Who would you rather have as your left fielder, Manny Ramirez or Hideki Matsui? By any measure of
statistical reality, Ramirez is the more productive player, but he is psychologically taxing whereas Matsui
is reassuring. Why is this? Because Matsui looks like he was paying attention when he was
taught the game and like he wants to be there when he
is playing it. He approaches the game like most people
want ballplayers to: with determination and
fundamental soundness. On the other hand, Ramirez
looks like someone who has about 10 other places
he'd rather be, that bestowing his greatness on the
world for two or three hours a day is a major
Even though the smart fan knows that Ramirez helps a
team more than Matsui does (he's fifth in the league
in runs created per 27 outs while Matsui barely cracks
the top 50), having to experience him on a day-to-day
basis has got to be exasperating. This past weekend
Ramirez missed the entire Yankee series with a soar
throat. Here's something that should be written into
the contract of every major-leaguer making more than
$10 million per year: you are not allowed to use the
same excuses to miss ballgames that kids use to skip
school. It was like Manny's own remake of "Ferris
Bueller's Day Off" in that he reportedly showed up at a hotel bar
on Saturday night before and after being unable to
report for duty.
Look, maybe he was in too much pain to play; what do I
know of another man's suffering? But if you're healthy
enough to meet a buddy at a bar, you're healthy enough
to show up at the ballpark and lend your teammates
emotional support. If it hurts too much to cheer them
on, make a banner or something. Let folks know you're
doing everything you can to earn your $17 million a
What if Ramirez had Matsui's demeanor to go along with
his own talent? What would we make of him then?
The problem with baseball -- and all sports -- is that
there is a morning after. Unlike movies (the ones
without sequels, anyway), the resolution does not mark
the end of the struggle. It must be rejoined almost
immediately, often with disappointing results.
The Angels caught lightning in a bottle in 2002. The
trouble is, they had to follow it up by playing again
in 2003, a year in which -- apart from the play of
Garret Anderson and Brendan Donnelly -- very little has
Why do the World Champions have to defend their title?
Why can't they take the year off and savor their
victory by touring and playing exhibitions, showing
off their trophy? Why does their have to be this
almost immediate anti-climax? I say give the Champs
time to enjoy their status!
If there is a sameness in the matchups this week to
those of last, don't blame me. With that in mind,
here's a copy of a letter I just wrote:
While I appreciate the fact that you have a very hard
job, I would like you to consider my needs in the
future. These home-and-home series on consecutive
weeks are the bane of the Baker's Dozen's existence.
For my purposes, there needs to be more variety on a
Can a team lose a pitcher the likes of Mark Mulder and
still thrive? Yes, it can and we need look no further
than the history of these two clubs for examples. The
Orioles won divisional titles in three seasons in
which Jim Palmer missed a significant number of
starts. In 1969 he returned from a long battle with
arm trouble to start only 23 games. Five years later,
Palmer was limited to 26 starts and five years after
that he started just 22 games. The O's won the
American League East each time. In 1972, Vida Blue
crashed hard after his spectacular rookie season and
started just 23 games. His A's went on to win the
Of course, the A's would like to get a little further
than winning the division this time around, wouldn't
This much we know: it is a far, far better thing to
have your team at .440 playing youngsters than it is
to have them at .440 playing aging veterans. Except
that the Mets aren't really all that young. While they
have discarded Jeromy Burnitz and Roberto Alomar and
lost Mo Vaughn to injury, what they have in their
places is not all that young, really. Apart from kid
phenom Jose Reyes, this is not quite the youth
movement it appears to be. Rookies Ty Wigginton and
Jason Phillips are 25 and 26, respectively.
Center fielder Jeff Duncan is only 24, but his hitting
will preclude him from being a part of any kind of
movement, youth or otherwise. On the pitching side,
Pedro Feliciano is 27, Dan Wheeler is 25, Jae Seo is
26, Jeremy Griffiths is 25. Only Aaron Heilman and
Jaime Cerda are 24 and both have ERAs over 6.00.
The Phillies forgot to take their meds last week and,
as a result, experienced the mountainous highs of
sweeping the Mets and the canyonesque lows of getting
swept by the Expos. Will this behavior continue? With
so many contenders playing just on the good side of
.500, one would assume that it will.
What if Phillies manager Larry Bowa were a
kindergarten teacher? I think it would go a little
something like this:
*"?crayons! Everywhere I $@*% look are crayons! When
are you %@!$ kids going to start taking some $@!%*
responsibility and start putting away your $@!%*? I
know $@!%* preschoolers who police their areas better
than you do! What the $@!%*? And what's with this nap
time $@!%*? You're never going to get anywhere in life
laid out on your $@!%* with your thumb in your $@!%*
mouth and a blankee clutched in your hand! And what's
with these drawings? I told you little $@!%* to make
pictures of your houses and what do I get? Who the
$@!%* knows what half this $@!%* is supposed to be?
Maybe if we used the $@!%* glue for something other
than eating we'd see some pictures that look like what
the $@!%* they're supposed to be. Changes are coming
around here, I'm warning you right $@!%* now."
Throwback to earlier in the summer, anyway. This was
back when interleague play ruled the day. Thanks to a
rainout, we have this mild form of anachronism in the
post-Labor Day environment.
