THE MEAT OF THE ORDER
Every week there are three things I deem to be really important. It's kind of like the "meat" of my lineup.
1. Plummeting attendance should be a concern.
The attendance issues in baseball are real people.
Three attendance lows for ballparks in one night? This is in addition to Baltimore and Cleveland doing it the week before last has to just make you shake your head.
Would cutting ticket prices have helped? I’m sure many teams did that, if not keep them the same from last year. So would cutting them even more have helped? Who knows because April attendance is typically bad due to the weather and other factors, such as school and work and the amount of day games early in the season.
Past April, things will no doubt get better, but if this is any indication of what the season will be like for teams like Washington, Houston, and Cleveland, expect attendance overall to at least go down a tick.
If teams like Cleveland don’t win, fans won’t pack the parks like you’d expect them to regardless of ticket prices. Fans in non-baseball dominated towns want to see winners so they won’t shell out the money until they believe they got one. If you go to cities like Cleveland, Washington, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh, you see big draws like the Penguins, Steelers, Redskins, Chiefs, and Cavaliers.
It’s the reality of a climate like the one teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City are in. You add in bad weather, bad record, low expectations, and all these other factors and it shouldn’t shock anyone that some clubs have trouble drawing.
2. Big Z to the bullpen.
With Ted Lilly coming off the disabled list, the Chicago Cubs needed to make room in their rotation. Their decision was to demote their de-facto ace, Carlos Zambrano into a bullpen role.
I don’t know if the Cubs will be mad at me for saying he was “demoted” but excuse me if I don’t buy the fact that they “need” him in the bullpen. You are putting an awfully large contract into a relief role that could easily be filled by someone who is actually a reliever.
This is something you do when you are desperate and Chicago isn’t in any position to be desperate three weeks into the season. Not to mention they are in a cluttered NL Central where anything can happen.
I know Zambrano will probably be back in the rotation sooner rather than later, but this move not only says they are desperate to get bullpen help, but perhaps they’ve got concerns that Zambrano isn’t one of their five best pitchers right now.
And the way the other four starters are pitching, you can probably bank on that being the case. They should just flat out tell him, “Carlos, you are not pitching well enough to be one of our five starters right now.”
Don’t give me this “they need him in the bullpen” thing. It’s more of an all-around panic move.
3. The Unwritten Rules of Baseball, Authored by Alex Rodriguez.
In his latest broken unwritten rule of baseball, watch Alex Rodriguez as he walks across the pitchers mound, angering Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden.
Look I’m not going to defend Rodriguez here, but I need to say this.
If you feed the monster, he’ll surely come back for more.
We make a big stink out of these “unwritten rules” that Rodriguez breaks and we are simply playing into his game. You may not think so, but I believe Alex Rodriguez is the perfect mix of smart, crazy, and narcissistic to do the things he does.
How many different unwritten rules of baseball has Rodriguez broken? Heck, how many of these unwritten rules of baseball has Rodriguez created? I can’t remember anyone ever crossing over the mound on their way back to first and the pitcher making a big deal about it.
Maybe it’s happened, but the pitcher has never said anything, but in all likelihood, it hasn’t happened because no one has ever thought to do it.
Can you ever remember a player beyond Little League shouting at an infielder as he rounds the bases? The point I’m trying to make here is this. A lot of these “unwritten rules” that we think Rodriguez breaks are simply made up because of Rodriguez. Not only is he just that rude, he wants people to talk about him.
Joe Posnanski, who I disagree with more times than not, probably had the best stance I’ve seen on this issue.
It’s easy to hate Alex Rodriguez and it’s easy to blame him for just about anything you want. He’s easy to blame because he wants to be blamed and he craves the attention you give him because of it.
In the end, it is a two-way street. Rodriguez wants the attention and we give it to him. Rodriguez “breaking” yet another “unwritten rule” is just another way for that process to work itself out.
THAT'S JUST WEIRD MAN
Baseball never has a shortage of weird and wacky statistics or situations. These are those situations. Cue the Law and Order chime.
I’m not even going to begin to understand which week is considered “Green Week” or when I’m supposed to celebrate it. I know Earth Day was one day in the past few weeks, but really the advertisement for when something like that takes place is pretty bad. Maybe I just need to watch the news more.
