Tagged: Actors

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Manuel, Wells, I-Rod (and Sean Penn, Too)

Jerry Manuel is not afraid to shake up things up when it comes to the construction of his lineup. Less than two weeks into spring training, the Mets manager has already made two major pronouncements. He created a few headlines early during the first week when he said he would like to experiment with the embattled Luis Castillo as his leadoff man. And now in week No. 2 of the spring, he has declared that Daniel Murphy will be his everyday left fielder–and not a platoon partner of Fernando Tatis, as most of us had expected. I have my doubts about Castillo’s ability to handle the leadoff role at this stage of his career, but I like the move with Murphy, who appears to have the offensive skills to fill a role as the Mets’ No. 6 hitter, batting behind some combination of Carlos Delgado and David Wright. This move might also free up Tatis to assume more of a utility role, taking Delgado’s place at first base against selected left-handers and backing up Wright at third base. The Mets need to take advantage of Tatis’ versatility; he can play four positions (both the infield and outfield corners), an ability that will come in handy now that Damion Easley is an ex-Met…

There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and Sean Penn making a jackass out of himself at the Oscars. Here’s another–injuries in spring training. The Blue Jays have suffered the first major setback of the spring, as Vernon Wells strained his hamstring during workouts on Monday. Wells is expected to miss a full month, which could be cutting it close in terms of his availability for Opening Day. This is exactly the kind of news the Jays don’t need after a winter that saw them lose A.J. Burnett to free agency while failing to make any major acquisitions of their own. With a few bad breaks, the Jays could be looking at last place in the stacked AL East, behind even the perennially disfunctional Orioles…

While most of the free agent focus remains centered on Manny Ramirez, another future Hall of Famer (at least in my mind) finds himself at home, waiting for the right offer. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is still available, a rather shocking development considering the lack of catching depth around the major leagues. I-Rod has received at least one offer–coming from the Astros–but is believed to be holding out hope for a contract offer from the Mets. Unfortunately for Pudge, the Mets have two healthy and capable catchers in Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro. At some point, Rodriguez will have to accept the Astros’ offer or swallow hard on a non-roster invite to some other spring locale. Whichever team ends up with Rodriguez will be getting a bargain, though. I’m convinced that his poor hitting with the Yankees late last season was caused, at least in part, by the difficult task of having to learn an entirely new pitching staff in mid-season. Given such defensive distractions, it’s understandable that Rodriguez hit so poorly as a stand-in for the injured Jorge Posada.    

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Wiggy, Cabrera, and Prosky

All in all, the list of players who were not tendered contracts last Friday was highly unimpressive, but one name did jump out as a rose amongst the weeds. To put it mildly, I was shocked that the Astros chose not to tender Ty Wigginton, coming off his best major league season. I know that Houston is looking to save money, but it’s ludicrous that the Astros could not have traded Wigginton for something (or several somethings) useful. I’m sure that the Astros will say that they tried to trade Wiggy, but found no interest; I’ll counter by saying that they should have tried harder.

Let’s consider that the versatile Wigginton hit 23 home runs and slugged .526 for the Astros, while also reaching base at a respectable .350 clip. Minute Maid Park probably inflated those numbers somewhat, but even a lesser Wigginton is valuable because of his power, toughness, and ability to play four positions. The 31-year-old Wigginton split last year between third base and left field, but also has experience at second base and can handle first base and right field.

Not surprisingly, Wigginton has already drawn interest from four or five teams, including the Giants, Pirates, Indians, and Reds. Wiggy could play everyday for all of those clubs, but I’d like to see him go to a contender, where he could do real damage as a superutilityman and have an impact on a pennant race. He’d make a lot of sense for a team like the Angels (especially if they lose Mark Teixiera to free agency), the Yankees (who have lacked a good bench for over a half-decade now), or the Phillies (who are top-heavy from the left side)…

How much do teams need pitching? Daniel Cabrera, another non-tendered veteran, has apparently been approached by ten or 11 teams. That’s ten or 11 teams interested in a guy who has never had an ERA below 4.52, and has been over 5.00 the past two seasons. On the plus side, Cabrera is only 27, and might be worth a look as a setup reliever, where he won’t have to pace himself for six or seven innings and can rely on throwing his hard stuff for short bursts. But I’ll be darned if I give this chronic underachiever anything more than a one-year contract…

Veteran character actor Robert Prosky, who died last week at the age of 71, had several noteworthy connections to baseball. Though best remembered for portraying Sgt. Jablonski on the wonderful Hill Street Blues, Prosky forged his most memorable film role in the baseball classic, The Natural.  Portraying a character known simply as “The Judge,” Prosky lent elements of darkness and evil to the man who owned Roy Hobbs’ mythical baseball team. Who can forget The Judge’s love of the dark, exemplified in his memorable line, “Turn off that infernal light!”

