Tagged: Athletics

What a Start for the A’s!

The A’s Great Start:  I have held my breath and refrained from doing a blog post, afraid I would jinx the A’s, who are off to their best start in many years.  Alas, last night the Mariners, whom they had beaten 4 times this year already, found their bats and shutout the A’s 3-0.
Bradley goes Deep off Ziegler 4-13-10 resized.jpgThe 0-0 tie was broken by a 3-run homer by Milton Bradley in the bottom of the 8th off Brad Ziegler, who got tagged with the loss. 

But let’s put this in perspective.  The A’s are now 6-3 on the season.  That means they are on pace to win 108 games.  Wishful thinking, I know.  It probably won’t happen, but losing last night is not the end of the world.

One bright spot last night was a phenominal play by Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of 7th inning.  Ziegler uncorked a wild pitch far off the 1st base side of the plate, sure to slam into the backstop.  With Chone Figgins on 2nd base, Kurt lunged to his left, somehow stabbed the ball out of the air, spun around and fired a rifle shot to 3rd, right on the bag.

 
Suzuki making spectacular play 4-13-10.jpgKevin Kouzmanoff was waiting for it and tagged the speedy Figgins out.  Bob Geren said, “I don’t think there’s another catcher who makes that play. That was flat-out amazing.” . 

It was the second spectacular play Kurt has made against Seattle this year.  5 days earlier  in Oakland, he tracked a foul flyball to the steps of the visiting dugout and caught it as he slid down the dugout steps. “He continues to do amazing things athletically, acrobatically,” said Geren.  “He’s revolutionizing that position.  He’s athletic as a catcher can get.  It’s really fun to watch.”  The play made ESPN’s 10-best plays of the day highlight reel last night, coming in at #2!  You’ll probably get to see a replay tonight during the rubber game of the series with Seattle.

So the A’s are off to a great start.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the campaign.  It is certainly a better first week of the season than we’ve seen in a long time.

Next Article:  Meeting Bob Feller 

 

News Flash! This Will Surprise You A’s Fans

If you watched the Comcast Sports Central show you saw this, but here’s what President Obama said in the Broadcast Box at the Nationals game last night after he threw out the first pitch :

The President On Being a Baseball Fan

Could’ve fooled me!

Bye for now.

Mark Maguire, Steroids, The Hall of Fame, and Joe Morgan Way

Mark McGwire Highway:  There is a section of Interstate 70 in St. Louis that is called Mark McGwire Highway, so designated by the Missouri Legislature one year after Mark hit his then-record 70 home runs. 

Mark Maguire Highway.jpg
That may not be true much longer.  On March 1st, the Missouri Senate voted unanimously to rename that section of highway to Mark Twin Highway.  Several other highway sections were also renamed in the bill for other noted Missourians. The legislation now goes to the Missouri House for a vote, and is expected to pass.  The change to Mark Twain highway is apparently in response to Mark’s recent admission that he did indeed use performance enhancing drugs (PED’s).

Senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia, MO. was asked if the others getting similar honors were alive or dead.  He replied that it might be wise to name roads only for the deceased, because they can’t do something worth changing the name over one day, clearly referring to McGwire.

The move is a slap in the face to McGwire, as he is currently the hitting coach of the St.Louis Cardinals. 
I suspect this is not the last of the fallout from Mark’s steroids admission. 

Should McGwire be voted into the Hall of Fame?  There is no disagreement that it was obvious that he was juicing, even before he admitted it.  Here are before and after pict
ures:

Before (in 1990):

Mark Maguire in 1990.jpg
After (at the height of his steroid use):

McGwire at his Roidiest.jpg
No doubt about it, he used PED’s.  So does his recent admission spell doom for his making into the Hall of Fame?  Opinions are mixed on this, especially in the media. 

MLB Network’s renowned sportswriter, Peter Gammons said after Mark’s announcment, “It’s very clear that he cares more about being back in uniform than being in the Hall of Fame.” … “The fact is that it’s cheating.  The question is, in my mind, “Can you reward somebody with the highest honor in baseball, being in the Hall of Fame, if he indeed did cheat?’  As I sit here tonight, I say no.” 

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated says, “…McGwire waited too long [to come clean], and his relationship with steroids dates back too far–20 years to be exact.  His statement reveals a career not simply enhanced by drugs, but built on them.”

