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Afternoon Baseball

Common-sense ruminations on baseball and culture.

Updated: 2009-11-11T20:19:13.769-05:00


Still on hiatus


I figured I should update this, since I haven't put up anything since very early in the 2008 season.
My blogging on the Yankees and miscellany was brought to an indefinite hiatus mostly due to work demands. The excellent work being done by dozens of Yankees blogs certainly didn't make me feel as if I were leaving a huge void.
The work status is changed, but I'm no longer in the YES coverage area, which makes me wary of keeping up with the team during the season.
I've bounced around some ideas for (another) revamp of Afternoon Baseball -- writing about (memorializing, really) retired/deceased players, Yankees and otherwise. Or some other version that's a little more storytelling, a lot less demand on analysis that I've neither the time nor the statistical ingenuity to meet.

We'll see. The archives remain up, but I hope this isn't the last post I'll ever put here. Thanks.

-- James

Early injuries in the right place


And by that, I mean, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada having aches and pains early on isn't the worst thing. It could be all the pitchers, whether they be beleaguered (Andy Pettitte), ancient (Mike Mussina) or youthful (the kids).
The offense is an old, albeit powerful, machine. There will be some missed time and some slumps. That's not such a worry at the moment. And remember, the hitting hasn't lost in the playoffs the past 4-5 years nearly as often as a breakdown in the pitching (and by extension, the managing of said pitching). Joe Girardi hasn't had too many tests yet (this noteworthy one the exception), but he seems off to a good start. Having been sick himself recently, he's keeping a level head.
That's about all you can do in April if your team isn't winless (sorry, Tigers).

Yeah, it's an armchair, vague analysis. That's all my brain can muster at the moment.

Sorely lacking


That would be me, not the Yankees or anything about them. Sure, the hitting isn't great, but the team hasn't fallen on its face out of the gate for the first time in a few years.

My Internet at home is a continuing problem, but basically, I'm just working about a million hours right now and don't have the energy (or the willpower, you decide) to keep up as I should be. I'll try harder.

Just a thought


I didn't see any of the Oscar movies (or many new movies at all this year), but I did see some of the outfits.

And I have to say: Whoever decided to invite Heidi Klum is a genius.

Although Katherine Heigl isn't shabby. Maybe it's something with those German (or German-sounding) names.

So Derek Jeter can't field so good


So what?
He's not always been the worst like he was in 2007, so soon the Yankees may have to find him a new position or suffer because of it.
But as important as defense is for shortstops, Jeter is perennially one of the top all-around shortstops. Why? Offensive production.
He steals you some bags, he's a captain (for the tiny intangible aspect), and he's got a 122 OPS+. That's the number to examine.

That's better than HOFers Tony Lazzeri, Joe Cronin and Lou Boudreau (the latter two shortstops), plus should-be HOFer Barry Larkin. It's better than Dale Murphy and Dave Parker, Harold Baines, Chili Davis, Gil Hodges, Paul O'Neill, Andre Dawson, Darrell Evans, Cliff Floyd, Don Baylor, Cecil Fielder, Pat Burrell, Andres Galarraga, Bob Meusel, Carlos Beltran and Pete Rose, to name a few.

All but Rose were considered power hitters, some top-10 players (and MVPs) during their best years. Granted, none of the non-HOFers played short, but how many of those guys are remembered as much for their defense as their way with the stick? Dawson. That's it.

All I'm saying is, rip Jeter for his fielding, but don't pretend like he's getting paid (or played) on the basis of it. He could turn into Ozzie Smith with the glove, but if he hit like Ozzie, people would do backflips. And not in the jovial, Ozzie-loves-baseball sort of way.

Disappointing, not surprising


When I defended Andy Pettitte back when (or, at least, said it's water under the bridge), I made clear to state that it was pending no further revelations.
The news that he took HGH in 2004 as well is understandable from a human perspective. He was injured (again) and probably scared. Not scared like in a war zone, but still.
That sympathy is not pardon, however.

I don't know what should be done, discipline-wise. Obviously, the fact remains that given the arbitrary and incomplete nature of the Mitchell Report, to throw the book at the few is to incorrectly exonerate all those players whose teams didn't have trainers who caved in to Mitchell's demands/threats.

