Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baseball's Red Scare...

A senator with a firm belief that something is not quite right in America. A list of suspects based on information gathered from insiders. A public spectacle that forever ruins reputations. Alleged perpetrators with no method of clearing their name. Welcome to baseball’s version of McCarthyism.

We awoke on Thursday morning to a world in which our baseball heroes no longer walked as tall. For some, such as Roger Clemens, the damage done by Senator George Mitchell may never fully be understood until the last Hall of Fame ballot is cast. Many observers, including baseball’s commissioner, are hailing the Mitchell Report as a triumph of good over evil. Yet, just as in the quest to unearth the “Reds” in the ‘50s, unearthing the “’Roids” often creates fuzzy distinctions between good and evil, let alone justice and injustice.

The flaws with the Mitchell investigation are myriad. First, the insiders questioned by the Senator and his crew of federal investigators were two former clubhouse workers for the New York Mets and New York Yankees, a notably limited pool of information. Aside from these two, the only other player names in the report came from the much-publicized BALCO investigation. The Senator would have you believe that this report is a decisive and thorough blow in baseball’s battle against performance-enhancing drugs. He would have you believe this in spite of the fact that, in essence, what the Senator “collected” was names from the CNN crawl about 20 months ago and the testimonies of two former employees, whose allegations might be suspect, given their status as former employees. Senator Mitchell has assured the American public that those involved in the investigations knew of the serious consequences awaiting those who did not tell the truth. Yet, nothing in the Mitchell Report can be proven—or disproven—by positive tests. Therefore, the same veil of secrecy that protects any real users also protects fact-creating “whistleblowers” with a bone to pick.

The damage done by these “informants” is similar to the effect of having one’s name “blacklisted” during the Red Scare. Today, players such as Clemens, Miguel Tejada and Andy Pettite are instantly cast as the bad guys because someone else said so. Publicly vilified and with no recourse to clear their names—after all, it’s difficult to clear your name from using a substance for which you never tested positive because your employer chose not to test you—these players have already faced conviction in the ever-swift court of public opinion. Pettite’s confession of guilt yesterday does nothing to change the injustice of making such allegations based on limited evidence. Instead, it reinforces the seemingly convincing aspersions cast by Mitchell, which remain built on shaky foundations. As more players come forward—which may be unlikely—it will simply cement the guilt of others in the minds of the public, whether their guilt can ever be proven or not.

The media, which ought to display at least a little hesitancy over jumping on Mitchell’s bandwagon given journalistic patriarch Edward R. Murrow’s brave stand against McCarthy’s methods and “conclusions in the 1950s, has instead pounced not just on the story but on the opportunity to play judge and jury as well. Newspaper headlines forsake all objectivity when they scream “Cheaters Revealed,” “Outed,” and “Ballplayers Busted.” Not surprisingly, many players have quickly and publicly denied their involvement in the scandal, as well they should, given the impossibility of proving either side of the allegations. Much as McCarthy banged on the drum of national pride while tapping on the cymbals of fear, Mitchell is simply using nostalgia for baseball “the way it used to be” to create an outcry from a public that still isn’t sure if it liked seeing records fall to men they’re not sure they like to see breaking records.

Another serious flaw in these proceedings relates to Senator Mitchell’s relationship to Major League Baseball. As a member of the Board of Trustees for the Boston Red Sox, a serious conflict of interest exists for the Senator. Perhaps not surprisingly given this relationship and the fact that the two insiders worked for other organizations, the list of almost 80 players named in the Report reveals few with ties to the Boston organization. Those who do have some tie to Fenway either played for the team in the distant past (like Clemens) or were spectacular flameouts not really considered one of the Sox (like Eric Gagne). In any other sphere, such a conflict of interest would preclude Senator Mitchell’s leadership in this type of project. But not under the twisted and often indefensible logic of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. In Selig’s world, this arrangement makes sense. This is because, in Selig’s world, objectivity and true progress matter much less than the appearance of objectivity and true progress.

Selig represents a baseball ownership group that willingly turned its collective head during the so-called “Steroid Era.” These owners found a simple string of mathematical logic that helped them to do so. The equation reads: These suddenly enormous players = More home runs. More home runs = More people in the stands. More people in the stands = More money in our pockets. In response, these owners concluded—as the mathematically savvy are likely to conclude—that the suddenly enormous slugger was good for business. So as long as the home runs flew, the pockets grew, and everyone went home happy.

