Archive for March, 2006

Almost Time For Spring Training 2006 To End

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

The End of Spring Training seems to go on and on and on – Soxaholix thinks so too – (WARNING – not G-rated). It’s like the last month of pregnancy – you just want it to be OVAH so you can go on the the real thing…

Here’s where we at:
First, the GOOD news – Steve Sparks and his 11.30 ERA have been let go (thank goodness – I was getting VERY worried…)
Here’s what Tim Purpura had to say – “It all comes down to performances and getting the job done. He wasn’t very effective in that regard.”
Like, duh.

Looks like the only questions left are
1 – will Buchholz or Nieve be slotted as the 5th starter (I’m betting on Buchholz starting and Nieve relieving)
Buchholz has a 1.96 ERA over 23 IP with ZERO HR, 4 BB and 11 K in 4 GS and 2 in relief
Nieve has a 3.71 ERA over 17 IP with NO HR, 6 BB and 13 K in 2 GS and 5 in relief
- note that both guys gave up 3 UER – the fielding has not been the usual Astros high quality this spring.

Who I’m worried about is Brandon Backe, who had 2 VERY bad outings in a row. Phil says he’s happy because Brandon “threw strikes” – oh goody – but the problem was the other guys hitting them strikes he threw.

As of now, he has an (shudder) 8.87 ERA over 23 IP with 11 HR, 10 BB and 11 K in 5 GS and 1 in relief.
- Yes, that was NOT a typo, eleven home runs in 23 IP. Worse than Astacio.

What we need to do is put Brandon’s games on national TV and then he’ll do the ace thing. Which reminds me – I wonder how many #4 pitchers pitch SO much better on live TV, especially in the playoffs (remember last year Brandon pitched a CG SO against the Giants on an ESPN game – one of the few that didn’t involve Yanks, Red Sox, Braves or Cubs – yeah, grumble…)

2 – will Munson or Chavez be backup catcher? We all know that Chavvy can’t hit, but do we really want to substitute a guy who hasn’t ever had an OBP over .300 – a guy who hasn’t caught since college, SEVEN years ago???? We’ll have to see… But I have a bad feeling about this because Munson has 49 AB compared to Chavvy’s 28. Yeah I know that Munson has great ST stats except for BB – only 1, but I have this tough time believing that it don’t matter if he actually knows how to catch like a ML catcher – if he did, why would he have IMMEDIATELY been moved to 3B after being drafted by the Tigers??? Remember that Luke Scott had the best ST stats last year, followed by Brad Ausmus…

3 – Neither Mo Ensberg or Preston Wilson are hitting worth a darn and they are striking out a LOT – Mo 18 of 59 PA and Preston Wilson 18 of 50 PA – fortunately they are both walking a lot, but there’s no power – Mo has 1 HR and no doubles and Preston has 3 doubles and 1 HR. I’m hoping that Mo isn’t still having trouble with his hand and swing the way he did in the playoffs and the series. He had a bad elbow the first half of 2004 and didn’t say nothing (in my opinion, because of being intimidated by the truck washer) and I hope he’s learned his lesson. Maybe both guys just need some time to get their swings and timing working. Both Jason Lane and Lance are having a great spring – so be it and shall it remain.

Have yall noticed how Astros players who are great seem to be almost unknown by the national media? Baggy (I’m still steaming over that comment by long time New York columnist Maddon who said Bagwell was a borderline HOF candidate) is getting attention because of the insurance thing instead of his great play.

