Tagged: Mets

A Smattering of Intelligence: Martinez, Hurdle, and the HOF Classic

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Along with most rational and reasonable fans, I would expect
that rookie ballplayers, fresh off their recall from the minor leagues, will
run hard and play hard at all times in order to make a good impression. With
that in mind, it is with some sadness that I feel motivated to discuss Fernando
Martinez’ decision not to run out a
pop-up on Wednesday night. As Washington’s Wil
Nieves dropped the ball, Martinez
remained near home plate and nearly 90 feet away from first base, when he
should have been crossing the bag.

 

How can this possibly happen, especially in what was only
the second game of Martinez’
major league career? Believe it or not, there is an explanation. Martinez , the
No. 1 prospect in the Mets’ farm system, has obviously been watching too many major
league highlights from his Triple-A perch with the Buffalo Bisons. For the last
two and a half seasons, the major league Mets have made a painful habit of not running out pop-ups, not running hard on drives to the
outfield wall, not understanding that
you don’t make the third out at third base, and not sliding on close plays at second base or home plate. The Mets
epitomize all that is wrong with the sorry start of baserunning in today’s
game, where the notion of running hard three to four times a game has
mindlessly become optional for too
many contemporary players. (Since when is it so strenuous for major league
athletes to run hard a few times a game?) The Mets have set a terrible example
for fans and young ballplayers, an example that top prospects like Martinez have become all
too obliged to follow.

 

Frankly, the Mets’ baserunning problems have become so
embarrassing that the situation has reached a boiling point. It’s time for
manager Jerry Manuel to take off the kid gloves and adopt a zero tolerance
policy toward lackadaisical baserunning. He needs to say something to this
effect to his ballplayers, veterans and rookies alike: if you don’t run hard, you will sit the bench the following day. If the
problem persists and you again don’t run hard, you will ride the pines for two
days. And so on and so forth.
At this point, the threat of the bench is
perhaps the only way to get through to the Mets’ thick-headed players.

 

Unfortunately, the Mets have been so thick-headed when it
comes to baserunning that if Manuel adopts such a policy, he will probably run
out of players within a week…

 

 

Two years ago, Colorado’s
Clint Hurdle and Arizona’s
Bob Melvin were on top of the world, both men leading their teams to the 2007
National League Championship Series. Both are out of jobs now, after Hurdle was
fired on Friday in what may be the least surprising ousting of a manager in
major league history. The Rockies have played brutal, uninspiring ball all season
for Hurdle, a veteran of seven seasons as Colorado’s skipper. Hurdle has displayed
some unusual tendencies, like often playing for one run during the early
innings of games at the Coors Field hitter’s haven. He has also failed to
motivate his players to play hard, always an indictment of a manager. Of
course, Hurdle has also had to play shorthanded. His best player, Matt
Holliday, is now in Oakland.
His best pitcher, Jeff Francis, is out for the season after surgery. His best
reliever, Brian Fuentes, is now an Angel. 

While some observers could build a reasonable case that
Hurdle deserved longer rope from the Rockies,
there is no reasonable case for the hiring of Jim Tracy, the team’s bench
coach. Tracy
has failed badly in not one, but two managerial stops: first with the Dodgers
and then with the Pirates. Most successful managers possess either a fieriness
that helps them motivate or a strategic acumen that gives them an in-game
advantage; Tracy
appears to have neither of those qualities…

 

 

More names continue to be added to the list of participants for
the first Hall of Fame Classic. Former Yankee Kevin Maas, a one-year wonder in
the Bronx, is the latest retired player to commit to the June 21st old-timers game here in Cooperstown. He will
join other ex-Yankees Phil Niekro, Jim Kaat, Dennis Rasmussen, and Lee Smith,
who all made prior commitments to the game. There have been rumors that two
other former Yankees, Mike Pagliarulo and Chad Curtis, will play in the Hall of
Fame Classic, but neither has been formally announced.

 

Several retired Red Sox will also play at Doubleday Field,
including Steve “Psycho” Lyons, Joe Lahoud, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill “Spaceman”
Lee, and Mike Timlin. Thus far, only two ex-Mets have signed up for the game:
George Foster, better known for his hitting exploits in Cincinnati, and Jeff Kent, who retired after the 2008 season.

