Wednesday, February 28, 2007

So He's Got That Going for Him

Perry: Diamondbacks "Next National League Powerhouse"

From "Future is bright for Diamondbacks" by Dayn Perry at FOXSports.com:

It's a close call, but the Arizona Diamondbacks enter the 2007 season as the favorites in the National League West.

What's also worth noting is that this might the worst D'backs team we'll see in the next seven years or so. Yep, that's right. Arizona has assembled one of the most impressive menageries of young talent that's been seen in some time, and as a result the organization is poised to dominate the division -- and perhaps all of the NL -- in the coming seasons....

On the whole, you have an organization that's uniquely positioned to dominate. In the NL West, you have strong collections of young talent in Los Angeles and Colorado, but they don't rise to the level of Arizona's pups. Let's keep in mind that this is an organization that, in their relatively brief nine-year history, has won three division titles and a World Series. Believe it or not, the best may be yet to come.

A bold call, to be sure. But weren't the same things being said about Cleveland and Florida few years back?

And where will the Diamondbacks' clubhouse leadership come from? A quick glance at their roster shows their most experienced players are Randy Johnson (back with the club after two years with the Yankees, and more a leader by example), Eric Byrnes (new to the club in '06) and Tony Clark (not a starter).

In fact, Ned Colletti's preference for veteran players will provide an interesting contrast between the approaches of both clubs in the next few years: Dodgers (talented youngsters mixed with veterans) vs. Diamondbacks (talented youngsters expected to produce sooner rather than later).

Marlon Anderson, First Injured Dodger of 2007

Oh man, here they come. Marlon Anderson was held out of today's intrasquad game due to pain in his right elbow. Let the parade of injuries begin.

The Dodgers came one day from getting through February without an injury. Then utility player Marlon Anderson took a batting practice swing before a 4 1/2-inning intrasquad game and felt pain in his right elbow. He was held out of the game and won't play until the pain subsides.

Anderson, a nine-year veteran who helped the Dodgers to the playoffs with a sensational September, is a lock to make the roster. Yet he was trying to play through the pain without letting anyone know the way a rookie might.

"We had to remind Marlon that [tomorrow] is March 1 and not May 1," Manager Grady Little said. "We won't push him too much."

In other news, unlike Anderson, veteran Luis Gonzalez did make today's intrasquad game, only to be hit on the wrist by a pitch from Mike Megrew. Gonzalez claimed he was okay.

One intrasquad game, two injuries. But did I mention the Dodgers won?

Barry Bonds Plays the Victim Card. Yet Again.

Why is Barry Bonds such an arrogant, self-absorbed, standoffish prick? According to an interview on a San Francisco AM station, it's because of death threats to him and his family.

In a candid interview with KGO Radio in San Francisco, Barry Bonds on Tuesday said he receives death threats and just tries to keep a level head as he attempts to break Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755 home runs.

Bonds didn't elaborate on the nature of the death threats in the approximately 90-minute interview.

Bonds told KGO that he's sorry if he appears standoffish, but he's just trying to be careful because of the threats that are circulating within his camp.

"There's a lot of times I want to say I'm sorry to some of the fans. You're only strong to a point and then you get nervous," Bonds told KGO. "I'm kind of standoffish and stuff and you can't really explain that."

"I'm mostly gun-shy of what can happen. Once this is all over and done, whether I get lucky enough to do it or not, I'll be able to release just a little bit of the anxiety and fear of what can happen.

"You don't want anything to happen to yourself. You don't want anything to happen to your family," Bonds told KGO.

Sounds an awful lot like the time he tried to play the victim back in 2005. That attempt didn't seem to work, either. If he really wants to be come a McGwire-like recluse, it seems to me that retirement is the best way.

New York Restaurant Reviewer Job Perks

And elsewhere in the New York Times today comes this fine piece, a restaurant review of Robert's Steakhouse in New York, which has some of the "very best steaks in New York City."

Oh yeah, and it happens to be located in the Penthouse Executive Club.

Oh, to be a restaurant reviewer.

To VORP Or Not To VORP

I'll admit that I feel like a neophyte with baseball statistics. I believe in them, and I enjoy learning about them, but I'm still a little ways away from injecting acronyms like BABIP, EqA, and VORP into common conversation.

Murray Chass of the NY Times, however, will have none of that. In his latest column of "topics which should be off-limits this season," he writes:

[Off-limit topic:] Statistics mongers promoting VORP and other new-age baseball statistics.

I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.

To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didn’t know what it meant either.

Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Don’t ask what it means. I don’t know.

I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.

People play baseball. Numbers don’t.

And guns don't kill people, people do! But I digress. Anyway, as Jon pointed out on Dodger Thoughts, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus wrote a very classy response to Chass' piece. I agree with Silver, whether you like statistics or not, we are all baseball fans. Let's enjoy the national pastime in whatever language we want to use.

I should note, though, that Chass has shown a penchant for citing statistics like Marginal Utility of Righthanded Relievers Against Youngsters, as well as Contributing Hits As ShortStop. But again, I digress.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I Said I Wanted A Hip Party, Not A Hep Party

Happy Valentine's Day to all of those who attended the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue party in Los Angeles on February 14! Thanks to the fine staff at Wolfgang Puck, creators of frozen pizzas and LAX airport cafes, you may now be infected with Hepatitis A, particularly if you had the oysters on the half shell or the sushi:

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health urged anyone who ate raw food at the Sports Illustrated event, held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, to receive an immune globulin shot by Wednesday.

Health officials and event hosts were also contacting attendees of three smaller events between Feb. 14 and 20 that were within the 14-day window during which immune globulin can be administered to prevent illness.

Authorities identified nine other events involving the affected food handler at a time when the worker could have been infectious, but those attendees were already beyond the 14-day window for immune globulin. Hosts and organizers of those events were notified to advise guests to see their doctors if they experience symptoms.

The advisory was issued after the catering employee was diagnosed with acute Hepatitis A. The infected individual was placed on medical leave, said Carl Schuster, president of Wolfgang Puck Catering.

No need to be alarmed, though, as hepatitis A's symptoms only include malaise, joint aches, abdominal pain, vomiting 2-3 times per day for the first 5 days, defecation, loss of appetite, dark urine, fever, hepatomegaly (enlarged liver) and jaundice (icterus, yellowing of the eyes and skin) (according to wikipedia). No big deal.

Maybe next time, instead of ogling some scantily-clad woman, you'll look for the big white sign with a "C" on it.

James Loney

Loney exploring new frontiers for LA: First baseman learning outfield in effort to help big-league club (Dodgers.com)

Brett Tomko Pulls A Zito

In an effort to make the starting rotation, Dodger Brett Tomko has changed his mechanics this offseason. And we're not talking about his auto mechanics.

Brett Tomko is one of several pitchers trying to become the Dodgers' fifth starting pitcher. His quest began in December when he decided to overhaul his mechanics. Hours of shadow-pitching, watching himself in the mirror and playing catch with friends may finally be paying off. The veteran right-hander, who started 15 games for the Dodgers last season, thinks that his new windup will help him become a starting pitcher again.

"He's made some adjustments in his mechanics, and we saw some significant difference in it," manager Grady Little said. "We saw that there is a considerable amount of deception added to his delivery. It's much better than what we saw at any time last year."

The deception in Tomko's case was nothing more than altering the movement of his pitching arm. Rather than holding his arm -- and the ball -- away from his body during his windup, he now keeps everything behind his body until it's time for the delivery.

The deception? With tact? Just what are you trying to say? (Sorry about that digression; one thing lead(s) to another.) Although the foxsports.com article goes on to say that Mark Hendrickson "arrived in camp with newfound confidence" as well, I'd wager that Tomko's chances are more likely than Hendrickson's. Let's hope that Tomko's changes, if improvements, last longer than Barry Zito's experiment did.

Hodges Denied Again

We were wondering about Gil Hodges' chances for the Hall of Fame, and the results are in: The Veterans Committee says no. To everybody this year.

