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Friday, April 30, 2004

CALL THE PARAMEDICS Are all the games against the Cubs this year going to be this nerve-wracking? My nails are worn down, there are divots from pacing all over my hardwood floor, and my heart rate is about that of a hamster's in a Revlon lab.

I did not expect to win this game. Woody going up against Wood -- that's like bringing a knife to a gun fight. And to be honest, 9 times out of 10 the Cards don't win this game. I've never seen Wood so sharp. His slider had extra venom, he struck out 10, walked no one, and made only two mistakes -- the 2-2 yard job to Sanders in the 5th, and the wild pickoff throw the next inning. It was the best game pitched by a Cardinals opponent since... well, maybe since we last saw Wood back on September 2nd (the Cards won that game too).

How did we beat his team? Well, there were, by my count, at least seven moments in this game that could have gone either way, and the Cardinals came out on top of most of them:

1. 4th inning: Barrett hit a long drive to left that curl juuust foul (it was initially called a home run). Had it stayed fair, the Cubs would have been up 4-0. Instead Alex Gonzalez was caught stealing two pitches later, and the Cubs missed a chance to extend their lead.

2. 6th inning: Womack was on first with a leadoff single and Wood's pickoff throw was just wide of Derrek Lee at first. The Cubs had a shot at Womack at third, but the throw was, again, wide. That gave the Cards their first lead of the game.

3. 8th inning: with two outs, Womack hit a shot into left center. Alou dove and just missed the ball -- he really should have had it -- but this one turned out well for the Northsiders, as Ray Lankford grounded out to end the threat.

4. Top of the 9th inning: the Cubs got their leadoff hitter on, and Alex Gonzalez tried to bunt him over. His popped bunt stayed fair; Matheny scooped it up with a bare hand and started a 2-4-3 double play. Back-to-back singles after that weren't enough to put the Cubs on top.

5. Bottom of the 9th inning: with Pujols on first and no one out, Edmonds laid down one of the prettiest bunts you've ever seen -- but it rolled juuuust foul. The Cubs, flush with a second chance, couldn't deliver, though, as Kent Mercker (one of the game's big goats) couldn't find the strike zone, even though the Cardinals were prepared to give him an out. Edmonds walked and pushed the winning run into scoring position.

6. Later in the inning: Rolen sacrificed the runners over to second and third, but he should have been called safe. But first-base ump missed a tough call (Derrek Lee missed the tag on Rolen) and the Cubs at least had a little breathing room. For the record, though, I disagreed with the decision to have Rolen bunt. (a) He's never laid down a successful sac bunt in his career; (b) he's a legit RBI man, and could have scored the runners any number of ways by swinging away; and (c) it was clear that if the runners were batted over, the Cubs would walk Renteria, and Sanders -- who strikes out a lot -- would be the hitter. Then again, the move left the Cubs no wiggle room, which allowed the Cards to win (but I still disagree with the call by TLR).

7. The last batter: Matheny had an unbelievable at bat. He fell behind 0-2, then laid off a series of nasty pitches by LaTroy Hawkins. It was extremely difficult not to go fishing, especially given the circumstances. And the last pitch -- the one for all the marbles, 3-2, bases juiced -- was perhaps the closest call of any of the six above. Was it a strike or was it a ball? I thought it was juuuust high, but I wouldn't have argued if the ump called it a strike. How Matheny laid off I have no idea.

Bottom line, though: we snuck one from the Cubs, and all the bad mojo we've had at Busch this season came back to us as lucky excess. It was especially sweet because of the playoff atmosphere down at the stadium. It seemed like Duke-North Carolina to me, and we haven't seen much of that this year (the only other game quite like it was the 12-inning nail-biter in Houston). Finally something to get excited about.

And one more thing -- remember the last time Woody Williams faced the Cubs? It was that awful game up in Wrigley, where Woody came in out of the bullpen, asked to get the final 5 outs of a game the Birds simply had to win. Of course the Cardinals -- whose call to Woody was a public admission of their mind-numbingly putrid bullpen -- went on to lose the game and the division, and Woody seemed for all the world like a frail, beaten man.

He looked the same way in the early going of this game: huffing, puffing, generally ineffectual. But somehow he gathered his wits, got the Cubs to chase a number of pitches, and gutted his way to a fine performance. He could have snapped at any moment, but somehow he held together with Band-Aids and baling wire, just like the rest of his team.

HERE COME THE CUBBIES! Is this a must-win series for the Cardinals? Of course not. A split at Busch wouldn't hurt much -- after all, we're only 2 1/2 games out, despite our middling, muddling play so far. However: three or more wins would be much sweeter, especially since the Cubs -- who will get their best player back in a couple weeks -- might just go a little nuts on the National League come June and July.

As we gear up for Williams/Wood and Suppan/Clement, let's look at the Big Picture. I mean the Big Big Picture:

All-Time Record
St. Louis Cardinals, 9474-8910 .515
Chicago Cubs, 9667-9124 .514

That's 120+ years, only 21 games separating the two clubs (that's less than 1/5th of a win per year). Pretty wild. How about head-to-head?

Head-to-Head Wins
Chicago Cubs, 1,097
St. Louis Cardinals, 1,042

Again, pretty damn close. And what about the last 25 years (or, roughly my lifespan as a baseball fan)?

Head-to-Head Wins Since 1979
St. Louis Cardinals, 205
Chicago Cubs, 189

There's really only one area where the Cardinals have the Cubs clearly licked, and I was reminded of it recently while reading The Big Red C:

Head-to-Head Wins at Busch Stadium Since 2000
St. Louis Cardinals, 25
Chicago Cubs, 5

Let's hope that trend continues...

APRIL SURPRISES So tonight's game wraps up the first month of the season. And one team that hasn't surprised anyone so far is the St. Louis Cardinals. Sure, they've had various individual surprises, but most prognosticators thought they were somewhere around a .500 team -- maybe a little better, but, you know, in that second tier of mediocre clubs -- and here they are, on April 30th, at 11-11, behind the frontrunning Cubs and Astros.

But if the Cardinals' performance has been ho-hum, there are plenty of other surprises to this young season. Some of these are genuine flukes (remember the sizzling Aprils last year from Tampa's Rey Ordonez and Florida's Alex Gonzalez?), while others are the real deal (last year Esteban Loaiza started the season like a house afire, and pitched the same way well into July).

So I spent a little time browsing through ESPN's sortable stat pages and (without making distinctions for sustainability) came up with some numbers that most surprised me as we reach the end of April. In no particular order:

Sean Casey Who's the best firstbaseman in the NL this April? Pujols? Helton? Thome? Those guys are all having good seasons, but would you believe the best first-sacker is Reds (non-)slugger Sean Casey? He's hitting well above .400, he's finding the gaps, and he's a prime reason the Redlegs are hanging tough in the NL Central.

Brandon Inge Inge was one of those guys who made the '03 Tigers what they were: special. With a line of .203/.265/.339, he was quite possibly the worst starter in baseball. This year he's at .333/.410/.574 and, like Casey, one of the reasons his team has snuck up on people.

Derek Jeter I know, I know -- this story has had a ton of press (Jeter recently suffered the longest hitless streak of any Yankee since 1977). But I'm still a little shocked at just how putrid Jeter has been this year. Of the 209 guys who qualify for the OPS leaderboard, Jeter ranks #209. Of all the guys below replacement value, Jeter is the absolute lowest. In short, he remains a champion: at this moment, he's 2004's worst player in baseball.

Ray Lankford I didn't expect him to be that good, and if was going to be any good, I thought it would take him a while to stretch his legs and re-adjust to big-league pitching. Nope. Lankford has been thwacking line drives again, and, more surprisingly, he's hitting for power, with 9 xbh's in only 47 at bats.

Tom Glavine My cousin plays in a simulated baseball league, and in that league Glavine is a 38-year-old, washed-up bum who sits on the bench. I thought the real-life Tom Glavine would be closer to that than what he is -- a guy with a fancy record and a wicked 1.64 ERA. His peripherals aren't too sharp, and he got off to a similar start last April, but still, it's something.

Kansas City Royals I thought the preseason talk about them contending was a little overheated, but hey, it is the AL Central, and with Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, and a number of solid winter moves, I thought our Show-Me brothers might hang in there for a little while. Well, Beltran has worked out. Not much else has.

Jack Wilson I've never lost any sleep about trading this ex-Cardinals farmhand for Jason Christensen back in 2000. But maybe it's time to start -- Wilson hasn't just been the best shortstop in the NL, he's been far and away the best SS in the NL. His numbers at the plate (.375/.393/.538) are phenomenal, his glovework is as good as anybody's, and he's only 26 years old. Think we could've used him as insurance if Renteria walks at the end of the year?

Danny Bautista If Wilson has been the best NL shortstop, Bautista has probably been the best NL rightfielder (yes, even better than Miguel Cabrera, Richard Hidalgo, or Reggie Sanders). His OBP is well above .400, his slugging is well above .600, and, after going hitless on Opening Day, tore off a 20-game hitting streak that's still alive right now.

Mike Mussina I thought it went death, taxes, and Mike Mussina, not necessarily in that order. His numbers are for shit (1-4, with a 6.55 ERA and a terrible K/BB ratio), but you don't need the numbers. If you've seen Mr. Reliable pitch at all this year, you'd know that something is terribly, horribly, wonderfully wrong.