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The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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With Carlos Delgado out of commission for at least two
months and possibly longer, the Mets need to face facts and acquire a first
baseman who can hit with some power. Even with Delgado for most of this season,
the Mets have hit the third fewest home runs among the 30 major league teams;
only the Giants and A’s from the power-starved Bay Area have lower totals. Of
the available first basemen, Nick “The Stick” Johnson appears to be the best
player. According to the estimable Peter Gammons, the Nationals have asked for
right-hander Bobby Parnell in return. As much as Johnson could help, I don’t
see the Mets making that deal. Parnell, who was just clocked at 100 miles per
hour at a weekend game in Fenway
Park, has a full arsenal
of four pitches and could contribute long-term as a No. 3 starter. Given
Johnson’s injury history, the Mets would be wise to hold onto Parnell and
substitute another pitcher or two (Brian Stokes? Sean Green?) in his place…

 

The Mets have also expressed interest in Mark DeRosa, the super-utilityman
who could become the first victim of Cleveland’s
dreadful start. DeRosa’s versatility would be wasted as a first baseman, but he
could always move to left field or second base once Delgado returns in July.
The Mets have received virtually no home run production from their second
basemen or corner outfielders, which points out the lack of depth within their
top-heavy lineup…

 

Is it just me or is anyone else getting sick of Jake Peavy’s
pickiness when it comes to finding a new place to pitch? First, Peavy didn’t
want to go to Atlanta,
and now he’s given the heave-ho to the White Sox, who had agreed to send two
prospects to the Padres. Peavy wants a contract extension to accompany any
trade, and has also indicated that he prefers to play in the National League,
and not the American League. Does Peavy have such little confidence in his
ability that he feels he can’t be successful in the tougher league? If that’s
the case, I’d be awfully hesitant to trade a large package for Peavy,
ostensibly one of the top five or ten starting pitchers in the game. Peavy’s
reticence, along with his inability to get into the seventh or eighth innings,
should serve as red flags to opposing general managers…

 

While the Padres failed in their latest attempt to trade
Peavy, they did execute a minor deal on Friday, sending Jody Gerut to the
Brewers for Tony Gwynn, Jr. Let’s chalk this one up as strictly a public
relations move, as the Padres acquired the son of their first full-fledged Hall
of Famer. At best, the younger Gwynn looks like fourth outfielder material,
hardly a fair return for Gerut, who has some power and can handle all three
outfield positions. If Gerut can stay healthy, he’ll help the surprising
Brewers in the jumbled NL Central…

 

How much longer do the Orioles wait before summoning No. 1
prospect Matt Wieters from Triple-A? The O’s, who are going nowhere in a
stacked AL East, have been playing an aging Gregg Zaun as their first-string
catcher when he’s clearly a backup at this stage of his career. Orioles fan need
some reasons to hope; let that hope begin with the promotion of Wieters…

 

Is it any wonder that the A’s aren’t scoring runs? Not only
have they suffered a huge power outage at McAfee Coliseum, but now they’re
batting Orlando Cabera in the leadoff spot. I actually like Cabrera as a
player, but if he’s a leadoff man, then Perez Hilton is a great journalist…

 

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels might be an early
favorite for American League executive of the year honors. Daniels took a great
deal of heat for some of his offseason moves, like moving Michael Young to
third base, but most of Daniels’ plans seem to be working. The Rangers are much
better defensively with Young at third base and rookie Elvis Andrus at
shortstop, allowing Hank Blalock to concentrate on his hitting skills as a DH.
The signing and revival of Andruw Jones has also paid dividends, giving the
Rangers depth in the outfield and a potential trade chip should they fall out
of contention…

 

The Hall of Fame staged a nice event on Saturday, when it
debuted its new exhibit, “Viva Baseball,” which chronicles the history of Latin
American participation in the sport. Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Juan
Marichal attended the opening, with both speaking eloquently about their pride
in the achievements of such fellow Latino standouts as Felipe Alou, Roberto
Clemente, and Minnie Minoso. A full house of media, including a number of
prominent Latino broadcasters and writers, made for standing room only in the
VIP seating area bordering the exhibit. With its array of vivid colors, selection
of multi-media interviews with Latino Hall of Famers, the impressive
large-screen video board, and the bilingual approach to storytelling, the
exhibit is brilliantly presented…