Just as signicantly, Prosky was a huge baseball fan who so loved the game and its history that he used to visit the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown. Like so many attached to the art of film-making, Prosky had a special affinity for baseball that transcended the vast differences between the cultures of Hollywood and Cooperstown.

And like so many underrated character actors, he will be missed.

Death of an Actor

I just became aware of a sad development the other day. A young actor named Angelo Spizzirri passed away last October at the age of 32. Though not a household name, Spizzirri did a wonderful job in portraying a high school catcher in the 2002 hit film, The Rookie.

I met Angelo in 2003, when he came to the Hall of Fame for a special program about The Rookie. As part of the event, I interviewed Angelo and Jim Morris (the real-life basis of the film) in the Hall’s Bullpen Theater. In conversing with Angelo both on and off microphone, he struck me as being modest and considerate. Combining his down-to-earth manner with his considerable acting talent, I thought he would become a star within the matter of a few years.

On Thursday night, as I was surfing the web, I came across a reference to The Rookie, and decided to look for an update on Angelo’s career. As I looked at his page on the IMDB site, I was shocked to see a date of death under his entry.

As it turned out, Angelo’s acting career hadn’t taken off the way that it should have. After appearing in a handful of small films, Angelo gave up acting in 2006 in order to become the tour manager for several rock bands. And then, last October 20, he died unexpectedly at his home in Los Angeles. I’ve been trying to research exactly what happened to him, but still haven’t been able to pin down a cause of death.

Even in the Internet age, we can quickly lose track of what happens with those people we meet along the way. I’m sorry to say that’s what happened for me with Angelo. Surprisingly little information about Angelo exists on the web, at least in the places I’ve looked. I can only hope that Angelo’s change in careers brought him some level of happiness before he was taken away from us all too soon.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Hall of Fame Aftermath

In a small village like Cooperstown, we’re not used to downtown gridlock, bumper to bumper cars on Route 28, or crowds of 75,000 people in town at one time. Well, we experienced all of those big city symptoms over the weekend, when Cooperstown became Baltimore North.

As someone who experienced crowds of 50,000 in 1999, I can safely say that the 2007 turnout made that summer’s induction seem like a private party. Hall officials have a tendency to exaggerate the sizes of induction crowds, but 75 grand seems dead solid accurate to me. The fields of the Clark Sports Center were entirely filled–something I’ve never seen–with people jammed in so tightly that there were few open aisles to speak of. Thankfully, there were no major emergencies. If there had been, I don’t know how the EMTs would have made their way through the mass of lawn chairs and people to tend to the ailing…

I’m a former employee of the Hall of Fame, so pardon me for saying I cringed a bit when Gary Thorne, the emcee for Sunday’s induction ceremony, referred to the “Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.” It was always drilled into us that the Hall has no formal or contractual affiliation with MLB (though it works closely with MLB on numerous ventures). After all, the place is called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Though Thorne was filling in for regular emcee George Grande, he’s a veteran baseball journalist who should know better and a broadcaster whose work I generally enjoy. It hasn’t been a particularly strong year for Thorne, especially given the Doug Mirabelli/bloody sock fiasco from earlier this season. According to Thorne, Mirabelli had told him that Curt Schilling’s bloody sock was a fake. Mirabelli denied ever talking to Thorne, resulting in an apology from the Orioles’ play-by-play man…

Someone asked me what I thought about the speeches delivered by Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. I thought they were OK, but nowhere near the top of the line of Hall of Fame speeches. Gwynn sounded sincere but unprepared, while Ripken sounded formal and stiff. Their messages were good, but their deliveries were not particularly smooth. Ripken is not a good public speaker to begin with, but his charisma and character make that a moot point in the eyes of most onlookers. Gwynn is also so likeable that his forgetting to bring his notes to the podium only made him look more human…

The VIP seating section at the Hall of Fame ceremony included John Travolta, wife Kelly Preston, Richard Gere, and Lynda Carter. That’s three A-listers and one 1970s icon who were part of the induction crowd here in Cooperstown. We’ve never seen that kind of Hollywood presence in Cooperstown previously…