Scott Rolen's patience Can you ask anything more from Scott Rolen this year? Actually, yes. I mean, I know he's got a .349 batting average and 8 home runs, but his walks are way down from last year. At the end of April last year he had 25 walks; this year he has 7. That's why his OBP in 2004 is lower than it was a year ago, despite the gaudy BA. And this is the same guy who recently extolled his teammates for their patience.

Lew Ford I didn't even think the Minnesota Twins -- who have this curious habit of developing awesome outfielders then letting them rot on the vine -- would even let Sweet Lew play much this year, much less let him play every day when Torii Hunter went down with an injury. So far Ford is raking the ball to the tune of .407/.455/.695. The other surprising fact about Ford: he's white.

Florida/Philadelphia I didn't think the Phillies, who looked like the strongest NL team on paper as the season started, would be languishing below .500, and I really didn't think the Marlins would seem like the class of the league so far. As world champs, I thought they'd be like those husbands who marry the girl of their dreams and let themselves grow a spare tire around their midsection. Instead they picked up where they left off and seem as voracious as ever.

Roger Clemens, hitter He's surprised me as a pitcher (I thought he'd be very good, but not unbeatable), and he's surprised me even more as a hitter. Did you know his OPS is higher than Bernie Williams' and Derek Jeter's? (Although then again, that's true for a ton of pitchers.)

Ronnie Belliard I'll admit it: sometimes in my head Ronnie Belliard merges into the same creatures as that pudgy waste of flesh Rafael Belliard. But Belliard -- who's starting every day and reaching base in over half of his at bats -- is finally cashing in on his promise from a few years back, and he's giving a serious run as the Best Belliard of All Time.

Jermaine Dye I'm sick of hearing about this guy (mostly from Rob Neyer, who oughtta just find a room with Billy Beane and get it over with), but yes, his numbers are surprising.

Barry Bonds I should take a laundry marker, and write on my forehead, backwards, so that I can see it every time I look in the mirror (which is often) the following sentence: NEVER BE SURPRISED BY BARRY BONDS. I can't help it. I keep thinking he's reached Max Q, and then he reaches Max Z. He's reaching base in over 70% of his at bats and at one point he reached base in 39 of 50 plate appearances. Don't guys only do this in American Legion Ball?

The Milwaukee Brewers They will finish the month with a winning record. They're ahead of the Cardinals in the standings. And, perhaps most surprising of all, they've had a tough schedule -- seven games against the Birds, four against Houston, and three against pre-season darlings San Francisco. The next few weeks they play a bunch of games against the Reds, Pirates, and Expos, so get used to seeing their name in the win column -- they might just hang in there for a little while.

Moises Alou When is this guy -- who has to be one of the 5 most abhorrent personalities in baseball -- going to develop some geriatric disorder and fade away? Apparently not anytime soon. He comes into Busch with a .738 slugging percentage (although if you follow a lot of Cubs games, as I do, you'd be shocked to see he's actually gotten out a few times this year).

Marly Womackson We all laughed and hooted and hollered at the Cardinals second base situation, especially the Womackian part of that arrangement. And yeah, I know, Marlon Anderson and Tony Womack are playing well over their heads, which is precisely why we need to honor them right now, before the sand castle gets carried into the ocean. Collectively those two guys are hitting .359/.412/.564 from the keystone position. (But one last potshot, if I may: Anderson has only 1 walk in 57 ABs, and he's got one of the longest, loopiest swings I've ever seen.)

AL Firstbaseman First base in the AL used to be baseball's glamor position, with a seemingly endless supply of big boppers: Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Mo Vaughn, Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, even some guy named McGwire. But with Giambi's bum knee, Thome moving to the NL, the Big Hurt moving to DH, and guys like Delgado and Olerud showing their age, there's no longer any AL first-sackers who strike the fear of God in you.

Miguel Batista He was the One That Got Away, the right arm I dwelled on all winter -- how, I thought, could the Jays land such a valuable property for only $3.6 million? Hell, that's not much less than we're paying Tavarez! But so far Miguel Batista has been pitching about as well as the guy who overthrew Fulgencio Batista -- a 6.04 ERA and more walks than strikeouts.

The Cubs' Power Hitters Here are the team leaders in home runs for the entire major leagues:

1. Cardinals, 39
2. Cubs, 36
3. Rockies, 35

We all know the Cubs have some thumpers, but did you think they'd be treating opposing pitchers like they were London c. 1939? Me neither.

Aubrey Huff I thought this year would be Aubrey Huff's coming-out party. He's improved every year, and he seemed poised to become one of the premier corner outfielders in the AL. So far he's hitting only .189/.238/.284, which means he's hitting below the Mendoza Line in BA, and below the Ordonez Line (.600) in OPS.

The Rangers' Pitchers For a franchise that has compiled some of the ugliest pitching staffs in modern major-league history (I'm not exaggerating -- they've been, year in and year out, just about the worst collection of arms in our lifetime), the performance of Texas hurlers this April has been perhaps the most surprising item of the Spring. They're fourth in the AL in earned run average, and they've received great bullpen work from no-names like Almanzar, Cordero, and Mahay. Their next big test: May.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

WOE IS WE I was only able to watch the first five innings of the game tonight -- I had to head to my softball game with the scored tied three all. My softball team got throttled 15-5. I came home, checked the scoreboard, and, sure enough, the Cards got throttled too, falling to the Phillies' bullpen 6-3.

The Phillies made it a point to beef up their pen in the offseason, what with Jose Mesa and Mike Williams stinking up the joint last year. Enter Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Roberto Hernandez, Amaury Telemaco, about $15 million in new contracts, renewed optimism in the City of Brotherly Love, and, so far, solid results (their bullpen ERA is 2.39). Oh, and I should also mention some guy named Ryan Madson.

I confess -- I'd never heard of Madson before tonight, but he made some kind of impression: 4 innings, only one baserunner, and that guy was erased on a caught stealing to end the 6th. Madson is a big kid (the media guide calls him 6-6, but he looks taller than that to me), with decent minor-league numbers, and even better numbers in his young major-league career -- he's yet to give up an earned run in 15 (!) innings of work.

As for the Cardinals' bullpen -- well, I didn't see the game, so it's hard for me to comment, but I was surprised to see Mike Lincoln go three innings with Izzy fresh and ready to go down in the pen. La Russa used Isringhausen very aggressively down in Houston, and I hoped he would be used more often in non-ninth inning, non-save situations. You could argue that tonight, with the game tight and the Cards needing to break our hex at home, could have used the Big Man.

But the more I look at the box score, the more it looks like it was a decent move sending Lincoln out to pitch the ninth. First of all, he looked sharp, buzzing through the heart of the order to retire the side 1-2-3 in both the seventh and the eighth. Second, he shouldn't have been tired -- he threw only 8 pitches in the 7th and only five in the 8th, so for all practical purposes he was pitching like a guy who'd thrown only one inning. Lastly, I tend to think you go with your ace to face the best hitters on the other team. Due up in the ninth: Bell, Rollins, and Ledee, and if anyone got on, Doug Glanville.

So you tell me -- was it the right move keeping in Lincoln? The box score seems to indicate yes, but I'd like to hear from people who actually saw him pitch.

There's only one thing that makes these two losses go down any easier, and it's this thought: at least we aren't the Cincinnati Reds. Did you see how they lost the last two nights? On Monday night they entered the bottom of the 9th up 8-6 on the Brewers. They got two quick outs (sandwiched around an infield single), and then they got Chad Moeller (who had already hit for the cycle) to hit an easy grounder to 3B Brandon Larson for the game-ender... except... Larson threw the ball into Sheboygan county, the runner scored, and the Brew Crew were given one more sliver of hope in the person of pinch hitter Bill Hall. Walk-off two run homer, Brewers win, Reds lose.

You wouldn't think the Reds could top that, but check out what happened tonight: they were leading 9-0 in the 4th (and 9-1 in the 6th), only to once again see their bullpen collapse. They ended up losing 10-9, with their arch-nemesis Bill Hall squeezing home the winning run in the 10th inning.

So lament the Cards drought at Busch all you want, but hey, it could be worse...

PATIENCE, PATIENCE Scott Rolen recently praised his teammates for their "good" at bats:

"Hitting in this lineup is going to be unbelievable. And I think that's true for everybody. All the way through the lineup, they're all good hitters and have good at-bats. That doesn't mean just a threat, but they grind out tough at-bats. They work counts and go deep into counts and get on base."

Is that true? Are the Cardinals a patient team relative to the rest of the league? Do they see more pitches than other teams?

I turned this last question over to the great Dave Studenmund at The Hardball Times, and he replied:

The Cards are sixth in the majors in P/PA at 3.85 vs. a major league average of 3.76. The teams ahead of them are the Red Sox (3.97), A's (3.95), Mariners (3.92), Rockies (3.9) and Royals (3.9).

If you'll notice, four of those teams are AL teams (who you'd expect to have longer ABs, what with no pitcher batting and all), and one is the Rockies, who play all their games in the funhouse of Coors Field. So I think we can safely say that, yes, Scott Rolen is right -- the Cardinals do tend to have good, long, gritty at bats.