 

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, two new names have been added
to the roster for the first ever Hall of Fame Classic, scheduled for June 21 in
Cooperstown. Jeff Kent and Mike Timlin, both
retired after finishing their careers in 2008, have committed to play in the
old-timers game scheduled for Doubleday Field. (I could see Kent hitting three or four home
runs while taking shots at the short left-field porch at Doubleday.) Aside from
Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, and
Brooks Robinson, the Hall can now boast the following headliners for the game: Kent,
Bobby Grich, George Foster, Jim Kaat and Lee Smith. Of those latter five, I’d
vote Kent and Grich for Hall of Fame induction, with tough “no” votes for Kaat
and Smith. And here’s perhaps the best news about the Hall of Fame Classic.
Tickets are only $12.50, a far cry from the small fortune being asked by the
Yankees to attend games at their new stadium.

The Other Side of the Steve Phillips Argument

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General manager-turned-broadcaster Steve Phillips has taken
a lot of flack over the last few days, ever since he made a series of critical
comments about the Mets’ Carlos Beltran during ESPN’s Sunday night broadcast.
Frankly, some of the blowback against Phillips has been overdone, with his
comments taken severely out of context by some critics who don’t like his commentary to begin with or haven’t forgiven him for a spotty record as a general manager.

 

First of all, Phillips only suggested trading Beltran IF the
Mets were to fail to make the postseason for a third consecutive year. Let’s be
honest here. If the Mets fall short of the playoffs for a third summer, no one in the organization will be
untouchable. GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel will likely be fired, and
one of the Mets’ big three–either Beltran, Jose Reyes, or David Wright–will
almost certainly be traded. (And if you don’t agree with that possibility, you
simply haven’t been following the Mets’ fortunes since October of 2006.) Furthermore,
one of the reasons that Phillips “picked on” Beltran has to do with the ages of
both Reyes and Wright, who are both 26 and likely have a number of prime years
remaining. Beltran is no kid anymore–he’s 32, an age by which most players
start to show some decline–and therefore not likely to have as prolonged a
future as either Wright or Reyes. Yet, because of his all-round greatness as a
player, Beltran will still command something substantial in a potential trade.

 

In posing some of his criticisms of Beltran on Sunday night,
Phillips chose some of his words badly and came off sounding awkward. For
example, he talked about Beltran not delivering enough “winning plays,” a
strange and nebulous way of wording things, to say the least. That kind of
terminology certainly did not help Phillips’ argument, leading to some of the
negative reaction on the Internet. That’s fair criticism. But some of Phillips’
points about Beltran are legitimate. Twice this year, Beltran has inexplicably failed
to slide on the basepaths when sliding should have been his first and only
option. (Beltran is just part of the problem here; as a team, the Mets are simply
atrocious running the bases. They don’t hustle, they don’t understand game
situations, and now they even miss bases.) In the field, Beltran has also made
a habit of missing the cutoff man, which is surprising for a center fielder of
his rather considerable defensive talents. And Beltran has never been much of a
vocal leader, which is an attribute the current Mets severely lack–and have
lacked for a few years now. Hey, when you make the big bucks, like Beltran
does, some people expect you to speak up in the clubhouse every once in awhile. 

 

Did Phillips make his case against Beltran poorly? Yes,
absolutely. Did he belabor his criticisms of Beltran during the broadcast? No
question. But let’s keep things in context here, while looking toward the
possible future. If the Mets continue their inconsistent play and miss out on a
postseason berth for a third consecutive season, Beltran will be one of just
many people in the organization holding their heads on the chopping block. And
if the Mets can get the right package of players in return for Beltran–who is
still one of the top ten players in the game and a future Hall of Famer–that might be one of the steps they
need to take to change the dynamics of a team that too often seems dazed and
disinterested.

