Hello again everybody!
The middle of the week has arrived, so let's all enjoy the trip to the weekend! Oh who am I kidding? I'm staring down the barrel of a 12-hour shift tomorrow, so I'm just trying to hang on until those blessed letters "TGIF" become a reality...
But let's discuss things that are more interesting than my work-week. First of all, I'll break down why I'm torn over Boston P Jon Lester's no-hitter from Monday night. Then I'll opine about whether freshly retired C Mike Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame or not. And finally it's this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment!
Sweep off the plate and let's play ball!
Monday night saw the first no-hitter of the 2008 MLB season. Boston LHP Jon Lester stymied the Kansas City Royals for 9 innings, walking two batters and striking out 9 including Alberto Callaspo to end the game.
As I mentioned, I'm really torn over this. The thing is, I love no-hitters. It's no secret to people who know me that I enjoy good pitching more than good hitting. And a no-hitter is the 2nd best pitching performance you can see.
And this kid's story is nothing but good. He's a cancer survivor. He missed most of the 2006 season after he was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After undergoing treatment and rehabbing, Lester ended up making 11 starts in 2007 including the Championship-clinching game of last year's World Series. That's an incredible story all on it's own. And now he's got a no-no.
Like most of you, I know people who've fought battles with cancer, so naturally I'm drawn to any story about someone overcoming cancer to excel in their chosen field.
So with all of that said, why am I not more giddy about this?
Two reasons and they each play into the other.
First of all , Lester pitches for Boston. I hate the Boston Red Sox. Regular readers know that I've mentioned that fact once or twice. But what you have to understand is that I really hate the Boston Red Sox. There is no other franchise professional or amateur which I hold in more contempt. Not the Dallas Stars (screw you for stealing my hockey team!), not the LA Lakers (Lakes in Hollywood? Yeah that works...), not even Notre Dame football (*snarky comment deleted after being contacted by Dana Jacobsen's lawyers at ESPN*). I hate the Red Sox and virtually anything (Fenway Park not included) associated with them. So that makes it awfully tough to root for one of their pitchers, no matter how good his story is.
Secondly, Lester was the centerpiece of the trade discussions between Boston and the Twins as Minnesota prepared to deal Johan Santana. So not only do I have to stomach the success of a member of the franchise I most despise, but I also get to picture him having that success in a Twins uniform, had the Twins been able to consummate a reasonable deal for Johan. So far I haven't handled that well at all.
So these are the things that vex me. I think long term, I'll be able to get over it and appreciate the wonder of something that at best happens a couple of times a year. But it's not as automatic as it probably should be.
C Mike Piazza announced his retirement yesterday ending his 16-year career spent with 5 different teams. Most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.
So now the speculation begins. Is Piazza a Hall of Famer? Tim Kurkjian of ESPN says, "Absolutely, no doubt, Mike Piazza is a first-ballot Hall of Famer." That's a strong statement from a guy not usually given to hyperbole.
So let's look at the numbers. Piazza finished his career with a .308 Batting Average, 427 Home Runs (396 of those as a catcher, 31 as a DH/1B), 2127 Hits and 1335 RBI. Impressive numbers to be sure, but none of them are your usual automatic-lock numbers (500 HR, 3000 hits, etc.) for the Hall of Fame.
But keep in mind he played catcher for the bulk of his career. His 396 Home Runs easily tops the career record list for catchers. The next catchers on the list are Carlton Fisk (Hall of Famer), Johnny Bench (Hall of Famer) and Yogi Berra (Hall of Famer). Sensing a pattern?
If the main criterion for election to the Hall is "dominance at your position over the course of your career" than certainly, offensively speaking, Piazza qualifies.
The knock on Mike has always been his defense. Teams ran early and often when Piazza played behind the dish. For the sake of comparison, Johnny Bench threw out 43% of potential base stealers he faced. Carlton Fisk threw out 34%. Mike Piazza? 23%. Better than 3 out of 4 guys who tried to steal a base on Mike did so successfully. Clearly that can't be classified as "dominant". I'm not even sure it can be classified as "average".
So the question becomes was his offense good enough to make up for his sub par defense? That's something the Hall of Fame voters will have to decide individually.
As for me? Given that the guy played during the steroids era which seemingly inflated everybody's numbers? I don't know that I could vote for him. Baseball has long been the most demanding sport when it comes to Hall of Fame election and I see no reason to go against that. If his defensive numbers were better, then I'd agree with Kurkjian and make him an "automatic", but given those numbers, I wouldn't vote for him. We'll see how he's treated by the actual voters in 5 years.
Finally for today it's time for this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment, where I compare the current Major League standings to my pre-season picks.
AL East: Boston Red Sox, 29-19 (Dan's Pick: Boston)
God I hate the Red Sox. The Rays are hanging in there 1 game behind the Sox, but I can't truly enjoy it, since I can't really believe they'll be able to compete over the long haul. Boston's just too talented. Did I mention that I hate the Red Sox?
AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 24-10 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 6.5 Games Back)
Okay, we're getting close enough to Memorial Day that I'll admit I'm worried about this one. I keep thinking that Detroit's one solid hot-streak away from getting back on track and grabbing hold of this division. I'm still waiting. And in the meantime, they're getting so far behind that I'm not sure that they'll have enough time to make up that lost ground.
AL West: LA Angels, 27-20 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 8.5 GB)
I've already given up the ghost on this one. I've said it before, I should've picked the Angels. Dammit.
NL East: Florida Marlins, 25-19 (DP: NY Mets, 2.5 GB)
$22 million. They're leading the division as we close on Memorial Day with a $22 freaking million payroll?! This is why I love baseball. Well, that and because I figure I'm still going to end up being right!
NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 28-18 (DP: Chicago)
The Centrals still a 3 team race. The bad news for my friends in Wisconsin is that the Brewers aren't one of them. St. Louis and Houston are 2.5 games back of the Cubs. The Crew? 6.5. Not good. There's still time, but I can feel the panic level to my east rising steadily.
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 28-17 (DP: Arizona)
The Dodgers are hanging around 4 games back of the D'backs. But Arizona's still firmly in control. Early on I had visions of the Snakes running away and hiding with this thing. Not so much apparently. Outside of LA, there's no competition in this division which will hopefully allow Arizona to have something left in the tank come playoff time.
That's all for today folks. Back on Friday for the week-ending Baseball column!