Biggio, one of the 5 best 2B of all time, is gonna get attention as he gets near 3000 hits. It’s ridiculous – if he retired today, he should be headed straight into the Hall. And it took the NLCS to show the baseball world why Roy Oswalt is one of the 5 best pitchers in the NL and has been for the last 5 years (which reminds me – Drayton had BETTER be thinkin of extending that contract because I do NOT wanna see Roy wearing a (shudder) Yankees, Red Sox – or even worse – a Cubs cap in the Hall. I hear tell Walt Jocketty got his eye on Roy and I do NOT wanna see Roy in red neither…)

And our next HOFer is gonna be Lance Berkman – lifetime BA .302, OBP .416, 3 AS in 7 ML seasons. And he has hit even better in the postseason than he has in the regular season – something Mr. Clutch Gawd Derek Jeter can’t say. Now I know he’s no 5 tool guy like Baggy, but he has managed to be at least league average in the OF and even had a decent year playing center (remember that???) in 2002 (yeah, he wasn’t no Carlos Beltran, but hey, not many guys are…) I know he’s 30, but he’s got years to go and you’ll see. Smile – yall remember when he first came up, he, uh, wasn’t real too buff and someone asked him about steroids and he patted his belly and said – hey – this is grown with beer n BBQ. A real Texan.

Predictions for the season -
1) baseball will happen
2) Uncle Albert, unless he’s hurt, is going to be the best player in the ML. Sorry, Slappy

and those are just the things I’m positive of.
The media “experts” are picking who they think will win honors, divisions and series. I have found exactly one “expert” – Jeff Passan of Yahoo.com, who thinks the Astros will even break .500, and he thinks we will beat the Cards for the division title and that Roy will FINALLY win the Cy Young (bout time – and Drayton better get that contract extension done early before George decides Roy is worth a Kevin Brown contract.) I guess they think that the difference is 100% the fact that Roger isn’t pitching and that we WILL lose the 13 games he won last year.

Sigh.

The guys with the prediction systems (PECOTA, ZIPS, etc) all think the Cards will win, the Cubs will be second (hopeless giggle – with WHO pitching??? and you KNOW the rookies gonna be riding pine the day after their first Ofer or error…) and the Stros will be 5th with a losing record.

I’m also surprised how many “experts” think the White Sox won’t repeat, neither. They picking the A’s (as usual) – another hopeless giggle – I guess they will win the stat contests where you don’t need to know how to do stuff like run bases. And of course, the Yankees (sigh) and Braves.

Yall remember last year not a single “expert” ever thought we would win anything, let alone the pennant.

So remember, it’s baseball, and youneverknow….

Dog Bites Man – The Insurance Company Doesn’t Want To Pay For Bagwell

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

And in other shocking stories,

1 – The insurance company doesn’t want to pay up for Bagwell since they found out he can still breathe. Can you believe it, an insurance company is trying to get out of paying. Will wonders ever cease???

2 – Roy Oswalt will start on Opening Day. And here we all thought it would be Chad Qualls.

3 – Carlos Hernandez and Humberto Quintero got sent down. Steve Sparks has not (ERA now 11.30)

4 – Phil is STILL thinking about having Eric Munson be the backup catcher.

I want to post a few comments from fans of OTHER teams about Jeff Bagwell:
from Rich Campbell, Padres fan -
“I said it on the Birthday post and I’ll repeat it here.
Jeff Bagwell deserves to go to the Hall Of Fame. I watched him as an
opponent all those years and I can truthfully say that we in the stands
were aware of where he was was in the line-up, ZZ Top look
notwithstanding.
He was a solid leatherman and a credit to baseball as well. And that
won’t hurt.”

from Art Kyriazis, Phillies fan -
“I agree with Ms. Gray, Jeff Bagwell is a without a doubt first ballot
Hall of Famer.In addition to all the winshares and incredible offensive statistics he accumulated during his career, one should note that for almost ten of those years he played in the absolute worst hitter’s park of all time,
the old Houston Astrodome. While I don’t have the algorithm right here
to correct his stats, I think a simple home and away split correction
for those ten years will show that Bagwell’s numbers are even bigger
than we now give him credit for.

And was he a winner??? You bet he was. The Astros won a number of
division titles, wild cards and ultimately, in the end, got to the World
Series where they almost pulled of an incredible upset against a heavily
favored Chisox team. And at times during the playoffs and Series, the
ghost of Bagwell rose up and delivered key hits, as did Biggio, Berkman
and others from the key members of this Astro’s team.