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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The Mets finally did the sensible thing in placing Carlos Delgado
on the disabled with a potentially career-threatening hip injury, but now they
face a bit of a quandary in trying to replace him. Do they continue to play
Gary Sheffield in left field every day, thereby freeing up Fernando Tatis and
Daniel Murphy to play first base? And why are they playing Jeremy Reed, a
mediocre hitter with limited experience on the infield, as part of a
three-headed monster at first base? I don’t know that Sheffield
will hold up, considering his age and the fragile state of his shoulder. A
better plan might be to play Murphy every day at first base, while switching
between Tatis and Sheffield in left field.
Tatis or Reed could then serve as defensive caddies for Sheffield,
replacing him in the late innings of games in which the Mets hold the lead…

 

Jerry Manuel’s Sunday night lineup against the Giants left
me scratching my head. Manuel put Reed at first base and kept Murphy in left
field, even though Reed hasn’t played the position fulltime since college and
Murphy is still a brutal defensive outfielder. Wouldn’t it have made more sense
to put Reed in left, where he is very good, and switch Murphy to first base,
where he has been working out in recent days? That way, the Mets would have had
only one player out of position, instead of two…

 

I’m simply amazed at the ferocity with which Raul Ibanez
continues to hit for the Phillies. So much for the theory that hitters need a
few months to acclimate themselves to a different set of pitchers in a new
league. Ibanez has obviously kept some good notes from his experience in interleague
play, because he is off to a career-best start in 2009, even though he’s 36 and
supposedly on the downhill climb. (He’s also enjoying the benefits of playing
his games in a hitter-friendly home part, in contrast to the pitchers’ parks of
Seattle (Safeco Field) and Kansas City (Kauffman Stadium). With 13 home
runs and a Babe Ruthian slugging percentage of .714 through the first six
weeks, Ibanez has been the Phillies’ clear-cut MVP, an impressive achievement
considering the presence of teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy
Rollins. Now the Phillies just need to straighten out their starting pitching,
where everyone is underachieving, and their closer situation, where Brad Lidge
has reverted to the struggles of his latter days with the Astros…

 

As I watched the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval for the first time
this weekend, I immediately thought that Gates Brown had come out of retirement
to play third base for San Francisco.
(Brown, the old Tiger left fielder and DH, had the ultimate bad body, but was
one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters and part-time players of the sixties
and seventies.) Nicknamed “The Panda” by his teammates, the hefty Sandoval
carries the oddest physique (5’11” and 245 pounds) I’ve ever seen at third
base, a position that requires a degree of nimble dexterity. Sandoval is more
agile than his body would indicate, but it’s on offense where the switch-hitter
stands out. He can flat-out hit, and with his sizeable power to all fields,
he’s the Giants’ cleanup-hitter-in-waiting. He also brings the bonus of
versatility; Sandoval can catch, which gives the Giants some depth behind the
underrated Bengie Molina…

 

The Red Sox can still win the AL East without a vintage David
Ortiz, but his inability to hit with any semblance of power will make the chore
that much more challenging. With Ortiz at or near his peak, the Red Sox had
three hitters that struck fear into opposing pitchers. Now they’re down to two,
Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, both right-handed hitters. The Red Sox say
that Ortiz will return to the lineup on Tuesday after being benched for three
games over the weekend, but they may need to make contingency plans if Ortiz
cannot regain his lost bat speed. The Red Sox could eventually turn to prospect Jeff
Bailey or veteran Rocco Baldelli to take up the slack at DH, but the lack of a
left-handed hitting platoon partner for either player remains a concern…

 

With three consecutive walkoff wins against the Twins, the
Yankees achieved something they had not done since August of 1972. That was the
last time that the Yankees posted three consecutive wins with game-ending
at-bats. Johnny Callison accounted for two of those victories with game-winning
singles, while old favorite Horace Clarke won the other game with a sacrifice
fly. Callison and Clarke now have company, as Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez,
and Johnny Damon provided the more recent heroics with a single, a home run,
and another home run, respectively…

 

The Yankees are hoping to receive a triple-boost of talent
sometime this week. It’s possible that Brian Bruney, Chien-Ming Wang, and Jorge
Posada could all return from the disabled list within the next seven days.
Although he is the lesser name among the three players, Bruney’s return could
loom the most important. The Yankees have struggled to find pitchers who can
handle roles in the seventh and eighth innings; Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez
have both flopped badly, while lefty Phil Coke has brought forth mixed results.
Without Bruney, the Yankees don’t have a single favorable eighth-inning option
among their current pitching contenders. With Bruney, the Yankees can continue
to resist the talk show calls for Joba Chamberlain to return to the bullpen.

