Monday, March 29, 2004

He'll stick around 

Neal Cotts could stay with the big league club as a reliever even though the Sox see his future as a starter. I do, too, and possibly very soon.

After the reports Monday that Scott Schoeneweis could be out of the rotation, it appears that he'll at least get a chance in the rotation to start the season. GM Ken Williams also said that he doesn't expect to make a trade for another starter.

I hate to tell Schoeneweis this, but I doubt he'll get more than two starts to show he can do the job. If Cotts throws well in a relief and Schoeneweis struggles, Cotts will get a shot.

Notes, notes, notes 

Aaron Rowand said he's not fazed by the trade for Timo Perez, because the Sox brass have told him center field is still his job.

In the same notes columnm, the Trib's Bob Foltman writes that Perez speaks Spanish (he's a Dominican Republic native) and Japanese (played there five years) but not English. Foltman said that should give Shingto Takatsu someone to talk to besides his translator.

Perez expects to play a bit more with Sox than he would have with the Mets, who are even more set in the outfield than the Sox. The Mets have Cliff Floyd in left, Mike Cameron in center and a platoon of Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer to play right field (now that they won't be platooning from a Florida State Prison), with Roger Cedeno as the fifth outfielder (no one will take that salary).

The Sox hope to work a deal with the Marlins to keep pitcher Jason Grilli, a Rule 5 draft pick who has to be offered to the Marlins if he doesn't spend the entire season on the major league roster. The Sox want to send him to AAA Charlotte.

Guillen had some fun telling reporters about the right shoulder soreness that has Frank Thomas taking it easy for a couple of days.

For those who haven't been paying attention 

The Tribune offered up their baseball season preview section on Monday.

Other baseball reading on the web 

Baseball Primer has an interesting Sox preview written by Anthony Giacalone, someone who is far more sabermetricly sophisticated than I.

Here's something interesting by Nick Stampfli from Baseball Outsider about the off-season moves by the Marlins. I think it's a little exaggerated, but a good read.

Jim Conrey, in the "View from the Bleachers" on Baseball Truth (no telling if he means those bleachers or bleachers generically) says the Twins have a good chance to get off to a hot start thanks to their easy early schedule. Funny, but playing the Yankees a lot at the beginning of last season didn't seem to hurt the Twins much. Maybe it'll be good for the Sox, too.

(Music to write by: The Hives, "Veni, Vidi, Vicious," The White Stripes, "White Blood Cells," and Pearl Jam, "Lost Dogs.")

Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Sox starting rotation 

The makeup of the White Sox pitching staff seems pretty well set at this point, so it's a good time to take a look.

Dan Wright will be the fifth starter. Not bad for a guy who couldn't be sure he'd be on the roster when training camp started.

I know that I thought Wright might be more suited to being a reliever after last season. In the pen, his ERA was around 3; as a starter, it was probably twice that. His elbow and knee injuries last season could explain that to some extent, that maybe he tired more quickly because of the disruption in his throwing schedule last spring when he was on the disabled list.

The rest of the starting rotation will be Mark Buehrle, Esteban Loiaza, Scott Schoeneweis and Jon Garland. Everyone is predicting a breakout season for Garland, and I can certainly see why. He's always had a lot of raw talent. Now, he has three full big-league seasons under his belt. He also has a manager who wants to push his innings, rather than take him out at the first sign of trouble.

Here are the spring-training stats for the starters.

M. Buehrle 2.25 1.20 4.50 20 23 8 5 2 0 10
E. Loaiza 4.00 1.50 7.00 18 20 10 8 1 6 14
J. Garland 2.38 1.31 4.05 22.2 22 9 6 1 7 10
S. Schoeneweis 7.88 1.94 11.25 16 24 14 14 4 7 20
D. Wright 2.87 1.05 4.74 15.2 12 5 5 2 4 8

Source: SportsTicker via SI.com.

Key: Earned Run Average, Baserunners per inning pitched, strikeouts per nine innings pitched, innings pitched, hits, runs, earned runs, home runs, walks and strikeouts. Their figures were used to calculate BRIP and K/9.

Buehrle, Garland and Wright have all posted good spring numbers. These are very small sample sizes, of course, and the level of competition in spring training games is volatile even for major-league games. Who didn't make that trip from the Phoenix area down to Tucson to face the Sox? That's just one question that can't be answered looking at statistics.

The numbers for Schoeneweis are particularly ugly. The only thing that gives me a little hope is that he's striking out batters at an amazing rate for a relatively soft-tossing lefty -- 11.25 per nine innings pitched. His career rate is 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Again, we're talking about a tiny number of innings, but there's the chance that the new pitches that he is developing this spring, the cut fastball and the changeup, will payoff.

Loaiza's numbers are closer to his pre-2003 performance than his great 2003 season. Again, we're talking about just a handful of innings. I could live with a regular season that's just to the positive side of what he's done this spring. The half-full-glass way to look at it is that these numbers include his struggles at the start of spring training, when Loiaza says he was thinking too much on the mound. I'll take 200 innings at 3.75 ERA and a 7K/9 innings strikeout pace. Not as good as last season, of course, but it's solid.

Here are some career statistics for the five starters. These figures represent their career averages projected over a 162-game season. ERA+ is a measure of the pitcher's ERA compared to the leage average, which is set at 100. A higher ERA+ is better.

M. Buehrle 15 10 124 1.26 5.03 216.1 212 99 89 22 55 121
E. Loaiza 12 11 100 1.44 5.83 199 224 110 101 23 55 129
J. Garland 11 13 101 1.48 5.09 185.2 189 106 95 25 81 105
S. Schoeneweis 7 7 92 1.49 4.86 146.1 156 89 82 16 55 79
D. Wright 10 11 83 1.53 5.64 188.1 199 125 115 32 84 118

Source: Baseball-reference.com.

Key: Wins, Losses, Earned Run Average+, Baserunners per inning pitched, Strikeouts per nine innings pitched, innings pitched, hits, runs, earned runs, home runs allowed, walks allowed and strikeouts.

It's really not an encouraging picture, to look at ERA+. Buehrle has been solidly above average in his career, and there's no reason to expect that to change. Loaiza and Garland have been right on the average. Schoeneweis and Wright have been considerably below it.

Loiaiza broke out of his average pattern last year. Will he continue to perform above that level?

Is Garland a young starter who's about to take a significant step up, or have the last three years indicated that he's an average talent? Ditto for Wright.

Will the new pitches Schoeneweis is developing allow him to be an average starter?

Wish I had more answers.

Haven't read Moneyball, eh? 

When I was looking up spring statistics for the pitchers, I thought I may as well take a look at the hitters, too. I'll have to update my numbers when I preview position players, but I can guarantee that I won't be checking Sports Illustrated's web site for the numbers. SI relies on a company called SportsTicker for its spring statistics. Either SI or SportsTicker (owned by ESPN) does not think it is important for you to know how many walks a batter took this spring. They don't include that information for hitters, although they tell us how many walks the pitchers allowed. Strange.

Your guess is as good as mine 

White Sox GM Ken Williams told reporters yesterday that an unidentified player needs to step it up or he is in danger of losing his spot on the roster. Williams made these remarks as he discussed the trade for Timo Perez. I'm not a big fan of Perez, but the Sox only gave up Matt Ginter, who seemed destined to do no better than be a mid-season call-up again. It fills a need for a backup outfielder who can play center field.

