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Monday, May 31, 2004

THE PORTABLE REDBIRDS I spent the Memorial Day weekend at a wedding on the East Coast (by some odd coincidence it was the second wedding I've attended in Wilmington, Delaware), so I was mostly out of touch with Cardinal baseball. Between various meals, services, and other pomp-and-circumstantial activities, I had to keep updated the old-fashioned way -- by waiting for the ESPN sports ticker to roll around every few minutes or so and give me the latest scores from Houston. Most of the time the news was quite good.

I've said this before, but one reason I think we're in a Golden Era for baseball fandom is that it's now easier than ever to follow your team of choice, from wherever you are. Following the Cards via sports ticker in a Wilmington hotel room reminded me when I moved out of the house at age 18 to go to college. Back then there was only one way to get Cardinals scores before the morning paper -- I used to place a long-distance call to a service run by the Post-Dispatch that had the final score of the Cardinal game and, if you were lucky, maybe one sentence of highlights. (I can still remember hearing about Fernando Valenzuela's no-hitter that way, my rock-bottom experience of the waning days of Whiteyball.)

But a series of technological breakthroughs has made it easier and easier to be part of the Cardinals diaspora. After the call-in service, I was able to check the final scores by watching the sports ticker on CNN Headline News (although on Saturdays during college football season it might take a full half-hour just to get the score you wanted), then a couple years later I was able to go online and get not just a final score, but a recap and a box score too. After that I could have the scores piped into my beeper as soon as the game ended. After that I could get the scores via cell phone. Then I was able to actually listen to KMOX (and the profound Mike Shannon) over the internet. And now, finally, I can see most games on the MLB Extra Innings package.

This has made a huge difference in what it means to be a baseball fan. Just one or two generations ago, you were more or less chained to your local team -- if you were a Cardinals fan living in, say, Seattle, you were just plum out of luck. You'd have to satisfy your Cards craving with a sentence or two of game notes in your regional paper, maybe a box score, certainly no highlights on the evening news, and when all was said and done, your loyalty to the Cards might waver, and your kids would be dyed-in-the-wool Mariners fans.

Now teams are much more portable, which could have a huge impact on how people choose and maintain their allegiances. If you're a kid growing up in Minnesota, you'll probably root for the Twins, but it's just as easy to root for the Yanks, or the White Sox, or the Cardinals. And if your old man is a Cards fan, all the easier. As the years go by, fan loyalty might become less a product of regional ties, and more the result of various whims and "brand choices." Like when I was a kid in the late '70s, I was a big admirer of the "We Are Family" Pirates. Had I been, back then, able to see half their games on the Extra Innings package, perhaps I'd have more mixed feelings about the Cards whupping their ass today up at PNC Park.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. I'll just mention three things that everyone probably knows already: (1) that Scotty Rolen can play a little baseball; (2) Phat Albert is starting to resemble Phat Albert (in fact, his .404 OBP and .622 SLG are pretty much right in line with his career totals of .411 and .613); and (3) the Astros, Cubs, and Cardinals each have the same 27-23 record. It's almost like it's Opening Day again, 112 games left to see which of those teams is leader of the pack (provided, that is, that Griffey and the Redlegs don't pull a 2002 Angels and pull the wool over everyone's eyes).

THE KID Ever since he was promoted to High-A ball, Daric Barton has done nothing but hit. Barton, you may recall, was the Cards' #1 pick in the 2003 amateur draft, and he's gone hog-wild in the Midwest League: after 56 plate appearances, his line reads .455/.571/.818.

I'll admit, I was skeptical when the organization tapped Barton last June -- first off, he was drafted out of high school when it seemed the Cards needed more immediate organizational replenishments, and secondly he was a catcher, and Yadier Molina, who also plays catcher, is one of the few semi-bright lights in our system.

Well, the Cards have moved Barton out of the C slot (he's been playing DH mostly, which I don't get), but he's been raking the ball, collecting a couple hits seemingly every night and showing great discipline at the plate. Oh, and one more good thing about him: he doesn't turn 19 until the middle of August.

HERE COMES THE GYROBALL! Will Carroll has a wild article on the gyroball, a new pitch from the Far East that seems like it was cooked up by Ming the Merciless. How nasty is it to hit? Well:

...the ball comes at the hitter looking like a hanging curve and then takes a hard, flat turn away from a right-handed batter. Whether you believe in DIPS or not, the effect is the same. First, the batter has a difficult time deciding whether or not to swing. He will have a hard time detecting not only the spin and plane, but since the ball is delivered with a fastball motion, the speed as well. Not only is there no mechanical clue (ideally, of course), but the ball comes in faster than a slider. Assuming the batter does make contact, it is difficult to hit the ball on the sweet spot. Contact usually leads to a weak hit to the opposite field.
That's enough to make me think I'll never make the bigs after all.

DECISION '04 Joe Aiello and Dave Beyer are conducting a "World Series of Blogs" over at their website, A View From the Bleachers. They've taken fifty blogs, spread them out over 6 polls (representing the 6 MLB divisions), and pitted them against each other to see which baseblog is the worthiest. RBN is flattered to be nominated, so vote for us if you're so inclined (if the NL Central doesn't appear on the screen right away, just hit refresh until it shows up).

MOLASSES So John Kruk thinks Albert Pujols is the slowest man in the entire NL Central. Please. Pujols doesn't have great wheels, I'll grant Kruk that, but if there were four outs in an inning Mike Matheny would ground into several quadruple plays a year.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

SHINING LIKE A NATIONAL GUITAR I'm stationed in Memphis for a few months because of work. Today I attended my first minor league game, as the Redbirds took on the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Florida Marlins' AAA affiliate. My thoughts:

Autozone Park is located right in downtown Memphis, and it's a nice little park. Every seat is pretty good, even the Bluff, the general admission lawn area above the left field wall, where there is a playground for the kids. There's also a "boardwalk" area with games and amusement park rides nearby. Very family friendly.

Rockey the Rockin' Redbird is more popular with children than Fredbird. Some of the kids started crying when Rockey left the stadium for good. Don't ask me why.

They actually serve beers other than Budweiser. I enjoyed a Killian's myself, and my traveling companion had a Sam Adams Summer Ale.

Bo Hart still comes to the plate to "Seven Nation Army." I wish I hadn't missed Bo Hart Bobblehead Night.

The Redbirds are in last place in their division and I can see why. They looked totally outmatched in every facet of the game today.


Friday, May 28, 2004

WHO'S KING? Part 4 of 6

In this series, we explore the sports hierarchies in each MLB town and determine which team has the tightest grip on the local psyche and is “King.” This is the fourth of six parts.



The combination of history, passion, and sports culture in the Hub certainly make Boston one of America’s top sports towns. This isn’t about ranking towns against each other, though, so we must look within Nomahville and decide which team is King. Let’s see, you have a hockey team that has won five Stanley Cups and featured immortals like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Ray Bourque. The Bruins also skate in a city where the “participation rate” in their sport among the populace is surely the highest, or second highest, behind Minneapolis-St. Paul (among non-Canadian NHL cities). Then you also have a basketball team that has won a league-best 16 championships, including an incredible eight in a row. The Celtics unquestionably have the most storied “legacy” in the NBA and have several hoop demi-gods of their own: Russell, Cousy, Bird, Auerbach, to name just a few.

Oh, and let’s not forget the current Super Bowl champions (who also won the thing just two years ago) with hunky Tom Brady. Then, there’s also the various college teams in town, most notably BC football and the hockey teams of BC, BU, Northeastern, and Harvard, who battle for the coveted Beanpot each year in a tournament of full-on ITech hockey. Usually at least one of these teams makes it to the NCAA’s Frozen Four and skates for the college championship. Schoolboy hockey is also huge in Mass.

So, with all these winning teams and rich traditions it must be hard for Bostonians to pick a favorite team, right? Wrong. They like the guys who haven’t won since 1918. Hosiery rules in Beantown.

From my friend Mark, who moved to Boston five years ago...

My views have shifted on this since I first moved here. I always thought Boston was a basketball town (Bird, Red Auerbach et al) I was mistaken. Obviously the Patriots rate well given their recent successes but based on my local experience... here goes... 1-Red Sox (WITHOUT A DOUBT - if they left civilization would crumble) 2-Patriots - lots of local loyalty but they are a "New England" team and even non-chowds in CT, NH & Maine can lay claim to them. 3-Bruins - pretty loyal hockey followers here. 4-Celtics (2 years ago I got a 10 Game package for work, they made the playoffs and not a single person even asked about Celtics tickets...It was work to give them away.)
Then there was this response…

The Red Sox are so much the king of this city that only the Patriots even come close. Only in Boston could off-season trade talks blow the football team, in the middle of one of the most amazing Super Bowl-capped winning streaks in NFL history, off the front page of the news (the Sox did this consistently, and not just with the Schilling deal and the A-Rod blueballs, but with minor off-season deals as well.)
Now, I doubt that a minor off-season deal would “blow football off the front page” but I do believe it could share space. And I also know that there are a few other towns where any baseball transaction involving the home team rates as front-page stuff. But the above quote does illustrate the mania New England is currently experiencing for its Sox.