One of my favorite local pastimes is keeping tabs on those non-Hall of Famers who visit Cooperstown over induction weekend. To the best of my ability, here’s a complete list of former big league players and managers who visited us during the big weekend in 2007: Joe Altobelli, Brady Anderson (ugh), Jesse Barfield, Ralph Branca, Paul Blair, Al Bumbry, Jerry Coleman, Mike Flanagan, Steve Garvey, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Mark Gubicza, Chris Gwynn, Jack McKeon, Denny McLain (double ugh), John “The Count” Montefusco, Graig Nettles, Joe Orsulak, Jeff Reboulet, Billy Ripken, Pete Rose (triple ugh), David Segui, Larry Sheets, George Shuba, Ken Singleton, Rusty Staub, and B.J. Surhoff… I had a chance to meet Montefusco on Saturday at CVS, where he was signing autographs for a local charity. The former Giant, Brave, Padre, and Yankee right-hander was scheduled to appear for only two hours, but continued to sign for an extra half-hour and didn’t turn down a single request for a personalized autograph or photograph. Having never visited Cooperstown before, Montefusco was surprised by the town, both in terms of the crowds and the sights. The Count hopes to return to baseball with the Giants, his first major league organization. Montefusco would like to work with young pitchers in San Francisco’s minor league system…

I was saddened to hear of the death of Bill Robinson on Sunday. Robinson was working as a minor league batting instructor for the Dodgers and had even been mentioned recently as a candidate to succeed the fired Eddie Murray in Los Angeles. Two things always come to mind when I think about Robinson. First, he was that rare example of a player who performed better in his thirties than he did in his twenties. After struggling to find himself as an outfielder-third baseman with both the Braves and Yankees, Robinson became a productive left fielder for the mid-1970s Phillies and the 1979 world champion Pirates. While most players reach their peak physically during their twenties, some need more time to adjust to the mental stress of playing at the highest level of professional baseball. That adjustment took several years for Robinson, who didn’t start to succeed until his age 30 season with the Phillies (1973). Second, I’ll remember Robinson being prominently mentioned as a candidate to become the first black manager of the Mets, but never receiving that opportunity. Though a highly regarded hitting coach during the Mets’ successful run in the late eighties, Robinson found himself out of work and took a job serving as an analyst for Baseball Tonight in the early 1990s. I don’t know if Robinson was the victim of racism, or whether he simply interviewed poorly, but it seems that he had the smarts and toughness to be a good major league manager. Sadly, that chance never came…

Here’s my initial reaction to the Braves-Rangers blockbuster involving Mark Teixeira: the Rangers brought in a huge haul of young talent for a guy who may have peaked two years ago. First off, I’m a big fan of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He reminds me of a young Ted Simmons, but with a much stronger defensive presence behind the plate. Switch-hitting catchers who have Saltalamacchia’s hitting and fielding portfolios are extremely hard to find. Given his ability to catch and the small size of his contract, I’d rather have Salty for the next five seasons, as opposed to possibly only a season and a half of Teixeira. With teenage shortstop Elvis Andrus and two pitching prospects added to the mix, this becomes a big winner for the rebuilding Rangers…

Let’s finish with some thoughts on potential deals. Kyle Farnsworth’s blowup with Jorge Posada on Sunday practically guarantees that the eccentric right-hander will be traded by Tuesday’s deadline. If his latest faux pas doesn’t result in him being shipped out of town, then the Yankees will never move the flaky Farnsworth… If the Yankees can acquire Eric Gagne without having to give up Melky Cabrera, they will be very happy. Gagne, who is quietly having a standout season for the Rangers, could be coming to the Yankees for a package of pitching prospects that might include Tyler Clippard and Matt DeSalvo… The Mets will make out very well if they finalize the rumored deal for veteran second baseman Luis Castillo, who has long been the object of New York’s affection. The switch-hitter’s ability to get on base will make him an ideal No. 2 hitter behind Jose Reyes. Castillo also has gobs of postseason experience, first with the Marlins and more recently with the Twins… Once the Jermaine Dye deal is completed, he will become a part of the most expensive platoon in major league history. As part of a new look right field configuration, Dye is expected to platoon with J.D. Drew, one of the few disappointments in an otherwise banner season for Boston.