Doug Padilla of the Sun-Times mentions a few players who might want to be worried about their jobs, as does Joe Cowley in the Southtown. Scot Gregor points out in the Daily Herald that the Sox have outfield depth in the high minors, too, and wonders if the trade indicates that the Sox aren't expecting much this year out of prospect Jeremy Reed.

See also: the Tribune reports that former Florida Marlins farmhand Jason Grilli has made the staff and some musings on the role of the bench coach from the Tribune's Bob Foltman.

Pony up the cash, Jerry 

The Tribune's Phil Rogers notes that the White Sox will have six picks in the first 69 slots in the June draft, and he says that it could cost the Sox upwards of $6 million to sign those players, based on the money given to players picked in those slots in last year's draft.

Nice follow-up work 

The Tribune's Melissa Isaacson follows up on recent reports that Michael Reinsdorf, son of Jerry Reinsdorf, is being groomed as his successor. As Michael Reinsdorf points out, his father has partners, so there's far from any guarantee that he would be chosen to lead the team in the future. The son also has his own real-estate and sports-facility business to attend to. Good job by Isaacson to have been curious enough about the reports to follow up. It's good to get them on the record about these things, in case they change their mind.

Hate to say I told you so 

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Cubs ace Mark Prior is probably out till May with his inflamed right Achilles tendon. Mike Kiley reports that Prior has back spasms, too.

Prior offered a good explanation for why the inflammation is keeping him out now even though he pitched through it when it first flared up last September. Then, Prior said, he was in the middle of the season, his arm was strong and he was in a groove mechanically. Now, he's barely thrown the ball, and he doesn't want to get into any bad habits.

Prior and the Cubs are smart to be careful with this. (Pretty big change from six years ago, when the Cubs practically ruined Kerry Wood's arm just to sneak into the wild card and get demolished 3-0 by the Braves in the NLDS.) I think they should keep having doctors look at this thing until they figure out what the problem is. They have to rule out that there is any tissue or bone damage causing the inflammation. Some have suggested the problem is Prior's tree-trunk legs and the amount of drive he generates off the rubber in his throwing motion. If there's absolutely nothing that the doctors can find in there, it suggests that he may have to adjust his mechanics or perhaps be fitted with a special cleat for his right foot.

(Actually, those who know NSSF will tell you that he likes to say I told you so.)

Big shock, Downey's confused 

Tribune columnist Mike Downey doesn't understand why Cubs fans are worried about trading Juan Cruz. Hey, Downey says, next year is this year. (Very original, Mike.)

Right. It is. So why trade a guy with 200 major league innings for a guy who has thrown just one? Gotta give Downey credit for Item No. 6, though. That actually was funny.

About those left-right splits I mentioned the other day as a possible explanation for this trade. Well, for one, the Cubs don't expect Adam Pratt to start. Still, according to "The Bill James Handbook," Houston and St. Louis did not have significantly different winning percentages based on the left-right starters. Houston's percentages (vs. lefties first): .529 and .539. St. Louis' percentages: .528 and .524.

Interestingly enough, the Cubs last year did have a significant difference in their left-right split: .474 against lefties and .564 against righties.

For the NL Central as a whole, it's true, teams fared more poorly when facing lefty starters, .453 versus .496. For the NL as a whole, there was no appreciable difference, .504 versus .505 (includes interleague play, remember).

(Music to write by: Talking Heads, Ryan Adams, "Rock N Roll," the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, "The Wall," Pearl Jam, "Vs." and The Hives, "Barely Legal.")

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Two thumbs way up! 

The Frank Thomas-Magglio Ordonez batting order switcheroo continues to win rave reviews. As the Daily Southtown's Joe Cowley reports, White Sox GM Ken Williams thinks the suggestion from Thomas to trade lineup spots with Ordonez is just the most visible sign that Thomas is working hard to be a veteran leader for the Sox. The Sun-Times and the Daily Herald also featured the switch for a second day in a row. Not to beat a dead former manager, but this quote (it's from the Southtown, but I think I saw it elsewhere, too) from Ordonez is yet another one that paints Jerry Manuel poorly: "It's different this year," Ordonez said. "He's been in the league a long time and maybe he's changed. Frank's always been a great guy to me, and this year we've seen a lot of difference. And also, the coaching staff has treated him different, and that's why he's changed, too." Maybe we shouldn't have been blaming Thomas all of these years.

I'm not sure I get this one 

The Cubs have traded pitchers Juan Cruz and Steve Smith to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Adam Pratt and infielder Richard Lewis (a minor leaguer, not the annoying comic). Let's compare the stats. In 728 minor league innings, Pratt has 682 strikeouts and 276 walks. He's thrown just one inning in the majors. Meanwhile, in 454 minor league innings, Cruz has 472 strikeouts to 207 walks. In 202 major league innings, Cruz has 185 strikeouts and 107 walks. The major league numbers are not as impressive, but pretty darn good for a young (23, provided he didn't fib) pitcher who kept getting bounced between the pen and the rotation. Pratt is about 14 months older than Cruz. If this trade was made with 2004 in mind, the only rationale that I can see is that Pratt throws left handed. Cubs GM Jim Hendry mentioned the slowed rehab of Mike Remlinger, who will start the season on the DL, as a reason for the trade. But Pratt has barely pitched at the major league level. Is it really that important to get another left-handed pitcher than to have a guy who at least has 202 innings and some decent success in the majors? Oh, and did I mention that he has electric stuff? I don't have time to do it tonight, but I am going to check the record splits of the NL Central teams last year against right-handers and left-handers. Maybe the other five teams struggle against left-handers. That might explain this trade and why Shawn Estes got so many more starts than Cruz last year. Weird.

Coming this weekend 

I'm running a little short of time right now. Besides the look at left-right splits in the NL Central, I'll be taking a look at how the pitching staff is shaping up for the White Sox. (No music to write by. NCAA tournament game in the background.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Yep, everything has changed 

Somewhere, Jerry Manuel must be asking what he did to deserve the Frank Thomas he inherited in 1998. The Tribune's Bob Foltman reports that Thomas went to manager Ozzie Guillen and suggested switching to the cleanup spot in the order. That will allow the swifter Magglio Ordonez to bat third. As the story notes, Manuel suggested moving Thomas to the No. 4 spot -- and did so for a short time, but Thomas balked at the idea. Yet now, Thomas volunteers for it with his former teammate at the helm, the former teammate who supposedly needled Thomas during the eight years they played together (counting 1990, when Thomas made his major league debut on Aug. 2, and 1992, when Guillen was on the shelf with a knee injury most of the year). I love in this story, too, how Guillen, 40, refers to Thomas, who will be 36 in May, as "this kid." Guillen also referred to Shingo Takatsu, 35, as "this kid" in a notes column. What I love more is the new attitude that Thomas has this year. I think he made some strides in this area last year, and he's built impressively on that so far this year. Given some of his behavior, I have to include the "so far," but maybe with Manuel gone and his teammate/friendly tormentor leading the team, we can drop it later this year.