My standard has always been: Break a rule on baseball's books, a hard-and-fast rule, and you're out of the Hall, etc. Pete Rose broke the gambling rule, the oldest and clearest one, knowing the consequences. He's out. Same with anyone admitting to illegal substance use or getting caught in a test (Gary Sheffield up through Barry Bonds). Pettitte's in that boat, not that he was a sure bet.
The loophole in my theory? Mark McGwire is off the hook through baseball's own errors. He never tested positive for anything (putting aside a lack of tests), and he's only admitted to andro, a substance then legal by FDA standards. All baseball would have had to do, however, is list it on its banned substances list, as the NFL and Olympics had done, and it would have been clear. As awful as it sounds, McGwire was the only player smart enough to use andro while he could.

As a person, I'm not happy with Pettitte. As a fan, though, I'll be just as unhappy if he goes and has a terrible 2008 because of this, something he brought onto himself.

As for Clemens, Brian McNamee is a creep and a liar. Sure, Clemens probably did stuff. But McNamee is an awful human being in a lot of unrelated ways, and if it's Clemens' word against McNamee's, I can't really trust either.



The two best national games this year involved the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
Not to knock the fine efforts by other squads, particularly the Colts in the regular season and the Chargers in the playoffs, but the only matchups of equals were in Week 17 and the Super Bowl. Yes, I said equals.

The Giants are overachievers. But they aren't a fluke. They play solid ball, with talented recievers (a legit #1, solid #2 and contributors throughout), a passable running game, a very good line. On defense, they have the best front line football has seen in years, and that helps compensate for less-than-awesomeness elsewhere. But this team stopped beating itself three months ago, and Eli Manning joined them after the Minnesota four-INT disaster.

They make teams expend energy, make them execute -- not just with big plays or with a drive or two, but constantly, over dozens of plays. They're the rare team that wants the pressure of having its defense tested time and again, of leading the fourth-quarter drive.

Make no mistake: If these teams play 10 times, the Pats win eight, maybe nine. But the Giants were a worthy foe, a worthy champion, and one that simply seemed to be calm through the playoffs. It's a rare balance to enjoy being there but still having the ambition to do more. The Giants found that, and hopefully, they persuaded many of their fans before the game ended tonight.

I've never been a Giants optimist (my default pick is 7-9 and has been for a decade and a half), but I believed in this team every round. Why? I don't know. It certainly wasn't my exhaustive football knowledge. The only thing I did know was that I was seeing a team execute, play to its potential. Is that always enough? No. But it is always enough to have faith in your team doing its absolute best. Luckily for me, that meant a Super Bowl title.

The Patriots have a tough time ahead. The only, and miserably small, consolation? They got beat. They didn't lose this. I've no joy at that, merely at the win. But there's plenty more joy at rejoicing a championship than celebrating someone's fall.

The biggest win in Giants history. And there's been plenty of them. The 1986 Giants had dominance. The 1990 team had the thrills of last-second wins and the human interest of backup Jeff Hostetler leading the charge. The 2000 team was just fun to watch until Jason Sehorn helped lead a dive job. Or rather, I pretend they threw it because it's less painful than knowing they lost by 27.

But I digress. This has been the most fun Giants team, in my opinion, I've ever watched, and I thought that before tonight. Tonight just makes the memories entirely happy.

Giants-Pats, before the game


I've loved the unity this Giants team has shown -- the offense and defense haven't sniped at each other as has been so common in the post-Parcells era (in other words, it wasn't just Michael Strahan or Tiki Barber to blame).
Eli Manning hasn't played like the 25th-ranked starting quarterback. Not only has he "managed" the game, he's outperformed the league's third- and fourth-best quarterbacks in Romo and Favre, who were actually ranked fifth and sixth.

Can they beat the Pats? Theoretically. They do match up well, nearly beat them once, and have a healthier defensive backfield. But let's be honest -- no one picking against the Patriots (not the spread, but the win/loss) has any rational reasoning involved. It's a hunch that their time is up, nothing more.
It's been one hell of a season for the Giants, one perhaps not fully appreciated. So, I'm just going to enjoy the game, be glad Jason Sehorn isn't around to let wide receivers run by him, and see what happens.