Others say you can’t keep McGwire out if others, such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, get in (ESPN’s Rob Neyer), and many say you can’t ban a whole era from the HOF or put an asterisk next to the name of anyone who played during the Steroid Era. 

Some would ban only those who have owned up to PED use.  The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan:  “Right or wrong, the Age of Discovery follows the Steroid Era.”  but he goes on to say,  “There are many other steroid users who will appear on Hall of Fame Ballots who will choose to stay out of the public eye–long enough, they hope, to avoid questions that might endanger their chances for the Hall.”  So some steroid users may or will be elected to the Hall.

So You Tell Me:  What’s your take on steroids and the Hall of Fame?  Leave me a comment on the blog to let me know whether McGwire or others (Bonds, A-Rod, Clemens, Palmeiro, Giambi, etc.) should go into the Hall of Fame.  Why or why not?

At The Other End of the Spectrum:  My friend Eric Edward mentioned that new signs went up recently on South Coliseum Way, renaming it to Joe Morgan Way.

 
Joe Morgan Way - Old South Coliseum Way smallest.jpg
Note the Coliseum in the background to the right.

Now I think the world of Joe Morgan, and I don’t think he would have considered using steroids.  In 1990, I was on the same flight with his parents who were on their way to Joe’s Hall of Fame Induction.  A Lovely couple with a very nice son.  Joe was a Hall of Famer who was born in Oakland, and perhaps it is fitting to give him honors.

However, he played only 1 season in Oakland, his last in 1984.  The prior 21 summers he played in the National League.  In his one season as an Athletic, he hit .244, 89 hits, 43 RBI’s in 116 games.  It was clear he was winding down, given his much higher stats during most of his career.

So I wonder why they (the A’s? the City?) would rename the street for Joe.  There are so many former A’s that deserve it more, in my opinion:  Dennis Eckersley (born in Oakland, played the best of his career for the A’s), Rickey Henderson (lived most of his life in Oakland, played for the A’s 4 times), Catfish Hunter (Played most of his career for the A’s–KC and Oakland), to name a few.  And why now, right after Rickey Henderson was inducted into the Hall?

What’s your opinion?
 
 

The Freak vs. The Franchise, and Other Random Thoughts

The Freak Re-Ups with the Giants.  A couple of days ago, I started to write a screed on how dumb the Giants are for not giving Tim Lincecum the additional $3M he wanted for a 3-year contract and casting their fate before an arbitrator.  In the middle of writing, I decided to check the Giant’s website and found out that The Freak and the Giants’ Franchise had avoided arbitration with a 2-year deal.  But who won?  Or was it a draw?  A little analysis might shed some light on these questions.

Tim Lincecum’s agent asked for $40M for 3 years. 
 The Giants offered $37M for the same period.  Lincecum’s demand averages out to $13.33M per year, while the Giants’ offer was for $12.33M per year.

 
Tim Lincecum - cropped.jpgI don’t know about you, but I would have given Lincecum the additional $1M/year just to tie him up for 3 years.  But no, the 2 parties appeared headed to arbitration over a lousy $1M/year for arguably one of the best–if not the best–pitchers in baseball.

Lets put this in perspective.  Across the Bay, the A’s signed free-agent Ben Sheets to a 1-year deal worth $10M plus incentives.  Sheets didn’t pitch at all in 2009 because of elbow surgery a year ago, which makes him a risk, though if it was Tommy John surgery he’ll probably be just fine.  Sheets has 8 years in the majors, a career ERA of 3.72, 4 All Star appearances, and won the NL Cy Young in 2004.

Lincecum has 3 years in the Show, a career 2.90 ERA, 2 All Star appearances and won the NL Cy Young award the last 2 seasons.  He’s only 25 years old, and if he continues to pitch like he has the last two years, he’ll command a lot more in 2012 than he would have gotten under the $40M 3-year contract.  Maybe the Giants know something they aren’t telling.  If so, maybe they made a good deaI.  If not, they may have shot themselves in the foot.  It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Marty Lurie Moves Across the Bay.  In what seems a bizarre turn of events, the A’s radio home KTRB has decided that they can no longer make time in their broadcast schedule for  “Right off the Bat,” Marty Lurie‘s pregame show on the various A’s radio stations for the last 12 years. 
Marty Lurie - Resized.jpg
 Apparently, KTRB would rather have Mike Savage, a conservative talk-show host, from 3-6 pm, eliminating Lurie’s time slot.  Thus Marty’s wonderful insights into baseball, both current and historic, are no longer going to entertain A’s fans before Ken Korach and Vince Contronio’s regular 45-minute pregame show.