A Smattering of Intelligence: Managers, Mitts, and Cactus Jack

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Now that Bob Melvin has been fired as the skipper of the
Diamondbacks, the speculation can begin as to which team will be the next to
fire its field manager. The Cleveland Indians could be that team; with a record
of 13-22, the Indians have the worst record in the American League. That may
not bode well for the future of Eric Wedge, who has been on the hot seat ever
since the Indians started last season
so poorly.

 

Many observers have pointed to the Indians as first-class
underachievers, one of baseball’s biggest disappointments. Just two months ago,
the Indians were the fashionable pick to win the American League Central, a
balanced division ripe for the taking. Personally, I think that prediction was
a bit of a stretch, considering the departure of CC Sabathia, the regression of
Fausto Carmona, and the unsettled state of Cleveland’s outfield beyond superstar
Grady Sizemore. Still, there’s no question that the Indians have underachieved. They shouldn’t be
buried so many games below .500, just a couple of ticks ahead of the Washington
Nationals, the most dreadful team in either league. There’s just no excuse for
such a poor standing.

 

The Indians will probably give Wedge at least two to three
more weeks before making any kind of a change. If they do, they have two highly
logical candidates in place within their organization. First up is Joel
Skinner, currently their third base coach and now in his ninth year on the
staff. Skinner also has prior managerial experience. He served as the Indians’
interim skipper in 2002. Prior to that, Skinner managed for several years in
the Tribe’s farm system, developing a reputation for winning and developing
young talent. A former catcher, Skinner is very bright and familiar with the
organization from top to bottom. The other top candidate is Torey Lovullo,
currently the manager of the Columbus Clippers, who just so happen to be the
Indians’ Triple-A affiliate. Lovullo’s minor league managerial record is
spotless. He has won two International League titles, the highlight of a resume
that features a winning record every season he’s managed.

 

If none of those candidates are to your liking, then how
about this blast from the past? Mike Hargrove, who left the Mariners in
mid-season two years ago, is also available. He’s scheduled to manager a summer
league team of college prospects, but that contract could be broken in favor of
a return to the Midwest…

 

There’s an old axiom in baseball that says, “Every game you
watch, you’ll see something different, something you’ve never seen before.”
That’s an exaggeration, of course, but baseball is such an unpredictable game
of diverse outcomes that we often do come away seeing something new and without
precedent. That happened to me on Tuesday night, as I watched the game between
the Mets and Braves. In the top of the 10th inning, Mets utilityman
Alex Cora, who’s normally a middle infielder, took over at first base. (Cora
had played the position just once before, back in 2005 with the Red Sox.) After
warming up with a standard issue first baseman’s mitt, Cora decided he wasn’t
comfortable with it, ran to the dugout, and replaced it with a regular infielder’s
glove. As Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen commented that he had never seen that
before, I thought the same thing. I’ve never
seen a first baseman play the position without a first baseman’s mitt, just
like I’ve never seen a catcher go behind the plate without a standard catcher’s
mitt. It’s something that probably happened during baseball’s early history,
before gloves and mitts became so advanced and specialized. It might have even
happened sometime since World War II, but I just can’t recall it. Perhaps
someone out there has seen a first
baseman play without a mitt. If so, feel free to let us know…

 

Earlier this week, former big league right-hander Jack Billingham
visited the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown.
As Billingham explained to a friend of mine, Hall senior researcher Bill
Francis, he and his wife Jolene, along with his sister and brother-in-law, have
been touring the country in RVs. Along the way, they’ve visited some of Jack’s
old stomping grounds, including Cincinnati (where he pitched most of his career
with the Reds) and Detroit (where he pitched for three seasons late in his
career).

 

This was not Billingham’s first visit to Cooperstown.
Forty years ago, he came to town as part of a contingent with the Astros to
play in the annual Hall of Fame Game. He also has an indirect connection to the
Hall of Fame. Billingham is a distant cousin of Christy Mathewson, part of the
inaugural Hall of Fame Class in 1939.

