This year’s post-season baseball may prove the mere warm-up to the struggle for which the entire season will be regrettably most remembered.
That would be, of course, the desperate A-Rod’s scorched-earth campaign to protect his riches even at the risk of bringing down the industry that provides them.
Maybe that’s a reach. Maybe he couldn’t quite bring about that draconian result even if he were nutty enough to want to, hardly beyond the realm of possibility. But the potential for heavy damage here is real.
Any judicial decrees evolving from this messy business that quash the commissioner’s treasured “best interest of the game” rights, or trash the existing PED policy would have a seismic effect. And there are law-pundits who believe all that’s possible if the process bounces from an arbitration hearing to a federal courtroom, and it’s now on that course.
Others believe that Bud Selig, in his consummate arrogance, and the power-brokers of baseball (owners et al.) who have handled this matter with historic clumsiness deserve such a rebuke. But even those of us who agree shudder at the prospect.
Interestingly, the Rodriguez fiasco could eventually get trumped – at least in terms of courtroom melodrama – by the libel suit filed in St. Louis by the fading and ridiculously over-paid Angels star, Albert Pujols, against erstwhile slugger turned talk-show host Jack Clark, ex of the Red Sox.
In his radio gig, Clark ranted about Pujols being “a juicer,” linking him to steroid abuse early in his career. Clark based his charge – which he has vociferously reiterated even after being fired by the radio station – on information he claims to have picked up while an NL batting coach back in 2001. Pujols counters with a charge of “malicious, reckless, and outrageous falsehoods.”
Libel is tough to make stick no matter how outrageous it may seem. But what most scares MLB is the passion in the case. Both sides are furious and threaten to depose everyone connected with the issue, the last thing MLB needs at the moment.
Something of a disaster for Anaheim after they insanely graced him with a 10-year, $240 million deal two years ago, Pujols has the dubious honor of landing baseball history’s second most idiotic contract, second only to the one enjoyed by you know who.
We offer some other stray thoughts, salty observations, and snide asides to chew on while awaiting the result of the on-going Red Sox roller-coaster ride (tied as of the writing). Whatever that result, Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS epic with Detroit found a permanent niche in local lore quite instantly. As old pal Ned Martin would have said: “Mercy!”
And however it ends you can wonder how different it might have been had Detroit featured a healthy Miguel Cabrera anchoring their swarthy lineup. Like no other player today – or any since Barry Bonds – Cabrera can dominate.
Amazingly, he remains lethal even while hobbled with injuries that would disable most chaps who play this game. While he has only three homers in the last two months – when healthy he’s more likely to hit three in consecutive at-bats – one catapulted the Tigers into the ALCS, and another rattled Boston in timeless Game 2. Still he’s but a fraction of what he can be and the sight of him limping around the bases deeply hobbled verifies that. Luck is a mighty factor in this game, and the Red Sox may never have been luckier than they’ve been this season.
Elsewhere on the playoff front, much was made of the fact such warm and cuddly small-market troupers as the Rays, A’s, and Bucs made the post-season while big-spending blowhards from Philly, Texas, and the Bronx were pooping out to varying pathetic degrees. But here we are in the semi-finals with three of the five heftiest baseball payrolls – LA, Boston, and Detroit – along with the 11th, St. Louis, forming the final four.
Money has talked “Big” in this game since 1901 when the American League essentially created itself by seducing the stars of the National League with what were then considered historically outrageous contracts. And money will always talk “Big” in this game.
It must comfort the Red Sox to realize that if they are lucky enough to see Joe West behind home plate again in this series, it will be when they can least afford it. Most umpires will bend some if you protest enough, but not the irrepressible “Cowboy Joe,” who, by most accounts, is actually a great character.
But if you gripe and whine and show him up, he’ll only get testier and tighter on you. Maybe that’s why Manager John Farrell was notably restrained in his comments after his players had wasted so much precious energy moaning about his calls in Game 1. But, then, if there were a statistic for ump-baiting, this team would lead the league in it.
Reggie Jackson has written a book, reportedly pulling no punches and extending no mercy even to the long departed (Hi, there, George, Thurm, and Billy) and frankly I can’t wait to read it.
Regaroo was easy to dislike, especially in places like Boston, although you would have actually found him a most engaging rascal had you the pleasure of knowing him. If hardly perfect, nor immune to folly, Reg also could be brutally honest in ways ballplayers rarely are. Moreover, he was smart; very smart.
It was his brains more than his ego that most aggravated such legendary adversaries as Brothers Munson, Nettles, and Martin with whom he warred so colorfully during the Bronx Zoo epoch. Looks like he’s about to get even more than three decades later.
Few issues rankle baseball traditionalists more deeply than the runaway use of relief pitchers. Must Tampa’s resident genius, Joe Maddon, use nine pitchers in a low-scoring game or is he slyly trying to prove how smart he is? The phenomenon largely derives from yet another issue that deeply bugs old-timers: the egregious coddling of starters, be they old and brittle or young and fragile.
Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ ace and a true horse, is neither of these and in the knee-buckling first-round finale against the A’s he spun a masterpiece. After eight innings, he had a one-hitter in a one-run game with 10 K’s on 111 pitches while firing every bit as effortlessly and hard as he had in the first. Nor did Verlander look pleased when his manager, the otherwise traditional Jimmie Leyland, yanked him for Joaquin Benoit in the ninth.
You don’t need to be bored with crusty sermons on the good old days when the likes of Robin Roberts averaged at least 150 pitches starting every fourth day, year in and year out. The age of warhorses like Roberts, I recognize, is long gone. Moreover, Benoit survived and the Tigers advanced. But at moments like this the obsessive closer-mentality seems utterly asinine.
Indeed, might Leyland re-consider pulling Max Scherzer after 108 pitches in ALCS Game 2 if he had a second chance? By why rub it in.
Lastly, there’s this note from Chicago where a certain ex-GM wunderkind must be wistfully observing the stunning resurrection of the other fabled team that he once guided with greater brilliance only to flee when it suddenly flopped. But then they are two teams having little in common but the fact they’re ancient baseball franchises that play in antique ballparks.
In two years, Theo Epstein has proceeded cautiously, rebuilding the quirky Cubs from the bottom up, which he believes is the only lasting remedy. Baseball savants say he has stocked much promising talent and it’s only a matter of time. But patience doesn’t come easily to fans who’ve waited seven decades for something meaningful. The last two seasons the Cubs have lost 197 games, the worst two-year stretch in their 137-year history. Ugh!
Disenchantment with Theo mounts. When he recently voiced optimism about his team, the highly respected Chicago columnist Rick Telander disparaged his Ivy League pedigree and called him “stunned, disoriented, and delusional”.
Shocking! What a difference a team makes.