But we should also take this data with a grain of salt, only because team pitch counts aren't that diffuse throughout the league. Notice that the Cardinals are the 2nd best team in the NL at stretching out ABs, but that doesn't really tell you much. Through 27 hitters, here's how we stack up against an average team:

Cardinals: 104.0 pitches seen
Average team: 101.5 pitches seen

Two and a half pitches. Clearly not a big difference. No, the best way to wear down a pitcher is, in fact, to not get out. It's sending extra batters to the plate, not necessarily seeing extra pitches per batter, that truly escalates those pitch counts. Cardinals hitters, who avoid outs, on average, 34.9% of the time, are fifth best in the league in this category. Not great, but not too shabby.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

HOME SOUR HOME With all apologies to Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, tonight's final score should read Pat Burrell 7, Cardinals 3. Pat the Bat did everything tonight -- collected four hits, reached base five times, got two huge two-out doubles, robbed Rolen of extra bases (which may have broken the game wide open) by leaping up against the wall in the fifth, and later gunned down Pujols trying to leg his way into third. Burrell, who reportedly lost confidence in himself last season (and saw his batting average plummet to .209), performed a one-man self-esteem seminar on the Cardinals tonight, raising his season average to .339.

I don't want to get too worked up about tonight's game -- after all, the Phillies are a respectable opponent -- but the numbing sameness by which we're dropping games at home has me a bit worried. There were the usual bugaboos: early longballs given up by our pitchers (this one to Bobby Abreu in the first), the parade of walks handed out (a staggering 7), the defensive miscues (Bo Hart flubbed a grounder in the 3rd that would have ended the inning), and, of course, the lopsided final score (we're now 3-8 at home, and we've given up 7 or more runs in seven of the eleven games).

And Matt Morris -- well, I'm beginning to think we may have to wait until June or July before we fully assess his fitness for office. Almost all the goodwill he built up in Houston was frittered away tonight. He had trouble finding his rhythm, walked four in six innings, and gave up two more bombs (he's now surrendered nine on the year). And yes, I know, Morris is still over .500 at 3-2, but we've scored 8.8 runs for each of his starts. With that kind of support, suddenly 3-2 is looking sorta limp.

Can we arrange it so that our starters pitch only on the road? I don't know what accounts for this discrepancy, but our starters have a potbellied 6.97 ERA at Busch, and a svelte 2.11 ERA on the road. That's especially odd given that every road park we've played in -- Bank One, Minute Maid, and Miller -- is murder on pitchers. Add to this the strange observation from Greg Simons -- that scoring at Busch over the last two years has shrunk by 9% relative to the league average -- and I've run out of explanations for this phenomenon.

TOUGH CROWD Doug Pappas reports that major-league attendance is up 14.4% this year, with a per-game average of 29,718. Unfortunately this spike hasn't affected the crowds at Busch. The Cardinals currently rank 13th in team attendance, with a pedestrian 31,193 (down from 33,345 through the first 11 home games last year, and well below the 37,000+ average the past three years).

EDGAR THE ORDINARY A number of people -- including readers of this website -- have claimed that Edgar Renteria should stay batting in the 6th or 7th hole (as opposed to 1st or 2nd) because he's so good at hitting in the clutch. Actually, there's not much in Edgar's record (apart from a blistering .372 in '02 with RISP) to suggest that Renteria is any different with ducks on the pond than without, and the early-season returns are no different. So far this year, he's oh-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

THE CHICAGO WAY If you have an image of Cubs fans as smug suburban pretty boys, this Flash cartoon won't help change your mind. Can you believe someone spent so much time on something so lame?

TY COBB'S PENIS This week's Sports Illustrated passes along a a funny tidbit from Tom Callahan's new memoir, The Bases Were Loaded (And So Was I):

[Callahan] recalls a conversation with [Pete] Rose and New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, as Rose chased Ty Cobb's hit record. Asked how much he knew about Cobb, the manic, obsessive Rose replied, "Everything about him but the size of his" private parts. For the Times, Anderson bowdlerized the quote, as "the size of his hat." The next day a livid Rose greeted Callahan, shouting, "Seven and five fucking eighths! Seven and five fucking eighths!"

FORWARDING INFO One of my favorite blogs -- Get Up, Baby! -- has moved here. If you get a chance, stop by and check out his new digs.

SAD ALBERT It wasn't a great night for Albert Pujols. He got thrown out at third on a key play in the 5th, he bungled a hot grounder off Burrell's bat in the 7th (which led to a couple runs), he made the last out of the game, and -- horror of horrors -- his batting average dipped all the way to .284. Unless Alberticus rips it up these next three nights, it'll be his first month under .300 since June of 2002. (Here's some solace, though -- by July 1st, 2002, Pujols was hitting .283, even lower than he is now, and he ended the year at .314.)

BIG BOY A-COMIN' Maybe it's because he's from rural Illinois, or maybe it's because of his cartoonishly barrelled chest, but I've always thought of Jim Thome less as a human being and more like, say, a prize-winning squash at the county fair. I get a huge kick out of the guy. I love his high socks; I love his pine-tar goopy batting helmet; I love just about everything about him, except, of course, the way he obliterates Cardinal pitchers. Here are his career numbers against us:

AB: 56
R: 17
H: 25
HR: 13
RBI: 28
BB: 19
AVG: .446
OBP: .587
SLG: 1.179

That's ferocious. In fact, as much as I like the guy, I probably fear Thome as much as any player in baseball (he's tied with Bonds). I just assume that any pitch within three feet of Thome's strike zone will end up a souvenir for someone staying at the Omni Majestic Hotel.

Fear, of course, is a main character in my life as a baseball fan. Take this lineup we're playing tonight:

1. Byrd
2. Polanco
3. Abreu
4. Thome
5. Burrell
6. Lieberthal
7. Bell
8. Rollins
9. Milton

As a Cardinals fan, here's how I translate that:

1. No fear
2. No fear
3. Some hair standing up on the back of my neck
4. Quivering, bowel-loosening terror
5. Fear factor: 4
6. Starting to settle down
7. No big whup
8. Paxil
9. Zzzzzz

And then the whole thing starts all over again. I would imagine the Cardinals lineup -- which has both it's doldrums and it's shark-infested waters -- is even worse for the opposition.

Speaking of which, an online publication recently raised an interesting question --

The debate will linger as long as Scott Rolen is among the best third basemen in major league baseball. Are the Phillies better off with or without their former franchise player?

If you listen to members of the Philadelphia press -- who chided Rolen all winter for joining a sinking ship in St. Louis -- you'd conclude that the Phils got a great deal by letting Rolen go. They shipped off a so-called malcontent, got a productive secondbaseman in return, and saved enough money to land the aforementioned prize-winning squash, Jim Thome.

Personally I'd take Rolen. He and Thome are about equally productive relative to their position, but Rolen is nearly 5 years younger, and figures to stay in his comfort zone for a much longer period of time. By the time Rolen turns 34, Thome will probably have stopped hitting all those shots over the rightfield wall, and we'll all be resting a little easier.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN APRIL Show of hands: how many of you thought we'd roll through the Astros down in Houston, then run into a brick wall up at Miller Park? Sometimes the game of baseball can make you feel like a meteorologist on Mercury -- you just can't predict this kinda stuff.

A few thoughts and observations from our weekend showdown:

• As much as Friday's game sucked, in some ways it was a "good" loss. Chris Carpenter looked absolutely phenomenal -- he only threw 85 pitches, but had a good inside fastball and a great sweeping curve. One of the charlies he threw to Gary Bennett looked like an egg rolling off a table (and gave me flashbacks of DK57). If he can start getting that thing over for strikes, look out.

• Albert Pujols struck out in his first at bat of the season. He then went 81 plate appearances before striking out again, when he went down swinging after a 9-pitch duel with Matt Kinney on Friday night. The very next AB, he struck out again. It was that kinda weekend.

• Discussion topic: Scott Podsednik is the new Craig Biggio.

• The Cardinals got into Milwaukee at 4 a.m. Friday morning, and it showed that night -- their 2-1 loss was about as inspirational as a Kevin Spacey melodrama. So I just assumed the team would be well-rested come Saturday and take their frustrations out on poor Chris Saenz (if you're curious, here's what he looks like). After all, Saenz had only pitched two games above A ball, and he was brought up strictly as an emergency. In fact, the Brewers wanted to bring up another pitcher, but that guy had just pitched and wasn't available. Naturally, of course, Saenz (with the help of Jeff Nelson's Grand Coulee Dam-sized strike zone) dominated the Birds, tossing six innings, giving up only 2 hits, and punching out 7. After the game, Saenz was sent back to AA. It was that kinda weekend.

• Discussion topic #2: the 2004 Brewers are the 2003 Reds.

• At one point during this road trip, the Cards had scored only 3 runs in 31 innings.

• Oddly, the Birdnals finally busted loose for a few runs off of Ben Sheets, who's been one of the best hurlers in the National League so far (34 K's/3 BBs). [Side note: when people discuss the brilliance of Billy Beane, they frequently mention how he took Barry Zito one spot ahead of the highly touted Sheets in the '99 amateur draft. Zito was a great call, to be sure, but I'm not convinced Sheets isn't the better pitcher at this moment, and it's possible he'd be even better given the fine coaching in the A's system.] Anyway, it was nice to see Albert and Jedmonds go back-to-back in the first, because otherwise Sheets looked pretty deadly today.

• Scott Rolen had a base hit on Saturday that reminded me of Barry Bonds in a weird way. It was a little flare into rightfield -- would have been an easy pop out if, say, Tony Womack was at the dish -- but the rightfielder, Brady Clark, was camped so deep that even after a long sprint he couldn't catch it. It was smart of the Brewers to play Rolen deep, as there was a runner on first, two outs, the Brewers were only up by one, and Rolen has been really driving the ball this year. But no one drives the ball as far as Bonds, and no one gets played any deeper. Which seems like one more reason why Bonds may actually hit .400 this year. There's been some discussion about Bonds going Ted Williams on us this season, and if fielders play him super-deep (in effect, sacrificing XBH's for singles) he might have a shot.