 

“Cactus Jack,” as he’s sometimes called, remains one of the
most underrated members of Cincinnati’s
“Big Red Machine.” Too often Billingham is remembered for giving up Hank
Aaron’s record-tying 714th home run, and that’s just not fair. While
the Reds’ offensive stars, like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony
Perez, garnered most of the publicity, Billingham turned in workmanlike
performances for a reliable rotation that also included Gary Nolan, Don
Gullett, and Fredie Norman. Durable and consistent, Billingham used a
sinkerball to post consecutive 19-win seasons in 1973 and ’74, before winning a
total of 27 games during the two world championship seasons of 1975 and
’76.  He raised his level of pitching in
World Series play, allowing only one earned run in just over 25 innings, and
still holds the record for lowest ERA in World Series history.

 

Yes, Cactus Jack was pretty good.

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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It may be small consolation to their frustrated fan base, but if the Orioles can find someone halfway decent to patrol
left field, they can make an argument for having the best outfield in the game.
Center fielder Adam Jones has blossomed in his second season, adding a robust
bat to his already imposing glove. Right fielder Nick Markakis is now a
legitimate star, having elevated his game each of the last three seasons. Unfortunately, left field remains a problem for the Birds. Felix Pie (.158
batting average and .238 on-base percentage) has hit just as poorly in Baltimore as he did in Chicago, while utilityman Lou Montanez is no
more than a stopgap solution. A more immediate short-term answer might be found at Triple-A, where the
Orioles just assigned Joey Gathright, freshly acquired from the Cubs.
Gathright, who is still one of the three fastest runners in the game (I’ll vote
for Emilio Bonifacio and Brett Gardner as the others) and can handle left field
defensively. As to how much Gathright will hit, that remains the eternal
question…

 

On Saturday night, Steve Stone provided another example of
why he’s one of baseball’s best color analysts. During the broadcast of the
White Sox-Rangers game, Stone listed Josh Fields and Carlos Quentin as the Sox’
two best runners in terms of going hard into second base and breaking up potential double
plays. That’s just great information. How many color announcers even pay
attention to such overlooked aspects of baserunning, especially in an era when
hitting and pitching are so much the focus of on-air discussion? Keep up the
great work, Steve…

 

It’s really no mystery why Zack Greinke has been so
masterfully overpowering for the Royals. He has two phenomenal pitches–an
exploding fastball and a biting overhand curve–and throws everything in his
arsenal for strikes. His start to the season is no fluke; he’s a legitimate No.
1 starter that the Royals can build around for years to come. With Greinke, Gil
Meche, and Brian “The Animal” Bannister now in the rotation, and former No. 1
pick Luke Hochevar on the way, the Royals have the makings of a starting staff
that will contend–if not in 2009, then next summer…

 

Just how low have the Yankees sunk? Fresh off their
disheartening five-game losing streak this week, the front office decided that
answers to their problems could be found in journeyman mediocrities Kevin Cash
and Brett Tomko, recalled from Triple-A Scranton. Cash is the ultimate
good-field, no-hit catcher, a limited player of borderline major league capability.
Tomko pitched horribly for the Padres last season, despite the benefit of
pitching in Petco
Park half of the time. While
it’s undeniable that the Yankees have been hit with a crushing tidal wave of
injuries, it’s inconceivable that such a wealthy franchise has such little
organizational depth. It’s also an indictment of general manager Brian Cashman
and his stunning lack of attention to detail. Remarkably, Cashman failed to put
in a waiver claim on hard-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena, who was demoted
to Triple-A Omaha by the Royals…

 

I understand that A.J. Hinch is a bright young mind who has
done well in developing Arizona’s
farm system. But wouldn’t it have made more sense for the Diamondbacks to tap
someone with at least some on-field experience in hiring their new manager,
especially in the middle of the season. There are some legitimate managerial
candidates who have track records in running ballclubs. Torey Lovullo is a
terrific young manager who has won two minor league titles in the Indians’
system. Why didn’t the D-Backs at least approach the Indians about the
possibility of hiring Lovullo? Another possibility would have been Davey
Johnson, fresh off his stint as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Or perhaps the D-Backs could have stayed in-house by promoting bench coach Kirk
Gibson, who could have at least managed the team on an interim basis. Gibson
certainly doesn’t lack fire, which was one of the criticisms aimed at fired
skipper Bob Melvin…

 

