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Baseball: The many (forgotten) faces of baseball

Sunday, July 21, 2002

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

A note to Guy In The Stands readers: The following 105 lines are a Ted Williams Joke-Free Zone. There also will be no mention of Bud Selig, steroids, Don Fehr, revenue sharing, Barry Bonds, contraction, strike dates, ties, the Montreal Expos, attendance at PNC Park, payrolls, the New York Yankees, luxury taxes, luxury suites, bobbleheads or Jimmy Anderson's weight.

In accepting the challenge of a protesting caller to Guy In The Stands Central this week, The Guy will write about (gasp!) baseball. Baseball and nothing but baseball, so help me Roberto Clemente.

So where to begin? How about ...

And God said: Let there be a game, and in that game there shall be four bases, and they shall be spaced at equal 90-foot distances in the shape of a diamond. And on this diamond let there be nine men (so long as they're not from Tampa Bay), and to challenge them let there be nine other men. And for a hundred years it will be good (save for the Seattle Pilots), until a serpent named Marvin will tempt the players with a golden apple ...

Ooops! The Guy promised he wouldn't go there.

OK, then. Let's try again. Think baseball. Baseball pure and simple.

Ah-ha! (Insert mental picture of a light bulb going on here.)

We did see real baseball this week. And it had a name. Several, in fact.

In Cleveland, it was called Jason Phillips. For 11 years, he toiled in the minor leagues -- 10 in the Pirates' system -- without getting the call. He had surgery on his right shoulder in 1999 and 2000. The Pirates released him. But he didn't quit. And Monday night, pitching for the Indians, he earned his first big-league victory in a 7-1 decision against the White Sox.

In Denver, it was called Walt McKeel. This is his 13th professional season, and in all that time he'd had three major-league at-bats spread across six major-league games. A barely noticeable number wedged in as they were between much longer stopovers in places like New Britain, Trenton and Sonoma City. But with catcher Bobby Estalella disabled, the Rockies recalled Mc-Keel, 30, from Colorado Springs. Tuesday, he received his first major-league start and singled in the fifth inning against the Padres for his first hit in what would go down in the books as a 2-for-4 night with a run scored in a 5-1 loss.

In Baltimore, it was called Howie Clark. A 27th-round draft pick in 1992, Clark learned to play five positions in the minors to go with a bat that was good enough to produce a .330 average and an International League-leading 117 hits this season. But until the Orioles called him up, he had never seen the inside of a big-league clubhouse. Nervous? In his first at-bat Tuesday, he doubled off the center-field wall at Camden Yards against Seattle's Joel Piniero.

Beginning to see a theme here? Beginning to see baseball? Beginning to see what Jim Bouton meant when he wrote at the end of "Ball Four": "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

There are no million-dollar contracts waiting for them. There are no commercials with JLo in their futures. No nights at the ESPYs hobnobbing with Samuel L. Jackson. And those little-boy dreams of Cooperstown? Those disappeared a hundred bus rides ago.

For them, there is only the game. And a likely return to the minors if not this week then next.

No matter. "It's been a long road. And sometimes it wasn't straight. But it was worth it," Phillips said Monday night.

That says everything about baseball, if so little about today's game.

Oh Fay, what do you see?

The Guy wishes former commissioner Fay Vincent weren't so wishy-washy in his thoughts on the state of the game, a game that turned its back on him in 1993. Maybe you heard him talking with Dan LeBatard on ESPN Radio Sunday morning about the All-Star Game.

"It was just awful," Vincent said. "The general consensus was that it was a disaster for baseball. The brand of baseball was hurt very badly. ... How can you not anticipate it going extra innings? It's preposterous. The whole thing makes baseball look like a joke. Nobody was thinking." Breathe, Fay, breathe! "The quality of intellectual effort was very, very low. How do you screw up the All-Star Game? These guys managed to do that. That's pretty hard to do."

Yeah, Fay definitely needed to quit being so vague.

Recount

Call The Guy delusional, but are those tiny whimpers of interest beginning to be heard coming from north of the border? The Montreal Gazette reports that when the Expos announced crowds of 14,256 and 17,335 for games July 12 and 13 against the Braves at Olympic Stadium, some members of the media were skeptical of the figures -- arguing that they were too low. Who would have believed it?

Seeya, Nolan

It's not often a player can say he passed Nolan Ryan on the all-time strikeout list, but Kenny Rogers did that Thursday night. No, really. Oh, guess The Guy should mention it was the Texas Rangers' all-time strikeout list. With two in a 5-3 loss to Seattle, Rogers moved past Ryan into third place with 940. FYI: Charlie Hough is the No. 1 K-man in Rangers history with 1,452.

Count down

Further proof that home runs are down. Texas' Alex Rodriguez homered twice July 14 -- Nos. 30 and 31 -- in (what else?) a 5-4 loss to the Twins, becoming the first player to reach 30 this season. For comparison's sake, Barry Bonds was the first player to reach 30 a year ago. He did so June 4 -- a full 40 days earlier.