Remember the other day when I boasted about the Cardinals ridiculous .956 team OPS? Well, that was just four games ago, and our hitting has been so dormant since that our OPS no longer even leads the lead. The new frontrunners? The (gulp) Chicago Cubs.

• On the plus side, last Tuesday we mentioned how poorly our rotation had been pitching, with an ERA of 5.96. Evidently our Big 5 were sufficiently shamed by Redbird Nation and decided to do something about it. Since that time, no Cardinals starter has allowed more than two earned runs, and our rotation had a 1.63 ERA on the road trip (in two of the best hitter's parks in the NL, mind you). In the process, the Cards shaved almost a run and a half off their team ERA.

OMAR VS. OZZIE Baseball Tonight recently asked and answered this question:

Is Omar Vizquel a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate? He actually compares favorably with Ozzie Smith, both offensively and defensively.

Um, no. Here are the leaders in career fielding Win Shares at shortstop:
1. OZZIE SMITH 139.8
2. Bill Dahlen 128.0
3. Rabbit Maranville
34. Bobby Wallace 87.5
35. Lou Boudreau 87.2

So, yeah, Vizquel compares favorably defensively to Ozzie, in the same way that Darrell Evans compares favorably to Hank Aaron as a power hitter.

Even as a hitter Ozzie is superior. He has 500 more lifetime hits than Vizquel, 230 more runs created, and, relative to his league, a better career OPS. What about other areas? Baserunning? Ozzie, by a mile. Intangibles and special skills? Ozzie has a ring, and totally redefined his position, whereas Vizquel was once traded for Felix Fermin. I'd say Vizquel is a Hall of Famer, but only if they widen membership to include 2,000 ex-ballplayers.

BASEBALL AT THE 1/10th MARKER Dayn Perry points out how "parity" in the NFL is a simple consequence of their shortened schedule. Consider what the NL Central would look like if, like the NFL, each team played only 16 games this year:

Cubs 10-6
Reds 10-6
Astros 9-7
Cardinals 9-7
Brewers 8-8
Pirates 7-9

No division in football last year was as close as that, and yet pigskin types like to brag about how competitive their sport is and how backwards and stratified baseball is. It's a scheduling illusion, nothing more.

LASERS Studes over at The Hardball Times has been keeping track of line drives -- specifically, the number of line drives per at bat for each player in the major leagues. Number 7 on the list is our own Ray Lankford, who has hit a liner in 31.8% of his ABs so far. I take this to be a very good sign. RayRay developed a severe uppercut in his last go-round in a Birds uniform, but he worked strenuously this past winter to shorten his swing and straighten out his hits. The early results are promising...

WASTED MOTION Ex-Cardinal Rex Hudler committed a crime. He spent some time in jail, then boarded up in his house for two weeks, got suspended from his job for three months, got scolded and ridiculed by people in grocery stores and at ballgames, and was moved to exclaim, "to have my sin exposed to the nation is a humbling thing."

His sin? He used marijuana. How much? Let's see... He says he never smoked much, rarely on the road, never before games, would sometimes go an entire season without smoking, and usually took only a few tokes at night to help him sleep.

After Darryl Kile died, a pot pipe was discovered on his nightstand and traces of marijuana were found in his system. It was refreshing back then that no one made a big deal out of this -- it was understood that ballplayers sometimes smoke recreationally, and that, all things considered, there's little difference between getting plastered in the hotel bar and stoned in your hotel room. I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone, though, that the media types who overreacted to Rex Hudler the ballplayer (he was a lot of wasted motion, in my opinion) would now overreact to his fall from grace.

FARM REPORT Pitching coach Dyar Miller is doing some kinda job with our young arms down in Memphis. You probably know about the early success of Adam Wainwright (20 K's and only 12 hits in 17 innings) and Danny Haren (4-0, and he leads the PCL with 33 strikeouts in 24 innings), but our third young gun, Rhett Parrott, is also heating up. After a shutout last Thursday, he lowered his ERA to 1.04 (2 runs in 17.2 innings).

BEANE-COUNTING Here's an excellent post about the All-Moneyball All-Star Team. As you'd expect, the roster is composed of players who have generally overlooked skills, high on-base percentages, and lots of ways to beat the hell out of you.

ECKERSLEY EXPURGATED I got this email yesterday from my buddy Brian:

Dennis Eckersley does the post game studio show for local Red Sox TV and he almost dropped the f-bomb in the middle of his post-game wrap up. The Yankees were awful at the plate today, and Eck says "The Yankees... I mean, what can you say about the Yankees. They fuc- . I mean they just couldn't get it done today." Absolutely hilarious.

STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN Maybe Mike Crudale really is a lazy bum. He was recently released by the AAA Fresno Grizzlies after an unsightly 15.63 ERA.

A GIANT AMONG GIANTS Joe Sheehan has a new nickname for Barry Bonds, who plays on a team full of duds: "Kelly Leak."

How much better has Bonds been than his teammates? Consider this: after receiving five intentional walks in the first two games against the Dodgers this weekend, Bonds has extended his career record for IBB's to 496. Runner-up on the list is Hank Aaron, with 293.

FILTHY STUFF Interesting article about the 10 best pitches in the major leagues. Mariano Rivera's cut fastball is #1; Kerry Wood's Uncle Charlie is #2. Number 11? Jeff Fassero's hanging curveball.

THE CLEVELAND REGGIES I'll admit it: I thought Colin Porter was black. As Bill Simmons has pointed out, it's a banner season for members of the Reggie Cleveland All-Star team (composed of ballplayers you think are black but turn out to be white, or vice versa), what with Caucasian newcomers Lew Ford and Khalil Green. Past members include Marcus Giles, Jarrod Washburn, and Troy O'Leary.

CRANK IT UP The Baseball Crank is raising money for a good cause, so stop on by if you get a chance.

Friday, April 23, 2004

SMALL BALLIN' In their baseball preview issue, Sports Illustrated ran an article about the stat wonks, cyber-seamheads, and sabermetricians that are taking over Major League Baseball. And, not surprisingly, they got a little hate mail for it. Like this response from Zak Redding of Madison, Wisconsin:

So instead of building a team by grooming young players with sound fundamentals, we should be paying attention to VORP, LIPS and OPS? If you give me a group of players who can put the ball in play, move runners, hit the cutoff man, change speeds and keep the ball down, I'll give you a team that puts up big numbers in the only column that really counts: WINS.

Now, of course, I could do something really snide right now and pick apart this argument piece by piece. But goddamn it, Zak Redding, after watching tonight's game down in Houston, I gotta tell you: I'm sold.

The 2-1, 12-inning squeaker was the apex of our young season (although don't look now, but the regular season is already 10% over). Of course, we didn't see the offensive pageantry that we saw in the first 15 games of the season, but that's precisely why this win was so sweet: we didn't need great offense, or even good offense, to win. A few thoughts:

• I'll confess: earlier today I was thinking this was one of those games that it'd be "okay" to lose. I wasn't rooting for it, mind you, but I figured, well, we've already won 2 down in Houston, we're going against Oswalt, and our 5-0 road start has gotta end sometime. Fortunately, the Cardinals -- who played a tough, gritty game -- were thinking "sweep" all the way.

• Zak Redding would have been proud of tonight's Whiteyball Revival Tour. We had a key infield hit and then a stolen base by Sanders, a squeeze bunt by Luna, excellent D, stellar relief work (including no walks in 5 innings), and a great job mixing things up by Jason Marquis. The Astros, on the other hand, ran themselves into an out and made an error in the top of the 12th that spelled their doom. We simply out-fundamentaled them.

• A few people (including folks on this site) have badmouthed the Cardinals for obsessing over the stolen base lately. I disagree. The Cards are stealing at an 83% success rate, which is well above the break-even threshold. In fact, three of our caught stealings were from Pujols and Edmonds. Our real basestealers -- Womack, Sanders, Renteria, Anderson, Taguchi, and Luna -- are 18-1 trying to steal bases. Hard to criticize that.

• There was a key play in the Houston 6th, when Bagwell singled to left center with one out and Everett tried to make third. Edmonds scooped the ball, gunned a laser to Rolen, who put down the tag, and Everett was called out. Only problem was, Everett was safe. It looked that way to the naked eye, and the replays made that doubly clear.

A bad break for the 'Stros, for sure, but here's the thing -- the next batter, Jeff Kent, hit a single, and the Astros broadcasters reminded us a few times that the single would have scored Everett from third if the play had been called correctly. That's sort of a pet peeve of mine. Every act in baseball is contingent on every other -- if the Astros have first and third one out rather than a runner on first two outs, then Marquis pitches to Kent differently, Kent approaches the at-bat differently, the defense aligns differently, and so on. It wasn't such a big deal tonight, but a lot of times someone will, say, get thrown out stealing, the next guy will hit a home run, and the broadcasters will talk about how the stolen base attempt cost the team a run. What they fail to realize is that the pitcher may have challenged the hitter precisely because the bases were empty -- i.e., these "what if" scenarios only take you so far.

