November 2009

Burrell/Bradley bring back 80′s Deja Vu

 


RRCollections

I am starting to understand the slick marketing mojo of the record companies back in 80′s that had big time players like MTV and FM radio pounding  musical nightmare tunes into our heads over and over again until we all collectively began to hum them or yearn for their stupid lyrics. And maybe their videos were childish and repetitive, but for some odd reason they became one within the bubbling melting pot between our ears.

It was this sly ploy of marketing that made songs like “Safety Dance” a hit so long time ago. And I think that now Major League Baseball teams have begun a revival by borrowing a page from this ancient formula to make all of us see the light during the 2009 “Hot Stove” season. The 80′s seductive music/video mind warp is alive and well in the Winter of 2009.

And it is now using player’s names instead of music to constantly blitzing their persona’s over and over again to form a numbing effect on our brains so we accept their names with subtle refusal instead of stages and fits of outrage over the idea of them joining the ranks of our teams.

And this mojo from the past is beginning to work it magic on me. The Pat Burrell/Milton Bradley song and dance involving the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs is beginning to play upon my “Achy, Braky Heart”. The wild possibility that either player could possibly be walking into the other’s locker room on the first day of Spring Training( Feb 19th) as a new “breathe of fresh air” instead of a possible ticking time bomb is starting to melt my brain cells. 

The  media scribblings and poetic bloggers’ paragraphs are beginning to show the possible merits of both players getting a chance to again  be reborn upon the other roster and that they can regain some form of normalcy to their careers. It is starting to eat at the hardened enamel of my sensitive side the same way that tune by Men Without Hats burrowed into my mind and became a upbeat tune on my running Ipod. 

We have all heard  by now the negative muses and raves from Bradley about the (alleged)racist Cub fans near his post in rightfield along with his interpretation for his misguided “outs” toss into the stands of a game baseball.  And loud is the volume of the grunts and grumbles from his Cub teammates that he is no longer a welcomed sight in their presence. Some of this might be adulterated  “he said, she said” hearsay, and a perfect example of negative media fodder used to get a high dollar athlete out of a team’s hairs.

 And we all know that once a bridge is burned, it takes more than one person to rebuild any trust and confidence in both sides working together again. And personally, Bradley sent that bridge up ablaze with deadly flammables and is still sitting there silent.

But that type of flammable bridge occurrence has not been burned completely yet by Burrell in Tampa Bay. But his mis-timed  calling out of B J Upton near the end of the 2009 season in the Rays locker room did start the seeds of some clubhouse separation and alienation. But it is not at that critical emergency stage yet, and that might be a good thing, because if the bridge is not burned, then minds can still be open to change.

And the atmosphere within the Rays organization is still conducive to change, and a possible moving of Burrell is not mitigated by urgency, but more by the insistence of  upgrading personnel in his current position with a player the Rays were excited about before he originally signed with the Chicago Cubs.

But as we have seen in the Rays past,the minute a situation looks to become overly dramatic, changes come fast and furious. And as the varied opinions come forward about the lack of productivity from Burrell to possibly becoming a liability to Rays offense,the time might be perfect for a move. This is nothing personal towards the soft-spoken Burrell, but we needed a fire and energy like Bradley in 2009 instead of hearing Elvis’s farts boom louder than your veteran voice.

And with all of the recent sensory pounding of both names on websites and in blogs in recent days doesn’t it seem like the teams themselves are trying to convince themselves without a doubt at the same time that this is a good move? Rays Manager Joe Maddon think he can be a calming and intelligent “X” factor with the soothing rebirth of the combustive Bradley as a Ray.
 

Of course the Rays never outwardly discuss trades before they are completed, which in this case might be a disadvantage. But the fact that Bradley was highly regarded by the Rays last season might be a perfect appetizer for the Rays to become hungry for Bradley. We all know the two teams have loosely talked and maybe even traded a few parameters towards a deal, but as of right now…it is all just humming and waiting for the next sound byte.

The more and more the fact that this  expected trade is a good thing is being drummed into my mind by words and sound bytes,the more I want to take a step back. Because one of the biggest drawbacks to that 80′s marketing folly was that it created more and more baggage. Cassettes, DVD’s and even records still litter my belongings from those tunes that melted within my brain. And the one thing this Rays team doesn’t need is a change of  players  that produce an even larger set of baggage.

So I guess in the long run, if they can really convince me that Bradley is not more personally like the song “Maniac” and is more like The Little River Band’s “Cool Change”, then maybe there is a place for him in Tampa Bay. Heck maybe I  the trade does get to the finish line I can gather a small collection of the Rays Republic and we all hit the attics for our “Miami Vice” Sonny Crockett white suits and hot pastel-colored t-shirts and meet Bradley at the Tampa International Airport hotel bar for a drink with an umbrella in it while the  old guy at the piano plays the “Pina Colada” song and hope that the 80′s do not come back and bite us in the booty again. (sigh)  

Are the Gold Gloves tarnished?

 


Gail Burton / AP

I do not know what to think about the recent results of the 2009 Rawlings Gold Glove awards. I guess it kind of reminds me of the days when the “cool” group in my High School used to sit on this wall outside the 100 wing of the school before and after school, and we collectively nicknamed them the “Ivy’s” since ivy clings to walls. I get that same feeling now when I first saw the list of American League Gold Glove winners.

But what I saw behind the names had an old instant of nostalgia of that long ago Southern staple,the “Good Ol’ Boys” network.  For years when I was growing up here in Florida it was a wildly held political belief that some people got elected and also appointed to a high ranking position because of their friendships or political ties to a person instead of their qualifications and leadership abilities. And is some realms of the world this system is still alive and well today. 

For some weird reason, I am beginning to get more of a feeling of true professionalism and in-depth analysis from the Fielding Bible Awards than from the more commercial and MLB-friendly Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.  And that sentiment might be felt more and more around the Major League Baseball fan community as we see some of the old guard in baseball still hanging onto these Gold Glove awards even if their defensive skills have diminished a bit in the last season. 

There has been a small group of up and coming MLB players who also produced some impressive defensive numbers and also feats this season who did not seem to get any acknowledgment on the 2009 list. At least with the Fielding Bible, they had a tremendous fight at the second base position between Adam Hill, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley before the groups tally produced a tie between Pedroia and Hill. Because of the tie, the group used its tie-breaking format of total first place votes( 10 points) to decide the eventual winner of the award. Hill had 4 first place votes to one for Pedroia.


Steve Nesius / AP

Of course my main concern with the Gold Gloves here might be for the third year in a row, the award has seemed to snub Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Carl Crawford. Maybe it was the ease at which Crawford seems to glide and catch difficult fly balls as they are going towards the wall or in the air. Maybe it is that with his abundance of speed you expect him to make a play like that and it takes on a  more routine feel after seeing it day after day since 2001.

But maybe he might be a great poster boy to boost prop up right now to show that there might need to be some changes made within the Gold Glove voting system. As we all know by now, Crawford won his third Fielding Bible Award in 2009 for his play in leftfield. And right now the Fielding Bible actually has more of my respect because they do not bunch the outfield into a single category, but award the players in each of the three outfield defensive position for their efforts and abilities.

A good example of this is outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who won his second Fielding Bible award in a row,but in a different position for 2009. That’s right,he won the award in 2008 as a rightfielder, and was rewarded in 2009 as the centerfielder in the Seattle Mariner’s outfield. For that reasoning alone it seems like the Fielding Bible awards excellence by position,and not by name recognition.

