Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Prediction: AL Central

When the White Sox won the AL Central last year, it was surprising. When they went on to win the AL pennant and the World Series, it was shocking. At the beginning of the year, no one expected the Southsiders to do any of the things they did.

It takes a tremendous amount of luck to be able to put two successful years together back-to-back. That's why I don't expect the Chi Sox to repeat in the AL central.

The Indians have made some very interesting moves in the off-season. They have a nice mix of veterans and youngsters. They also showed the potential they have during a short stretch toward the end of the year last year. Plus, they have a manager that is very highly regarded. The Indians will be a leading contender in the division in 2006.

The Twins never made the run in 2005 that people expected them to make. Over the past few years, the Twins have lost several of their top line players to teams that could better afford them. But that doesn't mean they've completely thrown in the towel. Expect the Twins to also be a contender.

The White Sox still have some very good pitching. They also still have some of the best hitters in the league. Even so, although the Pale Hose will finish the year above .500, I don't expect them to be a serious contender for the division title.

Detroit is an improved team with a new, proven manager in Jim Leyland. They'll be better than they were last year, but they won't be a contender. The Tigers are heading in the right direction, but they're not there yet.

That leaves the Royals. What can be said about the Royals that hasn't been said before about spoiled food. This once proud franchise is now firmly esconced as the worst team in the major leagues. Sure, we all got excited a couple of years ago when Carlos Pena worked his magic for about half a season in Kansas City, but the Royals have returned to their well earned place in baseball's basement. They made some interesting moves in the off-season, but expect the results to be the same as in recent memory.

Here's how the AL Central will look at the end of the year:

1) Cleveland Indians
2) Minnesota Twins
3) chicago White Sox
4) Detroit Tigers
5) Kansas City Royals

Next time, the NL Central.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Predictions: NL East

When you think about what Atlanta has been able to accomplish over the past several years, it is absolutely amazing. Each year, it seems like there is supposed to be one team in the NL East that is supposed to knock the Braves off their perch atop the division. But Atlanta just keeps rolling along, winning division title after division title.

It's hard to pick against the Braves. Every year they seem to be able to find a way to get it done. Their past success is a testament to the ability of Bobby Cox and his long-time pitching coach "Rockin" Leo Mazzone. But this year will be different. Mazzone is now managing in Baltimore and the Braves are not the same team as in years past. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are a year older, Mike Hampton is still injury prone, Chipper Jones is bound to eventually slow down, and the ageless wonder, Julio Franco, is now with the Mets. The Braves streak will come to an end in 2006.

The Mets made a splash in the off-season, signing free agents and making trades. Of course, they did the same thing last year and it didn't do them much good. But things will be different this year. Expect the Mets extravagant spending to pay off this year. One thing that could hamper them is the health of Pedro Martinez. If Pedro can get healthy, he will lead the Mets to the division title. If he battles injuries all season, it will be tougher for the Mets, but expect them to still be there in the end.

Philadelphia is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. What does that mean? I don't know. Nevertheless, it feels right saying it about the Phillies. I don't expect much from them this year, even though they should be a powerful offensive team. The Phils never seem able to put it all together and I don't expect that to change this year.

The Nationals were involved in several trades during the winter, but I honestly don't know what they were trying to accomplish. For instance, why did they sign Alfonso Soriano? He's overpaid and they already have a second baseman. In my eyes, it didn't seem like Nats GM Jim Bowden had a plan. It's too bad. Frank Robinson deserves much better.

Speaking of managers who deserve better, what can you say about poor Joe Girardi? He signs on as manager of the Marlins and then almost all of the players on the team are traded out from under him. If Dontrelle Willis can pitch every inning and Miguel Cabrera can hit every at bat, then the Marlins might have a chance to win a few games. Since that is unlikely, I expect the Marlins and their first year manager to have a very long, unsuccessful season.

Here's how the NL East will look at the end of the season:

1) New York Mets
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Philadelphia Phillies
4) Washington Nationals
5) Florida Marlins

Next time, the AL Central.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Prediction: AL East

For the past few years, the AL East has boiled down to a battle between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Blue Jays, Orioles and D-Rays have been perrenial also-rans. This year could be different...or it could be the same. The determining factor will be the Red Sox. They could be really good or really bad. With all of the changes they made over the winter, it's hard ot tell exactly how good they will be.

The Red Sox have a lot of questions to answer. How will they respond to the loss of Johnny Damon? Will Mike Lowell be the Mike Lowel of old or the Mike Lowell of the past year? Will Boston's pitchers stay healthy or will history repeat itself? In my opinion, there are just too many questions to count on the Red Sox to challenge for the division in 2006.

