June 21, 2009
On the Beat
Ivan Rodriguez's insular nature has not enamored him to his teammates at times, and it has made him something less than a media favorite, so it was no surprise that the Astros' catcher made history Wednesday night without much fanfare. He set the all-time record for games caught with 2,227 as the Astros visited the Rangers, where Rodriguez had spent the first 12 seasons of his 19-year career, but the game and the milestone barely drew notice outside of Texas.
The fans at the Ballpark in Arlington certainly appreciated the moment, however, and Rodriguez was showered with standing ovations on the night that he tied the mark and the following evening when he broke the record. "It's an unbelievable record to break, Carlton Fisk's," Rodriguez said. "I respect him a lot. To be able to break his mark is an honor for me. I just tried to follow his steps and keep myself in good shape. It means a lot to me. It's a lot of work and dedication-physically, mentally, psychologically, everything-to play that amount of games. I'm glad to break it, and now I want to play more games."
Rodriguez, like so many other veterans in recent years, may not have much choice about how many more games he will play. He attracted little interest on the free-agent market this past winter and wound up signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Astros after spring training had already begun. It is easy to imagine Rodriguez going back on the market after this season and finding no suitors. His EqA is just .231, and he has played below replacement level so far this season with -1.6 VORP. At the age of 37, his time seems to be running out, though in the aftermath of his breaking the games-caught record that was held by Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, it may be time to look back on his career rather than looking ahead, and Rodriguez received plenty of praise from people around the game as one catcher nicknamed Pudge supplanted another catcher nicknamed Pudge in the record book.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Fisk were White Sox teammates when Fisk broke what was then Bob Boone's record for games caught in 1993. Guillen was also a coach for the 2003 World Series champion Marlins when Rodriguez was the starter behind the plate. Guillen says that he would take the modern-day Pudge. "I think the young Pudge can do more stuff than Fisk," Guillen said. "I played with [Fisk] for 10 years, and I've only known Rodriguez for a few, playing against each other and coaching him, but [Rodriguez] broke the record for a reason. He's very strong mentally and physically."
The Tigers' Jim Leyland managed Rodriguez for nearly three seasons, from the American League pennant year of 2006 until Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees late last season. Leyland was particularly impressed by Rodriguez's dedication. "You can't do the things he's done unless you take good care of yourself," said Leyland. "I was amazed when I came to Detroit to see his program and how hard he works. He'd go to the gym in the morning, and pretty much catch every day for us. Amazing. He's a very proud guy, and it's well deserved. Obviously he's going to the Hall of Fame, where he deserves to be."
Leyland was the White Sox' third base coach from 1982-85 when Fisk was their catcher, and he also remembers his commitment. "The great ones have that dedication," said Leyland. "They work hard, but more importantly, they work smart."
Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont was Fisk's last manager in the major leagues with the White Sox from 1991-93. He also saw Rodriguez up close with the Tigers, and was impressed with his conditioning. "He's kept himself in such great shape," said Lamont. "That's the most important thing. He's not only gifted, but he's kept himself in shape that he can catch a big number of games."
As far as the Pudge vs. Pudge battle is concerned, let's allow WARP3 to have the final say. According to that metric, Rodriguez is the clear winner, with a 116.9 to 93.4 advantage over Fisk.
Speaking of catchers, the Twins' Joe Mauer had his batting average up to .429 after going 4-for-4 against the Pirates on Tuesday. That was the highest average by a player with at least 150 at-bats since Paul O'Neill was hitting .431 in 167 at-bats for the 1994 Yankees. Mauer has already won two AL batting titles in his first five full major league seasons, but the question now goes beyond whether Mauer can lead the league in hitting again. Can he become the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941?
The Twins are downplaying that talk, perhaps because Mauer's average is now "down" to .417. "I've been swinging the bat good, but we've got a lot of baseball left," Mauer said. "I think somebody said we've got about 350, 400 more at-bats to go, so that's a long season."
"We're not even at the All-Star break," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He's at .400 now. Let's enjoy the heck out of it. That's what I'm doing."
Mauer missed all 22 games that the Twins played in April while recovering from an inflamed sacroiliac joint in his lower back, but he has made up for lost time since being activated from the disabled list on May 1. His .400 EqA is tops in the major leagues, 52 points higher than the next closest AL player, Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist. "You want to really get serious? Let's talk about .500," said Gardenhire. "He's climbing closer to that than he is to .400. I'm just enjoying watching him do it. It's amazing."
Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm, the starter in Mauer's 4-for-4 game, feels that Mauer is capable of doing just about anything. "He should be MVP," Maholm said. "You throw him a breaking ball and he really doesn't budge. I threw him some sinkers inside, and he somehow inside-outs it and hits ground balls up the middle hard. You're not really getting in on him."
Sellouts have become a way of life for the Red Sox at Fenway Park; they set the major league record for most consecutive capacity crowds last season. On Wednesday, they had their 500th straight sellout when they faced the Marlins, and head groundskeeper Dave Mellor mowed the number "500" into the outfield grass to commemorate the occasion.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona has known nothing but sellout crowds since taking over for Grady Little prior to the 2004 season. Francona continues to be amazed at the fanaticism all of New England seems to have toward all things Red Sox. "We have a very special place," said Francona. "There's no getting around that. I know I've never seen any place like this. You get to the seventh inning and somebody throws ball one for the opposing team and the place starts shaking. It's unique, in a good way. I don't think that I can remember a day here in Boston since I've been here where you show up and you think, 'Oh, let's get this game over with.' I think you understand my point, day game after a night game, whether it's in September. The fans' emotions, they don't let that happen, and I think the players would recognize that. You show up here on a Sunday morning, you better be ready to play, and that's good."
The intensity of the crowds can be a source of culture shock for new players. It was an adjustment for left fielder Jason Bay when he was acquired in a trade from the Pirates last July. "Pittsburgh gets these crowds, but it's opening day, it's a big series," Bay said. "A lot of places are like that. I think sometimes here you take it for granted a little bit. But then you come back from the road and understand how special our fans are."
The Red Sox became the fourth American professional sports franchise to have at least 500 sellouts in a row. The others are all in the NBA: the Portland Trail Blazers (744 from 1977-95), the Boston Celtics (567 from 1980-95), and the Chicago Bulls (515 from 1987-2000).
Eight days after it was first reported that Nationals ownership had decided to fire Manny Acta, he remains the manager. Time will tell how long that remains the case, but Acta insists that he isn't stressing about it. "When my number's up, my number's up," said Acta. "Hopefully, it won't be for a long time."
It has become very clear that neither club president Stan Kasten nor acting general manager Mike Rizzo wants to make the move, and that the directive is coming from the Lerner family, owners of the club. Informed speculation had someone in the Nationals' front office leaking the story of Acta's imminent firing in hopes that the Lerners would reconsider once they saw how much negative publicity the news would generate. If that is the case, then the leak has served its purpose. Acta still has a job, and the majority of local and national media has come to his defense.
Rizzo admits that talk of the firing has made for an awkward situation. "It's certainly uncomfortable with the speculation," Rizzo said. "Names are being bandied about of replacements, and we haven't even discussed it with the current manager. He's still our manager. We support him. And all the reports that happened [last] weekend, I don't know where those reports come from. And there's not much to comment on [about] reports that there's no basis to."
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Phillies have been the most aggressive pursuer of Red Sox right-hander Brad Penny, but they have been rebuffed in their trade offers so far. ... The Pirates are making right-hander Ian Snell available in trade, and the Rangers are among the teams who have interest, though most scouts view him as a reliever in the long-term rather than as a starter. ... Suspended Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez didn't make his bosses happy when he initially balked at playing for Triple-A Albuquerque. He wanted to spend his entire time in the minor leagues with High-A Inland Empire as he prepares to return from a 50-game suspension for steroids, so he could stay at home in Beverly Hills. ... The Braves weren't successful in trying to acquire Marlins center fielder Cody Ross in a trade for right fielder Jeff Francoeur, but the Florida outfielder they really have their eye on is right fielder Jeremy Hermida. ... There is again talk that the Cubs may consider moving Alfonso Soriano from left field to second base, this time to give Jake Fox playing time in left. ... Giants play-by-play announcer Jon Miller is still the lead broadcaster on ESPN's Sunday night baseball. He has just taken the last two weeks off because his contract allows him a certain amount of time away from the booth each season.
AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Rangers and Angels appear to be the only teams considering signing right-hander Pedro Martinez, and their interest is said to be extremely mild. ... Indians manager Eric Wedge's job security continues to grow more tenuous with each passing day, and those around the club would not be surprised if he were fired within the week. ... The Orioles are willing to deal resurgent reliever Danys Baez in an attempt to add another piece or two to their deep pool of prospects.
Some interesting facts:
Three series to watch this week, with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):