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Baseball Notebook: Shock the monkey? She sure deserves it

Sunday, August 10, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

When word broke that bones had been found buried near a major-league stadium this week, The Guy In The Stands thought it had finally happened.

They got the monkey. Just like Jimmy Hoffa, Sonny Corleone and Big Pussy. The Rally Monkey had bought it at the hands of the Anaheim Families.

They didn't turn out to be her bones, of course. But would it have been a surprise if they were?

Say all you want about Kris Benson, "Gigli" and the entire state of California, but has anyone had a more disappointing summer than the Rally Monkey?

Just nine months ago, she was the toast of the World Series. A cuddly cute talisman of mystical rallies for an Angels team that came out of The Magic Kingdom to win the world championship. Who didn't make up an interview with Katie (her real name). There was even talk of Hollywood.

Her promise seemed limitless as she showed up at the Angels' training camp in February. But in hindsight, maybe she promised too much while forgetting what put her fuzzy capuchin face on every sports page and highlight show in America. Maybe she spent the winter counting her bananas and having lunches with Tom Arnold.

"It's not so much what the Rally Monkey does. It's what the Rally Monkey is," she told Mychael Urban of MLB.com. "And the Rally Monkey is presence. The presence is enough to help."

Perhaps that should have been the first clue that something was amiss with the monkey's game. She was talking like Rickey Henderson.

Last year, she danced on the videoboard at Edison Field to the tune of 23 comeback wins for the Angels at home; 16 in their final at-bat. She was a primate princess and the people of Orange County her banana trees. This season, the Angels are 3-23 at home when trailing after six innings, are 14 1/2 games out of first in the AL West and "are stuck in the mud right now," said Manager Mike Scioscia.

At least he got the color right.

"We've been joking that the monkey's been having a bad year," said an Angels beat writer.

Bad? She has done for the Angels what SARS did for Toronto. Guess the wise man was right: Monkey see, monkey do-do.

The team batting average is off 15 points from a season ago when it led the majors (.282). The team ERA is up a half-run. John Lackey and Jarrod Washburn -- 27-10 in 2002 -- are a combined 16-21. Kevin Appier was so inconsistent they threw him out with the leftover Mouse ears even though they still owed him $15 million. Scott Spiezio, who knocked in 19 runs in the postseason, has hit .235 since the All-Star break and been reduced to bit player. Mighty-mite shortstop David Eckstein has become mostly mite (.255, 27 RBIs). Tim Salmon, 35, is suddenly old again. And Darrin Erstad and Troy Glaus are not-so-suddenly hurt again.

Show me the monkey. After all, she won the World Series last season. It's only illogical, right?

Take their July 31 game vs. the Yankees. Score 1-1 in the eighth. The Angels load the bases with one out. In 2002, the monkey would've danced and Eckstein would've stepped up and popped one just inside the left-field foul pole. Count it. In 2003, Spiezio struck out and Bengie Molina flew out to right. The Angels wind up losing, 2-1, in 10 innings.

Wednesday, down 4-2 in the ninth at Boston, they again load the bases with Salmon, their all-time leader in home runs, at the plate. Last year, a screamer off the Green Monster. This night, a called third strike.

"Bottom line, that's kind of how the season's gone," said pitcher Brendan Donnelly. "Par for the [darn] course. We score nine, they score 10. We score four, we give up five."

Yet, oddly, no one's blaming the monkey. Not even the fans, upon whom the monkey's hold remains great. The Guy is flummoxed. They are showing up in record numbers at Edison Field and might even push attendance past 3 million for a team that has gone 5-17 since the All-Star break and charged to within 4 1/2 games of last place.

That concerns The Guy. Either they're still celebrating from last October and don't realize what year it is. Or worse, California Cult Intervention needs to be prepared to step in if banana Kool-Aid is suddenly added to The Ed concession stands.

Either way, the monkey is strangely safe for the the time being. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the team she betwitched. You just probably hadn't noticed. That monkey and all.

Knight and day

Who knew. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands knows pitching. When she knighted Aruba native Sidney Ponson April 29, he was a 43-55 career pitcher with a 4.74 earned run average. In the three months since people began calling him Sir, he is 12-5 with a 3.45 ERA and became hotter at the trade deadline than the new summer blockbuster "Gray Alert: The Terminator Cometh." Hot enough for the Giants to give up two frontline pitchers for what might be only two months since Ponson's contract is up after the season. If he can't credit the queen, then he'll give credit to the athletic genes he received from his mother. "It must be her," he told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. "My dad doesn't do anything but sit on the couch and watch TV."

And from the great state of Fenway ...

The Democrats are coming! The Democrats are coming! And to accommodate the hordes of convention delegates who will descend on Boston next July for the 2004 Democatic National Convention, the Boston Globe reports that Mayor Thomas M. Menino has made a small request of the Red Sox: Would you mind scheduling only day games from July 24-29? This would, His Honor surmises, give delegates the best opportunity to take in a ballgame. And then, if time allows, what? Maybe nominate a presidential candidate during pitching changes?