I wonder if there would be as much of a frenzy surrounding the Fenway Fighters if the Sox had just found a way to win a Series at some point last century? Each year that goes by without a championship for Boston seems to just turn the screw a bit tighter on the fans. Unlike Cub fans, who seem to have conditioned themselves to the inevitable, Sox fans apparently still feel safe investing all of their emotion in each year’s squad only to see it dashed again, and again, and again. If the Sox ever do win, and they could this year, I wonder if New England will then turn to the Bruins (who are currently #2 in the list of “years since the last championship” for Boston teams) to get their misery fix.

1. Boston Red Sox
2. New England Patriots
3. Boston Bruins
4. Boston Celtics
5. Boston College Football
6. BC/BU/NU/Harvard Hockey Teams

New York

In the interim since yesterday’s post about the NL East, I received the latest Sports Illustrated in which a survey of 403 New Yorkers indicated that the Mets are the second most popular pro team in the state. We had them #6 in our list. I have since contacted SI to plan a “sit down” and hammer out a compromise. Details will be announced as they develop.

OK, so the Yankees are Kings of New York. No question there. But, what about the King of the Yankees? No, not Ruth, not Jeter, not Freddie -- I’m talking about The Boss, George Steinbrenner. For a while now I’ve been intrigued by this notion: Does Steinbrenner belong in the Hall of Fame?

Here’s his credentials – 12 division titles, 10 pennants, 6 world championships, and the distinction of being, far and away, the most recognizable owner in all of pro sports for the past 30 years or so. He is, without a doubt, one of the great characters of the game. A recent article in Sports Illustrated showed the kinder, gentler Steinbrenner of the 21st century but also made it clear that the lion hasn’t lost all of his roar.

Steinbrenner has many enemies, but let’s take a closer look at what everyone’s so mad about. Opposing teams are mad at George for spending a lot of money on his team. Fans of other teams are mad at Steinbrenner. Well, if you look at it, are they really mad at him or are they mad at the fact that their owners won’t play the same game and keep up with the Yankees? This article here makes some excellent points about the many owners who have more money than George but refuse to dump it into their team just for the sake of winning. The Yanks make money because Steinbrenner invests in his business. Most other owners refuse to match George’s willingness to spend what it takes to win. Let’s face it, the luxury-tax rule is in place to try and stop George. George could care less.

The Yankees make a lot of money (understatement of the week). They have their own TV network. They sell tons of tickets at home and on the road and lead the league in merchandise sales. Here’s one reason why this is all happening – they’re awesome. Why are they awesome? Steinbrenner (by listening to Brian Cashman and Joe Torre) made them awesome.

Look at the stretch from 1989 to 1992 - the Yanks finished 8th, 9th, 11th, and 11th in attendance in the AL. Was anybody complaining about the money Steinbrenner wasted on Steve Sax, Steve Kemp, and Andy Hawkins? (Tidbit o’de day – Did you know the Yanks only made one postseason appearance in the 1980s but somehow managed to win more regular season games than any other team that decade?)

Now, I'm not dumb enough not to realize that the Yanks play in the biggest market in the nation. I know they can command top TV dollar merely because their audience is huge, whether they win or not. I do think that some sort of competitive balancing meausres are needed to a degree in the game. But, for an owner (or a commissioner) to complain that Steinbrenner is "buying" championshisps when he could do the same, if it was that important to you, is hypocritical.

To be fair, Steinbrenner is also legendary for treating most of his employees like absolute garbage. I heard that, last winter, on the day Gary Sheffield signed with New York, Steinbrenner discontinued dental coverage for all Yankee office personnel. There is also the Yogi Berra fiasco that left #8 estranged from the pinstripers for over a decade. The list of people who feel “wronged” by Steinbrenner is long and colorful. The bottom line for the Hall of Fame, though, is usually production and impact on the game. There’s no denying that George has had an impact, and his collection of championships cannot be disputed. Will he ever make it in? Maybe he should but I doubt he ever will.

This just in: The SI survey has been considered and the NYC ranking adjusted accordingly. Inflexible we are not. Those looking for something less Steinbrennerian and more in the vein of “who’s king” of NYC are referred to the NL East posting.

1. New York Yankees
2. New York Mets
3. New York Knicks
4. New York Giants
5. New York Rangers
6. New York Jets
7. St. John’s basketball
8. New Jersey Devils
9. New Jersey Nets
10. New York Islanders


The first baseball book I ever read that wasn’t geared towards kids was Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Thomas Boswell. Boswell was, and is, with the Washington Post and spent a lot of time covering the Baltimore Orioles. Through his writings I was given a tour of the Oriole clubhouse and introduced to something called “The Oriole Way.” (He was still talking about it two years ago...)

Most baseball fans know that "The Oriole Way" was a comprehensive breakdown of all fundamental aspects of the game of baseball and the correct way to execute them. Oriole farmhands had proper positioning, technique, and decision making drilled into them like so many Japanese factory workers. By the time they hit Memorial Stadium they were like interchangeable parts of a big orange and black machine. (Just parts of a machine... no wonder why this guy stayed there only one year.)

This style of indoctrination seemed to pay off big for Baltimore as it enjoyed a tremendous run of success from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. The former St. Louisans, led by a former St. Louisan, captured 8 division championships, 6 pennants, and 3 World Series. (To be accurate, Hank Bauer managed the 1966 World Champions, not Earl.)

With all this success it would seem that the Orioles should be an easy pick for King. Well, they are. But it wouldn’t be so easy if this hadn’t happened. Conversations with citizens of Bal’mer and historical documents prove that the Colts ruled Maryland absolutely until they galloped out of town that snowy night. The indelible impact of the Colts can be seen, or rather heard, to this day in Baltimore.

Also big is basketball at the U of Maryland. Sure, they just won a few years ago, but the tradition stretches back beyond the Lefty Dreisel years to the phenomenal 1974 team that suffered a bitter loss to NC state in what most call the best college game ever.

The Ravens early success has surely won some fans in this town of Redskins-haters and football lovers. From what I’ve gathered, though, the team is accepted still as a bit of a newcomer who may need to do a bit more to fit in. The pioneering personalities of the Ravens, Ray Lewis and Brian Billick, aren’t exactly lovable guys. I’m sure there are a lot of Baltimoreans who love the fact that the Ravens win but aren’t too thrilled to pledge their allegiance to these churlish faces of the franchise.

1. Baltimore Orioles
2. University of Maryland Basketball
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Johns Hopkins Lacrosse
5. Washington Bullets
6. Washington Capitals


First off, for anyone who read my take on Montreal and thought that I was saying that Canadians call Americans “United States-ers,” I say, “Are you serious?” Canadians call Americans Americans. I was making a tongue-in-cheek joke. The conversations I had with the hippie backpackers and the customs agents (who I saw so frequently that they become friends) were real, though. It’s just one of those things like when some smart-ass pipes up and tells you that we live in a Republic, not a Democracy. Yeah, whatever. I’m not even sure if they’re right. I know where I live and I know what name we’re known by worldwide: Big Fat Americans, often Ugly.

Toronto is a fabulous city that was named the World’s Most Diverse by the UN. That diversity ends, though, when looking at what sports team the city cares about. The Queen is on their money, but the Maple Leafs are the Kings of Toronto.

The big-spending Leafs are an anomaly among the other, cash-strapped Canadian NHL teams. They can sort of be likened to the Yankees, except the Leafs haven’t won a Cup since 1967. Tons of NHLers come from the Toronto area and most have at one time or another expressed an interest to go play for their hometown team, but you wonder if they really would like it. I mean, the coverage of all things Leaf is as comprehensive as it comes. Toronto is home to The Hockey News and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is really enjoyable to visit (you can touch the Stanley Cup, and, if you’re brave, Gordie Howe’s too). There are also several junior league teams in the Toronto suburbs that have their own deep histories and rabid fan bases.

The Blue Jays have had the misfortune of playing in the AL East the last several years. Were they in the Central we might have been listening to two anthems during a few playoff series in the recent past. The Jays play in a colossus of a park that actually lives up to the hype. Skydome was one of the last parks built before Camden Yards came along and changed everyone’s thinking about new baseball stadiums. I’ve seen two games there and I've also taken a behind the scenes tour, and must say that it is a marvel. And by the way, it’s Skydome, not The Skydome, as I learned on my tour from one of those non-United States-ers, who, I think, found happiness answering this...

Despite the dominance of the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays do have a healthy fan base and prove that there is no “cultural divide” that is an absolute barrier to baseball succeeding in Canada. (I realize that the culture in Montreal is quite different, but then again, Quebec is different from the rest of Canada.) Such success makes me wonder why a city like Vancouver isn’t a candidate for the Expos or hasn’t been really considered in the last two rounds of expansion.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Other Canadian NHL teams
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Junior League hockey teams
5. Toronto Raptors
6. Toronto Argonauts


Q - What do you think about the execution of your offense?
A - I’m all for it.
– Tama Bay Buccaneers coach Rich McKay, circa 1980
For years Tampa was home to only one professional sports team (unless you count these guys) and they set new levels of suckitude, to use a RBN term. Oh my, those teams were bad. I didn’t live there, but I would guess the interest in the Bucs was less than that in the New York Yankees back then. I mean, the Yankees train there and Tampa has no shortage of NYC transplants. I’m sure the Yankees are still very popular there on Florida’s west coast.