1909 Honus Wagner T206 Fetches Slightly More Than 2007 Derek Jeter Topps

From "Famous Honus Wagner card sells for record $2.35M" (AP/ESPN.com):

LOS ANGELES -- The "Holy Grail of baseball cards," the famous 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, has sold for a record-setting $2,350,000, the seller of the card said Monday.

The anonymous buyer has only been identified as a Southern California collector. SCP Auctions Inc., a company that holds sports memorabilia auctions, said it bought a small share of the card. It is scheduled to be shown at a news conference at Dodger Stadium Tuesday.

So apparently now you can buy a share of a baseball card (not to mention treating cards like shares). Who wants to buy a share of my Alex Cora rookie card?

AP photo/Kathy Willens

Game of Shadows' New Afterword: Bonds' "Freakish" Growth

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams' book "Game of Shadows" is released this week in a new paperback edition, one year after its first release, along with a new afterword from the authors. As Tom Verducci reports, the afterword highlights the fact that Barry Bonds and his team of lawyers have not disputed a single fact in the book.

Bonds' attorney, Michael Rains, has thrown his share of smoke bombs to divert attention from the facts: challenging the authors' right to profit from the book (he summarily dropped the challenge, with virtually no hope of success), and now trying to demand disclosure by the feds of how much money they've spent on investigating Bonds and, ironically enough, asking them to continue spending more money in the case by continuing to pursue the identify of people who might have leaked information, though the chief leaker already has been outed.

You hear all that noise from the Bonds camp and yet most conspicuous is the silence on challenging the facts of the case. Shadows succeeded because it couched nothing and stood unchallenged. My favorite fact: the authors detail in their afterword the freakish growth of Bonds' body parts in his years with the Giants: from size 42 to a size 52 jersey; from size 10 1/2 to size 13 cleats; and from a size 7 1/8 to size 7 1/4 cap, even though he had taken to shaving his head.

"The changes in his foot and head size," they write, "were of special interest: medical experts said overuse of human growth hormone could cause an adult's extremities to begin growing, aping the symptoms of the glandular disorder acromegaly."

Hmm. Since Bonds joined the Giants at the age of 28, his upper torso, feet, and headsize all grew enormous amounts (the latter two of which are highly unnatural by any stretch, pun intended).

I wonder, in order to balance the equation, if anything on Bonds' body might have shrunk?

Oh, Those Wacky Topps Guys

Just when you thought baseball cards had plummeted from the interest level of all Americans, comes the news that Derek Jeter's Topps 2007 card has photoshopped images of Mickey Mantle and George Bush in the crowd.

NEW YORK -- As President Bush smiled and waved from the stands and Mickey Mantle looked on from the dugout, Derek Jeter swung his bat. Talk about pressure.

The game never happened, though. It was just someone's idea of a visual gag -- pulled off in a recent Topps baseball card through digital manipulation.

"Somewhere in between the final proofing and its printing, someone at our company -- and we won't name names -- thought it would be funny to put in Bush and Mantle," said Clay Luraschi, a spokesman for Topps in Tuesday's edition of the New York Daily News.

The president's image is superimposed on the picture, while whoever played the trick took some time blending Mantle into the background of Jeter's card, No. 40 in the set.

Luraschi said that the gag was discovered during proofing of the card, but that it was already in the set. "We couldn't do anything but laugh," he said.

As if anyone collected baseball cards anymore (a fate the industry brought on itself after rampant proliferation of cards and inserts and subsets and chrome versions and other cheap gimmicks). The fact that Topps knew about this issue months ago and only released the information now (as the cards are being released) seems to indicate it was a deliberate move to garner publicity. Couldn't they have photshopped someone more appealing?

And yes, I'm a jealous unskilled Photoshop hack.

Comment of the Week

The latest Comment of the Week comes from our new best friend cigarcow, who's a little shy about expressing himself but maybe, just maybe, we can coax a few words from him...?

Tom Verducci is a moron hack. I hate that he's SI's official baseball representative. I doubt he's ever watched an entire Dodger game, yet he writes about them as if he's some sort of authority. EVERY time he writes about the Dodgers, it's always half-assed and incorrect. I hate that guy. There was an article in SI a couple years back where he just blatantly made up a bunch of events at a Dodger game in Chicago. It was ridiculous. Now I'm all fired-up for the season.

Thanks, cigarcow! Next time don't hold back!

Lasorda Mentioned in Upcoming Autobiography

Speaking of LA Times "puff pieces"...

The LA Times' California section reported today that Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda will be mentioned in an upcoming call-girl autobiography as a celebrity who used her escort service.

In "Secrets of a Hollywood SuperMadam," an autobiography due in bookstores Thursday, [Hollywood madam Jody] Gibson names two dozen celebrities she says patronized her call-girl service.

Many of the names also appear in her phone books, a payment log and other records from the case that have been unsealed by Los Angeles Superior Court and can now be viewed in unredacted form.

A review of the court file shows that Gibson listed actor Bruce Willis; former Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda; Steve Jones, the Sex Pistols guitarist and KDLE-FM (103.1) radio jock; and the late film producer Don Simpson, among others.

Willis and Lasorda said through their lawyers that they never used Gibson's service and had no idea why their names appeared in her records. They accused Gibson of exploiting their fame to boost her book sales.

"I have never heard of this woman and don't know why she would accuse me of something like this," Lasorda said in a statement issued by his attorney, Tony Capozzola. "But if she prints these lies, I intend to sue."

Willis' attorney, Marty Singer, said: "The story is a complete fabrication. [Willis] doesn't know this woman. He's never even spoken to her."

A former lawyer for Simpson said the producer, who died in 1996, never patronized Gibson's business.

Whatchoo talking 'bout, Willis (and Lasorda)? Not to go all lawyer on us, but only Simpson's former lawyer seems to make the distinction between "using Gibson's business" and "whether X knew Gibson." For the record, Jones went on to say it could have been true, but he wasn't certain.

All I know is, I've lost my appetite for lunch.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Trader Neddie Corners Market on Antique Jaguars

© 2007 - University of South Alabama
So one of the tastier nuggets in this morning's puff piece by the L. A. Times' Kevin Baxter was that the Dodgers have managed to lard their roster with not one, not two, but three former South Alabama players (Juan Pierre, Luis Gonzalez, and Marlon Anderson for those of you scoring at home and/or members of the University of South Alabama Alumni Association). While the Sons of Steve Garvey fully appreciate the values of higher education, we just have to question the wisdom of concentrating so much "brainpower" on the same roster. It's not like the Jaguars are exactly a collegiate baseball powerhouse.

Episode VI: Return of the Lip Gloss Promotion

SoSG stands corrected! (Actually, a website can't technically stand, but you get the point.)

Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY! May 13! The Dodgers are bringing back the Lip Gloss promotion in our game against the all-too-appropriate Reds (who, for this game, will be wearing their Creamy Deep Rose Blur Shade alternate Sunday day-game uniforms).

Even the sponsor, Smashbox Cosmetics, is hedging its bet--they gave away 50,000 items last year but this year are going with half as many. (I'm guessing the ROI on this promotion was pretty easy to determine, given the obvious poor demographic overlap.) They'd better not run out of Dodger Dogs over in the Olmedo Saenz Pavilion, or you can bet what giveaway is next on the menu for those fans.

Or, for that matter, what other battery-sized item would you give away to 25,000 crazy fans? Hmmm...there's a reason why the Philadelphia Eagles don't have a lipstick giveaway. If I were umpiring this game, I'd get my calls right.

Six Slots Down, Two To Go...

Russell Martin just grabbed the sixth spot in the Dodgers' lineup. Grady Little made the announcement from Vero Beach today, leaving Andre Ethier and Wilson Betemit to battle it out for the final two spots in the order:

Martin will bat sixth, Little said Monday, leaving Ethier to bat either seventh or eighth despite his team-leading .308 batting average as a rookie last season.

Ethier also had a higher on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Martin, who hit .282 with 10 home runs, 65 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases as a rookie.

"We want Russell hitting more often than he would batting eighth," Little said. "He moves the ball around and he moves it with authority. I wouldn't be surprised to see this kid hit 15 to 20 home runs."

Little had already established that Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez would be the first five in the batting order. With Martin sixth, that leaves third baseman Wilson Betemit and Ethier to bat ahead of the pitcher in some order.