Where, in those days of record-setting performance and attendance, was the righteous indignation and clamor for change in the game that has accompanied much of the reaction to Mitchell’s report? In the owner’s box, lighting cigars with chemically-enhanced money. A strict and effective steroid testing policy at that time would have cramped everyone’s style. The outrage of the baseball owners who refused to insist on testing when it would have been unpopular instead rings of hypocrisy. Any ownership appeals for sanctions now are not unlike a parent taking the driver’s license of a teen for wrapping the family Mercury around a tree while driving to work to support the family finances. The damage is already done, the hypocrisy is obvious, and sanctions will do no good in changing the past.

The limited pool of informants, the blatant conflict of interest faced by Senator Mitchell, and the “too-little-too-late” false outrage of the owners driving this effort combine to form a significantly flawed product, one that leaves regular fans with a difficult choice. Fans can either turn their head and be thought ignorant rubes or they can join with the torch-wielding mob on a quest to punish the cheaters.

Did players use steroids throughout much of the 1980s and 90s? They certainly did. Did all of them named in the Mitchell report do so? We have no way to know for sure. And this is where this ugly episode leaves us: stuck in the 1950s, pondering whether the names we’ve heard are really guilty of the things we’ve heard. As Senator Mitchell should know from his Senatorial predecessor, this is a tricky road to travel down. Hopefully, the advantage of temporal perspective has created a public unwilling to blindly march behind a Senator with a mission of outing the subversives. If not, then the age of Mitchellism has just begun.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Rocket launch...

Back in March I called the Rocket a Band-Aid. Little did I know at that time how bad the pitching staff would be bleeding.

Let’s review:

Wang: Strained hamstring.
Mussina: Strained hamstring.
Igawa: Can’t get people out in America.
Pavano: Pain threshold of a field mouse.
Rasner: Broken leg.
Hughes: Strained hamstring.

Pettite has been the only reliable starter and he’s no sure bet to make it through the season without an injury. In short, if the Yankees hope to make the postseason for the 13th straight season, the Rocket will play a huge role.

Despite appearances, he had every reason to sign with New York. First, he gets to indulge his savior complex (which every professional athlete has, not just Clemens). By joining this squad, he sets himself up to receive copious amounts of credit if they do turn things around and make the postseason. This same situation simply doesn’t exist in Boston. The Sox have the best record in the game and a stacked pitching staff. In Boston, Rocket would have to settle for “contributor.” Add to that the fact that Boston is the only town that he didn’t leave by his own choice, and it everything makes sense. Sure, on May 7, Boston seems to give him the best chance for another ring, but how much sweeter if he’s the catalyst? And Houston? Not happening. Record-wise, they’re in a similar situation to the Yanks, but without the proven track record of willingness to do whatever is necessary to turn things around.

Second, he’s got friends and fellow competitors in New York. When Pettite left to go to Houston, Roger followed. When Andy came back to the Bronx, it makes sense that Roger followed. But Andy’s not all. If you listened at all yesterday, you know how much he admires Jeet and Mo, too. Basically, this is a team full of guys he feels comfortable going to work with for the next 5+ months. He believes in these guys and sees in them the fire he thinks necessary to make a run at October. Maybe that type of thing is present in Boston or Houston, but judging by the things he said yesterday, New York has a unique collection of such individuals.

Third, there’s the money issue. Yeah, the Yanks will pay him a ridiculous amount of money over the next few months, but if you’ve got it, why not use it? Boston likely could have come close, but why would they? Their pitching staff looks set, so why shell out that kind of money? The only logical reason to do so would be if they could keep him away from the Yankees, but even spite only goes so far when it comes to shelling out that kind of money for a player they don’t really need. And Houston…yeah, right.

Overall, it seems surprising that any mystery surrounded this situation. The Yanks offer the right combination of situation, potential, familiarity and money. In the end, the Rocket was bound to touch down in the Bronx. Let’s see if he turns into the tourniquet that the Yanks so badly need.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hearing voices again…

The voices went silent for a while. The institution of higher learning bears full responsibility for the electronic laryngitis. But the voices have returned with plenty to say.

