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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

STUPID As if you needed more evidence that Steve Kline was insane, here's what he said to KSDK-TV:

Biggio and Bagwell are classy guys. They play hard every day. They don't have a guy popping off, saying how they want us to get our heads bashed in. I hope Prior takes a line drive to the forehead and we never see him again.

Evidently this wasn't a joke. Until now the Cardinals had the high road in this war of words.

HARDWARE Six of our resident eggheads -- me, Alec, Flynn, Judge, Mark, and Matt -- weighed in with our picks for the awards in each league. I used to get pretty excercised over MVPs, Cy Youngs, and the like, but I've learned to take them with a grain of salt. I mean, does it really matter that the Baseball Writers picked Juan Gone over A-Rod for MVP back in '96? Of course not. As I get older I tend to think along the same lines as Keith Woolner, who wrote in a recent Baseball Prospectus chat session:

I don't really get worked up about the awards as much these days since I started considering the MVP to be the player most "valuable" to the game of baseball as a whole, rather than to a specific team, or based on personal performance. The game of baseball is enriched by "intangible" factors beyond the outcomes of the game: narrative, dramatics, character, heroes, villains, surprises, stories, etc. And there's nothing wrong with recognizing the combination of these along with excellence in performance in giving an MVP.

So with that in mind, here are our picks. We each ranked our choices for the major awards, and then weighted our votes accordingly -- 5 points for #1 pick in MVP, 4 points for #2, etc. (total points are in parantheses):

National League MVP
1. Barry Bonds (27)
2. Albert Pujols (25)
3. Gary Sheffield (15)
4. Jim Thome (7)
5. Eric Gagne (6)
6. Javy Lopez (5)
7. Edgar Renteria (2)

American League MVP
1. Alex Rodriguez (28)
2. Carlos Delgado (20)
3. Manny Ramirez (15)
4. Carlos Beltran (8)
5. Jorge Posada (6)
6. Nomar Garciaparra (5)
7. Bret Boone (4)
8. Vernon Wells (2)
9. Jose Guillen (1)
....Magglio Ordonez (1)

National League Cy Young
1. Mark Prior (13)
2. Eric Gagne (12)
3. Jason Schmidt (10)
4. Carlos Zambrano (1)

American League Cy Young
1. Roy Halladay (17)
2. Pedro Martinez (9)
3. Esteban Loaiza (8)
4. Tim Hudson (1)
....Jamie Moyer (1)

National League Rookie of the Year
1. Brandon Webb (15)
2. Dontrelle Willis (10)
3. Scott Posednik (8)
4. Oscar Villarreal (2)

American League Rookie of the Year
1. Angel Berroa (15)
2. Hideki Matsui (10)
3. Rocco Baldelli (5)
4. Francisco Rodriguez (3)
5. Jody Gerut (2)
6. Mark Teixeira (1)

National League Manager of the Year
1. Jack McKeon (16)
2. Bobby Cox (10)
3. Dusty Baker (4)
4. Felipe Alou (3)
5. Frank Robinson (2)
6. Jim Tracy (1)

American League Manager of the Year
1. Tony Pena (15)
2. Ron Gardenhire (8)
3. Joe Torre (7)
4. Ken Macha (5)
5. Carlos Tosca (1)

POSTSEASON PICKS Here are Redbird Nation's picks for the postseason:

       NLCS           ALCS       WS           Champs

ALEC Braves/Giants Sox/Yanks Sox/Braves Braves
BRIAN Braves/Giants Sox/Yanks Sox/Giants Sox
FLYNN Cubs/Giants A's/Yanks Cubs/A's A's
MARK Braves/Giants Sox/Yanks Giants/Yanks Yanks
MATT Braves/Giants Sox/Yanks Sox/Giants Sox
JUDGE Braves/Giants Sox/Twins Giants/Twins Giants

THIS JUST IN Sylvester Stallone has agreed to play Mike Matheny in "Redbirds: The Movie."