We could certainly use 15 to 20 home runs from Russell. After all the off-season speculation about Martin potentially in the 2 slot, I'm glad Little has opted instead to put him further down the order. Relative to Betemit and Ethier, who have potential replacements chomping at the bit, this should put Martin a bit more at ease, allowing him to focus on avoiding a sophomore slump (and potentially catching Gonzalez if he indeed turns out to be nothing more than a doubles hitter, as feared by his decline in power numbers).

Best Oscar Moment: "I'm gonna do that gay coal-mining film with James Spader!"

"And Helen Mirren? You are just hots."

Vote for Nomar, If Only to Save Him from the Cutting Room Floor

From Dodger "Notes" by Ken Gurnick:

You're an All-Star: Garciaparra and Brad Penny, Dodgers All-Stars last year, participated Monday in the taping of a Major League Baseball commercial for this year's All-Star Game. Because the game is in San Francisco, a cable car was brought in as a prop for the taping.

On an unrelated note:

Experiment continues: Apparently the Dodgers haven't totally scrapped the idea of third-base prospect Andy La Roche in the outfield, because he was working with coach Dave Jauss on Monday on balls bouncing in front of him and turning to chase balls hit over his head.

photo by Rick Silva/AP

About 100 Calories

From Ken Gurnick's latest "Mailbag" at Dodgers.com:

After looking at a few Spring Training pictures, it looks like Brad Penny is in great shape, and has lost at least 15 pounds. Is it just my imagination?
-- Casey S., Riverside, Calif.

Penny and Derek Lowe both appear lighter and firmer than a year ago. For what it's worth, Penny's breakfasts now consist mostly of fruit.

photo by Rick Silva/AP

Zito Creepiness Continues

'Giants Idol' brings more laughs (sfgiants.com)

This is so wrong, yet apparently it has become a Giants tradition. Hey guys, how about next time playing dress-up in the privacy of the locker room? And off-limits to the press so our eyeballs can stop melting?

photo by Eric Risberg/AP

ESPN Scrutinizes Asians

Damon: Curly is funny.
Andy: What do you mean, curly is funny?
Damon: Curly hair is funny. Harpo Marx, Leo Sayer....
Andy: I can name you loads of people with curly hair that aren't funny. Starsky from "Starsky and Hutch." Jim Morrison.
Keith: Blacks.
Andy: Don't say "blacks."
Keith: What shall I say?
Andy: Say "black people."

Extras

...which reminds me that as much social progress as the Dodgers have made on the field, their "Asian Operations department" isn't batting 1.000 (although they've eschewed the sometimes troublesome hyphenation in their Asian American theme nights).

While the Dodgers have held Japanese American Community Night (2004 guests included Wally Kaname Yonamine (the first American to play post-WWII professional baseball in Japan) and Don Newcombe (Yonamine's Chunichi Dragons teammate in 1962)) and Korean American Community Night (2003 guests included Colonel Young Oak Kim (the first Asian American to command a U.S. battalion) and Judge Tammy Chung Ryu (California's first Korean American female judge)), guess who threw out the first pitch at 2004's Chinese American Community Night?

That's right, WILLIAM FREAKIN' HUNG. The embodiment of so many stereotypes he makes Stepin Fetchit look like Denzel Washington. Excellent job, guys.

Hung: AP photo/Danny Moloshok

Randy Wolf Named Dodgers Opening Day Pitcher....

...opening day of Grapefruit League ball, that is. And according to the LA Times, he can swing a bat, too (note the Lugo-esque .193 batting average)!

Let's hope Wolf can pull us out of our current Grapefruit League standings. According to ESPN.com, we are tied for last place.

In all seriousness, I can't wait until 10.05PT on March 1.

OBP, OPS, SLG and GPA

Moneyball fans already know about this, but I thought this weekend's NY Times article on OPS and its derivative GPA (gross production average), was a helpful primer on the statistic. It's pretty interesting that OPS, even for its advances relative to the traditional batting average statistic, might be better utilized using a GPA translation due to its more-familiar scale:

Most stat-savvy baseball folks sense that on-base percentage is more valuable, perhaps drastically so, because it better recognizes the importance of not making outs. David Wright of the Mets agreed last week, saying: “You can always make things happen when you get on base. When I think of slugging percentage, I think of sitting back for the three-run homer, which might not happen.”

[Victor Wang, who published an article on the relative value of OBP and slugging average in a SABR journal,] wasn’t the first researcher to look into exactly how much more valuable on-base percentage may be. The Hardball Times, a statistics-oriented think tank out of the Baseball Prospectus mold, recently identified the same factor of 1.8 and started weighting O.P.S. [on-base percentage plus slugging] accordingly. Better yet, one last simple step — dividing by four — put this new measure (called Gross Production Average) on the comfortably familiar scale of batting average, with figures generally ranging from .200 (horrible) to .265 (roughly average) to around .360 (superior). It’s a language that most fans speak....

O.P.S. appeared on the scene in the 1970s, with on-base and slugging percentages being added rather than multiplied (which everyone agreed was more accurate) solely because it was simpler. O.P.S. is old enough that The New York Times published weekly top 10 leaders as early as 1985. But again, that didn’t last long. Even today, with O.P.S. the most accepted nontraditional statistic, fans still have trouble intuitively sensing if an .850 O.P.S. is good or bad.

The salvation for Gross Production Average could be how it translates a better O.P.S. into the customary .200-to-.360 scale. G.P.A.’s .300 hitters are just about as elite as traditional ones: Last year, 38 batters hit .300 in batting average, while 32 hit .300 in G.P.A. They are just not the same hitters, which is the entire point.

So there you have it, GPA = [(OBP * 1.8) + SLG] / 4, then adjusted for ballpark factor. Maybe GPA seems more intuitive since it fits the old scale; or maybe it's because we subconsciously have been trained to care about GPAs since high school.

In 2006, the leading GPA on the Dodgers was JD Drew, 22nd in the majors, with a .309 GPA. Of current Dodgers, Nomar Garciaparra was 36th in the majors, with a .299 GPA.

Dodger Blues Links to SoSG-fest

Long the gold standard for Dodger-branded cynicism and making me laugh my ass off, Dodger Blues has linked to us with the succinct description of "Dodger commentary."

Thanks, DB! Keep up the snark.

Suite Surrender?

This is a bit late, but there was a pretty interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last weekend regarding how stadiums are removing suites and skyboxes, as they find them tougher to fill and less of a revenue driver. Safeco Field in Seattle, Comerica Park in Detroit, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, and Milwaukee's Miller Park were all cited as MLB stadiums which are modifying, or considering modifying, their stadiums by removing some of their corporate suites for other alternatives.

Reasons cited for the difficulties filling these suites include tougher accounting and tax rules, internal company audits finding the perks are going to employees rather than clients, and even a proliferation of suites such that they aren't a novelty anymore. (Long post due to lack of free link.)

It was like watching an era of sports history being erased. In early December, construction workers sawed through the multiple layers of drywall and metal studs separating a row of skyboxes at the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field. They tore up the suites' beech-hardwood floors and carted away their oriental rugs and leather furniture. By the end of the week, the eight skyboxes were gone.

In a reversal that strikes at a cornerstone of pro-sports finances -- and of the way corporate America entertains -- teams around the country are ripping out luxury suites. These perches have been used to justify billions of dollars in stadium construction over the past two decades. But in many cities, they are losing luster with surprising speed, partly the result of factors that couldn't have predicted five or 10 years ago, from changes in tax laws to scandal-driven reforms on corporate entertaining.

"At GM, you can't even buy them a cup of coffee anymore," says Lin Cummins, the marketing chief at automotive supplier Arvin Meritor in Troy, Mich, which has let the leases expire for its suites in four different sports.

Bank of America cut back on its use of a handful of suites in part because it wasn't getting enough clients to fill the seats. At Pepco, an electric-products company that decided not to renew three of its four suites, the CEO says taking clients on fishing trips is a better -- and more cost-effective -- way to get face time.