And I think when Rawlings officially started the Gold Glove awards back in 1957 they envisioned the competitions voting to evolve with the game and even transform to meet the ever-changing aspects of the game. But the award has now seemed to become a bit stagnant and has wielded more of a “Prom” popularity atmosphere where the popular kids are getting the Gold Glove awards, and not the deserving people also playing the game besides them.

The Gold Gloves have been viewed as the “Mount Everest” of fielding awards. That to get a spot on that exclusive roster of MLB players is a showing to the world that you have arrived, and are within the top 18 players in the Major Leagues.


Elaine Thompson / AP

But the one position on these collective teams that appear to have become muddled beyond simplicity is the outfield selection for the Gold Glove. There can be a possibility of three centerfielders winning the Gold Glove currently, and nothing can be done about it. And in 2009, two centerfielders made the list out of the possible three slots.

But a bit of controversy erupted when the AL 2009 results were announced  and revealed that Baltimore centerfielder Adam Jones was the third member of the Gold Glove outfield for 2009. Now I think Jones is a great emerging star since his trade from Seattle to Baltimore a few seasons ago, but is his rise so great in 2009 that it trumped the stats and play of a player like Crawford?

And here lies the wild truth that certain players seem to be selected year after year even as their abilities start to show age and flaws in their defense. The Gold Glove award is currently voted on  only by the Managers and Coaches of each individual league, and they can not vote for a member of their respective teams for the award. Maybe it is time to tweak the system a bit and make it a more universally accepted award than a glorified baseball beauty pageant.

Maybe the current system is stagnating  and is quickly becoming an antiquated system to award the Major League’s best in defensive excellence. Maybe we need to inject some new blood and some extended voting members into the equation like possibly enlisting the last two seasons of Gold Glove winners to dissolve the  popularity chaos for the award. 


Steve Nesius / AP

Since every MLB Manager and Coach can not vote for their own players, maybe the simple fact of adding a few more sets of eyes that see these players daily might throw some more excitement in the process and actually make this more of a “professionally-based” award than a popularity contest aka beauty pageant.

If the system was more like the Fielding bible Awards would Crawford had been selected as a Gold Glove recipient? You would think that would be an easy answer, but Jones won a Gold Glove while appearing in 36 less games than Crawford. .

But this is a “no-win” situation because we all know that the powers above (Commissioner Selig) will not entertain the notion to tweak the system and actually award the best players at their positions for the Gold Glove. And in a way that is okay. Most people have the same problems with the College Football ranking system and the eventual awarding of their seasonal seeding via the BCS formula.

Maybe Rawlings needs to look at the Fielding Bible a bit closer for possible inspiration and the essence of  wanting to change the rules. Because in the Fielding Bible system, the award is voted on by people outside the influence of Major League Baseball.  Think about it,  a total of 10 baseball eggheads/analysts make their random scaling from 1-10 for every spot on the field. And the outfield is broken up into their three positions and awarded accordingly.

Such baseball gurus like Baseball Info Solutions John Dewan, ESPN Baseball expert Peter Gammons, Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated and the Kansas City Star
and of course the Stat brain child, Bill James use the same 10-point system instituted by Major League Baseball to eventually pick the Major League Baseball MVP award to tally their personal votes for the Fielding Bible Award. And maybe that is a direction that the Gold Gloves  should embrace as a model for change.

By adding outside influences and maybe even the past two seasons award winners into the mix, it could become more universally accepted for its fair and concise measuring of players abilities and achievements. Right now the Gold Gloves is a popularity system that is rewarding name worthy recipients than qualified winners.


Tom Gannam / AP

And a perfect example of this might be the Fielding Bible voting for Crawford’s position in the 2009 awards. With 10 voters able to cast up to 10 points for each candidate, a perfect score would be 100 points.  So according to the voters Crawford was the best leftfielder in the game of baseball in 2009. And he was not perfect, but his score of 99 points was the largest tally ever since the 98 total points given to Adam Everett in 2006.

So neither awards system is perfect. And there will always be some teams fans voice crying in the night about their guy being worthy. But right now the Gold Glove is not a fair competition, and maybe change will come in the future. And by the way, only 2009 Gold Glove winner Ichiro Suzuki was selected to also receive a Fielding Bible Award this season.  Shows that maybe the system needs a push in the right direction. And maybe the best don’t always get the gold.

To Protect and To Serve

 


When I was a child I saw those words in the title of this entry on a Los Angeles police car in the television show “Adam-12“. But it took many years for me to personally learn those words and know the courage and the bravery needed to ascend to that plateau of honor and serving.

On this day I want to honor those who have given of themselves for the freedoms that we all sometimes take for granted. I also want to honor and thank those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so I can enjoy the life I have in this country. On this Veteran’s Day I want to honor those who have also played this beautiful game of baseball and also interrupted their careers to  answer the call from their nation to serve with honor.

Instead of talking about baseball today, I want to salute two former baseball players who answered the call of duty to serve in our military ,and also unselfishly sacrificed pieces of their professional careers for our freedoms today. I want to honor them for their commitment to this great country and hope that we all remember them today for their courage and heroic deeds.

It is said that over 4,500 players swapped their daily baseball uniforms for the assorted colors of the United States Military in World War II.  Not all of these brave men were in the Major Leagues at the time, but the entire minor league system in this country saw men volunteer and enter the draft during the war. It has been estimated that at least 125 members of baseball minor leagues gave the ultimate sacrifice during this war.

We all know some of the  hallowed names associated with the game of baseball and the military like Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg,Joe DiMaggio and Manager Danny Ozark.  Yes, even Managers, coaches and Umpires joined the ranks of the military branches to fight during the conflict. But today I am going to feature only two of the many who left their cleats and gloves in their lockers and exchanged them for weapons of war.

Today I have chosen Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller and Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn as my blog subjects. Both of these men have been personal  baseball heroes of mine while growing up and I felt it was only right on this day of remembering the sacrifices and losses of so many brave souls to include these two greats who gave up time during their brilliant baseball careers to fight along side people like my father’s three brothers.

There currently are over 33 inducted members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York who served during World War II.   Memorable players like Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Luke Appling, Larry Doby, Bobby Doerr, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider,and Ted Williams. Many of the top tier players of that era of the game served during World War II. 


BaseballAlmanac.com

Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller 

On December 8,1941, the day after the Japanese  unprovoked attack on  Navy vessels anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,  Cleveland Indian great Bob Feller enlisted in the United States Navy. He was sworn in by former Heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney, at the Chicago courthouse. He was first assigned to the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Virginia, as part of Tunney’s physical fitness program, and pitched for the baseball team. But Feller was not happy. “I wanted to get out of the Tunney program and in to combat,” he told author William B Mead. “So I went to the gunnery school there. And I went on the USS Alabama that fall.”


Feller then spent the next 26 months as a Chief Petty Officer assigned to an anti-aircraft gun crew on the USS Alabama (BB-60), a South Dakota-class battleship. “We spent the first six or eight months in the North Atlantic. I was playing softball in Iceland in the spring. We came back in the later part of the summer, and went right through the Panama Canal and over to the South Pacific. We hung around the Fiji islands for a while, and then when we got the fleet assembled, and enough men and equipment to start a successful attack, we hit Kwajalein and the Gilberts and the Marshalls and then across to Truk.”

The USS Alabama returned to the United States in the spring of 1945, and Feller was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in  upper Illinois, where he coached the baseball team and pitched to a 13-2 won-loss record with 130 strike outs in 95 innings. He returned to Major League Baseball in August 1945, and in his Indians debut at home in Cleveland, he beat the Tigers, 4-2, in front 46,477 adoring fans.