Cry for the Tigers

The Detroit House Cats are finding that there might be something worse than losing in this dreadful Summer of Chasing Casey -- pity. "Players on other teams are sympathetic," reliever Steve Sparks told Gene Guidi of the Detroit Free Press. "Fans in opposing parks are mostly sympathetic toward us, too. It's kind of like we're beyond ragging now." Well, OK. Not quite. The Tigers have actually been worse -- hard as it is to tell or believe -- since the All-Star break. They've stumbled along at a .238 clip (5-16), cooled from their searing first-half pace of .272 (27-65). And in case you're counting, their magic number is 13 more wins to avoid tying Casey Stengel's fabled '62 Mets for most losses (120) in the modern era.

No spring chicken

In a Guy first, he'd like to take this opportunity to wish a chicken a belated happy birthday this morning. But not just any chicken. The Chicken a k a The Famous San Diego Chicken a k a Ted Giannoulas. He turned 50 last month. He doesn't do major-league venues anymore, but the father of all today's ballpark mascots is still scheduling a full season of minor-league games in his 30th summer pulling on those yellow leggings with the webbed feet.

Unbecoming for a man of his years? Said Giannoulas to Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News: "I see Bruce Springsteen into his mid-50s. Mick Jagger just turned 60." If you don't have a problem for men the age of your father or grandfather singing about backseat romps under the boardwalk and wearing shirts open to the navel -- don't dwell on this image too long -- why should anyone have an age hangup over a man slipping into red-colored wings and throwing water buckets of confetti on unsuspecting umpires?

Rockie ending

Upon further review ... the Pirates' 1-0 win against the Rockies Aug. 2 at PNC Park should have, instead, been at best a 1-1 game going into extra innings. Umpire Tim Welke, who called Colorado's Jay Payton out at first on a close play to complete a game-ending double play with runners on first and third, admitted later he missed the call. Of course, anyone who saw the replay did not require verification from Welke.

"I don't get a second chance at it," he said. "It was a tough night sleeping last night."

His public self-flogging did little to assuage the Rockies, though. "[Country singer] Ronnie Milsap could have made that call, and he's blind," outfielder Larry Walker said.

Watch your step

If readers have learned anything in the six years The Guy's been writing, it's that he appreciates a good injury. To his list this week he adds Reds pitcher Jose Acevedo, who had to leave his start against the Dodgers Wednesday in the third inning with a sprained left ankle. Seems he couldn't quite navigate the ever-treacherous walk from the mound to the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium. He almost made it, too, but missed the bottom step and rolled the ankle.

This 'n' that

With a 7-5 win in Baltimore Sunday, former Pirates pitcher Tim Wakefield became just the ninth man to win 100 games for the Red Sox. ... That other former "Pirate" pitcher, Brandon Lyon, is scheduled to visit noted rebuilder of careers, Dr. James Andrews, tomorrow for a second opinion on his mysterious elbow problem. ... After losing out on Aaron Boone and Robin Ventura in their efforts to shore up third base because, well, the Yankees didn't want the Mariners to have either, Seattle President Chuck Armstrong stated the obvious: "The big dog eats what he wants." ... For a few games, former Pirates reliever Scott Sauerbeck had to wear No. 48 in Boston. But once the post-trade deadline dust settled, he was back wearing 47 (and sporting a 0.00 ERA in his first eight appearances, in case you wondered). ... It's still looking as if Marlins rookie Dontrelle Willis (11-2, 2.56 ERA) will start either Aug. 26 or 27 at PNC Park. ... Thus far, road ballparks have not intimidated Willis. With his 7-3 win vs. the Cardinals Wednesday, he has now won in six opposing stadiums. "It's not like you're pitching overseas," Willis said. ...

Marlins pitcher Brad Penny is a power pitcher, but a pitch he threw in shutting out the Cardinals, 4-0, Tuesday might have even been too absurd even for Sid Finch. It appeared as 111 mph on the Busch Stadium scoreboard. ... Conversely, Mariners puffballer Jamie Moyer barely touched 80 in beating the Indians the same night. "He threw a lot of slow stuff," said Indians leadoff hitter Coco Crisp. "Then he threw slower than slow stuff. Then he came back with slower stuff." ... And finally, one stats freak came up with the following upon the death of comedian Bob Hope, who was 100 when he died July 27. During his life, major-league teams played 157,536 games and hit 213,249 home runs.

Shot and a jeer

The Guy still can't get over the Dodgers, who in an attempt to spark a dormant offense, hired a new hitting coach who as a player was often referred to as "Joggin' George."


Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474. This notebook was gathered from personal interviews, the wire services and other newspapers.

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