MLB Second Half has begun

With a full slate of games tonight, the second half of the MLB season has truly begun.

The first certainly produced a few surprises.  The slump of David Ortiz, the scuffles of the Tampa Bay Rays, the never ending soap opera that is the NY Mets, the surprising start of the SF Giants, the mess that are the Central divisions in both leagues, A-Roid, and Manny-gate.  You just never know what’s going to happen in Baseball.

I’d like to give my condolences to Manny Acta, the recently let go manager of the Washington Nationals.  I really feel bad for him.  He was handed a bad situation, exacerbated by injuries, and was expected to perfrom a miracle.  So, when Washington performed to expectations, ok, maybe a little below expectations, he got the axe.  Maybe if the brain trust in DC would have given him more pitching, particularly in the bull pen, the Nat’s wouldn’t be so awful.  they’d still be bad, but not awful.  And the nagging injuried to guys like Ryan Zimmerman don’t help either.

Now for some 1st half “awards:”

Al Cy Young- Roy Halladay (TOR).  Josh Beckett (BOS) is a close second, but Roy takes it.  He should win it at the end of the year, as long as he stays in the AL.

NL Cy Young- Tim Lincecum (SF).  Matt Cain (SF) his teammate can give Tim a run for it, but I think that Lincecum is the odds on favorite to win his second consecutive award.

AL MVP- This is a tough one, with so many good candidates.  Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) are solid contenders, as is A-Roid (NYY), Nelson Cruz (TEX), and even Torii Hunter (LAA).  For myself, it would come down between Bay and A-Roid.  I’d give the edge to Bay mainly for his complete lack of controversy, and how he carried the Red Sox while Ortiz struggled.

NL MVP- Albert Pujols (STL).  Is there any doubt?  I can’t think of anyone else in the NL who even comes close to meaning what Puljols does to the Cardinals.

AL Manager of the Year- Mike Sciosia (LAA).  Jim Leyland (DET), Ron Gardenhire (MIN), and Terry Francona (BOS) deserve some notice, but none of them have faced the adversities that Scioscia and the Angels have this year.  Don Wakamatsu of Seattle should finish a close second.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (SFG).  Joe Torre (LAD) will get some votes, being Joe Torre and managing in LA, but Bochy should win this.

Looking forward, I expect to see a few things happen.  Texas will fade in the AL West.  They just do not have the pitching, in the rotation or the pen, to compete with the Angels and Mariners.  If the Mariners get a big bat to help their offense, they can give the Angels a serious challenge for the division, and the Yankees for the Wild Card.

The AL Central will come down to the Twins and Tigers.  The White Sox are just too inconsistent to pose a real threat.  The Twins have a terrific 1-2 punch with Mauer and Morneau, a top notch closer in Joe Nathan, and enough pitching to compete in the division.  The Tigers have an issue in the bullpen with no clear closer, but their rotation is by far the strongest in the division.  Expect the Indians to sell of a few players before the trade dead line, like Jamey Carroll and Rafael Betancourt.  Don;t believe the rumors surrounding Victor Martinez.

The AL East is going to continue to be a slugfest.  The Red Sox should win the division by 4-5 games.  The Yankees are something of an enigma, and what actions they take may be dictated not by baseball reasoning, but by the sports writers and vocal fans.  Brian Cashman may be forced to amek a deal he doesn’t want to, with Toronto’s Roy Halladay the main target.  The problem with the Yankees is that they are one injury away from being dead in the water.  The loss of an OF, A-Roid, or another SP will kill their season, trade or no trade.  Toronto is in a tough position, especially with Halladay.  He’s owed a lot of money for next year, and Toronto is 2-3 years away from being truly competetive.  They could get a lot for him, if they deal him.  He’s the prize of this years trade sweepstakes.  Tampa Bay could be surprising in the 2nd half, potentially passing the Yankees in the standings.  Despite the loss of Aki Iwamura, they have a solid offense, defense, and pitching staff.  You cna just write Baltimore off now.

Over in the senior circuit, the NL East is one ugly division.  It seems like half the time no one wants to win it.  The NY Mets are wracked with injuries (Reyes, Delgado, Beltran), and guys like David Wright are under performing.  The Phillies are so streaky, just like the Marlins, that one week they’re hot, the next they’re cold.  I’m not sure adding Pedro Martinez will do much for the Phils, given that Pedro likely won’t go more than 5 innings in any given start.

The Central division is far more competetive, probably the most competetive in Baseball.  The Cards, the Cubs, the Brewers, and Astros are all in it.  Only Pittsburgh is out.  The top teams are so evenly matched, which surprising given that an ace like the Astro’s Roy Oswalt is having an off year.  These will be the teams most active in acquiring a player before the dead line.  Look for the Brewers to get a pitcher, the Cubs a hitter, and the Cards for the best player they can get(a pitcher most likely).  I would offer that who ever makes the best deal by the trade dead line will win this division.