 

In January 1946, Feller set up a three-week school in Tampa, Florida, to develop the baseball skills of returning veterans – both aspiring ballplayers and those with some organized baseball experience. Men paid for their own transportation to the school as well as room and board, but the instruction by fellow major leaguers was free for the returning veterans. It was seen as a time to reflect on both the future and the past and gave the players a sense of “normal life” again.


Feller spoke about his military service some years later in a segemtn on of ESPN’s Major League Baseball Magazine.  Feller said “I’m very proud of my war record, just like my baseball record. I would never have been able to face anybody and talk about my baseball record if I hadn’t spent time in the service.” Then again in 2005, he got a chance to chat with people online during a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. 

 

One of the many questions he was asked that day online was whether he had any regrets about serving in the war? “No, I don’t,” he replied. “During a war like World War II, when we had all those men lose their lives, sports was very insignificant. I have no regrets. The only win I wanted was to win World War II. This country is what it is today because of our victory in that war.
 


Baseballdigest.com

Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn

 Former pitcher Warren Spahn entered the military service on December 3, 1942 when he reported to Army Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and pitched for the 1850th Service Unit baseball team. He was then sent to Europe in December 1944 with the 1159th Engineer Combat Group’s 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. ” Let me tell you, that was a tough bunch of guys. We had people that were let out of prison to go into the service. So those were the people I went overseas with,” he told the Hearst Press in 1945, “And they were tough and rough  and I had to fit that mold.”

Spahn soon found himself in the middle of one of the most intense conflicts of the European Theatre, the Battle of the Bulge. “We were surrounded in the Hertgen Forest and had to fight our ways out of there. Our feet were frozen when we went to sleep, and they were frozen when we woke up. We didn’t have a bath or shower, or even a change of clothes for weeks.”

 


In March 1945, the 276th were responsible for maintaining the traffic flow across the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the only remaining bridge to span the Rhine. The bridge was under almost constant attack from the Germans who were desperate to stop the flow of Allied forces into Germany. At the same time they were to build a 140-foot Double Bailey bridge nearby.
 

On March 16, Spahn was wounded in the foot by bullet shrapnel while working on the Ludendorff. The following day he had just left the Ludendorff when the entire structure collapsed into the river with the loss of more than 30 US Army Corp of Engineer soldiers. The  entire 276th unit received the Distinguished Unit Emblem and for their efforts to keep the bridge operating, while under constant enemy fire, Staff Sergeant Spahn received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a battlefield commission as a second-lieutenant.

After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, First Lieutenant Spahn pitched for the 115th Engineers Group at their base at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In a four game stretch, he allowed only one run and nine hits while striking out 73 batters. “Before the war I didn’t have anything that slightly resembled self-confidence,” Spahn told the Associated Press in August 1946. “Then I was tight as a drum and worrying about every pitch. But now I just throw them up without the slightest mental pressure.”

Looking back on my military experience years later Spahn said, “After what I went though overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. you get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened areas. The Army taught me something about
challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.”

It would take almost two decades for Spahn to again dorn a military outfit. But this time it was for a much different reason entirely. He had been asked to be a guest star on the Vic Morrow military show “Combat” as an extra in a scene. So Spahn again put on a military uniform, but this time it was as a German soldier in the television show scene.

I am honored to bring the tale of these two great baseball players and ex-soldiers to you today on Veteran’s Day. I am also an ex-Army Reservist who stepped on the soil in Kuwait on February 23,1990 as a freshly minted Master Sergeant. Until that day I could not fathom the emotions that would come to a head in such a short period of time. But the pride and courage both my unit and the other invading troops showed within that first hour will always make me stand proud.

So on this Veteran’s Day in 2009, I personally salute every person who has served, their families and loved ones for their bravery and courage to defend our rights with honor. And for so many of the players of this game I love so much to also answer that call only makes this salute more personal to me. Until I served I really did not get the feelings and the emotions of my father.

Until I served I might have taken these freedoms a bit lightly. But now, after seeing the sacrfices of others, and knowing the true spectacle of battle and its after effects, I stand tall and proud and pray for everyone currently stationed or fighting to perserve those rights for us today. I am no longer eligible to serve, but if they changed those rules, I would be there in a moment once again………and that is what I am proudest about today.

Tampa Mayor’s “bet” is a no-win Situation

 


Michael Spooneybarger/ TBO.com

Oh what a difference a year can make. Less than a year ago we saw the Tampa Bay region go ballistic and creatively “on fire” with the possibilities of the Tampa Bay Rays. But just as quick, even the local poltical movers and shakers have forgotten the Rays like an old coat. And  one local town Mayor even forgot where she lived for a moment and made an ill fated bet with another regional Mayor over the 2009 World Series.

I have been holding onto my rambling thoughts about this past local event for quite some time. I really wanted the World Series to be over,and hoped that the St. Petersburg City elections might make me somehow forget all about this event. But it did not, and even now I am steaming under the collar that two local Mayors decided to place and wager bets on the outcome of the World Series.  

I am sorry Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, but I am targeting you here. I understand  your affection and pride in the pure fact that the New York Yankees principal owner has a home in your city. And I also understand your pride that several members of the Yankees also call Tampa their Winter residences.  And I am well aware of expenses from the city coffers to make the lush and green surrounding of George Steinbrenner Field a true masterpiece. But don’t you think making a simple wager with the Mayor of Clearwater, who is a publicity mongler over the World Series might just anger local Tampa Bay Rays fans?

How soon some people forget the turmoil this could cause because the Yankee fanbase that come into this region for their yearly series with the Rays already hold their numerous championships in their 100+ seasons as a team over our heads every chance they get.  Now they can throw the pure fact that a local elected official doesn’t even have faith in the team. Do you think after your wager this is going to get any better since the Yankees did indeed came home with the title?
 

Are you or your staff currently in the planning stages of a small parade here in the Spring to also honor them and further anger Rays fans? It might seem like a small almost invisible notion to your collective spin doctors and politcal advisers, but it is one Rays fans will not forget for a long, long time. And we know you have bigger fish to fry that just being the political guru of the second biggest Hispanic community in Florida.

I understand that both Clearwater and Tampa are the Spring Training homes of both the Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. But they also are the seasonal homes to  teams in the Florida State League teams of which your hometown Tampa Yankees played the Charlotte Stone Crabs for the league title earlier this season, and you did not make any wagers on that title series.  Now I could see a small celebration for them, and maybe even the same wager, but then they are not the media darlings outside of their own region like the Phillies and Yankees right now.

And that is where my biggest gripe come to a frothy head. You have a local team going for a possible championship, and even if it is only a Class-A franchise of the big club, you did not even acknowledge them during their triumphant playoff run and championship victory. That is the team you should have put your wagers on, the one that deserves the press and the acknowledement from the city of Tampa, and the ones their local fans come to see play during their short season.

But to me,a Rays Season Ticketholder,that whole “wager” episode was a slap in my face. And maybe you are glad I am not a resident of Tampa, so I do not have a single voting option. But the political machine in this region has been preaching regional love and togetherness surrounding the Rays for years.

But there have been obstacles in the way. Some say a small group of Tampa-based fans have a “bridge phobia” and that it is a fan base pocket in this area that is missing like a Bermuda Triangle in the middle of this Tampa Bay region. And they have missed out on a lot of great Rays baseball. Sure there are tons of Tampa-based Fans who brave the elements and the traffic to attend games, but to have one of their elected officials show more concern for a huge rival opponent of the Rays is a big slap in the face of the Rays Republic.


Tampagov.net

Sure your seemingly innocent wager of proposing that if the Yankees were to lose this years World Series, You and your entire Tampa leadership team would attend a game at BrightHouse Field in the Spring of 2010 wearing Phillies gear and bring a pleathora of Cuban sandwiches and deviled crabs to the game for Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and his staff to devour was a great gesture.  And one that would have been met with no reprecussions at all if it was located far away from this Tampa Bay Rays fan umbrella. But it was done right within the heart of the franchises fanbase, and that is a shame.