The Milwaukee Brewers eliminated five of their 69 suites this off-season to make room for a lower-priced, 9,000-square-foot upscale party area that will be ready for opening day. The Chicago White Sox, one season removed from a World Series title, recently gutted 10 of its 103 suites to build a new press box. Other teams are hoping they can hold onto some of their suite customers by showering them with perks ranging from cooking classes to free suite renovations.

In some big cities, the skyboxes continue to draw consistently -- the Boston Red Sox, for instance, have a waiting list. But the Mariners' experience over the last decade shows why some teams are now having to rethink the suite concept.

When Seattle's Safeco Field was completed in 1999, the $517 million ballpark was a huge draw for a business community that included titans like Microsoft and Boeing. Those companies helped boost the team's revenue by more than $20 million a year by signing multiyear leases in the stadium's 68 suites. The suites, which sell for as much as $200,000 per season, are a key reason why the team went from struggling financially a decade ago to being one of the most profitable teams in Major League Baseball.

By 2003, the suites had become a tougher sell. For one thing, the pool of companies that needed or wanted to entertain 16 people at a time for 81 games was shrinking, according to Bob Aylward, the team's executive vice president of business operations. The Mariners made several moves to try to lift sagging demand. In 2003, the team began offering 10-game packages for some suites that previously had been sold on a 20-game, half- or full-season basis.

Then, late last year, following the lead of teams like the Tigers and Brewers, they knocked down eight of the suites and created a lounge where people could get all the food, drinks and other amenities of a suite but have it included in the price of a ticket. The new All-Star Club is a bit short on intimacy -- with a capacity of 140 people -- but it is $100 to $125 per game versus at least $17,000 for a 10-game suite package. The lounge has the potential to generate well over $1 million annually, which the team says would be a net gain because on a typical night 10 to 14 suites were sitting vacant. "We're smarter now than we were when we planned this facility," says Mr. Aylward....

In the late '90s, almost all of the more than 120 luxury suites at the Cleveland Indians' Jacobs Field were sold. The team says it has fewer than 90 suites leased for this season. The Seattle Supersonics used to lease more than enough of the 48 suites at Key-Arena to cover the team and city's debt on the facility. Now only half of the suites are full and the team is deep in the hole and asking for $300 million in public funds to build a new arena.

Teams currently charge anywhere from $50,000 a year for loge-level suites in small-market ballparks like Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field to as much as $450,000 for the suites at the Palace at Auburn Hills. The Red Sox this season will charge as much as $350,000 for their suites at Fenway Park after upgrading them with flat-panel televisions, heated outdoor seats, surround sound and granite countertops.

For all the structural changes that Frank McCourt has done to Dodger Stadium (replacing every seat and revising the stadium's color scheme; further reducing foul territory by adding seats up both foul line; and removing (or not selling) cheaper seats from the top deck), he hasn't made big changes to the club level as of yet. I don't think suites will ever be out of favor in a star-filled entertainment-driven town like Los Angeles (see Staples Center's unprecedented and cavernous three-level luxury box structure), but it's something to consider before bringing out more wrecking balls to Chavez Ravine.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What Do Jason Schmidt and Whitney Houston Have In Common?

Both believe that children are our future, according to today's ESPN.com Grapefruit League report. Teach them well, Schmidt implies, and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty you possess inside, he posits, by signing a shorter-term contract.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Jason Schmidt said he passed up opportunities for a longer, more lucrative deal in the offseason because of his children.

"My kids are my interest. I've got two and one on the way," Schmidt said. "There were five-year deals to be had. I can see why guys want to stretch out the contract. It was a family thing."

Schmidt said the divorce of his parents when he was 6 has motivated him to be available as much as possible for his children -- a 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. That's always going to be difficult as a baseball player because of the travel involved, so he's reticent to plan too far ahead.

"I just don't want to get locked into something," he said. "I don't know what the future holds -- I might want to play three years, I might want to play 10."

Schmidt's perspective is cool with me, from a family-first perspective, as well as a Dodgers perspective. In fact, his three-year, $45M deal may turn out to be the greatest love of all of this off-season, for the boys in blue.

Maybe He Wanted to Sell Her a Car

From " 'As advertised': Matsuzaka reveals repertoire in first batting practice" at SI.com:

[Terry] Francona missed Friday's workout with flu-like symptoms and said he watched court proceedings regarding Anna Nicole Smith on television. "I wanted to see if Manny (Ramirez) would show up there," Francona said.

Bernie Williams Making Headlines In NY

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Defensive Black Hole at Third?

From "Notes: Betemit not expected to platoon: Bench thin on lefties; Garciaparra works with smaller gloves" at Dodgers.com:

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Because Wilson Betemit hit only .189 right-handed compared to .281 left-handed last year and because top prospect Andy La Roche is a right-handed hitter, the assumption of a Dodgers platoon at third base picked up steam during the winter.

But manager Grady Little gave Betemit a vote of confidence Saturday.

"He's in good shape, he's working hard and he's got the look on his face that it's his job and somebody has to take it away," said Little. "I can't tell the difference in the way he's swinging [right-handed or left-handed]. Last year, he got into a hole right-handed and started trying harder and dug himself deeper."

Despite several reported dates of birth, Betemit is listed officially at only 25 years old. Little said he should get better with experience and he does not consider him a platoon player.

Ugh. I still can't get the image of Betemit's NLDS overthrow out of my head.

Repko Repaired; Beimel Backlashless


From "Repko off and running — pain free: Speedy outfielder hopes injury-plagued days are behind him after successful foot surgery" from the L.A. Times:

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Like every player in camp except pitcher Yhency Brazoban, outfielder Jason Repko is running through drills without restrictions. This is especially encouraging for the Dodgers because running is something Repko does particularly well and it's something he was unable to do most of last season.

The right ankle injury he suffered May 9 when he ran into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium has completely healed and he also believes the planter fascia in his left foot that plagued him for three years is cured.

Also, an update on fallout from Waterglassgate:

There has been no backlash against pitcher Joe Beimel, who cut his hand on a glass in a bar before the playoff series against the New York Mets and was unable to play.

Even pitcher Brett Tomko, who had the harshest comments about Beimel at the time, has no hard feelings.

"It's way behind us," Tomko said. "He has apologized, the team re-signed him, so there is obviously no problem there, and as players, we turn the page and all pull together."

Yes, we turn the page and all pull together, playing together as a team and taking it one game at a time. No problem there.

Ow, My Acromioclavicular Joint!


From "Ethier admits he played hurt last year: Outfielder's slump coincided with shoulder injury in August" at Dodgers.com:


VERO BEACH, Fla. -- So it turns out Andre Ethier wasn't merely fatigued and distraught when he hit the wall and disappeared from the Dodgers' lineup late last season.

It turns out he was hurt.

A shoulder injury originally suffered diving for a line drive last Spring Training was aggravated on a similar play in August. Ethier, feeling the pressure of a rookie not willing to let go of his job, tried to play through the pain and slumped so badly he lost his job anyway.

At the time, Ethier offered vague explanations for a sudden and endless slump. Now he offers the rest of the story.

"What I had was inflammation of the acromioclavicular joint [where the collarbone meets the shoulder], a half-inch edema pocket [swelling], and the rotator cuff was smashed down," said Ethier.

"When the season was over, I drove home to Arizona and with my hands on the steering wheel, I realized I couldn't flex my bicep. Something was wrong and I had it checked the next week. It didn't need surgery, but I had to spend the winter rehabbing it. It's about 95 percent now and by April it will be 100 percent. My swing feels a lot more normal now.

"It affected me a lot. It messed up my mechanics. I tried to compensate, but my elbow was flying up. It caused me a lot of frustration and led to fatigue. I battled through it, but I wasn't at my best. I needed a lot of time during the winter to get it going again. I realized in September I wasn't helping the team. It was a confidence thing by then."

Ethier's heart was in the right place (his chest), but his rookie reticence is a reminder to those of us who expect our young ballplayers to spring forth fully developed.

Steve Finley Takes First Step Toward NL West Pentafecta

From "Finley will try to win job with Rockies" at SI.com:

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- The Colorado Rockies signed veteran outfielder Steve Finley to a minor league contract on Saturday.

Finely is a non-roster invitee at the club's spring training camp.