During my times in Tampa the locals I hung out with made it clear that “Tampa is part of the South first, and Florida second.” Now, I probably was hanging out with some weirdos (birds of a feather...) but I think what they meant was that Tampa has more in common with the Florida panhandle and the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana than it does with south Florida and that separate nation known as Miami. What does that mean for the “King” exercise? Well, while the resurgent Bucs can claim the crown right now, the Holy Trinity of Florida State, Florida, and Miami football is and will always be right there with them.

The sports scene in Tampa is still very new. The D-rays are only eleven years old and the Lightning are even younger. There is surely some enthusiasm for the Bolts right now as they take on the entire nation of Canada, but there is no way Tampa will revere the Stanley Cup, should they win it, more than they did the Lombardi trophy. This is a football town and the throne sits on the main deck of that big pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Florida / Florida State football
3. Miami football
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
5. New York Yankees
6. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Live in one of these towns? Agree? Disagree? I’m sure you do. What do you think and why? Please save any comments about towns not in this article. We’ll get to them in due time.

Next chapter: the AL Central – Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Kansas City

Thursday, May 27, 2004

GONE FISHIN' Like the Birdnals, I'll be traveling again this weekend, but fortunately we've got great content from my esteemed colleague Flynn while I'm away. Good luck to the Cards in the Juicebox, and I'll see you all after Memorial Day.

THE LANCE ARMSTRONGEST PLAYERS IN BASEBALL Last night I tried to figure out the guys most likely to hit for the cycle. So I designed a little Excel program, simply the chance of hitting a single times the chance of hitting a double times the chance of hitting a triple times the chance of hitting a homer, using each player's 2003 stats. The results:

1. Nomar Garciaparra
2. Corey Patterson
3. Trot Nixon
4. Dmitri Young
5. Steve Finley
6. Todd Helton
7. Eric Byrnes
8. Reggie Sanders
9. Vernon Wells
10. Alex Cintron

I would think Daryle Ward would enter that last somewhere around 650, 700. Painful.

THE MARQUIS MOMENT Our bud Josh Schulz passes along the rumor that the Cards may be looking to sign Jason Marquis to a contract extension or else trade him (or, after last night's performance, slow roast him in a creamy tomato compote).

PAPPAS' GREATEST HITS If you want a taste of what made the late Doug Pappas such a legend in his field, check out his exhaustive series on baseball finances, or, better yet, his antler-butting encounter with Our Beloved Commissioner.

FAT HEAD FROM A FAT WALLET FOR PHAT ALBERT? Bernie Miklasz has a fine piece on Al Pujols that's tonic for anyone who thinks Alberticus has grown lazy and head-swollen since his big contract extension. Is Pujols cocky? You bet, says Bernie, but then again he's always been that way:

From his first day in the bigs, Pujols has been insulted by the notion that any pitcher is superior to him. He has always been offended by the suggestion that a pitcher got the best of him; in his mind, only Pujols can get Pujols out. Pujols never has given credit to a pitcher. In this regard Pujols is a direct baseball descendant of Ted Williams, who channeled his rage and arrogance into his daily matchups against pitchers.
I think that's exactly right. And if acting like Ted Williams is bound to make you, say, a bad roommate, it's also bound to make you one ferocious cuss on the field. Albert will be fine.

ANOTHER CARDS BLOG They're sprouting up like mushrooms (the good kind) (and you can interpret that however you wish). This one is called Pure Cardinal Obsession, and it's written by Jeff Kissel, who you may know on these pages as the peerless MO Boiler. Check it out if you can.

THE BEST 1B IN THE AL SO FAR Yep, it's our old friend, hitting like he did from '95-'98. And we're footing the bill. Hurts, don't it?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

WHO'S KING? Part 3 of 6

In this series, we explore the sports hierarchies in each MLB town and determine which team has the tightest grip on the local psyche and is “King.” This is the third of six parts.



I have been to Montreal twice and I can safely say that Les Expos are not in command there. Big surprise, I know. There is no question that the Canadiens are everything that matters and more in Montreal. For that matter, all things hockey matter more in Montreal. Just a few weeks ago, when the Birdnals were up there dropping two of three in the vacuum known as Olympic Stadium, the announcers remarked at the number of people showing up for the Sunday afternoon game that were carrying portable TVs to catch that day’s playoff hockey game. Here’s the telling fact: that day’s game was Calgary v. Detroit.

It’s hard for us United States-ers to understand the importance of hockey in Canada. (Note: I say “United States-ers” because Canadians are Americans, too. Both countries are in North America; thus we are all Americans. This was explained to me by several raggedy “Canadian-flag-sewn-on-the-backpack” travelers I met in hostels and bars around the world but it was only when several non-raggedy “Canadian-flag-sewn-on-the-uniform” Customs Agents in British Columbia confirmed its accuracy did I accept it as truth. So, keep that in mind the next time you head up to get your toenail-fungus prescription at the discounted rate.)

Fervor for hockey in Canada surpasses that for any single sport in the States. My best, weak, attempt at drawing a parallel to hockey in Canada forces me to turn back the clock. Think of the days, wistfully yearned for by baseball old-timers and Ken Burns nostalgiamaniacs, when every vacant lot was full of kids playing baseball. Think of the times when most towns had one “major league” team, always the baseball team. Think of the times when every great athlete applied himself to baseball. Think of a time when baseball was far and away the only team sport that mattered. Think when every little boy wanted to play baseball. Now, imagine if that had never changed, or only waned just a little. We wouldn’t even be doing this “King” series. There’d be no question which team was King in each town, unless there were two baseball teams. Well, to the best of my estimation, that’s hockey in Canada today.

Canadian hockey fans root for their local team first, then all other Canadian NHL teams second. There are some bitter rivalries, with Ottawa-Toronto being the latest and most vicious, but for the most part the entire country gets behind any Canadian team still alive in the death march known as the playoffs. For the current Stanley Cup finals the Calgary Flames might as well assume the moniker of Canada’s Flames.

What about those Expos, though? Well, their lack of attendance has been an issue so long that I think it has been officially retired as fodder for any type of joke. They’ve all been done. Honestly, though, if you look to the past they did quite well. In fact, from 1979 to 1983 they were ranked in the top four in attendance each year. Of course, the incredible list of talent that came up or came through Montreal only to leave and excel elsewhere has also been churned up many times. What’s amazing about that list is that almost every guy who was “ripe for the taking” in Montreal did in fact go on to greatness. I mean, I can’t really think of anyone who was supposed to be awesome but then left and flopped. Actually, the “tons of talent but came up short of his potential” guy was a guy who the Expos held on to – Ellis Valentine.

Random Montreal note: there are many hotels and apartment buildings in Montreal that connect to an underground tunnel system containing lots of stores and restaurant and access to most buildings in the city, including Olympic Stadium (via subway). In essence, you could leave your house, grab a bite to eat, catch a game, hit a few bars on the way home, and never go outside. Perfect set-up if you are this guy.

1. Montreal Canadiens
2. Canadian NHL teams
3. Montreal Alouettes
4. Montreal Expos

New York

Well, here it is. The behemoth. New York City. How in the world do you pick a King team out of so many? Easy. Just put the best baseball franchise of all time there. Hint: It’s not the Mets. The Yankees are of course the Kings of New York, if not of all American sport. They reside in the American League East, though, and will be discussed at length in that chapter

So where do the Let’s Go Mets fall in the scheme of New York sports royalty? Well, the responses I got from New Yorkers or those who felt qualified to speak on The City had them as high as second and as low as eighth among the nine pro teams in the area. This, I think, reflects the immense diversity that exists in the NYC fanbase, which is an interesting dynamic to explore.

I went to college in southwestern Connecticut less than an hour outside New York. My school was populated by metro-New Yorkers of all stripes: Staten Island Disco Kings, Northern New Jersey Volvo Wranglers, Boyz From Queens, Manhattan College Radio Nebbishes, Red Nosed Bronx Irishmen, Westchester Nondescripts, Long Island Lacrosse Pretty Boys, Fashion-forward Brooklynites, and all the rest. While there seemed to be a bit of geographic rationale behind fan allegiance there was also plenty of unexplainable disparity. Pledging yourself to one team seemed to be a decision left up to the individual as a child, with family and socio-economic undertones that would reverberate for the rest of a sports fans life. This was a foreign notion to me. I grew up with one option: the Cardinals.

The ability to pick and choose one’s rooting interest has always fascinated me. The ramifications of belonging to a class of fans vary according to the team you support and where you live but there are some constants that are worth investigating. For instance, a legion of fans is one of the few groups a person can belong to with no requirements for entry nor continued enrolment. Think about it; to get into a school you have to, at a minimum, live in the school district. For private schools you have to either make the grades to get in or have the cash or both. To stay in school you must avoid disciplinary problems or flunking out. A club will let you in but most have the power to kick you out for any number of reasons. Even a religion will excommunicate the worst of its kind every now and again (provided you can pass the tests to get in in the first place).

