Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:58 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 7:25 pm
PHOENIX -- Maybe Albert Pujols knew there was a designated hitter in the American League. But did anyone tell him you get to bat every inning in the Junior Circuit?
Forgive him if he begins to think that's the case after his first Cactus League game. He christened the Angels' portion of his career with a 2 for 3 afternoon against the beleaguered Athletics, including saying hello with an RBI double in the first.
"That was fun," Pujols said after being removed from the game in the fourth with the Angels leading 9-0. "Hopefully, we get to do a lot of that this year."
The Angels' two high-priced free agents each debuted on an overcast Monday afternoon. C.J. Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5 million deal during the offseason, worked two scoreless innings, facing eight batters.
Pujols chopped a hanging curve for the double in the first against Oakland starter Brad Peacock, scorched a line single to left in the second and flied to right in the third. He saw nine pitches.
"He comes up in the first inning and knocks in a runner," Wilson said of Pujols. "We all were looking at each other in the dugout like, 'Oh yeah. That's what Albert does.'"
Pujols admitted to some pre-game jitters. He said in a typical season, he gets nervous three times: Before his first spring training at-bat, before his first regular-season at-bat and before his first postseason at-bat.
That last part is what the Angels are banking on: Pujols' Cardinals only missed the playoffs four times during his 11 seasons in St. Louis. Anything short of a run deep into October -- and, arguably, a World Series title -- will be a disappointment for the 2012 Angels.
Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels last winter, easily has been the focal point of the Angels during their first two weeks of camp. Not just from the fans' perspective, but from inside the clubhouse as well.
"It's cool, man," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "Pujols has been blending in just fine. Vernon Wells and I hit with him, and we're picking up a lot."
One thing that has impressed them early is that Pujols is as interested as learning from his new teammates as they are from him.
"He's not afraid to ask questions," Hunter said. "A guy like that, who has achieved so much, you'd think pride would set in and he wouldn't ask anybody for any advice. But he does. He's that humble.
"He has two World Series rings, three MVPs and he still wants to learn. I love that."
One thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia has learned about Pujols through various conversations up to and early in spring training is, Pujols likes to work in the spring, especially early.
"He historically feels like he wants his at-bats on the higher side in the spring rather than on the lower side," Scioscia said.
Pujols finished with 65 plate appearances last spring with the Cardinals (.288, three homers and 14 RBI). Look for a similar workload this spring (though for a time it appeared as if he might reach that total on Monday alone).
As for Wilson, he tinkered with his mechanics over the winter and is looking to incorporate a changeup as an important weapon this summer.
"For me, the changeup is a priority," said Wilson, who faced eight batters, walking one. "So I can add efficiency to my repertoire."
Though he worked a career-high 223 1/3 innings last season, he essentially was out of gas in October.
He figures if he can throw fewer pitches -- "you're looking at one more out a game, one less walk, one more ground ball" -- both he and the Angels will benefit.
The focus on that will come in time. But for now, the Angels remain giddy over the one-time St. Louis icon joining them. And for his part, Pujols senses the respect from even veterans like Hunter and Wells.
"It's what you have built," Pujols said. "It's something I learned in St. Louis 11 years ago. I had great teammates, and I took advantage of the veteran guys."
He ticked off a whole flurry of names, including Woody Williams, Matt Morris, Placido Polanco and Mark McGwire.
"They taught me how to play the game the right way."
Posted on: January 9, 2012 7:13 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2012 7:19 pm
The 2012 Hall of Fame election -- by the numbers, and with the skinny. ...
Barry Larkin, 495 votes, 86.4 percent: Many numbers tell the tale, such as Larkin becoming the first 30/30 (homers/steals) shortstop in history. But how about in 1988, when he led the majors with only 24 strikeouts in 588 at-bats?
Maybe next year (or the year after)
Jack Morris, 382 votes, 66.7 percent: Great chance next year (which will cause massive coronaries in Sabermetric community), but he could run smack into wall via overloaded ballot that includes Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.
Jeff Bagwell, 321 votes, 56 percent: Start forging plaque after big jump from 41.7 percent last year.
In need of GPS
Lee Smith, 290 votes, 50.6 percent: A decade on the ballot and it's like he's trapped in a Republican debate. No traction.
Tim Raines, 279 votes, 48.7 percent: Criminally unsupported for guy who ranks second all-time in stolen base percentage (300 minimum attepts), though up 11 percentage points over last year.
