Wednesday, January 30, 2008

God Bless the People of Pittsburgh

Fire Joe Morgan
hits one into the Allegheny with this post in response to a truly bizarre piece comparing Pirates fans to... well, just read it. Go ahead. I'll sit pretty right here until you're done...

Right, so, the point of the original piece by one Mike Seate is that baseball fans compare unfavourably to those of, ahem, superbike racing. I won't deconstruct the argument, because FJM has already done so, and done so better than I could (I can manage concise, and I can sometimes manage funny, and on rare occasions I even nail intelligent, but all three is asking too much of me).

But my point is that, okay, I've been to Pittsburgh and gone to a Pirates game at beautiful PNC Park, and found Bucco fans to be... subdued. I live in Ottawa, and I went to Lynx games for 15 years, so I know subdued. And Pirates fans fit that bill. I found them subdued and, well, sparse.

But think about it: it was September, and the Pirates had been out of contention since (roughly) late April. Again. And as a fanbase they have been, frankly, shit upon by ownership and management for a decade and a half now.

On that afternoon in Pittsburgh, I saw the Pirates lose to the Chicago Cubs. The park was half full, but half of those in attendance were decked out in full Cubbies regalia, a traveling roadshow of folks bleeding Cubbie blue. Cubs fans, who are entering their one hundredth year without a championship, are often cited as the mose diehard, fervent, and knowledgeable baseball fans around.

But. There's an argument to be made, I think, that instead of being the best baseball fans in the world, Cubs fans are Earth's biggest schmucks, shelling out year after year to see a team that never wins when it counts, a team run by a succession of organizations that have little motivation to win because, hell, the fans keep pouring into Wrigley anyway. The flipside of that argument would be that Montreal Expos fans were among the smartest and savviest lovers of baseball anywhere, because they knew when they were being treated poorly, and they rebelled with their wallets and asses (which no longer occupied the Big O's yellow plastic seats, see?).

Viewed in that light, maybe Pirates fans are pretty smart, too. Maybe they're simply fed up; maybe they're saying, "Thanks for the ballpark, but call us when you're actually trying to field a winning team."

I liked Pittsburgh, truly. It seemed to me an interesting city emerging from its industrial past, shaking the coke dust off and stepping smartly into the twenty-first century. I liked its neighbourhoods and its architecture, and its people seemed like good people. I loved imagining Forbes Field filled to the brim, of the mighty Clemente patrolling right field. And PNC is gorgeous - if you like ballparks, you must see it - but too full of ballpark tourists like me, and not enough local, hometown crazies. What I longed to see was a park jammed with rabid fans, with shirtless idiots screaming their faces off, with families and old guys with transistor radios, all cheering on a team with a real chance of winning. Imagine that: NL CENTRAL CHAMPS. That'd make for a different kind of fan, I dare say.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jays Dodge Bullet

Alright, perhaps likening a minor knee injury which requires surgery but will nevertheless have Paul Lo Duca ready for Opening Day to a bullet is a tad extreme. And being named in the Mitchell Report doesn't seem to be a problem for anybody not named Clemens, but it's still nice to know that Rod Barajas, the questionable choice who will nevertheless back up Zaun in '08, will actually be able to report on time (in 19 days, if anybody's counting).

So, regarding Barajas: he might (also) be an SOB, but he's our healthy SOB.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bedard to Mariners?

MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Orioles and Mariners have pulled the trigger on the Erik Bedard-for-Adam Jones-and-change deal, much to the chagrin of the folks aboard the good ship USS Mariner.

Well, hmm... on the one hand, it's nice to see Bedard, a kid from my very own neck of the woods, have a chance to play on a team that figures to be in the mix come August and September. He's a lefthanded curveball artist and strikeout expert, and he makes the M's top 1-2 a scary proposition. Bedard then Felix? Crazy.

On the other hand, he's made no secret of his desire to test the free agency market after two seasons of service, meaning Seattle probably won't see him in 2010. That, in addition to the dear price paid, suggests the Mariners think a run is possible in the next two years. I mean, that must be what they're thinking, because otherwise, why would they sell the future for a starting pitcher? And by "the future," I mean Adam Jones.