In the end, they’ll all go in–Clemens, Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman, Andy
Pettite, all of the key players.
This Astros team had and does have, stars.”

Thank yall guys. Just to show that my appreciation of Baggy is not just because I’m such an Astros fangrrrrrl.

Onto the topic of Eric Munson -
Michael Hurta writes:
“On the catcher part… I disagree. We need an offensive backup, as long as he isn’t BAD at catcher. And from the reports I have heard, Eric is solid now that he has shaken some rust off. We have a defensive catcher as our starter, why not an offensive one for backup?

As far as Andy or Roy-O accepting him as their personal catcher, though… I think it would be useful for Garner to inquire about it to them. At least to get what they think before making a final commitment.”

Well, catcher is an actual position, not a DH. There is a real good reason that Brad Ausmus is valued in spite of his negative RCAA. A catcher does not just catch balls. He is really the strategy person on the field, has to control the running game, know the pitcher VERY well, well enough to know which pitches are working, he has to communicate EFFECTIVELY with both the pitcher AND the umpire (yes, he does). Munson can’t shake off 6 freaking years of “rust” in a few weeks. I promise you Andy and Roy ain’t gonna stand for being caught by someone like Munson when they got the seniority to demand Brad. You really think that the few extra hits (assuming that Munson gonna hit all year like he’s doing in ST, which I refuse to assume) are worth risking his mishandling of Backe or Wandy or Taylor? I don’t.

Here are Munson’s lifetime stats (from thebaseballcube.com)

Cuts and Stats: Astros Spring Training 2006

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Jeff Bagwell isn’t the only guy off the roster.

Pitchers Ezequiel Astacio (yessssssssssss), Joe Valentine and Dave Borkowski, (so WHERE is Sparks and WHY hasn’t he been released???!!!) were sent to AAA along with Charlton Jimerson, Luke Scott (who was decent, but not on fire like last year), Danny Klassen (who is injured anyhow, and catcher Hector Gimenez. Josh Anderson should be at AA.

It looks to me like Taveras will make the 25 man and play center, with Preston Wilson in left, Jason Lane in right and Lance Berkman at first. Only question is, will Phil get his way and have Eric Munson as backup catcher – a guy who hasn’t caught since 1999 in college? You think that Roy or Andy is gonna agree to be caught by a guy who hasn’t caught in 6 years? So a guy who is the rookiest of rookies is gonna be catching the 4th and 5th guys, which is NOT good. I’d rather see either Quintero or Chavez – at least they know what they’re doing behind the plate, even if they don’t know what they’re doing in front of it. Besides, Phil can pinch hit for them if he has to.

As for pitchers – well, Russ Springer has a pulled muscle in his side and he has hardly pitched at all this ST – just 1 inning, and although he is supposed to pitch a few more times, if his side still hurts, he might could start the year on the DL. So along with the 5th guy, who I STILL hope will be Buchholz, we’ll need another reliever and I hope it will be Nieve. Carlos Hernandez has pitched mostly to minor leaguers and actually hasn’t pitched much at all and I think it’s best for him to start the year in AAA. If he cleans up down there, well then we can bring him back up. I hope I hope I hope Sparks goes back to Sugarland to play with his kids.

8 more days until Opening Day!!!!

The Baggy Saga: The Final Chapter

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

“This is the End
my friends
Of elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never watch you play…again…”
(apologies to Jim Morrison)

We all heard “we’re gonna see how it goes” from Baggy and Phil Garner all spring.
And now I think even Bagwell sees that it’s gone. I think he’s known for a while, now.

He just informed the media that he is going on the DL to be evaluated for “bone chips” in his shoulder, as he’s in too much pain to play. He says he hopes to try to play again, but I think he knows it’s all over. He gave it his best right to the very end.

My mother told me about this online article in the Houston Chronicle that talks about how in the future, surgeons might could inject cells into a joint to regrow cartilage (whoa) – but unfortunately, that’s too far in the future to help Baggy play baseball again.