Edgar Martinez, 209 votes, 36.5 percent: Fighting the designated hitter uphill battle. If you don't have 3,000 hits, it helps to have worn a glove at some point during your career.
Alan Trammell, 211 votes, 36.8 percent: Heading in the right direction after 24.3 percent last year, but still undeservedly playing the "bye" to the voters' "good."
Fred McGriff, 137 votes, 23.9 percent: CSI investigators -- or are those PETA reps? -- checking for pulse as Crime Dog's 493 career homers get no love.
Larry Walker, 131 votes, 22.9 percent: Even the Canadian exchange rate doesn't favor Cooperstown.
Mark McGwire, 112 votes, 19.5 percent: Big Mac Fan Club not allowing new members. Remarkably consistent from last year's 115 votes, 19.8 percent.
Don Mattingly, 102 votes, 17.8 percent: Just three more years left on the ballot. Hope Donnie Baseball's managerial stint with Dodgers outlasts that.
Dale Murphy, 83 votes, 14.5 percent: A Hall of Fame man, and even if he can't be in Cooperstown, I hope baseball somehow involves him more.
Rafael Palmeiro, 72 votes, 12.6 percent: Did this guy or his career really exist? Outside of wagging a finger at Congress, I mean?
Bernie Williams, 55 votes, 9.6: To those who support Bernie and Jorge Posada: How about we just put every Yankee who played between, say, 1996 and 2001, into the Hall?
No soup -- or future ballots -- for you
Juan Gonzalez, 23 votes, 4 percent: The Rangers had a homecoming ... and no Hall of Fame supporters showed up for Juan-Gone.
Vinny Castilla, 6 votes, 1 percent: Six votes?!?! Vinny had one Hall of Fame moment. That came near the end of his career when he walked into the stadium past me as I was arguing with a security guard who wasn't buying my press pass, stopped, grinned, then approached me in the clubhouse wanting the scoop ... and complimenting me for getting in the guy's face so spiritedly.
Tim Salmon, 5 votes, 0.9 percent: Not Cooperstown worthy, but easily could join Dale Murphy in the all-time good guys' Hall.
Bill Mueller, 4 votes, 0.5 percent: The guy won a batting title (AL, 2003), but I think somebody mis-read Mueller's moving receipts for Hall votes.
Brad Radke, 2 votes, 0.3 percent: I'm assuming the two who voted for Bad Brad are refugees who watched him, incredibly, win 12 consecutive starts while going 20-10 for an absolutely miserable Twins team in 1997.
Javy Lopez, 1 vote, 0.2 percent: Had the Braves allowed him to catch on nights when Greg Maddux started, he may have earned two votes.
Eric Young, 1 vote, 0.2 percent: Very cool. Had no idea Eric Young's mother was in the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America.
Jeromy Burnitz, 0 votes: Yeah, but he'll always have that starting berth for the NL in the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston on his resume.
Brian Jordan, 0 votes: Coincidentally, no votes for the NFL Hall of Fame, either.
Terry Mulholland, 0 votes: No votes, but gets points for being part-owner of the Dirty Dogg Saloon in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Phil Nevin, 0 votes: On the other hand, his managerial career (Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens) is taking off.
Ruben Sierra, 0 votes: Whatever happened to the Village Idiot?
Tony Womack, 0 votes: The New York precinct refused to consider him following that game-tying, Game 7 double against Mariano Rivera to set up Luis Gonzalez's game-winner in the 2001 World Series.
Tags: Alan Trammell, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Orioles, Barry Larkin, Bernie Williams, Bill Mueller, Brad Radke, Brian Jordan, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Dale Murphy, Detroit Tigers, Don Mattingly, Edgar Martinez, Eric Young, Fred McGriff, Houston Astros, Jack Morris, Javy Lopez, Jeff Bagwell, Jeromy Burniitz, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker, Lee Smith, Los Angeles Angels, Mark McGwire, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos, New York Yankees, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Phil Nevin, Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra, San Diego Padres, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Terry Mulholland, Texas Rangers, Tim Raines, Tim Salmon, Tony Womack, Toronto Blue Jays, Vinny Castilla
Posted on: February 13, 2011 10:56 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 10:57 pm
So, is the Cardinals season about to be torpedoed before it even begins?
