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
‘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
, 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
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

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