Friday, March 31, 2006

The baseball season starts in two days, with the World Champion White Sox facing the Cleveland Indians Sunday night on ESPN2. This means that it's time for my annual baseball predictions. First, let's review last year and see how I did.

In the American League I picked the Yankees to win the East, the Twins in the Central and the Angels in the West, with the Red Sox as the wild card. Got three out of four right there. Not too bad.

In the NL I picked all three division winners: the Braves in the East (I'm not picking against them again until they actually lose one), the Cardinals in the Central and the Padres in the West. I didn't get the wild card, picking the Cubs instead of the Astros.

Six out of eight playoff participants is pretty good. Maybe I ought to head out to Vegas and make some bets before Sunday.

I didn't do quite as well with the World Series participants. I had the Angels taking on the Braves, with the LA winning their second world championship.

I didn't do so well with post-season award picks, either. I had Vladimir Guererro and Carlos Beltran as MVP's. Vladi finished a respectable third in the AL behind A-Rod and Big Papi, but Beltran had a mediocre first season with the Mets. Albert Pujols won the award.

My Cy Young picks were Randy Johnson in the AL and Tim Hudson in the NL. The actual winners were the Cardinals Scott Carpenter and the Angels Bartolo Colon.
Ready? Here are my 2006 predictions:

AL East champion: New York Yankees
AL Central champion: Chicago White Sox
AL West champion: Oakland A's
AL wild card: Boston Red Sox

NL East champion: Atlanta Braves
NL Central champion: Houston Astros
NL West champion: LA Dodgers
NL wild card: New York Mets

AL Champion: Oakland A's (Billy Bean finally wins a couple of playoff series)
NL Champion: Atlanta Braves

World Series Champion: Atlanta Braves

AL MVP: Paul Konerko
NL MVP: Andruw Jones

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana
NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I read today on Yahoo that the Yankees have spent $783,466,307 on player payroll since they won their last World Series in 2000. By contrast, the five teams that actually won the Series (2001 Diamondbacks, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox and 2005 White Sox) only spent $415,768,166, or 53% as much.

I guess money really doesn't buy happiness, or World Series rings, does it?

Julian Tavares got cuffed with a 10 game suspension by MLB for smacking the Devil Rays Joey Gathright as he tried to get up after a slide in a Spring Training game last earlier in the week. I was a bit surprised the suspension was that long - I was guessing five games, but I think Tavares' prior record worked against him. I would guess Manny Delcarmen will probably take his place in the bullpen at the beginning of the season.

It's too bad Tavares won't start the season with the Sox, but I can't say the Bob Watson was unfair in setting the punishment. Tavares really needs to get his temper under control.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I heard an interesting statistic on the radio this morning. Out of over 3 million NCAA Basketball Tournement brackets entered on, only four managed to pick the correct Final Four of UCLA, Florida, LSU and George Mason.

Of course, George Mason was the one that really messed people up. Only around 1,800 people picked that school to make it to the Final Four, and I have to think they were all alumni or students. Also, 93% of the brackets submitted picked at least one of the #1 seeds to make it to the Final Four. This year was the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams that all of the #1 seeds failed to make it.

I'm betting those four people are feeling pretty good about themselves today.

Only one week until Opening Day (six days if you count the ESPN Sunday night opener between the White Sox and Indians). I'm really, really ready for the season to begin. The World Baseball Classic was an interesting diversion, but I'm looking forward to games that actually count.

One thing I'm struggling with, as I do every year, is whether to pony up the money for the MLB Extra Innings package. This is a cable package where you get numerous out-of-market baseball games. They always have a free preview during the first week of the season, which is akin to drug dealers handing out free heroin samples to potential new customers. It costs about $150 for the season, which is only about $25 a month. I could easily talk myself into it, but I'm still going back and forth. With Sox games on NESN, plus games on TBS, ESPN and Fox there is plenty of baseball on the tube. But can you ever have enough?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I went to the San Francisco Chronicle's web site to get more information about Barry Bond's lawsuit against the writers of Game of Shadows. When I went to the site, the banner ad at the top of the page was for McGuire Real Esate.

The interesting thing about Bonds' lawsuit is that he isn't suing the writers of the book for libel, as you might expect. He is suing to force them to divest their profits from the book because they obtained the grand jury testimony illegally.

This speaks volumes to me. The reason he isn't suing the writers for libel is that he would have to prove that the allegations they made in the book aren't true. I don't think he can do that, which is why he is resorting to this.