The NL West is a run away for the LA Dodgers so far.  San Francisco is off to a somewhat unexpected start, and could nail down the Wild Card for the NL by the end of August.  The Diamondbacks season was lost when Brandon Webb went down to inury.  Sand Diego, who had one of the more coveted SP in Baseball, lost out on a chance to make a big deal when Peavy went down to an ankle injury.

The Red Sox and Julio Lugo are about to part company.  This is far from unexpected.  The only question is if he will be traded or released, as I don’t expect he will accept assigment to the minors.  Likely suitors for Lugo will be Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Chicago Cubs.  If a deal is made, the Sox will have to pick up most, if not all of his salary, and will only get a medium level of value in return.

Expect eric Wedge to be fired in Cleveland.  He may last the season, depending on how the Tribe’s 2nd half goes, but he won’t be back next year.  Joe Girardi may be on the hot seat as well, more so if Cashman makes a deal and the Yankees don’t make the play offs.

Wii Game Review: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

I’ve never been a big fan of golf games on consoles.  The button pushing just left a great deal of somethings to be desired.  But I saw potential in the Nintendo Wii and the Wii-mote system for sports games.  The basic Wii Sports package had a short golf game in it, a mere 9 holes, and only 1 course, but it showed me the potential for game play in such games.  I ws intrigued enough to begin considering the Tiger Woods golf game.  When I began looking at the game, I noticed it was only a few more weeks before Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 would be released, and with the new Wii-Motion sensor attachment.  So I held off buying the game, and it was worth the wait.

The biggest addition to the franchise, and the Wii in general is the new Wii-Motion sensor attachment for the Wii-Motes.  This new sensor addition allows the system to pick up on rotation of the Wii-Mote in addition to the usual motion sensor aspects.  With the sensor attached, the system will pick up on left-right rotation, beyond the usual up-down, left-right cardinal movements.  For a game like Tiger Woods, and I can imagine for games like tennis, this adds a wonderful new layer of “realism” and game play.

The game itself is pretty straight forward.  It plays almost exactly like real life golf.  Anyone who has ever picked up a club will have no problem settling into this game out of the box.  More so on the Wii, as if you use the Wii-mote as a golf club, as you will get a real feel of playing.  This is unlike either the PS3 or X-Box systems, where you would still be using a traditional controller set up.  In other words, on the Wii this is an active participation game, where on any of the other consoles, you;d still be sitting on the couch.

The games has several game modes, from casual play (pick a course and go), a career mode (where it’s really at), a “party” mode (multiple players in a casual setting), and several on line features.  The real meat and potatoes of the game lay in the career mode, which is standard for most sports games.  Just like many other sports games, be it MLB, or Madden, or what have you, you create your golfer from the ground up.  The customization is fairly extensive, and perhaps over done given the level of details you can adjust.  I’m not one to bother adjusting my eye widths or tinkering with chin shapes, but there are those that do, and it’s here for them.

As with other similar games, you can set your player’s statistics.  As you progress through the game, you will gain experience points, by making good shots, meeting challenges, and winning tournements, which you can then spend to improve your player.  Unlike other game however, the experience points are specific to the skills, with a general category which can be used for any skill.  So just because you have great drives off the tee, doesn’t mean your putting will improve.

Once you have your player, you can begin in one of three categories: PGA Tour; FedEx Cup; Tournament Challenge.  So far, I have only played the PGA Tour.  In this mode, you start as a rookie amateur golfer.  You have a certain set of objectives to meet to gain your Tour card, after which you can compete with the Pros.  The game will provide you with hints and tips as you play, and if things seem to be going badly, will even offer to ease the difficulty for you.  I have yet to earn my Tour Card, but I’ve still managed to achieve several trophies and win several challenges.

The other career modes, FedEx Cup and Tournament mode, are also accessed from the “My Career” screen.  The FedEx Cup is just as it is in real life.  Individual tournaments and a combined scoring in the chase for the Cup.  The Tournament mode allows you to compete in historical tournaments, against the actual players in those tournaments.  I haven’t tried this one yet, as I’d like to improve my game a great deal before going up against the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, and Woods.

As you progress, you will get opportunities for things like sponsors, who give you bonus cash for using their gear in tournaments, endorsements, and the like.  This will unlock more items in the club house, such as clubs, clothing, balls, and other gear.  You can adjust what you bring to the course at your leisure, making changes in nearly every aspect.  Club selection prior to a tournament may be important, so be sure to check what you have before each round.

