The greatest day of the year, Major League Baseball Opening Day, is upon us. I’ve petitioned my congressman to help make this a national holiday — to no avail. I advise everyone to skip work and/or school today to avoid missing any of the action. The Red Sox and Yankees play at 1:00 EST, in a fight over the cellar of the AL East. That’s a joke, by the way (at least for the Yankees). Here are my actual AL East predictions:
- Tampa Bay
- New York
- Blue Jays
- Red Sox
That’s right, the Blue Jays that every sports guy loves are going to disappoint for something like the 20th consecutive season. They acquired Dickey and Reyes. Dickey has to fall apart at some point, because people aren’t supposed to be able to throw a knuckleball that hard, especially in their late-30′s. Reyes is a selfish player and there’s a reason why losing seems to follow him wherever he goes. Melky Cabrera will slump without his roids — just ask the Braves. The rest of the players are just filler. The Blue Jays will some day learn that quality counts more than quantity. To make matters worse, they’ve created a front office mess for themselves.
I read yesterday that Buck Showalter isn’t too happy with a particular rule change that will be implemented in the 2013 season. It regards the infamous fake-to-3rd, throw-to-1st pickoff move by right-handed pitchers in 1st-and-3rd situations. When visiting pitchers do it the crowd boos, but that’s more of a tradition than any true ill-feelings toward the play. It even works sometimes — just ask the Yankees. They lost a game to the Angels on just such a move.
Right-handed pitchers have always been at a disadvantage when holding runners on. When there is only a runner on first base, as soon as the pitcher lifts his left foot the runner can take off, knowing the pitcher has to at least throw home. With 1st and 3rd, a pitcher was allowed to lift his left foot, step toward third and fake a throw to that base and then twirl around and throw to first. A lazy baserunner (do the Yankees make any other kind?) can get fooled by this move. With the new rule change this will now be called a balk on the pitcher and the runners will advance (1st to 2nd base, 3rd to home).
1st and 3rd with less than 2 outs is one of the most important situations in baseball. With 1 out in particular, it can be absolutely game-changing. Having at least a fighting chance of holding the runner on 1st base is incredibly important for the team in the field. On a ground ball hit on the infield, a team can turn a double play in this situation and end the inning with the runner not scoring from 3rd. If they fail to turn the double play, the run scores and the inning continues. Ground balls on the infield are among the most common scenarios for a hitter, so it’s clear why this situation is so vital.
I have come up with a set play that Buck Showalter and other managers can run to stick it to Bud Selig and his overactive rules committee. To prevent the runner from 1st from running as soon as the pitcher lifts his left foot, you’ve got to have that pitcher do something other than throw home. He can no longer fake to 3rd, but he can still throw to 3rd. To disguise the play the third baseman will have to stay in position until the pitcher moves, and then he runs to the bag. He’ll take the throw from the pitcher. The second baseman will have ran toward 2nd base on the pitcher’s first move. If the runner on 1st was going, the third baseman pivots and throws to 2nd base, nailing the runner.
Chances are the runner wasn’t going, in which case this basically is like a pitchout except without adding a ball to the count on the batter. Half the infield is moved out of position and will take their time going back and getting set for the next pitch. I estimate running this play will take twice as long as the fake-to-3rd, throw-to-first play, and the point of eliminating that play was supposed to be to speed up games. I’d like to see Buck Showalter do this four or five times in a row, just to prove a point.
Another USC quarterback has fallen from grace. Last night, on Monday Night Football in front of a national audience, we all got to see the beginning of the end of Mark Sanchez’s career as a starting quarterback in the National Football League. The Jets came into the game with the slimmest of playoff hopes, and left it wondering once again how their team that fans thought was stocked with talent could have floundered so badly.
This season started with high hopes for the Jets. They made the most-publicized offseason move when they acquired Tim Tebow. If Tebow could lead the Broncos to the playoffs (and even a playoff victory) last season, and he was now the Jets backup, what did that say about the talent level of these Jetropolitans? Well, not much, it turns out. The Broncos were led by their stellar defense last season, and the painful truth about Tim Tebow is that he probably doesn’t have what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Look to see him transition into a running back with trick play potential in coming seasons.
Greg McElroy was really the quarterback the Jets should have been auditioning this season. He’s young, but he’s got far more potential than Mark Sanchez. They’ve left him on the bench for too long this season, and now he probably won’t be ready to jump into a full-time starting role next year. The Jets might not be the type of organization that would do that to him anyway — I see them trying to snag whatever they can get in the free agent waters this offseason.