But what does it take to be a citizen of, say, Met Nation? Well, can you stand there and say “Go Mets”? Great, you’re in. Now, if you want to wear Mets apparel and go out and make a fool of yourself (which I think you do simply by wearing one of these traffic safety devices), you can. And guess what, you have now become “Stupid Mets Fan” and thus represent, in the eyes of some, “all those A-hole Mets fans.” And can you be stripped of your “Mets Fan” status for such buffoonery? I’ve yet to find the governing board that can do that.

I think about this phenomenon mostly when the Cardinals, my hometown team, come to Chicago, where I live now, to play the Cubs. The streets are filled with mostly normal Cardinal fans but there are, invariably, some certified boobs stumbling around Wrigleyville wearing the sacred Birds on the Bat and giving Redbird Nation a bad name. But what can you do? Revoke their citizenship? Turn in your own? It is a unique situation where one must tolerate the sins of team brethren and hope that outsiders can differentiate between the have-brains and the have-nots.

Back to New York. The Yankees are, as mentioned, King. Here’s one local’s take on the scene:

In the 90's when the Knicks made a few runs, they owned the town. And then you could say the same for the Mets in the 80's. Right now it is all Yankees, but in the 80's it was quite a different story. The Giants were more important in the 80's as well, when LT and gang were doing all the coke that the Mets hadn't already done.
The bottom line is that the rankings below #1 are going to fluctuate wildly depending on where you are in this gargantuan metro-area. For this project, though, it’s what’s on top that counts.

1. New York Yankees
2. New York Knicks
3. New York Giants
4. New York Rangers
5. New York Jets
6. New York Mets
7. St. John’s basketball
8. New Jersey Devils
9. New Jersey Nets
10. New York Islanders


They booed Santa Claus.

When considering who is King in Philadelphia, special attention must be paid to the, shall we say, fickle nature of the local fans. Of course we all know they have a reputation for not hiding their displeasure. Heck, they booed their biggest star the second he was drafted. What may not be so obvious to many is just how different it is to go to a ballgame in Philly, or New York, or Boston, for that matter.

Now, this is completely my own opinion and it's based on just a few games each in the aforementioned cities, so please feel free to disagree, or boo, as the case may be. What I really noticed in the ballparks in those cities was a tremendously homogenous population in the stands. Men, men, and more men. Mostly young, mostly white, mostly drinking. Where were the women? I’ve been to hundreds of games at Busch Stadium and found the fanbase of women there to be fairly substantial. I’m not talking about gangs of bridge clubs rolling into the bleachers or anything. I’m referring to the thousands of families, young couples, girls out for the night, middle-aged couples, and older couples that come to every game in St. Louis. A similar crowd populates the non-bleacher parts of Wrigley Field, but not to the same degree.

In the northeastern towns, though, going to a ballgame seems to me to be much more of a boy’s night out. There is an intensity and an edge that comes from, among other things, competing groups of beered-up guys looking to out-jeer each other. Rowdy behavior and hair-trigger booing is expected, performed, and accepted. That’s not to say that the antics of these fans aren’t often creative and funny, like “Wolf Pack” in Philly and the never disappointing cheers from the bleachers in the Bronx. Take it from a guy who went to an all-boys high school (or take it from most of RBN’s staff, who did too), the absence of females lends an entirely different, often uninhibited, usually hilarious (to troglodytes like us, at least) element to most proceedings.

Philadelphia has suffered mightily as a sports town and I can’t blame the fans for being exasperated. Three straight NFC Championship Game losses? One baseball championship in 100 years? A Stanley Cup drought approaching 30 years? And they have to live in the same town as Allen Iverson? Somebody please send them some flowers. On second thought, I think they’d appreciate one of these a lot more.

Philly has a great football tradition created by guys like Chuck Bednarik, Norm Van Brocklin, Harold Carmichael, and now Donovan McNabb. There are also the unforgettable moments like the hit Concrete Charlie put on Frank Gifford, going to Super Bowl XV, and Howard Cosell taking to the airwaves for a 1970 Monday Night Football game in the old Baker Bowl while completely smashed. Redbird Nation’s Alec offered up his rankings for Philly:

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Philadelphia 76ers
5. St. Joseph’s basketball
6. Temple basketball
7. Penn State Football

Do they have sports in Atlanta? Who knew? I thought it was all-Outkast all the time.
Atlanta’s rapid ascent to business prominence in the last 25 years has resulted in an influx of young, affluent professionals who come to town, fly back home for period fixes of their hometown teams, and leave. As my friend Todd, a native Georgian who went to Georgia Tech explains...
The ATL is a land of professional, serial transplants. No one person has lived there long, from there originally, and all likely to move somewhere else soon. Not conducive to team or fan loyalty, so this is not too easy. That being said, The King: UGA football, a close second, high school football. If all the other sports disappeared, the only people that would notice would be the business suck-ups that can no longer expense the game. The Thrashers are well received, owing to the ATLs heavy NE transplant population. Falcons following: moody. Braves following: apathetic. Hawks following: bitter. GT following: studious.
I can’t really include high school football on these lists because there is no way any big city’s population can get behind one local high school in intra-city competition. So, with schoolboy football excluded, here’s the list for the Dirty South:

1. University of Georgia Football
2. Georgia Tech basketball
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Atlanta Thrashers
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Atlanta Hawks


I’ve historically rooted against all teams from Florida. It has never seemed fair to me when those teams win. I mean, Florida has great weather, no state taxes, miles of beaches, many gorgeous places and people, and so much more going for it. To add sporting championships to the mix seems like giving a millionaire a winning lottery ticket. It’s more than one place deserves.

Well, maybe Miami doesn’t deserve it but it has a college football program rivaling the all-time greats. The University of Miami has won five National Championships in the last 21 years and has almost always ranked in the top ten. The ‘Canes play in the historic Orange Bowl and enjoy not only unbelievable success but a reputation for an attitude all their own. Remember the great Catholics vs. Convicts showdowns in the 1980s? That has to go down as one of the best non-conference rivalries of the last few decades.

The U. of Miami, though, can’t really claim sole possession of the hearts of south Florida’s football fanatics, though. The Florida-Florida State-Miami three-way rivalry covers the whole state, South Beach included. There are plenty of kids who migrate up to Gainesville and Tallahassee from the lower part of the state and bring that school spirit with them when they return. There are also countless fans who aren’t alums of anywhere but bleed Gator, Seminole, or Hurricane blood nonetheless. The level of hysteria reached in the state when two of these teams play each other is only explainable by comparison to other white-hot rivalries: Ohio State/Michigan, Red Sox/Yankees, Auburn/Alabama, Britney/Christina.

The Marlins, as was shown during last year’s playoffs when Cub fans invaded Miami and were able to get about 15,000 tickets (it seemed) to games in Pro Player Stadium, do not have such a rabid following. Despite two World Championships in only 11 years of existence the team has to know it will always be #4 in town, at best. The heavy New York accent found in so many places like Boca Raton and West Palm Beach is a giveaway as to why the Marlins will never really threaten the monarchy around here. An enormous percentage of the population did not grow up here but came here later in life and thus maintains loyalties to the teams the left back home, which for most is the northeast.

I’ve often wondered how the Marlins would fare if it just loaded up on Latin American players, hired a Latin manager, and marketed itself as the team for all Hispanics. They’d surely be a popular road team in places like New York, Chicago, Houston, LA, Denver, and everywhere else with an established or burgeoning Hispanic population, which is to say, everywhere else. And once this strategy was in place the Marlins could become THE team that all beisbol-playing kids in places like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (so that would be all kids) considered their team. Of course this will never happen but the thought of somehow angling a team to be the “home team” of all baseball-crazy fans in the Caribbean, Eastern Mexico, and places like Venezuela and Colombia seems to me to have some very beneficial aspects.

Kings of South Florida:

1. University of Miami Hurricanes
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Florida/Florida State Football
4. Miami Heat
5. Florida Marlins
6. Florida Panthers

Live in one of these towns? Agree? Disagree? I’m sure you do. What do you think and why? Please save any comments about towns not in this article. We’ll get to them in due time.

Tomorrow, the AL East: Boston, New York, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

WHO'S KING? Part 2 of 6

In this series, we explore the sports hierarchies in each MLB town and determine which team has the tightest grip on the local psyche and is “King.” This is the second of six parts.


First off, I need to say that I love Seattle and the whole Pacific Northwest. I am tempted to launch into a fawning homage to the evergreen forests, the salmon (king), and the close proximity to backwoods militias in Montana, but I know this is a baseball blog and no one cares how much I love the Emerald City. With that out of the way I turn to a classic “King” battle being waged up there in King County. (Why’d ya think they called it the Kingdome, genius?)

Seattle is home to the University of Washington, or You-Dub, and its prolific sports teams, namely football. Husky Stadium, the most scenic stadium in college sports, is a boisterous place on the shore of Lake Washington that has been home to several top-notch teams, including a National Champion in 1991 and the supposed home to this. While the Seahawks have given the city a few thrills and they have a spiffy new PaulAllendium to play in, it seems to me that they don’t mesmerize the city like the Huskies.