Jones, by all accounts, is something special. His offensive numbers are nice, he's fast, plays strong corner outfield defence, and maybe best of all, came cheap, and was under contract with Seattle until 2013. He's the kind of player you allow to develop at his own pace, who you wait for, and who you ultimately build a team around. Imagine an outfield of a young star like Jones, a still-incredible Ichiro, and anybody you please to fill the left field spot. DE-FENSE.

Bedard makes the Mariners' rotation instantly better, there's no question about that. Is it as good as the Angels' starters? Erm, we'll see, I guess. The point is that, while I love to think a team I follow is showing signs of being aggressive in pursuit of wins, I hate to see them sacrifice the future to do so. But I guess that's the rub, right? I also hate to see somebody with Jones' potential banished to a place like Baltimore where, let's face it, there figure to be several more years of losing before anything changes. Given that the Rays are building a nice mix of youth and experience, the Orioles might be the East's designated bottom dwellers for most of the next decade. But hey, at least they have a nice park, right? Probably a very pleasant place to play outfield. Enjoy, Adam.

UPDATE: Now, of course, O's owner Peter Angelos is stalling the deal. So maybe Jones remains in Seattle? Who knows. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 25, 2008

New. League. Record.

Robbie Burns Day seems as good an occassion as any to drain the last of a bottle of scotch and pop Bull Durham into the DVD player. It's something I do every year about this time, when winter has begun to drag and my internal alarm is sounding for the start of spring training. I also do other things this time of year, like wear jerseys around the house and re-sort the old card collection. But I'd rather not dwell on those things, mostly because I suspect they sound a bit pathetic to anybody who's not me.

I'm not throwing up some crap top ten list, because Bull Durham is the best baseball movie ever made, hands down. I dig The Natural's unbridled romanticism, and I'm a sucker for Field of Dreams' cornucopia of baby boomer fantasies (return to the land, follow your dreams, reconnect with your father...). Sure, I'll also make time for Eight Men Out, the first Major League movie, The Pride of the Yankees and Bang the Drum Slowly (sniff sniff), etc. etc. But clearly Bull director Ron Shelton poured all of his minor league experience into the movie, and the result is an honest reflection of the game's less-than-glamourous side.

It's the best damn movie Costner's ever done, Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh is a character for the ages, and Robert Wuhl delivers every line like his career depends on it (after all, there's no way that, way back in 1998, Wuhl could have predicted the runaway success of Arli$$).

The point is that we baseball fans are extreme creatures of habit, and watching Bull Durham is but one example of my ritualistic relationship with the game, whereby I hope to somehow tamper with time itself and miraculously speed up its passage, so that I might sooner enjoy the game I love best, whether on TV, the radio, or best of all, on those shirtsleeve evenings beneath borderless skies, in seats down the third base line. It's irrational, I know, and hardly behaviour befitting a grown man - a father - but to hell with it.

So if you need me, I'll be on the couch, surrounded by bobbleheads, wearing my Pilots jersey and my glove, getting slowly pie-eyed, and guffawing like an idiot everytime Nuke says something stupid or Crash dispenses his particularly calloused brand of wiseass wisdom.

BTW, I'll entertain arguments in the comments section for other candidates for the Best Baseball Move of All-Time, but truthfully I don't like your chances.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Flippity Floppity

The man pictured above is Rod Barajas, who you'll notice is not wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. He has never worn a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, and had you asked just about anybody with passing knowledge of baseball dealings before today, they'd have told you that after last year's fiyahsco, he would never ever ever wear a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. Ever.

Well, hmmm. Turns out that he has a date with the Jays' seamstress any day now.

So. The catcher who may or may not have been pressured by the Players' Association to renegotiate his contract (with the ink still wet, mind you) with the Jays, and who subsequently pulled out, only to sign a lesser contract with the Phils, will apparently be backing up Gregg Zaun this season.

Those might have been the strangest negotiations in the history of the game, reminiscent of that time when that girl told you she'd love to go to the grade 8 dance with you, but then the next day in Geography she said, nope, sorry, Brian Simmons asked her, so she's going with him instead, but then the next day you heard that Brian Simmons was taking some other girl, so the first girl came up to you before homeroom and said she could go with you after all. And like a fool, like a sucker, you agreed. In this scenario, you are the Jays, and Barajas is the fickle girl (in case that escaped you).