The horrible mismanagement of the Jets should lead to personnel changes in the coming months. Whether or not Rex Ryan keeps him job is hard to predict. It just seems like he’s squandered a lot of talent and the clock is ticking on the current bunch of players. I know fans hate to hear this term, but the Jets might be entering a rebuilding phase.
So, just how bad was Mark Sanchez last night that I’ve officially declared the end of his starting career? Well, if he had chucked every pass into the ground for an incompletion his passer rating would be 39.6. That’s actually what Tebow’s was last night after an 0 for 1 performance. Mark Sanchez finished the game against the now 5-9 Titans with a 32.6 rating. His sub-50% completion percentage and 4 interceptions on 28 pass attempts put him in the running for worst QB performance of the year. Just to put a cherry on top of this crap sundae, he also fumbled the ball on a low snap to seal the victory for the Titans.
Sanchez’s interceptions were awful, with each one worse than the previous. He was making calculated passes directly into triple coverage. He was miraculously given multiple chances to win this game in the 4th quarterback, yet he played like a random person who had been plucked from the stands and put into the white and green uniform. Sanchez squandered all those extra opportunities created by a charged-up Jets defense and special teams. Instead of carrying the team like a leader would, he was the anchor preventing them from leaving the harbor.
There was once a time when baseball’s winter meetings were mostly a closed door affair. Executives from all teams would meet at a hotel and they’d work out deals among one another, often in their personal hotel rooms. Those deals still happen, but the winter meetings are now a more public affair. Every name whispered is instantly tweeted to millions of baseball nerds, who then discuss the idiocy of making such a move.
As usual, many of the rumors swirl around the Yankees and Red Sox. Peter Gammons was reporting the Red Sox were interested in Joe Mauer, and they were willing to pay all of his contract to get him. That seems like a dumb move for the Red Sox, but also a dumb move for the Twins. It didn’t happen, and 10 years ago we would have never even known such an idea even existed.
The Red Sox also reportedly showed interest in Zach Greinke, who was a phenomenal pitcher three years ago. Unfortunately, it’s not three years ago. His ERA has ballooned and scouts question his ability to pitch in uncomfortable situations. That would include the playoffs and any game in front of a Boston or New York crowd. Perhaps the Red Sox should fill their pitching needs elsewhere.
The Yankees are reportedly making a play for free agent Kevin Youkilis, who flopped in Boston last year and only regained his glory for a short time in Chicago. The White Sox of 2012 were no better than the Red Sox of 2011, collapsing in the month of September and failing to make the playoffs despite once looking like a sure-thing. The Yankees need a third baseman to fill in for Alex Rodriguez, who might not see any action until August. Nothing would please the Yankees fans more than to parade around another former Red Sox legend in pinstripes (see also: Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon).
In far less interesting free agent/trade news, the following transactions have been made in recent days:
- Red Sox sign Koji Uehara, RHP. Uehara has a knack for blowing up my fantasy team early each September (which is the postseason for most fantasy baseball leagues), but he’s posted good numbers in an MLB career that started when he was 34 (he’s now 38). He should be adequate as a Red Sox middle reliever. He joins his Ranger teammate Mike Napoli with the Red Sox, who are trying hard to rebuild using only players over the age of 30. The Dodgers took several huge contracts off their back last year, but they seem to be adding them back on just as quickly.
- Phillies trade CF Ben Revere for some prospects. This is a great deal for the Phillies. I’m not sure why the Twins let him go so easy. Revere has been improving each year in the league, and he’s only 24 years old. I see a lot of upside here. He’s a plus defender and he stole 40 bases last season. I’m predicting this guy will be an All Star within 2 years.
- Cubs sign RF Nate Schierholtz. He’s a mediocre hitter and has average range in the outfield. He does have a great arm and should gun down more than a couple guys trying to stretch singles into doubles this season. At under $3 million, the Cubbies aren’t risking a lot for him.
- Diamondbacks sign 3B Eric Chavez. Chavez played surprisingly well last season for the Yankees. I think the key for him is not playing every day. He’s had some nagging injuries in his career, but if he’s playing every other day he seems to bring his best to each appearance. His OPS+ last season was his best since 2004. He’ll only be making $3 million next season, which was shockingly too high a price for the Yankees and Red Sox, who were also courting him.
- Angels sign RHP Joe Blanton. This deal is big only because it means the Angels probably won’t try to re-sign Zach Greinke. They’ll be paying Blanton $7.5 million to eat up innings for the next two years. This is big news for the Dodgers and Rangers, who both have their eyes set on Greinke.
The New York Jets have officially hit rock bottom. Their quarterback sucks, their defense sucks, and even their fans suck. I don’t say this in a mean, taunting way, it’s just the way things are right now.