So it’s goodbye.

Please click here to read what I wrote about his career.

Baggy should be headed straight to the Hall of Fame in 2011 – the very first Astro.

3/23/06: Bagwell – The Awful Truth

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

I didn’t never EVER want to have to write this, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
- long unhappy sigh

Jeff Bagwell had to remove himself from the game because of pain in his shoulder. Again. I’ve watched him “throw” – and to be honest, I throw a LOT better than he does right now. Heck, my KIDS throw a lot better than he does right now. He’s not hitting well or hitting for power and it looks to me like he’s barely following through with his right arm when he does swing. He hit a ball to the warning track the other day and it looked to me like the shock and pain went clear down to his feet.

The man gave it his best shot, but sometimes trying your best just don’t do the job. I gotta take my hat off to Drayton McLane for being man enough to give Baggy his last shot, in spite of the fact that it might could cost him with the insurance company. And now I wanna take my hat off to Baggy for being a man and thanking Drayton for giving him a chance and then going out on top.

Truth be told, I think Baggy knows his shoulder will NOT hold up to playing ML ball – seems to me I see it in his face. And a friend who is at ST said Baggy looked pretty down to him too.

I do believe him when he said he wanted to earn the 17 mill that IS coming to him. But not even the 25th man on a team can have so few skills even for the ML minimum.

I know it’s hard to admit you can’t do it when the spirit is willing but the flesh is not. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…

Mid Spring Training 2006 Check On Astros

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Roger Clemens lost the final game of the Bud Selig Tournament and he SEZ he’s definitely done. For now. Uh-hunh. We’ll see if Roger is sprawling on the couch, drinkin beer and watching TV when May rolls around. Or if he saying to himself – waaal heck – I kin pitch bettern them guys – honey, go get me mah glove (and her sayin to herself – thank GAWD – I do love my man but he gettin on my last nerve…)

Jeff Bagwell hasn’t had to make a throw in any game yet, but aside from him “being sore” who knows what he can do. He made a costly error today. He hit a ball to the warning track – must have been at least 350′ – the farthest I have seen him hit a ball since last April. But he’s still not hitting most balls a very long distance and he sure does NOT look like a 17 mill a year power hitter (see stats below.)

OK – we are still playing a lot of minor leaguers, so lessee what positions really ARE up for grabs:

Let’s look at who IS gonna make the team:

Pitchers: (Phil said there will be 12)
Roy Oswalt
Andy Pettitte
Brandon Backe
Wandy Rodriguez (oh yes he will)
Brad Lidge
Dan Wheeler
Mike Gallo
Trever Miller
Russ Springer
Chad Qualls

Position Players:
(assuming no Baggy)
Lance Berkman
Craig Biggio
Adam Everett
Morgan Ensberg
Brad Ausmus
Chris Burke
Eric Bruntlett
Mike Lamb
Orlando Palmeiro
Preston Wilson
Jason Lane
Willy Taveras

- So the questions are -
1) who will be the 5th starter?
2) who is the final reliever?
3) who is the last position player?

Pitchers – let’s look at who is left: (Pitchers Matt Albers and Felipe Paulino got sent down today)
from the 40 man:
RHP Ezequiel Astacio age 26 1 – 0 with a 1.86 ERA – 1 GS in 4 G and 1 Sv in 1 OPP over 9.2 IP – 4 H, 7 BB, 7K
RHP Taylor Buchholz age 24 1 – 1 in 2 GS in 4 G, 1 SV with a 2.25 ERA over 12 IP – 13 H, NO HR, 1 BB, 2 K
RHP Fernando Nieve age 23 1 – 1 in 2 GS in 4 G with a 5.25 ERA over 12.0 IP with 17 H, 1 HR, 5 BB, 10 K
(note the fielding has been terrible and each pitcher has 3 UER, and Astacio has 2 HBP)