There are several downsides to this. One is less Sal Fasano, and the world needs more Sal, not less. Another is less major league action for Curtis "Snakepants" Thigpen, which might prove detrimental to his development.

I can't wait until the season starts and we can quit with all this hotstove talk and start talking about games. Twenty days until pitchers and catchers report, says

Twenty days...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tick Tock

The handy counter thingy on tells me that 23 days remain until the start of spring training. Twenty-three days...

Of course, up here in Canada, we recognize that the "spring" part of that term is a cruel fallacy; we're still in the dead of winter when the boys report and begin loping around those impossibly green and perfect fields in Florida and Arizona. Even when the season begins, we're likely to be bundled up and still shivering in the stands when the teams hit the field. After all, the first Jays game was played in the snow, and how many April games did I attend in Ottawa when temperatures dipped near or below freezing? And how is it that they would always run out of coffee and hot chocolate? Stock up!

Does any of this stop me from getting giddy at the thought of the dawning of the new season? No. No, it does not.

And in the meantime, we have rumours to consider. Rumours like: are the Cubs still looking to sell the farm for Brian Roberts' services? (They shouldn't.) And, will the Jays successfully lock up Alex Rios? (They definitely should.)

Oh, and speaking of Brian Roberts, I've been thinking: what a strange beast that Mitchell Report has turned out to be. Was it a witch hunt? Baseball's own TRC (complete with total amnesty)? PR exercise? All of the above?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Busted: The Kid

Ah, the Hall of Fame. There is no more magical place on this good Earth for a baseball fan. I myself first knew Cooperstown's charms when, for my 13th birthday, my parents surprised me with a trip there. It was a week after induction weekend - Johnny Bench and Yaz! - and the nearest motel room was at the Howard Johnson's in Utica. In the HoJo restaurant, our waitress was named Tootsie. No joke!

I have since grown up, married, and produced offspring. Last year, I took my infant daughter there (she slept through the whole thing), and I was again touched by the beauty and pixie-dust wonderfulness of the place, but a niggling thought settled onto my brain, one that had first occured to the 13 year old me (as awkward-looking a child as has ever breathed; all knees and elbows). The thought was this: aren't a lot of these busts, these permanent testaments to the greatness of these ballplayers, just a bit, I don't know... creepy? As though these poor players, having earned the wrath of the Empire, had been preserved against their will in carbonite?

As an example, I give you Gary Carter. Close to our hearts because he is the only player in Cooperstown depicted in the Expos' Aquafresh swirl cap, the Kid's bust nevertheless looks terribly, terribly freaky. He wasn't an unattractive man, but that plaque makes him look like an octogenarian with a wig. He steals hair! He smells like a diaper!

I don't doubt that the bust-maker's art is a tricky one, and I don't mean to disparage these craftsmen. Rendering a living face in compressed space is a task I wouldn't wish to attempt, and I'm sure the examples in the Hall are among the very best there are. But sometimes, you know, eek.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In with the Old

Seems to me that the Cubs' signing of Jon Lieber means that Sean Marshall will be bumped from the rotation, which is too bad. Marshall (that's him above, with his toes pointed heavenward) turned in 125 innings in his rookie campaign back in '06, when he had a better first half than second. He was often thrilling, and showed flashes of brilliance, a rare thing on that '06 team (other than Maddux, that is). He only pitched 100 innings last season, but you had the sense the Cubs saw a place for him for some time to come. But here's the thing: since Lieber's only signed for a year, maybe they're just looking to season Marshy a little more?

Another question: does this make somebody expendable? Like, say, Ryan Dempster? I have no real reason to believe this, I'm just saying. And those Brian Roberts rumours persist; maybe the O's want an arm in the deal, and Lieber is the Cubbies' insurance policy?

Or maybe, as the Tribune suggests in that link, Marshall is to be part of the deal?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Troy Who?

I didn't see the Scott Rolen introductory press conference today, but according to The Tao, it was a laugh riot.

Seems our new third sacker's got a GSOH!

Did Glaus ever crack a joke? Come to think of it, did Glaus ever speak?

Arrival (Or: On the Desire to Prolong One's Adolescence)

Some grown men play video games. Some collect comic books. Some continue to enjoy the comedy of Adam Sandler. I collect baseball jerseys. And the latest one just arrived.