Not to praise, but to bury 

I guess it's always easy to dump on the old manager and embrace the new guy, but it's getting uncanny how often Sox players are praising Guillen and criticizing, implicitly, Manuel. In this story, reliever Kelly Wunsch says that Guillen talks to him more than managers usually do. Wunsch has had but one major league manager before this season, Jerry Manuel, although, to be fair, he was drafted in 1993 and must have worked for a slew of managers in the minors before his debut in 2000.

DL: Disability Lingering 

It's no surprise that Cubs ace Mark Prior will start the season on the disabled list. The Cubs say they expect him to make his first start on their opening homestand, April 12-19. I'm glad that they believe his inflamed right Achilles' tendon isn't serious and that the time he needs is more to build up his arm strength than anything to do with his heel. Still, I would be worried about this being a lingering problem if I were a Cubs fan (there's that shiver again, every time I write that). To reiterate, Prior felt the soreness in his heel last season. It subsided with the winter's rest, but returned within the first 10 days or so of spring training. This patten is what should keep Cubs fans nervous. (Music to write by: a mixed playlist called "Altered States," although NSSF is not imbibing tonight.)

Sunday, March 21, 2004

It's Baines 

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn't waste any time in hiring Harold Baines to replace Joe Nossek as bench coach. Read the other stories about the hire in the Daily Herald, the Daily Southtown and the Sun-Times. Guillen said something that I think makes a lot of sense: That Baines's personality is the yin to Guillen's yang. The Sox dugout might not have been big enough for the combined intensity of Guillen and Carlton Fisk, but the quiet Baines might be the perfect foil to Guillen. Let's hope.

Buehrle bounce back 

Mark Buehrle says he learned a lot from his horrendous first half of 2003. He was snakebitten for a while. The White Sox are really leaning on Buehrle to step up and be the No. 1 starter, especially if Esteban Loiaza reverts back to his mediocre performance prior to 2003.

Crede redux 

A little more on Joe Crede from the Sun-Times. This story illustrates something that I've noticed this spring: Aaron Rowand is a good quote for the writers. That doesn't hurt in my book, but then, I'm a journalist.

Drinking TribCo Kool-Aid 

The Cubs a dynasty? Paul Sullivan writes today that the team has locked up a lot of its core players for at least the next three seasons, i.e. through 2006. The subhead on the story suggests that this could be the start of a Cubs dynasty. How about putting up back-to-back winning seasons before we start carelessly throwing around words such as "dynasty"? The Sun-Times says Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez is putting his NLCS Game 6 error behind him. Gonzalez is one of the weakest links for the Cubs. Somehow, the Blue Jays gave a guy with a career on-base percentage of .304 $6 million in the contract the Cubs are paying off. (I guess that's why Gord Ash was canned and replaced by J.P. Ricciardi.) Oh, and he's got only 30 more hits than strikeouts in his career. Brutal. He's going to get the same kind of surprise next winter that Mark Grudzielanek had this winter, namely, that nobody's overpaying that badly for mediocre players any more. And Grudzielanek has been a better player in his career than Gonzalez. (Music to write by: University of Illinois Marching Illini, "Game Day!", R.E.M., "Orange Crush," Blues Traveler, "Blues Traveler" and David Bowie.)

Saturday, March 20, 2004

'Grandpa Joe' 

This one hurts. Joe Nossek is retiring after 13 years as bench coach for the White Sox because of a variety of health problems. He'll remain with the Sox in a non-uniform role that has yet to be defined. Nossek also was a coach on Tony LaRussa's staff when Ozzie Guillen was a rookie in 1985 and was expected to be a big help to the first-time manager this year. I've never heard a bad word about Nossek. I hope he heals up soon and returns to a bigger role with the club.

Filling the void 

The Trib reports that Guillen wants someone with a history in the organization. The Sun-Times says, more specifically, that Ken Williams wants someone already in the organization and points to Harold Baines as the front runner. The Daily Herald and the Daily Southtown also think it will be Baines. The Tribune's Phil Rogers suggests that Jeff Torborg and Carlton Fisk are two intriguing possibilities. Torborg has a good relationship with Guillen, having been his manager with the Sox and having hired him as a coach in Montreal. (They moved to the Marlins when Jeffrey Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball and bought the Marlins from John Henry, who now owns the Red Sox. Got all that?) Bringing back Fisk would be a major coup for the franchise. I've always felt bad about the way it ended here for Fisk, with the team reportedly cutting him after having him fly to Cleveland for a series. Rogers thinks a long phone call from Jerry Reinsdorf could soothe Fisk's feelings. He did manage the U.S. team in the Future Stars game two days before the All-Star Game last year at the Cell, so he's at least been in the building recently. (Read to the notes at the bottom.)

You have the right to an attorney 

As if the suddenly improved demeanor of Frank Thomas weren't enough of an indictment of Jerry Manuel, this comment Thomas made for the above-linked Daily Herald story serves as the formal charging papers: "I think Ozzie's going to provide a lot of motivation and do something different with the team. He'll shake the guys up a little bit more and that's what we need, because we didn't wake up at times last year. Ozzie won't let that happen ... the complacency.'' Maybe Manuel can get Dusty Baker to represent him. Baker spoke Friday about his Sactown homeys, Manuel and Bill Cartwright. Baker, of course, is the only one of the Sacramento natives still managing in Chicago. When he lamented quick hooks for managers, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he was referring to Cartwright only. Manuel had six years.

Can't say I ever missed Karchner 

Jon Garland went six innings in Friday's otherwise meaningless win over the Cubs. Manager Ozzie Guillen is heaping big expectations on Garland, and so far, Garland is making Guillen look like a genius. Garland from the Cubs for Matt Karchner is looking better and better.

Crede Crew could grow 

Joe Crede could be a difference-maker for the White Sox this year. Remember, the only time the Sox offense took off last year was when Crede and Paul Konerko started to come around. You can't have two automatic outs at the bottom of the lineup (Crede and Miguel Olivo) and survive in the American League.

Quality control 

Shingo Takatsu is having worrisome control problems. At least we weren't banking on him being the closer. I haven't read it yet, but Sports Illustrated has an article this week on the difficulties facing Japanese baseball players in North America. The Daily Herald's Scot Gregor calls Takatsu's performance one of the biggest disappointments in the Sox training camp so far.

'Give 'em the heater' 

I'm glad to hear that Jon Rauch was seriously ticked off after his demotion to AAA Charlotte. That's the attitude he should have. Remember that scene in "Major League" when Charlie Sheen's Ricky Vaughn thinks he's been demoted and reacts by tearing up Manager Lou Brown's office? I love it when he tells Brown, "Every time I pitch against you, I'm going to stick it up your (blanking blank)!" (Here's some quotes from the movie, but not that one.) Players should -- and do -- get fired up like that in real life, too. There's a good chance he'll be in the rotation this year, if Scott Schoeneweis doesn't work out. I'm not even mentioning Dan Wright, because I think he's going to have a good season. It's something of a relief to hear that Schoeneweis hasn't been using all the tools in his kit. He's shelved the sinker and slider for the time being, while he works on his new pitches -- a cut fastball and a change up. (Music to write by: Liz Phair and Wilco, "Summer Teeth.")