All types of golf tournaments are present in game.  There are match play events, standard tournaments, skins games, and scrambles.  Some are four day tournaments, some less.  The various PGA tournaments, amateur and professional are here to be played, and on the associated courses.

The course selection here is impressive.  All the majors are covered, as are several of the smaller courses.  Every course from Bethpage to St.Andrew’s in accounted for, and are accurately rendered in game.  On of the neater on line features of the game is that you can have the game connect to the Wii Weather Channel and play in the actual weather conditions for that course.  Just as in real life, weather can be a significant factor in how a course plays.

Once you’ve created a profile and a golfer, you can use that golfer in any mode, on or off line.  You can earn some experience points (but not cash) from casual play or in party mode, so it’s worth your while to do so.  The only mode where you don’t (or at least not thaty I’ve noticed), is in Frisbee Golf.  Yes, Frisbee Golf.  Anyone who had a gym class in the 80’s, or spent time on a college campus in that era, will remember this.  It’s silly, it’s fun, and it’s a good easy family type game.

The online aspects, other than the afore mentioned weather connect, are interesting, though I have yet to try most of them out.  One mode allows you to “play along” with the real pros.  So, when say the Masters comes up, you can play along with the real Pros, and compare your game score to their real life scores on the same course on the same day.  There are also online tournaments where you compete against other players, and happen on a regular (weekly I believe) basis.

No matter what mode you choose to play, or at what difficulty, I highly recommend going through the tutorials.  Especially if using the Wii-motion sensor.  In a departure from the usual, these tutorials are actually worth while.  Even if you are an experience golfer, going through the tutorials will give you the feel for the game play, and how to make use of the various features and sensor capabilities.  It will also show you the various differences in some options, such as between classic and precision putting, and how to intentionally do a draw or fade (aka hook or slice).

While I am certain that graphically the PS3 and Xbox versions blow the Wii version out of the water, the game play on the Wii more than makes up for it.  As I said, it’s a more “natural” game play with the Wii-mote compared to the traditional controllers.  You take your stance, then back swing and swing through.  The Wii-mote system is sensitive enough to pick up on the actual force of your swing, so you can control how much force you use in a natural way.  Just like using a real golf club.  It is all very intuitive and wonderfully easy to pick up.

Putting is the same way, no matter which mode you choose to use.  The classic mode is what has gone before.  Anyone who has played a Tiger Woods game prior to this will be familiar with this mode.  It’s an easier (supposedly!) method of putting, geared now more towards the casual and new player.  The precision mode allows for greater individual control, from putter choice, to angles, spin, and strength of putt.  Personally, I much prefer the precision putting to the classic mode.  I just found it easier to assimilate into my game play, and found it a more “natural” choice.  YMMV as usual.

So far, I have progressed about 6% in my career.  I’ve only won 2 tournaments, The Highlands Challenge at Turnberry, and the European Shootout at St.Andrews.  The Highlands Challenge was a 16 player natch play tournament.  After winning round 1 on a play off hole, I quickly dispatched my remaining opponents by the 15 hole in each successive round.  This win earned me a “Player of the Month” trophy ball (there is one for each month).  I then struggled through three more tournaments before the European Shootout.

I only wish I could play like I did at the European Shootout.  After a +1 first round, I shot a -9, -11, and -11 to finish the tournament at a whopping -30!  This was by and far the most impressive game of my life.  I eagled (2 under par) 7 holes, including a par 5.  I was consistently sinking 40+ foot putts, and in successive rounds hit all fairways, then all Greens in Regulation (GIR).  I set course records for lowest score in a round (tied the record actually), fewest putts, most fairways hit, and most GIR.

I can’t quite give this a perfect score.  I’d like to, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 suffers from the same issue as every other sports game out there.  That problem is the commentary.  It doesn’t matter what game it is, be it Tiger Woods, MLB09, Madden, NCAA sport game of choice, or what not, the commentary tracks universally suck.  The canned comments get real old real fast.  You play through once with it on, and that is more than enough.  No matter the game, the canned dialogue is generic at best, and inappropriate at worst.  It fast becomes an annoying distraction, and really doesn’t add anything to the game play.  Play with it on once, then turn it off.

Even so, I think that this is by far the best sports game out there, especially on the Wii.  The game play aspects alone makes this more than a worth while pick up.  If you have any interest in golf, this is a game for you.  One of the selling aspects of the game is how professionals say “it will help improve your game,” so it will also appeal to regular golfers as well.  I will say this, it can help your real life game, especially if you have a hook or slice in your swing.  I myself have “corrected” my usual slice (to a degree at least), and improved my putting approach.  And where else can you get 72 holes of golf in 2 hours, and feel like you’ve actually played 72 holes?