To make matters worse, the Giants gladly picked him up to do the pre- and post-game shows on the weekends on their radio home KNBR 680.  The one-hour shows will have many of the same features that the A’s fans have been treated to, plus the show will take more calls on air from the fans.  “I am excited to add Marty to the line-up of talk show hosts at KNBR,” said Lee Hammer, Director of Operations for Cumulus San Francisco (IKNBR 680).

Apparently, the A’s have signed a new deal with KTRB through 2019, so it doesn’t look like we will be hearing  Marty Lurie and Right Off the Bat again.  I think It’s a huge loss for us A’s fans.  His extensive knowledge of the history of the game, his insightful interviews with players, coaches, Hall of Famers, baseball writers, club executives and scouts, brought listeners a valuable perspective on the essence of the game of baseball.  We will miss you Marty!

Tidbits:  A’s Release outfielder Willy Taveras, who came over on Feb. 1st with Adam Rosales, in exchange for Aaron Miles of Antioch and a player to be named later.  Taveras was immediately designated for assigment and the A’s released him 8 days later.  He didn’t really figure in their plans as the player they really wanted was Rosales who is an infielder.  The A’s outfield is already set and has depth, so no room for Taveras..

Another radio deal was inked recently.  Ken Korach signed a 2-year deal as the lead play-by-play man for the A’s, which will keep him behind the mike in Oakland through 2011.  A good thing.

Spring training is upon us.  The pitchers and catchers have reported to Phoenix!  I’ll be there from March 17-23.  Can’t wait!

That’s all from here.  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about anything that’s on your mind, whether or not it pertains to this article.  Go A’s!!!

Playing Catchup Ball – part 2

Wouldn’t you know it?  A couple of days after my last post, the A’s made another move!  In a deal with their new BFF trading partner, the San Diego Padres, the A’s acquired third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and sent them Aaron Cunningham and Scott Hairston,

Kevin Kousmanof in Padre Uni.jpgwhom the A’s obtained from the Padres last July.  The A’s also received minor-league second baseman Eric Sogard in this deal.

It appears, according to Rick Hurd of the Oakland Tribune, that Kouz will get the bulk of playing time at 3rd, and Eric Chavez will move over to 1st base.  Chavvy is recovering from his second back surgery in as many years.  Rick reports that Assistant GM, David Forst, said that Eric “has been throwing and taking grounders in Arizona,” and he “feels great.”  We’ll see how he does in spring training when he has to play in game situations.

Kouz seems a good solution to the A’s 3rd base dilemma.  He had a great year in 2009 with the Padres, hitting .255 with 18 home runs and a career-high 88 RBI’s.  He posted a .990 fielding percentage at the hot corner, committing just 3 errors, a National League record. 

Kevin and Eric will have some competition at 3rd from Jake Fox who was part of the deal that brough Kevin Miles over from the Cubs for Jeff Gray et al.  There is some question about Fox’s defensive skills, but he had 11 homers and 44 RBI’s in 82 games with the Cubs last season.

Scott Hairston, on hearing the trade rumors, said, “I hope I’m coming there for sure. If this is true, it’s a dream come true…unbelievable!” 

Scott Hairston's Homer 7-7-09.jpgScott will play alongside his brother Jerry Hairston Jr. when he reports for Spring Training with the Padres in Phoenix (Peoria, actually).

I am really looking forward to the upcoming season.  Join me here for the ride.

Arizona in the Fall: A Great Baseball Experience

I am almost reluctant to write about this topic, because one of the reasons the Arizona Fall League is so much fun is that the stands are pretty empty and you can hear everything said on the field.  It’s an intimate experience and I’d like it to stay that way.  Selfish me.  That said, I’ll go against my better judgment and share my experiences with you.

I first went to the Arizona Fall League in October of 2007.  At an A’s Booster Club luncheon in September that year, I talked to Jim Young, the Director of Media Relations for the A’s, and told him I wanted to interview some A’s pitchers for background for my novel.  He said it would be difficult for me to talk to the Major League players, but I should hop on a plane to Phoenix in October and talk to the minor league players in the A’s organization who would be pitching in the Arizona Fall League.  He gave me the name of Paul Jensen, his counterpart at the AFL, and suggested I contact him.