So, the dogs are king, right? Well, here is a case where I think the ruling class has been usurped. For the first twelve years of their existence the Mariners seemed like one of those afterthought teams, like the current Devil Rays. Just a week ago I brought up this night, which drew more fans than Gaylord Perry’s 300th win. Sellouts were as common as... don’t say it, don’t say it... a dry day in Seattle. Oh man, that’s weak. But in 1987 the Mariners had the first pick in the amateur draft. Along came Junior.

Consider the Fishermen pre-Junior. Before Kenneth, the M’s biggest star was Harold Reynolds. Once Junior and his grin came to town the country had a reason to care about the M’s. Attendance jumped from 16,000 per game to 26,000 per game in Griffey’s first two years. In Griffey’s sixth year the Mariners won a dramatic 1995 Division Series over the storied Yankees and never looked back. Fifteen years later, after cultivating mega-stars like Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez, the Mariners are averaging over 40,000 per game and have wrested the scepter from any other pretenders to Seattle’s throne.

Another Mariner name worth mentioning is Mark Langston. Langston, as you may be aware, was in 1989 the absolute #1 hottest pitching commodity on the planet. Everybody wanted him. Who wanted him the worst? Well, the Montreal Expos gave up Gene Harris, Brian Holman and some tall dude named Randy Johnson to get him. I'd say that shrewd move, two years after signing Junior, paid off pretty well for Seattle. (Note on Langston: after that season Cardinals openly lusted for the lefthander to come and join the team. I remember reading a recap of the “free-agent wooing” that went down and it consisted, seriously, of Langston flying into St. Louis, being driven to a downtown hotel and meeting with Whitey Herzog in a room equipped with “a cooler full of cold Budweisers.” Langston signed with the California Angels. Whitey quit the next season.)

Back to Seattle. The Supersonics did have a championship season back in the 1970s despite an apparent aversion to being on the court and had some tough teams in the 1990s that made it to the Finals. There is definitely a fan base for hoops up there and I’m sure some Gonzaga-fever has seeped over from Spokane. For a place with so many days that force one inside for recreation I am a bit surprised that hockey has never caught on in Seattle. I think I’ll alert these guys and get them to lead an effort to bring hockey to Jet City.

The Kings of King County
1. Seattle Mariners
2. UW football
3. Seattle Supersonics
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Other UW sports

Oakland must be considered in light of what’s going on in San Francisco, but ultimately it is its own town and has a rich sports history unto itself. Actually, in terms of championships it beats out its gentrified cross-bay neighbor. World Series - been there/won: Oakland 6/4, SF 3/0. Super Bowls - been there/won: Oakland 4/2, SF 5/5.

As for recent success Oakland has it going on as well, with the Beaners making it to four straight postseasons and the Raiders winning the AFC in 2002. East Bay sports fans may have to watch their teams play in the “Oakland Mausoleum,” as some call it, but they do get to watch winners.

About that stadium. I was once fortunate enough to spend four Octobers in a row in the Bay Area, which is the best time of year to be there, weatherwise. On one occasion I was able to score tickets to see the Raiders play the Broncos on a Monday night. This was the first Monday night game for the Raiders since they moved back to Oakland. My tickets were up in what fans now call “Mount Davis,” the auxiliary, football-only seating that was added to the park to lure Al Davis back to the town he never should have left in the first place. (If you’re ever watching an A’s game, it’s that huge void of unused seats way above centerfield.) During the game, which was won by Denver with a ho-hum, 70-yard drive by John Elway in the last two minutes (how else could it end?), I witnessed security come up into my section no less than seven times to break up fights and escort face-painted lunatics towards the waiting arms of Alameda County officials. It’s been said that, during Raider games, that stadium turns into the world’s largest biker bar. Based on my one game there I’d have to agree. I’ve never seen a larger collection of skull-and-crossbones leatherwear, tattoos, facial hair, and missing teeth. And the men were even worse.

But this is about whom is King, and there is no question the Raiders rule Oakland. I heard a story once about a guy passing through O’Hare Airport in Chicago on a Friday afternoon. He walked by a bar and did a double take at the sight of about ten rowdy guys sitting at the bar in what he thought were Halloween costumes. On closer inspection he saw that the guys had on Oakland Raider warpaint, shoulder pads, feathers, etc. This was in June. In Chicago. His curiosity got the best of him – “What’s the deal with you guys?” Answer – “Oh, were on a layover. We’re going to Canton for brother Howie’s induction this weekend.” (That would be Howie Long going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Two days later.)

1. Oakland Raiders
2. Oakland A’s
3. Cal Bears

While Oakland (fairly or unfairly) is portrayed as existing in the shadow of San Francisco, Anaheim really cannot escape the fact that it is one of the little brothers of Los Angeles. Now, I freely admit that this is the first of only a few cities where I do not have a decent amount of firsthand exposure to the local sports scene. I’ve been to Anaheim many times, sure, but I didn’t pick up too much of the sports vibe. Perhaps the plastic mouse ears I was wearing at the time hindered my perception. That, or the fact that I was six, seven, eight, and nine years old for my four trips there.

I am dying to be contradicted here but I find it hard to believe most Anaheim residents don’t affiliate themselves with the LA area as a whole. Accepting that fact, then, I’d be surprised if the Laker dominance of the area stopped at Mousetown city limits. Anaheim has been hot lately, though, with a World Series winner and a Stanley Cup finalist. When you have only two teams and they reach the ultimate and penultimate levels of their leagues in the same year, you are doing well.

One thing that really struck me was how much Gene Autry was celebrated when the Angels won in 2002. Now, Autry carried the title of “Nicest Owner in all of Pro Sports" for pretty much the whole time he owned the Angels, so perhaps he didn’t get enough acclaim. But Disney, the owner back then, showed some class in allowing and encouraging the Cowboy’s memory to live on and to let his widow be front and center when the Halos brought hell to the Giants. Furthering the ownership huzzahs, I don’t know much about the new owner Artie Moreno, but I do know he shelled out the ducats for Vlad, Bartolo, Jose “Can you see I have no common sense?” Guillen, and Kelvim Escobar, and he did this, which delighted most fans and made these guys get Angel tattoos all over their bodies. You can’t ask for much more.

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Anaheim Angels
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
5. The Goofy All-Stars

Who’s King? Are you serious? This is Texas, son.

1. Dallas Cowboys
2. University of Texas Football
3. Texas A&M / Baylor / Texas Tech / Etc. Football
4. Dallas Stars
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Texas Rangers

I really don’t think I need to write anything about football in Texas so I won’t. I will, however, relate the time I was on business somewhere in Alabama and found myself at a miserable Chili/Applebee/Outback/TGIClose Enough to Walk Back to my Awful Hotel Room Gulag place populated by Manufacturer’s Reps and District Managers from all over the South. It was May and the Stanley Cup playoffs were in full swing and I was much more interested in a good NHL game than the highlights from ‘Bama’s spring game (which were featured in a 90-minute special, leaving me to wonder who had the task of deciding what didn’t make the cut for the show). As I asked the bartender to see if he could turn just one of the 18 TVs in the place to the hockey game, the guy next to me piped up with “Oh, man, this is like when I’m back in Dallas. You just ain’t been in a hockey town until you’ve been in Dallas.” At this point I had to turn away from the guy and fake a sneeze to hide the fact that I was laughing my ass off at this notion. Thoughts of all my hockey-playing and hockey-worshipping college buddies from Boston and upper New England beating the red off this guy’s neck for a statement like that filled my head.

Now, I’m not knocking Dallas as a hockey town, because I know from experience that they love the Stars and hockey has really taken a hold there. They are very good fans and the Stars have rewarded them with top-notch talent like Modano, Niewenduyk, Hull, and Belfour, not to mention a Stanley Cup that Buffalo is still filing suit in several courts to claim. It’s just the notion this guy had that Dallas was some kind of cradle of hockey that had me struggling to keep my composure.

This is a baseball blog, though, so what about the Rangers? Well, I’d say most people enjoyed watching Nolan Ryan do his thing for them. And it seemed like Jim Sundberg turned up on an All-Star team or two. Then the late 90s I-Rod & Juan Gone Hit Factory slugged their way to three division titles but never won a series. Actually, their most interesting team might have been the 1977 squad that won 94 games and finished behind Herzog’s Royals despite having four, yes four, managers during the season including Brian’s all time favorite, Eddie Stanky.

Live in one of these towns? Agree? Disagree? I’m sure you do. What do you think and why? Please save any comments about towns not in this article. We’ll get to them in due time.

Next Chapter, the NL East: Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami.

TUESDAY MORNING NOTES It's a battle of exes tonight (former Bucs Sanders, Suppan, Tavarez, and Womack vs. former Cardhand Jack Wilson). And speaking of ex-Pirates, supposedly the Cardinals are interested in Raul Mondesi. He's a veteran with no plate discipline, so that should surprise no one.

Lastly, Brad Th000000000pson has suddenly morphed into Brad Th12103pson -- last night he gave up 7 runs and nine hits (including three bombs) in 4.1 innings. Reminds me of a pitcher who takes a no-hitter into late innings, gives up a bingle, then falls apart.