The Royals schedule this week is not a pleasant one.
They fly in from Dallas late Wednesday night, face
Randy Johnson (albeit in a reduced capacity) on
Thursday afternoon and then leave for Anaheim. That
sounds like a pretty intense 24 hours. Of course, it's
not like they have to carry their own luggage or
anything like that ?
Have you noticed something about the interleague play
records this year? Everyone pretty much performed up
to expectations. With a few minor exceptions, the
plus-.500 teams won more than they lost against the
other league and visa versa. There were no cases of
what befell the Red Sox last year: going 5-13 in
interleague play while playing over .600 against their
own league. Nope, everybody behaved pretty normally in
Cue announcer ...
"The Phillies, Pirates, Reds and Cubs have all felt
their wrath in the past two weeks and now Cincinnati
has come back for another taste of Brewer vengeance.
Ten years of sub-.500 seasons have driven them all to
near insanity and made them lust for the three V's:
victory, vindication and vivisection of their
The Brewers are going to have a lot to say about the
outcome of their division, not to mention the wild-card
race. Apart from this series and one against the
Giants, the remainder of their schedule is heavy on
the Astros and Cardinals with some Diamondbacks and
Cubs thrown in, too.
Just who is Danny Kolb and why is he suddenly a
fantasy league late-season Lothario? Kolb, who had one
career save heading into this season and hadn't
improved on that through July 18, now has 14 since
becoming the Milwaukee closer.
I am of the opinion that a bad day at the ballpark
beats a good day at work every time (unless you're a
professional gambler which could mean that, on
occasion, the two are mutually exclusive). With that
in mind, I give you Thursday afternoon's game at
Comerica Park. While the rest of the nation is hard at
work, several thousand lucky folks will be there,
watching these two teams. Let's not lose sight of one
thing: in spite of a million jokes to the contrary,
it's still major-league baseball and the participants
are still among the very best in the world at what
they do. So, consider that if you live within a couple
hundred miles of Detroit and would rather spend a day
at the ballpark on Thursday.
Todd Helton of Colorado is currently second in the
National League in Runs Created while Barry Bonds of
San Francisco is third, meaning this short series will
feature two of the biggest run producers in the
league. Of course, Helton's number is greatly inflated
by Coors Field and we are bound to see a more human
Helton at Pac Bell Park.
As for Bonds, his slugging average overall is higher
than Helton's is at Coors and that's going some
because at altitude Helton is crazy. Bonds has widened
his superiority over the rest of baseball over the
last two months. Back in June when it was becoming
apparent that the Most Valuable Player race was going
to come down to Bonds and Albert Pujols of the
Cardinals, their Runs Created per 27 Outs figures were
pretty close. Since then, Pujols has dropped a bit
(which is not meant as a damnation -- he's still the
second-highest in the sport by a good margin). In the
meantime, Bonds has pushed his up considerably to the
point where he is, unquestionably, having the very
best season in the majors once again.
I think it is pretty obvious that, on a per-game
basis, Bonds is still the man to beat. The trouble is,
he's played in only 108 of his team's 135 outings,
meaning that Pujols' counting stats are right there
with his. I am going to assume that, given the nature
of why Bonds missed so many of those games, the MVP
voters will not hold it against him. George Brett was
the MVP in 1980 in spite of playing in only 117 games,
so there precedent. Besides, if Bonds plays regularly
here on out, he'll finish with over 130 appearances.
St. Louis at Chicago: Monday through Thursday.
Another week has gone by and what have we resolved in
the National League Central race? That's right:
Continuing the Bonds vs. Pujols debate, it is an
unfortunate byproduct of such a consideration that one
ends up in the position of having to overly criticize
a player having a great year in order to point out
that his opponent in the race is having a better one.
If you don't buy the argument that much separates them
in that area, then what about the context in which
they are playing? Since both teams are contenders,
there is no tiebreaker in that regard. Let's consider
this, though: quality of supporting cast. Pujols can
claim two teammates having very good years in Scott
Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Nobody on Bonds' Giants is in
their league this year (although Marquis Grissom is
giving it a shot). In other words, there is a much
bigger drop-off from Bonds to the Giants' next-best
player than there is from Pujols to the next-best
Should that matter? Since I'm from the school of
thought that believes the player having the best year
should win the award I would have to say only as a tie
11. The Mystery Matchup of the Week
? vs. ?
Yes, Baker's Dozen is only 11 items long this week.
Why? Well, it's Labor Day and I, like the rest of you,
have a reduced schedule. Besides, I've always had a
problem with the concept of the phrase "baker's
dozen." Since the possessive is on "baker," one would
assume that it would be an arrangement that would
favor the baker, right? Logically, this would mean a
reduced dozen, not an enlarged one? It's not
This weeks clue: These two teams took their names from
previous major-league entries, although not
necessarily in the same city in both cases. The names
are variations on the previous names.
Last week's clue: The biggest tourist attraction in
this team's town is near the ballpark while the
biggest one in its opponent's area is built on the
site of their old ballpark.
Right: Angels (Disneyland) vs. Twins (Mall of
America, built on the site of Metropolitan Stadium.
Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org