THE BLACK TABLE SPEAKS Will Leitch has a lively, knockdown, no-holds-barred preview of the playoffs. Don't miss his venomous take on the Cubs.

WISHCASTING Baseball Prospectus crunches some numbers and comes up with these odds for each team's postseason chances:

Yankess 2.7:1
Red Sox 3.4:1
Braves 4.5:1
A's 7.9:1
Giants 13:1
Cubs 16:1
Marlins 22:1
Twins 22:1

I'm surprised the Giants are given such slim chances, as they're a pretty popular pick by the Big Media types. Wonder what the Angels' odds were heading into last October.

Monday, September 29, 2003

OUR YEAR-END LISTS, PART ONE We've got a lot of accounting to do as we close the books on this topsy-turvy 2003 season. We'll be checking in throughout the week with our postseason picks, the best and worst moments of the year, and our evaluation of the Cardinals management, but for now we'll start with a few lists to kick off the Hot Stove League:

Top 5 Most Pleasant Surprises

1. Edgar Renteria We all knew he was good, but this good? He had a better season than Nomar, Tejada, or Jeter.

2. Eduardo Perez Last season he had a .290 OBP. This year he reached base at a .366 clip and hit like a beast against lefties.

3. Albert Pujols He was already the Cards' best hitter, but his 2003 looks sorta like Jimmie Foxx in his prime. He turns 24 in January.

4. Danny Haren He wasn’t supposed to be ready for AAA. Instead he acquitted himself quite nicely in the majors (he was let down by our bullpen more than any pitcher on our staff; otherwise his numbers would have looked better).

5. So Taguchi Sure, he had only 56 plate appearances, but did you know he was capable of slugging .462?

Honorable Mention: Kiko Calero, Cal Eldred, Woody Williams

Top 5 Biggest Disappointments

1. Brett Tomko He was 13-9, but he received the second highest run support in the league. He led the league in hits allowed, earned runs, and finished second in home runs allowed.

2. Eli Marrero I know, he was hurt. But even when he was in there he was a mess, finishing with a .270 OBP and no power. Unacceptable for a catcher, much less a corner outfielder.

3. Esteban Yan At the time of his signing, he looked like a serviceable pick-up – better than Fassero anyway. At the end of the day, however, he out-Fassero’d Fassero with a 6.02 ERA.

4. Matt Morris His final ERA (3.76) wasn’t bad, and he finished 6th in the league in fewest baserunners per 9 innings, but his months-long struggle to find his mechanics strained our bullpen to the point of collapse.

5. Fernando Vina At least in previous years he managed to stay healthy. He was also a cancer in the clubhouse.

Honorable Mention: Jason Simontacchi

Some categories in which Pujols was among the league leaders
1st in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, runs created, total bases, and extra-base hits
2nd in slugging, offensive winning percentage, and OPS
3rd in home runs per out and on-base percentage
4th in home runs and RBIs

Some categories in which Miguel Cairo was among the league leaders
7th in sacrifice flies

3 Best Baseball Fan Sites
1. Don't miss the Fernando Tatis logo or the Fernando Tatis song, sung to the tune of ABBA's "Fernando."
2. Kline-Time A tribute to old Stinkhat himself, Steve Kline. Includes a box of Count Klineula cereal and Steve Kline with the belles of "Saved By the Bell."
3. The Gary Gaetti Cult of 514 Cottonwood, Grand Forks, North Dakota Begins with the sentence, "Gary Gaetti is is a special human being/mammal."

8 Totally Annoying Argument Starters These are my guilty little secrets. But beware: could cause bar fights among lifelong Cardinals fans.

1. Whitey Herzog was not made of marble. Herzog may have been a Hall of Fame manager, but he made some major blunders too. He encouraged the Cardinals’ meltdown in Game 7 of the ’85 World Series, he never did like Andy Van Slyke for some reason, and his long-term track record with young arms (John Stuper, Joe Magrane, Greg Mathews) is not all it’s cracked up to be.