• How about La Russa letting Isringhausen pitch two innings for the second time this series? What's more, he brought him into a tie game, on the road, which means that TLR must have looked away from the swirling hypnotic disk that's been telling him to bring in Izzy in save situations only. Folks, this is exactly how you're supposed to use your ace reliever. You use him when the game is tight, when every out actually means something, and you let him pitch a second inning, especially when the opposing hitters are Bagwell, Kent, and Berkman. I hope Tony learned something from the experience.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

REPORTS OF MATT MORRIS' DEMISE are, as they say, greatly exaggerated. Less than a week ago, I basically said that Morris would never be the lights-out pitcher he once was. (To be precise, I didn't quite say that -- I said it was likely he'd never be great again, but I still had hope that with a couple mechanical adjustments he'd regain his form.)

And then lo and behold, Morris goes out and tosses a fine game, in the heart of Minute Maid, with a batallion of Astros bats locked, loaded, and ready to go. His final numbers: 6 innings, 4 hits, one earned run, no walks, 4 K's. Even Jeff Brantley, the dude who got drunk and told a barroom full of people in Florida that Morris' velocity was gone for good, declared "this is as good as I've seen Matt Morris look in two years."

So how good was he? Unfortunately I was only able to see Mo Mo pitch one inning, and he gave up a long bomb to Jeff Bagwell (although he did throw one fastball 92 mph, which was faster than any pitches he threw last week against the Rox). Anyone out there have any impressions of his game?

HOMER HAPPY The Cardinals are trying to do something you don't normally see outside of Coors Field: they're leading the majors in home runs hit (with 34) and in home runs allowed (with 25). That's an insane 4.21 homers per game, more than you'd see in your typical Rockies game (3.46), White Sox game (3.23), or Cubs game (3.21).

Here's another bizarro early-season stat: the Cardinals are a lousy 3-7 at home (second worst in the NL), and a perfect 5-0 on the road. That means if we played all our games at home so far, we'd be in last place in our division. If we played all our games on the road, we'd be in first.

FLUBBER IN REVERSE Remember the old Disney movie The Absent Minded Professor? Fred MacMurray's character invents a substance called flying rubber (or Flubber, hence the title of the Disney remake) that repels all hard objects. Therefore MacMurray coats some on a baseball and strikes out everyone in sight.

I think Albert Pujols has been coating his bats with anti-flubber. He has only one strikeout in 70 plate appearances this year, which puts him in sight of a rare ambition, according to the Post-Dispatch:

First baseman Albert Pujols limited his statistical goals this season to striking out fewer than last season's 65 whiffs and walking 100 times.

How rare is this? Well, it's been done 102 times in major-league history, but only 7 times by active players: Barry Bonds (2002, 2003), Brian Giles (2003), Todd Helton (2000), Gary Sheffield (1999), and Frank Thomas (1993, 1994).

The best recent figures are from Bonds, of course -- namely his 198 BB/47 K combo in 2002. But in 1941 Ted Williams had an even better K/BB ratio: 147 walks, only 27 strikeouts. Pujols is currently on pace for 150 walks, 12 strikeouts.

WRECKING CREW Yesterday I looked at how opposing hitters had done against Cardinal pitching and noted that our average adversary was hitting like Eric Chavez. It's only fair to turn the tables and look at how the average Cardinal is hitting. Our team totals:

AVG: .308
OBP: .371
SLG: .585

That's similar to... let's see... Richard Hidalgo, 2003:

AVG: .309
OBP: .385
SLG: .572

A whole lineup of Richard Hidalgoes. Not too shabby. Here's another way of looking at it: the Cardinals team OPS (that includes pitchers) is higher than any of the regulars who play for the Padres, Brewers, Devil Rays, Mets, Expos, or Blue Jays.

MELODIOUS THUNK Did you see Jedmonds' grand slam in the sixth? Everything about it was wrong. He went chasing a two-strike pitch, got way out in front, off balance, swung off his front foot, took a one-handed swing with his lead hand, and yet... somehow... he muscled it out of the park. It was astonishing, like a form of alchemy.

Jedmonds does this kind of thing alot. He's one of the least textbook players you'll ever see -- that big ol' windmill swing, constantly either reaching or baling out, finishing his loopy cut with his helmet wobbling off his head. For some reason the whole thing reminds me of what music critic Geoff Dyer once said about jazz pianist Thelonious Monk:

Monk played the piano as though he’d never seen one before. Came at it from all angles, using his elbows, taking chops at it, rippling through the keys like they were a deck of cards, fingers jabbing at them like they were hot to the touch or tottering around them like a woman in heels – playing it all wrong as classical piano went. Everything came out crooked, at an angle, not as you expected. If he’d played Beethoven, sticking exactly to the score, just the way he hit the keys, the angle at which his fingers touched the ivory, would have unsteadied it, made it swing and turn around inside itself, made it a Monk tune.

That's the way Jim Edmonds plays baseball. It's like someone took a film strip of Will Clark swinging a bat, crumpled it up, cut out a few frames, reassembled them out of order, ran it back through a film projector, then used it to teach Jedmonds how to swing a bat. But the results -- those high, majestic home runs -- would be as if Thrill had hit them himself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN We here at Redbird Nation give Tony La Russa a lot of guff when his machinations go awry, so it's only fair to give the man props when he comes through. Today Tony made three moves that I heartily applaud:

1. He demoted Jason Simontacchi. The Simo Man is supposedly a good Christian fellow, so it's hard not to root for him. But man, he's been an unholy mess on the mound. I think it's been clear for almost a year now that he's not quite ready for primetime, and lately he's pitched even worse than usual. (Anytime a reliever enters a game and gives up a home run to the first hitter, we should call it "pulling a Simontacchi." He's already done that three times this year, in only four appearances. The other time he gave up a single-sacrifice-double, so clearly he's improving.)

I'm glad TLR resisted the temptation to replace Simontacchi with another reliever, especially since he hasn't really needed all 12 pitchers he took up North. Eldred, Kline, and Tavarez have been under-utilized, and I don't think our bullpen would get much of a boost by calling up Kiko Calero.

Instead, La Russa and Jocketty made the right call by bringing up an outfielder, Colin Porter. Porter got off to a great start in Memphis, and he had a fine year last year at New Orleans in the Pacific Coast League. What's more, he's a nifty fielder, which means we won't have to be futzing around with the Marlon Anderson Experiment in left any more than we have to.

2. Tony's second smoove move came in the Cards 7th, when he pinch hit for Jeff Suppan. Might have been a no-brainer -- the bases were loaded and there was only one out -- but Suppan was absolutely cruising at that point, the Cards had a 3-1 lead, and I could a more conservative manager leaving Suppan in there. Instead Tony went for the jugular, got his insurance runs, and turned things over to his shaky bullpen. A small move, but the right one.

3. Lastly, La Russa brought in Isringhausen in the 8th inning and asked him to get the last five outs of the game. Some manager go into a "ninth inning only" trance when it comes to their closers; what's more, Izzy has been very hittable lately (in fact, he got rocked by the Astros less than a week ago). Tony made the right call by having him face the dangerous Richard Hidalgo (who was the tying run at the time) rather than saving him for the lower half of the lineup in the ninth. Except for a cheap infield single by Vizcaino, Izzy had no problem steamrolling through the Astros lineup, and he picked up a very legit save.

Actually, I was surprised to learn that La Russa hasn't been quite as rigid with Isringhausen's usage patterns as I would have guessed. Eleven of Izzy's 56 saves under La Russa have come when he pitched more than one inning.

BARRY, BARRY GOOD Every year I say the same thing: this is the year Barry Bonds goes in the tank. Not by normal standards, you understand; it's just that I look at his age, and his outrageous numbers, and I figure he's due for one of those .312/37 homer seasons -- you know, the type of season you might see from, you know, a regular human being.

Forget it. Barry Bonds will not be joining us carbon-based, metabolizing lifeforms anytime soon. He's now homered in 7 straight games, and it looks like he's got his eye on a Gretzkyesque seventh MVP Award too. As of this writing, he's hitting over .500 with an OPS of 2.023. I know we're only two weeks into the season, but still, that's staggering.

We all know about Barry's home runs, but here's a thought: is it possible he'll also reach 3,000 hits? I know that sounds ludicrous given the number of walks he draws, but check it out -- he's at 2,614 right now, and he's averaging 146 hits per year. If he maintains his current pace, he should get #3,000 sometime around the end of 2006. Of course, he'll be 42 years old by then, but would you really put it past the man?

The career hit list is nice, but where Bonds really does damage is the career hits + walks list. You don't see that list very often, but Barry recently passed Ted Williams to crack the top ten:
1. Pete Rose 5,822
2. Ty Cobb 5,438
3. Carl Yastrzemski
4. Rickey Henderson 5,245
5. Stan Musial 5,229
6. Hank Aaron 5,173
7. Tris Speaker 4,895
8. Eddie Collins 4,815
9. Willie Mays 4,746
10. Barry Bonds 4,702

Bonds has been reaching base, on average, 320 times over the past three years, so he's got a chance to really move up that list.

CHANNELING THE MAHATMA Here's a handy little article about our favorite member of the Cardinals brass, VP of baseball development Jeff Luhnow. The writer, Joe Strauss, does a good job staying non-partisan, although he does get one thing wrong, kinda, sorta (I mean besides referring to "win shares" as "run shares"). Strauss writes,

[Luhnow's] hiring as the team's first vice president of baseball development marked a major shift in how player evaluation is conducted by Branch Rickey's old franchise.