As for Spygate, the continuance? It's too early to tell. The conspiracy theorists wonder why Roger Goodell destroyed the tapes; maybe, they say, the Patriots have a treasure-trove of other tapes.
Just as likely, but less mentioned, I'd imagine, is that many other teams have such tapes, but the NFL has always turned a blind eye or dealt with it internally. Eric Mangini, et al, upset this arrangement.
Gregg Easterbrook, as usual, is way ahead of the curve. In September, he practically said Bill Belichick would be out of football by this time. He's more restrained now, correctly pointing out that we know nothing for sure. But, he lapses in a description of the Rams in the red zone during the Super Bowl in question:
"In that game, St. Louis was held to a field goal in the first half. The Rams kept getting bogged down, as if New England knew what plays were coming."

Sure, it's easy to write that now. But was anyone saying at the time, man, it's like New England knows what plays are coming? And not just in the colloquial sense of a team guessing right or having a great game plan, but actually meaning, wow, it looks like the Pats cheated, they're so on top of these plays.
Of course not.

The larger issue in my mind is the credibility of the witnesses we're seeing in sports. Maybe athletes/teams should fight for all these issues to be handled in courtrooms, not the sporting kangaroo courts. Because I've a feeling nearly all such cases would be tossed for lack of evidence. And the few that survive would do so, like, for instance, mob convictions, because the low-life scum who turned rat for the feds were backed up by real evidence (documents, signatures, recordings, etc.), not rumors, hearsay and ex-senators with direct conflicts of interest.

Welcome aboard, Morgan Ensberg


Thrilled that the Yankees listened to people such as myself (and much more influential folks), even if it was months after the fact.

No, he's not Alex Rodriguez's replacement. But that just makes it more of a no-brainer. Less pressure, less money, less risk. For a guy, as NoMaas points out, with a 116 OPS+. You don't get those guys for nothing very often.

That's a higher mark than Miguel Tejada, to name one, and right there with Carlos Beltran. Compare contracts.

Even if in May, we're screaming, get Ensberg the hell out of here, it was still worth it.

(Late) Santana reaction


My thought for much of this time was that the Yankees and Red Sox were secretly hoping the Mets would swoop in with some absurd offer and take the pressure off of each team.
From what I'm hearing (not knowing a great deal about the Mets' prospects), they may have better matched the Twins' desires, but still aren't getting swindled.

Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox could afford to let the other get Santana, from a competitive standpoint. The Yankees, obviously, are more desperate for pitching, but the Sox couldn't take that kind of PR and fanbase hit, either, even if they may be in better, younger shape. But losing out on Santana to a third party, especially one in another league, must be bringing a sigh of relief.
It provides cover -- saying, hey, we didn't cave in or let the other guy get him -- and allows each to rely on the contingent of fans who believe that Santana (or really, any pitcher) isn't worth that long of a contract for that much money, and that as great as Johan is, each team would have dreaded the last 2-3 years of the deal.

Now, if the Mets deal falls through, I think the previous pressure is doubled. The Twins can't afford not to move him, especially because they don't seem to believe they have a good enough team to win next year. (By win, I mean make the playoffs)

Would having Santana be great? Yes. Is the price too high? There's a damn good argument for that. Will the Mets win the Series with or without him? I'd be stunned.

Could have been worse


There's a lot of worries about the Yankees' pitching staff (all legitimate worries) and how certain members of the offense are going to perform. Plus, there's the question of how Joe Girardi will handle being in charge, and whether Brian Cashman IS in charge.

But, just imagine if Don Mattingly had been hired to manage the club, then had his family issues?

I favored Girardi over Mattingly (and Pinella over Torre/Mattingly the year before), so it's not a big deal to me. And, of course, Mattingly is probably doing the right thing, even if we don't know the details. But it's a hell of a lot easier to find a hitting coach (especially when the Dodgers have an in-house candidate with experience at the position) than it is to find a manager -- regardless of market size.

The bigger question: How will this affect Joe Torre? It's not for us to worry about -- at least not anymore.

Re: Fight song ignorance


I didn't know about the href="">Yankees'
fight song. But there's a good reason. Does the crowd chant it (or
sing it) during the game? If not, I can't be responsible for not
knowing it. Granted, if I heard it, I might recognize it. But I
wouldn't know about the words, etc.

Fight songs are fine, actually. But they aren't about the fans, even
though they're sold as such and believed to be about them. They're a
cheap, easy way for teams (or causes, etc.) to assimilate support.
That's not always a bad thing -- in the case of a sports team, it's a
superficial group thought. But make no mistake, if the crowd is
singing fight songs and chanting overly simple slogans, they've less
time to boo or question the home team's direction.