The most well-known of Jets fans, a character by the name of “Fireman Ed”, left the blowout loss to the rival Patriots on Thursday and deleted his Twitter account. That’s a serious action in 2012, and the media demanded an explanation. To the chagrin of Jets fans with a sliver of hope for this season, they got one. Fireman Ed has announced his retirement. The man who starts those “J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets” chants will be watching from home this week, or at the very most he’ll be incognito among a sea of fans.
The good news for Jets fans is that they should end the season on a high note. Looking at their remaining schedule, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be 8-8 by the end of this. They might even sweep through December and finish 9-7, which probably still won’t be enough for a wildcard spot. This offseason is sure to bring a lot of turnover among Jets personnel, and that’s a good thing for Jets fans. This team has been clinging to those back-to-back AFC Championship appearances for too long.
In other NFL news, Ndamukong Suh will not be suspended for blatantly kicking Matt Schaub in the groin. Suh fell over his blocker and toward Schaub during the Thanksgiving afternoon game, but he clearly extended his leg and mule-kicked Schaub before he went to the ground. Despite prior infractions, the NFL will not suspend Suh for this, releasing a bizarre statement that read “In our judgment, Ndamukong Suh did not intend to hurt Mr. Schaub by kicking him in the junk. Based on past performances, it is our opinion that there is no junk there to be kicked.”
The Kansas City Chiefs became the first NFL team this season to reach double digit losses. In the spirit of recognizing losers, each player on the roster will receive a used 1974 AMC Gremlin. Brady Quinn and Matt Cassell crashed theirs in the parking lot after a squabble over who would have to start next week.
“I don’t want it, you take it.”
Despite having the talent of a top team, the San Diego Chargers have once again disrespected themselves and their fans by playing dumb football in their overtime loss to the Ravens. On one critical 4th quarter play, the Ravens faced a 3rd and 29. They basically conceded that a punt was coming by calling a short pass play, but somehow Ray Rice weaved past a Charger defense that seemed to just be standing and watching as he gained 29 and a half yards. The Ravens would end that drive with points on the board and eventually won the game in overtime. Chargers defense, that was the ugliest play of the NFL season.
The Chargers have lost 7 of their last 9, and they’ve used up all the Chiefs games on their schedule. The last time they beat a team not named the Chiefs was the Titans way back in week 2. If Norv Turner can’t figure out a way to manipulate the schedule so the Chargers play the Chiefs for their final 5 games, he will be fired. In fact, he’s my top candidate among current coaches to be fired before the end of the season. I write this knowing that Romeo Crennel is somehow still the coach of the Chiefs. Turner has stood on the shoulders of giants for too long, and soon he will be punished for never making the effort to get down in the dirt and make something for himself.
In a shocking moment of absolute insanity and stupidity, Miami Marlins owner/tacky art collector Jeffrey Loria decided to trade away the majority of his 2012 roster for some Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers and a homophobic shortstop. Players going from the Marlins include Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio. The Marlins will receive Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, and the Blue Jays #2, #5, and #8 minor league prospects (rankings by Baseball America).
This move is a giant salary dump by Loria, whose Marlins now have just $16 million in guaranteed contracts for next season. The major league players he’s receiving in return are garbage or, in the case of Escobar, absolutely toxic. This is a man who found his gay slurs weren’t getting enough attention when he said them in private, so he decided to write them into his eye black during a game. He’ll absolutely love what Loria has in store for him when he hits a home run at Marlins Stadium and that Ricky Martin tribute in center field starts going off.
I wouldn’t quite call this the most lopsided deal ever, but it is a deal that shouldn’t work for either team. The Blue Jays will be better with these players, but probably not enough to top the Yankees/Rays/Orioles in the division. They might beat the Red Sox, who are in rebuilding mode. These just aren’t game-changing players, and most are moving past their prime. By trading away 3 of their top 10 prospects, they are also ensuring a future of mediocrity.
For the Marlins, this is just a slap in the face to the one or two fans they have left. As it turns out, fans like certain players. They like to follow those players and their careers. They couldn’t give a flying f*ck about Jeff Loria or the Marlins logo. Loria is basically telling these fans that they have to like his organization and not specific players, because he could trade away anyone at any time, as if they were just another piece of art in his collection. Don’t get too attached to those new prospects, because as soon as they appreciate in value they’re getting shipped to Los Angeles.
I’m not sure which will be more empty next season, Marlins Stadium or the Miami Jai Alai Fronton. Frankly, I think Marlins Stadium deserves to be more empty. If any of you were planning on attending a Marlins home game next season, I urge you to show your displeasure with ownership by instead spending your money on jai alai. It’s been called the fastest sport in the world and was quite popular as recently as 40 years ago.
