Monday, April 21, 2008


This past weekend, I had a chance to take in my first game at Wrigley Field (though I had been outside the stadium to take pictures before). I'll go into more detail about that in my next post, but for now, I wanted to reflect on this ballpark checklist phenomenon that is just one more thing that makes baseball the great American pastime.

Baseball has steadily sunk away from being America's favorite sport, probably beginning its yield to football somewhere in the 1970s when the Super Bowl's popularity exploded and football became more watchable on TV. But baseball is older, has an heir of tradition that is unparalleled, and contains 30 of the greatest sports venues ever constructed -- all of the Major League stadiums.

Obviously, some great ones are extinct and existed long before my time (i.e. Ebbetts Field, Polo Grounds, Crosley Field, etc.) But of the parks that have been active within a generation of my lifetime, I've done well to pay my respects to all of these...I'm struggling to think of a word other than "edifice" or "cathedral" ...the hell with it: edifices. It seems that recently, I have really caught the ballpark bug, visiting Wrigley this weekend and will visit both Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium later this summer. In the meantime, here are a rundown of the "cathedrals" of sport I have visited in my life, distinguishing between the ones I have just "seen" and the ones where I have actually seen the sport played.

Jacobs Field (Some corporate hacks might say "Progressive Field") - Cleveland
Cleveland Municipal Stadium - Cleveland
Great American Ballpark - Cincinnati
Fenway Park - Boston
Wrigley Field - Chicago
Chase Field - Phoenix

U.S. Cellular Field (a.k.a. Comiskey Park) - Chicago
Cinergy Field (a.k.a. Riverfront Stadium) - Cincinnati
SkyDome; toured the ballpark with parents in 1993 - Toronto
Turner Field - Atlanta; passed up a chance to go to a game there this summer and still regret it
Old Busch Stadium - St. Louis
AT&T Park - San Francisco

Feel free to leave your lists in my comments. If any of my loyal readers would like to go on a ballpark visiting vacation, they should let me know.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


If you're a Cleveland Indians fan, Manny Ramirez is like a hot significant other that dumped you years ago -- and, tragically, is still hot, if not hotter, than when you were together.

And it's awkward because you have to see each other once in a while.

I've noticed a few Tribe fans on the b/r who seem to still lust after Ramirez. They long for the days of yore when Ramirez manned right field in Cleveland, slugged doubles and homeruns, and never legged out a ground ball. I'm sure they were even more hot and bothered with Manny's two-run, ninth inning blast off Joe Borowski Monday night that gave the Boston Bleepin' Red Sox a come-from-behind win over the Wahoos. But hot and bothered in a "I-hate-you-but-I-still-list-you-as-one-of-my-favorite-childhood-players" sort of way.

Sure, Ramirez has two World Series rings, and Cleveland has none. And sure, Ramirez has a fat contract, an adoring fan base in Boston and, at the rate he's been playing in the past couple of days, will crack his 500th career home run, oh, I don't know, tomorrow.

That said, I still wouldn't want him back. And I still wouldn't cheer for him if he came to the plate, nor will I when on his first ballot he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It's hard to explain, but I guess it's a pride thing. I understand that in the winter of 2001, when Manny inked his 8-year, $160 million-deal with the Red Sox, he was only acting with business in mind. He essentially took his agent's word as gospel, and it's worked out for him. Despite his numerous mental and verbal gaffes, Boston embraces "Manny being Manny" like they embrace traffic on the Mass Pike. It annoys them a little sometimes, but mostly they laugh and realize they couldn't live without it. Really, the Cleveland diehards who remember watching him develop as a player should be happy for him.

But this is sports. There are winners and losers.

Remember Manny's stunt at home plate last year in Game 4? He admired a meaningless solo shot and showed up the opposition with a pregnant pause and self-exaltation at home plate. That's like when a ex-girlfriend grabs her new boyfriend and makes out with him right in front of you. Completely uncalled for. Casey Blake probably thought about tripping him as he rounded third but refrained from the poor sportsmanship as the Indians were seemingly bound for the fall classic, which they were until the fates intervened (Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia) and everything fell apart.

But last year is over. As are all of the years between now and when Manny left the Tribe. I mentioned earlier that when I attend games where Manny plays, I don't cheer. I also don't boo. I don't want to be disrespectful. When your "ex" gives you a cold "hello," you reply with the obligatory head-nod acknowledgement, don't you? That's kind of what it's like. By sitting on my hands and maintaining a stoic silence, I'm making my point. It's over. We've moved on. He's moved on. Let's all try to keep our dignity.

