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June 25, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

The Commish

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): San Francisco @ Oakland

    It was my pleasure to see former A's great Rickey Henderson play for the Newark Bears on Wednesday night. I'm reminded of that scene in "Eight Men Out" when Joe Jackson is playing out the string on an independent team late in life--except, of course, that Henderson is not banned or anything like that. His at-bats were much like you remember them from his major league career. He came to the plate five times and saw a total of 32 pitches. He drew two walks and hit a single. His first trip to the plate came against Bill Pulsipher of the Long Island Ducks. On a night when Jason Isringhausen pitched for the Cardinals and Paul Wilson was resting up after pitching for the Reds the night before, Pulsipher looked pretty bad. Not that he was necessarily hit hard--none of the five hits he gave up were especially tagged (he also walked a batter without retiring anyone). It was his appearance. If he is serious about getting back to the majors, he needs to trim some ballast. Spare tires are acceptable only after one has won 15 games in a season.

    Personally, I love the idea that Henderson is still playing. There's a funny sort of hypocrisy we have in sports. We want very much for our athletes to play for the love of the game, yet we demand that they stop playing when they are no longer aesthetically pleasing to us. Realizing that part of Henderson's motivation is to get back into the bigs, it is still neat to see him doing his thing in this small corner of the professional universe. If your kids have never seen Henderson play and you get a chance to go see the Bears, I urge you to do so. In fact, make a point of it. In this day and age, you won't find yourself any closer to a bona fide Hall of Famer for just nine bucks.

    As for the A's, if they clinch the division with a couple of weeks to go this year (or get eliminated), I think it would be a grand gesture to bring Rickey back for a couple of weeks to close out his career. Of course, there's no guarantee that he would close out his career. I think they're going to have to pry the bat from his curled, arthritic fingers some day.

    Had the Mets beaten the Reds on Thursday afternoon, then the Mets-Yankees showdown would have qualified in this category. That was not to be, however. I was at Shea Stadium for the contest and watched as the Mets did everything in their power to destroy my ain't-it-great-to-be-at-the-ballpark-and-not-at-work groove. They got men on first and second with nobody out two times and failed to advance any of them even a single base. They also had men on second and third with one out and failed to score.

    I mention these failures so as to soften the blow for Mike Cameron, a poor fellow who had the kind of day you wouldn't wish on a plague monkey--even a plague monkey had who bitten your children. Cameron had already struck out three times when Ken Griffey Jr. lofted an easy fly his way with two outs and the bases loaded in the 7th inning. I think one can accept losing in just about any fashion, but the failure to secure a routine fly ball is pretty hard to take. We as fans just assume that what goes harmlessly up will come harmlessly down without touching the earth during its descent. Such was not the case here, as Cameron lost it in the sun, clearing the bases, breaking a 2-2 tie and pretty much putting the Mets away.

    On the way out to the game, I was in Grand Central Terminal, wondering if I would see any celebrities. On my last trip to New York, I saw Al Lewis of The Munsters fame. For New Yorkers, this is not a big deal since Lewis has been a fairly ubiquitous presence around Manhattan. For a visitor from far off, however, it passed for a big damn deal. Anyway, I found myself in the exact spot in Grand Central Terminal where I had seen Lewis and began to wonder if I would be so lucky this time around. Lo and behold, who should walk by but our own Bud Selig, Commissioner of Baseball? He was alone, sort of hunched over and not looking very happy. (Proving that commuting sucks, regardless of how cool ones' job is.)

    If I were Commissioner (or should I say, when I am Commissioner, since my hat is still firmly in the ring for when the job opens up), you won't see me scuttling around Grand Central alone. I will travel with an entourage worthy of a rap star. I'll have so many hangers-on that we'll need an entire section at the ballpark when I show up.

    So there I was within howdying distance of the Commissioner of Baseball. What should I have done? Which of these would you have done?

      1. Buttonholed him and complained about the state of the game.
      2. Buttonholed him and told him what a bang-up job he was doing.
      3. Invited him to come out to the ballpark with us for an afternoon of baseball fun.
      4. Pitched crazy solutions to all of baseball's ills and then asked for spare change as compensation.
      5. Stolen his watch and let it go at that.
Worst Matchup (Worst combined record with both teams being below .500): Montreal @ Toronto
    Canada's dark secret is the riots that plague this bitter rivalry as fans of both teams frequently clash before, during and after games. A grand conspiracy keeps these bloody throw-downs out of the news. Waving giant flags, blowing bugles and pounding on drums, thousands of baseball-crazed followers are often found in pitched battles local law enforcement cannot hope to control. Forget the records--this is personal!