On another topic, I downloaded my first show from the iTunes Music Store. When I recorded the Battlestar Galactica episode Downloaded, either something was wrong with my DVR or with the SciFi Channel feed. So I decided to spend the two bucks to get it instead of waiting for a rerun.

It was an interesting experience. I don't have a video iPod, so I watched the show on my computer. The video quality was only so-so, although the sound was fine. It's not something I would do on a regular basis, but in a pinch to watch something I may have missed and really wanted to see, it's not a bad alternative.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

In a shocking move, both WEEI and ESPN are reporting that legendary Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri has agreed principle to sign with the Indianapolis Colts.

If there was ever proof of the Pioli/Belichick philosophy not to fall in love with players, this is it. I haven't seen the deal he got from the Colts yet, but the Patriots plan is to establish a value for a player and not to exceed it under any circumstances.

The players from the Pats Super Bowl teams are slowly falling away. Willie McGinest and Vinatieri are the latest examples. Can Belichick and Pioli rebuild a championship team? History says yes, but time will tell.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bronson Arroyo was traded to Cincinnati today for Wily Mo Pena. It's a bit of a sad day, since Arroyo has been a consistently good #4-5 starter for the Sox the last two years. Of course, the moment he will always be remembered for will be Alex Rodriguez slapping the ball out of his glove in the 2004 ALCS.

With the Sox surplus of starting pitching, it's not at all surprising that they made a trade, although I would have rather seen them trade Clement or Wells. Neither is a good fit for the Reds, though. Wells is too old and there is no long-term upside there. Clement is too expensive for a small market team like the Reds. Arroyo was the obvious target for Cincinnati, especially with the below market contract he signed with the Sox over the winter.

Pena is an interesting acquisition for the Sox. He has great raw skills, but at age 24 he still needs some seasoning. He can hit a ton and has a great arm, but he strikes out a lot and his defense is inconsistent. It'll be interesting to see how they get him at-bats. He will certainly be a platoon with Trot Nixon against lefties, and he may spell Coco Crisp and Manny in the outfield as well. There was also some talk that if Mike Lowell doesn't regain his pre-2005 form that the Sox will move Youkilis back to 3rd and play Pena at 1st.

Also, Wily Mo Pena is one of the great names in baseball. I'm really looking forward to a Jerry Trupiano call of a Pena home run this summer.

As much as I hate to give up a reliable starting pitching, Pena is obviously a long-term investment by Theo. If he can continue to develop and cut down on his strikeouts, he could be an impact player in 2 or 3 years. Hopefully it works out.

Arroyo's departure leaves only nine players remaining who had significant roles with the 2004 World Champions: Keith Foulke, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, Trot Nixon, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.

A slightly odd move the Sox made yesterday was to sign 2-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez to a minor league contract. Gonzalez has been plagued by injuries the last four years and hasn't played a whole lot, but there is really no risk for the Sox. He will probably start the season with the Pawsox to see if he can still hit and if he can stay healthy. It'll be interesting to see if he can regain anything resembling his old form.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

- I got prematurely excited last night while watching the UConn-Albany game in the NCAA Basketball Tournament last night. #16 seed Albany had a 12 point lead on #1 seed UConn with about 11 minutes left in the second half. It seemed like Albany had a chance of becoming the first bottom seed to beat a number one (#16 was 0-87 against #1 before last night). Unfortunately, the Huskies got it together down the stretch and won handily. It's to bad, because I would have loved to have seen the upset.

- The World Baseball Classic has turned out to be a lot of fun to watch. The US got taken out of the tournament by Mexico in a very exciting game. The US was down 2-1 in the 9th inning with Junior Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones coming to the plate and they failed to score. Right now I'm watching the Korea-Japan semi-final game, which is 0-0 in the 6th. And Cuba upset the Dominican Republic to move into the finals, which means that we won't hear the end of this from Fidel Castro until he's dead.

- Terrell Owens signed a three year deal with the Dallas Cowboys today. T.O. and the Tuna. That ought to be fun to watch.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I just watched Mexico eliminate the US from the World Baseball Classic in a very exciting 2-1 game. The Mexican bullpen faced the likes of Junior Griffey, A-Rod and Chipper Jones in the 9th and the US failed to push across a run to tie the game.

I had started out watching the NCAA tournament, but Illinois started to pull away from Air Force, then CBS went to #1 Duke vs. #16 Southern. No offense to the good folks at Southern University, but I could go out on the street and find four other guys and we would have about as good a chance at beating Duke as these guys have.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A few quick hits:

- I am hopelessly addicted to American Idol. It's so embarrassing, but the days it's on I can't wait to get home and see it.