But you could have made the same local bet with the Port Charlotte or Punta Gorda Mayors over the FSL Championship and not caused even a ripple in the bay over the wager. Such a wager would have then been about civic pride and support for the Tampa Yankee squad as they played the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
 

You were right out on the field there front and center with St. Petersburg’s Mayoir Rick Baker on Opening Day in 2009 saluting and praising the Rays. I know the Rays season did not turn out quite the way the fans and the community wished it had, but you did turn your back on this local MLB team for a moment, and with their biggest threat and divisional foe.

This episode or misstep might not even cause any damper on your political aspirations to run for a future Senate slot, or even a higher post. Sure there are a lot of transplanted New Yorkers’ in this region who now have your name in their brains, and that might be a great political move for the future. But the native Floridians like myself like to usually live in the”Moment”, and in this case, you might have actually lost the bet. Sure the Yankees won the World Series,and Hibbard and his Clearwater crew will have to don pinstripes and serve you and your staff grouper sandwiches and conch fritters this spring, but did it come with a small price?

I actually think you have a great abundance of “moxy” in you Madam Mayor, and I admire that trait in a politician. But what I can not honor and sit silently by is to see an elected officials proclaim a bet for a team that plays in the same division as her “so-called Favorite” Tampa Bay Rays. We all know politics can make for strange bedfellows, and I am not implying anything here, just stating fact. But in this bet you lost Madam Mayor.

And I truly loved your witty quote in the St. Petersburg Times on October 27,2009 when asked about the wager: ” I never pass up a good winnable bet.” You did not have to pay up on your end of the bet because the New Yorkers pulled it out, but y
ou lost something I value more than a few sandwiches and shellfish appetizers. The thing you might have lost from some of your local fans, like me is respect. And that you can not get back with a zingy Mango salsa or a spicy Floridian seafood sauce.

Enjoy the seafood Madam Mayor.

Sunday Rewind” “Garza just misses Immortality”

 

Sunday Review:

As you might remember, during the off season I am going back over the 650 blog posts since 2007 and trying to find postings that I think were special over the years. Since the Rays news does get a little short this time of year, it was a way for me to still post daily and also give some of the newer bloggers a chance to see how my style has changed over the years.
 
 
I picked this blog from my archive for today because it not only shows the  writing style I was using in 2008, but it is a special moment in Rays history. With B J Upton finally getting the first cycle in Rays history on October 3,2008, I wanted to focus today on one of the past pitching performances by one of the Rays emerging starters.

In this series ending game against the Florida Marlins, Rays starter Matt Garza basically served up only one mistake all day long, and the Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez deposited it into the leftfield stands for the only hit,and run of the game for his team. It was one of the most dominating efforts by a member of the Rays starting rotation in 2008.
The blog was originally posted on June 26,2008.

    Rays 6,       Marlins 1
 

It was reported yesterday by the Montgomery Advertiser  that Tampa Bay Rays  pitching prospect Jake McGee will undergo season ending elbow surgery next week. The Biscuit starter was originally put on the Disabled List a few days ago, but an MRI revealed a torn elbow tendon and a Tommy John’s surgery looks to be in McGee’s not to distant future.
 

This could have been a huge blow to the Montgomery Biscuits chances for a third straight SAL title, but the Rays quickly promoted David Price and Jeremy Hellickson several days earlier from Class-A Vero Beach and  both pitchers’ should fit into the Biscuits rotation.  McGee will fly to St. Petersburg to meet with Rays orthopedic doctor, Koko Eaton, and was also scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews after the weekend to  get a second confirmation on the diagnosis.  If McGee requires Tommy John’s surgery, McGee will be lost for up to a year and a half from the Rays Farm system.

 

*********************************************

Trivia Fact of the Night:

In 1953, respected and innovative National League umpire Bill Klem was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
 

*********************************************
 
                            
AP Photo 

Rays starter Matt Garza (6-4) will remember this game against the Florida Marlins for a very long time. Not because he got his 6th victory of the season,and the first complete game of his career,but for one floating slider that  could have brought him a special place in Rays history.
 

There is still no doubt that the sweep in the Inter-League series by the Rays over the Marlins in Miami made for a fantastic airline flight to Pittsburgh, but what might have been will be in Garza’s head for a few days.

 
            
 

On the first pitch from Garza that Marlin’s shortstop Hanley Ramirez saw in the bottom of the 7th inning,Ramirez drilled  the hanging pitch into the seats just above the huge scoreboard in the leftfield bleachers. It was the only pitch that Garza would want to take back all day long. And the errant pitch not only cost Graza his chance at a shutout, but a spot in Rays history and immortality by throwing a no-hitter. 
 
                 
 
According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: By Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.
 
 
A P Photo 

The Rays are now a franchise high 15 games over .500, and have  posted 4 more wins than any other season before the All-Star break. They are also 7  ahead of their pervious best record after 77 games.

 

The Rays have been above .500 for 57 straight days this season  and 61 total  days for the 2008 season,both  marks are Rays club records. Prior to the 2008 season, the Rays had been above the .500 mark for only 72 days combined in the teams short history.

 

                                         
 

Rays rookie Evan Longoria has been given many nicknames in the last few months,”Evan Almighty”, “The Natural”, and “Longo”. The last one nickname seems to be a wild reference to an Alex Karas character in “Blazin’ Saddles,” and Evan might just be  molding himself to represent a fine reputation to continue hearing the new nickname.
 

Longoria is one of the main  weapons and reasons this years Rays team has been on a winning roll the past two months. Since coming up from the Triple-A Durham Bulls, the Rays have been pretty hard to beat most nights, which has been a rareity in Tampa Bay Rays history. 
 

Yesterday’s game totals just added to the ever increasing legend that is “Longo:”

Longoria had three hits on Thursday night (two doubles and a home run) in the Rays’ win, after notching three hits (a single, double and homer) in Tampa Bay’s 15-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night.

Longoria is the fourth player in Rays franchise history to have consecutive games with at least three hits and one home run. The other Tampa Bay players to do that were Aubrey Huff (2004), Jorge Cantu (2005) and B.J. Upton (2007).

 

 

The Rays now have a 9-5 record in Inter-League play this season, the team’s highest win total since 2006 when they posted 11 wins in the Inter-League series. With a sweep in Pittsburgh they could establish another Rays club record for total victories during Inter-league play.
 

Along with Longoria and Garza’s efforts, the bat of back-up catcher Shawn Riggans showed some real promise in the game for the Rays. Riggans, who has seen very limited action this year with the emergence of Dioner Navarro.

 

Riggans responded today by going 1-3 with 3 RBI’s for the Rays. Riggans got his first RBI on the day after a sacrifice fly in the second inning to score Upton from third base,  he then hit a RBI-double to deep centerfield in the 5th inning to score both Upton and Longoria.
 

Riggans also called a great game behind the plate for the Rays. Garza only ran into trouble a few times the entire game and Riggans worked a magical game calling the pitches. Garza walked one lone Marlin, Jeremy Hermida in the 4th inning.
 

Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist hit his second homer in two days in the 8th inning to complete the scoring for the Rays. Zobrist is now hitting .292 since coming up for the Rays from Triple-A Durham.

 

With the expected return of both Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena on Friday in Pittsburgh,the Rays will have to make some roster moves before the Friday night game. 

 

I am perdicting we will see Troy Percival go on the Disabled List for another 15 days stint, and this time it will not be his decision. If this does not happen,another Rays reliever will have to be sent down, or possibly put on waivers.
 