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Loaiza, staff cut-up 

It's funny to say that a guy who finished second in the 2003 Cy Young voting is a question mark, but we've all been a little worried about Esteban Loaiza, no? I was very glad to read that he recovered nicely from a rough start to his outing on Tuesday. Pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen suggested that Loaiza was trying to be too fine with his pitches, aiming rather than throwing, as the saying goes. Sandy Alomar Jr. thinks hitters are sitting on Loaiza's now-famous cut fastball, Sun-Timesman Doug Padilla reported. Padilla also writes that Alomar caught Loaiza in only two starts last year. Interesting. Here's the Daily Herald's take on Loiaza's outing.

Play like a team 

If you clicked on the "2003 Cy Young voting" link above, the first thing you saw was the 2003 AL MVP voting results. I first noticed that Frank Thomas, Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez were all in the top 20. Impressive. Then I noticed that the only Twinkie in the top 20 was Shannon Stewart, who only spent a half-season in Minneapolis and finished fourth in the MVP vote. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Quit being a buzzkill, dude 

Aaron Rowand is showing that he isn't going to let the Ken Griffey Jr. trade speculation drag him down in his comments to the Daily Southtown. He probably doesn't have much to worry about.

Drive south on the 405 

The Daily Herald's Scot Gregor writes that perhaps all the trade speculation about the Sox getting a pitcher from Southern California has focused on the wrong LA-area team. Rather than continue to hunt rumors of a trade with the Dodgers, Gregor writes that with the Angels signing both Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar as new starters, they're probably over budget and certainly have a surplus of starting pitchers. Besides the new hires, the Angels also boast Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz, John Lackey and Aaron Sele. Young Lackey's not going anywhere, but there is a belief that the Angels would like to trade one of the other three, especially Sele, in part to pare salary. Washburn or Ortiz would interest me, but not Sele, who has struggled with injuries and will be 34 years old in June.

Not just 'Lawyer Jim' anymore 

Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander outed the Cubs fan who nabbed Bartman's ball. Telander doesn't explain how he came to know that Chicago lawyer Jim Staruck was the man who raked in all that dough from Harry Caray's Restaurant -- about $90,000 after taxes and the auction fee. Telander mentions that Staruck recently left his law firm to go into practice for himself, and that's where I'll put my money. If you're an underling, you don't mind outing someone who just left your firm. He can't bust you anymore. And if you're a partner who's ticked at him for leaving, well, need I say more? Nice work by Telander no matter how he got it.

Another serving of pressure, coming up 

The Tribune's Paul Sullivan said none of the common Cubs excuses is valid this year. If you saw today's print edition, you know that they filled the entire back page of the sports section with this. I always enjoyed reading Sullivan when he covered the Sox, including his weekly mailbag column. The sarcasm was thick. Paul, thanks for ratcheting up the pressure on the Cubs. Oh, and I heard somewhere that Mark Prior threw well and with no pain in his right heel in a bullpen session. (Music to write by: The Allman Brothers Band and Blur, "The Great Escape.")

Monday, March 15, 2004

Hard to argue with him 

One of my favorite things about the Tribune's Sam Smith is his ability to play GM for the Bulls. He did it again today, with a proposed proposed trade for Tracy McGrady. Whether you agree or disagree with him, Smith is provocative, in a good way, by developing realistic trades. Phil Rogers goes part of the way there by suggesting that the White Sox trade for Ken Griffey Jr. He points out that Griffey would bust their budget for just a year, until Magglio Ordonez's salary comes off the payroll. Rogers suggests that Griffey's contract is much more team-friendly than Ordonez's demands, which are in the neighborhood of $15 million a season for five or six years. A little more than half of the $12.5 million that Griffey is due each season through 2008 is deferred without interest. Rogers doesn't mention what the Reds might want in return, which is the one flaw in the column. Wisely, Rogers writes that the Sox will be able to go a month or two into the season before deciding whether to pull the trigger. That would give them a chance to see if Griffey is truly back to something close to his previous form. Rogers also writes that trading for Griffey would help the Sox escape the shadow cast by the Cubs. Maybe I'm unrealistic, but I'd like to see if it's possible to resign Ordonez. I would hate to make a move now that would foreclose that possibility. I would dearly love to steal some of the attention back from the Cubs, however, and trading for Griffey would certainly do that. Having Griffey might take some of the pressure off Frank Thomas, too, since he wouldn't be the only future Hall of Famer in the clubhouse anymore.

Fillin' the bigun's shoes 

Bob Foltman of the Tribune writes that perhaps the toughest part of replacing Bartolo Colon will be the workload he took on last season -- 242 innings.

More Marlins magic? 

Doug Padilla of the Sun-Times wrote a nifty little feature on Jason Grilli, who appears to have a good shot to stick around as a long man on the pitching staff. Grilli is a veteran of six years in the minor leagues who was most recently with the Florida Marlins organization; he had cups of coffee with the Marlins in 2000 and 2001. The Sox chose Grilli in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft when he was left off the Marlins 40-man roster. He's 27 and has battled arm injuries, so we shouldn't expect him to blossom into a superstar, but if he can throw strikes and start occasionally when the schedule or injuries require it, I'll take it.

Also in the papers today 

The left quadriceps injury Joe Borchard sustained in the early stages of training camp have him headed to Charlotte again. In his notebook column, Joe Cowley of the Daily Southtown notes that former White Sox pitcher Jim Parque pitched for the Diamondbacks against the Sox in a B game. Parque, who struggled with arm injuries after the 2000 season, threw five scoreless innings. I wonder how difficult it is to be entering your prime (Parque just turned 28) and be struggling to make a team by pitching in B games. It must be especially tough on Parque given his outspokenness. Recall that he complained loudly at the start of the 2002 season that he should have been with the Sox and not the Charlotte Knights. Then, the Sox called him up and he and Jon Rauch helped Mike Cameron go off for four homers in a single game at what was still called Comiskey Park on May 1, 2002. (Music to write by: Pink Floyd, "Animals," and Paul Westerberg, "Mono.")

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Standing pat, for now 

The Daily Herald's Scot Gregor writes today that White Sox GM Ken Williams is more interested in seeing how the players on his roster perform than making a big trade. I would still like the team to add another starting pitcher and switch Scott Schoeneweis to the bullpen. But I guess I can't fault the Sox for taking a shot with him as the fourth starter. There's nothing to prevent the Sox from making a move in May or June. There's also a school of thought that you use the first 50 games to see what you have and what you need. A's GM Billy Beane follows this approach. It's a little easier for them to do this with the Big Three starters they have in Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. We might see this Sox team in a very different light after 50 games. Perceptions are one thing, but, as they say, actual results may vary -- for either good or bad.

It's going to heat up 

Dusty Baker is right. The Cubs-Sox rivalry is on a whole new level with Ozzie Guillen replacing Jerry Manuel as manager of the Sox. Baker and Guillen are friendly with each other despite the 2003 NLCS. Guillen, appropriately, said he had fun taunting Cubs fans at HoHoKam Park yesterday, when the Cubs beat a stripped-down Sox team (Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Frank Thomas did not make the trip north to Mesa) 4-3 with a late comeback.

