Weekly Pepper - Week 19

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
August 11, 2008

Other Weekly Peppers:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25

Gregory Pratt re-discovered the ancient and noble art called "dance" this weekend at the Italian Festival on Taylor Street. Because he hadn't really danced with someone expecting a quality dance in years, Gregory whispered the following disclaimer in each of his partners' ears: "Here's the deal -- if I step on your toes, you can knee me in the groin." Fortunately it didn't come to that as Mr. Pratt flashed the instincts that made him a .308 hitter. Hips don't lie when you're turning on an inside fastball or as you twist on the dance-floor. He just wishes every weekend were as fun as the last.

Magic Number: 71 -- The Tampa Bay Rays topped their single-season wins record this weekend and now stand at 71 wins on the year. In all likelihood, they will win far more games than that. Unfortunately for the Rays, however, the under-performing Carl Crawford has been injured, and while I do not see it significantly slowing their team down, I do think it is a factor in the long-run. Simply put, they are a better team when they have the exciting Crawford in their lineup, and I hope that he recovers soon. After all these painful years for the organization, I'd hate to see the Rays in the postseason without him. Now with that said, I'm looking forward to David Price's inevitable call-up as they'd be a better team with him somewhere on the roster, too.

Magic Number: 353 -- As mentioned earlier, I spent the weekend at a festival, dancing. The people I danced with Saturday were more exciting than the people I danced with Sunday, and there was one woman who I especially enjoyed dancing with on this night. Well, the only problem on this evening was that Greg Maddux was going to be starting against the Rockies and I didn't want to wait all night to hear what happened. I didn't have my cell phone with me, so I used a friend's cell phone to call another friend and ask him to text me with an update once the game became final. I gave the phone back to my friend, who had a dance interrupted by his buzzing phone and had to cut a jitterbug short as he delivered the news to me. I honestly believe that this news about that Greg Maddux extending his winning streak brought an extra kick into my dancing.

Unlikely Major League Hero -- Andy Gonzalez played first base for the Cleveland Indians this week. I laughed when I read that bit of news. He's awful, and simply not a major league player. Last year, when he was playing for an awful White Sox team, I couldn't join my fellow Sox fans in ridiculing him, because I thought he did as well as he could've done in the major leagues, considering the fact that he doesn't have any of the skills that a "real" major leaguer has. Now I'm not necessarily mocking him, but I wonder why, exactly, anyone would put him out there when he simply doesn't belong. Isn't there some poor career minor-league first baseman who might be better-served by playing for the "big-league club" for a few nights? Why call Andy Gonzalez up? Is it a sick joke?

Equally Unlikely Hero -- Kansas City Royals shortstop Tony Pena Jr., who might not have been drafted if his father weren't Tony Pena, had a walkoff base hit against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. When I think of the worst two players in baseball I think of Andy Gonzalez and Tony Pena Jr, but I guess Pena showed me once again that anything can happen in baseball. There's a young man at my University gym who believes I am a Professor, and I have told him that I am a "Professor of Sorts," which is the study of potential combinations. I'm not a Professor of Sorts or anything, but I have always believed that baseball is incredible because there are thousands of things that can happen on any given "play."

No More Web-gems in Arizona -- Orlando Hudson is out for the season in Arizona and I do not expect the Diamondbacks to be able to compete for a world championship or playoff berth without him. It's unfortunate.

But Webb-gems Will Remain -- Fortunately, Brandon Webb is still around, and while he won't win thirty games this year, as I fantasized about early in the season, he's picked up seventeen wins and has been a joy to watch.

The Night Chicago Died? -- Jose Contreras ruptured his Achilles tendon covering first-base on Saturday against the Boston Red Sox -- just running to the bag, with no collision or contact of any sort with anyone (what a weird injury) -- and my first reaction was that the Sox had been dealt a death-blow. There is no offensive depth in the White Sox organization, and there isn't much pitching depth, either. With Gavin Floyd returning back to Earth -- he wasn't going to sustain an insanely low BABIP forever, nor was he going to get away with his silly K/BB ratio, nor did he wake up overnight and suddenly become a low-3 ERA man -- and the forthcoming shutdown of John Danks like the Tigers did with Justin Verlander in 2006 causes me concern that the Sox might wind up a little short to the Twins, who have no business whatsoever being in this "pennant" race but are in it anyway. At the least, the 2008 Central Division is fun to watch because both teams at the top are underdogs whom I expect to gut-fight it out until the very end. These teams have heart, and while one has heart and power the other has heart and fundamentals. We'll have to see whose pitching staff ends the last month-and-a-half "right."

Announcers 1 -- After Jay Bruce made the mistake of running to third base from second on a ball hit to his right during a game against Roy Oswalt (who wishes he could pitch against Cincinnati every start), the Reds announcers yelled, "that's why they're sixteen games out of first place!" That and their having Ken Griffey Jr. bat third, or their shoddy defense, or their mediocre pitching staff, with the exception being the exceptional Edinson Volquez, right? The sad thing is, they'll be there in a couple of years, too, after Dusty Baker blows all of their young pitchers' arms out.