On the sportscape lately:

So, the five-part series didn’t really come to fruition. Since the only things left anyway were previews of the bullpen and the overall team, I’ll summarize.

Who needs one when you’ve got A-Rod? In fact, right now, he could probably serve as the set-up man, too.

A-Rod will win the AL MVP after amassing 58 home runs, 137 RBI, a .346 average, 8 errors, and plenty of “I’ve always been an A-Rod guy” fans. Riding his coattails, the team will win 105 games, sweep the Indians in the Division Series, win the ALCS in five over the Angels, and then beat the Mets in the World Series in six. In the postseason, A-Rod will hit .483, with 7 home runs and 15 RBI and win MVP of all three series. Fans will adore him like never before. He’ll appear on Letterman and SNL. He won’t opt out of his contract, instead choosing to donate 75% of his annual earnings to Habitat for Humanity, saying, “The love of the Yankee fans is payment enough.” The Canyon of Heroes will be re-named the Canyon of Those Who Pale in Comparison to A-Rod. All will be well. Oh, and around May 1, Roger Clemens will sign with the Yanks, too. He’ll request to have the name on the back of his uniform read “A-Rod’s Friend,” before being reminded that Yankees uniforms don’t have names on the back. He’ll settle for picking up an old piece of A-Rod’s gum and putting it on his mantle next to all the Cy Youngs.

Really, though, A-Rod is on fire at the moment and the best way to tell is that his swing looks easy again. He rarely looks like he’s forcing anything at the plate and he seems to drive even bad pitches. All good signs.

My better half and I made a quick jaunt to Houston over the weekend. Took in a game at the Juice Box. Fun times. Although we would have preferred to see the visiting Redbirds prevail over the hometowners, the chance to see a Roy Oswalt complete game made up for the undesirable final score. That dude can throw. Add in home runs by El Caballo and Lance Berkman, and a foot-long chili-cheese dog, well, let’s just say the evening provided treats for many of the senses.

I REALLY hate the Florida Gators. Oddly enough, Scott—the only friend I made in college—loves the Gators. Not me. I hope that they all enjoy cashing in on their Tournament success with huge NBA contracts that will allow them a lifetime of luxury and excess. I hope they really enjoy that. Because, secretly, nobody likes them. Except Scott.

UCLA, meanwhile, has broken my heart yet again. Maybe next year? Is there any way that Afflalo stays in school? He got himself on the “graduate in three years” plan, which, by the way, I don’t recommend to anyone. In fact, schools offering a “graduate with your 120 unit degree in three years” plan should simply strike it from the catalog. No right thinking person would ever conceive of it themselves, and only because it’s mentioned in the catalog do A-type personality people attempt it. It’s crazy. Really. To fulfill the requirement, a student has to keep a stupid pace; writing papers, doing research, rarely sleeping. Our academic institutions are systematically assaulting a whole generation of students. So, come on Dallas Seminary! Get with it! I blame you, and, somehow, UCLA.

That’s good for now.

Oh, and Pavano’s still a bum. Maybe he should try to get a locker closer to A-Rod’s.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Succumbing to the Madness...

We interrupt our regularly scheduled baseball discussions to give some attention to the Dance. Granted, the tastes of Voices run decidedly National Pastime, but I won’t ignore the NCAA Tournament.

Bracket fever has swept the nation in recent days. It seems that everyone is filling out brackets. Everyone has a method. Mascots. Team colors. RPI. Of course, some people take this far more seriously than others. For them, I offer the following guide to a successful trip through the four regions.

Following this formula will not only assure you of March success, but may even improve your tax return. So, here it is.

Point values are assigned based upon stringently researched and scientifically verifiable factors. Each round has different formulas, of course, since each round is a unique entity unto itself. Simply calculate the points for each team in any given game. The team with the higher point value moves on.

Without further ado, I present The Voices from the Outfield Guide to the NCAA Tournament:

1st round:
If a team has a directional marker in its name = 5 points.
If a team has a color in the name of its mascot = 11 points.
If a team is playing in the region geographically closest to its campus = 37 points.
If a team was assigned a seed between 1 and 3 = 91 points.
If a school’s name rhymes with “Doral Groberts” = 112 points.
If a team’s coach has previously won a national title = 261 points.
If a team’s alumni include Bill Walton and/or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar = 512 points.
If a team’s coach previously coached at Pitt = 5,006 points.