NRIs:
RHP Dave Borkowski age 29 4.26 ERA over 6.1 IP with 8 H, 1 HR, 2 BB and 3 K
RHP Paul Estrada age 23 o ERA over 2 IP with no hits and 1 K
LHP Carlos Hernandez age 25 0.00 ERA over 1 IP with 1 BB and 1 K and no hits
RHP Ronnie Martinez age 22 0.00 over 1 IP with 1 BB and 1 K and no hits
RHP Jailen Peguero age 25 0 – 1 and a BS with a 16.20 ERA in 1 G over 1.2 IP with 4 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 1 K
RHP Chad Reineke age 23 0.00 over 1 IP in 1 game
RHP Steve Sparks age 40 1 – 1 with a 9.90 ERA in 1 GS in 3 G over 10.0 IP -17 H, 2 HR, 6 BB, 7 K
RHP Mitch Talbot age 22 6.00 ERA in 2 G over 3.0 IP with 4 H,3 BB, 1 K
RHP Joe Valentine age 26 1 – 0 in 6 G with a 4.50 ERA over 8.0 IP with 13 H, 3 BB, 3 K

- Well, seems to me that Buchholz has the best stats of the 3 guys from the 40 man and of the NRIs, they have given the most innings to Borkowski and Valentine because they are “veterans” – (even theough they aren’t very good)

BUT

even though Carlos Hernandez has only thrown 1 inning, and only threw to one batter in the WBC (David Ortiz, who hit a 2 run HR), I think that the Organization wants him on the team for old time’s sake and that for some bizarre reason I can NOT understand, Garner is trying to get Sparks on the team, even though he obviously is lousy.

In fact, today, Phil told reporters that it looks like he’s going to pick from Carlos Hernandez, Ezequiel Astacio, Fernando Nieve, Taylor Buchholz and Steve Sparks for the 5th starter. In my opinion, he should try Buchholz as the 5th guy and put Astacio in the bullpen. Hernandez and Nieve can start at AAA and Sparks should stay retired. The young NRI guys need more minor league experience and Borkowski and Valentine can be filler in the minors. If they want. But they weren’t very good in the majors, and we aren’t desperate for bullpen help.

OK – last but not least, who will be the last position player?

Catchers Raul Chavez, age 33; Hector Gimenez, age 22; Humberto Quintero, age 26
OF: lefty Josh Anderson, age 23; righty Charlton Jimerson, age 26 and lefty Luke Scott, age 27

NRIs -
Catchers Jonathan Ash, Kevin Davidson and Neil Sellers are going back to the minors. Trust me on this.
Infielder Thomas Manzella and OF Hunter Pence, Brian Gordon and Mike Rodriguez are also going back to the minors.

So the guys who are left are:
26 year old switch hitter Brooks Conrad
30 year old 3B Danny Klassen
28 year old lefty Eric Munson (pretty much 3B, but Phil is playing him everywhere but SS and 2B and P)
33 year old 3B Kevin Orie
24 year old switch hitter Benny Zobrist

You know how I complained about Garner paying WAAYYYY to much attention to Steve Sparks, who played for Phil when he managed the Tigers? Well, we got 3 guys here who also have played for Phil before and he seems sweet on Munson, even talking about how Munson could be a backup catcher – a position he hasn’t played since college. Good Grief, as Charlie Brown would say.

OK, after checking the stats:
Luke Scott by FAR looks the best – he walks, hits for decent power and doesn’t K too much. Orie and Munson have hit for power (when they hit) but won’t walk and don’t get on base enough. The other guys haven’t done real too well at anything. And he HAS layed in the majors, so Orie and Munson don’t have anything on him there. Jimerson is an Organization favorite, but he doesn’t get on base well and strikes out too much.

As for backup catcher – either Chavez or Quintero – does it really matter?

Happy Birthday David Pinto

Friday, March 17th, 2006

David Pinto writes Baseball Musings – the best known baseball blogger in the internet.