Finley, who turns 42 next month, has played 18 Major League seasons. He hit .246 last year with the San Francisco Giants, including six home runs and 40 RBIs. He's a career .272 hitter with 303 home runs and 320 career stolen bases, one of only six players ever with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.

In his career, Finley has played with Baltimore, Houston, San Diego, Arizona, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Francisco, making the Rockies the lone National League West team he hasn't played for at some time.

Finley has hit .314 at Coors Field.

Good luck, Fins! I wonder if anyone else has already accomplished playing for all five NL West teams.

UPDATE: Jon from Dodger Thoughts is way ahead of us....It appears the race is on between Finley and Matt Herges.

New Meaning to Product Placement

photo by Raphael Mazzucco/SI.com

Next: Highest-Paid Humidor Keeper

From "Notes: Mueller to help infielders: Intrasquad game slated for Wednesday; Scully honored" by Ken Gurnick at Dodgers.com:

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Dodgers will put Bill Mueller back in uniform Saturday, but don't jump to wild conclusions.

He's still retired as a player and staying that way.

The club is turning him from the highest-paid assistant to the general manager to the highest-paid infield instructor.

It's all part of his first Spring Training in transition, retired as a former batting champ because of a degenerative knee and now learning the ropes as an executive-in-training.

Mueller was one of general manager Ned Colletti's first signings two winters back, inking a two-year, $9.5 million contract that pays him $4.5 million in 2007, guaranteed whether he plays or not. He was signed to play third base and fill the black hole left by the departure of Adrian Beltre.

But Mueller's already balky right knee broke down in late April and didn't respond to a third operation in early May. The knee is irreparably crippled with arthritis and might eventually need to be replaced.

He officially retired in November and joined Colletti's front office. He's done player evaluation, was part of the Winter Meetings contingent and journeyed to the Dominican Republic for winter-ball scouting.

"It's been a tough transition, no doubt about it," said Mueller. "In the same breath, I'm at peace with it."

Mueller will address the team, then hit the field. Asked if he had any specific projects -- he laughed when third-base prospect Andy La Roche's name was mentioned -- Mueller said he's been preparing his speech and he has some ideas in mind of what he wants to say and do on the field this Spring Training.

Also, Vin Scully is receiving the John R. Wooden Lifetime Achievement Award. Kind of like God winning the God award.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lying About Embarrassing Injuries, Part 1,034

Remember the Lakers' iceman? Turns out he was more of a snowman:

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Vladimir Radmanovic admitted Friday that he lied to the team about how he injured his shoulder during last week's All-Star break, and that it was a snowboarding accident that caused the injury.

"I lied about what happened, but I just couldn't keep it to myself," Radmanovic told reporters at his locker before Friday night's game against Boston. "I did a silly thing by snowboarding -- and then I panicked about what was going to happen.

"I felt really bad about it. I let my teammates down and the whole organization down by not letting them know what really happened. So yesterday I decided to step forward and bring out the truth, no matter what the consequences, and I'm glad I did it. I don't want to be a liar. It's not something that I am. It's embarrassing. I hope people will have some understanding and some forgiveness for it."

Radmanovic apologized to coach Phil Jackson and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Thursday for covering up what happened last Saturday in Park City, Utah. Initially, he told the Lakers he fell on a patch of ice while walking and separated his right shoulder. He is expected to be out two months.

"Unfortunately, before I stepped on that board, I wasn't really thinking about the things that could happen and that it could become something that could finish my career," said the 26-year-old forward, who was snowboarding for the first time and fell while coming down a slope. "I mean, things happen, but you don't think they're going to happen to you."

Kerry Wood, you're next!

Tommy Morrison KOs AIDS?

Amidst the Anna Nicoles, Manny Used Cars, and a Presidential Front Runner with 800 Days of political experience, one story bubbles to the surface as the strangest. Apparently, Tommy "Gunn" Morrison, a man who knocked out Paulie with one punch, has found a way to conquer Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. (For a remarkably thorough description of Morrison's life, check out Wikipedia)

Back in 1995, Tommy was just getting past his Rocky V mullet and deciding which boxer he would be: the one who knocked out Razor Ruddock or the Glass Joe who lost in the first round to unkown Michael Bentt. But life changed dramatically for Mr. Morrison, as a positive AIDS test cut short his somewhat promising boxing career. You would assume that'd be the last we heard of Tommy Morrison, except for very special episodes of Saved by the Bell or Surreal Life.

Cut to twelve years and four negative AIDS tests later, and Tommy's mounting a comeback. Last night, instead of pummeling the doctors who might have screwed up his initial test, Tommy knocked out John Castle in the second round.

Morrison, 38, who claims he has tested negative in several recent HIV tests, dropped Castle with a left hook to the head midway through the second of the scheduled four-round fight at Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort. "I'm pretty happy with the way I fought," Morrison said. "I would rate myself about a 6½ considering how long I have been out of the ring. The last thing you lose as a heavyweight is your power."

Even with the victory, Tommy's going to have a steep hill to climb. I guess fighters are nervous about facing a potential AIDS carrier in a sport where the victor only bleeds a little. His opponent, for one, sounded like he'd be more comfortable facing an Anaconda than going toe to toe with Morrison again.

"Wouldn't you? I was going to refuse to fight," Castle told the New York Daily News. "I asked to see his medical tests and they showed me three tests where he was negative for HIV. That's the only way I would fight." Wesley Ramey, Castle's trainer, was also concerned, telling the Daily News, "I made up my mind ahead of time that I was going to stop it if Morrison got a bad cut. A guy with HIV and AIDS isn't going to bleed all over my guy. My guy has a wife and two kids at home. I couldn't let that happen to him."

At 38, he's not exactly the ideal age for a pugilist (unless he picked up some cues from that boxer who sells grilling tchotchkes). But he's had a decade of frustration working on his side, and as the Punisher taught us, that just might be enough. Or as his own website states:

Because one thing for sure: Tommy has proved throughout his career and throughout his life that he is one tough S.O.B. For the ones who wonder about Tommy, well, he’s still Tommy.

Thin Line Between Hopeful and Delusional

From "He'll be there: Bonds likely to be part of All-Star game festivities" at SI.com:

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Even if Barry Bonds is not an All-Star this season, Giants owner Peter Magowan expects the slugger to take part in festivities for baseball's summer classic in his home ballpark.

Magowan hopes that Bonds' godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, will be a big part of the July event in San Francisco. Yet Magowan would rather No. 25 is in uniform and playing for the NL roster and World Series-winning manager Tony La Russa.

"If Willie is going to get honored, as I think he will, Barry will have some role to play there," Magowan said Friday during a wide-ranging interview in the dugout at Scottsdale Stadium. "But what I hope instead will happen is he is chosen to be on the All-Star team, and I feel he will be. I feel he will have earned his spot both by what he's done in the game and by what he will have done this year."

...In the case that Bonds isn't voted into his 14th All-Star game, Magowan said the Giants will incorporate their 42-year-old left fielder and cleanup hitter. Everyone around the Giants is happy to see that Bonds is completely healthy and in great shape this spring training.

Time To Update The Website (and Merchandise)

Going to the Top of the Park Store at Dodger Stadium? Before you go, consider that they haven't updated their merchandise yet. Check out their website blurb:

Top of the Park Gift Shop

For the best selection of Dodger merchandise, visit the Top of the Park Store located behind home plate on the 9th level of Dodger Stadium. Featuring a wide assortment of exclusive Dodger apparel and novelties, the store is open year-round for all of your shopping needs. Check out our line of authentic on-field gear, sections dedicated to our extensive women's and kids' lines, one of the largest cap walls in the nation, and a variety of EXCLUSIVE items available ONLY at Dodger Stadium, including Eric Gagné GAME OVER merchandise and exclusive New Era caps.

How about a Juan Pierre JAUNTY HAT t-shirt? Or a lenticular HONG-CHIH KUO/GUO shirt? Or a Jason Schmidt I HAVE A GOATEE TOO t-shirt?

A Eulogy for Vero Beach, Even Before It Dies

Ah, spring training. The blue skies. The unbridled hope. The excitement of pending baseball.