There was manager Tony La Russa on Sunday, before the first Cardinal of the spring even officially took the field, getting out in front of the issue that right now appears poised to overtake St. Louis' summer.
La Russa admitted Sunday that the Pujols contract situation potentially is a "spectacular distraction" that could turn into a "spectacular excuse" is the Cardinals play poorly.
Understand a couple of things about this.
One, La Russa is a master manipulator who plays mind games as well as anybody in the league. He is adept at spinning situations to create the ultimate "us against them" mentality in the clubhouse.
Two, La Russa thrives in this arena, and he's yet to meet a challenge he doesn't think he can whip. So you bet the Cardinals will be well schooled in the first team meeting of the spring on the volatility of the Pujols talks, what it will mean if any of them starts yapping out of school and of the age-old clubhouse adage, "What you see here, what you hear here, what you discuss here, stays here."
It's hard to remember a La Russa-managed club that hasn't had its share of distractions, some of them even spectacular, many of them orchestrated by La Russa himself. Mark McGwire's return to the game last spring -- sponsored by La Russa -- eventually gave way to peace and quiet. Later in the summer, La Russa's tiff with outfielder Cody Rasmus went public after the manager spelled out his displeasure with Rasmus.
It was La Russa himself who was arrested near the Cardinals' spring facility in Florida in 2007 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Later that summer, in the aftermath of pitcher Josh Hancock's traffic death, La Russa caused quite a stir when he threatened to take his fungo bat to any reporter who crossed the line with questions about the tragedy.
He has famously feuded with Scott Rolen (hastening Rolen's departure from the Cardinals) as well as Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith (a rift that remains). And remember his Cold War with the umpires in 2003? Among other things, La Russa said that Jerry Crawford has "made it a point to get us."
While none of this relates directly to Pujols, the point is, with the Cardinals, it's always something. Always, there is some controversy or slight, real or perceived, up around the next corner. And it doesn't always mean disaster. Sometimes, the Cardinals thrive in this atmosphere.
Unquestionably, if Pujols and the club cannot resolve the contract differences by midweek and the three-time MVP cuts off talks for the year on Wednesday, this likely will wind up the mother of all spectacular Cardinals distractions. And things could go off the rails, quickly.
But a ticked off Pujols playing with a chip on his shoulder might not be the worst thing in the world. As La Russa said Sunday, the man is "as strong between the ears as anybody I've ever met."
As for the Cardinals, if there is any team -- and any manager -- qualified to head straight out into this sort of storm, it is St. Louis and La Russa.
Doesn't mean it will be a pleasant summer.
But it doesn't mean the Cardinals can't win, either.
Posted on: September 28, 2010 1:29 am
Given documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' talent for storytelling, were he to draw them up, each baseball season would ebb and flow in perfect cadence, with six divisional races each thundering toward its own unique and dramatic climax right up until the final day of the season.
Being that the game has a mind of its own and refuses to be tamed, we're left to settle for Burns' forays into documenting it for PBS.
Given his latest work -- The Tenth Inning, to be shown on your local PBS television station in two parts on Tuesday and Wednesday -- it's a pretty darned good trade-off.
Picking up where he left off in Baseball, which, with some 43 million viewers, was the most-watched series in PBS history, Burns and his co-producer (and co-director) Lynn Novick hit all the right notes in The Tenth Inning. From the dramatic opening showing a young Barry Bonds with an ominous hint of what's to come, Burns and Novick reel you in quickly and keep things moving at a nice, crisp pace that Greg Maddux would appreciate.
Particularly good is their treatment of the 1994-1995 players' strike and the resulting break in trust with the fans, the examination of the Latin American and Asian influx into the game (there's some great, if brief, Roberto Clemente footage, and some good stuff on Ichiro Suzuki) and the treatment of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase in 1998.
You can't help but be moved by the excellent chapter on 9/11 and baseball in its aftermath. And as the documentary moves beyond that into Bonds chasing the single-season and all-time home run records, his gargantuan size is maybe even more striking in hindsight than it was at the time. From there, the handling of the game's steroids scandal is skillful.
Among the interviews woven throughout, those with Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez are especially good. So, too, are those from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann -- who tells a wonderful story of meeting a New York cop on the street on the day baseball resumed following 9/11 -- and Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton.