I should note that I am not alone in my obsession. There's a fantastic website devoted to the minutiae of sports uniforms. We fetishists are legion, it would seem, limited only by our time and household income.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trading Thirds: Glaus for Rolen

I like it.

I mean, finally, the Jays make a move, and at first, when MLB Trade Rumors broke it, I wasn't sure it made any sense. They're trading one injury-prone third baseman for another, with a longer contract. But if Rolen's healthy (I know: BIG if), he's a massive step up in defense. On days when Halladay is pitching, Johnny Mac figures to be the shortstop (and not Eckstein - what the hell is that all about, by the way?), and with Hill at second, that is an incredible infield. Will anything get through? And we're all counting on power from Wells, Thomas, Rios and Overbay, so a guy like Rolen who's more about getting on base will balance nicely.

January is all about optimism. Everybody's a contender, and every new face a potential all-star. But all considered, I think this trade has the chance to be a good move for Toronto. Here's hoping, anyway.

An admission of biases

Granted, it's January, but I've got baseball on the brain, and rather than taint that other blog with non-music related topics, I figured why not give the baseball rants their own space? Voila, The Bottom of the Order. Welcome, salut, etc.

Rather than attempt to cover all of baseball in an objective measure, I'll just cop to my prejudices right off the bat. Easier for all concerned, no?

Allegiances are a tangled subject. They are arrived at in a convoluted manner, and mine are no different...

As a child, I remember being terribly, terribly conflicted in a way that will be familiar to many, many Canadians: Blue Jays or Expos? Luckily, in the pre-interleague play era, you could have your cake and eat it too. And so, I wore two hats. In '92 and'93, I was out of my head and over the moon; in '94 I was nearly in heaven. And though, in the wake of that disastrously aborted season, the Expos began their slow and sad march to Washington, it was easy to keep them close to the heart because I lived in Ottawa, home of their triple A affiliate.

Now, of course, the Expos are no more, and I am not a Nationals fan. That makes Toronto my #1. Go, Jays, go.

But what of the National League? I hear you ask. Good question. First off, let me explain something: I love ballparks. Love 'em. The older the better. Heaven, Valhalla, paradise, or whatever you wish to call it is, in my personal estimation, one ceaseless evening at the ballpark, box seats, beer, dogs, a tight game... and though I love baseball so much that I have enjoyed many games at both The Big O and SkyDome/Rogers Centre, it goes without saying that old and authentic ballyards are preferable to futuristic plastic concoctions. The point is (and I know I'm rambling here, but bear with me) that I am not immune to allowing my feelings for certain ballparks to colour my feelings for the teams that call them home. And so, to answer your original question, due to having gone to Wrigley Field and loving the whole damn experience, and since they were the first team I ever saw the Expos play, and because presumably I am a sucker for punishment, and also I am fond of Ron Santo's dadaist take on the role of colour man, and besides, who doesn't love afternoon baseball, the Chicago Cubs are my designated National League team. That means I pull for them in every circumstance barring the highly hypothetical interleague Jays-Cubs matchup and, obviously, the nigh on impossible (as in sign of the coming apocalypse impossible) Jays-Cubs World Series.

So, that leaves only my West Coast team, a luxury I have decided to allow myself since Jays games only take up part of the evening, and thanks to the wonders of satellite TV, I can enjoy, on average, two games a night. My West Coast team? Why, the Seattle Mariners, that's who.

The reasons for that one are as follows:

1) Ichiro blows my mind.
2) Safeco Field is a beauty, perhaps the loveliest of the modern parks.
3) I have a deep and largely inexplicable affection for the city of Seattle.

There you have them, my biases, laid bare. I should also mention that I anticipate harbouring a fondness for Ottawa's new-for-2008 (and as yet unnamed) entry in the Can-Am League, just as I loved the late Lynx before them. The point of The Bottom of the Order is to allow me a venue for ranting about baseball in general, but you can expect those three MLB teams and one independent minor league squad to account for the bulk of the entries.

There are reserved seats in your name, down the first base line, all the footlongs you can eat, and plenty of cold beer, so settle in and enjoy the game. I'm glad you could make it.