Based on his recent numbers and the extra dose of experiece this year, Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist might be the odd man out unless a trade can be reached for another infielder on the team. I know that Zobrist needs consistency in his routine,and it is a shame he might have to be the fall guy this time.

Zobrist has only been off the Disabled List for 7 games now,both in Durham and Tampa Bay. And  Zobrist might need some more seasoning to get in great game shape for this team. 

Tonight the Rays start a 3-game  Inter-League series in Pittsburgh.  At this time,I want to tell you about a wild and unique thing they do in the Steel City before every Pirates game. They close the Roberto Clemente bridge to automobile traffic and let the Pirates patrons walk the bridge to the stadium.

It is one of the truly “must do” once experiences in baseball at least once in your life. You get to travel the roads on foot to the ballpark before and after the game…..without dodging  any automobile or motorized traffic.

 

The Rays are visitng PNC park for only the second time in their brief history, starting off when they lost 2 out of 3 in June 2005. They are currently 2-4 All-Time against the Pirates during the regular season.
 

 
 

The Pirates will be bringing up rookie Jimmy Barthmaier from Triple-A for his MLB debut against the Rays. Barthmaier
, a 13th-round Draft pick in 2003, will be making his first Pirates appearance when he takes the mound for Friday’s start.
 

The right-hander has combined to go 4-5 this season with a 4.04 ERA in 10 Double-A and five Triple-A starts. In his most recent start, Barthmaier threw six innings, allowing only one run on four hits and striking out eight in the game. Barthmaier has shown better control with both his fastball and breaking ball since being promoted to Triple-A in late May, allowing just six walks in 31 2/3 innings.

 

Look closely at the picture above of Barthmaier. Is it just me, or are there not color to his pupils in the picture.  Might be a Vulcan robot plant to supress the Rays victory celebrations.  Just Kidding,he might just have some wild contact lens for game days. Can we get the entire pitching staff a set of those Joe? No really can you? It could be a nice distracting measure to see only the “whites” of your eyes all night long on the mound.

 

 

3 Options Decisions loom for the Rays

 


Bill Koustroun / AP

Within the next few days the Tampa Bay Rays will have to make some critical decisions on three members of the team.  They will have to either consider accepting or declining club options on three members of the 2009 roster. Carl Crawford ($ 10 million), Gregg Zaun ($ 2 million) and Brian Shouse ($ 1.9 million +incentives) all are currently being looked at forward and back, and inside-out for pluses and minuses by the Rays. And more than likely, only Crawford could end up the only club option is picked up by the Rays.

Crawford’s $ 10 million option is pretty comparable on the open market with outfielder who are within their prime and he is considered a value at that price right now. And the announcement during the last few weeks of the season that Crawford would be willing to talk about even lowering that price tag and extending his contract again must have had the team giddy with glee.
 

But it is the other two club options that might be more of a time consuming decision by the team. Because if the Rays accept either option, it might send into effect a landslide of changes for the Rays roster even before Spring Training.

And of the two club options, it seems to me that Zaun has done a great job with the Rays starting rotation and  getting acclimated to the Rays system in his short time with the squad. I consider him an upgrade in the catching department both behind the plate and in the batters box for the Rays. And if the team does pick up his option,  it will possibly be a signal to current starter Dioner Navarro that he might have a rough road going through arbitration this year and might even be considered a possible Rays non tendered candidate?

Zaun’s .259  batting average is 40 points higher than Navarro’s season ending .218. But an interesting point might be that Navarro had his highest batting average( .231) on April 13th, while Zaun has hit .289 since joining the Rays and .308 against right hander since the trade. And if you look at their defense, Zaun wins that battle hands down. Zaun is a jack-in-the-box behind the plate attacking every ball in the dirt and trying to smother or keep them in front of him. He might have only thrown out 11 of 51 base runners this season (21.6 %), but it is only slightly below Navarro’s (23.8 %) mark for the season.


Chris O’Meara / AP

So this decision might be more if the Rays want to have an aging catcher (38 years old) behind the plate and might make a decision on the Navarro era with the Rays.  And considering Navarro is up again for arbitration this season, could his  salary which has been estimated at around $ 2.5 million be an upgrade over Zaun’s abilities. And considering that Navarro’s agent made it a habit to pester the Rays front office with phone calls and emails showing his clients stats, maybe the Rays will turn their back on Navarro and look elsewhere for catching help.

I see the Rays picking up Zaun’s $2 million option because it might be time to make a change for the Rays. Catching was not a huge disadvantage for the team in 2009, but a upgrade and a change in personnel might be needed right now. And Zaun is a veteran presence the Rays need to support and work with this young pitching staff and fine tune them a bit more in 2010.  

And the other option  to be considered by the Rays might have actually been decided before the season was even concluded by the way Brian Shouse portrayed it me when I gave him congrats for reaching his incentive numbers. Shouse gave me the off-the-cuff indication that he felt he might not be with the team, but held out enthusiasm and hope for a different scenario.

Considering the team lost Bullpen members Chad Bradford, Troy Percival and Russ Springer who close to go to the free agent market, the Rays Bullpen will again be a work in progress going into Spring Training. And considering that Shouse did prove to be an effective left-handed specialist for the Rays, this decision might come down to  his option amount and if the team think that leftie reliever Randy Choate can perform in this role in 2010.

Choate is arbitration eligible, and might command only about $ 1.2 million in arbitration. And if the Rays do indeed decide to keep Shouse, Choate might be considered trade bait or even non-tendered. And here lies the difficult decision for the Rays. Shouse will be 42 near the end (Sept 27) of the 2010 season, and is already the oldest pitcher to grace a Rays roster. Does giving him a possible $1.9 million plus his incentive be considered a sound investment for the Rays?


Steve Nesius / AP

Combine that with Shouse holding lefties to a .224 average and  holding his opponents scoreless in 21 of his last 24 appearances, Shouse still has the ability to do the job. But the emergence of Choate late in the season while Shouse was on the disabled list with a left elbow strain, it might  bring the decision simply down to who the Rays think can do the job in 2010. I have feeling the Rays might dwell a bit on the fact he will be 42 before the end of 2010, and will decline the club option for Shouse.

And the buy-out options for both players is not a huge amount, and might also play into the Rays decisions. They currently have until November 11th to make public their decision on Shouse. And if he is not retained by the Rays, he will be given a $ 200,000 buyout. But the decision on Zaun needs to be made on Monday, November 9th, which is 5 days after the end of the World Series. If the Rays do not intend to keep Zaun on their roster, it will cost them $ 500,00 or 25 percent of the salary he would have commanded in 2010.  

And you have to take the delay on the announcement of the club option on Carl Crawford as a positive sign that things are being discussed behind-the-scenes, and that a decision will be announced soon on the Rays plans for Crawford in 2010.  The decisions made over the next few days by the Rays will not totally sculpt their roster for 2010, but it could indicate the direction and the possible intentions of the team in the free agent and trade markets over the Winter months.

You would love for the team to take all three players back into the fold and retain the chemistry that existed at the end of 2009. But the financial realities of the Rays payroll make this kind of a fairy tale and not a reality. Hopefully the Rays front office is working long and hard on their decisions concerning all three players, and that whatever looms in the future for any of them, that the decision will be for the good of the team and be received with the zeal that the team is again striving to be a player in not only the American League East, but in the chase to the 2010 World Series.

Good Riddance Troy Percival

Well you knew in the bottom of your stomach that the baseball world had not seen the last of the bottom feeder known as Troy Percival. You knew that for all the garbage Rays fans had endured over the last two seasons from Percival he would again rise from the ashes after he got his millions from the Rays. People like Percival always seem to find another angle or level to stay in the game.