There are so many small, perfect touches throughout that I won't get into all of them. But a couple of small examples -- and those of you who regularly read this space on the Internet know how I relate to all things music -- are from the soundtrack: As Burns and Co. are covering the Braves winning the World Series in '95, Georgia's Allman Brothers are playing in the background. And behind a segment on the Cleveland Indians of the '90s is music from Ohio-native Chrissie Hynde.
There are so many more examples like that, big and small. The Tenth Inning is beautifully done and, if you love baseball (or even are just OK with baseball but love American history), it's worth scheduling a couple of hours Tuesday night and a couple more Wednesday night to make sure you see this.
And if you can't, it's definitely worth DVRing for a look when you get a free night or two.
Believe me, you'll be thrilled that you did.
Likes: The 50th anniversary Monday of Ted Williams blasting a home run in his final at-bat before retiring, perhaps the most memorable final act in any Hall of Fame career -- and certainly the only one to be the subject of such beautiful prose as John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, the author's famous essay for the New Yorker. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, the Library of America is presenting a cool little book reprinting Updike's original essay, plus an autobiographical preface and a terrific new afterward prepared by the author just months before his death. This is the essay in which Updike begins "Fenway Park in Boston is a lyric little bandbox of a place. ..." and, after describing Williams running around the bases with his head down and refusing to tip his cap to the crowd -- curtain calls wouldn't become customary until years later -- includes this sublime bit of writing: "... But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters." If you're interested in the book, you can find more details (including ordering information) here.
Dislikes: Really hate to see Atlanta's Martin Prado go down with what surely looked like an oblique injury in Monday's game against Florida. This week's battle for two playoff spots involving the Braves, San Diego and San Francisco is going to be riveting, and you really don't want to see teams depleted. Atlanta already lost Chipper Jones weeks ago. ... Meantime, will injuries to Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria (quad) and Minnesota's J.J. Hardy (ankle) this week turn into significant issues for October?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Pretty girls from the smallest towns
-- Drive-By Truckers, Birthday Boy
Posted on: May 26, 2010 1:26 am
If you're wondering whether there might be a correlation between St. Louis ranking 11th in the NL in runs scored and controversial new batting coach Mark McGwire ... don't even go there around the Cardinals.
At least, not when Big Mac is just seven regular-season weeks into the job.
"I've been really impressed by him," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa says. "He's got a relationship with everybody. He's done a good job of making things clear that he's here for them.
"He's everything that we thought he'd be, except I think he's got an even better feel for coaching as far as communicating. He's got a good message, he cares a lot."
Aside from Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, the Cardinals are fielding a fairly young lineup in rookie third baseman David Freese, center fielder Colby Rasmus, second baseman Skip Schumaker and even right fielder Ryan Ludwick.
So there is a learning curve that at times has gone along with the early struggles of Holliday and, in the month of May, Pujols.
Case in point: First inning of St. Louis' 1-0 loss in San Diego on Tuesday night, with one out and the bases loaded, Rasmus whiffed.
"He's got to put that ball in play there," La Russa said afterward. "He'll learn."
Among what Rasmus is learning, from McGwire and through experience: Two-strike technique. How to cut down on his swing and better defend the plate, which will leave him -- and, by extension, the Cardinals -- less vulnerable.
Led by La Russa and McGwire, the Cardinals continue to work through it. Heading into this trip, they ranked ninth in the NL in on-base percentage and 10th in slugging percentage.
"He's a great person," says Holliday, who has worked with McGwire in past winters in Orange County, Calif. "He's real easy to work with, real positive. I think he's doing a real good job.
"He's a real cool guy. Somebody you enjoy being around, and somebody you enjoy talking hitting with."
Likes: Fabulous pitching duel between St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and San Diego's Jon Garland in the Padres' 1-0 win Tuesday night at -- where else? -- Petco Park. Wainwright equaled a career-high 12 strikeouts and had his killer curveball going wherever he wanted it to. Garland now is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA over his past eight starts and is 3-0 with an 0.84 ERA in five Petco Park starts in 2010. ... The squirrel that ran onto Target Field on Tuesday night in the rain at the Yankees-Twins game and frantically looked for cover running the warning track while the crowd chanted, "Let's go squirrel! Let's go squirrel!" ... St. Louis rookie third baseman David Freese. Good-looking player. ... Who said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz was done? Sure am glad I never ventured anywhere near THAT prediction. ... Toronto manager Cito Gaston. ... ... Really enjoying Hampton Sides' gripping book Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin. If you like history or have any interest in the subject matter, I highly recommend it. ... Bob Dylan's 69th birthday this week.