And for the Dodgers, the lingering black cloud surrounding their all-but-certain move to Glendale, Arizona, for 2009. Given all the history surrounding what is described as a baseball heaven (I have never seen it myself, and I suppose I'd better hurry), it's not altogether surprising that many people are weighing in on how horrible it is for the Dodgers to move from their Vero Beach facilities.

But consider all the dangers of the current Dodgertown. First, in today's USA Today piece, Mel Antonen describes the treacherous conditions in Vero Beach:

Holman Stadium's capacity is 6,500. There are 17 rows of seats that wrap around a neatly trimmed field. Most of the seats are blue, but there are five rows of red seats that came from Dodger Stadium. There are a couple of sections of yellow seats and two oak trees growing from the grandstand. Palm trees are in the distance behind left field.

For years, there was no home run fence, but the chain-link fence was added in 1971 after Richie Allen injured himself running into a palm tree. There are no dugouts, and players sit on aluminum benches as if they are playing on a youth field. There's a green railing, but it doesn't offer much protection.

"(Former owner) Walter O'Malley didn't want to block the view of fans, so he didn't build dugouts," says Billy DeLury, 74, the team's travel adviser who started as a mailroom employee with the Brooklyn club in 1950.

"Those dugouts are dangerous because there is no protection," Baltimore Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo says. "You have to watch out."

Dangerous dugouts! Man-eating palm trees! And bears, oh my! All that's left is Nessie, and it's not like Walter didn't try:

In the parking lot behind third base, O'Malley built a heart-shaped lake for his wife, Kay. He stocked the lake with trout so that his players could fish.

No, as Tom Verducci of SI.com pointed out earlier this week, this move isn't about the poor facilities in Vero Beach. It's about the lack of money.

So why in hell are the Dodgers leaving Baseball Heaven? Why has the club cut a deal with the Phoenix suburb of Glendale to move, in 2009, to a state-of-the-art spring training facility that it will share with the White Sox? The answer may lie in the $211,000 customized truck that Jon Lieber, a workmanlike pitcher for Philadelphia, drove into Phillies camp last week, or the $190 tickets the Yankees are selling for exhibition games.

It's not just that the Dodgers have outgrown Dodgertown; so also has modern baseball. Commerce has subverted charm. The team's official position is that an Arizona spring home is much closer to its fan base and, given the cluster of teams that train around Phoenix (nine already, plus three more in Tucson), reduces travel. There is also the projected capacity of about 15,000 for the Glendale stadium (including lawn seating), nearly double that of Vero Beach's quaint Holman Stadium, which almost never sells out and where O'Malley ordered roofless dugouts so the fans would feel closer to the players.

Fifteen thousand people to watch scrubs play meaningless games? The famed '55 Dodgers didn't even draw that many people on average to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field during their world championship season in the height of the game's so-called Golden Age.

Okay, so it's all about the money. Arizona builds a facility twice the size for free, and decades of team history gets flushed down the toilet. Should we be surprised? It fits perfectly with the McCourt management philosophies (see: Olmedo Saenz Pavilion).

But wait, says Joe Lemire of SI.com, who quotes Frankie McCourt in saying this decision is all about the fans:

For the Dodgers, who established their spring site in Florida when they still played in Brooklyn, packing a moving truck is simply a case of serving their supporters. As owner Frank McCourt told the Los Angeles Times last week, "This is not an economic decision. This is a fan convenience decision."

Yeah, right. What true Dodger fan wants to close the book on memories like these, starring the Sons of Yours Truly (follow the link for other great Dodgertown photos)?

photos by AP and Walter Iooss Jr/SI

For Once, Dodgers Not Jiltee

MLB Trade Rumors interviewed Troy Renck, the Rockies/MLB beat reporter for the Denver Post:

There was a lot of interest in Chin-Hui Tsao after the Rockies non-tendered him. What do you think of that decision?

From the outside looking in, Tsao's departure is a headscratcher. He only got $100,000 guaranteed from the Dodgers. But having watched his rehab play out last season, it was clear that Tsao wanted a fresh start. He's the most talented Rockies' prospect I have ever seen. But it just didn't seem like he was every going to escape the black cloud if he stayed in Denver. I'd like to see him have a career given his talent, hardly certain given his two serious surgeries on his shoulder and elbow. Anyway, he definitely wanted a fresh start somewhere else.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pitchers! Catchers! Federal Investigators!

From "Mitchell's steroid probe will try luck at spring training" at CBSSportsLine.com:

NEW YORK -- Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is sending his investigators to spring training as part of his investigation into steroids use in baseball.

Mitchell told baseball owners last month that his work has gone more slowly than expected and threatened to seek congressional help if he doesn't get better cooperation in his probe, which started nearly a year ago.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said some teams had been more cooperative than others.

"I can confirm that members of my investigative staff have been, and will be, conducting interviews during spring training of various individuals who are involved in baseball," Mitchell said in a statement Wednesday. "Our interviews are being conducted in both Arizona and Florida."

I'd make a bad federal investigator. "Have you taken steroids? No? Can I take a few swings in the batting cage?"

Did I Say Car Auction? I Meant "Family Issue"

Whoops, scratch that. Manny Ramirez isn't going to make that appearance at the New Jersey car auction after all. It seems that he does in fact have family issues which are causing him to report to Red Sox training camp after March 1.

The Red Sox gave Ramirez permission to report late to camp on March 1, the day after their first exhibition game, for family reasons. The left fielder's mother recently had surgery.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein said that after learning about Ramirez's scheduled appearance at the auction, he spoke Wednesday night with Greg Genske, the slugger's agent.

"He said [Ramirez] is not going to be there, so it's fine," Epstein said Thursday. "He's dealing with a family issue. We're not going to document his exact whereabouts on an hour-to-hour basis."

"Manny certainly intends to be here as soon as he can and get ready for the season. So I think it's not the biggest deal in the world, provided he's here March 1, or even earlier if his mother's situation resolves itself," [Epstein] said.

Ramirez, a classic car collector, is still scheduled to sell his 1967 four-door Lincoln Continental Sedan convertible in Saturday's auction. Perhaps he's selling the car just to pay for his mom's surgery? Yeah, that's it. A simple misunderstanding.

Times' Henson Exhausts Supply of "Space" Puns

From "Space oddity: Dodgers' prospect goes from LaRoche to La Roche" by Steve Henson of the L.A. Times:

VERO BEACH, FLA. — Andy La Roche wants a little space. Is that so wrong?

From now on, he said, his name should be spelled with a space before Roche, not as LaRoche, as the Dodgers have spelled it since he was drafted in 2003. The third baseman, a top prospect who probably will begin the season at triple A, quietly told clubhouse manager Mitch Poole, and it's written that way on his jersey and above his locker.

"There really should be a space there," he said. "That's the way it is supposed to be."

...The 2007 media guide will reflect the change — a fix was made in the final proofreading.

La Roche said his father's surname was Garcia. At age 7, Dave changed it to La Roche, the last name of his stepfather.

"La Roche is French, but I have no French in me," Andy La Roche said. "My grandfather was 100% Mexican."

Now who's going to go back and fix his Blogger label?

That's What We Like to Hear (Even If He Doesn't Mean It)

From "Notes: LA's Anderson content with role: Utilityman just wants to win and believes he can help" at Dodgers.com:

Despite hitting .375 and slugging seven home runs in only 25 games after being acquired as a pinch-hitter from Washington for the stretch run, [Marlon] Anderson comes to camp penciled onto the bench and not the starting lineup. As well as he played, he watched the team go out and sign free-agent outfielders Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez.

His reaction?

"I was happy about it," he said. "They brought in winners and that's great for the team. I'm all about winning. I want to win my championship. I'll have ample opportunities to help us win games. I've been in the playoffs two of the last three years and was with St. Louis and got a taste of winning, and I understand how they work together to get it done."

