Friday, August 11, 2006

Thank God It's Friday

An Unlikely Defense of A-Rod

I strongly dislike Alex Rodriguez the baseball player simply for the fact that he plays for the Yankees, but it seems to me that Alex Rodriguez the human being is getting a bad deal right now. To an extent, it's okay to criticize him for his failure to come up big in pressure situations and his increasingly troublesome defense at third base. But the fact that he can't spend a day in the city with his family without being ridiculed by the fans and the media is just insane. Yes, he is a public figure in one of the largest cities in the world. Yes, he makes more money than most of us will ever see in a lifetime. But don't we sometimes forget that beneath the publicity, beneath the money, beneath the veneer of one of this generation's greatest players, is an actual person?

You Had Your Chance

It seems obvious that the whole "A-Rod is a huge failure in the clutch" argument derives from the fact that despite the eight consecutive division titles and 26 World Championships, the Red Sox have one thing the Yankees don't - a guy named David Ortiz - and its driving the New York fans and media absolutely bonkers. Rodriguez is unquestionably one of the game's greatest players - regardless of my thoughts on him right now, there will come a time when I tell my kids in hushed tones that I once saw Alex Rodriguez hit a homerun off Pedro Martinez. Head to head over their careers, he's better than Ortiz in a variety of categories - homeruns, batting average, runs batted in, stolen bases, runs scored, defensively (he even plays two positions to Big Papi's zero).

Looking at the situation objectively, without my rose-colored Red Sox fan glasses, Rodriguez has been a far superior all-around player for a far longer time span. But Ortiz is two very important things that Rodriguez is not - one, a dominant presence in the clubhouse and community, quite possibly the most beloved Red Sox player ever; whereas prevailing opinion seems to be that A-Rod has a hard time just being one of the guys, Ortiz makes it look easy. And two, Big Papi has, in the last four seasons, become one of the all-time great clutch performers in the history of any sport (and he is clutch, regardless of any sabermetric opinion that such a statistic does not exist), whereas A-Rod has a growing reputation for failing to deliver in big situations.

What it comes down to is that the New York fans and media want their own Ortiz, their own guy that comes up with the team down two in the bottom of the ninth and drills a three run homer every time. They feel that with his talent and his contract, Rodriguez should be the one to assume that role. Unfortunately for them, there is only one David Ortiz; to the best of my knowledge, no other major leaguer has ever put together a run of game-winning hits like he has in the past four seasons. All the Yankees have, and what they need to learn to live with, is a two-time Most Valuable Player who plays hard, switched to a position he had never played to accommodate another player (the team captain, but still) and will someday go down as one of the top ten players ever to take the field. Too bad for them.

Fantastic? Personally, I Would Have Said "Life Changing", But That's Just Me

There is now incontrovertible proof that somebody besides my wife is reading my blog: One More Dying Quail got a shout out from Andrew at 12eight.org, who called it a "fantastic new blog". Stop, you're gonna make me blush. Seriously, though, a lot of work goes into these posts (most of them, anyway), so it's nice to know that at least one person is taking the time to read what I have to say.

What Does Jeff Brantley Know About Baseball, Anyway?

ESPN's Jeff Brantley, a former major league pitcher, says that Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon has struggled in his last couple outings because Jason Varitek is out following knee surgery. A valid point, I suppose, if Papelbon has become accustomed to working with the same catcher day in and day out (although I've often wondered why, if Varitek is such a great handler of pitchers, has the bullpen given them so much trouble over the past few years). One thing I wish Brantley had mentioned, though, was the fact that it is simply getting late in the season, Papelbon is a rookie and fatigue was bound to set in at some point.

The One Where I Agree With A Guy Named Scoop

The only word that adequately describes the Maurice Clarett situation is "sad". It can be hard to work your way out of the sort of downward spiral he currently finds himself in, but I hope for his sake and the sake of his newborn daughter that this latest arrest is his rock bottom, the wakeup call that gets him started toward turning his life around. (It's frightening, but Scoop Jackson's ESPN column featured pretty much the same premise). The truly sad thing, though, is to think about how many other situations like this exist - men and women who can't, for whatever reason, straighten themselves out and get on the straight and narrow - but will never receive the same attention because the protagonist didn't play football at a major university.

While We're Thinking Happy Thoughts

Another sad situation is that of former Peabody High School star Jeff Allison. I still remember someone telling me years ago that this kid was a stud, a can't miss prospect who we'd be seeing in the major leagues someday. Now, he's just trying to stay alive after overdosing on heroin for the second time (the link comes from Fortress of Pillows by way of Deadspin). Like Clarett, I hope Allison has hit the absolute bottom and there is nowhere to go but up. Otherwise, as Fortress of Pillows says, "Allison's next OD may be his last."

What Does Pythagoras Know About Baseball, Anyway?

It's way too early to throw in the towel on the Red Sox season (not that it's up to me anyway - I don't even play for the team), but last night I figured out the team's projected won-lost record for this season using the Pythagorean Win method (created by Bill James, the formula is (RS^2)/(RS^2*RA^2)), which predicts a team's expected wins based on how many runs they score and how many they allow. The Yankees project to about 95 wins this season; the Sox project to about 89. An 89-73 record might win the National League West; in the AL East, however, it will allow the members of the team to enjoy the first round of the playoffs from the comfort of their own homes (the White Sox figure to take the wild card).

Of Course, It's Depressing That My Peers Are Playing In The Major Leagues

Nothing is more exciting than finding a major league baseball player who shares your birthday - unless it's finding one who was born the exact same day, as Minnesota's Jason Bartlett and I were. Does this mean I have to send him a birthday card?

Please, Wait 'Til Next Year

Speaking of Minnesota, the Twins are crazy if they allow Francisco (Please Stop Calling Me Nelson) Liriano and his sore elbow/shoulder to pitch another inning in the major leagues this season. This is not a veteran team trying to piece together one last run before its key components break off and move on; the Twins are young (average age: 27.6) enough to wait 'til next year. The best move is for Liriano to strengthen his arm (which apparently caused him to miss several starts in 2003) through rehab over the offseason and get ready for 2007, when he can once again form a dominating 1-2 punch with Johan Santana. This course of action could actually strengthen Minnesota's starting rotation: in addition to the Big Two, prospect Matt Garza (who is filling in for Liriano now) should be ready to contribute on a consistent basis, with veteran stalwart Brad Radke, Boof Bonser and Carlos Silva potentially filling in the final two spots.

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