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Weekly Pepper - Week 8

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
May 26, 2008

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Gregory Pratt has two basic expectations of everyone he has any sort of relationship with: be honest with him, and do not cause unnecessary drama. The first is unequivocal and self-explanatory; the second is vague, but its interpretation flows naturally from the first. The last week has been an entire waste: unproductive and stressful for all the wrong reasons, and Mr. Pratt is happy to be entering a new one. Although it is wise to keep in mind that no week is a waste when baseball is played.

Chumbawamba -- Jose Valverde was hit in the face with a Pedro Feliz line-drive on Saturday night as he attempted to close out the Astros-Phillies game. The ball did no damage to him and didn't even leave a mark, but that is not the remarkable part of this story. Valverde got up, visited with the trainers and finished closing out the ballgame as if nothing had happened. The lesson here is that "Valverde" is Spanish for "badass."

One-Man Wrecking Crew -- Speaking of line-drives to the face, Albert Pujols hit one off of Chris Young, who has been placed on the disabled list after the shot left him bloodied and sitting on the pitcher's mound. A few minutes later, Pujols slid into home plate and sprained catcher Josh Bard's ankle as Bard blocked the plate waiting for the relay throw. I want to express my best wishes as a former pitcher who has taken shots off the forearm, but I have to wonder -- if Albert Pujols had expansionist ambitions, who on the Padres would he have set out to conquer next? Adrian Gonzalez, to demonstrate what a real slugger looks like? Kevin Kouzmanoff, for having a funkier last name? Or Greg Maddux, because the great like to conquer the great? I suspect he'd take one look at the timeless veteran and decide against it, figuring that Maddux' back has already been broken by the Padre offense. I asked Keith when we met for the Cubs game if he thought there's a chance that the Padres wouldn't give Maddux enough support to pass Clemens on the all-time win-list. He said he thought he'd be able to get at least that many wins, but I'm not so confident. Those guys are as impotent as it gets. I can't believe they played another eighteen-inning game on Sunday afternoon after blowing Maddux' 351st win.

A Tale of Three Left-Handers -- It is good to see Randy Johnson pitching again, and effectively. He deserves to go out standing at the end of the season, and I hope he is able to do it. And considering all the time I devote to great comeback stories, how could I not make a note of congratulations to Jon Lester? Many more to him. Incidentally, he pitched his follow-up game to the no-hitter on Sunday, and that wasn't even the most anticipated or effective start by a left-hander that day. Clayton Kershaw made his debut for the LA Dodgers on Sunday, and he didn't disappoint. He gave up two runs in six innings while striking out seven, but received only a no-decision for his efforts. I love watching young players become superstars, and I hope that Kershaw can control his pitches more effectively in time so that he might reach his potential.

Marlin's Beard -- It's hard to believe how good the Marlins have been this season, but it is nice to see, even if I am rooting for the Atlanta Braves in that division. It is too soon to give the Manager of the Year Award to Fredi Gonzalez, but he is certainly the front-runner right now.

Legend in the Making -- Someday in ten years, when baseball pitchers are starting only twenty-six games per year because the league is afraid of losing its huge investments to injury, Roy Halladay is going to be a folk hero. Five complete games so far this season.

Great Thoughts -- My colleague Keith Glab has written a great article analyzing whether or not Mike Piazza deserves to be ranked as the greatest catcher of all-time, and he has attempted to reconcile Piazza's defensive mediocrity with his offensive superiority using statistics. I encourage all to read it, but I'd simply like to say that I don't see any way a man can be awful at defense at a glove-position and be ranked the best overall at that position. This isn't first base we're talking about, though I do believe Piazza belongs in the Hall and on the first ballot for sure.

Say That Again? -- This week's controversy has been instant replay. Let me just say that I am opposed to it on the grounds that making mistakes is tradition for umpires, and uprooting it is tantamount to shredding the game's history from the beginning to now. If we are going to try and make baseball perfect and eliminate the human element, can we somehow find a way to turn on "FairTrades" and prevent bad general managers from making bad deals, too? I'm still mad about the Abreu-to-the-Yankees trade.

Congratulations, Mr. Vizquel -- Omar Vizquel set the record for most games played at shortstop on Sunday. Among the articles written about him this weekend was this one, about how he made his debut on the same day on the same team as Ken Griffey Jr. Nobody seems to remember that, and I didn't either. According to that article, no two players have made their debut in the same day and made the Hall since two made theirs in 1925. Can you guess the players without looking? Here's an interesting question to consider: Vizquel has never been the best shortstop in the league or the best player on his team, nor has he ever been all that close to being the best player in the league, to put it mildly. Yet he is widely-regarded as a sure-fire Hall of Famer. His is an interesting situation: I think his defense, his reputation and his durability warrant induction into the Hall of Fame, but it's hard to explain.

Needling Baseball: A Commentary -- The list of alleged steroid users in the public record expanded this weekend when Jeff Bagwell was linked to Clemens and Pettitte, who are being linked to a steroid-dealing personal trainer in Houston. This is not (yet?) proof that Bagwell is a steroid user, particularly since the dealer denies it (though I do not believe him for reasons evident in the article), but I must express satisfaction with this development. The record on steroid users is nowhere near complete, and I think we owe it to the integrity of our game's history to exhaust the matter to a full and genuine conclusion because previous attempts have been whitewashes or half-hearted. Being frustrated with the press' refusal to investigate the use of steroids by players in their hometown, I wrote to a journalist friend recently: "It seems to me that investigative sports journalism and sports journalists don't exist anymore. Most of them are sitting around waiting for a superstar athlete to rape someone and the rest are snooping on Bill Belichick." Chicago newspapers, for instance, are more interested in Jay Mariotti trashing Jerry Reinsdorf than whether or not there is steroid use going on in the clubhouses of either team, and other cities are just as guilty of not asking hard questions of their athletes. The reasons have some, well, reason: if the St. Louis press investigated Albert Pujols, for instance, fans would have a fit, demagogue pundits would call it a witch-hunt and Pujols would simply refuse to speak to the beat writers, thereby robbing them of copy and material, but since when are journalists supposed to be concerned with anything other than the truth? In my article on Greg Maddux' last start at Wrigley Field, I wondered if the game has lost the fans it needs to survive. Today, I wonder if the game has lost its heart and the media is a willing accomplice? When Maddux retires, the last player I am sure is not a steroid user will be gone.

History of the Week -- I finally got the opportunity to watch the film Richie Ashburn: A Baseball Life this weekend, after I finished watching the Indiana Jones movies for the first time (including the new one). It is a very good look at a worthy Hall of Famer, even if the rest of Baseball Evolution neglects to put him on their Top 200 lists. I encourage you to go out and give it a look-through, dear reader. And while you're at it, check out my favorite independent band, Yo La Tengo, whose name is beautifully inspired by Ashburn. I love it when the broader culture intersects with the culture of baseball.



Gregory Pratt is a political science and history double-major 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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