Anyway, to do their part, the Minnesota Twins gave away fluorescent light bulbs to last Wednesday’s game for Earth Day. However they didn’t give them to fans before they entered, they did it after to prevent any sort of mess that could occur from dropped bulbs and who knows what else.
This didn’t happen last week, but to celebrate the earthiness of the world the Cleveland Indians wore ugly tan hats that were made up of, supposedly 74 percent recyclable material. I ask you this question as a concerned citizen. If the hats were made up of 74 percent recyclable material, couldn’t they have just saved more in the long run by not producing the hats, and wearing the old ones for a few more games?
I know that seems like a smart-alecky type response and there is probably someone out there that could refute my point with simple facts. But what can I say; I have to question the use of ugly tan hats.
Why can’t the MLB ban those instead of Joe Maddon’s hoodie, which has now been reinstated? I’d like to say I had a part in it for at least bringing it to a little bit more of the limelight, but my column had 200 reads last week, so I doubt I made much of a dent.
From the “you always see something new department,” for the first time ever Joe Torre saw umpires change their mind about a ball being caught. I only bring this up because I constantly remind people that you can always see something new in this game of baseball, even if you are Joe Torre.
But the fact that an umpire changed his mind about whether or not a ball was caught just sounds weird in theory. I’m sure there is more to this story, but I’m too lazy to find a video of what happened.
There was a joke played on Nate McLouth this past week, one that you’ve probably never seen before. It sounds like it was orchestrated by Tim Hudson, but the Braves didn’t come out to greet McLouth after he hit a walk-off home run. In a way, that’s pretty cold, but it’s also hilarious at the same time.
This has nothing to do with the major leagues, but it deserves it’s due because it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in awhile. Personally, I loved it when the Western Kentucky player imitated The Rock and unleashed “The People’s Elbow.” If you haven’t seen Epic Rain Delay Theatre yet, what are you waiting for?
YOUR LUKE HOCHEVAR UPDATE
Every week we look at Luke Hochevar because a first round pick needs pressure, even if he plays for Royals.
Last Week's Line: 1 GS, 6.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
Don’t be fooled by Luke Hochevar’s latest line, he very much kept his team in the game. If it weren’t for the Royals always foiling bullpen, Hochevar would be at 3-0 on the season.
John Parrish came in to relieve Hochevar in the seventh and promptly gave up a two-run shot to Justin Morneau. Lead lost, and eventually in 12 innings game lost, and the first time all year the Royals have lost with Hochevar starting.
The Royals consider it a victory though. He’s making progress in the aspects of the game you can’t count, the categories they don’t keep official statistics for.
And a lot of people, including myself, bashed the Royals for signing Jason Kendall in the offseason. Now this is no reason to justify the contract they gave him, but Kendall has been instrumental to Hochevar’s success this season.
So far, Hochevar has not shaken off a single suggestion his catcher has made this season. When asked about Kendall’s impact on his game, the only thing he could say was, “he’s just awesome.”
I'M A STAT MAN
I'm not really a big statistics guy, but I guess it's better than being a scat man, because I don't know what that is.
The nine stolen bases by Texas in Tuesday’s game against Boston all came in the first five innings. It shouldn’t shock you to hear it was Tim Wakefield on the mound, but it should shock you to hear Vlad Guerrero had two of them.
Don’t get on Victor Martinez for the horrific looking number in that one. He isn’t the greatest defender behind the plate and he’s had his troubles in the past, but what else can Martinez do with Wakefield’s slow delivery and even slower pitches?
Perhaps they should pick up Jose Molina, who threw out four runners on Sunday for Toronto.
Did you see the San Francisco Giants lose a game in which their staff gave up just one hit? Starter Jonathan Sanchez went seven innings and Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless eighth, but the one run given up by Sanchez in the fourth was all the Padres needed. It was the first time since 1917 the Giants lost a regulation-length one-hitter.
I thought it would have been pretty rare to see a player hit into a triple play and homer in the same game, but it turns out, it isn’t. Kurt Suzuki did it this past week, but it happened just a few years ago when Matt Holliday, former Athletic then with the Rockies, did it in 2007.
The triple play turned by the Yankees was their first since 1968 and in that span every team in the game had turned a triple play.
