Sports Outside the Beltway

How Manny became a Jedi

The ALCS will pit the Boston Red Sox against the Cleveland Indians for the honor of facing the National League Champion. Or Manny Ramirez’s current team vs. his first team.

Manny Ramirez, 16 years ago, was quite a sensation at the high school level (he played for George Washington High School in Washington Heights)and the New York Times gave him quite a bit of coverage as he was a highly regarded prospect. I suppose there was some hope he might get drafted by the Yankees and play just a few miles from his home.

Manny Ramirez, who plays center field and third base, batted .633 last season and is rated the best high school player in the city and one of the best in the country (he made USA Today’s top 25), will hit balls out of the park. He hit 16 homers last season.

His teammates say they admire Manny, the son of a cab driver, for not acting cocky. But he would like to be identified in the newspaper as the Hitman. The big-league scouts are following the Hitman; so is Washington Heights. Even the neighborhood’s greatest baseball success story — a Panamanian immigrant named Rod Carew who graduated from Washington in 1964 and was recently elected to the Hall of Fame — says he has heard of Manny Ramirez’s bat.

But the coverage continued even after he was drafted by Cleveland.

In many ways, Ramirez hasn’t left Washington Heights, the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Dominican immigrants where he rose from the Alexis Ferreira Little League to become a local hero as the star third baseman on the George Washington High School team. Last spring, with a .650 average and 14 home runs in 22 games, he was the best high school ballplayer in New York City.

Now, as the No. 1 draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, he has shown similar strengths in the Appalachian League. Batting third in the lineup, he leads the rookie league in home runs, with 14 in 49 games — including two grand slams in one week — and in runs batted in with 52.

But while the center fielder with the quicksilver swing feels at home within the confines of Burlington Athletic Stadium, the shy teen-ager from teeming, close-knit Washington Heights feels marooned here, in small-town America.

(Realizing that Manny was special, the Times followed the George Washington High School baseball team during his senior year as well as his development through the Indians’ organization.)

Manny was one of the centerpieces of a revitalized Cleveland Indians organization that was rebuilt through drafting excellent young players and retaining them. Under John Hart the team developed stars such as Ramirez, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, and Carlos Baerga, reaching the World Series twice (once in 1995 and once in 1997).

In the winter of 2000, Ramirez was lured to the Boston Red Sox as a free agent where he would become their new star. Cleveland was in decline and would start a new rebuilding era under John Hart’s successor, Mark Shapiro, which has now led the Indians back to the postseason.

Ramirez helped the Red Sox win their first World Championship in nearly a century in 2004 and, this year, to their first first place finish in nearly 20 years this year. Ramirez has been regarded as something of a flaky fellow. It was perhaps because of this perception that Boston was prepared to trade him for Alex Rodriguez prior to the 2003 season. (He still had a lot fans among his former teammates.)

By now Manny Ramirez is a great ballplayer and he’s reaching the age where a player’s skills often decline. So how does he retain his skills? Rob Bradford of Boston Herald uncovered some of his preparation in Manny has Plan.

The media, whose job it is to uncover every nook and cranny concerning each player’s makeup, is left living in the world of the fans for whom they write. This is the mystery of Manny, by all accounts one of the smartest, best-prepared hitters in the history of the game.

Few people know about the extra hand-eye coordination exercises Ramirez has added to his routine since the middle of the 2004 season. Strength and conditioning coach Dave Page fires golf ball-like spheres at the slugger’s strike zone, where they are caught by Ramirez’ right hand, acting as a bat.

Later in the workout, which is done 30 minutes before every game, Page throws four rings at Ramirez. Each ring has a different colored ball attached to it, and Page calls out the color of the ball Manny has to grab out of mid-air.

One of the toughest aspects of hitting is deciding what pitch is coming at you in a fraction of a second. So in order to maintain his skill Manny spends extra time honing that decision making. (It reminded me of Obi-Wan training Luke, without the blindfold.) It may very well be that at the end of next year, when his current contract expires, that Manny will once again be highly sought after. If so, it will be a testament, to his dedication to his job.

Friday night, the team that drafted the promising 19 year old will face the team that signed their star away. It will be the battle of Manny’s teams.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack
  • Soccer Dad linked with How manny became a jedi...

Torre fired

No not that one. This one.