Midweek links


1. Possibly the best sports blog named after the best sporting moment ever, Kissing Suzy Kolber, is scoring way more than Joe Namath lately.
Between ripping the looks-like-a-jerk, acts-like-a-jerk Phil Rivers and showing who else besides Tom Brady isn't very special, it's a must-read. Plus, we haven't even gotten to the Patriots as told by a Bostonite (best line, referring to Wes Welker: "I always wanted Troy Brown to not be black, and now he isn't!")
By the way, Rivers showed a lot of class taunting the Colts fan after the game was decided. Why get into it with fans? Because he's already lost the taunting game against actual players?

2. The Yankees have a fight song, apparently. A long-standing one, too.
The fight song thing I've never gotten. Maybe it's because I went to a college that didn't have football. To me, fight songs should have stayed in the Civil War.Shooting unreliable weapons at close range and knowing you'll have to eventually foolishly charge forward with a pointy metal thing as your best weapon demands some real fight songing. And probably a good dose of whisky.

3. Out of morbid curiosity, I watched the first 10 minutes of the new "Terminator" show. All I knew going in was that there was a really hot, too young chick (who I correctly assumed to be the inexplicable ally) and a Linda Hamilton lookalike, only flightier. Also, the preview tagline was, "Only a mother's love for her son can save the future," which made me think the future was pretty much screwed. And also make me think of Oedipus.
Well, turns out there's even more B-list fun.
Dean Winters of "Rescue Me" and the first season of "SVU" was there. Poor guy's got lines like, "You must think I'm a jackass," and "I came here for HELP! Not for this!"
Then, there's a well-dressed black guy, who of course is from the FBI and spouts lines like, "She's a grade-A whackamole!" and "That's not my patter. I'm here because my boss, the United States of America..."
Just wow. To quote a wise person, Fox is great at making intriguing action plots with terrible dialogue and acting. Plus, as the link to the left notes, what mother of a teenage boy wears an F-me skirt like that? "Hilariously inappropriate" is correct.
Despite this, Variety enjoyed it, as the first link details, and so did Newsday. Maybe I should have had a longer attention span?

Long time, no post


Yeah, I'm not very good with this updating thing. Long hours at work, the main culprit.

Apologies. Apologies all around.

Baseball HOF 2008: Robb Nen


Robb Nen, CP, Texas (1993), Florida (1993-97), San Francisco (1997-2002)
This year: No.
Deserving: No, though he's an intriguing what-might-have-been.
Will writers think he's deserving?: They don't thinki Goose Gossage is worthy. Of course, they think Bruce Sutter is better, so if only Nen had pretended to invent a pitch.
Stay on ballot: No.
Veteran's Committee: He might get snubbed by the Giants' and Marlins' Hall of Fames, if they even have them.

Robb Nen should be a cautionary tale and an example of how sports breeds determination and courage, if only in a limited environment. The man destroyed his shoulder and his career to aid in a World Series championship. Like every other Bay Area Giants squad, the 2002 version fell short. And at 32 years old, Robb Nen would never pitch again.
He had 314 saves in essentially eight years. Three years of an ERA under 2, and a 2.28 ERA in that final season despite half a year of torn labrums, cuffs, you name it. At least 68 games and as many as 88 innings in the last seven years, with more than a strikeout per inning and a career 138 ERA+. Eleven postseason saves in 20 appearances, and anchored the 1997 Marlins run.

There's just not enough years. His comparables rank with other great, but non-HOF, players: John Wetteland, Tom Henke, Troy Percival, Jeff Montgomery.

Plus, he faces the hurdle of being a closer. No one wants to elect them, and with good reason. Every year, you see a guy implode for seemingly no reason, or a nobody have a great year (Dan Kolb, anyone). The stalwarts are few and far between, and none save Mariano Rivera are locks (no, not even Trevor "Big Game" Hoffman).

So, sorry, Nen, you'll have to wait. But you were one hell of a player, one whose grit should be emulated with wariness of the single-mindedness that took years off a career that could still be going (he's only 38).