Is there really another team out there that desperate for a closer (besides the Rays) to consider a relief pitcher who pitched a total of 67 innings in two seasons for his last team? And on Thursday, when Percival could “officially” declared himself a free agent, Percival wasted no time informing MLB of his intentions this off season. So why am I so upset about a guy who is no longer our problem. Who will now be someone else’s problem and have no financial or physical worth to this team.

Honestly, I do not want to see another set of  baseball fans go through the same garbage we have the last two seasons. The buck has to stop here with Percival. At first I thought this MLB announcement was a misprint. Does Percival really feel he can rip off another team for a few million dollars without anyone calling BS after the way he showed his “professionalism” with the Rays. Percival threw only 67 total innings as a member of the Rays, and might be remembered more for what he did not do, than what was accomplished on the field.

Sure he took a few more strides up the All-Time Save list ladder while with the team, but he sacrificed team unity in the Bullpen and abandoned his team when they needed a veteran presence. He was weirdly admired by Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his past fire and brimstone, but that fire and that zeal were just embers when he played here in Tampa Bay, unless you called into question his abilities, then you got a fireworks display from Percival.

And while injured, Percival’s “Greta Garbo” routine of wanting to be alone and rehab away from the team medical staff  actually surfaced before he even donned a Rays uniform. Just ask the Detroit Tiger medical staff and fans who saw a total of 26 games and 25 innings from Percival before he went down for the count during the World Series season. He went on the DL that season and still collected his playoff share before finally leaving the team. Hmm, he did the same thing here in 2008, and stayed on the Rays roster the entire 2009 season hoping for a last payday if the Rays got to the playoffs.

And lets not forget his short stint as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen when most thought he might be making a return to greatness, but instead threw only 40 innings in 34 games with zero saves.  I guess considering that we got at least 32 saves out of his old body before the clunker again hits the skids should be viewed as a positive. But it is what he did on the mound and in plain sight of all of us that still makes me never trust someone like Percival. His “me first” mentality gnawed at me and fueled my personal dislike for the guy.

Maybe the first strike on his character came when I saw him out on the beaches at an Italian restaurant with someone extremely younger than his wife having some dinner. The way he acted in public did not show the social decorum usually associated with a professional athlete. It was not as if someone went up to him in the middle of his antipasto and asked for an autograph. He was rude to his own dinner guests. But maybe that is his personality. Maybe he is a rough and gruff guy by nature.

And his second strike while with the Rays was his outburst after a Sunday afternoon game in which a  home fan innocently kept Evan Longoria from catching a foul ball near the Visitor’s dugout and impeded the play by getting his hand on the ball and not letting Longoria make an easy out for the home team. After the final out of the game, Percival was seen barking out blue streak of words to the guy and his young son. That kind of actions might only be considered professional in the WWE.

And his third strike in my book has to be his boorish behavior of getting vocal and confrontational with the usually cool Maddon on the mound. Earlier this season in Baltimore, the most recent “Percy” moment was there for everyone to see as you yelling directly at Maddon in plain view of the television cameras. That to me is a total lack of respect for his Manager, and a move you would expect in the dugout,not on the mound in front of a stadium of people.

I am not discounting his injuries while he was here with the Rays, because he did have back and knee situations even during his first season with the team, but they seemed to disappear right after the season when he came to St. Petersburg to  be examined by the Rays medical staff and collect his playoff money. He got a share of the pie because of his veteran status, but after the final home game in 2008 he was no where in sight during the Rays playoff run.

In 2008, Percival made three trips to the disabled list and managed to get 28 saves for the Rays before finally shutting it down for the season. He appeared in 46 games for the Rays and battled a hamstring strain twice before some loose cartilage in his right knee put him out for the rest of the year. And about that time he began his disappearing act to California to see his own doctors and chiropractors besides the Rays medical staff.

And the 2009 season started with a bit of optimism since he got some work done on his knee during the off season and he told the media he felt better physically then he had for a long time. And that was a good indicator of things could be on the upswing for the Rays. But on May 22, Percival threw his last pitch as a member of the Rays. That night he was put on the disabled list for a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was not seen on the bench again for the Rays. 

What he has done as a member of the Rays might get him promoted to the top of my Rays former players garbage list with Gerald Williams and Vinny Castilla. Yeah, to me Percival was up there in that realm of grumpy, old players who own self worth was way above their team’s own well being and chemistry. You would think a guy with all that post season experience and positive roles with championship teams would want to boost his teammates, but Percival was no where to be found during those moments.

Percival might have done great things to the community in Southern California that we do not know about, and he might be a local hero to fans and people in that community. But to us here in Tampa Bay we are hopefully saying goodbye to the likes of you Troy Percival for the last time. Please do not let the door hit you on the way out, and yes, I am bitter and disappointed in you as a player and as a man.

I really was excited when you first signed, but that quickly turned to disappointment as I got to see how you acted and reacted with fans and people during your time here. When you first got here I thought we had the first real closer personality here since Danys Baez and Roberto Hernandez, who are still the top 2 closers in Tampa Bay Rays history (thank goodness).

But the thing that further put you in my personal doghouse was the fact that you did not have a personal integrity to be here when the Rays Foundation gave away your 1970 Chevy Chevelle in a raffle during the 2009 season. You were not here to drive the car onto the field or even present the keys to the winner.

It would have been a truly classy move to be here and present the keys to a car you rebuilt for the Rays Foundation, then donated it to the charity. But as we have learned in the last two season here in Tampa Bay, the words “classy” and “Percival” have never seemed to go together.

 

Club Option Clock Keeps Ticking Away

 


Jed Jacobsohn/ Getty Images


A funny thing happened behind the scenes around the MLB about the time New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera visualized Phillies hitter Shane Victorino swing and sent an easy ground ball towards Robinson Cano at second base last night. We on the surface saw the play send the Yankee Stadium crowd into hysteria while celebrating their 27th World Series title.

And that sparked a sea of celebrations all over the country and on that same field, but it also silently ushered in a 14-day time period that will have Major League Baseball free agents and  some players sitting on the “club option” fence wondering if their teams really do want them.

I kind of see this next two weeks like those wild and crazy hallway chatter that we all had back in High School. You know the ones I am talking about here. You will hear a lot of chatter some thrown out as ramblings, and “he said/she said” sound bytes, but it might simply be camouflage to the real intentions. And even the words “trust me” have to be taken with a grain of salt, even from your BFF. 

It is a time where team actions will mean more than words, and someone in that hallway always seems to end up with a broken heart or crushed ego. And this is that short slice of time where not everyone will get what they want,or even what they deserve before the time clock clicks to zero.

Some players will be booted to the curb outside their stadiums and offered small buyouts as consolation prizes. And some might get lucky enough to be asked to sign a contract to make them a financial fit for another team to acquire them and relieve their old team of any financial burdens. It is that weird slice of time where the  season’s accolades and rewards all might dissolve instantly away and you get power plays via the fiscal market.

And you can be sure there will be more than a few MLB players’ agents wandering the hotel halls in Chicago wanting a few moments to get some  good vibes or even comfort for their clients before this 2 week team bloodletting is over. You will see more than a few agents firmly attached to their cells or to a team reps arm to confirm or even deny even the dumbest rumors and facts hitting the hallways.


Canadian Press

And in these clandestine chats some words will not be what the agents and their clients want to hear at all. Take today’s announcement that the New York Mets are parting ways with once highly loved closer/set-up guy J J Putz  by declining his 2010 season. The Mets were infatuated with Putz when they acquired him originally as an insurance policy if K-Rod faltered, but now they would rather release him and give him a $1 million “walk away” parting gift prize instead and let him hit the open market.