But seriously go back a year to the Freakonomics blog for the correct question: If Joe Torre is fired, why?

I’m no Yankee fan but how many managers have had the success Joe Torre has had. True having Mariano Rivera as his closer for most of his tenure has helped. And having a team loaded with the best talent money could buy didn’t hurt. Still, during his run he overlapped with the very talented Atlanta Braves managed by Bobby Cox. The Braves one precisely one world championship during their run in 1995. They even blew an unheard of 2 – 0 lead heading home in 1996 before they were undone by the Yankees the following year.

As much as I hated it at the time there’s no denying that the Yankees of 1996 – 2000 were one of the great baseball dynasties of all time. Torre deserves a lot of credit. He did have choices to make and they usually turned out correctly. Perhaps those years spoiled George, but as fluky (good) as they were for the Yankees they were fluky. Now the Yankees recent failures in the post-season are probably also a little fluky (bad).

So why blame Torre?

Mike Mussina (unfairly demonized in these parts due to Orioles mismanagement) had it right:

“It’s my seventh season and we’ve had seven tremendous seasons,” Mussina said. “We’ve been in the postseason every year, we’ve made it to the World Series. It’s not easy to do this year after year after year, and when he’s done it 12 times in a row, I don’t know what more you’d want, honestly.

“I’d play for the guy anytime. We’re the ones that go out on the field and have to perform. And if we don’t perform, it shouldn’t be a reflection of his ability. The reflection should be on us, not on him.

No it’s not easy, even when you have the talent. Blaming Torre is absurd.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

Thoughts about 25 years of season tickets

From the Baltimore Orioles mailing list … (reprinted with permission)

This is kind of a long ramble, but hey…its about the O’s :)

I went to this game last night….My family has had season tickets since ’82. 20+ rows back from the O’s On Deck circle. Back then we had 4. A few years into Camden Yards we increased it to 6. A few years after the tailspin began, we lowered it back to 4. 2 years ago we lowered it to 2 seats. My family is now thinking we’ll give up our seats next season. We
can’t find anyone who wants to split them anymore and at $97 a game ($45/ticket, $7 parking) to watch this crap, its just not worth it.

So I figured I’d take my nephew and go to one last game in the family seats. We rushed to make it in time for the first pitch–which Zambrano promptly used to nail the first hitter in the side.

It only got worse…and it just seemed as if he had no control other than to lay it in there. Any time he tried to actually PITCH, they took it for a ball. Only things getting over the plate were medium speed meatballs.

Finally they pulled him after it was 5-0, bases loaded 2 outs. Birkins then completed Zambrano’s night by allowing all 3 inherited runners to score.

8-0. Zambrano’s line? 2/3 inning, 8 runs. I kept repeating that in my head. 7…8…9 years ago, that would have been all the sports stations were talking about the next day. Yet today I know that if I turn on 1300 or 1570, it’ll be mostly Ravens chatter about their game in Cleveland (I’m a huge Raven’s fan, so that doesn’t bother me that much).

On the drive home (we left after the 6th inning since it was a bit sticky out and a school night and I had to get my nephew home), I called my Dad and chatted a bit. He lamented about giving up the tickets, but knew deep down the only reason he’d kept them these last couple years was for my nephew who’s a huge Orioles fan. Prior to that, we’d kept them because my mother and I were crazy Orioles fans and loved going to the games. My dad was always a tag-along and would bring the Wall Street Journal or a sailing magazine and read while my Mom and I would follow the finer points of the game.

Every Opening Day was like a holiday for my family. I would have an excuse written to get out of school to go see my dentist. What the administration didn’t realize was my Dentist was my Dad and I’d be seeing him sitting next to be at the ballgame! (side-bar, I submitted this many years ago to ESPN the Magazine for best excuse used to get out of something for opening day
and they printed it in issue #2).

Anyway, so I talked with my dad and just said “Angelos has killed my love of the Orioles. Can you believe it? A diehard fan like me and he has left me just not caring.” And its true. I used to attend or watch well over 140 games a year when I was younger. I knew the O’s TV schedule by heart and looked forward to watching each game. As the losing continued, I would watch less and less. I’d check the box scores less and less. Every Spring I would get so excited. I had to watch the first televised spring training game, even though I knew I would only see the real players for the first inning or two. Didn’t matter. It was the O’s.