The old guard of the Giants showed up today. Michael Strahan, he of the holdout, the look-at-me attitude at times, the history of criticizing the offense, shut his mouth most of the year and played solid ball.
At the ancient age of 35, he's as quick as ever, still strong, and delivered nine tackles and a sack today.

But the real story is Eli Manning. No turnovers, two touchdowns, and getting a playoff win. Let's face it: If the Giants lost, getting beat yet again by Jeff Garcia, and Manning had a horrible game, you may well have seen a different quarterback for Big Blue next year. He was the 25th-ranked quarterback, after all; for that quality, you could have Kurt Warner, Garcia or even Kerry Collins (2007 version) lead your team, probably for less money.

But all that's forgotten for now. It's a good win, a nice progression for this often-dysfunctional team -- consistency in reaching the playoffs (while playing in arguably the league's toughest division), and now a win. Also, while they must play Dallas, which beat them twice, the Giants have closed the gap and sport a ridiculous 8-1 road record. That's a good thing, because they won't have a home game the rest of the way.

What's the "scandal-free" era of baseball?


The steroids business affects a lot of records, among the most notable being Barry Bonds' season and career home-run makers and Roger Clemens' seven Cy Youngs. It should also bring into question Cal Ripken's streak, but no one has the temerity (nor proof, but that hasn't stopped anyone before) did something similar a few years back, but let's have at it. At first glance, it's tempting to give all the records back to Babe Ruth. The guy whored around, ate and drank to excess, smoked and didn't work out for a lot of his career. And he also hit relative to his peers like no one ever has (or likely ever will).But he played before integration. So let's throw out everything before 1947, when Jackie Robinson came into the game. Let's toss out everything after 1985, as Jose Canseco became a full-time player in 1986.Greenies, or amphetamines, are considered bad now. So let's toss out all the years players admitted using them, going back at least to the early 1970s and Willie Mays and what was then called "red juice." Let's say 1970.We're left with 1947-1969. Except, wait. Players brought them back after World War II.That's 1946. So, eliminate every year since then.That's every year.So, we need to make choices. Are "greenies" OK because they keep a guy in the lineup, not boosting his muscle? Or isn't that cheating, since it eliminates weeding out of the weak and unconditioned?If steroids and greenies are both bad (MLB considers them so, since you can get hefty suspensions, though of different levels, for use of either), then there's never been an era of the game in which there's been no cheating AND no racial exclusion.There is no saintly era of baseball, no "clean" era. Hell, even Bobby Thompson's cheat-earned "Shot Heard Round The World" has been exposed -- though that's more gamesmanship than cheating. So we'd better decide in a hurry what the degrees of wrongness are -- if everything is equally wrong, nothing's wrong. Then, Bonds and the rest are simply the guys who saw through the mirage best, and the clean players, whoever they are, are simply holier-than-thou, fools or masochists.This'll break the hearts of the fans, I know. It's not a pleasant thought, and it actually can be avoided. We can watch the game without these issues coming up. But baseball's always been -- partly in fact, wholly in theory -- a game that transcends time. With cheating or prejudice always present, if we truly acknowledge that, it destroys much of the debate, the banter that makes baseball a conversation, not just an activity. The "who's best" debates lose much of their relevancy, because there was never an even playing field. The technology of drugs and substances tilts in favor of the most recent players.Baseball becomes then like the NFL, or NBA or NHL. Yes, you can debate the great players of different eras, but only to a point. Then, technology, conditions, size differences and rule changes leave any true definition of the greatest to speculation. In baseball, we at least hold the hope that any player from any era would be as great somewhere else in time.Maybe that's what we'll lose from the steroids era. Comparisons will be simply from the time the latest drug was introduced, or the latest scandal, and what happened to the numbers vis a vis those events. Yes, it'll be interesting in its own perverse way, but it'll be a sport for the cynic. No longer the dreamer.[...]