True, it's a shift from the way the Cardinals generally conduct business, but Luhnow is not at all breaking tradition with Branch Rickey. As Aaron Gleeman pointed out recently, Rickey (in addition to devising the modern-day farm system and breaking baseball's color line) was also something of a proto-sabermetrician. He grasped, way back when, that on-base percentage was more important than batting average, that RBIs were overrated, and that range afield was more important than fielding percentage. Jeff, you're in good company.

FEEL-GOOD DEPT. Larry Dierker, who's among my favorite out-of-work managers, has a very gracious article about the Cardinals and the fans of St. Louis. Thanks, LD.

EVERYONE CHILL Josh Schulz makes a good point about the Cardinals 6-7 start (now 7-7 after tonight's win): it's no big deal. For a comparison, the 2002 Cards won 97 games and had 43 stretches where they went 6-7 or worse over 13 games (some of those stretches overlapped, obviously). Even the '98 Yankees -- you know, those guys who won 114 games -- went 6-7 or worse 17 different times. It's just not that uncommon, and certainly not very telling.

FREE LABOR Check out this item from Doug Pappas:

Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal reports that the Chicago White Sox are set to announce new promotions that will actually allow well-heeled fans onto the field during games. Two fans per game will be allowed to pay $1,500 for the privilege of dragging the infield. Two more will be allowed to pay $1,000 each for the honor of changing first and third bases during the fifth inning.

For $5,000 you can clean gum off the bottom of the seats; $10,000 you can regrout the team shower, and 50 G's lets you bikini-wax Paul Konerko's wife.

THE CARDINALS PIGPEN None of our starters are pitching particularly well, but at least our relievers are doing well, right? Wrong. Our starter's ERA this year is a lousy 5.96, but our bullpen is even worse at 6.08.

Who's to blame? Pretty much everyone. Ray King has been bad; Izzy worse; and Tavarez, Simotacchi, and Eldred are doing everything they can to revive memories of Esteban Fasspringer. Our only passable relievers are Mike Lincoln (who's been so-so), Steve Kline (who's been sharp, although underused), and, erm, Cody McKay.

Add it all together and it amounts to one ugly pitching staff. How bad? Check this out:

Opposing Batters this year: .288/.349/.515
Eric Chavez last year: .282/.350/.514

This is a truism: it's hard to win games when your pitchers turn every opposing hitter into Eric Chavez.

BARN BURNERS What's the best baseball game of the past 25 years? I pondered the question tonight as I watched, on ESPN Classic, the last four innings of the 1991 World Series finale. What a gut-wrencher. A few things about the broadcast struck me:

• I really miss Jack Buck. That rich, oaky voice -- and no one was better at lending drama and heft to a baseball game. With just the simplest cadence ("two ON... two OUT... two-two PITCH...") he'd leave you hanging on every pitch.

• Hitters in 1991 didn't work pitchers like they do today. Morris entered the 10th having thrown 121 pitches, but Blauser swung at the first pitch leading off (and popped out), and Lonnie Smith and Terry Pendleton swung at everything within ten feet of the strike zone. It was an 8-pitch inning for Morris, and I swear he looked like he was ready to heed Ernie Banks' advice -- "let's play two!" -- if that's what it took.

• Do you remember Dan Gladden's 10th-inning leadoff broken-bat blooper? It dropped in front of Gant, and Gladden, who never stopped running, chugged into second. At the time Tim McCarver said people might be talking about his balls-out baserunning for decades to come, and yet I'll be damned if I've heard anyone mention it since. Turned out it was the hit that turned the Series.

• The cameras caught a glimpse of Ted Turner in the bottom of the 9th, and I swear to you, the man was falling asleep. Falling asleep! His team was trying to win their first championship in over 30 years and he couldn't keep his eyes open!

Anyway, back to my original topic: greatest games of the past 25 years. For starters, let's eliminate all regular season games (that means toss out this bumper-car ride at Wrigley, the Pine Tar odyssey, and the Greatest Game Ever Pitched). I just feel that, when it comes to regular-season games, everyone's got their own personal favorites and very few of them took place on a national stage.

Secondly, I discounted all Cardinals games. Unfair? Sure. But I just can't be objective about them. The average Cardinals game in May gets me about as riled up as Game 7 between the Angels and Giants. I don't have any perspective. If that pisses you off and you want to add in your own Cardinals write-in candidates, just click on the "comments" link.

So... onto my selections for the 10 (Narrowly Defined) Greatest Games of the Past 25 Years:

1. Game 7, 1991 World Series (Jack Morris goes 10)
2. Game 6, 1986 World Series (ball, Buckner, legs, ballgame)
3. Game 6, 1986 NLCS (16-inning nail-biter straight out of Joseph Conrad)
4. Game 7, 2001 World Series (Super Mariano isn't so super)
5. Game 1, 1988 World Series (Kirk Gibson = Roy Hobbs)
6. Game 7, 1992 NLCS (Francisco Cabrera ends it; a personal favorite)
7. Game 6, 2002 World Series (Angels storm back from 5 down)
8. Game 5, 1986 ALCS (Dave Henderson kills Donnie Moore)
9. Game 7, 2003 ALCS (Aaron F. Boone: Sox killer)
10. Game 7, 1997 World Series (Edgar Renteria crowned King of Colombia)

Honorable Mentions: Game 5, 1980 NLCS (wild see-saw game to put the Phils in the Series); Game 6, 1993 World Series (Wild Thing Williams, meet Joe Carter); Game 5, 2001 World Series (Byung-Hyun comes undone agun); Game 4, 1996 World Series (Wohlers vs. Leyritz)

Let the arguments begin...

Monday, April 19, 2004

CARDS FAN TRAPPED IN A CUBS FAN'S BODY In the Denver airport over the weekend, my cousin Mark overhead a guy say this into his cell phone:

"I'm the worst Cubs fan in the world. I'm sitting here in the airport wearing a Cardinals hat."

All part of growing up, big guy.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

CHOPPING WOODY The first two years of Woody Williams' career in a Cardinals uniform were a thrill. At the All-Star Break last season, Woody's career record in St. Louis: 28-8, with a 2.67 ERA. Considering Woody wasn't expected to do much (Jocketty mostly just wanted a consolation prize after dumping Lankford on the Pads), his success always came gratis, like we were gambling with house money.

It appears, however, that we're now out of chips. Woody is simply not a quality pitcher anymore. I know it; you know it; the press and the front office seem to know it; and anyone who doesn't know it isn't being totally honest with themselves. Consider:

• Since the All-Star Break last year, Woody has a 5.56 ERA. For comparison's sake, two guys had a 5.56 ERA in 2003: one was Quadruple-A hurler Jason Simontacchi; the other was 19-game loser Jeremy Bonderman. Not a group you want to associate with.

• Perhaps you think we're being unfair judging Woody on only a half-year's worth of stats. So let's go back a little further, and see how he's done over the past calendar year: 237 hits in 221.1 innings, and an ERA of 4.49. That ERA is awfully close to Woody's figure (4.35) as a member of the Padres, meaning he's essentially the sub-mediocre pitcher he was from 1999-2000, rather than the new-and-improved Woody v.2.0 model we've come to know and love.

• Woody is 37 years old, and it shows. He just can't rear back and sling it anymore -- every inning is a chore. Over the last three months of last season, Woodrow averaged 161 pitches per nine innings. This season he's been worse: 82 pitches in only 3 innings his first start; 99 in 6 his second start; and today, 105 in 5.2 innings. That's 176 pitches per 9, if you're scoring at home.

• What about the "three true outcomes" test (which we performed on Matty Mo the other day)? Woody fails all three portions of the exam. His strikeouts are way off (he didn't strike out anyone today, despite all those pitches; in fact, he threw 33 two-pitch strikes on the afternoon, and none of them resulted in a K). His walks are up (3 in 5.2 innings). And, like the rest of our staff, he's gone a bit homer happy, surrendering longballs to both Vinny Castilla and Todd Helton. Very ominous.

Last autumn we recommended that the Cards trade Woody Williams. We figured that his 18 wins had a lot to do with luck (he had the highest run-support in the league), and that his trade value would never be higher. Throw in some lingering injury concerns, and you'd have to say that the Cardinals may be stuck with a very mediocre pitcher, one who is still owed $7.45 million on his contract.

WALK-OFF FLYOUT I'm sure many of you sank, like I did, at the ending to today's ballgame. Bottom of the ninth, Cards down by three, two outs, two strikes, bases juiced, all-world slugger Albert Pujols at the plate. Long drive to deep right, Pellow back to the track, to the wall... Caught! I couldn't help but have visions of Giambi hitting a walk-off salami two years ago, or, an even better memory, this winner from 1979. But alas, the gods weren't smiling on us today.

The Cards have an off-day on Monday, when they'll fly into Houston for a three-game set. We've got to win at least one from the 'Stros down at Dick Cheney Field, if for no other reason than to show we're actually in this race. See, the Astros are threatening to run away and hide in the NL Central. They've got mega-production up and down their lineup and some lights-out pitching from moundmates Clemens, Oswalt, and Miller.

And what about the Cubs? Well, they're doing about as well as the Cards so far, and they're suprisingly ranked 12th in the league in runs allowed. Remember in the offseason, when everyone picked the Cards to finish in 3rd? Remember the A#1 reason why? Because, according to the mainstream press, the Cardinals didn't open their wallets and land a big-name pitcher like Greg Maddux. Maddux, who seems to be treating this season as a tribute to Mike Maddux, is huffing along with an 8.62 ERA and 19 baserunners allowed per 9 innings. Come to think of it, those numbers would fit right in with the Cardinals pitching staff.