More on that triple play. At that point in time Mickey Mantle, who caught the final out in the last triple play, was their highest paid player. Today it is Alex Rodriguez and I’m sure their lowest paid player is still making more than Mantle did that year.
That series the Pirates played with Milwaukee was pretty ugly from a Pirate perspective. Not only did they suffer a franchise worst 20-0 loss, they were outscored 36-1 in the three games, which is the largest margin of runs scored since the 1960’s.
THE UTILITY PLAYER
For all the stuff that defies categorization, this is the utility player of the weekly feature. We play everywhere and anywhere here!
Carlos Zambano wasn’t the only pitcher to get moved into the bullpen this past week. With Daisuke Matsuzaka returning, the Boston Red Sox decided to put Tim Wakefield into a long relief role.
Jeff Suppan could probably be more comparable to Zambrano though, both with being in the same division and holding a big contract that is probably not justified with a relief role.
A lot of people wanted to move Francisco Liriano into the bullpen so he could close out games for the Twins after they lost Joe Nathan. Boy would that have been a mistake! I saw Liriano for the first time this season and I can say he looks like the Liriano that was very good a few years ago.
What few hits he did gave up seemed to be because of defensive positioning and good hitting. The Twins will be difficult this year if this guy can be an overpowering arm, something their rotation doesn’t really have.
You wouldn’t have expected it, but the one arm in the Cincinnati rotation that was able to claim a victory was that of an untested rookie. Mike Leake recorded the first win for a Reds starter on Thursday. About time, right Cincinnati?
Jim Tracy claims that Franklin Morales is being watched for his balks. There’s a whole issue here that I don’t really feel like getting into because I brought this up for one specific reason that involves one of my silly little jokes.
Colorado can field an entire bullpen of unruly relievers with Morales being a balk culprit. With Rafael Betancourt’s past issues with taking too long to throw a pitch, all they need now is someone who constantly licks his fingers on the rubber.
On the subject of illegality, Edinson Volquez was suspended 50 games this past week for testing positive for a banned substance. It really doesn’t matter though because Volquez is on the disabled list and he can somehow serve his suspension while on the disabled list.
Volquez has come out and admitted he took a fertility drug from the Dominican Republic. I have to say the fact that he is readily admitting what happened leads me to believe his story.
It also leads me to really want to make a joke, but I’m not going to touch that with a 10 foot pole.
Oh never mind.
We saw two first baseman get called up this past week in Ike Davis and Justin Smoak. Davis has created a buzz in New York and has done a good job to spark the Mets lineup, while Smoak replaces the strikeout prone Chris Davis.
Can the New York media stop with all the “I Like Ike” headlines? We get it, his name is Ike, it rhymes with like. Dwight Eisenhower used it as his slogan years ago. This is getting as old as “Miller Time” every time someone named Miller does something good.
"HE'S GARBAGE, STILL GARBAGE, GOING TO DIE AS GARBAGE"
The above is Ozzie Guillen's feelings towards columnist Jay Mariotti. It is the representation for The Cluster’s section on weekly rants.
What is it with the ridiculously early start every year for Boston on Patriots Day?
Now please, before I continue on, let it be known that my tongue is firmly planted in cheek when I say all of this. I’m merely being a horse’s behind here.
Because of the early start on Monday, I forgot to start John Lackey in my fantasy league. Now if he went out and pitched a no-hitter, you know I’d be livid. But because he stunk it up, I’m actually thankful.
But it would be nice if we could get a friendly reminder the day before Patriots Day that kindly tells us the Boston Red Sox and their opponents on that day will be playing at 10 in the morning.
That’s all I’m going to say. But you can rest easy knowing Adrian Beltre had already been in the lineup from the day before, so I got that one hit he had.
AWAY FROM THE DIAMOND
Everything from Rasmus girl to the latest commercials, this is your weekly update about things that really have nothing to do with baseball on the field.
Have you seen those brilliant ESPN Sunday Night Baseball commercials yet? The first one was with Nick Swisher and Clay Buchholz, with a non-baseball player and Buchholz singing “Sweet Caroline” and attempting to coax Swisher into joining in, much to his irritation.
The past few others have been pretty good and they’ve featured the likes of Torii Hunter, B.J. Upton, Hanley Ramierz, Mike Scioscia, Ian Kinsler, and Prince Fielder along with that non-baseball player in all of them.