Monday, May 24, 2004

WHO'S KING? Part 1 of 6 A few weeks ago I decided to flex my Rolodex a little bit and call upon my nationwide collection of friends, or people who pose as my friends, to help with an idea that had been brewing inside my head for years. I wanted to know what sports team was “King” in each city that has an MLB team. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent time in almost every one of these towns (and I don’t consider a layover or a drive-through as spending time, I’m talking about quality chunks here) and get a handle on each place’s “team hierarchy.”

Another coup I had is the good fortune of knowing people, mentioned above, who were generous enough to provide their takes on the cities they grew up in, lived in, or live in today. The results of this unscientific survey are completely subjective (I know, that’s a novel thing here in the land of the statistics-supported argument,) and reflect my own impressions of each city as well as the input I received from locals.

Now, the notion of what team is “King” in a city was generally understood but there were several variances of how it was interpreted. One respondent said, “One thing about a lot of these cities is that who is ‘king’ changes over time, which is a nice way of saying the fans are big-time bandwagoners.” Well, every team has its share of fair-weather fans. This type of contingent can elevate any team in any city to lofty levels and give it a “regal bearing” for a while. (See – Marlins, Florida.) This type of ranking, though, is more indicative of a democracy or a republic. The people speak, a new leader is chosen, it is in power for a while, but then, when the new leader falters, the people speak again (by not showing up) and the once mighty falls back to earth. This isn’t really what I was looking for.

What I’m talking about here is a monarchy. A King rules no matter what. Which team’s stories get the bigger headlines? What do the sports radio people talk about, even in its off-season? I think the best question is: Which team does the city take the most pride in? Who is the city happiest to see win?

In some areas the ruler is clear-cut. Take eastern Tennessee (please). There’s no MLB there but the following tidbit was too good to leave out. Here’s what my good friend Todd from Knoxville had to say about that city’s sports interest:

As for Knoxville goes, obviously, there is only one. UT football. That goes, and so does all of east TN. There would be really no other reason to live here. Trailer parks would turn to ghost towns. Orange would simply be a fruit again, not the color of lawns, shirts, cars, flags, buildings, kids, teeth, or blood. A "T" would be a letter, with a lower case. Seriously. People from here, that come here to go to school, do not leave, or if they do, they move back, just to go to the games. The stadium holds 110,000. 173,000 live here!
Now that’s a King. And, of course we all know what King lived in western Tennessee.

That said, I understand that college towns have “nothing else to focus on” but their school’s teams. I also understand that in some towns, there is no clear-cut royal family in place. (Except in Kansas City, which has a Royal family named Kauffman.) In these places a struggle for supremacy is perhaps still going on. For our purposes, though, each city needs a King, so one was chosen. Many of the “chosen kings” though, sit on wobbly thrones. Perhaps your comments can help reveal the true nobility.

On to the cities. We’ll start out West, where the brains behind Redbird Nation cook up our daily Cardinal fix.


San Francisco
Joe, Jerry, Willie, Barry.
Willie, Steve, it’s cold, let’s leave.

Levi’s-land is a close call. There’s been a rumor that there is a pro basketball team in San Francisco but you’d never know it. The 49ers and Giants dominate the city. There is also the terrific Cal-Stanford rivalry climaxing every year in The Big Game and apparently the USF Dons are making baby steps toward returning to their Bill Russell glory days. Look for them in 2038.

San Francisco is like a number of the cities in this list in that it exists within a “region” offering fans the chance to root for teams not specifically within their city, but close enough. I am talking, of course, about the teams from Oakland and San Jose. Despite the fact that “There's no there there,” Oakland has its own dynamic that will be discussed in the AL West section.

San Jose, a hour or so south of Frisco (a term which I know grates on locals in the way “Saint Louie” does on St. Louisans, so consider this merely a recognition of that fact rather than a display of ignorance, of which there will be plenty later), lays claim to a rabid base of Sharks fans who make the HP Pavilion the loudest arena in the NHL. Also worth mentioning is the soccer powerhouse of Santa Clara University. (Spare me any hilarious “I thought this was about sports!” comments. Soccer is a sport. I like it. Shut up.)

The recent successes of the Giants and their glittering new park have shot them to the top of the current hit parade. This seems to be a return to glory for the Large Ones as a local writes: “In the 60s, the Giants ruled San Francisco, and that carried over even into the 70s. As soon as the Niners got good, though, they were the only game in town and suddenly everyone realized what a crappy place Candlestick was to watch a baseball game. Then, in the mid-90s, Barry came to town, and then Pac Bell got built, and then the Niners started to suck, and all of a sudden it's all Giants, all the time.”

So, who is it? The 49ers have the Bill Walsh era of magnificence featuring lots of marquee names and five Super Bowl wins but really nothing before the 1980s. The Giants have no championships at all since they moved to SF but the legacy of McCovey, Mays, Marichal, and now Bonds. In a tight one...

1. San Francisco 49ers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Stanford football
4. Cal football
5. Stanford basketball
6. Warriors (only when they wear the “The City” throwback jerseys with the cable car on the back)
7. Warriors (all other times)

Caveat – I know there are tons of people in SF who root for East Bay teams. Since I’m doing Oakland separately I had to exclude them from the list. Neither Oakland team is King of SF, though.

Los Angeles
Our first undisputed ruler.
“Out here in L.A., the Lakers are CLEARLY king (and not, ironically enough, the Kings). Although the Dodgers, with their starched, handsome blue-and-whites, and their jazzy 60's-style ballpark, embody a casual-hip brand of LA cool, the Lakers are the soul of the town: glitzy, sexy, blessed by Nicholson, rocked by scandal, and led by a coach who quotes Zen bromides while dating the boss' daughter. Great theater.” - Brian
I find it ironic that Southern California, the Fertile Crescent of American athletes, and reliable provider of good weather, is most crazy about a team that plays inside. The Lakers, though, have sustained such a high level of play and, from Wilt to Kareem to Magic to Shaq and Kobe, have had brilliant star power there almost from the time they moved from Minnesota. Of the five people who responded to me about LA, three of them ranked the Lakers #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5. The rest of the teams were then sprinkled in there with the Lakers popping up again around #8, #11, and so on.

Worth mentioning is the phenomenal success of all UCLA sports teams and the baseball juggernaut called Cal State-Fullerton. Really, in this land of embarrassing athletic riches, I am sure the list of deserving teams could be much longer.

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. USC / UCLA football (to root for one is to despise the other)
4. Anaheim Angels
5. Los Angeles Galaxy – need proof? Look at this palace.
6. Los Angeles Kings
7. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Final Note about LA from RBN’s Brian: “One other thing: there's almost no better place to watch a football game on TV than in L.A. You go to a sports bar on Sunday mornings and EVERY team's fans, from every town in America, are duking it out for supremacy.”

San Diego
The passion here (or as much passion as can be mustered in this laid back corner of the country) seems pretty equally divided between the Fathers and the Credit-Users. Fittingly, I did not get much response from the San Diegans in my cadre of experts. So, having spent several weeks in fish-taco land myself, I will attempt to flesh out the bare-bones responses I got from those who call or called San Diego home. San Diego native Ted Williams has very recently expressed a new interest in hockey, curling, and speed skating, none of which made the cut for this list.

Response one – “I have three friends from San Diego and they are equally passionate about the Padres and the Chargers.” Mmmm, helpful.

Response two – “Chargers fans seem a little more intense, but it’s close.” OK, slight edge to the Bolts.

Response three – “Everyone here likes the Lakers.”

Very clear. The Padres have been to two World Series, have a local-boy legend named Tony Gwynn, and just got a new ballpark. The Chargers drafted Ryan Leaf.

To be fair, the Chargers have a pretty good history, with Lance Alworth, the Air Coryell glory days, and the Super Bowl team from the 1994 season among the highlights. I know most boys who were my age (11-14) during the Fouts-Lofton-Winslow era absolutely loved the high-octane Chargers, whose signature moment came, of course, in the 1982 playoffs against Miami. (We all know about that one...)

1. San Diego Chargers
2. San Diego Padres
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. San Diego State football
5. San Diego State baseball

Phoenix surely falls into the category of cities that are home to massive numbers of “transplants” from colder towns. The sports history here isn’t that deep but it has had a few success stories. Most readers of this site, being baseball fans, or just fans of mullets, surely know of the Diamondbacks 2001 championship, which Senator John McCain called the best sports moment in state history.

There are also winning programs at Arizona (mostly basketball) and Arizona State (some great baseball teams, including squads featuring Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds. But apparently there’s not a lot of concern for the trophies...) Louis XIV would have a home in the desert, though, as the Suns claim the throne.

Locals chime in: “The Diamondbacks championship wasn’t nearly as big a deal in Phoenix as the Suns’ run through the 1994 playoffs.” “The Diamondbacks are popular but most of the transplants here maintain loyalties to their hometown team. Also, many of the teams that have trained here for many springs have large followings, especially the Cubs.”