All Hall of Fame All The Time–Friday Night Edition

Given the large numbers of people walking around town on Thursday, I really started to sense for the first time that Hall of Fame Weekend is really upon us–and things have only intensified on Friday. The Main Street sidewalks are jam-packed with fans, while the side streets are jammed with parked cars. Yes, parking is going to be a large nightmare this weekend…

A large contingent of former Orioles will be on hand to celebrate Cal Ripken’s induction on Sunday. Brady Anderson, B.J. Surhoff, O’s assistant GM Mike Flanagan, and current Baltimore owner Peter Angelos are all on the guest list. In addition, a number of former big leaguers are in town signing at Main Street establishments. The list includes Cooperstown regulars like Paul Blair and Jim “Mudcat” Grant, former Yankee and Padre Graig Nettles, colorful right-hander John “The Count” Montefusco, and relief ace Goose Gossage, who just might be returning to Cooperstown as a newly minted Hall of Famer in 2008…

In my last posting, I failed to mention two additional no-shows for Hall of Fame Weekend. Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks will not be in town, joining Lee MacPhail, Stan Musial, Phil Rizzuto, Nolan Ryan, Red Schoendienst, and Carl Yastrzemski as the only eight members not to attend. A record 53 Hall of Famers are expected to be at Sunday’s induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center…

John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston may not be the only A-list actors who will be attending the ceremony. Richard Gere is also rumored to be in town for the weekend, though that has not been confirmed. There are also rumors that Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and even Brad Pitt might attend, as might NASCAR standout Dale Jarrett, but again those are unconfirmed reports. Travolta, by the way, has never been featured in a baseball movie, but Preston starred in For Love of the Game, an underrated film starring Costner as a fading pitcher trying to complete a perfect game in his final season.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots

The Yankees took their time in promoting minor league slugger Shelley Duncan from Triple-A, but the rookie DH sure paid major dividends over the weekend, clubbing three home runs and piling up seven RBIs against the subpar pitching of the Devil Rays. Duncan reminds me a lot of Dave Kingman; he’s a tall right-handed batter with a very long swing. Like “Kong” Kingman, Duncan is an overly aggressive free swinger who is susceptible to streakiness at the plate. On the plus side, he is particularly dangerous against low fastballs and has good power to all fields. Duncan is very much a mistake hitter, but with so many minor league pitchers masquerading as big leaguers these days, there should be enough mistakes to keep Duncan useful. If he can remain hot for at least a few games, he may give the Yankees the short-term boost they need in trying to catch the Red Sox or Indians for a playoff spot. With Duncan and a resurgent Andy Phillips now on the roster, the Yankees are suddenly looking more formidable against left-handed pitching, a sore point throughout the season…

If I were the Mets, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the loss of Jose Valentin, who suffered a broken leg over the weekend, sidelining him for the season. As well as Valentin had played last year, he had shown diminishing range in the field this summer because of an unrelated leg injury and was providing little pop from the bottom of the order. The Mets don’t need to panic here and make a trade; they should be able to get by with a combination of the hot-hitting Ruben Gotay, the overachieving Damion Easley (who has been on bereavement leave), and the slick-gloved Anderson Hernandez. A bigger key to Mets success will be the return of Moises Alou, whom they simply need to have for the stretch run…

The weekend death of minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was killed on Sunday after being hit by a foul line drive, will surely escalate the push for baseline coaches to wear helmets on the field. It’s unfortunate that it may take such a horrid tragedy to create baseball legislation that is long overdue. Simply put, there is really no good reason for first and third-base coaches not to wear helmets. Retired players, whose reflexes have slowed and who are not equipped with gloves, cannot always be expected to elude line drives that are coming from fewer than 100 feet away. Let’s hope that baseball will institute a helmet rule for 2008, thereby lessening the chance that we’ll ever see such an on-field tragedy again… The 35-year-old Coolbaugh, who was an especially popular player during his long minor league career, had only recently been added to the Tulsa Drillers’ coaching staff on an interim basis. Coolbaugh had replaced Orlando Merced, who resigned as Tulsa’s batting coach on July 3…

There’s been very little public discussion of the health of Phil Rizzuto, but a reliable source tells me the Hall of Famer is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Rizzuto, who has been unable to attend the last two Old-Timer’s Day festivities at Yankee Stadium, is now residing in a nursing care facility and receives regular visits from former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. At 89 years of age, Rizzuto is the oldest living Hall of Fame member…

Cooperstown is bracing for what is expected to be a record turnout of spectators for this weekend’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. According to some estimates, a crowd in the range of 50,000 to 60,000 will invade Cooperstown over the weekend. Anything over 50,000 will break the record set in 1999, when George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, and Orlando Cepeda entered the Cooperstown shrine. The large throng will feature several A-list celebrities, including John Travolta, who is a friend of Cal Ripken, Jr. (One rumor had Robert DeNiro also attending, but that supposition has been shot down.) In addition to the 50-plus Hall of Famers, there will be a number of former major leaguers in town, including the colorful John “The Count” Montefusco.