- Terry Francona got a well deserved two-year contract extension from the Red Sox. I was hoping that the first Sox manager to win a World Series since Ed Barrow wouldn't go into the season with only one year left on his contract. Good for Tito and good for Theo for doing the right thing.

- Korea upset the US at the WBC. The US seems very vulnerable - they don't appear to have enough pitching depth. It'll be interesting to see how things wrap up.

- The Cubs two young phenoms are going to old men by the time they get through a healthy season. Mark Prior has an issue with his shoulder, and Kerry Wood had minor knee surgery. I would love to see what these guys could do if they were healthy, but I'm wondering if that will ever happen.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I just read a very good article in the Boston Globe Magazine about Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, written by Charlie Pierce. 

The article talked a lot about how Papelbon is being compared to Roger Clemens. I always think it's unfortunate when a young player is compared to a legend. It sets a standard that is virtually impossible for a player like Papelbon to live up to. Papelbon could be a very good major leaguer. He could even be a Hall of Famer and he still might not be as good as Clemens, who you could make an argument is the greatest pitcher ever.

Two names come to mind. Ellis Burks and Eric Davis were both compared to Willie Mays early in their careers. Mays was probably the best position player in the history of baseball. Both Burks and Davis had very good careers, although both were somewhat slowed by injuries. Neither remotely appoached Willie Mays.

One other thing that is mentioned is that Papelbon, who grew up in Louisiana and Florida, can't get used to rotaries or people honking their horns a split second after a traffic light turns green. Let's hope he has a long time in Boston to get figure them out.

Friday, March 10, 2006

- From Dan Shaughnessy's column about new Dodger manager Grady Little in today's Boston Globe

And in case you're wondering, he admits it was a mistake to leave Pedro in that game.

''Now that I know the result, I'd have done something different," Little said yesterday, standing outside the Dodger clubhouse before LA's 6-4 exhibition victory over the Red Sox. ''I'm just like them people the day after the game. I would have done it different."

I think I have written about this before, but this is what has always driven me crazy about Grady. He doesn't understand the fact that most of us were not Monday
morning quarterbacking his decision to leave Pedro in Game 7 against the Yankees. Most of us, me included, were screaming at our TVs during the game for Little to get Petey out of there. Hell, even my mother could tell Pedro was cooked.

- I saw an interview NESNs Don Orsillo had with Kevin Millar a couple of days ago. I don't think I have ever heard anyone regret not being a member of the Red Sox as much as Millar. Unlike Manny, Millar loved the focus on the Red Sox and thrived on being the center of attention. It's just not the same in Baltimore, or anywhere else for that matter.

-There is going to be a minor league doubleheader at Fenway Park this August. The Pawsox are taking on Rochester Red Wings and the Lowell Spinners are playing the Oneonta Tigers. And we'll be in Vermont that day, dammit! I'll make up for it a bit by taking in a Vermont Lake Monsters (formerly Expos) game, but I would love to be at Fenway that day.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I read the Sports Illustrated excerpt of the book detailing Barry Bonds steroid use, Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports. The amount of detail in the article is astounding; I can't imagine what the book is like, but I'm looking forward to reading it.

After this, there should be very little doubt, except among the biggest Bonds apologists, that he used numerous performance enhancing drugs. He was apparently insanely jealous of all the attention Mark McGwire received in the summer of 1998, so he decided to pump up his own body.

What to do about his records and the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible? Unfortunately, I think the records have to stand. You can't "unhit" a home run. Maybe it's the accountant in me, but I believe the ledger has to balance out. If a pitcher gives up a home run to Bonds, Bonds has to have hit it. You can't take away Bonds' accomplishment without having all the implications of what he did disappear as well.

The Hall of Fame is another matter. There is no way I would vote for him. I don't care that he was a Hall of Fame caliber player prior to his steroid use. He's a cheater. So is Rafael Palmiero. Likely, so are McGwire and Sammy Sosa, although the evidence that exists to damn Bonds and Palmiero hasn't been compiled in the cases of Sosa and McGwire. I don't think cheaters belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame, regardless of how gaudy their statistics are or how many records they've broken.