Rickie Weeks, a notoriously poor fielding second baseman,
has been one of the game’s most improved defenders through the first five weeks
of the season. Much of the credit goes to new Brewers coach Willie Randolph, who
was hired as part of Ken Macha’s new-look staff. Randolph was one of the most
fundamentally sound second baseman of his era, so it’s no surprise that he’s
having such a positive impact on the talented but erratic Weeks…

 

Sandy Alomar, Sr. has been a player, coach, or minor league
instructors for 49 straight years, dating back to 1960, his first year in
professional ball with the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. Yet, Alomar had
never managed even a single game–mostly because he had no such aspirations–until
this weekend.  Alomar’s debut took place
on Saturday, as he managed the Mets during Jerry Manuel’s one-game suspension
for incidental contact with an umpire. The Mets won that game against the
Pirates, 10-1, which means that Alomar will have a perfect record as manager
for awhile, at least until the next time that Manuel is suspended. Good for
Alomar, one of the solid men who have been a life-long servant to the game…

 

Of all the team statistics I’ve heard bandied about, none is
more shocking than this. The Phillies are a meager 3-and-9 at home in games in
which they have faced right-handed starting pitchers. That is simply stunning
for a team that is so heavily loaded with left-handed hitting studs like Ryan
Howard, Chase Utley, the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, and new sensation Raul
Ibanez. The Phillies’ poor record against righties is a severe indictment of
their shaky starting pitching, which has too often failed to keep them in
games. None of Philly’s starters–particularly ace Cole Hamels or the
prehistoric Jamie Moyer–have pitched anywhere near their 2008 levels.

A Smattering of Intelligence: Murky Manuel, Baseball Cards, and Shameless Promotion

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The calendar has yet to turn from April to May, but the
calls for Jerry Manuel’s head have already begun to sound in New York. A second straight loss to the
previously slumping Marlins has created a sea of discontent, with much of the
focus centered on some bizarre strategy by Manuel in the ninth inning of
Wednesday afternoon’s loss to Florida.
With two outs and the bases loaded and the Mets down by a run, Manuel called
back Ramon Castro, who had banged out two hits in four at-bats. He summoned
backup catcher Omir Santos from the bullpen to pinch-hit, then watched him hit
a soft pop-up to end the game.

 

While the hue and cry for a change in managers is silly at
this early stage of the season, Manuel left me scratching my head with this
decision. Castro is a much better hitter than Santos, a career minor leaguer who has always
had a reputation as a good-field, weak-hit catcher. A few good games with the
Mets this past week should not have erased that reputation, nor should it have
fooled Manuel into thinking that Santos
posed more of an offensive threat than Castro. Bad move.

 

If Willie Randolph had pulled such a managerial rock, the New York media would
have roasted him. Manuel, who is a genuinely good guy and a great interview,
will probably be given a pass by most of the writers, but the fan base is beginning to lose patience with the Mets’ continuing ineptitude. In the meantime, expect
everyone to turn up the heat on David Wright, who looks lost at the plate and
in the field. Another target can be found in the Mets’ bullpen, which
was directly responsible for the one-run loss to the Marlins. J.J. Putz walked
the first two batters of the eighth inning, setting the stage for Florida’s comeback
rally. A few more outings like that, and we’ll start to hear speculation on
when Billy Wagner might be able to return this summer from Tommy John surgery.
It’s easy to forget that Wagner remains under contract to the Mets; just imagine a
three-man crew of Wagner, Putz and Francisco Rodriguez putting out fires in the
eighth and ninth innings of late-season games…

 

In anticipation of the new month of May, we’ll be changing our
baseball card image (which currently honors the late Dock Ellis) this weekend.
Feel free to submit nominations for a new card, either by posting a
recommendation here or by sending me an e-mail at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com. Topps cards are
preferred, but we’ll consider Upper Deck, Fleer, and Donruss cards, as well.
Heck, if the suggestion is a good one, we’ll consider just about any company…

 

On a promotional note, my 2006 book, The Team That Changed Baseball, is now out in paperback. The book
tells the story of the 1971 Pirates, who fielded major league baseball’s first
all-black lineup on the way to winning the world championship over the heavily
favored Orioles. For more information, or to purchase a copy (hint, hint),
please visit the website www.westholmepublishing.com.
My thanks to publisher Bruce Franklin for his continued support and faith in
the book.