Green daze

Here's a point of debate for all you traditionalists out there. Which is worse? 1) Wrigley Field groundskeepers report that an obvious eco-terrorist (they suspect a White Sox fan) dumped a chemical on a portion of the trademark ivy on the outfield wall, leaving a 4-foot-wide swatch of brown in right-center field, or 2) The Red Sox announce two deals to install advertising in the netting above the Green Monster at Fenway Park, the first of which -- a sign for The Sports Authority -- will be unveiled Tuesday.

Incomplete

Bartolo Colon leads the major leagues with six complete games -- four with the Indians, two with the Expos. The Guy would like to make note of Tampa Bay's Tanyon Sturtze here, if for no other reason than the record books won't. Sturtze (1-9) has thrown nine innings in four of his past eight starts and none went down as a complete game. All four went extra innings. To further illustrate that he's not having a normal season (as if that were possible in Tampa Bay), in his one official complete game he went only eight innings because the Devil Rays lost, 3-1, and the home team didn't have to bat in the ninth.

Good, wild and ugly

Box score lines of the week:

Good: Raul Ibanez, Royals, Sunday: 4 AB, 3 R, 2 H, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs in a 12-3 win vs. the Angels. "I'd been swinging way too hard," he said. He added six more RBIs with his softer swing in a doubleheader Monday. Almost makes you want to see what he could do with a roll of Charmin.

Wild: Bartolo Colon, Expos, Thursday: 9 IP, 13 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks in a 2-1 win vs. the Mets. A 13-hitter? You'd figure the Mets would score at least a run or two more if only by accident. No one has given up so many hits in a complete-game win since the White Sox' Jim Abbott beat the Yankees, 9-4, July 18, 1995.

Ugly: Mike Hampton, Rockies, Wednesday: 5 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 1 K in a 12-3 loss to the Diamondbacks. In a season of "How Low Can He Go?", the hits and earned runs tied a career worst, which is in keeping with a year in which the man who signed a $123 million contract just last year, leads the majors in hits (164) and runs allowed (99).

Series of the week

Athletics (57-40 before yesterday) at Angels (56-39), Tuesday-Thursday. ... Anaheim is in the middle of a 20-game stretch that could determine how seriously we need to take them the rest of the year. Beginning July 14 and going through Aug. 4, they play the Twins, A's, Mariners, Red Sox and Yankees. "We'll see what we're made of," says pitcher Jarrod Washburn, who has reeled off 11 consecutive victories going into his start vs. Seattle today. They were 3-2 going into their game yesterday.

This 'n' that

The Marlins have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. All but saying they didn't think they were in contention, even at 45-43, the front office traded Cliff Floyd and Ryan Dempster July 11. They had gone 1-7 since going into yesterday and had been outscored, 57-22. ... On the subject of good teams gone bad, Alex Rodriguez called the Rangers out after they were swept by the Royals(???!!!) Monday night. "This is embarrassing. We should all be embarrassed," he told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. "Basically, we are a failure." Speaking to his character, he didn't exclude himself even though he's hitting .294 with 31 homers and 80 RBIs. ... Pedro Martinez used to tell reporters he wasn't a god after a rare poor start. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera preferred the General Motors analogy after giving up a winning grand slam to Cleveland's Bill Selby last Sunday. "They don't think I have blood. They think I have oil, like a machine or something. Or batteries. Well, batteries die." ...

The Angels must enjoy playing with our minds. For the second time in two seasons, they had to put catcher Bengie Molina on the disabled list Thursday. Called up from Salt Lake City to take his place? Younger brother Jose Molina. ... From the sounds of it, if the Dodgers are able to make a move to bolster their pitching staff, Uniontown's Terry Mulholland (7.67 ERA, 29 appearances) is likely to be the odd man out. ...

Those young and pesky Twins are flirting with a level of the stratosphere not seen since the days of Harmon Killebrew. The 12-game lead in the AL Central they took into yesterday's game vs. Detroit was the largest in franchise history. The previous high watermark: 11 on Sept. 24, 1969. ... In sweeping the Marlins Wednesday and Thursday, the Braves are 16-0-4 in their past 20 series, breaking the 1897 Boston Beaneaters record for most consecutive unbeaten series in franchise history. ... Who's counting? Obviously, someone is. When Expos Manager Frank Robinson was ejected for the first time this season July 7, he became only the fourth man in major-league history to be ejected in six decades. The others: Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher and Don Zimmer. Now go forth and amaze your friends.

Shot and a jeer

Shot: That'll teach Fox Sports Net to wrap up game broadcasts so quickly. Near the end of Monday's Pirates-Astros telecast, Astros third baseman Geoff Blum was named player of the game with two outs in the ninth ... or about 30 seconds before Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer off Billy Wagner to win the game for the Pirates, 5-4.

Jeer: How time passes. Twenty years ago Friday, 75-year-old Luke Appling hit a home run off Warren Spahn in an old-timers game at RFK Stadium. Guess if he'd done that today, someone would wonder if ol' Luke was on the 'roids.

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