WEIRD REVELATION from this profile on Mark McGwire: Saturday's game marked the first time since he retired that he watched a full nine innings of baseball. I don't know if that's because he's not a huge fan of the game, or if the games are a frustrating reminder that he's not on the field, or if he just needed to turn his attention to other areas of his life, but it did strike me as rather odd.

THE UPSTARTS So a number of Cardinals -- Womack, Matheny, Anderson, Lankford -- are off to surprisingly fast starts. Who's stats are the most bankable? Probably none of them, but Josh Schulz explains why Lankford's hot hand may be closer to the real deal than, say, Tony Womack's.

Also: remember what a concern left field was before the season started? Our leftfielders, as a bunch, are so far sporting an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .321/.393/.642. Okay, I know it won't last, probably not by a long shot, but I'll take whatever I can get for now.

TAKE ME OUT TO AFGHANISTAN As everyone knows, the most essential ingredient of a solid infrastructure and a progressive democracy is the game of baseball. The photos along the righthand side are priceless.

KING HENRY I didn't think I'd read a piece on Hank Aaron that was much better than Jim Baker's recent ode, but Dayn Perry tops him with a truly first-rate, loving look at the Hammer. Enjoy.

BUS DRIVER Mike Celizic of argues that the Cards should fire La Russa. When this should take place, I have no idea, but I assume Celizic means after the season (which makes the timing of the piece awfully strange). Other parts of the article are just as bizarre. At one point Celizic argues that the Cardinals have little chance to make the postseason --

Which raises the question, why does [La Russa] bother to stay on and why do the Cardinals persist in keeping a very expensive man around to manage the team? It's kind of like paying Dale Earnhardt Jr. to drive a school bus.

So let me get this straight: the Cardinals (you know, guys like Pujols and Rolen) are the school bus and the racing champ is Tony La Russa? You lost me, Mike.

POLICE BLOTTER It pales in comparison to the Mike Danton murder allegations, but you can't help but worry about Ray Lankford's troubled personal life.

GRUESOME PHOTOGRAPH WARNING You think the photo editor at The Cincinnati Post has it out for Bud Selig?

AND PHINALLY My brother-in-law is a Phillies fan, so I feel obligated to pass along a cool new website dedicated to all things Philly. It's called A Citizen's Blog for the Philadelphia Phillies, and it might serve as a nice ongoing diary should the Red Stripes go over the top for the first time since 1980.

Friday, April 16, 2004

THE VELOCITY OF MATTY There's a guy, a friend of a friend, who was down in Jupiter, Florida during spring training. And one night he ran across ex-Cardinals pitcher Jeff Brantley in a bar. Brantley, so I'm told, was drunk out of his mind, and he was railing against Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan. He kept saying that Duncan doesn't know pitchers (Brantley kept chiding him as "the catcher"), and claimed that Duncan's only successes were flukes. Now, I don't know if any of this is true, or even if Brantley meant what he said. And if he did, I don't know that we should care -- after all, Brantley started going downhill on Duncan's watch, so it could just be sour grapes.

But here's the ominous part: Brantley then announced that everyone knows Matt Morris' fastball is gone, and everyone knows he'll never get it back. That's a scarier charge, and might be more than the rantings of a drunken, third-tier broadcaster.

Has Matt Morris lost his fastball? Well, we should ask ourselves: if this is true, if Morris' velocity is gone, what other things would also be true? First of all, his radar gun readings would be lower. It seems clear to me that they are. I watched Morris' readings all night, and although I didn't catch every pitch, the fastest pitch I saw clocked in at 90 mph. A year ago Morris would giddyup that thing to around 94.

What else would be true? Well, you'd see more guys pulling the ball. A few of the Rockies -- namely, Castilla, Burnitz, and Charles Johnson -- had no problem wheeling on Morris' heater tonight, but that doesn't tell you much. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one in the future.

Lastly, if Morris' fastball was going limp, you'd expect his strikeout rate to drop. Let's see: Morris' velocity is reputed to have dropped off sometime around last June. From the beginning of 2002 until June of last year, Morris struck out 7.20 guys per 9 innings. From June 2003 until tonight, Morris punched out only 5.05 guys per 9 innings. That's a plunge of over two strikeouts per game. (The '02-'03 league norm for K/9 was 6.71, meaning Morris has gone from an above-average whiffmeister to well below average in the blink of an eye.)

Well, you might say -- who cares? Morris still has a fine changeup and a good power curve, and he's won his last two starts without a devastating heater. And yes, there were times tonight (and in Arizona) where Morris seemed like he was evolving into a crafty location pitcher.

I don't buy it. Morris needs his fastball to work hitters inside and also to set up his breaking pitches. What's more, when Morris' big curve isn't working (as on Opening Day), he has nothing in his arsenal to fall back on. It's a depressing thought, but we might not see vintage Matt Morris -- the one who went toe-to-toe with Schilling and Unit in consectutive NLDS -- ever again.

GAME NOTES Cardinals 13, Rockies 5

• Another big day for the bats, as the Cards pounded out 13 runs and 15 hits in eight innings. Womack and Sanders got things started with lead-off, back-to-back home runs, the first time that's happened for the Birdnals since August 17, 1958 (back then it was off of Koufax; tonight it was off of Denny Stark). That's a span of 7,176 games.

• I didn't even know Womack was capable of muscling up like he did -- he's got such a spindly body and takes such a flyswatter, Luis Castillo-like swing. But he really womacked the hell out of the ball, only his 31st homer in 4,337 lifetime plate appearances.

• The lumber in our lineup once again masked a pretty mediocre performance by our pitchers. The other day I suggested you keep an eye on the "three true outcomes" when evaluating our staff. Morris failed on all three counts. His walks were up (3 in 7 innings), his strikeouts were down (4 in 7 innings), and he gave up 3 more home runs. On the night Cards pitchers gave up 6 XBH's. If they'd given up more than two singles, things could have been much uglier. All in all I think you have to say this was another uninspiring job by our hurlers.

• Lankford's ETA, according to Al Hrabosky: Tuesday.

• I loved seeing the sprinklers come on in the top of the second -- for a moment Busch Stadium resembled the fountains at Kaufman Stadium. Remember that scene in Bull Durham when Crash and a few teammates turned on the sprinklers to force a rainout? I wonder if Rox pitcher Denny Stark was behind the sprinklers going off at Busch...

ANEMIC I can't get over how lousy the Expos hitting has been. They've scored only 10 runs in their first nine games, with game totals of 3-3-0-2-1-1-0-0-0. That wouldn't look out of place as a scoreboard line for a single nine-inning game. And in fact, of the 29 remaining teams, 22 of them already have scored 10 or more runs in a single game.

Some other Expos oddities:

• They haven't had so much as a three-run inning all year. Their high-water marks this season: a two-run inning in Game #2, and another two-run inning in Game #4.

• As a team, the Expos have only 3 home runs. The Cardinals hit three home runs in one inning last Friday against the Diamondbacks.

• Not surprisingly, the Expos have had trouble with runners in scoring position. They're hitting only .058 (3-for-52) with runners on, and they have only one extra-base hit, a double, in those situations.

• The Expos play in good hitters parks -- Olympic Stadium helps offense, and Hiram Bithorn Stadium (where the 'Spos played this week) is a launching pad. Nonetheless, the Expos have scored only 4 runs in six home games.

• Only one Expos hitter, Jose Vidro, has been having an above-average year. He's either leading or tied for the team lead in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Take away Vidro and the rest of the Expos have a team AVG/OBP/SLG of .174/.219/.223.

• The Braves scored more runs in the fourth inning of their April 7th game against the Mets than the Expos have all year.

HOW TO MAKE A ROID MONSTER A couple weeks ago I mentioned an article by George Will that seemed destined for the Most Idiotic Baseball Editorial of 2004. Well, sorry, George, but your crown has been taken away. The new frontrunner is Stephen A. Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who penned one of the most ignorant and ill-informed columns I've read in a long time.

What's it about? Well, it starts off by bemoaning all this flap about Barry Bonds as a possible steroid user. Fair enough -- I've defended Bonds on more than one occasion, and I have little patience for people who indict the man simply by measuring his hat size. But then Smith gets to the heart of his editorial: a haymaker aimed right at the mug of Mark McGwire.

See, Smith thinks Bonds is getting a bad rap, whereas McGwire (All-American poster boy and child-rights crusader) got off scot free six years ago:

Where was everyone in 1998, when McGwire forgot to stuff the dietary supplement androstenedione in a drawer instead of leaving it out for a reporter to spot? Where was the uproar in the weeks that followed when he was exposed as a steroid user? Who was talking about his legacy? What people would think of him in 25 years? His 70 home runs, which broke Roger Maris' record of 61 set in 1961? Who even thought about an asterisk being placed next to his name?

Well, Stephen, I'll tell you who thought about it: damn near everybody. Gene Woolsey of the Toronto Star labelled McGwire the "steroid pin-up boy," and his colleague Christopher Hume called McGwire's records a mere "steroid-driven home run streak." Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 1998, "I don't think we're seeing a test of how many home runs Mark McGwire can hit in a season. It looks instead like a test of how many home runs a chemically enhanced Mark McGwire can hit." David Kindred of The Sporting News began a profile of McGwire with the following taunt: "Welcome to 'Roid World. Where muscle comes out of a needle. Where home runs come out of a little bottle." Not to be outdone, Wallace Matthews of the New York Post chimed in, "Mark McGwire let a lot of children down, starting with his own 10-year-old son." He goes on to say that McGwire should come clean to America's kids about the evils of chemical enhancement, and that "anything less would be the thing McGwire hates most in the world. Child abuse." You think Barry Bonds was ever accused of child abuse?