Moving off the bubble 

Dan Wright is close to locking up the fifth spot in the rotation. Wright was never really healthy last season, with both elbow and knee ailments. The Sun-Times offers a little more on Aaron Rowand's prospects as the starting centerfielder. Here's the Tribune's Sox notebook.

MLB: No exceptions 

The Cubs announced that Major League Baseball has ruled on Sammy Sosa's little buddy, Julian Martinez: no uniform, no clubhouse, no on-field appearances. Martinez will man the radar gun during games, chart pitches and help out off the field in other ways. Sosa handled this situation wisely with his positive comments about not wanting to be treated any differently than anyone else. I don't believe it for a second, but I give him credit for recognizing that he couldn't get his way on this one and then getting behind the decision in his comments to the press. Some credit is due to Commissioner Bud Selig for his forebearance. He was smart not to make sharp public comments about Sosa in this case, because it's more important to enforce this policy than pick a fight with Sosa.

He's just their best pitcher 

The Cubs say Mark Prior is progressing but they seem to be realistic about his chances of making his first scheduled start. Baker couldn't resist saying that the media are making a mountain out of a molehill. So it's blowing things out of proportion to write about the No. 1 starter on a team with very high expectations is struggling with an injury that dates to last season and could potentially be recurring? Whatever, Dusty.

Cashing Chip 

The Daily Herald and the Sun-Times both reported that Cubs television announcer Chip Caray is signed only through the end of the upcoming season. Caray declined to comment about it yesterday. I didn't see this reported by the Tribune, at least not online. Can't speak for the print version. Chip Caray is about as bad as Ken Harrelson, and that is really saying something. At least Sox fans can work around this problem by listening to the Grade A team of John Rooney and Ed Farmer. But, as wonderful a man as he is and as great a ballplayer as he was, listening to Ron Santo is unbearable. (Music to write by: Sublime and Wilco.)

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Let me tell you how it is 

I said before that Ozzie Guillen should consider ditching his No. 13 for No. 180, as in 180-degree turn. What was acceptable under Jerry Manuel will not be acceptable under Guillen. Just look at what Paul Konerko had to say about Guillen laying into the team for lacking energy. I've long gotten the impression that Konerko wanted more leadership from Manuel, wanted him to lay down the law. He's getting his wish with Guillen. Here are the stories in the other papers on Guillen’s calling his team out: in the Tribune, the Daily Herald and the Daily Southtown. (That reminds me. I love the new radio commercial the Sox have. A fan is talking to himself about most of the players being back from last year (conveniently, the fan doesn't mention Bartolo Colon or Carl Everett) as White Sox public address announcer Gene Honda reads off player names. Then Honda says, "And returning to the White Sox, manager Ozzie Guillen." The fan muses, "What's changed this year? Everything." Or something to that effect. Great commercial.) Normally, the energy players show in the late innings of a spring training game wouldn't be important. But most teams haven't underachieved as much as the White Sox have the last two years. Guillen isn't going to let this kind of behavior slide for a second. He's bringing urgency and intensity to this team. He's going to insist on it, 100% of the time. Amen.

Dopey Dusty, Vol. 2 

I think I know why Dusty Baker has been able to get along so well with both Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa: Baker is just as thin-skinned as they are. Now he's upset that a Ken Rosenthal, a writer for The Sporting News, criticized his use (overuse) of his starting pitchers last season, especially Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. What I especially enjoyed about this is how he gets to the end of his little rant and says that the whole thing doesn't matter to him. Right. Look, you can't argue with Baker's overall success. But why is he so defensive? Remember last season when he was upset that Jerry Manuel whooped it up with the crowd on the Saturday game of the crosstown series at The Cell? Manuel is one of Baker's "homeboys" from Sacramento and was fighting for his job at the time (alas, he won the fight till the end of the disappointing season), but Baker doesn't want him to celebrate in front of a sell-out crowd when they scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning?

More important than Dusty's ego 

The concern about Mark Prior has to be that he felt pain in his right Achilles tendon last season, spent the winter resting it and then almost immediately had the problem flare up again. But Greg Maddux had a nice outing yesterday, Cubs fans. (Music to write by: Eric Clapton, Eminem and Creedence Clearwater Revival.)

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Cora's back, too, you know 

The return of Joey Cora as third-base coach for the White Sox has been little remarked upon until this column by the Daily Southtown's Phil Arvia. I can see why everyone would focus on manager Ozzie Guillen. Not only is he the top guy now, he was an All-Star, played much longer with the White Sox than Cora (13 seasons vs. 4) and has the kind of personality that you can't ignore. Still, it was nice to read about Cora. He used to drive me crazy when he'd make the third out batting in front of Frank Thomas, but I always liked his hustle.

Nothing to see here, move along 

The White Sox think they have the right role for reliever Cliff Politte. For his part, the former Blue Jay and Phillie is more than happy to work in middle relief, the role in which he's had his greatest success. If that means he's overlooked, Politte says, so be it.

Dopey Dusty 

Bruce Miles in the Daily Herald and Mike Kiley in the Sun-Times both reported comments that Cubs manager Dusty Baker made yesterday disparaging the high-on-base-percentage approach to hitting. It was a variation of what a lot of players from the Caribbean say: You can't walk off the island. Maybe he just wanted to get a jab in at his old cross-town rivals, the Oakland A's, by pointing out who's been winning all those World Series in recent years. "Who's been the champions the last seven, eight years?" he asked. "Have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks? Walks help. But you ain't going to walk across the plate. You're going to hit across the plate. That's the school I come from. "It's called hitting, and it ain't called walking. Do you ever see the top 10 walking? You see top 10 batting average. A lot of those top 10 do walk. But the name of the game is to hit." To me, this is right up there (or maybe down there) with Baker saying that black and Latin players perform better during hot weather because of their darker skin. As the Herald's Miles points out, the Yankees were third in on-base average last year. After the 2001 season, I would point out, they signed a slugger who prides himself on a high OBA, Jason Giambi, to a contract worth some $120 million. And analysts have pointed to the patient approach that hitters such as Paul O'Neill took when the Yankees won four World Series in five years from 1996-2000. Maybe Baker has already forgotten about Barry Bonds. Interesting, too, that the Herald's Mike Imrem just wrote the other day that Baker's loony comments could make him the latter-day Mike Ditka who keeps a talented team from playing up to their potential. Kiley made this the lead item of a notebook column, ending his item with Baker's quote. The charitable explanation is that Kiley wasn't given the space to delve into whether Baker is right. The snarky explanation is that Kiley prefers hagiography to real reporting. Kiley, if you keep mailing it in like this, NSSF will make you sit in the corner with Mike Downey.

Also in the papers today 

The Tribune has a little more on Sox shortstop Jose Valentin hitting left handed exclusively after a lifetime of switch-hitting. The story points out how hard it's been for Valentin to keep a good right-handed swing with platooning. The Catch-22 is he doesn't get many right-handed at-bats because he struggles from that side of the plate. Chicken and egg. The Sun-Times has a feature on Brian Anderson, an outfielder from the University of Arizona and the No. 1 draft pick for the Sox in 2003. Thursday was his 22nd birthday. If I were a Cubs fan (that made me shudder), I would be worried about Mark Prior's Achille's tendon.