When I first saw it, the “non-baseball player” that I keep referring too looked familiar, but I was sure I had seen him from something outside of baseball. Sure I could have Googled it to find out who it was, but I decided I wanted to figure it out on my own.
Then I saw an ad for Party Down and his face hit me square in the face, if that is possible. If you are still unaware as to who it is, that non-baseball player in the ESPN ads is none other than Adam Scott, who is probably most known for his role in Step Brothers as the jerk younger brother of Will Ferrell’s Brennan Huff. Well that’s the role I know him best from, which was just brilliant.
Major League Baseball rescinded the five game suspension handed out to Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee this past week. They handed it out to the former Cy Young winner after he threw behind a hitter in spring training. Lee contested that the injury he suffered was a result of the pitch which he claimed was an errant throw and not intentional.
I know we like to gripe about the process MLB sometimes goes through with suspension appeals, but it’s situations like these that display its effectiveness.
A former Atlanta Braves teammate of Chipper Jones has “questioned” Chipper’s work ethic, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution . The AJC basically used that as their headline when talking about Brian Jordan’s comments towards Jones and the injuries he’s gone through the past few years.
If you read deeper into Jordan’s comments, you’ll read he isn’t questioning Chipper’s desire or work ethic, but validly wondering out loud what he’s doing to prepare himself for the game. Simply put, Jordan says Chipper should be putting in extra work to stay healthy at this stage of his career.
Sometimes you definitely need to read into stories and quotes to understand what they really mean. I immediately thought bad things when I read that headline and was told a different story when I actually opened up the page.
We’ve already established my intrigue in baseball promotions. Well the Angels had the mother of all promotions, sort of. It wasn’t exactly a game promotion, but it involved plenty of baseball knickknacks.
The Angels held a yard sale where they charged just five bucks to enter. Once you were in, you could fill a plastic bag with whatever your heart desired. Hey, I’d pick up a few Darin Erstad t-shirts if I had the chance. I have a Jody Gerut Indians shirt I still wear once in a great while. You can’t go wrong with cheap clothing, even if it has a former player on it.
On a more somber note, the Colorado Rockies are still dealing with the death of their team president, Keli McGregor. I had never heard of McGregor, he’s in one of the positions you don’t really hear about unless you are a fan of the team or the particular individual gravitates to the media.
McGregor was not one of those people as you can imagine. You have to feel for the Rockies and especially his family as it would appear he’s one of the good guys and a real family man that the players also loved. Condolences go out to both his family and the Rockies for their incredibly tough loss.
Amy K. Nelson has a great piece on McGregor up at ESPN.com .
GOOD DEED OF THE WEEK
Because we aren't all fun and games, I highlight one good deed that I've come across in the world of baseball. If you know of one, please send it my way.
Hats go off to White Sox’s second baseman Gordon Beckham for his effort in helping out the National Parkinson Foundation.
Beckham donating money for each home run he hits in 2010 is a part of the “Out of the Park for Parkinson’s” awareness campaign. Beckham is also offering fans a chance to attend a post-season sort of bash with himself if you pledge $1,000.
Chicago’s young infielder is connected to the disease through his grandfather, who is currently living with Parkinson’s and has been for awhile now.
For more information on this cause and to learn more about the opportunity with Beckham, visit http://www.outofthepark.org .
AND THIS WEEK IN THE CENTRAL
Every week we take a look at the latest happening in one of the game’s Central divisions. Why? Because it provides us with the most entertainment, that’s why!
The Pirates lost 20-0. I’m not really sure there is much more I can do here. They lost to Houston pretty badly this weekend, but it seems my Houston bashing should probably come to a close after their hot streak.
FOR THE LOVE OF GLOVE
Each week I pick my top three defensive plays, because Ozzie Smith didn't make the Hall of Fame for swinging the stick.
I’m not going to make it a habit of naming honorable mentions but this meets none of the requirements. Not only is it not a defensive play, it wasn’t a Major League play. But give the kid from Fordham some credit for the major league effort in flipping over the catcher. Don’t you dream of doing something like that and being successful?
Nino Colla writes "The Baseball Cluster" every week, or so he hopes. If you've got something that you think fits one of the sections, send him a private message. All absurdities are welcome.