And here I am now. I’m 32 years old and I feel like I’m in mourning. I sat in the old seats and it looked and felt different. I couldn’t see the Bromo-Seltzer Tower because of the monstrosity of a hotel they’re building which blocks out 1/2 the view of the outfield (not really Angelos’ fault, but still. The players are mostly mailing it in, other than Markakis. Even BRob looked a little slow and uncaring on some plays/at-bats. There were maybe 5 thousand people in the stands. There are far less employees around (nobody directing traffic in the parking lots, most concessions only had 1 cashier working).

And in that phone conversation with my Dad I realized it didn’t matter if he gave up the tickets; honestly, what exactly would I be missing? It didn’t FEEL like a fun place to come. It felt like a Shiva house (a Jewish house in mourning). I’ve gone to maybe a dozen Frederick Keys games over the last decade and I can get more enjoyment out of those games. It feels like a place people want to come! My boss has season tix to the Nationals so I’ll probably got a few of their games next year. Not that their record is much better, but they show more promise and don’t have the weight of 10 losing years hanging on them.

I’ll have positive memories of games I’ve attended in my family seats…

’83 playoffs and world series in Memorial Stadium (we had practically the
same seats/sections before the move)
Last game at Memorial
First game at Camden
Ripken’s 2131 game with my mom
Playoff runs in ’96 and ’97
Ripken’s last hit from game1 on 10/05/01

I’ll always remember last night…but for much different reasons. With all apologies to Don McLean, for me, it was the day the Orioles died.


Kevin Gandel
IT Manager
Lemek LLC dba Panera Bread

Crossposted on Soccer Dad


O’s woe is me

Ever wonder how much that 30 – 3 loss affected the Orioles?

Hardball times gives the Pythagorean effect for both teams.

Hardball Times also finds a reason that Erik Bedard has been more effective this year. Alas he’s now out indefinitely.

Allowing the other team 30 runs was historic. Now less than two weeks later the O’s are in the history books again. A pitcher no-hit them in only his second start. Who was the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in only his second start? Wilson Alvarez. In 1991. Against the Orioles.
(BTW that’s a great pun – Clay-nation!)

It’s quite often that baseball writers write about the importance good clubhouse chemistry. Well guess what, apparently the Orioles have it. Even after firing a manager and losing 9 straight.

Trachsel said. “I’ll keep all my doors open. You never say no to anything. I certainly enjoyed it and liked this clubhouse.”

That’s on a fourth place club fading fast.

Peter Schmuck is glad that Andy MacPhail got to see the real Orioles.

The Orioles’ record under Trembley at the time of his extension was 29-25, which was quite in contrast to the club’s 29-40 mark when Sam Perlozzo was fired. The difference also was apparent in the team’s demeanor between June 18 (when Trembley took over) and Aug. 22 (when the extension was announced). That’s all well and good, but the only fundamental change was the new manager’s increased emphasis on fundamentals.

That 54-game span of modestly winning baseball is not some dynamic statistical anomaly. Over the course of a 162-game season, almost every team – no matter how hapless – has an extended run of respectability.

Want proof? The Kansas City Royals, the yardstick by which baseball measures pain, went 29-24 from June 1 through Aug. 1. The Washington Nationals, the other MASN partner that entered the weekend mired in a long losing streak, went 29-26 from June 6 through Aug. 7.

In other words, it happens. Don’t get carried away.

I’d write more but this is just getting depressing. There’s always next year. Or 2010.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.


What would it have been like if Teixeira was still in Texas?

Before tonight, the Orioles have been on the receiving end of some blowouts.

On June 26, 1978, the Orioles, on their way to a 90 win season (but 4th place finish,) faced the lowly second year Toronto Blue Jays at old Exhibition stadium. Earl Weaver was facing a difficult situation.

But desperate circumstances required desperate measures. At Exhibition Stadium on June 26, 1978, the Blue Jays, in their second big-league season, scored 24 runs, the most ever scored against the Orioles in one game.

The Orioles were down 19-6 in the fifth inning when Weaver, who was trying to conserve pitchers for a doubleheader the following day, sent for Harlow, an outfielder who had pitched one inning in the minors in 1971. Weaver later said Harlow claimed ownership of a slider, and was “throwing the ball at 92 miles an hour on our gun.”

