Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TOP 5: Questions Heading into the 2012 Season

Time to take baseball's biggest questions to my Crystal Ball.

There was no shortage of exciting moves this MLB off-season - rosters were filled with big names, organizations underwent major makeovers, and countless storylines were set for the 2012 season. Each team represents a series of plots that will unfold over the course of the next eight months - here are my TOP 5 questions heading into the season.

Can Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera co-exist in the field?

Serious question: the Tigers know they're in the American League, correct? I understand that neither of these sluggers wants the unappealing title of "Designated Hitter," but I have a hard time believing there aren't going to be some costly errors made at the corners of the Tiger infield this season. This isn't Gold Glove Kevin Youkilis moving to third to make way for Gold Glove Adrian Gonzalez - you may be able to hide one of these large bodies at first base, but both in the same infield may be trouble.

Everyone's happy with the arrangement now, but what happens when they hit that first defensive skid and the media starts pointing fingers? May get mighty awkward around that post-game spread.

Who will win the AL West?

The Texas Rangers have been the best team in the American League for the past two years, and honestly they may have gotten even better this off-season - so how is it possible that they may not even win their division? Well the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California baseball team - did I get that right? - were also busy this winter, adding two of baseball's biggest signings to their veteran-laden roster.

Pujols was obviously a huge sign - he will likely go down as one of the best to ever play the game (please be clean...) - but I'm more interested in the addition of C.J. Wilson as a number 3 (!) starter, cementing the Angels' rotation as the strongest in baseball, in my opinion. C.J.'s history in Arlington and the mystery that is Yu Darvish only adds to the drama within this rivalry, which could present an exciting race all the way through September. Oakland and Seattle are both a few years away from competing, but even they have to be excited about all the great baseball games they get to DVR this season.

Will Bryce Harper make his Big League debut this season?

Like him or hate him - if he plays, we'll watch. Nicknamed the "Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated and labeled The Lebron of Baseball, it's easy to forget that Bryce Harper is only 19 years old. Although it may appear he has a lot of growing up to do, none of us passing judgment have had to handle a spotlight with even a fraction of the glow as the one Harper has been under since his sophomore year of high school. He must keep his cool while seemingly the entire baseball community wishes him to fail - while, of course, playing a game of failure.

While sometimes it certainly seems that Bryce may only be looking out for Bryce, can we really blame him? I can't speak to his behavior as a teammate, but to his credit he appears to be great with fans and has managed to produce strong numbers on the field amidst the media storm that has been his career. And don't look for that attention to go away anytime soon - if the number one pick from the 2010 Draft makes it to the Bigs this year, the entire baseball world will be watching.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Would you want Manny on your team?

1 + 1 = the number of times I've been busted for PED's!

I loved Manny. His playful personality, his smooth right-handed stroke, his consistent production - I, along with countless others, considered him one of the best hitters to ever play the game - and there was a bonus: in addition to home runs and RBI's, this guy pumped out sound bytes that had TV producers drooling. I mean, what was more hilarious than the Manny being Manny series? He was the zany clubhouse clown in addition to being one of the league's most feared hitters. Whether or not you liked him, you couldn't deny that he was entertaining to watch, both on and off the field.

But then, something happened. At some point between his unceremonious departure from Boston, his first 50-game suspension, his mediocrity in Chicago, and his sudden abandonment of Tampa Bay, Manny became a villain. His immature ways that had always passed as wacky were now scorned as irresponsible and idiotic. His cluelessness that had once made him so lovable had become a blatant disrespect of the game. He had always been quirky, but it was no longer a happy-go-lucky quirky - he had gone bad.

Manny's numbers are now tainted by two failed drug tests. His reputation is in shambles, and his career, over. Until now. Now he wants back in, and up until two days ago, no teams were biting.

There are some guys you simply stay away from. They could have all the talent in the world, but they don't possess the qualities needed to help a team more than they hurt it. Look at Barry Bonds - has he even retired yet? He had been tentative to use the "R" word after playing his last game in 2007, adamant that he was still a free agent "waiting for a call." Well the problem was: no one was calling. The phone wasn't ringing for Jose Canseco either, who's been eager to get back to the Big Leagues since he last played in 2001. Some guys just aren't worth the risk.

Sadly, I now put Manny in that category. Aside from the two steroid-related suspensions, I'm most turned off by the way he completely abandoned ship in Tampa Bay. After receiving news of a second failed drug test, he fled the city without notifying anyone in the organization of his sudden retirement. Teammates that were counting on him to produce, a manager looking to him for leadership, and an organization that took a chance on him - all left in the rear view, left to deal with a Manny media storm before they even knew what had happened.