The whole situation is really sad. Barry Bonds was a great player without resorting to cheating. He almost certainly would have been a Hall of Famer if he had never done the juice. He was one of the best all-around players in baseball before he turned into a home-run hitting freak. He may not have been beloved outside his home cities, but he was certainly respected. Now he has turned into a circus act and a joke. I don't think that was the result he was looking for, was it?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kirby Puckett had a stroke at his Arizona home and died yesterday, at the age of only 45.

Puckett was a Hall of Famer and leader of the Twins two World Series Champions. His greatest moment came in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta. With the Twins down 3 games to 2, he made a leaping catch to rob the Braves of a home run, then hit a home run in the 11th to force game 7.

Most important about Puckett was his love of the game. He ran out every ground ball and played every game like it was his last. The exuberance and joy he showed on the field made him a pleasure to watch.

His career ended prematurely because of glaucoma, and now he died way too young. It's a sad end to a storybook life that had him pulling himself out of the South Side Chicago projects to become one of baseball's great superstars.

Good bye, Puck. We'll miss you.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Two baseball related thoughts for today:

- It has been reported widely that Keith Foulke is getting lubricant injections in his surgically repaired knees to aid in the healing process. Does anyone else think of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz getting shots from his oil can to lubricate his joints?

- A couple of days ago I bought tickets to a Pawsox game in May that includes post-game fireworks. I got four box seats on near third base for $39, including the service charge. One infield grandstand seat at Fenway is $45. I think we'll be going to a lot of minor league games this year.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

R. and I went to Disney's Magic Kingdom on Sunday. We had about as good a day there as it is possible to have.

It didn't look like it was going to start that way. We left my parents house a bit before 8 to get to the park in time for the 9:00 opening. As I have said here before, my number one tip for getting on a lot of rides in the Disney parks is to get there early.

It was raining a bit when we left the house, but the forecast was that the weather would clear during the course of the morning. Things started to look bad as we made our way down Route 535, since it really started to rain cats and dogs for a bit. I started to get a bit nervous as we approached Disney property and was trying to figure out what we were going to do if the heavy rain continued.

It was at that point that the Tiki intervened on our behalf. As I pulled into my parking spot, the rain slowed to a mist and stopped soon thereafter.

The early bad weather really worked to our advantage. Not many people ventured out to the Magic Kingdom in the rain, so we virtually had the park to ourselves until around noon. We walked onto every single ride we did until lunchtime. Because of this, we managed to do almost every attraction in the park. We got to do every ride we really wanted, and a lot of others.

A few other highlights. R. got to meet Peter Pan, Wendy and Stitch and got pictures and autographs with them. We had a very nice lunch in the Columbia Harbour House in Liberty Square. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World suggested this place because it tended to not be crowded and it had choices other than hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. The Guide hit this one right on the head. We had a nice quiet lunch. R. had mac and cheese and I had half a sandwich with a cup of New Engand clam chowder. Everything was very good, and made for a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the park.

We left the park around 5 to go back to my folks house. We had some dinner, then decided to go back to catch the Spectromagic parade and the Wishes fireworks display. Both were spectacular. We hung out while the crowds cleared, had a snack and bought a few pins and headed for the monorail.

There were only a few people waiting for the monorail when we got there, and as the train pulled up I got the inspiration to ask if we could sit up front for the ride. The attendant said yes and we rode back to the Transportation and Ticket Center with the operator, who was very sweet to R. The ride topped off a near perfect day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Baseball notes from Spring Training:

- I got an email from this morning alerting me to the fact that Manny Ramirez had arrived at the Red Sox spring training camp at precisely 9:01 AM. And who says that media coverage in this town is too intense?

- Barry Bonds dressed up as Paula Abdul in a strapless dress and blonde wig for a Giants team skit that spoofed American Idol. I'd post a picture, but Bonds in a dress just isn't something I think should be shared. 

- Interesting war of words between Frank Thomas and White Sox GM Kenny Williams. The Big Hurt complained about how his departure from Chicago was handled and Williams went nuts on film, calling Thomas an "idiot" and "selfish", among other things.

It's too bad that things like this have to happen between teams and their biggest stars when they part ways. Both sides took shots when Nomah left the Red Sox. The parting between the Cubs and Sammy Sosa was pretty ugly. Now Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, has to go out like this.

- I saw my first Johnny Damon Yankees shirt at Downtown Disney, which both amused and depressed me for some reason.

I also got lots of comments from fellow Red Sox fans when I wore my Sox hat to the Magic Kingdom on Friday. Still lots of Sox gear in evidence down there. The big change was a lot more people wearing Steelers gear this year than in the past. Not as much White Sox stuff as I would have thought I would see, though.

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