Indeed, the owner of the D-Backs (and Suns), Jerry Colangelo, is a Chicagoan and was in attendance at many of the Cub and White Sox spring training games in the years before the Snakes were born. When Arizona and Tampa were awarded franchises, in fact, Colangelo insisted that he have an NL team (that would host the Cubs at least once a year), which resulted in the Brewers switching leagues. Surely the Selig family was heartbroken at leaving the American League and entering division play that brought the Cubs, and their legions of fans, 90 miles north to fill County Stadium and the owner’s pockets several times a year. But, I digress...

1. Phoenix Suns
2. Arizona State / University of Arizona football
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. U of A basketball
5. ASU baseball
6. Phoenix Coyotes – The Great One was a King in LA, but not here
7. Arizona Cardinals – possibly the least-rooted-for team of all time, just ahead of the Washington Generals

An interesting ‘zona tidbit from a friend: “In the 70's and early 80's Dodger games were broadcast in Phoenix so you’ll find a lot of people who have lived here a long time are Dodger fans.”

I love that people who have been in Arizona since the early 80s are considered to have been there “a long time.”

I turn this city over to my mild-mannered friend Hugh, who was born and raised a mile high:

Let's get something straight, you surly bastard. This is a Bronco town. Always has been, always will be. Sure, when the Broncos were floundering with that mule Griese, people here flirted with taking the Avalanche as their number one, but everyone knew where the heart of the city lies... with the Broncos. I would shag 5 Nuggets cheerleaders for every 1 Broncos cheerleader. You know how it is.

The Avalanche have some issues right now with there being no season next year and having a large payroll that will almost certainly have to be trimmed. They have the best skill players in the world but hockey is changing for the worse and the Cup can now be taken with a good coach, lots of checking, and a hot goalie. It's as exciting as watching a dog scratch its ass across pavement. Until the league gets its act together, the Avs won't even come close to challenging the Broncos again.

Now, in the early '90's the second-best-liked team was the Rockies. Setting major league attendance records was a piece of cake and we would regularly get 50,000 fans for a weekday game. This has largely gone away and it's now just an average baseball town. Until we get owners with deeper pockets than Count du Monet, we can pretty much count on them fielding a crap team every year.

The Nuggets are what's really interesting around here. They came from a decade long absence of being the 4th team in town and wallowing in their own urine to getting into the playoffs and talking trash with the T-Wolves. This drove Denver into basketball frenzy, if only for 5 games. Denver has got a serious affinity for sports, but it's a real sleeper city for basketball. So, my list is as follows:

1. Denver Broncos (Solid as ever/eternal optimism reigns)
2. Colorado Avalanche (Slight downswing)
3. Denver Nuggets (Upswing Momentum)
4. Colorado Rockies (Downswing)

Live in one of these towns? Agree? Disagree? I’m sure you do. What do you think and why? Please save any comments about towns not in this article. We’ll get to them in due time.

Tomorrow, the AL West: Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim, and Dallas

THE UNFRIENDLY CONFINES In a start eerily reminiscent of his outing up in Montreal, Matt Morris came down with yet another case of first-inning jitters and home run fever as the Cards fell to the Cubs 4-3.

You almost wonder if Tony La Russa should just have Ray King start every fifth day, then bring in Morris for the second inning. Opponents are now batting .415 off Matty in Inning 1, with an .854 slugging percentage. Once Double M clears the cobwebs, though, he's fine -- check out these numbers:

Opposition OPS
Innings 1-3: .850
Innings 4-6: .693
Innings 7-9: .424

Put another way: Morris' ERA is 6.16 from pitches 1 to 30, but a commendable 2.98 the rest of the way. Whether this is lack of preparation or proper warm-up, or some mental glitch, or simply bad luck, I have no idea. (Over his career, Morris' ERA is 4.61 through pitch 30; 2.78 thereafter.) Whatever it is, it's frustrating.

But there's no shame losing to Matt Clement, and frankly Morris' performance wasn't nearly the most frustrating part of our weekend in Chicago. Saturday was the real killer. After Friday the Cardinals were set up beautifully:

• They won the first game of the series, despite a Fassero-like brush with the dark side Friday afternoon (tell me that three-run bomb by Alou didn't give you flashbacks to September '03). A win on either Saturday or Sunday would give them the series.

• They would have to face neither Kerry Wood nor Mark Prior. Nor, for that matter, Sammy Sosa, Mark Grudzielanek, Alex Gonzalez, Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux, Mike Remlinger, or Kent Mercker. It was Cards at full-strength vs. Cubs at half-strength, surely an advantage for the good guys.

• The Astros were floundering. They lost on Thursday and Friday and would go on to drop Saturday and Sunday's contests as well. Prime time to make a move.

• The Cubs' starting pitcher on Saturday: Glendon Rusch. You hardly could have picked a more attractive matchup. He's a lefthander and the Cards are the best team in the NL vs. lefties. That was good. He had a 5.25 ERA entering the game, and he was likely the worst starter in baseball last year. That was good. He had an 11.85 ERA vs. the Cardinals last season. That was good. He was released by both the pitching-poor Brewers and Rangers within the last year. That was good. And his manager had so little faith in him that he let Sergio Mitre toil through 5 innings and 7 earned runs on Friday, just because Rusch didn't figure to go very deep into the game on Saturday. That was good.

And everything after that was bad. One run in 7.2 innings off of Rusch? Nine strikeouts and only one walk? On a day when the wind was gusting out toward Waveland Avenue? On national TV? If that's not the most embarrassing loss of the last 18 months, then I don't know what is.

Once again the Cardinals are finding themselves like Rocky or the Bad News Bears in reverse: they simply cannot deal with prosperity. Every time this year they've had a chance to make a run, they've faltered. Sweep the Astros in Minute Maid -- drop two of three to the Brewers. Take two of three from the Phils on the road -- lose two in a row to the Expos. Win in Wrigley on Friday -- fall on Saturday and Sunday. In fact, the Cards haven't had a single four-game win streak all year. Even the Mariners, even the Expos, even the Devil Rays, for God's sake, have had four-game win streaks.

It's about this time of the year that you stop looking at what teams can do and start paying attention to what they did do. Players are starting to accumulate a couple hundred plate appearances, pitchers are starting to get about a thousand pitches under their belts. You stop looking at PECOTA projections and preseason assumptions and start getting a sense of what teams are. This doesn't mean there aren't some flukes out there (I have a hard time, for example, believing the Reds are a first-place team), but it does mean that teams will have fewer and fewer opportunities to correct what ails them. And it's quite possible that the Cardinals will never have as good an opportunity as they did against the Cubs this weekend.

MIDWEST ARM REPORT Dayn Perry, rabid Cards fan and official good guy, has a nice rundown of the Cardinals pitching prospects. Perry likes Danny Haren as a possible front-end starter in the bigs, and he projects Adam Wainwright as more of a "highly capable third starter" of the future.

And what about Brad Th000000000pson, the guy who put up all those zeroes for our AA farm team? Is he for real? Scouting guru John Sickels says yes --

"I think Thompson is a legitimate prospect. His stuff is above average, and as he's shown so far this year, his command is exceptional. At some point he'll give up some runs, of course, but I think there's a decent chance he could end up pulling a Brandon Webb."
Lastly, I think it's safe to move Jimmy Journell into the category of ex-prospect. Journell had surgery a week ago to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder, and if you read this piece on torn labra by medhead Will Carroll, you won't be feeling too sanguine about his chances for a full recovery.

A CASE OF RENTARRHEA Here's the latest on our two biggest pending free agents:

General manager Walt Jocketty said Saturday nothing has changed since spring training regarding the club's stance toward pending free agents Matt Morris and Edgar Renteria. As of now, Jocketty expects negotiations to remain on hold until after the season or until either player approaches the club about jump-starting talks. "Both of them let it be known they wanted to wait," Jocketty said.
Renteria is one of the trickiest players to assess in terms of value going forward. He's young and he's got a great track record, but he's been fairly putrid this year. His power numbers are down (he's slugging 100 points lower than last year), he hasn't walked once for the entire month of May (yes, you read that right), and questions remain about the health of his back. Putting a dollar value on Renteria is like hitting a moving target. So far he's having a worse year than fellow NL shortstops Royce Clayton, Cesar Izturis, Barry Larkin, Bill Hall, and Khalil Greene.

SAD NEWS Doug Pappas, a co-author of Baseball Prospectus and the foremost expert on finances in baseball, died of heat prostration on Thursday at the age of 43. Countless times over the past year Redbird Nation linked to Doug's writings, which were as crisp and learned and unblinkered as anything floating around the web. And in my scant dealings with Doug (we exchanged some brief emails), I found him to be an extremely generous man. He will be missed.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A BIRD IN CUBTOWN I'll be out of town the next few days attending a wedding in Chicago, right in the heart of Cub country (but sadly, I won't get to see any of the games at Wrigley). So no posts from me until Monday at the earliest, but I'll be sending a few happy vibes to our ballclub in the general direction of the Friendly Confines...

PENMANSHIP Bullpen usage: probably the one aspect of managerial strategy that's dissected more than any other. The Cards bullpen figured prominently in all three games of the Mets series -- on Tuesday night Jason Isringhausen blew the game with 2 outs in the ninth, and then a number of relievers were asked to hold onto leads last night and this afternoon.