9/10

Manny who?

Manny, Manny, Manny.  We always knew you were an idiot, but this?

By now, everyone in the Baseball, heck the whole sports world, knows that Manny Ramirez, the highly paid outfielder for the LA Dodgers, has been suspended, without pay, for 50 games for failing a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) test.  He becomes the biggest name to have been suspended since active testing began.  It’s a first time failure, hence the “mere” 50 game ban.  Bet the McCourt’s and Dodger’s brain trust are loving this.  Especially after all the hoopla in the offseason before he resigned with Los Angeles.

Now, for those of us who have watched Manny since he came up with the Indians way back when, we knew he was mercurial at best, and down right looney at worst.  While he never went to such strangeness in Cleveland as he did in Boston, he still had those “Manny being Manny” moments.  He’s always been one to just be in his own world, be it on or off the field.  He just did his own thing, and never a care for who thought what of him.

Even so, this PED test failure comes as a bit of a shock.  Unlike many others who have been linked to various PEDs, Manny was not one of them.  Even with his strange behaviors, no one ever made any sort of even vaguely sustainable links between Ramirez and PEDs.  Now, one could argue now that PED’s are the cause of much of Manny’s behavior quirks.  But IMO that’s just hind sight.  No, I think this is just as Manny said in his statement, he was an idiot.  He should have done more checking on what he was being given, and if it would fall under the banned substance rules of MLB.  He admits to this in his statement, and accepts “responsibility” for his actions, and will not challenge the suspension.  Oh, and he does have a point, in that he has passed some 15 previous PED tests administered by MLB.  So, in the absence of any further information, I will take Manny at his word (such that it is).  He’s taking his lumps, and that should be that.

I found it unsurprising that the media rather than talking primarily to the Dodgers, instead went to Boston.  After all the drama that surrounded Manny and his exit from the Red Sox, it was obviously where reporters thought they’d get some sort of sallacious details.  Unfortunately for them, the Sox weren’t so obliging.  Yes, Dustin Pedroia talked a bit, as did David Ortiz, and Terry Francona.  Yet in each case, they weren’t all that interested in giving scandalous details to reporters, even if they had any.  The general gist of the comments can be summed up as: “Manny’s in LA, not in Boston.  He’s not here, so why should we talk about him?”

This leads me to the man who “replaced” Manny Ramirez in Left Field for the Sox, one Jason Bay.  While Bay did not put up those lights out kind of numbers Manny could after he came over from Pittsburgh, he did more than enough to cement himself as an important part of the Red Sox team.  But his start this year has been outstanding.  He’s produced in the clutch (take that Mariano Rivera!), has been getting on base consistently (tied for the MLB lead in walks), driving in runs, and swiping the occasional bag with ease.  Further more, he’s as far removed from Manny personality wise as one could possibly get.  Not to mention a better defensive Left Fielder.  Bay is a fairly quiet (but not reclusive) player, who prefers to let his efforts on the field speak for themselves.  He’s much more a team player than Manny, and not one to seek, or even be found on the tabloid pages.  Basically, he’s the ideal Red Sox player.

So, like many in Red Sox nation, I’ll keep saying “Manny who” anytime he gets mentioned.

PS3 Game Review: MLB09 The Show

With the regular Baseball season in full swing now, it’s past time to put up my review of this latest entry.

There is good and bad to be had in MLB09.  I’ve had the game for a few weeks now, and wanted to get in a good deal of play time in various modes before putting everything down in writing.  Baseball fans will still enjoy this title immensely, and there is plenty of enjoyment to be found in the various game play modes.

The main strength of MLB09 is their propietary Road to the Show (RttS) mode.  In this mode you create your own player, and try to build a MLB career with them.  You start by customizing your player.  The degree of customization available is impressive.  While most people won’t be spending that much time adjusting chin size, it’s there for those that do.  You can set just about everything for your new player.  Age, vital statistics, skills, position, uniform number, and so on.

You then have a choice.  You can either enter the draft, and take whatever team team drafts you, or go the free agent route and try to sign on with the team of your choice.  I took the draft option with my 1B player, ending up with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  At this point, it’s on to spring training.  It’s tough to make the team as an 18 year old rookie.  I didn’t do it.  Instead I was sent to AA for my first pro season.  Due to some injuries at the ML level, I was promoted to AAA after about 6 games.

You must take advantage of your opportunities, just like in real life.  I made the most of my promotion, and stuck at the AAA level.  I didn’t make the 40 man roster at the end of the season, and began my second year in AAA.  Spent the entire year in AAA, no try out for the majors.  End of contract, and the Angels offered me a 6 year deal to be the major league starter.  Cut it back to 5, as I did want to be able to “move on.”