2nd round:
If a school’s name is one word or less = 93 points.
If a school’s name is between two and three words long = 101 points.
If a school’s name is more than three words long = 551 points.
If that school’s name happens to be Texas A&M Corpus Christi = -549 points.
If school is commonly referred to by way of an acronym = 2,967 points.
If the last three letters of that acronym are CLA = 8,496 points.

Sweet Sixteen:
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature numbers on the back = 1 point.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color red = 12 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color orange = 22 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color green = 65 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color baby blue = 4,621 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature player names such as Aboya, Collison, Mbah-Moute and/or Shipp = 9,238 points.

Elite Eight:
If a team’s mascot has ever appeared on “The Crocodile Hunter” = 39 points.
If a team’s mascot has ever appeared on the endangered species list = 54 points.
If a team’s mascot rhymes with “Bay Pox,” “Faders,” “Gong Corns,” “Duck Ties,” “Toyas” or “Bar Reels” = 61 points.
If a team’s mascot is an inanimate object = 87 points.
If a team’s mascot is from the bear family = 1,267 points.
If a team’s mascot rhymes with “Ruins” = 6,343 points.

Final Four:
If a team’s home games are played in a “Fieldhouse” = 8 points.
If a team’s home games are played in a Dome = 13 points.
If a team’s home games are played in the state of California = 952 points.
If that team is USC = -9,821 points
If a team’s home games are played in a Pavilion = 2,348 points.

Championship Game:
If a team features a player with a criminal record in Kazakhstan = -426 points.
If a team features a player named Greg Oden = 986 points.
If a team features a player named Kevin Durant = 1,002 points.
If a team features a player named Aaron Afflalo = 4,090 points.
If a school has previously won 11 national championships = 9,585 points.
If a school formerly had John Wooden as its coach = 11,764 points.

As you can likely tell, this highly scientific method took years of trial-and-error research. Although it has had a few problems with the last few national champions, it has successfully predicted the last five Iowa gubernatorial races and the winner of the 2006 World’s Strongest Man competition.

After running all 64 candidates through the formula, UCLA emerges as a somewhat surprise victor. With a whopping 67,868 points, the Bruins project to win this year’s tourney, and, from the looks of things, the formula’s pretty convinced.

So, get on the Bruin bandwagon now. There’s still room, but only until Saturday. After that, you’ll have to cast your lot with Creighton. And the formula doesn’t especially like them.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movin' out...

Someone recently told me to stop writing so much sports stuff on my blog because, “It’s so boring and nobody reads it.”

I have considered this idea. I have pondered it. I have even mulled it over.

I have acquiesced. Sort of.

It’s moving day here at “Voices.” From now on, this site will be devoted specifically to sports. All the time. Like about 1/3 of my brain. Yet, I’m not abandoning the other stuff that often gets thrown around here, I’m just relocating it.

Beginning today, all non-sports stuff can be found here.

That’s the place to go for mostly true stories about school, substitute teaching and my wife. You’ll also find the random stuff that litters my brain well-represented. And occasionally, if you’re nice about it, I might even throw in something serious and theological. But, only if you’re nice about it.

See you on the Left Coast.

The starting five...

Part three of a five-part preview of the upcoming Yankees season. Today, we take a look at the starting rotation.

Now that the Big Back Spasm has moved back the desert with the rest of the senior citizens, we can talk about those who remain.

At this point only three spots are nailed down: Wang, Pettitte, Mussina. While even those three come with issues—Can Pettitte and Mussina hold up? Can Wang ever strike anyone out?—for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll consider those spots resolved. Then there’s the mystery participant with the first name sure to be mispronounced by nearly every fan until at least the All-Star Break, Kei (as in the scorebook notation for “strikeout”) Igawa. Nobody knows, Yankee management included, what they have in this guy. Best case scenario, he’s Nomo at his pinnacle. Worst case is “Fat Toad” Irabu. We just don’t know. The early word out of Spring Training is that he’ll be solid, but this is Spring Training, after all, and his first start was less than brilliant. Yet, he’s only 27 and, even with a necessary adjustment to the Majors, should be good for at least 10–12 wins in the fifth spot in the rotation. (As an aside, is it significant that the best Japanese baseball imports have been position players? Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Tadahito Iguchi have all produced while pitchers have generally floundered. And so, what do both the Yanks and Red Sox do this offseason? Throw crazy money at Japanese starting pitchers, of course. Just thought it was worth pointing out. Maybe in August it will matter and you will think of me.)