When Manny hits No. 500, knowing that he hit 236 of those with the Indians, I will send an obligatory head nod of acknowledgment in his direction. Nothing more, nothing less.

(That said, you'd better believe I have him on my fantasy team right now. He is raking in the points!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I'm not sure what's shakier right now: the Indians pitching or the economy. And Joe Borowski's disabled-list stint -- after blowing two April saves in fantastically painful ways -- is kind of like the coming economic stimulus. It will provide temporary relief, but won't keep the ball club from getting screwed later. (Most of you will have to pay back that stimulus, by the way.)

The biggest problem the Tribe has isn't even Joe Blow or the closer position. It's the reigning A.L. Cy Young award winner C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is 0-3 with a preposterous 13.50 ERA after his shelling last night at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. Though most of the damage came in a nightmarish 5th inning, in which Sabathia did not record a single out, Sabathia totally harmed himself by walking five, a troubling trend that fellow starter Fausto Carmona has also shown this April.

Analyst after analyst has said, "C.C.'s gonna snap out of it. He's too good." I sincerely hope all of them are correct. But I wouldn't be me -- the annoying, told-you-so me -- if I didn't point you to this post from the off-season. I proposed the idea that if the Indians couldn't make a trade for Jason Bay or another everyday corner outfielder (didn't happen) and if they couldn't re-sign Sabathia before spring training started on their terms (also didn't happen), then they should shop him -- trade him to get something for him before he bolts at contract's end.

As much as I hate to be wrong, sometimes I hate to be right. This is one of those times.

I got murdered for this idea from everyone who read it because most of them blinded by loyalty to No. 52 and because most of them never read Terry Pluto's book about the Indians, Dealing. I was berated fiercely because one of the names I mentioned was Juan Pierre, who I'll admit delivers an .OPS akin to the attendance at most Florida Marlins games. But, really, I imagined the Indians acquiring an outfielder, a closer (the Indians are without a legitimate one right now) and whatever prospects they could get to fill out the farm. I suggested, logically, they trade him to a place like L.A., which is close to home for Sabathia and has two organizations with the cash capabilities to pay him his astonishingly high market value when he becomes a free agent.

I won't rehash every ounce of logic I spewed there. Go back and read it yourself. But what I will say is that Mark Shapiro -- who is a genius for assembling the Indians core of Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko -- couldn't quite put together a safe but bold off-season deal that would have guaranteed the Indians to be a winning ballclub for years to come. He put a little too much faith in Borowski, and he didn't recognize that Sabathia, in all likelihood, was going to go the route of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, testing the free-agent waters only to say "Siyanara" to the city on the lake. With no changes or risks coming into 2008, the Indians organization was collectively sitting at a game of five-card draw, holding three 4s and refusing to draw a card. Too bad quite a few hands can beat a three-of-a-kind.

Sabathia may turn this around and go 17-3. The Indians might start finally start hitting, climb out of this 5-10 hole they've gotten themselves into, and play right back to the top of the A.L. Central. But Kansas City is better, Chicago is off to a startlingly good start with revived pitching, Minnesota isn't as barren as everyone says, and Detroit proved tonight how they can play their way back into the race and win the division: scorch everyone to death with the best one-through-nine in baseball.

What does the Tribe have? A lot of question marks. They need a savior, an unexpected pick-me-up from someone we've written off. Maybe it's Cliff Lee or Andy Marte or Josh Barfield. Maybe it's Ben Francisco, who most people are dubbing the next Carl Yastrzemski in comparison to Cleveland's woeful Jason Michaels/David Dellucci platoon. Maybe it's Trevor Crowe, Adam Miller, or Rafael Perez. Call me a pessimist if you want, but it's probably not C.C. Sabathia. In retrospect, though, if he bombs this year, the Indians might be able to overpay for him in the off-season and bring him back.

This rough start is enough to make you wish you could go back in a time to October and shanghai Joel Skinner and Josh Beckett in the night. I'll be watching the Indians at Yankee Stadium in May, and I really hope I don't have to bring a paper sack to wear over my head. Maniac Manny Ramirez's ninth-inning blast Monday was enough to remind us Wahoos of the world that we were so close yet were -- and are -- so far away.

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