September 27, 2010
On the Beat
Septembers To Remember For Some Longshots
In many regards, Major League Baseball's rule that allows the active roster limit to expand from 25 to 40 on September 1 is absurd. No other sport permits teams to have more players at their disposal during the most important regular-season games than at any other point of the season.
However, there is a plus to the annual roster expansion. It provides plenty of good human-interest stories during the season's final weeks.
There have been plenty of players called up this month whose tales are enough to make even the most hardened baseball fan feel good. Chief among them is Dodgers first baseman John Lindsey, who is getting his first crack at the big leagues after playing 16 seasons in the minor leagues, including winning the Pacific Coast League batting title this year while posting a .353/.400/.657 line at Triple-A Albuquerque. Lindsey admitted that his knees buckled when Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach gave him the news of the promotion.
"I still haven't soaked it all in," said the 33-year-old Lindsey, who played in 1,571 games in the minors. "I'm here, but my brain really hasn't caught up with me and probably won't until the season is over. I'm thankful I finally made it to the major leagues, but I want to try to play until I'm 40."
Getting a September call-up goes beyond the culmination of a dream. It is also a financial windfall for a career minor-leaguer like Lindsey as he will make approximately $66,000 as the pro-rated portion of the $400,000 major-league minimum salary. Lindsey plans to take his wife and son on a cruise this winter, then put away most of the money to start a college fund for 3-year-old John III.
Unfortunately, Lindsey's story took a bad twist Saturday when he suffered a broken hand when he was hit by a pitch from Diamondbacks rookie Daniel Hudson.
Two 30-year-old catchers have also had their lifelong dreams come true, as Max St. Pierre was called up by the Tigers and J.C. Boscan was promoted to the Braves. Both were at the Triple-A level.
St. Pierre has played 14 seasons in the minor leagues, including 13 in the Tigers' organization, and finished last season at Double-A Erie. He has long been considered an excellent defensive catcher but was promoted after hitting .300/.356/.469 at Toledo. The native of Quebec City said he was happy for those who kept encouraging him during his long journey to the majors.
"There’s so much support behind me,” he said. “So many people believed in me.”
Boscan has a similar profile to St. Pierre in that he also spent 14 years in the minors, including 12 in the Braves' organization.
“He’s a wonderful kid,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He’s always been able to catch and throw. He’s probably had the best arm in the organization for the last 14 years.”
Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage became so emotional when he broke the news of the promotion to Boscan that he broke into tears. So, too, did Boscan.
“Tears came out of my eyes, I put my head down,” Boscan said. “I didn’t know whether to cry, or laugh. It was a feeling I’ve been hoping, waiting for so long. I got up and he had tears in his eyes.”
And then there is Brewers reliever Brandon Kintzler, who was discovered by scout Tim Collinsworth last summer while pitching in the independent American Association's All-Star Game. The Brewers purchased his contract from the St. Paul Saints and assigned him to Double-A Huntsville where he finished out the 2009 season.
“He saw the velocity and said we should sign this guy,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said.
This season, Kintzler pitched his way to the major leagues. He throws in the mid-90s despite him being generously listed as 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds.
“I use my whole body,” Kintzler said. “It looks like I’m jumping off the mound. You’ve got to use your whole body when you’re small.”
And if you're picked in the final round of the draft, it helps to have one overwhelming tool; that is how Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson has reached the major leagues this September after being their 50th-round pick in 2006 from Southwest Mississippi Junior College. Dyson never played baseball until college but made steady progress while coming up through the Royals' farm system.
"I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, but I do feel like I have a lot to prove," Dyson said. "Going in the 50th round, they’re giving me an opportunity to show what I got. That’s what I have to do—show 'em what I got as a 50th-rounder to stay around the game. I guess I was blessed. They believe in me and I thank them for that, giving me the opportunity to play for them."
And another great September callup story has been Athletics left-hander Bobby Cramer, a 30-year-old just two months removed from pitching for the Quintana Roo in the Mexican League. Cramer was originally drafted by the Rays, underwent three elbow surgeries, had a stint in the independent Golden League, and briefly worked for Shell Oil and as a substitute teacher while out of baseball.
When it comes to Ozzie Guillen, there is always drama. That's part and parcel of the fascinating package that is the White Sox' manager.
There has been speculation that Guillen is angling to leave the White Sox so he can become the Marlins' manager since he has a home in Miami. Guillen helped fuel the speculation by saying he would like a contract extension. However, Guillen insists he wants to stay with the White Sox and hopes owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Ken Williams feel the same way.
"It's a funny thing because I never asked for an extension," Guillen said. "(The media) asked me if I want one. Well, everyone does. Everybody. The funny thing about it is people sound as if I asked for an extension. I never did. Because I have one. I have a contract. My thing is, every year, every manager, every player, they want to know, 'What's my (status)?' That's it. That's what I want to know. Maybe it's a good one. Maybe it's a bad one. But I like to know. I guarantee anyone I'm not going to say, 'Listen, this is what I want. This is what I need.' I just want to know what we think and what's my position, and then we see what happens."
Guillen is under contract through next season and the White Sox hold a club option for 2012. The manager said he is not concerned about being perceived as a potential lame duck next season if he does not get an extension. However, Guillen does want to get the matter resolved soon, either before the season ends Sunday or shortly thereafter.