And then, there is the walking Darwin Award, Carl “Porcelain” Pavano. Every major discussion of the Yanks that has been written this off-season—and especially once the Johnson rumors began springing up—slotted Pavano into the rotation. This should concern Yankees fans, and, preferably, someone in the organization. Pavano has a career record of 61–64. When the Yanks exorbitantly overpaid for him a couple of winters ago, he had a sub-.500 record. Nothing has changed. In 2005, he was only 4–6 before getting hurt. He “held” opponents to a .315 batting average. The numbers suggest that Pavano is just not good. He wasn’t when the Yankees signed him and there’s no reason to believe that he will be in 2007. And, that’s just the ugly math part of the equation. Let’s take a look at the biology.

Pavano cannot stay healthy. Whenever your player bio page includes “highlights” such as “Made his final start of the season on 6/27 at Baltimore,” “Also made rehab start for Single-A Tampa (FSL) on 8/3 vs. Vero Beach, allowing 6 H and 3 ER in 6 IP to record the loss,” and “Was transferred to the 60-day disabled list on 8/30,” something’s not quite right. He made zero—as in just less than one—major league starts last year because of injuries. On top of the fact that he was getting hurt, he was also lying about it. If there was a pool for “Day on Which Carl Pavano Sustains a Significant Self-Inflicted Injury in a Dinner Table Accident,” I’d take April 10. And this man is supposed to fill the fourth spot?

Granted, there’s been talk of Clemens. While that would be nice, that’s a Band-Aid, not stitches. Why not bump Igawa to fourth, and open up competition to the youngsters like Sanchez, Karstens, Rasner, and especially Hughes, and let them battle for the fifth spot? This is the long-term solution.

The Yankees have spent all winter stockpiling young talent while simultaneously dumping huge contracts attached to the 1998 All-Star team, which is a great tactic. Brian Cashman has been able to Jedi mind-trick other GMs into giving up young, inexpensive, close-to-major-league-ready talent in exchange for old, expensive, close-to-retirement-ready tealent. So, why not see what the kids can do? Whatever the result, it couldn’t be worse than Pavano, it’s a mathematical impossibility. The way I understand it, one start for cheap is always better than none for expensive. Bring on the kids!

Hughes already has Tampa abuzz, and will likely be in the Bronx well before the Red Sox annual late-August fade. So why not let him start the season in the rotation? Why not simply cut your losses with Pavano, admit he’s a bum and move on? Let Pavano be a long reliever. Sure, that’s a lot to pay for a long reliever, but is it worse to pay that much for no starts? Maybe Pavano will surprise everyone, stay healthy and put up 12–15 wins. But, is this really the guy you want blocking Phil Hughes and the start of his near-certain All-Star caliber career? I say no. Stick Pavano in the ‘pen, Hughes on the bump. Besides, any competition that prepares the youngsters will naturally serve the team well if and when one of the starters goes down with an injury. My money is on Pavano.

I can see the headline now: “Yankees starter injured while combing his hair, out 6–8 weeks.” Let’s avoid this now so we can begin reading headlines like, “Hughes dominant as Yanks open 5 game lead in division.”

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Things I've Learned in the Last Ten Days...

It’s never a good idea to forsake assigned seating in 1st grade and allow them to choose their own seats.

1st graders have no qualms about poking an adult in the stomach with their finger and saying, “Your stomach is really squishy.”

California is the greatest place on earth.

There are few better ways to spend a weekend than sitting in 75 degree weather watching four college baseball games in four days.

There are few harder ways to spend a weekend than watching your preferred college baseball team lose four games in four days.

A trip home isn’t complete until you’ve been to In-N-Out.

Sleepwalking is even worse when you’re in a hotel room with family members.

Salmonella laced peanut butter will make you feel uncomfortable.

Apparently, you’re never too old to roll off the bed in the middle of the night. Seriously. Even 28 isn’t too old. Apparently.

Never, and I really mean ever, post a blog poll if there’s the slightest chance that you might lose convincingly to your spouse.

Going Around the Horn...