So if I were a GM today, I wouldn't touch Manny with a ten-foot stick. Recently he has proven to be more trouble than he is worth. Can he still hit? You bet he can. But not like he used to. And given his unreliability and erratic behavior, I'm not willing to take that risk just for a few fleeting Vintage Manny home runs.

But maybe Oakland hit it just right. A minor league deal, paying just over the league minimum? Seems like a small price to pay for a player that was once widely considered a first ballot Hall of Famer. But then there's the 50-game suspension. And the media distractions. And the everyday uncertainty of just what he'll bring to the table. What appears to be a deal that could only have upside still looks too risky to me. I can deal with mistakes. I'm all for second chances. But sadly, I believe Manny Ramirez has overstayed his welcome in Major League Baseball.

Though he did produce some memorable moments.

College Baseball's Opening Day
On-Field Composure
When did "Can I have your autograph" turn into "Give me a ball"?
Baseball Needs a 24/7 Show
Top 10 Things to Do in the Dugout During a Day Off
The Spit Hit
Being Friends with Pitchers
The Yankee Core
Opening Day
You Play Right Field?
It's Not Always Sunny in Arizona
Tee Work
Helmet for Pitchers?
Approaching Spring Training
Top 5 Things I Won't Miss About My Local Gym
Getting New Equipment
Last Day at Work
My Bat of Choice
The Superstitions and Quirks of a Ballplayer
The Art of the Autograph
Greensboro's 'Bat Dogs'
Tim Kurkjian is a Man Among Boys
Baseball Movie All-Star Game: Starting Lineups
Walk-Out Music
Pre-Draft Medical Questionnaires
The Ryan Howard Namesake
The Magic of the Rally
Jeter and A-Rod, How Times Have Changed
Summer Leagues - Cape Still Cream of the Crop?
SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

MOVIE RANT: A League of their Own

I don't care who you are, A League of their Own is a classic. That's a fact. You can dispute it all you want - go ahead, claim it's a "girl movie"; tell me it's too lovey dovey; argue that Madonna playing baseball discredits the entire thing - I'm not budging. Without a doubt, A League of their Own is one of the best baseball movies out there, and sits securely among my personal favorites.

First off, any movie that features Jon Lovitz in perfectly small doses is off to a great start. Then there's Geena Davis, who managed to pull off this dirty, slugging, tom-boy elegance that the male race never before even knew existed (nor that they liked it so much). Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell aren't exactly my two favorite people on the planet, but they both nailed their supporting roles, producing a Pinky-and-the-Brain type of dynamic that backboned the humor in most of the scenes. And whoever bit the bullet and played Marla Hooch, thank you for countless laughs.

There was also this guy named Tom Hanks. No one could have brought the miserable yet hilarious Jimmy Dugan to life like this Academy Award winner. One of the best characters in any baseball movie, he produced too many great lines to list them all. There is one that has managed to stand out, however.

I'm pretty confident I know more lines from A League of their Own than I've memorized from Die Hard, Scarface, The Godfather, Shawshank, and Braveheart combined - and I've got no problem admitting that. An innovative (and true) storyline, a captivating set of characters, comedy at every turn, and a baseball backdrop - it's my kind of movie.

But there is one thing that has always bothered me. Now whether Dottie dropped the ball on purpose in the final play, we may never know - we tend to think she did mainly because she owned Kit in every aspect of life and could make that play with her eyes closed, but we will never be certain. That is not my concern, however.

What rubs me the wrong way is that to this day, February 21, 2012, Kit still hasn't touched home plate. She comes racing in like a wrecking ball, slams into Dottie, and goes flying through the air, never once coming into contact with the plate, thus, never scoring the championship-winning run. Could you imagine how frustrated Dottie would be if the ump made the right call? "God Kit, I put it on a platter for you and you still manage to mess it up!" Still can't believe Jimmy Dugan didn't argue that one.


Friday, February 17, 2012

SMALLS TALK: College Baseball's Opening Day

Today, every team in the country takes the first step in their journey to Omaha. 

It doesn’t get much better than college baseball. The camaraderie, the pressure, the fans, the passion – my four years in college were the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field. From mid-February to (hopefully) late June, you travel the country, representing your school and playing baseball with your friends – and the best part is: every game matters.
That’s the beauty of college ball – there are no guarantees; you live and die with every pitch. The season isn’t long enough for you to take your lumps and hope the cream will eventually rise to the top. You let a losing streak or a slump go on for too long, it may cost you your season. Wins become more valuable, losses more costly. You have 56-games to script your resume and prove to the committee that your team deserves a shot at the NCAA tournament more than the other 300 teams. And that journey begins today.
Today, teams all over the country are taking that first step toward their ultimate goal – everything they’ve been working all Fall and Winter for is finally here. The early mornings, the late nights, the workouts, the sprints – today, it’s all worth it.
In college, your team is your family. Unlike Minor League Baseball, your roster is set – there’s no revolving door; you work with the guys you have. You pull for one another, you play for one another – the team’s success is all that matters.
Today, everyone has a chance. Every team controls their own destiny, there’s optimism in every dugout. Enjoy it. Take it all in – the game, the fans, the college atmosphere, your buddies playing beside you – it doesn’t get much better than this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Stay hot, Jose.

