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April 3, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Baseball is Back

by Joe Sheehan

Our long national nightmare is over.

What a difference a year makes, particularly if you're Mike Hampton. Kicking off the 2000 season in Tokyo with the Mets, Hampton was wilder than Drew Barrymore at 12, walking seven hitters, falling behind a bunch more and barely pitching into the sixth inning.

Cut to yesterday, and Hampton is making his Rockies debut in the greatest hitters' environment ever. He scatters five hits in 8 1/3 innings, allows just two unintentional walks (to the last two hitters he faced), and lays up just shy of that rarest of events, a complete-game shutout at Coors Field.

That's a pretty good first impression, and my first reaction was that it was made more so by the fact that he handcuffed the Cardinals, who should have one of the league's better offenses. Then again, the Cards' 5-6-7 hitters yesterday were Placido Polanco, Albert Pujols, and Mike Matheny, and that's just brutal. Maybe the Cardinals will miss Eric Davis more than anyone thought they would.

Speaking of players turning it around, you had to like Gary Sheffield's day. Booed during introductions, he was a hero two hours later after belting a solo home run that ended up as the only run in the Dodgers' 1-0 win over the Brewers.

For all the talk about how badly Sheffield's spring comments would damage the Dodgers, and how they would have to trade him, the fact remains that what matters is what a player does on the field. Anything, any transgression, any interpersonal drama, is set aside when a player puts runs on the board and ticks in the W column.

Even on a day of joy and celebration, there was room for stupidity. In their effort to get down to 25 players, the Devil Rays cut Aubrey Huff, sending him back to Triple-A for the start of the season. Every time I think this organization has its head on straight, it goes and does something unbelievably stupid.

Let's make this real simple: Vinny Castilla isn't a good baseball player anymore. He's going to get paid whether he's on the bench, in the lineup, or home with his family. In only one of those scenarios does he hurt the D-Rays and hinder the development of a very good young player. That's the scenario the Devil Rays chose.

Contrast this with what Jimy Williams has done with the Red Sox. For better or for worse, he refused to make lineup decisions based on existing contracts, and reduced the roles of Jose Offerman, Dante Bichette and Mike Lansing to get Shea Hillenbrand and Scott Hatteberg playing time.

Whether these decisions help the Red Sox remains to be seen--Offerman, in particular, probably deserves the second-base job--but Williams's willingness to bench the contracts is something the Devil Rays, and many other teams, should learn from.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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