As the new year begins


Not so much resolutions, but things I think I've learned and maybe will apply:1. Every baseball player is suspect.That includes Cal Ripken Jr., the patron saint of the game. Honestly, should we really think his God-given fortitude got him through, alone, 2,632 consecutive games.2. If we distrust all players, we're forced to choose one of two paths.We can become disillusioned and abandon the game, or we can become slightly less disillusioned and accept the past for what it is. If we do that, we can move onto the real choice -- strict, no tolerance enforcement from now on or a free-for-all in which a non-substance user is simply cheating himself of his potential.3. The writers strike is proving how much we don't necessarily need writers.Hey, I know they are talented. But their heyday is past -- so much of TV is reruns or non-scripted programming that most people can adjust. And, with most programs running shorter seasons or canceled quickly because of lack of quality and/or viewership, there's just not as much new programming on as they'd like you to think.Now, mind you, I'm not taking the side of the studios. I'm just saying that if they think the world is anything like 1988, the last major strike, they are tragically mistaken.4. There's a lack of critical thinking in America today.No one takes logic. No one takes philosophy. The list has other subjects not taken. Or, at least, taken seriously. Beyond abstractions and talk of dead white men, those topics show one how to apply past experiences to filter new ones, how to make judgments and intuitive leaps, and how to use the language properly, efficiently and powerfully.There's two types of jobs in America (since manufacturing is dead): the rote mechanical duties of most service (such as learning which buttons to push and how to scoop fries) and the varied, ever-changing but built upon a solid foundation sector of creative work in all forms.We're lacking in the second, and we're getting undercut financially in the first. Sometimes, the two areas merge, such as all the jobs involving technology, it's creation and editing and needs for customer service, being sent to India, among other places.Is it young people's fault? Not necessarily. But there's something needing fixing in the education system, one where you needn't go to college -- and only certain ones -- in order to learn how to process one's mind in order to think critically about something.And yes, I'm not showing much critical thinking in this thought above. But in my workplace, in my industry, I see the differences constantly. Maybe it's simply my line of work. But I'd be willing to bet it's not that simple.5. Johan Santana has the pressure of the world upon him.Whether he stays in Minnesota or goes somewhere, he is expected to be the best -- bar none -- in baseball for years to come. In an era where pitchers have no chance to dominate -- that is, unless they (allegedly) cheat or whiplash their bodies so much as to eventually destroy them (Pedro, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Roy Halladay, etc.) -- he's expected to be a throwback.Good luck to him. No matter what he does, he'll probably be considered an expensive disappointment in some circles.Just some thoughts.[...]

The Yanks can make a buck


And they know how to squeeze every area -- like by doubling the price of parking near Yankee Stadium.

I come in from the north, park at a Metro-North and take the train to the subway to the game, but it's time-consuming and not practical for many. Plus, with the reduction in seats, fewer upper-deck seats and the likely price increase (though maybe not as much as other teams with new digs), the "common" fan is going to be squeezed.

This may be a bad thing. It probably is, in certain ways. But look at the attendance. For decades, those diehards weren't filling up the seats by themselves. For most of the 1990s, that was the case. It was the case, to cherry-pick, when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. The Yankees were a draw, but not like Broadway, for instance. There, tickets are going to sell and people are going to be disappointed. Therefore, you'll be charged more (and you'll pay more) because you're in a fight for tickets.

The Yankees, until the last several years, were most times a draw, but one in which a ticket was always available. Other activities could take precedence because, hey, I can go to a game anytime. That's no longer the case. San Francisco proved this when they cut capacity on Pac Bell (or whatever it's called now). Sure, the team was good, but it suddenly became much more difficult to get a ticket. The prestige value went up, and so did interest. Yeah, there were undoubtedly many status-seekers who weren't real fans, but it's better than perennial contenders such as Oakland and Minnesota regularly playing important games in half-filled caverns. While those stadiums surely have the diehards (in part because the facilities are terrible), all the empty seats actually imply the fanbase doesn't care, and isn't as worthy of a team as others.

So, let's say there's a loss of fan camaraderie from losing some diehards (an effect that has already happened, from many anecdotal accounts). The net increase in bodies, whether they be bandwagoners or true fans, may be enough to offset any change in demographics.
It's certainly good enough financially for the Yankees, and they are, for better or worse, a team of celebrities. Maybe having an audience of them is the next logical step.

A ridiculous start to 2008


1. Why is Dick Clark still on the air? It was nice two years ago when he made a comeback, if not quite triumphant, to the air.

But watching him painfully mumble through some words each year is too much, especially since he's designated a successor in Ryan Seacrest (how sad our culture is that he is the obvious choice to lead our nation from year to year). In a third year of this, we no longer should have to pretend like we don't want to make fun of you. Most of all, it's not fair to him. He could have left last year as a man who bravely battled back to the air. Now, he's like too many others hanging on too long.