If you are on your teams 40 man roster, you get to go through spring training.  This is unlike previous versions where if you were on the MLB roster, you just fast forwarded to the regular season.  This gives you more chances to improve your player in a more balanced way, so you don’t skew one way then another during your career.  The other great feature to be had, both in spring training and in the regular season are coach called for training sessions.  This could be extra batting practice, featuring specific pitches, or base running training.  These allow you to put your generated skill points into other areas, and give you a better over all skill set.  I haven’t played as a pitcher yet, so I don’t know what training sessions they get as yet.  I’ve also heard that there is fielding sessions, but I haven’t had one of those as yet.

Your progression is tied more intimately to your skills.  Yes, your stats matter, but your skill levels are more important.  Much like the actual majors, they won’t rush you to a higher level if they feel you aren’t ready for it.  This can be a bit frustrating for a player “languishing” in AAA, but if you meet the majority of your in season goals, and improve your skills across the board, you can still rise quickly.  Case in point, in my 3rd pro year, I was the starting 1B for the Angels.

So far, I’ve found the balance in playing to much improved over previous versions.  In MLB07, it was just too easy to hit 60 HR with a .400+ average.  In MLB08, getting stolen bases was ridiculously easy.  I had over 200 SB in one season.  In MLB09, the balance has been quite refreshing.  The statistics and what you can generate are far more linked to your skill levels than ever before.  A player with only say a 40 in power isn’t going to hit many home runs, no matter how well you hit.

I’m sure that as I progress to higher skill levels, the ridiculous numbers will follow, but so far, they’ve been more than reasonable, and reflect the skill progression I’ve made in game.  In my second MLB campaign, I’ve started off rather well, with very reasonable statistics.

The other modes can be just as fun.  Manager mode can be real frustrating, just like real life.  Having to sit and watch your players choke is just awful.  But managing your bull pen, giving signals is as much fun in game.  Franchise mode is for the budding GM in every baseball fan.  Take a team, and to your best Theo Epstein impression.  It’s not always as easy as you think.  Injuries and problem players will tax your patience at every turn.  Then add inn budget concerns, from revenue to spending allocations, and you see why these guys make the money they do.  It’s not all just player management.  Season mode is pretty straight forward.  You play out the season.  Some player movement happens, but you pretty much just use the stock rosters.

However, while there has been some great additions and improvements, there has been a bit of a back slide in some areas.  Mainly these are graphix issues.  The camera can be a pain in the ass, with players disappearing, odd angles that don’t allow you to make plays, or views of peoples feet in the stands (this happens a lot in Minnesota).  There is also an issue of players running through walls to make catches (really annoying), the ball disappearing as it comes at you while hitting, and the usual “super fielding” ability of the AI.  There is also an issue with the announcers saying the wrong name for a player.  This only happens with computer generated players, but it can be disconcerting.  It also happens with pinch hitters, where the hitter is not who is announced.

The AI itself still sucks badly.  It makes very strange decisions all the time.  David Ortiz bunting with the bases loaded and no outs.  A-Rod batting lead off.  Sending players for an extra base too often with the wrong base runners on.  The AI bunts far too often, and in all the wrong situations.  The defensive AI also makes odd choices at times, going to the wrong base, or just always taking the easy out.  Take for example a situation where you are up by a run, there’s a runner on third and 1 out.  The batter bunts, the pitcher fields it.  Instead of going home, where the runner would be out, he goes to first, allowing the run to score and tie the game.

The in season manager interactions could also stand to be tweaked.  In my current RttS season, I’m second in the AL in RBI’s, and Mike Scioscia is whinging about my “lack of RBI production.”  Say what?  Only Dan Uggla has more RBI than I do, and I have 31 RBI in 25 games.  What lack of production?  So I haven’t had an RBI in 2 games.  That’s a bit touchy, more so as the team won those two games.

The music provided with the game is OK.  Nothing special, and at least you can turn off anything that annoys you.  Same with the voice announcers Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and the god-awful Rex Hudler.  Hudler has to go.  Get anyone else.  Well, maybe not Ken Harrelson, but someone else for sure.  The commentary beyond Vasgersian is lame at best, and pathetically awful at worst.  Far too often, the commentary is off by a wide margin, inappropriate to the situation.  But, like with the music, it’s easy enough to turn off, and you don’t really miss anything.

On the whole, this is a mixed bag of terrific improvements, and awful backslides.  If you like the franchise, and are into the whole create a player thing, the bugs and such are little more than annoyances.  Otherwise, you may find some of the frustration to be more than it’s worth.

7.5/10

Awaiting the announcement from the Hall (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice Elected to BB HoF.  Congratulations to Jim Rice!  It’s finally here.