Part two of a five-part preview of the upcoming Yankees season. Today, we take a look at the infield.

On paper, this infield is legit. A perennial MVP candidate at the Hot Corner, Mr. Clutch at shortstop, a future batting champ at second base and a platoon at first. That’s the paper version. But things don’t always go paper.

In real life, the Yankee infield is an interesting mix of outrageous talent and fragile mindset. Apparently, A-Rod is deeply concerned that everybody love him. Not a bad desire in and of itself, but does someone who averages 41 jacks and 110 RBI in the most numbers conscious game there is still need outside validation? Every time A-Rod feels the need to play Dr. Phil and try to break down his own emotional state and the state of the team, it just doesn’t come out quite right. His recent flare-up dragged Captain in, too. On top of all that, the potential contract opt-out could easily become a distraction this season. All that said, I love A-Rod and don’t understand the widespread dissatisfaction with him. Few people in the game have better numbers. He returns daily to a media circus intent on shredding and analyzing his every move. In such conditions, few of us would perform as well. The postseason criticism is unfairly myopic. The team failures of the last three Octobers have been exactly that; team failures. A-Rod will be fine, let’s allow the man some room to breathe.

Just to A-Rod’s left, Jeter has been able to find all his validation in his on field accomplishments. That’s why he plays the secure older brother role to A-Rod’s adolescent routine. Obviously it’s easier to do that when you have World Series titles under you belt and aren’t saddled with the most excessive contract in human history. Yet, there’s more to Jeet than just being the Anti-Alex. On the field, he’s as productive as ever, demonstrating that any alpha dog situation that may develop on the left side will be quickly resolved. His hitting in key spots is as clutch as ever. His defense is Gold Glove caliber. His leadership of the clubhouse is unquestioned. Yes, it’s still Jeet’s world and we’re just livin’ in it.

At second, Cano is not only a future batting champ but flashes nice leather as well. It didn’t take him long to cement his place in the Yankee hierarchy. In fact, when he missed time with a hamstring injury last year, the Yanks felt it just as much as the absence of Matsui or Sheffield. He has tremendous work ethic and a desire to improve his game that leads to multiple daily infield sessions as well as additional batting practice. The Yanks’ second base job is set for years to come.

I’m not a big fan of platoons, especially in baseball, where the symptoms of a slump or signs of breaking out of one are rarely clear. Baseball takes feel. Feel takes at bats. Any time at bats get limited for reasons other than injury, the delicate psychology of the baseball player is in jeopardy. The proposed platoon at first base worries me. True, I like Mientkiewicz’s glove, and anyone with the chutzpah to try to steal the Red Sox ball and go home gets high marks. Yet, I think that the wise move, long-term, is to give the job to Andy Phillips or Josh Phelps. Let one of the youngsters play, every day or close to it. Sure, their defense may not be near Mientkiewicz’s, but their bats can be significantly better, if they are allowed to swing it. With Giambi’s spot at DH confirmed, why create another platoon when it isn’t necessary? Give the job to one of the kids and let him play.

Posada is certainly still up to the task of holding things down behind the plate. The Yanks would be wise to have a solid backup plan, though. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’d prefer that the backup catcher job go to the young Wil Nieves instead of the 40-year-old Todd Pratt. Granted, lack of experience can hurt even more behind the dish than anywhere else on the diamond, but we’re talking about the backup job. Likely 10 to 15 starts this year. If Posada gets injured, of course, we’ve got a totally different situation on our hands. As it is, though, the Yanks are better off thinking of the long-term payoff of having a catcher ready to take Posada’s spot in a year. Which betrays my prejudice of what to do in response to Posada’s impending free agency. I love Jorge. He has done a great job and played hard for over a decade. But the shelf-life on catchers, like running backs, is not great. They all seem to reach a certain age where their productivity quickly declines and they are better suited for a different position on the field (see Piazza, Mike). Nobody wants to see Jorge become the guy at the party that didn’t know it was time to leave. Even worse, I don’t want the Yanks to become the party hosts afraid to kick the last guy out. But, those are next winter’s concerns.

On the whole, the Yankee infield has the potential to send three starters to San Francisco. As with any team, avoiding injuries will be critical. But, the outlook is good. With Jeet, A-Rod, Cano, Jorge, and a youngster at first base, the Yanks infield is as good as any in the division. Let’s just hope that they can all have one big group hug in October.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Speaking of my sweet wife...

