all season (or at least until they tear their hamstrings). Most New York fans probably know new Mets catcher Brian Schneider better by his nickname, "They Traded Lastings Milledge For WHO?" Schneider. But let's not rush to judgment until all the facts are in, particularly the silly and irrelevant ones.

Paul Lo Duca left big shoes to fill -- not so much because of his actual play, but what you might term the local color he provided.

He came to the plate to "Stayin' Alive" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." Will this Schneider fellow be photographed with nubile teens on his lap, get busted for sending friendly thank-you notes to steroid dealers, take part in a messy public divorce, love the horses, toss all his catching gear onto the field (YouTube!) after questionable calls, or make his eyeballs do this when angered?:

Early signs suggest... probably not:

We seem to be looking at a level of wholesomeness here that rivals David Wright's. (By contrast, and before I move on, let me just recommend a quick Google Image Search of "paul lo duca umpire." Whee!). An extensive search on Brian Schneider reveals very few juicy details. He's from Pennsylvania, he apparently attended Nationals fan events as fast as the team could dream them up, and - trivia alert! - he was behind the plate when Barry Bonds hit #756. Schneider also agreed to an interview with Nationals blog Nats320 after being traded, which is pretty cool of the guy.

He's boldly anti-junk food; his idea of a clubhouse prank involves baby powder. (I'm guessing Paul Lo Duca's clubhouse pranks involve Jager and razor blades). Finally, he has two dogs named Dinger and Ribbie. Cute, Schneider, cute. But let's see you rip an umpire's chest protector apart with your teeth.

Anyway, Schneider has spent his entire career with the Expos/Nationals, so it'll be interesting to see how he might react to, say, being on a team that's over .500. Or playing in front of crowds. Welcome, Brian, and remember: we only viciously insult your abilities and parentage because we care.

(As an aside: in the course of researching this post (and obviously I use the term "researching" loosely), I discovered that the Montreal Expos had a theme song, "Les Expos Sont Là," which basically translates as "The Expos Are There." Now, probably the actual lyrics are positive enough, but I've only got the title to go on, and I love that this is apparently the most enthusiastic sentiment the songwriter could muster. Not so much "Meet the Expos" or "Let's Go Expos," but more along the lines of, "Huh, There Seems To Be A Baseball Team Over Here.")

One more for the road -- though in Lo Duca's defense, Lima Time had this effect on many of us:

January 23, 2008

Baseball Player Name of the Week

Jack Warhop.

It works particularly well if you imagine Bob Sheppard saying Warhop.

Mr. Warhop pitched for the Yankees from 1908-1915 and holds their all-time record for most hit batsmen, with 114 -- though this is only 56th on the MLB all-time list. In fact, the top three batter-hitters all have pretty excellent names:

1. Gus Weyhing (277)

2. Chick Fraser (219)

3. Pink Hawley (210)

Gus Weyhing, in particular, has a nice ring to it. Is there a correlation between coolness of name and career number of batters hit? I may have to email the Baseball Prospectus crew for a definitive mathematical answer to this.

Related: Randy Johnson (182) is #7, and Roger Clemens is #13 (159), just barely edging out Nolan Ryan (158). You probably have to be a bit of a dick to be that high on the list, since pitchers with mere lousy control probably won't end up with enough career innings to make a dent -- that is, if you're given the opportunity to pitch long enough to hit 150 batters, they probably aren't all accidents.

Unless of course you're Tim Wakefield (#18).

Somewhat to my surprise, Bob "Intimidating" Gibson is only 75th (102), tied with Chief Bender. Who probably would have won Name of the Week honors, if only "Chief" weren't a vaguely racist nickname given to seemingly every Native American player in baseball's early days. Ah well.

January 19, 2008

Political Grandstanding: Much Less Fun Than Actual Grandstanding

As you may have heard by now, the owners have extended Bud Seligs's contract through 2012. Of course. Now, some of my reasons for intensely disliking Selig are fair (collusion) and some are not (less charisma than a piece of sushi), but I think this is my problem in a nutshell: if the rich people who control everything love you this much, there's just no way you're actually doing a good job.

Speaking of Selig, I was going to blog about the congressional steroid hearings, but they proved too frustrating to watch intently for more than half an hour (not that I didn't love Rep. Shayes asking Mitchell about Rafael "Palmerry" and whether or not he'd tested positive before his "300th hit". I'm sure our health care system will be fixed any week now). So I'm all Mitchell Report-ed out, and then I realized: maybe that was MLB's plan all along -- to make their fans so incredibly sick of hearing about PEDs that they eventually just completely stop caring? I think it's working. Maybe I've underestimated Selig after all.

In other non-news, the Mets continue to get everyone's hopes up by hanging in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, and while Omar Minaya did not acquire any bullpen help, he did travel to Israel. Good call, and if he's really not going to acquire another solid starting pitcher, I'd also recommend stopping by Mecca and Rome.

January 14, 2008

If I had a nickel for every time I confused CPR with non-consensual sex!