Dislikes: Somebody stole the Drive-By Truckers' backdrop for their shows earlier this month from the House of Blues in San Diego. You've got to be kidding me. That's so weak.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I was so much older then
-- Bob Dylan, My Back Pages
Posted on: April 5, 2010 12:24 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 4:09 pm
Welcome to the last day of the best sports weekend of the year: Opening Day, and Final Four weekend. And yes, we count the Monday of the NCAA championship game and 13 baseball openers as part of the weekend.
If you haven't called in sick today, I have just one question: What's wrong with you?
While we count down to the Butler game (yes, it's the Butler game, not the Duke game, and I'll get to them in a separate blog in a little while), colleague Danny Knobler and I will be blogging throughout the day, sending quick hits regarding today's 13 openers. So check back often.
A couple of quick opening thoughts heading in:
-- Coolest moment: President Obama set to throw out the first pitch before today's Philadelphia-Washington game in D.C. I don't care whether you're Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or a leftover reguee from the Whig party. You don't see presidents dropping the first puck, making the first handoff or tossing up the first jump ball. Just one more reason why baseball remains the best and most important sport going.
-- Most interesting home debut: Let's see what kind of ovation Atlanta right-fielder Jason Heyward gets when the Braves open against the Cubs this afternoon. I'm guessing it will range somewhere from raucous to exceptionally raucous.
-- Most interesting road debut: OK, so we never notice hitting coaches unless one of our favorite players delves into a slump. But when the Cardinals open in Cincinnati today, and they introduce the teams pre-game, let's just see what kind of reaction St. Louis hitting coach Mark McGwire gets as things begin again for real for him.
-- We're still unwrapping the season and: The Red Sox and Yankees already checked in with their first sub-4 hour game! They played Sunday night's opener in 3:46. Now the raging question becomes, can they do it again?
-- Opening day boos to: The Angels and the A's. Two things I know about Opening Day: It should always be a day game, and clubs should never schedule it opposite the NCAA title game. What, you think your fans don't want to watch the basketball championship? Why not just schedule an afternoon game?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"The Cubs made me a criminal
-- Steve Goodman, A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request
Posted on: January 11, 2010 4:10 pm
The most human, powerful and, yes, tragic part of Mark McGwire's eight-paragraph confession Monday was in this single sentence: "Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."
We're lucky or unlucky by birth, some circumstances being laid out for us that either help us along the way or present obstacles for us to overcome. We can't choose our era any more than we can choose our skin color.
We can -- and must -- however, make smart and correct choices within whatever circumstances we're dealt.
In baseball's corner of the world, in this time and place, the temptation was too much for both McGwire and for hundreds of others. The 1998 season was a sham, an entire era was built on lies. The record book is warped, legends from the past have had their numbers diminished as a result and we're going to be hearing confessions like the one McGwire delivered Monday for years. The stain is permanent, no matter how many apologies -- timely or belated -- are delivered.
Five years ago in front of Congress, it wasn't time for McGwire to discuss the past.
Now, on the eve of McGwire accepting one of Tony La Russa's persistent invitations to become the Cardinals' hitting coach, times have changed.
We never knew for certain whether this day would come for McGwire, though we pretty much knew everything he copped to -- steroid use on and off for more than a decade, including during the '98 season.
The most telling thing of all was in how carefully orchestrated this entire chain of events was on Monday. McGwire doing a phone interview with the Associated Press, the Cardinals issuing his statement, the careful revelation that McGwire phoned Commissioner Bud Selig and La Russa on Monday, another St. Louis-issued statement with pre-fabricated quotes from Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., general manager John Mozeliak and La Russa, an early evening sit-down interview with Bob Costas and McGwire on the MLB Network.
Then there was La Russa telling ESPN's Baseball Tonight that he's "really encouraged that [McGwire] would step forward. As we go along his explanations will be well received."
That, I believe is wildly optimistic. Maybe, in time, they will be. I'm glad McGwire came clean, I think it's good for both him and the game.
But he became so small during his Congressional testimony, it's going to take a lot more Monday's developments to grow back his reputation.
Posted on: October 26, 2009 7:46 pm
Memo to: Cardinals new hitting coach.