One thing we know for sure is that the Blue Jays were serious about improving their team during the off-season. The big question for the Jays is, did they add enough to beat the Yankees. My answer to that question is "no." The Blue Jay will be better, but not good enough to win the division.

The Orioles started the 2005 season as overachievers, but their true colors came through by the end of the year. They made some changes during the winter, but how will those changes work out for them during the season? Once again this year, Baltimore will not be anywhere near the top of the division unless MLB decides to rank the teams alphabetically.

Those pesky D-Ray have been basement dwellers for too long. This year will be different. In 2006, expect the D-Rays to fight and scrap their way into a fourth place finish in the division. They may even challenge for third place, but in the end they'll fall short.

That leaves the Yankeees. Love em or hate em, the Yankees do everything they can to win. With the addition of Johnny Damon, both a good centerfielder and very good lead-off hitter, the Yankees will be the class of the field. The only question mark they have is their starting pitching. I predict it will be good enough and the Yankees will win the AL East.

Here's how they'll end the 2006 season in the AL East:

1) New York Yankee
2) Toronto Blue Jays
3) Boston Red Sox
4) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
5) Baltimore Orioles

Next time, the NL East.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Odds & Ends

A couple other blogs are reporting that one of the major shareholders of the Trib Co. is calling for the company to divest itself of its ownership in the Cubs (and its interest in the Food Network). In a nutshell, the Trib Co. has been trying to increase profits for the past few years, but their efforts have not produced results. The CEO of the Trib Co., Dennis FitzSimmons, is under pressure to make progress or get out. Selling the Cubs would help produce some badly needed capital. Rumors are already flying that Mark Cuban, maverick owner of the Dallas Mavericks (hmmm) is interested in purchasing the Cubs. Love him or hate him, one thing Cuban has done is spend the money necessary to win. Problem is, money or no money, he hasn't won the big one. If this goes anywhere, it will be interesting.

Despite my support of him in the past, I just have to shake my head at Todd Walker's latest comments. First he said that Dusty Baker promised him the second base job and apparently claimed he had been lied to, and then he did a 180, said he would pull for whomever was given the the job at second base and said no one with the Cubs had lied to him. Have I ever mentioned that I like Jerry Hairston, Jr?

Mark Prior appears to be hurt again. The Cubs are claiming it is a new injury to the back of his right shoulder. Rumors have been swirling for the past week that Prior was injured and the Cubs were covering it up, but the Cubs claim that this injury just reared its ugly head this morning when Prior felt stiffness in his shoulder. He'll have his shoulder examined in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Derek Lee injured his shoulder in a WBC game a couple of nights ago. At that time, it was reported that Lee had hurt his wrist. However, reports I've read since then indicate the injury is to his shoulder. Lee is scheduled to see a specialist and depending on the results, may withdraw from the WBC.

Aramis Ramirez is nursing an infected finger. The finger is not bad enough to keep him out of games, but it is apparently bad enough to use as an excuse for poor hitting and fielding. Without Ramirez, we will likely see John Mabry at third base. Oh my...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More Thoughts on Barry Bonds

I re-read my post from yesterday and I was a little surprised at how rational and logical I was. The reason for this is that the revelations about Barry Bonds heavy steroid use has really made me mad. In fact, I'm downright pissed. What Bonds has done to baseball for his own glorification is nothing short of evil.

MLB can not possibly allow Bonds' records to stand nor can they allow Bonds to continue playing the game now that the cat is out of the bag. Allowing Bonds to step on the field even one more time will cheapen and disrespect everything accomplished by Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and every other player that Bonds' steroid-enhanced stats have threatened or left in the dust. Bud Selig must take action immediately to limit the damage that continues to be done to the game.

Former Commissioner of Baseball Fay Vincent has called on Selig to launch an investigation. "I think he should hire somebody like John Dowd or set up a committee," Vincent said. "He need to do that, maybe headed by Mario Cuomo or George Mitchell, somebody of that ilk."

Pete Rose investigator John Dowd also called for an investigation. "If you do nothing, you leave a cloud on the game, "Dowd said. "What needs to be done is a fair, honest, thorough investigation of the facts. Then you go from there."

It remains to be seen if either Vincent's or Dowd's suggestions will hold sway with Selig. So far, Selig has only committed to review the book. Short of that, he hasn't had any comment.

Baseball has the opportunity to take a tough stand right now against steroid use. If they fail to take such a stand, many fans will lose faith in the game they love.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What To Do About Barry Bonds

I'm a baseball fan and I appreciate a game well played, even if it is against the Cubs. I admit that I never cared much for Barry Bonds. His personality is just too abrasive. Yet, I have always marveled at his talents. Even before the steroid allegations, Bonds was one of the most gifted players of his era; perhaps of any era.