Long overdue 

You may have noticed that I have included the Daily Southtown to today's review of the papers. I've also added it to the Links section. I should have done this a long time ago. (Music to write by: Elvis Costello, "The Very Best of Elvis Costello.")

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Frank Thomas should stay ours 

Frank Thomas is considering his legacy. He's not the only one. As I've pointed out, it has to eat at the heart of every Sox fan that trading Thomas could be good for the team but so hard to stomach for us as fans, deep down. Even though Thomas has frustrated me repeatedly, I still want to see him reach those career milestones with the Old English script "Sox" on his cap. The story by Bob Foltman in the Tribune that I linked above quotes hitting coach Greg Walker saying that Thomas is having more fun this spring. We could spend a lot of time playing armchair psychologist as to why. The ascension of his former teammate Ozzie Guillen as manager might have something to do with it. Bottom line, Thomas is showing that he wants to stay with his franchise by taking a better attitude out onto the field. Maybe the best thing to happen was the expectation of fans and media alike that Thomas and Guillen would clash. Thomas likes to prove everyone wrong when they typecast him, a quality I can appreciate because I have it, too. I hope Thomas never wears another uniform as an active player.

Also in the papers today 

Mark Buehrle wants to put his 2003 season behind him, although he notes in the Sun-Times that a little support goes a long way toward helping a pitcher win games. In hockey, you hear a lot about a goalie having to make a few key saves in each game to cover up mistakes, because that has a huge effect on the overall play of his team. It's sort of the reverse here - sometimes, in the field and at the plate, the starting lineup has to make a few plays to support the pitcher. Both papers reported that Juan Uribe is pushing second baseman Willie Harris for the job, and that Jose Valentin will bat lefthanded against more left-handed pitchers this year.

Right on, Rick 

The Tribune's Rick Morrissey writes today that the Cubs have to see that pushing to keep Sammy Sosa's personal assistant in uniform is bad for baseball as a whole, even if Julian Martinez is harmless himself. I made the same point on Sunday. (Music to write by: the Lin Brehmer program on WXRT; sure, he's a Cubs fan, but I enjoy his program anyway.)

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

'Senator, we must protect player privacy.' 

It's never good for baseball when Commissioner Bud Selig and players association chief Don Fehr testify before Congress, as they scheduled to do Wednesday in a Senate hearing about steroids in sports. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue should enjoy this appearance before Congress a lot more than his last one, which came on the heels of the Super Bowl halftime "wardrobe malfunction." NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw also will testify. While the NFL isn't perfect, it's got a lot more credibility on this issue than baseball, especially with their agreement to run an anti-doping lab with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the University of Utah.

In the papers today 

I'm going to endeavor to do this earlier in the day so I'm not just summarizing stories that you have already read. The Tribune's Bob Foltman looks at whether "small ball" really has any effect on scoring. Guillen, of course, has made much of running the bases and being more aggressive. This runs counter to the Moneyball theory that taking chances on the bases is just a way for an offense to give up its most valuable commodity - outs. Both the Sun-Times and the Daily Herald have articles (or, in the Herald's case, a lead item in a notebook column) about Mexican League pitcher Francisco Campos. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says Campos, 31, will be getting a chance to show what he can do in some "A" games, instead of pitching just to minor leaguers in "B" games. Guillen sees Campos as a possible long man out of the bullpen. (Music to write by: Oasis, "Heathen Chemistry.")

Monday, March 08, 2004

Young up the middle 

The Daily Herald's Scot Gregor has a solid feature today about Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand's switch from dirt biking to golf. Rowand was handed the center fielder's job at the end of spring training last year, but he was still recovering from injuries suffered when he drove his dirt bike off the trail, falling 10 to 15 feet and landing on a rock. Rowand, Miguel Olivo and Willie Harris are three young men who play up the middle that the Sox are counting on. That's not usually a recipe for success, the old adage about being strong up the middle. I like that manager Ozzie Guillen has been spending a lot of time with Harris, and Olivo is in his second year in the Sandy Alomar Jr. School of Catching.

Doesn't take a genius 

Really, is there a team that doesn't have a problem if they get off to a bad start? I'm sure the White Sox are no exception, but this Tribune story contends that the Sox need a good start in the Cactus League to build up some confidence for the season and establish the atmosphere that Guillen wants. I'm guilty of making this utterly obvious point, too, as I've suggested that the Cubs need to begin the season well. I guess this thinking is as much a part of spring training as pitchers practicing covering first base. For the teams with real expectations, no matter how veteran its players, the pressure ratchets up with a bad start. For the teams hoping to be pleasantly surprised, a bad start is confirmation that it's going to be a long, hot summer.

Grip and grin? 

Even though I'm still nervous about Scott Schoeneweis in the starting rotation, I am glad to read in the Tribune that he's working on two new pitches. One is a cut fastball, thrown with Esteban Loiaza's grip. The other is a changeup. The Sun-Times has a little more on Billy Koch and the importance of velocity. I like that pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen want him to focus on command of his pitches, but I hope they think that the velocity will follow. Unless Koch is going to start throwing a cutter, too, he needs to dial it back up to the high 90s, since his fastball does not move much. Koch also thinks that he undid some poor mechanics from last year by taking a longer-than-normal break from throwing after the end of the 2003 season.

People for the Ethical Treatment of LaRussa 

The Tribune's Phil Rogers (this is turning into a Phil Rogers Admiration Society, given how much I'm linking to him) wrote an interesting article for ESPN.com about Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and the possibility that he's feeling underappreciated in Redbird Nation. You would think bird lovers would appreciate a vegetarian animal lover like the former Sox manager. (Music to write by: John Lee Hooker, "His Best Chess Sides.")

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Nossek the perfect alter ego 

Doug Padilla has a great feature in the Sunday Sun-Times about the calming impact that White Sox bench coach Joe Nossek is expected to have this year. As Padilla puts it, Nossek is the yin to Ozzie Guillen's yang. The great thing is, Nossek and Guillen have a long history going back to Guillen's playing days, so what could be an awkward situation - grizzled veteran bench coach breaking in yet another first-time manager - is as smooth as can be. Sox fans will always remember Nossek's call for a pitchout in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field to allow the Sox to close out a 7-6 win. I'm glad to see that Dan Wright had a successful debut outing yesterday. While I'd prefer trading for another starter, allowing Scott Schoeneweis to move to the bullpen, at least the White Sox have a few options for the fourth and fifth starters spots, between Wright, Jon Rauch, Josh Stewart and Jason Grilli.

Sarcasm will get you everywhere 

This comes as a shock to me. Major League Baseball is strengthening its enforcement of a two-year-old rule that prohibits non-club personnel from the locker rooms and playing field, and Sammy Sosa wants his assistant/sycophant to be the exception to the rule. Sosa never wants to special treatment. Just listen to Dusty Baker, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood trip all over themselves to say he's just one of the guys. Sosa seeking preferential treatment? No, never, not this happy-go-lucky guy who just loves baseball and would play for free. If I roll my eyes any harder, they'll fall out of their sockets. If Bud Selig wants to gain some credibility on the steroids issue, a good place to start is to tell the Cubs in no uncertain terms that they are playing with some fire that they better douse. Selig can't allow the Cubs to loophole their way around the rule and make Julian Martinez a batting-practice pitcher. It would be just like saying that a Tribune Co.-owned subsidiary -- say, one that scalps tickets or one that broadcasts their games -- is completely separate and distinct from the Cubs. I'm sure those are both arm's-length transactions, not designed to shelter income from revenue sharing at all. Oh, noooo.