More Pitching Woes for Mets

El Duque leaves camp to get neck examined (AP/ESPN.com)

Juan Pierre Caught in Rare Non-Jaunty Cap Moment

photo by John SooHoo/Dodgers

So I Guess 45 Million Dollars Can Indeed Be Wrong

Grady Little has just announced that Rafael Furcal will lead off next year, rather than the newly-minted Dodger Juan Pierre. Not one spring training pitch has been thrown or at bat has been taken, and yet Grady is already making announcements on Derek Lowe (Opening Day pitcher) and now Rafael Furcal. Whether right or wrong, it seems that Jason Schmidt and Pierre didn't have much of a chance to make their cases.

Little conceded he went back and forth over the decision, that "a ton" of factors went into it and he could change his mind if it isn't working out. He did not give a specific reason, however, for the final choice.

He said he would not ask Pierre to take on a more patient approach, as is usually the custom for a No. 2 hitter.

"We want him to handle the game as if he's a leadoff hitter," Little said of Pierre. "I don't want him to get out of character."

Little said his top two will likely be followed by Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez. The final three spots leading up to the pitcher are likely to be filled by Russell Martin, Wilson Betemit and Andre Ethier, but Little would not commit to that.

So I guess all that's left is for Little to decide who will be the Opening Day catcher, Russell Martin or Kelly Stinnett.

UPDATE (6:09pm): To his credit, Pierre sounds very professional about not being the leadoff hitter:

"I've done nothing to warrant that I have to bat leadoff," said Pierre. "I'm not caught up on that. I'm in the lineup. If I wasn't in the lineup, we'd be having more of a discussion.

"There are bigger things to worry about than that. Sometimes you do things for the team, like Nomar [Garciaparra] last year playing first base. I'm not in the game to have prestige. It's not an ego thing. Whatever works, works."

JD Drew Is Feeling Fine (Yeah, Right)

JD Drew reported to Red Sox camp and says everything with his shoulder is wonderful. Uh-huh. Sure.

J.D. Drew has no complaints about Boston adding conditions to his contract to protect the team in case he re-injures his shoulder. The club's new right fielder is confident the Red Sox have nothing to worry about.

"Completely normal," Drew said about the delay in finalizing the deal. "I was under a complete understanding that the deal was a done deal. They just wanted to get some wording in to protect them and I was fine with that. I went about my business as usual."

He said he got another opinion on his shoulder from doctors and it feels "great" now.

"Everything feels wonderful. I've been throwing, hitting, doing all things I need to be doing to get ready to be here," he said....

I think the little things that people don't understand is the way I prepare myself to play the game," he said. "I've been taught basically from my college days to play the game on an even keel and play the game focused and fundamentally correct.

"I think sometimes that's perceived the wrong way."

You think? Pay no attention to that shoulder behind the (lead-lined x-ray) curtain.

Crazy Manny's!

That Theo Epstein must be one cheap GM. How else can you explain how Manny Ramirez is missing spring training to attend a car auction in Jersey.

Manny Ramirez, who received permission from the Red Sox to report late to spring training for family reasons, was scheduled to attend a car auction in New Jersey on Saturday, according to the promoter of the auction.

It wasn't immediately clear if the team was aware of Ramirez's scheduled appearance at the Atlantic City Classic Cars Auction. Boston's first full-squad workout is Thursday. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the deadline for players to report to camp is next Tuesday.

I've got a buddy who tours with the car shows, selling Toyotas. If Manny makes half as much as my friend, he'll be sitting pretty.

Manny must assume he doesn't need the extra help in spring training. His four homeruns last April proved he comes out of the gate swinging. A few more months like that, and we can look forward to Manny Auto Sales popping up on every corner. Maybe his time at the auto auction is just spring training for his next career. Like all the time Tiki Barber spent making his teeth so sparkly.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why I Don't Watch CSI: Miami

Thanks to defamer for this link to youtube.

I am not a big fan of CSI, in any of its 59 cities. Nor am I a fan of David Caruso. But this, this is good comedy. Enjoy the editing which highlights the Caruso one-liners that lead off every single episode (and those sunglasses! Unbelievable!).

Baseball America Ranks Dodgers Prospects

This is a two-part post, so pay attention.

First, Baseball America listed the top prospects in the Dodgers' organization. Given the prospects we traded last year to get players like Julio Lugo, Mark Hendrickson, and Danys Baez (to be fair, we also got Marlon Anderson and Wilson "Jury's Still Out" Betemit), as well as the fact that we've graduated Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, Takashi Saito, Chad Billingsley, and Hong-Chih Kuo, one would think that we don't have anything left in the system. On the contrary, though, we still have some great prospects in the fold. Behold Baseball America's top 10 Dodgers prospects:

1. Andy LaRoche, 3b
2. Clayton Kershaw, lhp
3. Scott Elbert, lhp
4. James Loney, 1b/of
5. Etanislao Abreu, 2b
6. Ivan DeJesus Jr., ss
7. Jonathan Meloan, rhp
8. Blake DeWitt, 2b/3b
9. Josh Bell, 3b
10. Preston Mattingly, ss

I don't fully understand why Loney is on here but Kemp isn't, but whatever.

Okay, so then comes part 2: today, Jim Callis of Baseball America chatted on ESPN about a number of topics, including the Dodgers prospects. Callis thinks [Kershaw > Elbert] and [Kemp > Ethier]. That's the good news. The bad news is, elsewhere in the chat, he espouses that [Tim Linecum (SF) > Kershaw] and [Chris Young (AZ) > Kemp].

Those of you using the transitive property can figure out that Callis believes other NL West clubs have players which could be better than either top Dodger prospect. Those of you using the associative property may have ended up with [Chris (Young) AZ > Kemp], which is technically correct though more confusing nomenclature to read.

In the chat, Callis also goes on to say that the Dodgers are "making a mistake for blocking Kemp and Loney." Other quips from Callis included Pedro > Koufax; Preston Mattingly = ask again later; and, in the Pie category, Pecan > Felix > Rhubarb (seriously).

Sleepover!


From "When they were bedroom buddies ...," DJ Gallo's take on Detek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez's "sleepover" history (ESPN.com):


2001: Up to no good during a sleepover at A-Rod's place in Texas, the pair prank-calls fellow superstar shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and asks him if his refrigerator is running. Garciaparra says it is, and then a giggling Jeter and A-Rod tell him he should go catch it -- upon which Garciaparra tears his hamstring.

Glad to see Barry Zito hasn't cornered the market on creepy...yet.

Bondz II Men, "On Bended Knee"

From "With one swing, Bonds proves he's 'ready' " by Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com:

... [Barry] Bonds' teammates are in awe of his skill, and they know he must produce for the Giants to make the playoffs. It was noteworthy that [Dave] Roberts and [Rich] Aurilia, two offseason acquisitions, got down on one knee beside Bonds' folding chair behind the cage Tuesday and engaged him in conversation.

Ostensibly Bonds was sitting to rest his knees. So are we reading too much into this dual genuflection? Probably. Will we continue to do so? Definitely.

Saito Chat Wrap: What He's Really Saying

Dodgers.com just posted the transcript of Takashi Saito's latest chat with fans. Because all questions went through Scott Akasaki, team travel manager, for interpretation, there was a lot that was left off the official transcript. SoSG has thoughtfully pulled some of the highlights of the chat for its loyal readers (Saito's thoughts in non-italicized font):

bluein07: Hey, Saito. Are you going to have the club play a song when you emerge from the bullpen?

Saito: I haven't decided on a song yet, but if the fans want to suggest any songs that might be appropriate, I would be open to hearing what they have to say. Great, we're only four questions into this chat, and the fans are already looking for me to replace Eric Gagne and his "Welcome to the Jungle." If you must know, I'm debating between Madonna's "Cherish" and DeBarge's "The Rhythm of the Night." And by the way, I don't care how cute that little robot was, "Who's Johnny" sucked and El DeBarge should never have left the rest of his family for his solo career.

amboy: What are your thoughts about Barry Bonds, and how would you approach him if he was on the verge of breaking the record?

Saito: First off, I would listen to what the coaching staff has to say about how they want to pitch him and that would depend largely upon the game situation. If it's just me on my own, having to decide how to pitch to Bonds, my best pitches are fastball and slider and I wouldn't change how I approach other hitters. I would pitch to my strengths and not diverge from what has gotten hitters out in the past. Those guys over at SoSG are right, though, I'm gonna bean Bonds right in his head, the only part of his body that isn't protected by armor. And it's not like it's hard to miss that noggin.

bluebleeder1977: I read last year that you wear different kind of socks, what kind are they?