But even within the first few hours of this  timed free-for-all, there has been a winner in the guessing game. And you have to think that this move has been going on behind the scene, but a conclusion to the World Series can bring about a “official” announcement. Angels rightfielder Bobby Abreu, who  originally signed a low ball figure of $ 5 million to play in 2009, got a multi-year contract today of at least $ 19 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.

Not only has Abreu done everything the Angels asked of him, and more, but he did it at below market value to show his interest in remaining with the team. Some thought it was ill-advised when he first signed in the Spring of 2009, but now it has blossomed into a nice 2-year $9 million dollar per season contract (2010-2011) with a  club option at the same amount could vest based on plate appearances for 2012.  And even if he is not retained past 2011, he can get a $1 million consolation prize out of the deal.

And in the next few days there will be many more players like former Arizona pitcher Daniel Cabrera who will option for free agency instead of a minor league assignment. During this short time some teams will tease players with minor league assignments to test their willingness to stay in the team’s good graces than to take the option of free agency.

And you know there are more than a handful of players whispering the words trying to get them out through the hallways and byways of the Internet that some guys thought to be safe with their teams might be fighting for their careers with their clubs to vest their options before all is said and done in 14 days.

Guys like ex- Diamondback Chad Tracy and ex-Dodger pitcher Jon Garland have already seen their options turned down and are heading to the free agent market again. But both of these announcements might not be as surprising considering Tracy’s $ 7 million and Garland’s $ 10 million option amounts. Finances play a huge role in these decisions, and have to be done without emotional attachments to the players. 


Eric Mangin / Getty Images

There is even a sense of uneasiness in the celebrating clubhouse of newly crowned World Champion New York Yankees that some roster mates who celebrated into the late morning today might have celebrated their last night as a Yankee. You have to consider that starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang will not be pitching for the Yankees come Spring Training in 2010. That the team might use his latest injuries as an indicator that he might be a durable option come 2010 and search for alternatives. But there are others even within their opponents locker room who might also feel some intense heat before all is said and done over the next 14 days.

You have to consider that the Phillies brain trust has already been throwing ideas and possible solutions via a “Plan B” for the increasing run mudslide that closer Brad Lidge produced during the 2009 regular season and also in the playoffs. There will be a nice wealth of closers in the free agent market, and Lidge might be spending his last days in red pinstripes. But the Philadelphia team also has a huge decision to make about their third base options in the next few days.

Current third baseman Pedro Felix has a $5 million option  on the table with a $500 thousand buyout that the team has to be considered before they even swirl the free agent waters. Could he be on the way out with someone like ex-Mariner Andre Beltre wading his toes in the free agent marketplace. Some say a Beltre hook-up with Philly would be a match made in heaven, but we have heard that all too often in the past to believe in the fairytale. And you can be sure the Phillies might wait until the last moment to announce anything concerning Felix.


Talialeone@Flickr.com

As every MLB team
has a chance to tease and please their current players with club options and possible extended deals  over the next few weeks,their are more than a few who could be pushed out by dollar signs and not true talent evaluations. I actually think that the trade  announcement of multi-dimensional player Mark Teahen going to the Chicago White Sox from the Kansas City Royals is a perfect indicator of teams loving their player, until a deal comes around they can not pass over.

It should be interesting over the next 14 days with more than a few surprises, and hopefully more anti climatic moments for some teams and their players. But you can be sure that there will be more than few declined options or even last moment trades that will bring out a shock and awe to all of us. there is always one guy thought to be on solid ground that all of a sudden is either sent packing or sent to a rival without hesitation.

but that is the nature of the game time of the season. It is not like they do not want to keep these players on their team, or do not covet them as contributors, but the end result might be that the team really was not just that into the player and saw a way out of the relationship.

Yep, just like High School, the deal might be conveyed from friend of a friend, or a causal phone call from their agent, but in the end, it will not be personal, it will be business. And that is a sucky part of the whole process. Sometimes talent and ability is weighed down by dollar signs and the end is in plain view for a player this time of year. Banner years and fan love are not played into the equations this time of year, the reality of the game owns this time of the year.

Adiosu Aki, Settai Chavez


SPTimes.com

You just knew that the Rays had put the discussion and the issue of whether to retain Akinora Iwamura or test the trade waters for him a high priority this World Series week. Mostly because they had to make a decision immediately after the series on if they were going to pay him a $550,000 contract buyout, or accept the 1-year $4.85 million dollar contract for the 2010 season.

And we all knew that the Rays could always trade Iwamura, but everyone in the league knew they would have to make a decision on him, and might try and low sell the Rays on a prospect to get some veteran leadership on their team. And in the end, Iwamura went to a team that did not even appear on anyone’s radar as a potential trade partner.

Before last night, who besides the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would have believed that the Pittsburgh Pirates had anything more than a passing interest on the infielder. It seemed some what out of character that a team that has been sold on youth and keeping a lower payroll would bring on a player that instantly became their highest paid player in one firm stroke.

But it is not as if Iwamura was a salary dump, or even a bad contract move. His one year deal actually might make a bit of sense for the Pirates considering he has shown he is a team first player who can also play both third base and second base with exceptional defensive skills.  But it might be his effectiveness at the plate that intrigued the Pirates the most.

They had been seeking a lead-off bat that could produce both with infield hits and on the base paths. Iwamura fits that bill and more. In his three season with the Rays he was used as a lead-off man and also a lower in the line-up hitter and excelled in both spots with timely hits and aggressive actions on the bases.


RRCollections

Also a glowing positive is the fact that in his first two season in the Major League, Iwamura had only hit into 4 double plays in 1,216 at bats for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007-2007. He is a career .281 hitter who is known to go on hitting streaks and has a medium dose of power in his bat.  But what might be exciting to fans and players alike is his imitation alligator skin glove that he had made when he signed with the Rays back in 2007.

Iwamura is quiet on the field, but was a constant clubhouse figure during the celebration and during fan signings during his season with the Rays. Some people think that the Rays might have gotten the short end of the deal with only acquiring reliever Jesse Chavez in the deal. But all indication are from the Rays scouting department that Chavez is a young pitcher who can bring the ball to the plate and should be firmly in the mix to make the team in the 2010 Spring Training.

Chavez almost set the Pirate rookie record for innings pitched in 2009, but he fell 12 inning short of the record set by teammate Matt Capps in 2006. Chavez did finished the year with a total of 67.1 innings and led all National League pitchers in innings pitched last season.  And his record in 2009 might be a bit misleading at 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA.

But he did lead the Pirates Bullpen in total appearances last season (73). And he picked up his first Major League win in a walk-off victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on September 6,2009. And what might have appealed to the Rays is the fact he was scored upon once in his last nine appearances, and posted a 3.19 ERA early in the season before the All Star break.

So the Rays are getting a guy who has one season of Major League experience, and is under team control until 2014. Which in the long run is the Rays formula to success recently. The addition of Chavez fills a hole the Rays will have in their Bullpen coming into Spring Training, and also gives them a viable option that could make the team out of Spring Training at a reasonable salary for the team.

And after the Pirates traded John Garbow to the Chicago Cubs, the team depended on Chavez more and more during the season to get critical outs in the game.  But one disadvantage Chavez has coming to the Rays might be that the Pirates did not play the match-up game the way the Rays have done for most of 2009. Instead Pirates Manager John Russell would put Chavez in the game no matter if right or left-handers were coming to the plate.