The allegations of steroid use always bothered me, but I felt that without proof, or at least credible evidence, Bonds deserved the benefit of the doubt. He denied using steroids and no one could prove differently.

Now, with the publication of "The Shadow Game," it appears that someone has built a credible case against Bonds. The book alleges that Bonds made a conscious decision in 1998 to break the law and violate the integrity of the game by using performance enhancing drugs (PED). It also alledges that he was an extremely heavy PED user for the next several years.

The case built against Bonds in "The Shadow Game" is credible, substantial and damning. After reading the book (or in my case, the exerpts in Sports Illustrated), there can be little doubt that Bonds not only used PEDs, but that he used them continuously and compulsively. There can also be little doubt that the reason he used PEDs was to surpass some of baseball's most honored records and to cement himself as one of, if not the greatest baseball player in history.

I make this second point for a very important reason. We are a very forgiving nation and many of us could understand, if not condone, a player turning to steroids in order to recover from an injury. It wouldn't be right, but there seems to be some redeeming quality to doing whatever is necessary to get back out on the field. In Bonds case, his motivation was purely selfish. He knew his actions would impugn the integrity of baseball, but he did it anyway to build his own legacy at the expense of the game.

Based on the allegation made in the book, it is likely that Bonds will be facing an investigation (and perhaps charges) from the IRS and from the Grand Jury in front of whom he perjured himself. His ex-wife may also want to revisit Bonds finances. The real question for baseball fans (as well as for Bonds legacy) is what will Bud Selig's reaction be. He hasn't commented on the book yet, but I have some suggestions for him.

First, baseball should launch an investigation into the allegations against Bonds. That would include having the Commissioner appoint a special investigator just like was done in the Pete Rose case.

I've heard the argument that Baseball can't do anything because it was not against the rules of the game to take PEDs until rather recently. I don't buy that for a second. It is also not against the rules to murder, molest children, or any other number of crimes, but I'm fairly certain that if there was credible evidence of such a crime against one of baseball's players, the league would take action to distance themselves from that player. This case is no different. Bonds is alleged to have illegally consummed drugs. That's a crime. The only difference, if there is one, is that Bond's alleged crime directly impacts the integrity of the game.

After a thurough investigation, and assuming that the allegations made in the book can be substantiated, then Barry Bonds should receive a lifetime ban from baseball (excluding him from HOF consideration) and all of his records from 1998 on should be expunged from the record books.

There are those who believe that the evidence against Bonds must be beyond a reasonable doubt in order to kick him out of baseball. Others believe that nothing short of a confession from Bonds would be adequeate to exclude him from the game. I disagree with both arguments. Baseball's responsibility is to the integrity of the game. As long as due process is followed, a circumstantial case that proved that it is more likely than not that Bonds used PEDs to the extent described in the book would be sufficient to ban him from baseball and do away with his records. Keep in mind, the case against Pete Rose was circumstantial, but was still strong enough to support his ban.

My fear is that baseball will not do anything to address the allegations made in the book against Bonds. If that happens, Bonds will likely pass Babe Ruth on the all-time HR list this coming summer. He may even pass Henry Aaron. If that happens, baseball's most sacred record will become completely irrelavant and the game of baseball will be viewed more akin to professional wrestling than America's favorite pasttime. I hope the Commissioner and baseball's big wigs have the foresight to avoid this outcome.

Barry Bonds could have been a legitimate hall of famer. Unfortunately, he put his own interests ahead of the interests of the game. I've always heard that no player is bigger than the game. If that's true, Bud Selig will do what is necessary to do away with Bonds and the entire steroid culture that threatens to take over the game we all love.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

RIP: Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett played the game of baseball the way it should be played. He loved playing baseball, and it showed. He hustled, even when he didn't have to. He sacrificed his body and his at-bat if it helped the team. He was a team leader on the field and in the locker room.

Puckett's career was cut short when, at the age of 34, glaucoma claimed the sight in his right eye. Five years later, he was elected to baseball's hall of fame.

Kirby Puckett died yesterday (3/6/06) at the age of 45. He is the youngest hall of famer to die since the late Lou Gehrig.

Following his baseball career, stories emerged about Puckett's violent nature toward women. It was also alledged that Puckett had sexually harrassed a female employee of the Twins and that he had exposed himself in a parking lot.

I don't understand what would lead a man to abuse his wife or any other women. I also don't understand why a man would sexually harrass a woman to the point of complaint or expose himself in public. Whatever demons possessed Puckett in life, I hope that he will find peace in death.

Kirby Puckett played the game of baseball the way it should be played. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about his off-field life.

Rest in peace, Kirby.