At 1:30 pm Eastern today, the 2009 Base Ball Hall of Fame inductees will be announced.  There will be at least one new inductee this year, with a couple more “on the bubble.”  So, as is my want, here I will give my ballot, if I had one…

The rules of the Base Ball Writers Association (BBWA), state that each voting member may list up to 10 names per ballot.  As the list of elligibles often exceeds this number, choices must always be made.  Of course, there is no minimum number to list either, so a voter may vote for no one in a given year.  So with those restriction in mind, here are my choices:

1. Rickey Henderson (OF).  This should be a no brainer, but guaranteed, at least 10% of the voters will not list him.  Base Ball’s all time leader in steals, second in walks, and he played 26 seasons.  He was dynamic on the base paths, and not just as a base stealer.  He played an outstanding outfield for many years, with more than a few high light plays.  Sure he could be a complete moron and prat off the field, or when he opened his mouth, but that’s not what’s at issue here (or shall we bring up Ty Cobb?).  His stats, and his ability on the field put him in the Hall.

2. Jim Rice (OF).  This is Jim’s last year of eligibility for the voters.  He deserves to be in.  Few hitters were more feared in his 16 seasons.  He was consistently in the top 10 in HR, RBI, and even batting average over those years.  The big knock against Rice is his last year in Boston, which was terrible (and brought his career average down to .298), and that he didn’t reach 400 HR (finished with 382).  Even so, the former AL MVP was a big reason why Boston was as good as they were from 1975-1986.  His average season was 30 HR, 113 RBI, and a .300 average.

3. Bert Blyleven (SP).  Here’s another guy who gets worked over for one bad year.  Yes, he gave up 50 HRs one year.  So what.  The rest of his career, and where he stood all time when he retired, should be what matters.  Then again, Base Ball writer’s don’t always exhibit good sense.  When Bert left the playing field, he was 3rd all time in strike outs (with only Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton ahead of him), but only had 287 wins.  Not reaching the 300 plateau is also probably holding him back in some wirter’s minds.  But if guys like Drysdale and Koufax and Sutton are in, Bert should be as well.

4. Andre Dawson (OF).  He won an MVP for the last place Cubs.  He toiled for years in Montreal.  He was a consistent all around hitter.  He could steal bases, he could play defense.  Even at the tail end of his career, when he became something of a journeyman, he still had the hitting ability, though the wheels had slowed down.  He hit 438 HR in his 21 seasons.  He has 1591 RBI to go with them.  An 8 time All Star, 1977 ROY, and 8 time Gold Glove winner, and had over 300 SB for his career.  What’s not to like?

5. Dale Murphy (OF).  This two time NL MVP winner keeps getting over looked IMO.  Here’s a guy who didn’t have a position with the Braves when he first came up, bouncing between catcher and 1B.  He finally settled in the outfield.  He won back to back MVP awards in 1982-1983, a 7 time all star, 5 gold gloves, 4 silver sluggers, finished with 398 career home runs, and over 1200 RBI.  I will admit that his career .265 average is not all that sexy, but the other numbers, and his reputation on, and off the field should carry him through.

6. Allan Trammell (SS). The 1978 AL ROY played all 20 seasons with the Detroit Tigers.  A six time all star, and 1984 World Series MVP, Trammell heralded a new era of short stops.  He was Derek Jeter before Jeter.  Trammell turned Short Stops from light hitting good glove players into all around players.  He was a three time silver slugger, and 4 time gold glove winner.  While his numbers certainly can’t compare with the big gun positions, among hius fellow short stops, he is outstanding.

7. Jack Morris (SP).  No one was more dominant in the 1980’s on the mound than Jack Morris.  He was the Tiger’s number one starter for most of his career.  The big turn off on Jack is his 3.90 career ERA, and that he too never reached 300 wins.  But the 5 time All Star consistently pitched 240+ innings per season, won 20 games 3 times, and 3 200+ strike out seasons.

8. Tim Raines (OF): Rickey’s contemporary in the National League.  While Raines never quite put up the same staggering numbers as Henderson, when one talked about the best in the game from 1980-1990, Raines was among those mentioned.  Tim is 5th all time in stolen bases with 808.  He was a 7 time All Star, and won the 1987 ASG MVP.  He finished with a .294 career average (winning the 1986 batting title).

9. Dave Parker (OF).  The NL MVP in 1978.  Parker was a 7 time All Star, 3 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time Silver Slugger, and won two batting titles.  Oh, and he had some wheels too, stealing at least 10 bases in a season 7 times, to go with 339 career HRs.