The NBA seems to be one of the few sports where a referee on the court can pretty much make a call at any point in the game and probably be correct. The sport has drifted so far from the exact wording of the rulebook that players are now constantly committing fouls and other violations while just assuming they won’t be getting called on it.
While I agree to a certain extent with the “let them play” mentality, I also fear what this can do to a sport that becomes corrupted. By giving the referees leeway on how to officiate a game, you’re putting the outcome of that game in the hands of people who aren’t worth tens of millions of dollars. It’s safe to say a player would rarely throw an NBA game, because the best ones (the ones bookies would have to target to make sure they get the outcome they want) make millions of dollars a year in contracts and endorsements. Even if fixers could corrupt a player, they’d have to spend too much and they’d have trouble making it up with their bets.
NBA referees, on the other hand, are a different story. We’ve already seen one referee go to prison after admitting to betting on games that he officiated. His name is Tim Donaghy, and he’s now a free man. In fact, he’s working for a website where he claims he can help people make their picks. Hmmm, that doesn’t seem suspicious at all.
The NBA has claimed all along that the league is not crooked and officials have not determined the outcome of games. Apparently Tim Donaghy was just a saint with a gambling problem. When games got down to crunch time and he had six figures on the line, possibly including money from the seedy world of organized crime, he could not have cared less about the outcome. Whether his pick won or lost, all he cared about was calling a fair game and making sure everybody had a good time. There’s no scandal here, please look the other way.
Donaghy is now free to attend NBA games, and apparently he planned to attend a Knicks game last week. I don’t know whether he actually went or not, but his reported companion for that game was going to be Daniel T. Biancullo, aka Danny B., a convicted felon and notorious handicapper. The whole thing is apparently a publicity stunt to draw attention to Donaghy’s current employer.
Nobody is saying that Donaghy is using any connections to fix games, just that he has some special knowledge of the tendencies of NBA referees — most importantly how their calls will have an impact on the total points scored. Since anyone can look up what referees are working an NBA game, I wonder why anyone would pay Donaghy’s employer for information they can figure out themselves with Google and an Excel spreadsheet.
Today, we say goodbye to one of baseball’s oddballs. Pascual Perez had a rocky career, pitching for several organizations for over a decade. He may not have been a great pitcher, but he was always entertaining.
Perhaps the funniest of the Pascual Perez stories happened in the summer of 1982. Perez was scheduled to make his first start for the Atlanta Braves, having been traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates over a month earlier. Although records are spotty, Perez likely was at several Braves home games prior to this start, but for some reason he could not find the exit for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on this particular day. He arrived at the game well after it had begun, and explained to his manager (a guy by the name of Joe Torre) that he had driven around the I-285 loop three times while looking for the stadium, eventually running out of gas. He even had to convince the man at the gas station to give him $10 of gas for free, because he forgot his wallet.
None of this was particularly unusual for Perez, who was given the nickname I-285 after that day. He was arrested in the Dominican Republic during the 1983 offseason for cocaine possession, and did not get his first start of 1984 until May. During that season, Perez was a pivotal figure in the notorious “Bean-Brawl” game, at one point using his bat to scare away Padres players. Here’s some footage courtesy of Major League Baseball:
After going 1-13 in 1985 and serving a team suspension for disappearing during a road trip while the team was traveling from New York to Montreal, Perez was released by the Braves before the 1986 season and nobody is quite sure what he did that year. He didn’t pitch in the majors, and he didn’t pitch for any minor league team in the United States. He seemed to have quit baseball.
For reasons unknown (a phrase that seems to come up often when explaining Perez’s bizarre career), the Montreal Expos decided to track down Pascual Perez before the 1987 season. They found him (I can only assume playing Russian roulette for money is some back alley betting arena in Ho Chi Minh City) and signed him to a minor league contract. He would pitch for the Expos for the next three seasons — some of the best seasons of his career. He was 7-0 in 1987 with an ERA of 2.30, quite a turnaround from his disastrous 1985 season.
The Yankees signed Perez to a $5 million contract prior to 1990. They were a team desperate for pitching, and Perez’s past problems were nothing exceptional on a team that included a who’s who of baseball’s bad boys. During his time with the Yankees, Perez showed up five days late to spring training in 1990, ten days late in 1991, and five days late in 1992. When he was present he pitched well, but arm issues kept him M.I.A. more often than not. He was suspended before getting the chance to play in the 1992 season for violating the league’s drug policy. He had to forfeit the remainder of his contract and his career was over.