2. Renteria is not a Gold Glove shortstop. He’s damn fine with the leather, sure, but he’s not the best in the league. It’s fair to say that Cesar Izturis, Jimmy Rollins, and Alex Gonzalez (either one) are probably better.

3. There wasn’t anything revolutionary about the 1964 Cardinals. Thanks to David Halberstam’s October 1964, that year’s World Series is seen as a classic struggle between the forces of integration and the forces of resistance. The Cardinals (who featured three blacks in their starting lineup, along with their ace starter) beat the Yankees (who balked at meaningful integration) and, so the story goes, integration won. The problem is, the Cardinals weren’t that unique. As Rob Neyer points out in his Big Book of Baseball Lineups, most of the National League teams in 1964 featured three or more blacks in their starting lineup. Says Neyer:

If you want to see a World Series that symbolized the changing of the guard, from lily-white American League to integrated National League, doesn’t the 1963 World Series make a lot more sense? In October 1963, the Dodgers featured five blacks in the starting lineup and swept the Yankees. Made them look bad. Outscored ‘em twelve to four. So why didn’t Halberstam write October 1963? Because 1964 was a landmark year in the struggle for civil rights. It was in 1964 that three civil-rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. And it was no long before the World Series that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So 1964 is a convenient backdrop for a story about the contrast between the baseball teams that understood the importance of integration and those that didn’t.

4. The Cardinal fans are not the most enthusiastic in baseball. The most loyal, perhaps. Even, as we've argued, baseball's best. But if you watch a game in June between the Red Sox and Yankees, which looks for all the world like Manchester United vs. Real Madrid, I think it’s safe to say that the most vocal and enthusiastic fans in baseball aren’t in the Midwest.

5. Joe Buck is no Jack Buck. Joe’s usually great, but don’t you find something a little snarky about the guy? He’s got that Letterman Lite routine that Bobby Costas often pulls, and it gets a little annoying now and again.

6. Jack Buck was no Jack Buck. Buck was the best broadcaster any of us have ever heard, but he had one moment that sticks in my craw, and it was right after McGwire hit #61. Buck’s call: “Look at there, look at there! McGwire Flight Number 61 to Planet Maris!” Flight #61 to Planet Maris? Buck said he worked on the line for weeks. He was better off-the-cuff.

7. Lou Brock was not a great leadoff hitter. A great hitter, sure. A greater baserunner. But a great table-setter? Not so sure. He’d usually walk about 40-45 times a year, and his career on-base percentage (.343) is about the same as Denis Menke's.

8. Don Denkinger did not blow the 1985 World Series. He fucked up. Bad. But it took me years to realize that the Cardinals lost to the Royals that year, not Denkinger. Consider what had to happen after the miscall for the Cardinals to lose the Series: Jack Clark completely misplayed a foul pop-up, Worrell gave up a single to Steve Balboni on an 0-2 pitch, Darrell Porter committed a passed ball to put runners in scoring position, and the Cardinals lost Game 7 with their ace taking the hill. Don Denkinger was not involved in any of those plays (well, okay, he was behind the plate in the Series finale, but we lost 11-0).

A good friend of mine used to coach high school basketball, and during practice he’d ref the scrimmage games and purposely make bad, phantom calls. Why? To teach his kids that bad calls are part of the game. You work around ‘em. At least that’s what champions do, anyway.

So those 8 arguments-starters should keep you good and busy during this long winter. But those are the only 8 areas for dispute. Otherwise no Cardinals has ever done any wrong, the Cardinals are the greatest team in NL history, and Stan Musial is the finest leftfielder to ever wear spikes (except for maybe Bonds and Williams, but that's a whole other argument).

PRIOR'S PRIORS has an article ranking the top ten pitchers of all time after their sophomore seasons. They rank Mark Prior's run at #8, just ahead of Oswalt and just behind Fernandomania. Their all-time pitcher after two seasons in the bigs? Guy named Dwight Gooden.

BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL Javy Lopez threw a few tablespoons of cayenne pepper into the simmering Cubs/Braves series. He claims that the Braves will win on the strength of their cohesiveness. Says Lopez,

[The Cubs] have a pretty good team, but you got to think about the fact that they are a team that recruited players from different teams during the season. It's not like this team that has been together since Day 1. There's no way they can beat us as united as we are. Our chemistry is totally different than theirs.

Somehow I think the fact that Javy and Chipper go out for beers after the game isn't going to help against Kerry Wood's fastball. But hey, whatever works...

ROGERS VS. ROGERS A guy named Brian Disco Snell posted a thread over at the Cub Reporter that showed up professional ignoramus Phil Rogers for his two-faced bullcrud. Here's what Brian had to say:

Phil Rogers is at it again, proving there's nothing like a front-runner. Let's compare and contrast, shall we? (all quotes from Phil's column in the Chicago Tribune)

9/28/03: "While the hiring of Dusty Baker as manager remains the centerpiece of Jim Hendry's short reign as general manager, it was a no-brainer."

compared with

10/24/02: Phil writes one of a dozen columns calling on the Cubs to sign Bobby Valentine, saying it's a "no-brainer" (and deriding the decision to wait for Baker as "risky.")


9/28/03: "In his first full season as the GM, Hendry bypassed high-dollar free agents Jim Thome and Ivan Rodriguez to maintain the flexibility to plug holes all over the diamond."

compared with:

10/20/02: "Thome and Rodriguez would be terrific fits for Baker's team."

2/19/03: "It's a crime against winning baseball that the Cubs didn't find a way to sign (Thome)."

We've detailed Rogers' raving idiocy before, but it never hurts to reiterate the point.

JOE SHEEHAN, consistently one of my favorite baseball writers (sort of the anti-Rogers), explains why he won't be rooting for Dusty Baker as Manager of the Year:

Dusty Baker is getting an awful lot of credit for being the guy who happened to take the job when Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano were ready for the majors. As far as I can tell, Baker inherited a 90-win team and managed it all the way to 88 wins, making an awful lot of questionable personnel decisions along the way.

AND FINALLY this from our friend Will Leitch:

I had a long debate with my father last night about rooting for the Cubs in the playoffs. He said you should root with all of your soul and heart for them to lose every game 14-0, and I thought 11-0 would be fine.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

REDBIRDS: THE MOVIE The 2003 St. Louis Cardinals were not a feel-good summer blockbuster. But they'd still make for a decent movie: lots of action (our bullpen made nearly every game an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride), some head-spinning plot twists (that September series in Chicago had more pretzel logic than a Shyamalan movie), and even some good old-fashioned violence (Pujols vs. Gary Bennett; Tino vs. Miguel Batista).

So I asked my Redbird Nation colleagues to help me cast this movie, which I plan to shop around to the studios in the next couple weeks. Here's the talent that we've lined up so far:

Fernando Vina John Leguizamo

J.D. Drew Harry Connick Jr.

Jim Edmonds John Ritter

Albert Pujols Franky G

Scott Rolen Julia Stiles

Tino Martinez Andy Garcia

Edgar Renteria Sean Nelson

Mike Matheny as Himself

Bo Hart Jonathan Lipnicki

Orlando Palmeiro John Valentin

Kerry Robinson Mekhi Phifer

So Taguchi Ming-Na

Matt Morris David Schwimmer

Woody Williams Danny Bonaduce

Brett Tomko Stan Marsh

Sterling Hitchcock Fred MacMurray

Danny Haren Adam Baldwin

Jason Simontacchi Chris Elliott

Jeff Fassero Jason Robards

Garrett Stephenson Max Kellerman

Steve Kline Mark Ruffalo

Jason Isringhausen Jimmy Cagney

Jose Oquendo Luis Guzman

Dave Duncan Peter Graves

Tony La Russa Neil Diamond

I think that would make a very, very mediocre movie.

Stay tuned tomorrow and into this week -- we'll hand out our year-end awards, present to you our Redbird Nation All-List Issue, as well as a few other goodies...