"If people want to think I want to know about losing my job, they're wrong," Guillen said. "I don't worry about losing any job. Do I want to lose it? No. I make it clear every day. This is the team I want to be (with) the rest of my life. But this is a business. But no, I don't worry about anything. Most of the stuff is about my family. Most of the stuff is about what we're up to, what's our plan. I got a budget, I got a family to take care of. I plan to stay in Chicago in the winter. No matter what, I will stay in Chicago. And that's why I want to make sure when we start making plans for our family. And if people don't believe in family, well, I believe in family. I think my family is more important than baseball, and it always going to be. That's why I want to know what's in the plan."
On the North Side of Chicago, Cubs GM Jim Hendry continues to interview candidates for the manager's job left vacant by Lou Piniella's retirement. Franchise legend and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, manager of the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa farm club, has interviewed along with former Indians manager Eric Wedge. Former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu and Nationals third base coach Pat Listach are also said to be Hendry's list.
"The process is continuing the way I said it would," Hendry said.
Interim manager Mike Quade continues to make a good case that he should get the job. The Cubs are 19-10 since he took over.
"Outstanding," Hendry said in assessing Quade's performance. "Very pleased with how he's run the club, handled himself. The players are playing hard for him. There is a very positive environment that's going on right now in our locker room. I think it's a very solid blend of using the veterans properly and getting the kids the development we needed to see where we're at. Very positive. He's doing an outstanding job."
Quade managed in the minor leagues for 17 seasons. He believes he would be ready to assume the full-time job if Hendry offers it. Quade is also enjoying managing again after spending the past three-plus seasons as Piniella's third-base coach.
"Gosh darn it, the foundation of all those years and the good people that I've worked for had me prepared," Quade said. "I still need to do it. We can talk all day long about being prepared. You get up there and do it and find out what the speed of the game is and the things you have to deal with, whether it's on the field or whether it's these guys personality-wise or it's (the media), once you finally do it and get through it, you go, 'Yeah, I am prepared. I'm comfortable.' That's what I've learned about this job."
John Russell's record during his three seasons as the Pirates' manager is nothing short of awful at 183-294. Furthermore, the Pirates have already secured their first 100-loss season since 2001 after a 99-loss season a year ago.
Russell is under contract through next season, but the Pirates are under pressure from an angry fan base to make a managerial change. The fans have never warmed to Russell, who is the most understated manager in the game. Yet he seemed surprised when asked if he thought he had earned a chance to return next season.
"It's a tough question, because I've never looked at it that way, of earning the right," Russell replied. "I do this because it's what I'm supposed to do. I don't have a reason to believe I won't continue with this. Whatever happens with this team, it's going to happen. In the near future, things are going to be a lot of fun around here. And yeah, I'd love to be a part of it."
Russell is well aware of the public perception of the job he's done. However, he counters that his primary concern is how he is viewed by his players.
"If the players respond, that's all I can look at," Russell said. "They know what I expect of them. They know I expect them to play hard, and that we're going to do things the right way, even though it might not always look like it. They have a lot of respect, and that's always been my driving force. Do I deserve to be back? I'm here, so I don't think about if I'm not here. I'm under contract for next year, and I have no indication from anybody in the organization that that's going to be different. All we talk about is what we need to do today, the offseason camps, spring training. All I'm looking forward to is the planning."
Scouts' views on various major leaguers:
Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton: "He's totally overlooked in that rotation but he's pitching great. He throws five pitches for strikes and he's constantly ahead of the hitters. You put him behind (Roy) Halladay, (Cole) Hamels, and (Roy) Oswalt in that rotation in the postseason and I don't see how the Phillies can't be the favorites to win it all."
Giants right-hander Matt Cain: "He's lost a little off his fastball this year but he has such good command of it that the drop in velocity doesn't matter. Then you add two more plus pitches in the curveball and changeup and he could be a difference-maker if the Giants get into the postseason."
White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers: "They need to get a good look at him and decide if he's their catcher of their future. I have my doubts. I think he's too heavy to stay behind the plate and he's not going to hit enough to play first base."
Padres right-hander Mat Latos: "The kid is gassed right now. Still, he's going to be a true No. 1. He throws hard, has that wipeout slider, and a really good feel for the changeup. We haven't seen the best of him."
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis: "He hasn't developed quite as much over-the-fence power as I thought he would, but he's a good hitter. He drives the ball into the gaps and he might hit the changeup better than any left-handed hitter in the game right now."
Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz: "I think the Red Sox have to exercise the option in his contract for next year. He's not the Big Papi of old and you can beat him with a good fastball up and in or a good slider away. Still, he can crush most fastballs on the inner half of the plate and put up good power numbers."
Angels right-hander Joel Pineiro: "I know the Angels took heat for giving him a big contract and he's been hurt this year but it was still a good move in signing him. He's a different pitcher since Dave Duncan taught him the sinker in St. Louis. It really helped him simplify his approach instead of always trying to get too cute."
Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer: "He's got great stuff and he's a smart pitcher, which is a pretty darned good combination. He's started mixing in the slider and the changeup more this year and it's made him a better pitcher. He's on the verge of giving the Tigers a second No. 1 to go with (Justin) Verlander in that rotation."
Three series to watch with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):