Nobody is quite sure what happened to Pascual Perez after baseball. We can be fairly certain he moved back to the Dominican Republic, but there are no reports of him being involved with baseball at any level down there, even as a coach or a mentor. He just seemed to disappear into the lush, tropical climate, becoming something like baseball’s version of J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Efforts had been made to find him, but they all seemed to end in failure.
Sadly, Pascual Perez has now been found, and not in the way we all hoped. Police in Haina, Dominican Republic report Pascual’s body was found in his bedroom after apparently being stabbed during a home invasion. Perez had received his payment as part of the MLB pension a day earlier.
If Brien Taylor were to sit down and write an autobiography, there are so many great titles he could choose from. “Missed Punches” would be my pick, because it was a missed punch during a fight in a trailer park that essentially ended the career of one of the greatest pitching prospects of all-time.
Most of you can still recall the story of Brien Taylor’s ascendance to the national spotlight in the early 1990s. The pitching phenom from rural North Carolina had a 100 mph fastball and the athleticism that suggested he could pitch all day and all night if he wanted to. You might remember the interview with 60 Minutes, with his crab processing mother and mason father explained that the family was not dirt poor, although they did live in a mobile home. 19-year-old Brien Taylor was drafted by the then-terrible New York Yankees and given a $1.55 million signing bonus, which was a record at the time. In his first two seasons in the minors, he struck out more than a batter an inning, but was walking a handful of batters a game. It seemed that all he had to do was find his control and he be in the major leagues in a year or so.
After his 1993 season playing for the now-defunct Albany-Colonie Yankees (an AA affiliate), Taylor returned home for the offseason. It was there that he ended up in a trailer park with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend’s family after a night of drinking. A fight broke out and Taylor, who apparently had never seen Bull Durham and did not know pitchers should not be throwing punches with their pitching arm, swung and missed. With that one missed punch, Taylor dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum. One surgeon who worked on him called it one of the worst injuries he’d ever seen. Taylor claimed he’d be fine after surgery, as did his agent, Scott Boras.
Taylor actually did attempt a comeback, and he was back pitching for the Yankees in the Gulf Coast League by 1995. He pitched poorly but was moved up to A affiliate Greensboro the next season, where he would stay through 1998, never throwing more than 30 innings a season and never getting his ERA below 9.00 for a single year. He did not pitch in 1999, but made a comeback for 2 and 2/3 innings with the Columbus Red Stixx, a Class A affiliate of the Indians, in 2000. He gave up 8 earned runs in that short stint. At the age of 28, his career was over.
Moving back to the home he bought for his parents in Beaufort, North Carolina on a street now officially named Brien Taylor Lane, he’s held several jobs over the past dozen years, including UPS package handler and beer distributor, but he’s also run into many legal troubles. The money from the once staggering signing bonus was spent a long time ago, the cost of keeping up appearances and supporting five daughters. One child support application showed the now 40-year-old Taylor making just $909 a month.
Earlier this year, Taylor was the target of a sting operation. He sold crack to undercover agents on multiple occasions over a period of several months. The quantity of the illicit narcotic warranted a federal indictment. He now faces 5 to 40 years in prison.
How Brien Taylor Rocked the Baseball Card World:
What appears to be the sad conclusion to the Brien Taylor saga also reminds us all how quickly our hopes and expectations can change. This was a man who was being called a future Hall of Famer before he even turned 20, and he never even made it to AAA. His rookie card was the hot item in the baseball world in the early 90s. At a time when a pack of cards could be purchased for less than $1, his 1992 Topps card was selling for several dollars. The Gold *Winner* variation (part of a scratch-off and send-in promotion by Topps) was selling in the $10-$15 range, and the standard Gold version was selling for over $20. Those were nearly unheard of prices for new cards back then. In addition, the Topps Gold factory set included a different Taylor Gold card with a certified autograph. Those cards were selling for $100 or more. They can now be found on eBay for under $20, their value mostly derived from the novelty of owning what was once one of the most sought-after cards in the history of card collecting.
With just 12,000 of the Gold signature cards produced, I’ve wondered how much effort it would take to corner the market. With people looking to dump them while they still have some value, it seems like grabbing up the few thousand that have been broken out of the factory set would at least be possible. The great things about these autographed cards is that they are different from the standard issue, so nobody can just fake the signature and sell it. They would have to fake the whole card, which is a bit more difficult. I would not expect Taylor’s potential prison sentence to have any negative impact on demand for these cards.
There are many acceptable ways to dress for a football game. Here is a great contrast of a stylish fan vs. the all-out tacky fan (clicking on each image will take you to a full run-down of each item shown):
I swear there is no particular reason why the Packers were chosen for the classy inspiration while the Giants were chosen for the tacky fan.