Archive for June, 2004

Sandberg and Patterson: An exercise in free-form writing

Friday, June 11th, 2004

Part I: Ryne Sandberg

Ed Sherman wrote an interesting story in the Trib today about Ryne Sandberg. I’ve mentioned before that Ryno was my childhood hero, and he has managed (unlike some other pro athletes) to keep his personal flaws hidden from the world his whole life. Apart from his first Larry Himes-related retirement, his divorce right around that time, and that moustache he wore for a while, he’s led a charmed life. That ability to keep us from peeking in his closet — regardless of whether there’s a skeleton in there — has allowed me to continue to see him as someone to look up to.

radio has Ryno as a “regular contributor,” in the words of Ed Sherman, which makes him a member of the media. I haven’t heard him yet (WMVP doesn’t reach Allentown, PA), but I’m glad to see him back in the Cubs’ universe.

Ed Sherman’s column is about the media, which makes him a writer about writers. Which, in turn, makes me a writer about writers about writers. The guy’s a decent writer, but the stuff he covers usually doesn’t interest me. I have a lot of varied interests, but how NBC covers the Skins Game isn’t one of them. Ryne Sandberg, however, is; Sherman has finally managed to capture the attention of the vital “David M. Beyer” market.

Part II: Corey Patterson

Mr. Sherman quoted Ryno as saying that Corey Patterson needs to be more selective at the plate and go the opposite way more often. You’ve heard us harp on Corey A LOT on this blog, but it’s because we both feel like the guy isn’t using his talents, and as a speedy left-handed hitter in a lineup full of slow righties, he could make such a huge difference. But the quote got me thinking about another hitter back in ’97 who needed to go with the pitch more often and be more selective. This guy was a better hitter than Corey is now — more power and a longer history as a quality major leaguer — but still was frustrating because he could be so much more.

In ’98 he turned a corner, seeing a huge jump in walks and OBP, and elevating his game by being more selective and going with the pitch. The guy’s name was Sammy Sosa.

I’m not suggesting Corey Patterson will turn into Sosa if he watches a few pitches, but maybe he’d become the positive asset we’re all hoping he’ll be instead of the out machine he currently is.

Baseball’s time is measured in outs, and if you get on base more often, therefore making fewer outs, you suspend time for your team’s offense. The longer you can suspend time, the better your chance of scoring runs. Outs are inevitable; what happens in between is what determines how good your team is.

Currently, Patterson is Devon White without the defense; he has the quick-strike capacity to put a run up on the board, but he mostly accelerates time for his team by failing to get on base.

Now that Ryno has said what Corey needs to do, it’s official: everyone but Joe Morgan and Harold Reynolds have recognized what he can do to improve. All we need now is for Corey to recognize it. He looked awfully good yesterday, so maybe there’s hope.

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Friday Five: Best Active Baseball Managers

Friday, June 11th, 2004

I’ve left several very successful and popular managers off this list, and no, I didn’t forget about them. The impact of a manager on his team varies depending on how much you believe in “intangibles,” but regardless these five are the ones I’d want as field general.

5: Buck Showalter

How can a guy who’s never been to a World Series be the fifth best manager in the game? Because, that’s why. He’s never had a lot to work with and has still done a fine job. The Rangers didn’t win with Alex Rodriguez, but it’s because they had about ten legitimate major leaguers on the roster. Now that they have a better team, it’s showing in the win-loss record.

Though not universally popular with players, Showalter is a meticulous student of the game who seeks every advantage. He gets his team prepared like no one else in the game.

4: Jimy Williams

Never popular with fans and often not popular with players, Williams is nonetheless a winning manager whose in-game strategy, roster-building, and pitching management skills put him at the top.

Better than Bobby Cox? Better than “the Genius?” Yes and yes. His teams have finished, in order, 4th (with an 86-76 record), 2nd, 3rd (87-75), (12-24 in 1989 before getting canned), 4th (78-84, his only full losing season), 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, and 2nd, and got everything he could out of those teams. Despite all the roster turnover and injuries in Houston (besides the Killer B’s), he’s kept the Astros in the hunt the last couple of years.

The man has worked hard and deserves another “m” in his first name.