I already suspected there was no God when I woke up a few days ago with a slight hangover and was greeted by news stories suggesting a bleeding abscess on Roger Clemens' ass. (Have you ever unexpectedly seen the results for a Google Image Search on "abscess"? No? NOT RECOMMENDED). And now there's this. Noooo!

A world with abscessed-Clemens-ass imagery and a hobbled Endy Chavez is not a world I want to live in.

Meanwhile, while I now have no idea what the truth is in this whole Clemens fiasco -- inclined to think he used steroids, but trying to keep an open mind -- and am increasingly unable to give a fuck, I lost any shred of respect or empathy I might have had for Brian McNamee when I read this AP article (via River Ave Blues last week). It seems that at the end of the 2001 season, in Florida, a bunch of Yankees had a party at their hotel, which McNamee attended, and:

"Detectives believed the former New York Yankees trainer who says he injected Roger Clemens with steroids lied to them during the 2001 investigation of a possible rape, according to documents released Tuesday by police."

I don't even remember hearing about this story at the time -- it was just a few weeks after 9/11, and I suppose that's at least partly why it didn't get more attention. But it isn't being discussed much now, either; even the Post, which you'd think would be all over it (the Post loves rape), didn't even run the entire AP article. And so I'm going to rant a little bit now, because dammit, somebody ought to.

The article goes on to describe the embodiment of all the nightmare-jock-party stories you heard in high school and college:

"The records released Tuesday by the St. Petersburg police show McNamee was suspected of raping a woman he had met at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in October 2001. ...

McNamee was having sex with the woman in the resort's pool and didn't stop when confronted by security, the documents say. Police were notified. When they arrived, they found McNamee had helped the woman out of the pool and get dressed, according to the documents. Groggy and incoherent, she was taken to the hospital, where the documents said she was found to have GHB, the "date-rape drug," in her system.

The woman told detectives she could not remember details of the encounter in the pool. She said she did not give McNamee permission to have sex with her, and witnesses told detectives they had heard her saying "no" during the encounter, according to the documents. Detectives later recovered some of her jewelry, an empty beer can and a water bottle containing GHB at the side of the pool.

Police interviewed McNamee hours later, according to the documents, and he denied having sex with the woman or knowing Yankees batting practice pitcher, Charles Wonsowicz, who was also in the pool. McNamee refused to submit a saliva sample for DNA analysis, the documents said."

Now, McNamee was never charged, let alone convicted, so I get that these are just allegations, not proven facts. These records are only coming to light now because of Clemens' lawsuit, and of course making McNamee look bad is the whole point. Still -- the story is drawing from police files, not just innuendo, and it's more than enough to make me question McNamee's character and credibility. To put it mildly.

Of course, it raises another question, too, which Roger Clemens' lawyers seem to hope we'll gloss over: if you're Clemens, and you know about this incident, why do you then hire this slime, and stay friends with him for years afterwards? After all, it was apparently reason enough for the Yankees to fire him (which: I am pleasantly surprised they had the backbone). But:
"Clemens then hired McNamee as his personal trainer. According to the pitcher's lawsuit, McNamee told him that his actions were "actually a life-saving attempt.""
Right. A life-saving attempt, who wouldn't buy that? You know what, I'm done here -- these two guys can sue each other into oblivion for all I care.

All in all, it's certainly been a glamorous few weeks for the national pastime. Rape and abscesses! HGH and GHB! Christ on a pogo stick, I just want to watch a damn game already.

January 02, 2008

For Auld Lang-Rod

11:57 PM, December 31st, 2007. I'm at my friends' party on Degraw St, in the apartment I lived in for several years when I first moved to New York. As everyone hurries to get a glass of champagne poured and ready before the ball drops, someone turns on the TV, flipping around til he finds a broadcast from Times Square. It was Carson Daly, and all of a sudden there, standing next to him, in a Yankees cap:

Me: Oh hey! Is that A-Rod? It's A-Rod! Turn up the volume!
Everyone else: (laughing, talking, pouring champagne)
Me: This must be part of his whole No-really-I-love-New-York image rehab thing! What's he saying?
Everyone else: Ten!... Nine!... Eight!...

So I have no idea what was said (shot in the dark: "it's great to be here in New York!"), because my friends are normal healthy people who do not care about baseball player soundbites when they're celebrating the New Year; but A-Rod's mug was just about the last thing I saw in 2007. Seems fitting somehow.

Anyway, here's to 2008 and just the littlest bit of a fresh start. If one 2007 moment really encapsulated my entire year, it would have to be the sudden swarm of gnats that descended on Joba Chamberlain during Game 2 of the Division Series, resulting in two wild pitches and a blown lead. (Only because the Mets' implosion wasn't really a "moment" so much as lifestyle). At the aforementioned party I tried to describe that eighth inning to a non-baseball-fan friend, but he refused to believe that I was talking about non-metaphoric gnats.

So Happy New Year, everybody. Thanks for reading, and I plan to be optimistic about this upcoming year for at least five or six days yet.