Russell personally felt that the match-up system would tax his Bullpen and his philosophy was not to play into situational pitching, but to make his guys get batters out on both sides of the plate nightly.  And Chavez held both sides of the plate under .300, with a .228 average against lefties.  But there might be a few things that ring alarm bells in the Rays head also about the powerful rightie.

During 2009, opponents hit Chavez to a 9.0 ERA on turf, which he will play over 81 game on both at the Trop. and on the road for the Rays.  And he has a better ERA away from home than on the road, which is not usually the case in a young pitcher. Chavez has a 3.45 ERA away from PNC Park, while he held a 4.50 ERA at home. But he is a young pitcher, and future adjustments and a comfort level both with the Rays and on the Field Turf might change those stats fast for Chavez.

I honestly think this trade is more of a “win-win” for both teams.  Some have brought up the issue of the Rays having a limited sense of leverage in this deal, but in reality the Pirates gave up a guy with loads of potential and a gift of giving up the long ball in return for a veteran they control and could use as a nice trade tool at the Trading Deadline in 2010.

But in the end, I will miss seeing Iwamura manning the second base hole during Rays games, but the reality has shown again for the Rays. Even in the time since we have let our payroll go a big north the reality was still there that members of this team would out-grown the Rays financial breaking points. 

First Scott Kazmir was jettisoned before the end of 2009 to free up capital to try and keep Carl Crawford in the fold. Then both Crawford and Iwamura both went to the team and let them know that financial options could be discussed with each of them. But in the end, it is a business, and with the financial background of the Rays front office, we will see more and more of these emotion less transactions in the coming years. Even if it is business and not personal, seeing Iwamura go now is sad, but a product of the system that the Rays employ to keep their team fiscally fit and ready for 2010.


Elise Almendola /AP

 
私達は2010年のAkiのピッツバーグの繁栄そして健康を望む。
そして私達はあなたの微笑を逃す!

( We wish you prosperity and health in Pittsburgh in 2010. We will miss your smile!)

St. Pete Election could decide Rays Future

 


SPTimes.com

On this National election Day, there are citizens all around the country voting to retain or replace local politicians in their city governments. Some are voting for Council members,  minor and major elected city officials and maybe even for the high office of Mayor. But in St. Petersburg, Florida, the vote for your mayor candidate might send a clear and concise message to the Tampa Bay Rays on what the teams future might be in the city or somewhere else.

Both of the cities Mayor candidates have been loud and proud in their support or bashing of the Rays proposal to construct a new retractable roof stadium within the city limits. And it is a decision that has alienated some community leaders from their citizens,or even renewed a hope of a change in government. The voting decision today by the city populus might be a clear indicator of if the Rays dream of a new stadium is going to be a folly or a future shing star in the Tampa Bay area.

Also at stake is the timing of any future plans at all.  Consider if the city does join forces with the Rays and campaign for a new stadium as soon as 2012. If the city and the team tries to fund it and build it too quickly, without total support, you will see the city sacrifice city taxes and proposed revenues by looking at it in tunnel vision. But there is a far worst scenario that might come from waiting too long to make a initial decison on the project and watch the moving vans stroll up to the Trop and wave goodbye to baseball in Tampa Bay for good.

The A Better Community (ABC) group, which has been commissioned to research all the nooks and crannies of the Tampa Bay area for the right location and situation for the proposed stadium has not even made a final conclusion in the stadium process. And that might be a intelligent political move for them to wait and see what kind of political obstacles might fall in their way before revealing their final reccomendations to the public. 

But you can bet the group is closely watching the St. Pete election with a keen eye on what might happen or needs to happen in the next few years concerning the stadium  issue. And the candidate have laid it all out in black and white to the public on this issue, and there has been no pandering to either side. But their firm words are just that right now until they are elected to the office and will have to comment again on the issue.


Jame Borchuck/ SPTimes

You have one candidate Kathleen Ford, who has been a huge voice that the Rays are committed by contract to staying at Tropicana Field until 2027, and is not about to give them any freedom or deviations from their present deal in the near future. Ford has campaigned hard on the issues of the city’s economy and putting more police officiers on the street and decreasing taxes than thinking about baseball right now. And that might be the platform that makes her viable to the citizens of the city. 

But Ford also knows that the city of St. Petersburg has a trump card in this stadium deal, and she is holding it close to her vest right now. If the Rays cry poverty, then the city could instruct the team to open their  teams financial books, and MLB and baseball in general has been hesistant in the past to let outsiders see such things as revenue sharing and other inner workings of their system.

And Ford might use the possibility of financial damages as her remedy to the situation. The current contract between the Rays and the city stipulates that all bond monies (currently about $ 80 million) must be paid off.   And in this point alone,Ford might have the power of the judicial system in her court. So, could Ford become a major stadium hinderence to the Rays if she is elected or just a road block?

Then you have the other candidate, Bill Foster who has flip floped at least once on the issue, but  that concerned the building of the stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront, and not the proposed sites on the outer stretches of the city’s limits. Foster realistically sees both sides of the equation now,and has vowed to work with the Rays organization to get the right decision for both the citizens of his town and the Rays in this issue.


SPTimes.com

Foster is the candidate who truly envisions the concrete hitting the soil as early as 2016 when the financing of the current bonds surrounding the Tropicana Field lease are set to expire.  And he is also throwing the idea out of maybe even expanding the concept to include a convention center on the property picked to make it more attractive to city residents and voters if a referendum is needed to get the funding. But does he have the charm and finesse needed to get them reinstituted and the Rays on the way to fulfilling the dream?

And both candidates have been adamant about a court battle if the Rays try and take the team away before 2027, but we all know that professional teams can win court battles and even iron clad lawsuits by twisting the system with monetary solutions,or by just winning outright in their case. And that is one of the strong armed tactics we could expect if Ford is elected to the office. Foster might use it as a directional tool, but not as a strong point to twist the issue ot negotiations with the Rays.

Depending on where your personal logic lies, the Rays will be making decisions behind their closed doors that are not privy to the Florida Sunshine Laws to either boost or defend their current plans to acquire the head nod of city officials about a stadium. And the Rays are not going to immediately head for the hills and be on speed dial with Portland,San Antonio, Las Vegas or even Charlotte if the wrong person is elected, or shows a strong will even to speak about the issue. But you know they have a back-up plan. This is a business, not just a baseball sports franchise, and a wise man always has a secondary solution up their sleeves.

But this is going to be a critical decision by the citizens of St. Petersburg on how their baseball future will be visualized. The region has emerged as a Major League city, if the city government balks at the building or any considerations of a stadium, the city could lose. And if that happens,will the citizens of St. Petersburg, Florida want to again become a Minor League city? 


SPTimes.com

Could
the decision making by the next St. Pete mayor, either Foster or Ford be the deciding factor in if the Rays are doing a ribbon cutting or preparing for a court battle in the future? After they are elected we might get a good indicator of their thoughts when the ABC releases their recommendations on the stadium parameters such as location and structure. The first order uttered on this issue by the new Mayor might send the clear message to baseball lovers in the community.

So the issue of baseball might be considered front and center in this election, but it has a huge dose of hard core realization attached to both  Mayor candidates. One has been vocal about playing hardball and tying the team up to their total commitments. The other has been wise enough to consider alternatives and will keep an open mind into the baseball situation until all the cards are presented to him and the St. Petersburg City Council. 

When the Waterfront  proposed stadium plans were pulled back off the table by the Rays earlier this year it was seen as a victory by some small political groups (POWW) around the community. They saw the pulling of the proposed plans as a major coup at the time. But who is to say that it was not STRIKE ONE by the St. Petersburg politicans, and the Rays will ultimately be the ones who determine when the community strikes out,or hits one out of the park and into the bay. 
 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 277 other followers