3: Jack McKeon

A mediocre run in KC from ’73 to ’75, a bad run in Oakland with a wretched team in the late ’70s, good win-loss records in San Diego before getting a midseason firing, and a fair amount of wins in Cincinnati in the late ’90s. One manager of the year award and a lifetime of achieving with unimpressive rosters notwithstanding, if it weren’t for last year’s historic Marlins run he wouldn’t be on my list. He was absolutely brilliant last year and has been excellent this year, and he rightfully got his second Manager of the Year award, his first World Series crown, and lots of respect from David M. Beyer (which is secretly every manager’s goal) as he outmaneuvered the next guy on the list in the ’03 NL Championship Series, then did the same to manager #1 on the list in the World Series.

2: Dusty Baker

Dusty’s magic is certainly not his ham-fisted handling of pitchers or in getting the right guys to fill his bench. His magic is getting his players to believe his B.S.–that they CAN win, that the scrubs CAN contribute, and that everything WILL be okay. Dusty’s a man that players would follow into combat without hesitation.

Calling Dusty one of the best managers in the game isn’t going to stop me from complaining about him, though…after all, there’s still room to move up…

1: Joe Torre

It pains me to say so, but Torre is the best manager in the game. He always has his players believing in themselves. He never has problems with players thinking they are bigger than the team, surrounds himself with the right people, and lets those people make the decisions for which they’re most qualified. His success with the Yanks was a long time coming; his tenure in St. Louis, Atlanta, and New York were not as successful, but neither were his teams anywhere near as talented. Always gets his teams to fulfill or exceed their expectations.

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Interview with Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey

Thursday, June 10th, 2004

As you will notice on the bottom right of our site, we have a section called “Writers we love and hate.” Among the names is Tribune Columnist Rick Morrissey. He is personally one of my favorites. He always tells it like it is. I look forward to reading his stuff each day because more often than not, I feel the same way he does. Recently, The View From The Bleachers caught up with Morrissey and asked him 10 interesting questions. He was nice enough to give us some great responses to the questions. I am just going to wet your appetite with the 10 questions we asked. His answers will be posted on Monday.

1) Your May 26th story on W.P. Kinsella’s new book made your respect for his work clear. Among sports columnists (yourself not included, of course) which writer’s work do you respect the most and why?

2) Is the continued reign of Bud Selig as Commissioner good or bad for baseball and why?

3) Who do you see as the one individual in the Cubs’ organization who could make or break this season? From Hendry to Dusty to the players to the equipment manager, who can propel them to the top or drag them to the bottom?

4) Which baseball team did you grow up rooting for?

5) There is no online biography of you (or the other writers) on the Tribune’s site or on Chicagosports.com. Can you fill us in on your path to the Trib and tell about your best writing job of all time?

6) Of any active player in any sport, whom do you enjoy talking with the most and why?

7) Of all the articles you have written for the Trib, which one is your favorite and why? (Please include a link if possible)

8) Your May 31st story on football player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman’s death outlined why you think he was a hero. How do you define a hero and what can a professional athlete do ON THE FIELD that would make him a hero? Was Jordan a hero? Sosa in ’98? Or does it take a Rick Monday flag-grab to be a hero?

9) What do you feel is the biggest problem (excluding injuries) the Cubs have this year and how would you like them to fix it?

10) How often, if ever to you read Cubs Blogs (i.e. The View From The Bleachers) and what is your overall impression of them?

Wanna know how he responded? Tune in on Monday to see the response. I am sure you’ll enjoy it. Until then, make sure you go to the bottom right and read his stuff. It will be well worth your time.

Polls close on Friday

The first round of the World Series of Blogs is going to be coming to a close. The votes will be tallied and the winners from each division along with a wild card winner from each league will be moving on. Get your votes in to ensure your favorite moves on. Voting for the second round will begin on Monday, June 14th. Good luck to everyone in the final days of the first round voting.

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I don’t owe you anything: Are players accountable to the fans?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

The city of Chicago has had its share of drama in the closer role this season. Both teams, stricken with a question mark in the role, have suffered setbacks because of the problem. The Cubs have since replaced their “problem.” The White Sox are about ready to follow suit. All of the ineffectiveness, coupled with the recent comments by both players in response to media questions about the job they do got me to thinking about accountability.