The story on her blog at the moment, is, shall we say, slanted?

Here’s what really happened:

I got up to use the restroom in the middle of the night like the old man that I am. As I was crawling back in bed, she said something I couldn’t understand. So, I said, “What?” Again, she mumbled. I kind of laughed and then said, “What honey?” One more time, she responded with unintelligible mumbles. I smiled and went to sleep, knowing that I’d been waiting six years for the following morning.

The next morning, I said, “Hey, guess what? You were talking in your sleep last night.” She said, “Whatever! You were totally sleepwalking.” “I was not,” I answered. “I just went to the bathroom and then you mumbled at me.” She didn’t believe me then, and she still doesn’t. But really, what DTS student would lie? On the internet? For everyone to see?

So, then, really? Who do you believe? Let us know in the poll to the right.

P.S. Greta wrote me an incredible poem for Valentine’s Day. She’s so great to me. Every day—sometimes in little ways, sometimes in huge ways—she reminds me of her love. It’s always humbling, always reassuring. She is home to me. I am blessed by her. Even when she publishes fictional propaganda about me on her blog.

All eyes on the Yankee outfield...

Part one of a five-part preview of the upcoming Yankees season. Today, we take a look at the outfield.

A sober mood has hung over the Bruneel home this week. Earlier in the week, the Yankees announced that they were only going to offer a minor-league contract and spring training invitation to Bernie Williams instead of a major-league deal with a guaranteed roster spot. The Yanks were forced to make the move because of roster-size limits, a platoon at first base that eliminates DH flexibility, and a pitching staff of 12. Williams reportedly responded by rejecting the offer, saying that he prefers to stay home, stay in shape and wait to see if the big club changes its mind about the roster spot.

This news has caused no shortage of consternation for my sweet wife, who really should be free from such worries around Valentine’s Day. Bernie Williams is Greta’s favorite player. Hands down. Not even close. Understandably, she’s a little upset about seeing her favorite player walk away from her favorite team. Yet, I have a suggestion.

Bernie needs to come to spring training. Granted, the outfield appears set with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu, and Melky Cabrera as the fourth. It will be good to have Matsui back for a whole season after he missed so much time last year with a broken wrist. Undoubtedly, Cabrera represents the future in the outfield and he acquitted himself quite nicely in extended fill-in duty last season. Damon’s presence in center and at the top of the order is wonderful. Abreu’s ability to work deep into counts and get on base makes him a fixture. So, then, it would seem as though there is little room left for Bernie. Ah, but did it not look that way last spring?

Last spring, the Yanks rolled into spring training with Matsui poised to put up MVP numbers, the freshly-inked Damon poised to rejuvenate the top of the line-up, and Gary Sheffield poised to mash 40+ home runs. Poised. The reality was that Matsui broke his wrist in May and didn’t return until September, Sheffield messed up his wrist and knee in April and was never quite right again after he returned in September—as evidenced by his painful attempt to play first base and his 1 for 12 performance at the plate during the playoffs—and, next thing you know, Bernie and Melky are getting significant time. In fact, until the trade for Abreu at the deadline, the outfield was a MASH unit and there was room for all comers.

How can anyone expect Damon to play 162 games this summer? He routinely crashes into walls—a style of play that endears him to fans but scares the junk out of management. Then there’s Godzilla. Although his track record of durability is unquestioned, management has to wonder if his surgically-repaired wrist will really allow him to be available every day. The point is this: things change quickly during the course of the season, sometimes during the course of spring training (see, Griffey Jr, Ken). Bernie needs to come to spring training. Play the exhibition season. Stay in shape. Stay in contact with the Yankees brass. Allow them to see that he can still swing it, even at age 37. When the inevitable injury—or, God forbid, two—happens, he’ll be more ready and likely to fill in immediately.

What Bernie shouldn’t do is hang it up. Not yet. He showed last year that he can still play the pastime and that he doesn’t really want to retire. Although I love his music and, once he does retire, his second career will undoubtedly flourish, now’s not that time.

Bernie also shouldn’t sign with another team. That would be wrong. Signing with another team, after 16 years with the Yankees, would be similar to seeing Namath play for the 49ers. Besides, who wants to get used to a new routine, new clubhouse, new city, new franchise after 16 years? No, Bernie needs to be in Yankee pinstripes.