10. Mark McGwire (1B).  This was a tough one, and for obvious reasons.  While I am one of those that will discount his power numbers, and will hold it against him, I still find that he has the stats to be in the Hall.  His 1987 ROY campaign was nothing short of amazing, and all natural at the time.  He was derailed by injuried several times, but still had some fine seasons.  And McGwire is probably one of the very few players in MLB history who could hit 29 HR, with 64 RBI, and only hit .188.

Guys I just couldn’t pull the trigger on:

Harold Baines (OF/DH).  Just can’t do it.  He doesn’t have the numbers, and wasn’t one of those guys you just dreaded facing, or wanted up for your team in the do or die situations.  Edgar Martinez will be the first “true DH” in the Hall.

David Cone (SP).  Cone had a couple of good seasons, but never reached 200 wins, and had a lot more mediocre years than good.  He’ll get votes because he played for the Yankees and Mets.

Tommy John (SP).  I might vote for John in other years, but not this one.  He deserves some credit for all his years of service, though his numbers are far from impressive for that length of service.  In a weker ballot year, he might get in.

Lee Smith (RP).  Much like Tommy John, in any other year.  Lee was the “first” of the lights out 1 inning closers.  Even so, he still racked up quite a few 2 inning saves, and more often than not faced the heart of an opponents line up, unlike many closers today. He is among Base Ball’s all time saves leaders.

Matt Williams (3B).  Another tough cut.  If Matt had put up some slightly better numbers in Arizona, he would have made the list.  But if Graig Nettles isn’t in, Matt shouldn’t be either.

Jesse Orrosco (RP).  Jesse had a long career.  He had some good years.  But not a Hall of Fame type career.  He’s this generations Kent Tekulve.

Jay Bell (SS).  Jay was good, but not great.  Sure he had some ridiculous years in Arizona, but those were the excpetions rather than the rule.  Only 2 All Star appearances and 1 Gold Glove over 18 seasons.

Mark Grace (1B). A slick fielding first baseman is not going to cut it.  Yes he was a consistent .300 hitter, but he never moved beyond that.  Which is great for a career, but not for the Hall of Fame.  Plus he’s gotten annoying on FOX Sports pregame show.

Ron Gant (OF).  I started looking at Gant’s numbers, and other than the batting average (.256) they weren’t bad.  Better than I had thought.  But nothing near Hall of Fame.  Add to this the fact that he was awful defensively (at any position), and his lack of All Star, and other post season awards, and he just doesn’t make the cut.

Dan Plesac (RP).  Dan put up some good saves numbers.  That’s about it.  His ERA for a closer is mediocre at best, and though he rarely walked anyone, he never blew anyone away either.  He was also never dominant as a closer.  Solid and consistent yes, but never dominant.

Mo Vaughn (1B).  I never knew Mo stole 11 bases one year.  I never Mo was capable of stelaing 11 bases in a year.  Still, Mo could have been a contender, if he had played longer.  If injuried hadn’t derailed him, he could have finished with 400+ HR, and a career .300 average.  He didn’t though, and that’s what’s at stake here.  Sorry Mo, but you don;t make the cut.

Greg Vaughn (OF).  I had to look at Greg’s numbers to see why he was even up for consideration.  He had three high profile power years, but that’s about it.  But the rest of his numbers just aren’t there.  The average (.242) is sub-par at best, he barley has over 1000 RBI (1072), never was noted for his glove, and wasn’t consistently among the league leaders in any category.  I guess all you need for consideration is one 50 HR season, which would explain Brady Anderson.

End of the NFL Season

Well, it’s over.  At least as far as I am concerned.  There is no team left I want to root for in the play offs.  Oh, I’ll probably still watch the Super Bowl, but that’ll be about it.  But today was “Black Monday” for three head coaches.

Rod Marinelli:  I like Rod.  Really I do.  He got saddled with a bad team, with the worst general manager in the history of the NFL (Matt Millen), and a lot of player personel moves that baffled the mind.  Yet he kept an even keel, handled a very aggressive and hostile press with aplomb, and did everything with in his power to keep that team from outright quitting on the season.  Heck, even his good bye press conference was class.  Marinelli still has a future in the NFL.  It will certainly be a few years before he gets another head coaching shot, but someone will pick him up as a coordinator.

Romeo Crenel: The clock was ticking on Romeo several weeks ago.  When the GM got fired yesterday, his fate was sealed.  Crenel had some good moments in Cleveland, but he just couldn’t maintain the momentum, and keep the franchise moving forward.  This season was a severe back slide, and threw the whole organization into a bit of chaos.  Yes, they had some key injuries, but the degree of indecisivieness, especially when it came to quarter backs, really put a hurt on the team.  Romeo may be able to go back to a coordinator position, maybe in Detroit, but his days as a head coach are probably done.