I made the trip and interviewed Jeff Gray, Brad Kilby and James Simmons in 2007.  The first two made it to Oakland this season and pitched extremely well for the A’s, and both have a good shot at making the opening day roster in 2010.  James should at least get a cup of coffee in Oakland next season. 

I made a return trip this year to talk to the new crop of AFL pitchers from the A’s.  Paul again set up interviews for me with Justin Friend, Mickey Storey, Sam Demel and an encore visit with James Simmons, who play for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the AFL.Desert Dogs Logo.gif  All I can say is that the A’s farm system is brimming with good pitchers, now and  for some time to come.

I took my accustomed place in the first row of seats next to the Desert Dogs dugout at Phoenix Municipal stadium, the same dugout occupied by the A’s at spring training. 
 Rob Morse, one of Paul’s assistants, went into the clubhouse and came back with Justin Friend, who sat down next to me in the stands so we could talk.

Justin Friend at AFL 2009 - resized.jpg“I’d dreamed of playing professional baseball since I was a kid, and baseball gave me an opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, like getting a scholarship for college.”  He played for A’s pitcher Brett Anderson’s dad at Oklahoma State, where he majored in Education. Justin was drafted by the A’s after his junior year in the 13th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

We talked about the life of a ballplayer off the field–the info I need for my novel–what they do for fun, what they do in the offseason, etc.  All very enlightening for me.  Basically, he said that they work so hard during the season, that he just “relaxes and doesn’t do much.” 

Justin is a relief pitcher and spent most of 2009 playing for the Stockton Ports (Hi-A), where he had an era of 2.87.  He was called up to Midland (AA) for 9 games, and 1 game he’d like to forget at Sacramento (AAA).  He lives in Manteca, California, and gives pitching lessons to kids in the offseason to make a little money and give back to his community.

Next to emerge from the clubhouse was Mickey Charles Storey.

 
Mickey Story at AFL 2009 - resized 5x7.jpg
 
 Yes, he was named for THE Mickey Charles Mantle, who was his dad’s favorite player, even though he never saw him play (I did!).  “I didn’t have much of a choice.  My dad was into baseball.  I played baseball with him from the time I was old enough to walk.”  Mickey grew up in Florida in the Boca Raton area (he still lives there), and attended Florida Atlantic University.  He and his fiancee have an 8-month-old daughter.

Mickey was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft and started out with the Kane County Cougars (Low-A).   After he appeared in 13 games and posted a 0.54 ERA, he was promoted to Stockton and pitched in 22 games, earning a 2.28 ERA .  He was also called up to Midland for 4 games, and later by Sacramento for 2 games in which he pitched 3 innings and didn’t give up any hits or walks and had 4 strikeouts (0.00 ERA).

2009 was his first year as a relief pitcher.  “I’m fine with it,” he says.  He likes the chance to pitch more often because it “makes me feel more like a part of the team on a day to day basis.”  We’re fine with it too, with numbers he has posted.  Look for him to start out at Midland in 2010.

Sam Demel was my next victim.  I say victim because I had a complete brain fade and called him Josh.  Great way to begin an interview.  Anyway, Sam started playing baseball at age 8, “which was late for most guys.”  He was drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers, but decided to go to Texas Christian University instead, where he majored in Communications.  After his 3rd year, he was drafted by the A’s in the 3rd round (120th overall) of the 2007 draft.

 
Sam Demel at AFL 2009 BEST - resized.jpg2008 was his first full year in the minors, spending the season at Stockton, where he posted a 3.36 ERA and had 18 saves out of 24 opportunities (2nd in the league), and limited opponents to a .227 batting average.  He’s a sinker-slider pitcher who gets a lot of ground balls, which accounts for the low opponents batting average. 

In 2009 he started at Midland, and, after appearing in 27 games and posting a 0.67 ERA, he was called up to Sacramento where he played the rest of the season.  He’ll most likely start out there in 2010.

Sam loves being a ballplayer.  “I get to play a game for a living, and they pay me for it.  It can’t get any better than that.”  He’s married and his wife visits him in Sacramento whenever she can.   “I spend all day outside [playing ball], so when I’m away from the ballpark, I’m a TV junkie. I watch Criminal Minds, CSI, things like that.”  He plays golf when he can and has a 9 handicap, but it’s hard for him during the season to get out on the links.  In the offseason, he plays 5 times a week.  “I do nothing but golf, watch TV and workout.”