Griffey -- Speaking of Ten Griffey Jr. (so nicknamed because he was traded for and placed into centerfield with the assumption that he was the Griffey of ten years ago), he has been absolutely atrocious in centerfield, giving up triples as if every batter were hitting the ball and running like Sam Crawford. He gave one triple up because he could not bend over to cut the ball off! His bat has little if any life left in it, he can't run hard or else he'll hurt himself, and he has no defensive value whatsoever. It's time to retire at the end of the season.

Announcers II: Hawk Harrelson As Heard on Sunday and Saturday and every game before -- "Some guys, their behinds get so tight you couldn't pull a greased tee out with a pair of pliers." The seasoned and perhaps overcooked Hawk Harrelson has been expressing that thought on players who get tight during certain situations for as long as he's been broadcasting. I am genuinely concerned for him, as his work has noticeably deteriorated since the White Sox won the World Series. Oh, sure, he has always compared people like Joe Crede to people like Alex Rodriguez (while declaring that he favors people like Crede over people like Rodriguez on the basis of "not knowing what they hit but when they hit it") but before the last few seasons, he did not have routine brushes with aneurysms as he called for homerun balls to "Stretch! Stretch!" when they're not even twenty feet from the warning track, nor did he scream "Daggumit!" when something went against the White Sox. It's dadgum embarrassing to listen to. Well, I've wondered recently whether or not there's anything he brings to a ballgame that couldn't be found in a recording of him from any given game years ago, but he proved to me that he's still got something left in the tank this weekend as Jim Thome hit a deep homerun off of Clay Buchholz, causing Hawk to yell "That'sahangerhebanged it!" at the top of his lungs.

Gio Gonzalez -- Gio Gonzalez, the Oakland Athletics' left-handed pitching prospect with the Zito-curveball and tiny figure, started and lost his first professional baseball game on the sixth, but looked good in doing it. He's fun to watch!

Felt Like a Good Week to Watch Baseball -- The first Yankees-Rangers game this week was a great game to watch, the Sox and the Tigers on Tuesday was one of the best I've ever attended, the Sox and the Red Sox on Sunday were a lot of fun, and the Rays and the Mariners put on quite a show on Saturday night. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Karstens, who almost threw a perfect game for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Arizona Diamondbacks while facing Randy Johnson. He'll remember that for the rest of his life!

History of the Week -- I finished Al Stump's Cobb this week, and I guess I never knew just how unbelievable a character Ty Cobb was. Joe DiMaggio commented in 1990 that every time he reads about Cobb, he wonders how a man like that could've possibly existed, and I feel the same way after reading Cobb. I've always known he had a temper and was a racist, but it's hard to grasp the extent of it until you've read about it in-depth. Ty Cobb was a man who was wanted in Ohio for beating someone brutally, so he had to take a train to Canada as a way to get around the law as he went from Detroit to Pittsburgh to face Honus Wagner's Pirates in the World Series. Can you imagine that happening today? He stopped speaking to his good friend Ted Williams because Williams told him that Rogers Hornsby was a good hitter, the proof being that he had outhit the great Cobb, who was furious with the reminder! And while there are no statistics for everyday acts of violence, he must've been a .366 hitter in that field, too. Cobb was a man who could've been the fastest runner alive if he'd trained for it, but his ability to run around the bases in ten seconds wasn't enough for him, as he sharpened his spikes to slice people while sliding on the base paths. (He denied this with his fists anytime someone mentioned it).  He was reckless, too, and made it a habit to run through stop-signs or take foolish jumps or make ill-advised steal/extra-base attempts because he felt that he was 1. fast enough to get away with it and 2. given an inherent advantage by the fact that he just has to get to a bag while the other team needs to throw the ball, catch the ball and tag him with the ball, none of which are simple propositions, especially not the last. Can you imagine what we would say about a ballplayer who was so wanton in his disregard for conventional base running today? Would such a ballplayer be allowed to play? Almost certainly not if he were as violent as Cobb.

Now, Cobb has been criticized in the past for not swinging for the fences, notably by my colleague, Asher Chancey, and I have always had mixed feelings on the subject. If a player is excellent playing "his" version of the game, like Ichiro Suzuki, let him be; he is still valuable even if it isn't as valuable as, say, a .330 45+ HR hitter like Babe Ruth is. But as I read about Ty Cobb, I must say that I have not come across a ballplayer who so thoroughly dominated his game quite like he did. That isn't to say that he was better than Ruth or perhaps other players, but that I have no doubt that he could've blasted homeruns with the best of them had he wanted to and peaked in a different era. But all the same, he was a man who literally controlled the base paths with his spikes, won 12 batting titles and set over 50 records in his career, many of which have yet to be broken. And it's fascinating to consider his career and someone like Babe Ruth's for other reasons. There was a game in which Cobb was brutally beaten right before the game and came out with his head bandaged and had a few extra-base hits; Ruth once passed out in the outfield, was given some water and sent back out! These are just two examples of poor medical treatment for old-time ballplayers. I just wonder what Ty Cobb could've done if he had been healthy for an entire career. Then again, if he had been healthy in the head. he wouldn't have been Ty Cobb and most certainly would not be as great as he was.

History of the Week II -- Was Pepper Martin sane? It's a question to consider, and I direct you to this quality discussion of it. If you don't know who he is, you will, and if you do, but aren't sure about his sanity, you might find out. It's appropriate given the conversation, right?

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.