On the leading edge 

The Tribune's Phil Rogers points out today that White Sox players were ahead of the curve last spring when they considered not taking their drug tests in order to make more stringent testing more likely. A skipped test counted as a positive test, and the collective bargaining agreement called for more rigorous testing if a certain percentage of players tested positive.

Never tell me it's just Sox fans 

I was at a charity bowling night yesterday that was a real blast. After the bowling, they drew the raffle in the basement. One of the prizes was a package of four Sox tickets, a Sox blanket and an autographed Paul Konerko jersey. Now, I knew I was in Cubs territory on the Northwest Side, not to mention all the Cubs jerseys and bowling shirts. That's cool. I wasn't offended when they booed the package. I made sport of it: I yelled out, "If y'all don't want it, I'll take it!" Twice, for good measure. (I've been accused on occasion of loving the sound of my own voice. And for the record, I am not a Southerner, I just like saying "y'all" now and then.) Just don't tell me that it's only Sox fans who hate their cross-town rival. It's a lie. And, Cubs fans, I don't want you to root for my team anyway. If you grow up here, you pick a side and you stay there, for life. All I ask is that you quit trying to convert me or act like I'm insane for being a White Sox fan. I mean, if you want to talk about crazy, how about hundreds of people sitting in a tent to see a baseball exploded? (Music to write by: The Allman Brothers Band, "Eat a Peach" and "Live at Filmore East.")

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Koch velocity a key indicator 

I know that Billy Koch disappointed us White Sox fans in 2003, but I have to say this for him: He didn't blame anyone else for his problems (despite the fact that Jerry Manuel also misused the man Koch was traded for, Keith Foulke). It was nice to see him get off to a strong start by retiring the side in order yesterday against the Diamondbacks. Koch says he's not too concerned about his velocity at this point. He threw in the low 90s yesterday, according to stories I read in both papers. This bears watching, however. He'll need to throw in the upper 90s to be successful, I think, so I'll be watching to see if his velocity improves as spring training progresses. Shingo Takatsu struggled in his debut, Doug Padilla of the Sun-Times reports. At least he worked out of the jam without allowing the go-ahead run.

Brothers can be worlds apart 

It's interesting to contrast the attitudes of the Alomar brothers. Sandy Alomar, Jr., is seen as the consummate team leader and a future manager, as the Tribune's Bob Foltman writes. Younger brother Roberto is a probable Hall of Famer, but described as something of a loner. Roberto has finally confronted his declining play of the last three seasons by rededicating himself this winter. It's a shame that he couldn't see this in time to resign with the White Sox (who offered twice as much money as the Diamondbacks, with whom he ended up signing) and play with his brother.

Gag reflex 

I agree that gag orders, like the one baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has ordered regarding BALCO and performance-enhancing drugs, solve no problems. They are no substitute for taking action. But, for the short term, maybe baseball needed to do something to give everyone some breathing room. Selig takes the hit, as he inevitably does, as the do-nothing villain, and while fans and the media are busy opining about the gag order, the owners and the players association could sit down and talk this out. Not that I'm optimistic about the players association. Reading Gene Orza's comments during a panel discussion, I can see another reason to tell everyone to pipe down. Orza contends that unions cannot allow employers to punish employees for using a substance that's bad for them, period. Orza and union chief Don Fehr remain committed to their an absolutist position based on privacy rights. Normally, I'd find that an admirable stance, but they aren't living in the real world. The sport needs to improve its testing program to end this discussion. This Ray Ratto column is a little over the top for me, but I thought it well made the point that the owners and the players need to get together about steroids, and now. (Music to write to: R.E.M., "Dead Letter Office.")

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The biggest phony in baseball 

Sammy Sosa is the biggest phony in baseball (I used to say in sports, but Kobe Bryant has to take the cake now) because he acts as though he's an unassuming, humble man who brims with joy. While it may be true that he's more happy-go-lucky than Barry Bonds, Sosa is still every bit the prima donna that Bonds is, except that Bonds shows his true colors most of the time, while Sosa hides his, unless he's angry at his media treatment, like he was after he was caught with that infamous bat last year. Sosa's comments about the steroid allegations show again how misguided his thinking is. He still seems to think that the outrage over his corked bat was somehow a persecution: Sosa likened the increased scrutiny (of Bonds and the other alleged steroid users) to the criticism he received after being caught using a corked bat last season. No, Sammy, it's not the same. So far, we haven't seen any video footage of a syringe loaded with steroids falling out of Bonds's pocket. Tim McClelland hasn't walked over to Giants manager Felipe Alou and handed him the evidence. My point is, nothing has been proven definitively about Bonds. Yes, that may happen, but it hasn't yet. But we KNOW Sammy Sosa has used a corked bat in a baseball game at least once. It's right there on videotape.

Not the first or last time 

I've been proven wrong again, this time by the Tribune's Phil Rogers. In a column about Sox pitcher Jon Rauch, the tallest pitcher to ever start a major league baseball game. Rogers writes that Jerry Manuel managed to get his big three starters from last season, Bartolo Colon, Mark Buehrle and Esteban Loiaza, just four more starts over the course of the year by skipping the fifth starter when off-days allowed. First, I thought his scheduling had those three pitchers on the mound more often than that. Second, Rogers makes the point that the tinkering and long layoffs engendered by skipping pitchers in the rotation makes it harder for the fifth starter to get established. Persuasive, especially when you look at the fifth starters' stats from last year. I had always credited Manuel for being aggressive in running his best starters out there, while still being careful not to overwork them. I was wrong.

If I may digress about Rauch 

He started a game on April 16, 2002, against the Indians, a game that I attended. The temperature had spiked into the 80s that day, and it was a Pepsi half-price night, so that combination had the ballpark pretty full. Chuck Finley, then in the news for his domestic dispute with then-wife Tawny Kitaen started for the Indians. Included in my group was a friend who grew up in Cleveland and still roots for the Indians (and the Cubs too -- he's the one I took to a Cubs-Sox game at the Cell last year). Although we missed it, that was the night that former White Sox DJ Joe Stephen played "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake during batting practice, making a reference to Kitaen appearing in the video for that song. He was fired the next day. Finley proceeded to get seriously shelled -- 9 runs in the second inning. I stood up and looked at my Indians fan friend and said, quite loudly, "The last time Finley got beat like that, there was a police report!" I repeated myself, turning my head to the other side in case those fine folks missed my joke. My friend barked back, "He didn't call the police! He didn't call the police!," so I reminded him that I didn't say he did, just that a report was filed.

Before I forget... 

Did you happen to see the photo array of Barry Bonds that the Sun-Times published in Wednesday's sports section? They had a photo of Bonds from each season dating back to 1993, his first in a Giants uniform. I think that representation is a lot more fair than showing the 1987 Bonds next to the 2003 Bonds. You see the bulking up, clearly, in the Sun-Times series of photos, but, to my eye anyway, there isn't a huge jump made in any one year. Again, I realize that he very well may have taken steroids. I won't be shocked if that emerges as the truth. I'm just asking everyone to hold off on judging Bonds until something a lot more solid materializes. (Music to write by: more covers, including Uncle Tupelo's version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog.")