So I thought it made sense to take a look now, a quarter of the way into the season, at how Tony La Russa manages his relievers. I made a chart of every pitching change TLR has made through Wednesday night -- the base/out situation, the score, the hitter faced, etc. -- and tried to glean some useful information. Here are a few of my findings:

• For all intents and purposes, Steve Kline is the ace of the Cardinals bullpen. That's not because of his microscopic 1.20 ERA, it's more about the way he's been used by his skipper. Now, I'm sure La Russa would say that Isringhausen is his ace, but I ask, who on the Cardinals has been used most in close games (tied, or within one or two runs)? Kline. Who's been used the most with runners in scoring position in close games? Kline. Who's been used the most to face the heart of the order? Kline. And who's been brought into the most perilous situations? Again, Kline.

• In his most recent Historical Abstract, Bill James argues that you would use your ace reliever most effectively if you brought him in, first, when the game was tied or your team was ahead by a run, and secondly, when your team was up by two or down by one. That would be far more productive than, say, bringing your best bullpen arm into a 5-2 game in the bottom of the ninth, as TLR did with Izzy a couple Sundays ago.

• So how often does La Russa call on his best pitchers with the game on the line? Again, Kline tops the list --

Appearances with score tied or Cards up by 1 run:
1. Kline, 7
2. Isringhausen, 5
...Lincoln, 5
...Tavarez, 5
5. Eldred, 4
6. King, 3

Appearances with Cards up by 2 or down by 1:
1. Kline, 6
2. Eldred, 4
...Isringhausen, 4
...King, 4
...Tavarez, 4
6. Lincoln, 3

That pattern isn't so bad, particularly since Kline, King, and Lincoln have pitched better this year than Izzy. And to be fair, TLR has used Izzy in some less traditional settings (at least by his standards), including twice with the game tied in the 10th, and twice in the middle of the 8th inning.

• However, those mid-inning appearances by Izzy are still quite rare. For the most part, King and Kline have been La Russa's asbestos blankets, asked to put out the fire 7 times each with runners in scoring position and the game tight. Isringhausen, on the other hand, has been brought into such situations only 3 times in 14 appearances, and Eldred is even more extreme -- he's come into the middle of an inning only once, and it was with a runner on first and one out.

• You can gauge how often a pitcher is asked to get out of a jam by consulting the Run Expectation Chart. If a guy comes into a game with a runner on first and one out, the other team is expected to score .478 runs on average. So you give the guy .478 worth of "base/out trouble." Second and third, nobody out = 1.946. And so on. If you do this for each situation for the whole season, you get the following totals for each reliever:

1. Kline, 12.56
2. King, 9.57
3. Tavarez, 8.42
4. Izzy, 7.18
5. Eldred, 5.87
6. Lincoln, 5.47
7. Simontacchi, 2.40
8. Calero, 1.74
9. Pearce, 1.59
10. McKay, 0.53

These situations are independent of score (Ray King, e.g., was brought into a game with runners on first and third, one out, but the Cards were up 12-6 at the time), but you still get a sense of how critical the situation is when each reliever is used. And in general Steve Kline has been asked to get us out of the trickiest jams.

• By the way, Kline has done quite well when he's brought into those crises. In the four times he's been called on with a runner on third and one out (twice with the bases loaded), he's induced a pop up, a strikeout, a double play, and a fielder's choice out at home. His one misstep: a two-out, two-run single he allowed to Jim Thome after striking out Abreu.

• La Russa's slavish dedication to the save hasn't hurt him as much as last year (when he'd frequently bring Yan or Fassero into close games in the 7th or 8th innings), but it's still sub-optimal. Case in point: April 13th, Cards down 2-1 to the Astros heading into the top of the 8th, an ideal time to bring in one of your top pitchers. Instead TLR called on the struggling Cal Eldred and the game was 4-1 before he left the game, which became all the more frustrating when Edmonds and Rolen hit back-to-back useless homers in the ninth (and more frustrating still when Izzy was used the following game in an 11-1 blowout).

• Another example: April 30th, a 3-3 game in the ninth inning against the Cubs. Again, a perfect spot to use your best pitcher, but since the Cards weren't clinging to a lead, La Russa went to Eldred. Before the ninth is through the Cards would surrender a walk and two singles, and only a bad sac-bunt DP spared the Cards from serious damage.

• Because La Russa doesn't seize the moment with Isringhausen, he must frequently use him in useless games to keep him fresh: a 13-4 game, a 5-1 game, an 8-1 game, an 11-3 game, and a 13-6 game. In each of those games Izzy could have been used more effectively the day before if only La Russa were willing to use him in more aggressively, in non-save situations. (Although Izzy's shoddy performance this year might argue against that.)

• Steve Kline has been used most consistently against the heart of the order, a staff-leading 18 times against hitters 1-5. Here are the appearances by our other top pitchers against the top half of the lineup:

1. Kline, 18
2. Tavarez, 14
3. King, 11
4. Lincoln, 10
5. Izzy, 8

As you can see, if Isringhausen is our ace, then he's been under-utilized against the toughest opponents. He's faced the 1-5 hitters in only 8 of his 18 appearances, or 44%, compared to Lincoln (77%), Kline (75%), Tavarez (70%), and King (58%).

• However, TLR almost never brings up his last option out of the pen to face the opposing team's best hitters. Simontacchi, Pearce, Calero, and McKay have come in to face the meat of the order only once in 11 games.

• For whatever reason, La Russa hasn't used Ray King much recently. He was his go-to guy early on, including one stretch at the end of April/beginning of May when TLR called on him 7 times in 8 days. After that King languished for 7 straight days without pitching, awfully odd given that all but one of those games was close, and King has been our best pitcher in terms of adjusted runs prevented.

• La Russa's use of Julian Tavarez, on the other hand, is much easier to explain. Early in the season he was pitching horribly, with an ERA over 10, and he was used in only one meaningful game over a stretch of two and a half weeks. Ever since then Tavarez has found his groove, and La Russa has used him in several critical spots. His ERA over the last four weeks: 0.69 covering 14 appearances.

• La Russa is often hyper-obsessed with the platoon advantage, but he hasn't been quite as married to it this year. Kline, of course, is his #1 option vs. lefties, but Ray King, his second LHP arm out of the pen, has been brought in 9 times to face lefties, and 10 times to face righties.

• The modern use of the closer (developed, in part, by Tony La Russa) states that your ace reliever may be used only in the 9th inning of a save situation, but a little-known corollary to these precepts is that "thou shalt finish what thou started." Jason Isringhausen, for example, has never been pulled from the middle of an inning this year. Usually that's not a big deal, but as Josh Schulz pointed out recently, it can burn you. Izzy clearly showed up with subpar stuff on Tuesday night, but TLR let him roast in his own juices, eventually losing the lead and the game because, you know, each closer shall finish what he started.

• Our relievers have a collective ERA of 4.11, which ranks 10th out of 16 teams in the league. But this figure is somewhat illusory, as many of the runs surrendered came during garbage time of blowouts (also known as Simontacchi Time). If you take only appearances where the game is tied or within one or two runs, our bullpen ERA improves to 3.07 (and it's even better, 2.68, over the past month). All of this indicates to me that, for the most part, La Russa has been pulling the right levers this year, and that our relievers are an asset like they never were last year.

SO TAGUCHI 11, METS 4 The game was closer than the scoreboard indicates -- in fact, the Mets had the lead most of the game, and the Cards were winning only 4-3 with two outs in the top of the 8th. But some timely hitting (and some gifts from the Mets cheesecloth glovework) gave us our most runs since April 21st, and the win. A few thoughts:

• Did So Taguchi really reach base five times? He raised his batting average 50 points, to .295, and just like that turned an awful season into a semi-acceptable one. I mean, sure, two of the hits were Mets-inflated doubles (the first a line shot over Piazza's head that Pujols would have had, the second dropped in front of Mike Cameron when he lost it in the sun). But the box score still reads --

S Taguchi, LF 4 2 4 2

I'll take it.

• Rolen had an interesting afternoon. He cranked one the other way in the 5th, but Karim Garcia leaped over the wall to rob him of a home run. The next AB he yanked a flyball to right that looked gone off the bat, but Cliff Floyd raced back, caught it over his head, robbed him of a double, and doubled Pujols off first. The next at bat Rolen left no doubt: line shot over the wall in center.

• Jason Marquis' day was even more interesting than Rolen's. He entered the bottom of the 4th with a tie game, then proceeded to give up a double to the #6 hitter, a single to the #7 hitter, a walk to the #8 pitcher, before hitting the pitcher (on an 0-2 pitch!). Bases loaded, no one out, top of the order up, and what does he do? Pop out, strikeout, fly out. Wild.

• Is Mike Piazza the worst-fielding firstbaseman of all time? He has the range of Mo Vaughn, the footwork of Dick Stuart, and the hands of Ryan Klesko. It's really astonishing to see a 1B have such a big impact on the game with his glove, but without Piazza some of these games would look a lot different.

• Our 6, 7, and 8 hitters today: 9 for 13 with four doubles, five runs, and five ribbies.