But it wasn't just newspaper columnists tsk-tsking McGwire. Editorial cartoonists had a field day. There was the cartoon about McGwire's steroid bottle enshrined at Cooperstown; another one with Big Mac guzzling a tanker-truck-sized bottle of pills; another one with a molecular diagram for chemical supplements (rather than an asterisk) next to McGwire's 62nd home run. Cartoonists also had Mark McGwire wielding a steroid bottle at the plate instead of a bat, encouraging kids to "take steroids and break old records" just like him, posing for a picture with estrogen-enhanced breasts, and even standing at the plate with a big canine tail. (Although I know that last one isn't accurate because it shows Big Mac hitting lefthanded.)

You see, 1998 was an all-out party for anyone yearning to get on their high horse and tee off on Mark McGwire. Hell, I remember driving around one night, listening to sports talk radio, and hearing a guy talk about the asterisk that should be put next to McGwire's HR totals; I then switched stations and heard another guy on another call-in show opining that McGwire was poisoning our nation's youth.

Oh, sure, McGwire had his defenders. The din got so loud that the Cardinals front office released a statement defending their players' right to use androstenedione. Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Union chief Donald Fehr issued a joint statement that pointed out that andro was available over-the-counter and not banned by MLB. So you had plenty of mouthpieces on both sides of a nationwide debate.

All of this was lost on Stephen A. Smith, who was evidently taking some performance-reducing drugs when he spit out his diatribe in the Inquirer. He writes that McGwire had it easy, that "the level of scrutiny should have been more conspicuous than McGwire blowing kisses in Sammy Sosa's direction." (I can't make any grammatical sense of that sentence, but I think I know what he means.) Smith goes on to write that "the rumblings were like whispers at a parade compared with what Bonds is going through."

If that's not off-the-wall enough for you, Smith's piece gets even weirder. Moments after cautioning us not to judge Barry Bonds, he blatantly skewers McGwire as a steroid-user, with no real evidence to back up his case. Writes Smith:

[D]on't tell me about how andro was legal. Spare me! It's a steroid. It's a metabolic step away from testosterone, the body's ultimate anabolic steroid. Or so reports say.

Or so some reports say. There's still intense debate in the medical community about whether andro should be classified as a steroid. We do know that androstenedione is not an anabolic steroid -- it is, instead, a naturally occuring androgenic steroid, meaning it has masculinizing effects, namely the stimulation of testosterone (and likely estrogen, hence the breasts in the editorial cartoon). And the latest study that I'm aware of suggests that andro does not help much if you're looking to build muscle mass. A fair description of andro would place it in that gray area between steroids and non-steroids. And a fair examination of McGwire's andro use would recall that, in fact, McGwire stopped using the drug when he realized the bad example he was setting for children. But then again, Stephen A. Smith isn't about to let facts get in the way of a good lecture.

Smith concludes his article by discussing Bonds' stunning longball achievements, while lamenting that the great moments of Bonds career "are tinged with skepticism and doubt -- without any factual evidence placed in front of us. There's something wrong with this picture." Smith might want to reflect on Mark McGwire and read those last couple sentences one more time.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

JACKIE Today, as you may know, is Jackie Robinson Day, marking the 57th anniversary of the end of baseball's color line. You may do well to take a few moments and remember Jack Roosevelt Robinson, but if you do, please try to avoid the hushed pieties that usually attend a day like this. Don't get me wrong -- Robinson deserves our respect. But I fear that his status as a saintly icon is gradually swallowing the dazzling, human side of this great man.

What I'd give to be a fly on the wall during Branch Rickey's first meeting with Jackie Robinson, when he grilled him with a variety of questions to gauge his toughness. At one point during the interview, according to The Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball, the Dodgers GM reared back as if to swing at Jackie and hollered, "What do you do now, Jackie? What do you do now?" Robinson replied, "I get it, Mr. Rickey. I've got another cheek. I turn the other cheek."

I suppose it's easy to see Robinson delivering that line in the deferential manner common to many African-Americans of that age. But Robinson was an extremely proud, staunch man, which made his self-effacing manner in the face of adversity all the more amazing. He was college-educated and served in the U.S. Army. He also may have been the best athlete to ever play major-league baseball (although Bo Jackson could put in a pretty nice claim). Jackie almost led UCLA to the Rose Bowl in football, was an All-American in basketball, and broke a national record for the long jump (the previous mark was actually held by his brother, Mack).

Robinson's intro to the white major leagues was important, yes, but it was also exciting as hell. He was an incredibly versatile player, as you might expect (Bill James ranks him as one of the best fielders of all time), and he possessed a brash, cutthroat baserunning style (he actually stole home nineteen times in his career). Robinson was not the type of guy to simply tune out the threats and epithets that were hurled at him from folks in the stands -- he used the adversity as fuel to feed his hunger in the field and on the basepaths.

So, yes, it's nice that Jackie Robinson has been memorialized, and it's nice that every team has retired his number, but let's not forget the roiling, combative human being behind #42.

MAZZONE'S MR. MIYAGI Rob Neyer has a cool article about the Hall of Fame portfolio of Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Mazzone, says Neyer, compares favorably to ex-pitching coach Johnny Sain, whom many consider the pre-eminent pitching guru of all time. Now, I knew Sain was good with arms, but I didn't know how good --

In 17 seasons, Sain coached 16 20-game winners. And beginning in 1961, Sain had a 13-season streak with at least one 20-game winner in each season. Whitey Ford won 20 games only twice, both times while pitching for Sain. Denny McLain's two big seasons came while pitching for Sain. Jim Kaat's three biggest seasons came while pitching for Sain, first with the Twins and later with the White Sox. Knuckleballer Wilbur Wood won 20 games four times; all four times, Sain was his pitching coach.

In the late '70s Sain took on a young student and taught him various ins and outs about the discipline of pitching. The young man's name? Leo Mazzone.

MIDWEST FARM REPORT You can hardly blame Cardinals pitchers -- who are having a cussed time keeping the ball in the park -- if they're feeling some serious heat on the back of their necks from Danny Haren and Adam Wainwright. Both pitchers have only a couple starts in Memphis, but so far they don't seem too intimidated by AAA batters.

Haren has tossed 12 innings, given up only six hits and two earned runs (for a 1.50 ERA), and had 10 K's in six innings on Wednesday night. Wainwright has been even better -- 11 innings, 4 hits, no runs, 12 punch-outs. Baseball America's Jim Callis thinks Wainwright will be "a solid No. 3 starter in the majors, and you'll probably see him in St. Louis at some point this year."

By the way, Josh Pearce has also been throwing gas down in Memphis, with 9 strikeouts and no walks in only 4.2 innings of work.

YET ANOTHER MARK PRIOR UPDATE Will Carroll tells debunks the idea that Mark Prior's career is on the rocks and expects the big righthander back around the first or second week of May.

HIRSUTE has an interesting feature on the best hair in baseball history. Their list is pretty great, but it should include Fernando Tatis' bleach-blonde highlights, the prepubescent goatee that J.D. Drew has been trying to grow for the past five years, Dave Duncan's Edgar Winter-style mullet (harkening back to his days as a backup catcher for the Swingin' A's, when his hair flowed past his shoulders like a magnificent gold Pegasus), and, my personal favorite, Nino Espinosa's gigantic topiary afro, c. 1979, which seismologists now consider one of the main precursors of the Mount St. Helens disaster.

POND SCUM Remember the 1986 Mets? I can't think of a professional sports team I've hated more intensely (that includes the Christian Laettner-era Blue Devils and the Warren Sapp-era Buccaneers). Just hearing names like Gary Carter, Howard Johnson, and Wally Backman still gives me the creepy-crawlies.

For three years running the Mets and Cards engaged in a form of tribal warfare that actually rivals today's Yanks-Sox skirmishes. You had HoJo beating the Cards with a grand slam moments after a bench-clearing brawl; and then there was the stretch drive in '85, with Darryl Strawberry's Roy Hobbs-like, clock-breaking homer to beat the Cards 1-0 in ten; you also had Jeff Lahti promising to bean Howard Johnson in the head for the price of a free pizza; Busch fans showering the field with seat cushions when Tommy Herr downed the Mets with a walk-off grand slam; Mets fans praising catcher Barry Lyons for breaking John Tudor's leg; Whitey Herzog claiming he had x-rays to prove that HoJo's bat was corked; and, of course, Terry Pendleton's two-out, two-strike, game-tying ninth-inning homer that had the fans in Shea chanting "Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, good--- wait, what the hell just happened?" As Cards utilityman Tom Lawless said about the rivalry, "It was ugly at times. We had nicknames for them in the clubhouse and we had pictures of them in the clubhouse. The wives had a shouting match down here one night."

Those were good times. But now that tempers have died down, and the '86 Mets have gone off to become either broadcasters or fat asses, perhaps we can look at the team with a little perspective. SI writer Jeff Pearlman has done just that, with a new book about the '86 Mets titled The Bad Guys Won (love the title -- those certainly weren't the huggable "Gotta Believe" Mets of yore). Alex Belth follows that up with a nice post about the Mets' legacy, and then provides a cool email from Richard Lederer which argues (definitively, I think) that the '86 Mets squad was not the greatest ballclub of the last 20 years. But they could play some serious baseball; I will give them that.