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Offering some perspective on steroids 

I really came to enjoy reading the Miami Herald's Dan Le Batard last fall, when the Cubs and the Marlins played their brilliant National League Championship Series. I had seen Le Batard on ESPN before, and I really hadn't been very impressed with him, but he's an excellent writer and has a knack for picking up on what everyone else is missing. In his column today, "Perspective not needed for witch hunt", Le Batard wonders why Barry Bonds can't get even the tiniest benefit of the doubt. He points out that Michael Jordan also went from skinny to thick with muscles as he aged, as he, too, performed at a spectacular level despite his age. Le Batard also questions how much medical science knows about the effects of steroids and points out that they can be used safely and effectively. I'm not as persuaded on this point. I know we live in a cynical age, but isn't it just possible that Bonds hasn't used steroids? Read the San Francisco Chronicle's story that started this firestorm. Notice how carefully worded it is? I agree that there is an awful lot of smoke emitting from the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, including the indictment of Bonds's personal trainer. Let's wait until we see some fire before we call Bonds a liar. I just find it hard to believe that Bonds is stupid enough to issue flat denials that he ever took steroids if he did use them. He may not be particularly fond of the media, but he knows how to use it better than that. He also knows that if he says unequivocally that he hasn't used performance-enhancing drugs, that is only going to spur reporters and law enforcement to look for evidence that he's lying. I realize that subsequent revelations may make me look very naive -- soon, perhaps. For now, I'm going to give the greatest hitter of my generation the benefit of the doubt. (Music to write by: a playlist of covers, including The Cardigans' version of "Iron Man.")

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Twins not going away 

The Tribune's Phil Rogers writes today that the Twins seem to be purposely ignoring the White Sox in their comments this spring. They can do that since they've won two division championships in a row and have showed that they don't overlook anyone. Like the White Sox, the Twins had to let some talented players go this winter -- Eric Milton, A.J. Pierzynski, LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado. They're relying on their farm system and their ability to play together as a team. I think they'll find a different Sox team this year. Some of the big-name talent is gone, true. This Sox team seems more likely to make better use of the talent it has, and that's not too shabby. The 2004 Sox might finally come close to matching the Twins in the team concept this year. It's going to be an interesting three-way race again between the Twins, Royals and Sox. I won't make too much of the first intrasquad game, but I'm glad that manager Ozzie Guillen was pleased with his pitching staff's performance. Won't be long now and we'll be seeing highlights again. Can't wait until ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" returns.

Prior problem? 

I didn't think that the inflammation of Mark Prior's right Achilles' heel was much of an issue until I read that the problem dates back to last season, according to the Tribune. It still may not be a huge problem, but you have to wonder if this will be a recurring issue with Prior. Will he continue to aggravate it until there's a more serious problem? I'm not a doctor or a trainer, so I'm not qualified to answer. I hope no one thinks that I'm rooting for Prior to be hurt more seriously. Sure, I despise the Cubs and their success makes it even harder to be a Sox fan in this town. But I'm a baseball fan, too, and I appreciate and enjoy watching Prior pitch. And I certainly don't want to see such a tremendous young talent felled by injury. This story about the Cubs ticket sales so far is simply amazing. This year could be the biggest year to be a Wrigleyville scalper ever, what with the expectations so high in the pre-season. I bet they're a little nervous, too, since there is a lot of risk being taken upfront if they're buying tickets now.

The Takatsu effect 

I'm almost as interested in the off-the-field effects for the White Sox of signing Japanese reliever Shingo Takatsu as I am in the on-field effects of their new set-up man. His spring training debut yesterday pulled away the Japanese media contingent that shadows Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, according to Bob Foltman of the Tribune. There's the potential for an attendance boost. If I remember correctly, when Takatsu signed, local papers said there are about 7,000 Japanese citizens and 20,000 Japanese-Americans in the Chicago area. It would be funny if the White Sox were bigger media stars in Japan than in Chicago. Funny and so sad.

Monday, March 01, 2004

No such luck, Moises 

Someone should tell Moises Alou that he shouldn't announce that he doesn't want to talk about Bartman. Obedient Cubs fans may acquiece, but he's essentially daring the reporters who cover every other club to ask him about it during the first series between the Cubs and the team they cover. Moises, it's like when someone sticks you with a nickname you hate -- the worst thing you can do is tell everyone that you hate it. This is especially true with us journalists (it's how I make my living, although not in sports writing). We like to do what we're warned not to do. It's a wonder editors put up with us sometimes. (That's what's great about this blog -- no editor, just me. That could also be the biggest drawback.)

First time Patterson's knee acts up 

That's my best guess for when Jay Mariotti will end his love affair with Cubs GM Jim Hendry. Right now, I sort of think Mariotti is setting the Cubs up by jacking up expectations. All the better for him to criticize the team and its management if things don't go well. He'll be clamoring for Carlos Beltran of the Royals if Patterson struggles. Actually, if the Cubs acquire Beltran right after they finish their season series with the Sox, it's a positive for the Pale Hose -- it weakens a division rival. Even though I think Mariotti is the best sports columnist in town, I think he's falling into one of his predictable patterns. It starts with gushing, expands to more fulsome praise than you hear from politicians and then crests at a yes-this-proves-I'm-right moment. It's all downhill from there. Mariotti is smart enough to put a couple of caveats toward the end of his fairly long columns, giving him a chance to say I told you so. You have to admire the guy's nerve.

Before I forget... 

Former Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome has always been a hard man to please, but he seems to have warmed to the idea of Ozzie Guillen managing the White Sox. As far as I'm concerned, the Tribune has never really replaced Lincicome, who left to become a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver in the late 1990s. Ultimately, Mike Downey is Lincicome's "replacement." Right. Like Jay Fiedler was Dan Marino's "replacement." Lincicome's column appears in the Sunday Sun-Times -- a welcome reminder of the excellent years he spent here. (Music to write to: P.J. Harvey, "To Bring You My Love.")

Moneyball: You're either for it or against it 

If you're interested in Michael Lewis's Moneyball, you should pick up Sports Illustrated (the issue with the Minnesota Timberwolves on the cover). Reading the excerpts from Lewis's book in Sports Illustrated last spring led me to read the book, which led me to view baseball in a completely different way. A better way. In the new SI article, Lewis writes about all the animosity there was in baseball not toward him, but toward A's General Manager Billy Beane. He notes how often media critics of the book and baseball executives talked as if Beane had written the book. And he points out that in most businesses, if someone revealed the secrets of one of the more successful firms, that firm's competitors would be delighted. I do have one small complaint about Moneyball. There were sections on A's reliever Chad Bradford that were critical of the White Sox, where he first came up. I agree with his criticism that the Sox failed to see the value in Bradford simply because he doesn't throw hard. But Lewis acts as if the Sox gave him up for nothing. The Sox received catcher Miguel Olivo for Bradford. It's a pretty good trade, in my book, if Olivo is the main starting catcher for five or six years. Bradford is a solid reliever, but he's not a closer or a starter. Guys like him are available.

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