    Why does baseball continue to fascinate? Because on the same day that the Blue Jays and Devil Rays were banging out 33 runs, the Angels and A's put up three. As long as the game continues to offer that kind of diversity on a day-to-day basis, its unpredictability will keep us all fascinated.

Biggest Mismatchup (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): St. Louis @ Kansas City
    At this point in the season, there is a very quick way to determine how diversified a team's offensive attack is. All you have to do is count the number of position players whose VORP is in double figures. Granted, this renders Barry Bonds' 56.6 on the same plane as Pedro Feliz's 11.0, but remember: this is just a shortcut.

    With this in mind, the Royals have the fewest in the American League:

    VORP: Fewest Position Players in double figures:

    Royals: 2 (pre-Carlos Beltran trade)
    Twins: 4
    Blue Jays: 4
    Tigers: 4

    Everyone else has at least five with five teams at seven. The Royals cut their number in half when they traded Beltran to the Astros. (Ken Harvey is the other.) One would assume that it would be an American League team that would have the highest number of players so disposed, what with that DH thing they have going on over there. Not so. The Dodgers and Cubs lead the majors with eight players each in double figures. Chicago is getting double-figure production out of every position except shortstop. (Todd Hollandsworth's outfield fill-in work got him onto the list.) On the Dodgers, Juan Encarnacion is the only regular still in single figures. On the other side of the coin, only one Expos player--just barely--gets into this realm. Brad Wilkerson just clears the double-figure hurdle with a 12.2.

    As for the Cardinals, they are demonstrating once more that a diverse attack is not necessary, provided the key men are in the top of their respective classes. The cry of the Cardinals fan this off-season was that, while the Cubs and Astros were loading up, the best quartet of teammates plied their trades in St. Louis. Things aren't quite as magnificent this year, but three of the four are holding their own:

    
    VORP Rank by position
    
    Big Four:        2004    2003
    -----------------------------
    Edgar Renteria    8th     1st
    Jim Edmonds       1st     1st
    Scott Rolen       1st     1st
    Albert Pujols     2nd     4th
    
    
    Pujols was second among leftfielders this year and is currently fourth among first basemen, his new position. Pitching aside, when a team has got top men at this many positions, it can carry the weight of corner outfielders like Ray Lankford and Reggie Sanders and a catcher like Mike Matheny.
Closest Matchup (Teams with most identical records at press time): Anaheim @ Los Angeles
    With so many people playing fantasy and roto these days, it's kind of become like that hypothetical situation wherein a room full of monkeys with typewriters are expected to--at random--produce Hamlet (or is it Macbeth? I don't know that it matters as I think we should all be impressed if one of them managed to hammer out the book from Cats.) In any event, with so much randomness going on, you have to know that some poor schmoe ended up with this team:

    C: Josh Bard, Cleveland
    1B: Carlos Delgado, Toronto
    2B: Marcus Giles, Atlanta
    3B: Troy Glaus, Anaheim
    SS: Nomar Garciaparra, Boston
    OF: Trot Nixon, Boston
    OF: Preston Wilson, Colorado
    OF: Austin Kearns, Cincinnati
    DH: Dmitri Young, Detroit

    SP: Mark Prior, Chicago (N)
    SP: Andy Pettitte, Houston

    CL: Troy Percival, Anaheim

    How cursed must he be feeling right about now--especially since he had to feel pretty good about most of that team after draft day. One can almost imagine him penning the following note at the conclusion of the draft:

    Dearest Ma-ma:

    The most wondrous thing has occurred! Some chums and I have held a "draft" in which we selected grown men like they were so much livestock. As it turns out, fortune was with me and I have "drafted" a hale and hearty group of stouts who shall carry me to glory by seasons' end. There is no telling how well this will turn out. Come October, I shall be receiving a large recompense. I should like very much to use some of this to take you and auntie to the pictures. Do you say you'll come!

    Yours sincerely,
    A. Bettor

    Nearly three months into the season, though, he's whistling a different tune:

    Dearest Ma-ma:

    Oh cruel fate! These brittle-boned charlatans have wrecked my plans and waylaid my dreams. The damnedable layabouts do nothing all day but "rehabilitate" their alleged wounds. What about my wounded pride? Who shall send it off to Binghamton for seasoning? No one, I am afraid.

    Yours sincerely,
    A. Bettor

    Well, that's the point of having a fantasy team, isn't it? So one can bellyache about it.

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