Eric Mangini: The supposed “Mangenious” is out as head coach of the NY Jets.  This guy was over rated long before this season began.  His best coaching move may have been to out Bill Belichik’s use of video tape.  He got lucky last year, as so many players over achieved.  This year, he couldn’t handle the Favre drama, or even coach his team out of a funk that killed thier season.  I’m sure ESPN will hire him to do some commentary on ESPN News.

Other teams are casting about looking for new head coaches.  The Raiders will do something stupid, as Al Davis is still running things, even though the game has passed him by.  That is a shame to a degree, because the Raiders do have a good young core to work with.  But they need someone who is current with today’s NFL, and more so the collegiate game than Al Davis to put it all together.  Jim Haslet may or may not stick around with the LA Rams.  The players would like him to stay, but his record after taking over is less than inspiring.  Mike Singletary’s time in San Fran may be limited.  I suspect he’ll get next year to do something, and oif he doesn’t, there’ll be a new opening there as well.  Herm Edwards may be done in Kansas City as well.   They had a disater of a year (topped only by Detroit), and don’t have much left on the team to look forward with.

Now, on to my rant.  The Cowboys.

This should have been a spectacular year.  The team imporved over the off season in terms of personel.  They had a solid draft, and should have been building off of last year, play off loss and all.  But that didn’t happen.  Yesterday’s game just showed that they didn’t deserve to be in the play offs this year.  I can’t recall any other game, where the Cowboys failed to show up and play like that game against the Eagles.

I won’t blame Wade Phillips like so many out there like to and want to.  Too much that sunk this season was beyond his control.  The injuries to Tony Romo, Jason Whitten, Kyle Koisur, Flozell Adams, et al, is not something that a coach can control.  Those injuries, particularly Romo, cost the Cowboys probably 3 wins, if not 4.  Then there’s Jerry Jones.  He just couldn’t leave well enough alone this year.  His problem is that he panics too quickly, and usually over the wrong things.  Case in point, the trade for Roy Williams.  If this was an off season move, I’d still have said they were over paying for Williams, but it woudl be a good pick up.  But midseason?  This proved to be too disruptive a move IMO.  Williams never had enough time to get comfortable with the offense, or with Romo.  Jason Garrett never had the time to get Williams properly integrated into the offensive schemes to take advantage of his talents.    Give Roy the off season, and a full training camp with Romo and the offense, and he should take off next year, and be the complement to TO that he can and should be.

A note on the Adam (Pac-Man) Jones saga.  I feel sorry for this kid.  I think he’s finally getting his life turned around, and had a very up and down season, between the suspension, the highlight plays (early on), the rehab, the neck injury, and the fumblitis yesterday.  I am of the opinion that he is not a guy you can bank on.  He has a world of talent, but until his off field stuff is fully resolved, he’s not a number one type DB or punt returner.

So what’s to be done in Big D?  A new Defensive coordinator is one.  Yes, Wade Phillips took over play calling for the defense, but I think it detracted from the larger game management issues.  Jason Garrett is being allowed to talk to the Lion’s about their head coaching position, so a new offensive coordinator may be on the horizon as well.  Player personel wise, the Boys need upgrades at CB and at Safety, and maybe LB with Zach Thomas voiding his contract.  They need to get younger on the offensive line as well, as opponents just got to Romo far too often this year.  It would be nice to have a solid full back as well, someone to lead block for Barber/Jones/Choice, as well as be a screen option for Romo on passing downs.

Wade Phillips has one more year to producea positive result.  If the Cowboy’s don’t advance in the play offs next year, he will be out.  Who replaces him will be a subject of speculation all year long.

Conratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays

Well, they’re in a fight right now in game 1 of the World Series, but they did earn the right to be in this series.

They won the Al East Division out right, and have played extremely well through out the entire regular season.  They continued that trend in the play offs, taking out first the White Sox, then the Red Sox.  I, and many others, could give a laundry list as to why the Red Sox lost that series.  But it still wouldn’t detract from the season the Rays have had this year. 

Joe Maddon is growing on me.  I didn’t know all that much about him before he took the Rays job, but between last year and this year, I’ve gotten to see more of him.  And honestly, I like what I see and hear from him.  Yeah, he looks like a high school principle, but he doesn’t sound that way.  His press conferences are actually interesting and even entertaining to watch and listen to.  He doesn’t over analyze things, or over hype things, gives credit where credit is due, and admits when he makes a mistake.  Of course, this sort of attitude means he couldn’t manage in any major market, with the possible exception of LA and Boston.  He’d be crucified in NY or Chicago.

 

So here’s to hoping the Rays win it all.  It would cap a perfect season for Tampa Bay, and a “feel good” story in Baseball.  Rays in 6 people.