After a horrible pitching performance recently, Koch had this to say:

“That’s a pathetic showing….I apologize to everyone out there. It’s not fair [for fans] to have to bite your nails down to a bloody stump watching me pitch.”

After switching roles from setup man supreme to closer, Latroy Hawkins faced a number of questions from the media his first day on the job. His response was like Koch’s, right? Wrong!!! He had this to say:

“Getting three outs is not easy at any point in the ballgame, but people put the spotlight on the ninth,…It doesn’t matter what happens in the ninth, as long as you don’t give up the lead. I don’t care who’s sitting on the edge of your seats. I’m not going to sit here and apologize for putting you on the edge of your seats like (Billy) Koch did (Sunday). I’m not going to apologize for that. Because I can do what you guys can do. You guys can’t do what I do….I don’t care if you guys bite your fingernails, or bite your hands and knuckles until they bleed, that’s not my problem.”

Koch immediately fired back at Hawkins’ claim that we can’t do what he can do by saying:

“What, I can’t set up and fail in the closers role? . . . He did it miserably a few years ago (in Minnesota).”

Pretty strong words out of both men, but which one is right? Are baseball players–or any sports figures, for that matter–accountable to the fans and the media? The answer is yes. While we don’t own the teams or players themselves, baseball and sports in general are, quite simply put, products that we purchase. We pay for the right to read about them, watch them live, watch them on TV, etc. Sure the owners actually own the team and thus the players are definitely accountable to them, but how many owners could afford to put their product out there without it selling? None, except for maybe Steinbrenner for a year. The result is one crazy and confusing circle of blame. The fans need the product the owners provide. The owners need the players to play well to make that product sellable. The players need the fans to like them so the owners will want to continue to employ them. It’s all really quite tangled.

The fact of the matter is, players ARE accountable to fans, but to what extent? When baseball went through the last strike, one that cancelled the World Series, all I heard from people is that they are done going to baseball games because they hate the players. They feel that they are not friendly enough and that they don’t take the time to make baseball fans feel special. Why should players have to go out of their way to make me feel special? I paid $30 to see them? Is that a good reason? No, it’s unrealistic. We didn’t pay for a meet and greet session, we paid to come see the players play. That’s what you paid for, nothing more. Anything the players do at the game that might have to do with direct contact with a fan, such as throw a baseball into the stands or sign an autograph is extra. It doesn’t come with the package. When you go see a movie, you don’t get to shake hands with the actor or expect them to be there for an autograph. It’s understood that you paid close to $10 to simply watch them do their job. The same should be said for baseball. We pay to watch, that’s it!!!

Paying to watch does, however, come with some accountability privileges. For instance, fans have every right to boo a poor performance. They are the audience. They paid for the right to do that. They also have the right to be upset if they did not get a performance worthy of what they paid for. Billy Koch responded to that fact:

“These people pay their hard-earned money–whatever the cost of a ticket is–to come out here and watch a game. We have the lead, and I blow it and screw it up for the team, screw it up for the city–then, yeah, I think I do have an [obligation] to apologize. I ruined it for them. Maybe I ruined their kid’s first baseball game who was a diehard Chicago White Sox fan.”

In the end, baseball players ARE accountable to the fans, but there is a fine line that is crossed all too often by both the fans and the players. Latroy Hawkins, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, etc. have all crossed it by boycotting the media, but fans have also crossed it by expecting too much from players and Major League Baseball. In the words of the great philosopher Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

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All in the Family

Tuesday, June 8th, 2004
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Well, I have again added another writer to The View From the Bleachers. We are all one big happy family. I am very excited about where this site is headed and I hope the readers are as well. Please feel free to let us know about what you think of all the changes here. This new writer will be writing a feature column that will be posted each Monday. I will have a link to the newest column on the sidebar that will be changed to always reflect the latest edition. The new columnist is Keenan Laraway. I think the column name will be The Thoughts From Waveland. I think you will all really enjoy it. I will even post the first installment. So, please check back every Monday for the latest edition. Also, please e-mail Keenen with topics for Articles, because he is very excited about this and would like to know what people wanna hear.

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