I’ve been chatting with David since he ran the BBTN chats for ESPN back in (I think) 2001. He started Baseball Musings after he left ESPN and he started running his blog as a full time job last year. He’s a serious stat geek as well as a great blogger, and he runs the Day to Day database free to any baseball fan, which gives up to date stats on evdery ballplayer and has developed a great stat for defense called Probabilistic Model of Range.

Almost 2 years ago, David starting urging me to write my own blog, and with the support of my husband and mother, I did. David has been very supportive, not only of me, but of every baseball blogger out there in blogdom.

Now it’s time to return the favor. David is running a Pledge Drive, asking his thousands and thousands of readers to help support his blog and his research. Please click here for Baseball Musings to contribute to David’s efforts on everyone’s behalf.

Oh yeah. And the reason I’m saying happy birthday to David is because it’s his 39th birthday (again.)

Spring Training 2006 – Astros Cut 6 And Down They Go

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

Well, where do I start?

This team is looking lousy – reminds me of last May, only worse. Steve Sparks in the John Franco shoulda stayed retired role. The fielding has been absolutely terrible – then again, there a lot of minor leaguers playing and a lot of guys out of position. Andy Pettitte looked lousy today – threw everything down the middle and got taken to the cleaners by Posada and a bunch of minor leaguers.

Sigh.

So we sent down pitchers Jason Hirsh (not a surprise – I expected he would start his first year in AAA), Jimmy Barthmeier (looked very good, but needs more time), Juan Gutierrez, Jared Gothreaux (only 2 IP, but no hits or runs), Mark McLemore (who hasn’t thrown a single pitch) and catchers Alan Zinter (hitting .280) and J.R. House (hitting .375), but not Quintero, hitting 0 fer 8 . Alan Zinter is like 37 and a career minor leaguer, so he won’t never get a chance, but I guess (I HOPE) they want House to get more AB, since he didn’t play baseball at all last year. Raul Chavez has been hitting, but then again, 8 AB is not a real good sample size and I’ve seen to much of his “hitting” over the past few years…

I know that a team can have a great ST record and stink in the regular season, and vice versa, but those guys are NOT lookin good out there.

The Bagwell Saga Obscures The Astros’ Poor 2006 ST Stats

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Opening Day is April 3
Three weeks away.
So how are things coming in Spring Training (and the WBC?) Well, nobody has been sent down yet.

The Baggy Saga: I watched Jeff Bagwell hit. I watched Jeff Bagwell play first. I watched Jeff Bagwell throw.

Well?

Jeff is hitting like he did last fall. Has a good eye, is hitting some singles, has no power. Fielding is great – nothing wrong with the glove. As for throwing – oh dear. He can still barely sidearm and I haven’t seen him lift his arm over his head – heck, it don’t look to me like he can even get his arm even with his shoulder. I know he doesn’t always have good springs, but IF I had to judge right now, I’d say it’s the DL for him. Of course, he DOES have another 15 days to prove he can throw bettern my almost 4 year olds and he needs to prove he can hit with power.

Phil Garner is trying to turn Chris Burke into another Jack of All Positions, like Eric Bruntlett. Chris looked OK at SS to me – of course I’m spoilt rotten, watching Adam Everett for the last few years, but he has good instincts and soft hands.

As for batting, Jason Lane is the only guy who is really lookin good this spring – he looks like he did last April. Of course, it’s hard to tell much of anything in 10 – 14 AB, and some guys have fewer.

Yeh, I know, small sample size.

Willy Taveras is the only hitter playing in the Bud Selig classic.
Also, a lot of the ML hitters aren’t taking a lot of the bus trips, so a LOT of minor leaguers are playing a LOT.

As for the pitchers?

Brad Lidge – I’ve got a bad feeling. I watched the last inning he pitched in the USA- Japan game. He could NOT locate the FB, he walked THREE guys after getting the first 2 out, then struck out the last guy on sliders.
He looked better in his last game, but I REALLY hope he isn’t hurt. He’s supposed to be working on a new pitch, a splitter. Well, he better work on that FB.