So, consider this an open letter. A plea to Bernie Williams. Accept the spring training invite. Come to Legends Field. Put on the pinstripes. Bide your time. For Yankee fans across the world. For my wife. After all, that’s all that she really wants for Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hello, again...

Both my writing mentor and an international phone call have now chastised me for not updating this blog. In response, I have characteristically buckled under peer pressure and dusted off my typing fingers. (Ironically, I had lots of trouble typing the previous sentence.)

For your sake, o loyal reader (if any such people still exist), I will fight the urge to update everything that has happened since I last posted. After all, 4 months have lapsed since then and you likely have access to and, therefore, all the news you need about the last four months.

Instead, I’ll reveal why this blog has lain undisturbed for so long. Frankly, I feel like I’ve run out of words. I know that those of you that know me quite well cannot believe that could possibly ever happen, but allow me to explain.

Late last semester, I re-learned a lesson that I learned in high school. Procrastination = bad.

I had signed up for a four-unit independent study at school. At the time of registration, I had every intention of spacing out the 80 hours of reading and 10,000 words of writing over the course of the fifteen week semester. Instead, I waited. What for is not exactly clear, but I waited anyway. I suppose I thought that late work would not present a real problem. About eight days before the end of the semester, that train of thought jumped the track.

That day my friend, Tim, called. He, like me, also enrolled in this independent study. He, unlike me, had actually gone to speak to our supervising professor about due dates. Our phone call went something like this:

Me: “Yo.”
Him: “Hey. Have you talked to Dr. Kreider about the independent study?”
Me: “No. Why?”
Him: “Well, we’re screwed.”

Turns out, late work actually would present a real problem. As a result, I now knew that I had to submit this project to my professor in eight days. At the end of the semester. When work always comes due. Like it says in the student handbook. Yes, I freely admit that I am an idiot sometimes.

I filled those eight days with the reading of five books and the writing of 9,991 words on the emergent church and far too little interaction with the outside world. (Especially with my sainted wife who endured the whole thing with grace, love, and patience. And, she still acts like she likes being married to me.)

After that exercise in drinking from a fire hose, I then took two winter term classes. Funny thing about that procrastination lesson…

The first week of winter term, I took Christian Camping. A great class that gave an excellent overview of planning and implementing effective church camps, retreats, and events. As a bonus, it didn’t give much homework. I considered the ability to go home each night and not have anything to do as a gift from God for the hard work I had put in at the end of the previous semester. Instead, I would later see it in its true light: as a test from God to see how well I had learned the hard lesson from the end of the previous semester.

Although no homework each night of Christian Camping gave me a nice break, Eschatology lurked just beyond the horizon. Eschatology had a similar reading and writing load to that of Christian Camping except for the part where the syllabus talked about lots and lots to do. Loads of reading, plenty of writing. No problem for the diligent student who planned ahead and used his free evenings the week of Christian Camping to get some reading done ahead of time. If only I were such a student.

During the week of Eschatology—and the two weeks that followed during which students could submit work—I, yet again, reaped the rewards of my incredible foresight. I already faced the daunting task of figuring out how to complete all this Eschatology work while starting the spring semester. Imagine my great pleasure to hear two of my spring professors say, “I put most of your reading for the semester in the next couple of weeks in order to lay a foundation.”

On top of that, the entire first draft of my thesis (Jan 30) and the first leg of a major Hebrew project (Feb 6) both came due. Life went from, “Ah, crap. I’m an idiot,” to “Somebody please shoot the idiot.” So, I read. And I wrote. Next, I read. Then I wrote some more. After that, I read. I finished it all up with a little writing. My eyes and my fingers constantly battled for the coveted “most exhausted part of Benji’s body” award. Somehow, it all got done. Most of it on time.

As a result, I feel like I’ve done nothing but read and write since forever ago. Therefore, I have given my blog no attention, because I’m out of words (as you can undoubtedly tell).

But, through it all, I learned two critical things. First, marry well. I did so almost six years ago and I never have regretted it. Marriage to a beautiful, kind, patient, gracious, servant-hearted woman makes every mistake I make tolerable and gets me through the toughest seasons of my own stupidity. Second, I learned a valuable lesson about procrastination that I will tell you some other time.