He says he’s been a lucky charm for his fellow roommates on the road.  3 times last year his roommates got called up to the A’s:  Jeff Gray, Jay Marshall, and John Meloan.  He was supposed to room with Brad Kilby the day he was called up to the A’s. He’s hoping some of that luck will rub off on him in 2010.

My final interview was with James Simmons, whom I had interviewed in 2007 at the AFL.

 
James Simmons at AFL 2009-2 - resized.jpg
 It was fun to catch up with him, though I have seen him several times at spring training and this past season at Sacramento River Cats games, where he is often in the stands behind home plate charting pitches.  He read a draft of my novel and gave me invaluable input, even rewriting my lame attempts at ballpayer dialog to sound more like the real thing.  James had so much to say when I saw him this time that I will do a separate article on him in a day or so.

All of these fine young men told me that there isn’t much “off” in the offseason, especially if they are fortunate enough to be sent to the Fall League, which didn’t end until November 21st this year.  Spring training begins in mid-February, so they get a little less than 3 months “off.”  After a grueling long season, they need to have some down time.  11 weeks just isn’t enough time for a very tired body to recover. 

Most of them told me that the offseason is mostly spent getting in shape for the next season.  That’s the only time they can do any heavy lifting or other weight training to build up muscle and strength. All they can do during the season is maintain.  If they did more during the season, they’d get sore and wouldn’t be able to pitch.  And here I thought they just laid around and goofed off in the offseason.

So that’s it for today.  I would like to give a big thanks to Betty Dragon who supplied the awesome pictures in this article.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles: Sitting Down With James Simmons, The AFL Rising Stars Game and others.  I will be posting on an intermittent basis, so check back often.  Sign up for an RSS feed at the lower right or email me at beebee723@comcast,net and I’ll put you on my email list to notify you when I post a new article.  And thank you so much for reading my blog. 

 

 

Andrew Bailey Wins Rookie of the Year!

Andrew Bailey was named the American League Rookie of the Year this morning.  Hallelujah!  The right guy won.  No big market bias could override what Boom Boom did during the 2009 season. He was flat-out awesome!


Andrew Bailey.jpgHe got the call this morning but had to keep it mum, but he figured he it was okay to tell his parents.   Many baseball fans, including his dad–and Bailey himself–thought Elvis Andrus of the Rangers had the inside edge.  The Rangers’ 21-year-old shortstop came in second in the voting.  Brett Anderson, the A’s best rookie starting pitcher came in 6th.  Not bad to have 2 out of the top 6!

Bailey who is 25 years old, notched 26 saves this season, beating Huston Street’s previous record of 24.  No other rookie reliever this year posted more than 2.  He also had a 1.84 ERA, a 6-3 record, and 91 strikeouts with only 24 walks.  Opponents batted a mere .167 against him.  He surrendered only 47 hits in 83 1/3 innings.

Bailey is the second A’s closer to receive ROY honors.  Huston Street was similarly rewarded in 2005.  Andrew is the 3rd A’s rookie to win the award in the last 6 seasons (Bobby Crosby in 2004), and the 8th Athletic in history to win, tied with the Yankees for the American League.  The Dodgers hold the all-time record with 16.

For you fellow stat geeks, here’s how the ROY is chosen:  selected members of the Baseball Writers Association of America–2 sports writers from each Major League team’s home area–cast votes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.  Bailey had 13 1st-place votes, 6 2nd-place votes and 5 3rd-place votes.  1st-place votes are worth 5 points, 2nd-place are worth 3 points and 3rd-place votes are worth 1 point.  That gives Bailey 88 points.  Andrus received 65 points, Rick Porcello 64, Jeff Niemann 21, Gordon Beckham 10 and Brett Anderson 4 votes (1 2nd-place and 1 3rd-place vote). 

“There were so many rookies who had great years, it’s an amazing honor,” Bailey said, on his way to the airport from his Connecticut home.  “It’s kind of hard to believe.  It’s crazy.  I really tried not to think too much about it after the season because it was out of my hands.  All you can do is put up your numbers and hope that’s good enough.  I guess this means it was.  It’s incredible.  I’m still shaking.”

The A’s will hold a press conference with Bailey in Oakland tomorrow at 10 am PT to honor his achievement.