Ahh, baseball sarcasm at its finest. Whenever you are told by a teammate to "stay hot," there is a 100% chance you just embarrassed yourself. This term has become a staple in clubhouses and dugouts because, well, baseball players fail - a lot.

"Stay hot" can be used after a variety of mistakes and failures, but it is truly at its best when applied after a string of mishaps. The ump turning in a series of bad calls, the opposing third baseman committing his second error of the inning, a teammate getting rejected by three straight girls at the bar - it's only right to commemorate their shortcomings with a snarky comment. Stay hot, Blue. Stay hot, Miggy. Stay hot, Youk.

Wow - stay hot, Andruw.

"By You"
"Pick Him Up"

Monday, February 13, 2012

MiLB LIFE: Long Distance Relationships

"Heading into the clubhouse now, I'll call you after the game." 140 times.

Relationships are never easy. In addition to the obvious time commitment, they require compromise, trust, patience, and endless support - and that's just for normal relationships. For romances involving a minor league ballplayer, multiply all that by about 100.

The baseball lifestyle is not exactly the most conducive for budding romances. First off, there's the distance. Sure there are a few rare instances when the team's location is conveniently close to a girlfriend's residence - and, of course, some players acquire local gal pals throughout the season - but assuming you have a girlfriend "back home," distance is a major issue. Long-distance relationships are nothing new, however, and they are far from impossible - people all over the world deal with this scenario on a daily basis and find a way to make it work. The key is to be flexible and compromise.

Unfortunately for a ballplayer, flexibility and the ability to compromise are perks we're not privileged to have. Over the course of the season, we'll play 140 games over the span of approximately 150 days. Throw in a month of spring training and that adds up to six whole months on the road away from your home, your family, and your sweetheart.

While away, you'll surely miss out on countless big events: birthdays, holidays, family parties, reunions - a teammate of mine was even forced to skip his best friend's wedding, and yep, you guessed it, he was supposed to be best man. It's a cruel business. You're only useful to the organization if you are there in the flesh helping the ball club. For six months, your life is baseball.

And while you're off blistering your hands with your daily 200 swings, what about your poor girlfriend back home? Unfortunately for her, the burden of keeping your relationship together falls squarely on her shoulders. Ultimately, her ability to handle the distance will determine whether this partnership will sink or swim.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

SMALLS TALK: On-Field Composure

We get it - you're mad. You struck out in a big spot, blew a lead, didn't drive the run in, served up a walk-off, went 0 for 5, got pulled in the second inning, or achieved any number of on-field failures - who wouldn't be mad? Ohh, but you're throwing equipment... you must be really mad.

Give me a break. For us hitters, baseball is a game of failure - more often than not, you're not going to get the job done. It's just a fact of the game, something that every player needs to acknowledge and overcome. It's a frustrating sport, one that ranges from incredibly easy to nearly impossible in the span of an at-bat. A series of one-on-one matchups, the game can never be mastered - perfection is unattainable.

So why do guys insist on making a spectacle of themselves when something goes wrong? I understand people deal with failure and anger in all types of ways, but there are few things that bother me more than an on-field meltdown. Sure, sometimes they're fun to watch, but nothing makes my blood boil like a teammate freaking out in the dugout. Breaking bats, throwing gloves, flipping coolers, breaking lights - you name it, I've seen it, and each time I roll my eyes and think to myself, "grow the f*** up."

Don't get me wrong, I've been there - been in slumps you wouldn't believe, made costly errors, struck out with the tying run on third - I've failed with the best of them. But you know who was to blame for all those things? Me. They were my fault - I let the team down. I've felt upset, angry, and hopeless on the baseball field more times than I care to remember, but I would never let my problems go public. My teammates don't need to see me breaking the bat rack to know I care, just like I don't need to see my starting pitcher chuck his glove at the Gatorade cooler to know he's upset about only going 1 1/3 innings.

We all care - we wouldn't play if we didn't. It's an infuriating game, you're allowed to be angry, but you can't let the game break you - because if you let it, it will. I have never in my life seen a guy freak out early in a game then turn around and do anything productive in the following innings. A meltdown might as well be a giant white flag, waving from the dugout informing the other team that you are officially checked out mentally. They no longer have to worry about you - you're already beat. The game of baseball has worn you down - your day is done.