Saito: I wear socks that resemble gloves in that each toe goes into a different sleeve of the sock. It started way back in Japan for me. I feel very comfortable in the socks and I think it has something to do with the transfer of power that I get from my legs, starting way at the bottom in my toes, through my delivery. Also, I don't wear those socks when I go out, only when I play baseball. Back in Japan, they called me "Stinky Feet." But thanks for asking, bluebleeder, without mentioning my bunion issues.

iloveraffy: Who is the funniest guy on the team?

Saito: I think Brad Penny is the funniest guy on the team. And if I don't say that, he'll bite my head off, Grady Little-style.

boysnblue5: I've noticed that you and Nomar Garciaparra have a special handshake after each Dodger win -- what is that about?

Saito: Nomar and I have a special bond. Last year, when I came from Los Angeles to Florida, we rode on the same plane and when we got to baggage claim, he got me a luggage cart. For him to get a luggage cart for someone he didn't even know, speaks to what type of person Nomar is. Nomar's the type of guy who doesn't like to carry his own luggage! So now, I carry Nomar's luggage around. It's kind of a pain on the road since I have that extra bag to carry all my special socks, but hey, the cart was free.

Arigato, Kyoto! I'm here all week.

Kent Forces a Smile

Steve Henson's latest Vero recap highlights Jeff Kent, and how he has reported to camp with a positive attitude, honed obliques, and an eagerness to contribute. Clearly, TJ Simers isn't in Vero Beach.

[Kent] slapped a gold star and a smiley face on every topic Wednesday, noteworthy because Kent normally isn't a smiley face kind of guy.

And noteworthy because the optimism comes after, perhaps, his most frustrating season. Kent, 38, was on the disabled list twice for the first time in his career and played in only 115 games....

His off-season was marked by a specially tailored workout regimen provided by team strength and conditioning coach Doug Jarrow, who visited Kent at his Texas ranch. Jarrow taught the drills to the personal trainer of Kent's wife, who then put Kent through workouts three days a week.

"The oblique gave me a lot of trouble, so we tried to get that muscle strong the best we could," he said. "It went well. I'm a little nervous I'm in such good health."

The cynical side of me thinks that Kent, who earns $9M this year, is focused on the 550 plate appearances it will take to trigger a $9M option for next year. But if Kent can get back to the 37 HR level that he had during his 2002 season (his walk year from the Giants), I'd be pretty stoked.

Selig Advocates Performance Enhancement

In late January, this would have merited a story. With the advent of spring training, the news that MLB is moving from all-wool caps to new polyester blend caps doesn't seem to merit coverage. Sure, the new caps will wick away sweat from a player's face like a squeegee. But why is this a story?

Maybe it's in the way the office of our fearless and clueless commissioner Bud Selig describes the move (according to SI.com):

The change is part of commissioner Bud Selig's focus on boosting player performance, a Major League Baseball official said, and follows a general trend toward moisture-managing "performance" materials in sports apparel.

Bud Selig, interested in "boosting player performance." George Mitchell and Barry Bonds, take note.

AP photo

Dodgers 2008 Right Field Solution?

Yes, there are three fine candidates who will be battling it out for the Dodgers' right field this 2007 season. And it's not like I'm an Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, or Marlon Anderson hater.

But I've gotta admit I found today's ESPN.com article intriguing, given that Ichiro is open to free agency:

Suzuki's $44 million, four-year deal ends this fall. This is the first time in his professional life with Seattle and with Orix in Japan that he is playing the final season of a contract.

"I've played 15 years of professional baseball, and I have never filed for free agency. I have never had the choice, to choose for myself which road I want to take," Suzuki said through interpreter Ken Barron during a 25-minute session with English-language media, after a lengthy session with Japanese reporters.

"So if you ask me is it possible that I will go to free agency, yes, it is possible."

"But if you ask me what are my feelings toward it, at this point I cannot express it. I am not even sure myself. But what I can say is my mind is full of having the best season possible."

Granted, the last thing we need is yet another leadoff hitter. But given that Gonzalez's production is in question over in left field, wouldn't Ichiro be a good pickup?

Dayn Dubs Dodgers' Depth

Dayn Perry over at foxsports.com may be crazy, but at least he's covering the Dodgers. In his top 10 spring training battles, the Dodgers' right field battle slots in at #6 (no other NL or AL West team is mentioned):

6. Dodgers right fielder
The Contenders: Andre Ethier, Marlon Anderson, Matt Kemp
The Favorite: Ethier
The departure of J.D. Drew has, of course, left a void in right field. Andre Ethier enters camp as the favorite, but his second-half slump in 2006 means that he'll be on a reasonably short leash. In all likelihood, the Dodgers will wind up platooning Ethier, the lefty, with Matt Kemp, who bats right-handed. Should Ethier struggle badly in Florida, then Marlon Anderson will likely step in as the left-handed half of the platoon.

Hey, as long as any of the three of those candidates dives for a ball every once in a while, it will be an improvement over Drew and Shawn Green. And let's not forget Marlon Anderson's incredible performance after joining the Dodgers late last season.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Homosexual Strikes Back

Sulu - 1. Tim Hardaway - Negative Thirty Million

Garciaparra Article Conceals Yet Another Fat Joke

Steve Henson's latest post from Vero Beach headlined Nomar Garciaparra, who is feeling good physically despite being distraught about being away from his pregnant wife. As Nomar and Mia's twins are due in April, being apart must suck, but at least it will give him a chance to bank up on that sleep now.

"We're blessed and fortunate," Garciaparra said. "But not being there with her the last month and a half of her pregnancy is going to be tough."

Garciaparra said the injuries that plagued him last season have healed, pointing to his rigorous off-season workout regimen as proof.

"I judge myself by the way I can work out in the off-season, and I didn't have to hold back," he said. "That's a good sign."

But wait, that's not the fun part! The last part of the article segment has this gem:

The only factor that could change Garciaparra's position [from first base] is the development of top prospect James Loney. But even if Loney makes the team, he would back up at first base and the corner outfield spots. Little plans to give Garciaparra a significant amount of rest in an effort to keep him from experiencing another late-season tailspin. That would be the case even if Loney begins the season at triple A. "We have Olmedo Saenz to play first, Jeff Kent can slide over once in a while, and you might see Marlon Anderson there sometimes," Little said.

So even Grady Little has to acknowledge that if Saenz plays first, Jeff Kent's gotta slide to his right just to accommodate his hefty teammate. And poor Marlon Anderson--so obscured by Saenz, that Anderson might even disappear from view during the eclipse.

Man, I can't even write quotes this perfect. Thanks, Grady!

Bonds: Go Ahead, Investigate Me. Grand Jury: Okay, We Will

From "Bonds reports for first spring workout" (AP/ESPN.com):

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Barry Bonds had a pointed message for the grand jury: Go ahead, investigate me.

After arriving at spring training Tuesday, more fit than in recent years following a productive winter of conditioning, the slugger insisted he's unfazed by all his off-the-field issues and is ready to resume his pursuit of the home run record.

"Let them investigate. Let them, they've been doing it this long," Bonds said Tuesday after his first workout this year with the San Francisco Giants. "It doesn't weigh on me at all -- at all. It's just you guys talking. It's just media conversation."

Bonds also said we were wrong about this and this, and that it was all our fault:

"I did not blame Mark Sweeney," Bonds said Tuesday, noting he apologized only "because you guys just started talking about it and I just thought it was unfair for him to be accused of something that wasn't true."

Asked if he had failed an amphetamines test, Bonds declined to comment. Also, he denied reports that he wasn't always available to pinch-hit last season.

"That's not true at all," said Bonds, who has language about behavior in his new contract. "I'm always available. I'm in uniform, so I'm always available."

As far as Bonds is concerned, all that is over with.

"I don't need to say anything to anybody," he said.

...as he ended his 12-minute interview.

But I need more Barry! Say, when does Season Two of Bonds on Bonds start?