Roy looks awesome. Backe looked sharp. Wandy looked VERY good today against Toronto – 6 Ks, no walks and 1 HR (yes, I’m a Wandy fangrrrrrrrrl.) His stats are not added into the table, BTW…

Taylor Buchholz is looking OK so far and Hirsh is not.

- again, remember that we are talking about guys who have pitched 2 – 9 innings and this is really hardly enough to judge. But they better start hitting!!!!!!

Kirby Puckett And Barry Bonds: A Tale of Two Pities

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

I remember once, when I was younger, watching some soap opera actress complain to Oprah (or was it Maury, or the chick with the red glasses, or the former fat chick – anyhow, somebody) that whenever she went anywhere, people would come up to her and yell at her for being a mean woman, a slut, a man-eater, just because she played a woman like that on TV. They don’t even know who I REALLY am, and they don’t WANNA know, she complained. I’m not a person, just the character. They don’t know MEEEEE…

I think the same is true for ballplayers. We see what cameras show us, we read what reporters tell us, the carefully written stories about their “lives” that their agents teach them to handle the media with. We think – Joe X is a “good guy” and Joe Y is “surly” or cancerous, or whatever.

I’m thinking about this, not just because of the Baggy Saga, where Jeff found himself, for the first time I can remember, actually forgetting to say all those uh-hunh Bull Durham lines because he got mad and forgot, but because I’m remembering that he used to be married to a stripper and go in “mens” clubs and bars, and for all we know, still does. We know he’s always seemed to play hard and play fair and been quiet about it. At least that’s the picture we’ve seen. But we don’t know the man behind the mask.

I’m thinking about this because of Kirby Puckett and Barry Bonds. Yes, I know, not Astros. Two of my favorite players (since I was born) – great players, flawed people in many ways.

Kirby Puckett – the tubby little guy who sure nuff didn’t “look like a ballplayer” or “have the good face” – he grew up in Hell on earth in the Projects in Chicago – a place where very few escape poverty, drugs and crime, as well as an early death. Kirby punched his one way ticket out with his baseball bat and glove, and never looked back.

I don’t really remember him from before the World Series in 87, but I DO remember looking at this little guy who looked like he was too fat to run or jump in center field, of all places, and every time he did anything, he looked like THAT was the happiest moment of his life. A bringer of happiness, my Mama said. Not real too many people in this world have the ability to make other people around them happy just from their own good spirit. Minnesota fans loved him, just LUUUVVVED him – the guy who was just happy to be there, the guy who was the best player on the team, the guy with REAL team spirit, the perfect community guy, the family man devoted to his wife and kids, a true winner. His career tragically cut short by glaucoma, elected to the Hall on his very first try – mostly because he was so popular – his stats really didn’t merit his election, but he was such a happy smiling guy, a loyal team guy who the other ballplayers should try to be like, a guy who would still be out there if it wasn’t for tragedy.

And then
- what’s that old song – “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors…”
the stories appeared – Kirby was mean tempered, hit his wife, abused her, cheated on her, hit on other women, hit other women, and was finally accused of assaulting a woman. He was found not guilty in court, but his reputation took a bad hit. Kirby got a divorce from his wife and from baseball and left Minnesota, where he had been adored like Michael Jordon was adored in Chicago, and went to Arizona, where he proceeded to eat and drink himself to death. The little stubby guy, so happy, so full of life – dead 2 weeks before his 46th birthday, from a massive stroke.

“Smiling faces, smiling faces
sometimes
they don’t tell the truth…
Smiling faces,
sometimes
tell lies
and I got Proof…”

Barry Bonds. I remember him being interviewed by Roy Firestone some years ago – Roy asked him – Barry, what’s your secret? And Barry answered, “there’s no secret, I’m just good. It’s talent and you can’t teach talent.” It was God’s truth and yet Barry caught Hell for it – not humble enough, you see. But the truth is, he WAS just good. In fact, in the decade of the 1990s, he was indisputably the best baseball player. By 1999, he was one of the 25 best baseball players ever.