2. The trend of columnists, in this case in sports, to make illogical conclusions that are, at best, circumstantial theories, on sports stories. And worse, to take those conclusions and tell us they are facts, indisputable.
One example I saw in today's New York Times, though it wasn't the paper's writer. It was St. Louis' Bryan Burwell, who says about the Patriots and SpyGate:
"Oh yeah, almost everyone in football is convinced the Pats cheated their way to many of their victories after the New York Jets blew the whistle on Bill Belichick for illegally filming opponents' sideline signals."

Really? Where's the evidence? Where's the outpouring of statements, or the NFL announcing it's looking into the matter? Why isn't Belichick suspended, or teams saying each week, we were robbed? If it's that obvious of a scandal, it won't sound like sour grapes. Sure, it's a columnist who's at a declining, increasingly inconsequential metro in a declining, increasingly inconsequential city, but it's irresponsible.
If you think the Pats are cheating, say so. If others are saying so, enlighten us with names. But don't hide behind a blanket assumption that has no evidence but is said as if a conviction is already in.

Merry Christmas


It's a great holiday even if you aren't Christian or otherwise celebrating it because, hey, you get a day off for it.

I'll actually be working, the first time that's happened for me.

Not the first time working in general, but rather, working on Christmas Day. Such is the working world.

At the risk of being sacrilegious, here's a bit of Jesus and baseball, from the folks who were featured on "Conan" a few years back.

Clemens' denials


Are interesting. He issues most of these denials through statements, but says he'll go talk to Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes." His case is well-documented, but if one domino falls (the one real witness), the whole theory does.

Yet, who's been proven innocent from among the Mitchell Report dossier? Most of the suspect cases have actually turned out to be correct. What would the odds be that the case that seems most open-and-shut (outside of Barry Bonds) turned out to be false?

Yeah, I'm not holding my breath. But man, the fuel that would give to the Red Sox conspiracy theories.

Christopher Walken on Gene Kelly


It runs on TCM every so often, and it's great for two reasons: Christopher Walken can narrate the hell out of anything, and Gene Kelly gets the royal treatment.

Such a great window into movies and stars that otherwise us younger folks would never know about.

Baseball HOF 2008: Mark McGwire


Mark McGwire, 1B, Oakland (1986-1997), St. Louis (1997-2001).
This year: No.
Deserving: Honestly, without the homers, no.
Will writers think he's deserving?: No.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veterans Committee: Probably.

Mark McGwire's use of illegal substances will likely never be known. It's unlikely to be just the andro, and it probably goes back further than we think -- he was putting up unreal numbers from 1993 onward, but he was always injured until 1997-1999.

His big numbers? The home runs (583), the on-base % (.394) and the OPS+ (162). But the latter two are a product of his fearsome home-run power. No one's needed fewer at-bats for a home run.
Does using andro (the only thing for which there's full documentation) disqualify McGwire? Probably, though not entirely.
But there's enough uncertainty to hold off on voting yes for McGwire. Even if he's bounced from the ballot this year (unlikely, but go with me), he'll be eligible for the Veterans' Committee.

So don't vote for him, make him stew for 15 or so years, and maybe we'll know more by then. Because right now, we don't know if we're voting for McGwire the man or McGwire the lab creation.

Baseball HOF 2008: Chuck Finley


Chuck Finley, SP, California/Anaheim (1986-99), Cleveland (2000-2002), St. Louis (2002).
This year: No.
Deserving: Underrated, but not that much.
Will writers think he's deserving?: No.
Stay on ballot: 50/50.
Veteran's Committee: No.

Chuck Finley was a fine, durable pitcher who WAS the Angels for almost 15 years. He was always one of the top-tier AL pitchers (top 10s: Wins, 6 times; ERA, 5 times; IP, 9 times; K, 10 times; GS, 7 times; CG, 5 times).
But he was never the best, receiving Cy Young votes but once. His only league-leading categories? Innings and games started in the strike year of 1994. He walked a tremendous amount of people (27th all time). The Angels never won anything with him, even when they also had Mark Langston and Jim Abbott at their not-shabby peaks. The Indians got him two years too late.

He was one hell of a pitcher, and extremely reliable. But if voters overlook him they way they did during his career, he may not get a vote. Which would be unfair.