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Weekly Pepper - Week 6

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
May 12, 2008

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The last week was an intense one in the life of Gregory Pratt, and it took him from four different exam rooms to several bars on Taylor Street, from the arms of his dearest friend to St. Mary's Lake and Mundelein Seminary. Fortunately, he believes he achieved his academic goals for the semester and only needs formal confirmation in a couple of classes. In the meantime, he's got baseball as he prepares his plan of attack for his summer's work.

The Virtue of Ozzie Guillen -- So, Gavin Floyd throws eight and a third innings of no-hit ball, then gives up a double to Joe Mauer. Can you guess what Ozzie Guillen does? He pulls Floyd from the game. Why? Because Floyd is a young pitcher with potential who should not be pitching unnecessarily in a blowout. If there is one thing the rest of the league could learn from Guillen, it is how to handle a starting pitching staff. He isn't bad with relievers, either, but he operates too much like Tony LaRussa to be distinct in that regard. Guillen places trust in his starting pitchers, lets them work out of their own jams, and gives them every opportunity to win the ballgame unless it is clear that they do not have the opportunity to win the ballgame. That is as it should be.

Nothing to Apologize For -- On another Guillen note, I thought his latest "rant" was hilarious: "[I'm tired of] all the managers in the press box and at home, watching the game on TV and spilling food on themselves." It inspired great copy, too: "Guillen heaps bleeps on critics." In a league that has become increasingly phony, from the physiques and abilities of the athletes to the standards imposed upon them by media and commissioner alike, Guillen is a throwback to more honest days, and I appreciate it very much.

Is it going to be murder, Dusty Baker?* -- Twenty four year-old Edinson Volquez has thrown five straight hundred pitch games, including a 118 pitch performance on Wednesday in a game where the Reds were leading 7-0 after the fifth inning. Someone in the front office ought to tell Baker to end this madness or be fired. There's no justification for his war on the game's young starting pitchers. I just thank God he isn't managing in San Francisco.

Not Wells At All -- Toronto's Vernon Wells fractured his wrist Friday night. That's awful for the already-mediocre Blue Jay offense, but worse for Wells, who has always been an inconsistent player year-by-year and has only recently broken out of his more-than-year-long slump, but will now have to deal with this recovery in addition to typical slump-busting. I certainly wish him the best, even if I believe his contract is one of the worst ever given to a position player in baseball.

Regressing to the Mean -- As surprised as I have been by Gavin Floyd's fluke start, nothing has been more shocking to me this season than Sidney Ponson's first three starts for Texas in which he went 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA. Fortunately, he went back to being Sidney Ponson on Sunday, and all is right with the world again.

Au Contreras -- There have been questions about Jose Contreras' future since his miserable second half of 2006 all the way through his terrible 2007 campaign. The Bronze Titan has answered these by going 3-3 for the Chicago White Sox so far this season with a 3.61 ERA. Of course, these are not ace-like numbers, and his ERA is certainly going to rise by the end of the year (it isn't something to brag about to begin with), but I have a deep respect and admiration for Contreras, and I'm glad to see he isn't done as an effective pitcher yet. I will always root for exiles and underdogs that are as fundamentally decent as he is.

Article of the Week -- Read this, "Baseball, Dominican-style." About a trip to the DR to watch baseball. It is a fantastic read.

Defense I -- The only baseball-related editorial I ever wrote for the Chicago Flame was titled "Ankiel Biting" and I recommend it to you here. That said, did you see Rick Ankiel's throws from the warning track to nail runners at third this week? There's nothing more exciting than a battle between a competent outfielder and a charging baserunner, especially when the outfielder wins.

Love Foreverett, or: Defense II -- In the seventh inning of Sunday night's Red Sox-Twins game, Adam Everett made a great diving play on a ball hit by Kevin Youkilis. I'd take him on my team if it were otherwise well-built offensively, because watching Everett field is a treat for the heart. That, and hearing that Robin Ventura (my favorite player growing up) was pitching batting practice to the White Sox on Sunday, have made me wish that the Hall of Fame had a defense-only wing. Or simply placed a greater emphasis on defense in the voting.

"It's pretty representative of who I am." -- To celebrate the end of the semester, a friend invited me and several other people to play a little softball on Friday afternoon and I was happy to join them. At one point, I was playing first and someone popped it up weakly midway up the line. I ran over and when I realized that it was too shallow to catch standing, I dove for it, covering my left side in infield dirt. With the ball in my glove, I stood up and said to the pitcher, "I know what it's like to pitch" then I tossed him the ball. I hit a deep drive to centerfield way over the centerfielder's head a little while afterward and watched it with pride. Later, I was pitching baseballs overhand and struck out my friends, which is one of life's greatest pleasures. I think the euphoria from acing final exams gave me added velocity with which to throw heat. When we finished playing, we had hotdogs and brats. Is there anything better?

Heart Warmers -- There are two stories I recommend to all human beings reading this: "Cancer-stricking high school player gets one last hit," and this touching story about the first and last homerun one girl will ever hit. Sportsmanship is definitely not dead.

350 -- Maddux made it. No more needs to be said at this moment. Except congratulations.

History of the Week -- Jake Peavy recently said something far more offensive than anything that has ever come out of Ozzie Guillen's mouth. He says that he watched clips from 1970s baseball and that "there would be a no-hitter a week with the guys' stuff today and those swings. Everything is evolution. The game's gotten to be a whole different thing." Now I don't want to sound like Ben Stein warning that a belief in evolution means you're a step away from committing genocide, but this is a troublesome claim that can easily lead us down a slippery slope. Let Jake Peavy pitch to Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson or Roberto Clemente and talk about "evolution" and "near no-hitters" with a straight face. Now, let me pivot and say that Peavy has a point, to a point: the average major leaguer is certainly better, offensively, than past major leaguers, as can be evidenced by middle infielders particularly. But to put down an entire decade's baseball players with such a broad oversimplification is an insult to the game's history, and there is no sport whose history is more integral to its present than baseball's. For insulting the game's continuity he should be ashamed of himself. I just hope his argument doesn't take greater hold: there are already people who believe that Barry Bonds is greater than Babe Ruth, and I am absolutely mortified by such statements. Baseball players today aren't, necessarily, better than players from the past, but the greater point isn't about which generation has more disadvantages in comparison to others or who has produced the best players. This is a false argument that degrades baseball's continuity from generation to generation, and the greater point is that we must understand context to understand the past. The keywords there are context and understanding. Not pitting against one another in competition. But I promise you, if Babe Ruth faced Jake Peavy in one of today's tiny stadiums he'd hit it out the park and across the street. 

*"Is it going to be murder, Dusty Baker?" is derived from an article in The Nation from the 30s called, "Is it to be murder, Mr. Hoover?"



Gregory Pratt is a political science student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger, and he can be reached at Gregory@baseballevolution.com.

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