He couldn’t have been more opposite from Kirby Puckett. Barry grew up in a wealthy neighborhood with the best of everything, a doting family, grew up on the ballfield with Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays to teach him baseball. And Barry was incredibly gifted. And charming. And handsome. It all came so easy to him – baseball, friends, school, adoring females. But one thing did NOT come easy to him – the “humility” (usually fake) that the media demands of athletes. No. He was outstanding – he knew it, he knew everyone knew it and he wanted to hear it without having to jump through media hoops.

But you see, we cling desperately to our stereotypes; Barry Lamar needed to be jolly happy like Kirby, a lil shy like Griffey, hey let’s play two like Ernie. (Certainly not an uppity N like Dick Allen or freaky like Kevin Mitchell or menacing like Albert Belle, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.) And Barry wouldn’t pretend.

In fact, he did just the opposite – irritated people to make them notice him. And so he got notice all right – grudging notice from reporters who tried to find plenty of criticism of SOMEthing to balance the praise for performance he deserved. And Barry did it all and did everything well (except throw hard – ask Sid Bream you disbelieve me…) and yet he didn’t get the recognition and praise he felt he deserved. He said he wanted to be taken for who he was. So true. But you see, who he was wasn’t who the media wanted him to be. Or should I say, he refused to APPEAR to be the man the media wanted him to be.

So then, what’s the Rest Of The Story? Is it true that he saw people worshipping Sosa and McGwire – both inferior to him, no doubt about it – and decided that if he had to do drugs to get ahead when no one could respect him for his being a superior player? Is it true that after getting screwed out of the MVP he deserved in 2000 AND it going to a man he (and darn near everybody else in baseball) hated that he finally decided – OK, I see all yall care about is power and HRs and you gonna get what you want?

Well, seems he did – at least according to anonymous witnesses and a rejected alleged girlfriend and alleged grand jury transcripts and alleged confessions that were never recorded and were subsequently denied by the people who were supposed to have confessed. He’s never had a positive drug test, or been arrested for any of the many crimes he’s accused of committing (for which there’s supposed to be all this evidence), but he’s sure nuff been convicted and sentenced by plenty of folks, a lot of whom want him to quit baseball and, I guess, confess and go cheerfully to prison for, for, um, well, for being Barry Bonds Himself. Cheating, they say, but you don’t hear them demanding that anyone with a POSITIVE TEST be thrown out of baseball or their statistics erased – just suspects who they don’t like (guys who hit home runs, ESPECIALLY guys who approached/erased Ruth…)

So, you say, where’s the pity?

Well, the pity is that can’t none of us seem to understand that baseball players are just men, and when it comes to men, you gotta take the good with the bad, as my Mama says. It’s true that the good doesn’t always equal the bad, but somehow, we refuse to agree that people who say or do what we like or don’t like in front of the public aren’t robots.

Kirby wasn’t all good and Barry isn’t all bad. In Kirby, the bad was all hidden away and in Barry, seems the good is all hidden away.

The pity is that Kirby never learned to deal with his dark side and when there was no baseball to balance it for him, finally drowned himself in food and drink.

And Barry never learned to deal with his good side. In my opinion, I think he thought it was weakness and if he ever didn’t push or irritate people, he would be swamped by them and would never be able to be himself. One sided love never works. The pity is Barry found out he didn’t mean it when he said he wanted to be loved for who he was, because he didn’t get the love he wanted when he WAS who he was. And so he sold out. And that STILL didn’t get him the love that he wanted – in fact got him the opposite and endangered his life and health as well. You reap what you sow…

Kirby has passed, so we forget his sorrows and his suffering and the rest of the dark and remember the guy we thought he was, the guy we loved to watch.
Barry WON’T pass away, so we throw stones and forget that there is more to him than roids and angry rejected alleged girlfriends and arrogance and fits of temper.
Such a waste, a man who forgot about all the good he was and a man who can’t never believe he’s good enough…

Ah well,
next time, I PROMISE, it’s gonna be Astros…