Perhaps, but Harlow only lasted two-thirds of an inning, yielding five earned runs, two hits and four walks and striking out one Blue Jay.

The score stood at 24-6 and Weaver needed someone to put an end to the fifth inning. He called the bullpen and got Hendricks, the former catcher who was on the roster as player-coach that season. Hendricks had thrown batting practice that year, but that was the extent of his pitching experience.

The game might have ended badly, 24 – 10, for the Orioles, but it ended well for Hendricks.

Former ace Jim Palmer watched it from the dugout. Asked to account for Hendricks’ effectiveness, Palmer says, “Either Elrod had his good stuff that night or they just got tired.”

Hendricks suggests the latter.

“They got themselves out,” he says.

Palmer recalls that Hendricks used a little neck jerk motion reminiscent of changeup artist Stu Miller. “They swung at the neck twitch,” Palmer says. “It seemed like they could have swung twice” by the time the ball crossed the plate.

When Hendricks’ pitching debut was over, his ERA a tidy 0.00 and right-hander Don Stanhouse on the mound to finish the game, Weaver approached Hendricks and “he said, ‘Nice job.’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, but don’t think about it again.’ . . . I’d like to say it was fun but it really wasn’t.”

He says he would rather forget. But that’s not Palmer’s version.

“Heck, no,” Palmer says. “The next day we went down to get the papers and there were none left. Elrod had bought them all.”

(For a happier memory of an Oriole-Blue Jay game, see here for the famous John Lowenstein playing third-Lenn Sakata catching game from 1983.)

In another good season, 1996 – when the Orioles were headed to the playoffs – the Orioles suffered another lopsided defeat at the hands of tonight’s opponent, the Texas Rangers, allowing 16 runs in the 8th inning losing 26 – 7. Here’s a description of what happened

But it was not a good day for the Baltimore staff. They were already down 10-7 when Armando Benitez came on to start the eighth. Benitez promptly gave up a single, a stolen base, a walk, a wild pitch, and another walk. Thinking they might still have a remote chance, the Orioles pulled Benitez and gave the ball to Jesse Orosco. He managed to retire one of the nine batters he faced. At this point, infielder Manny Alexander was summoned to finish up, and he walked the first three hitters. After a sacrifice fly and another walk, Kevin Elster capped it off with a grand slam before Darryl Hamilton recorded the final out on a (sympathy?) ground ball to second. Texas residents would have been forgiven if they thought the final score of 26-7 was really from a Cowboys game.

In that inglorious effort, the Orioles issued eight walks. Five were given up by a shortstop, however, so it doesn’t really qualify as one of the worst control failures of this period. That honor goes to the Oakland A’s of 1979, who walked 8 Angels in one inning on the fourth of July and managed to do so without using any non-pitchers.

(Hmm. There were an awful lot of one-time Mets in that game, including the bullpen – Orosco, McDowell and Myers – from the 1985 World Champions.)

Tonight all the damage was done against Orioles pitchers as the Texas Rangers scored 30 runs.

The Texas Rangers became the first team in 110 years to score 30 runs in a game, setting an American League record Wednesday in a 30-3 rout of the Orioles.

Trailing 3-0 in the opener of a doubleheader, the Rangers scored five runs in the fourth, nine in the sixth, 10 in the eighth and six in the ninth.

It was the ninth time a major league team scored 30 runs, the first since Chicago set the major league scoring record in a 36-7 rout of Louisville in a National League game on June 28, 1897, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

I guess the silver lining is that it’s nice to make history. But most would rather it be for something positive.

Headlines in the Baltimore Sun.
# Box score: Rangers 30, O’s 3
# Maese: Will hiring Trembley look good in Oct.?

I think that acting decisively towards Trembley was a good idea. (I don’t share Maese’s hesitation.) However I’m glad they did it yesterday. If they’d been planning an announcement tomorrow, it would have been pretty difficult to pull off in the face of such an embarrassing defeat.

(Tonight’s game featured two grand slams for Texas. The Orioles and Rangers have another interesting game between them. August 6, 1986 the two teams set a major league record by hitting 3 grand slams between them. The Orioles hit two of them. But they still lost 13 – 11. At the time the Orioles had been respectable and were only 2 1/2 games out of first place. That game started a tailspin that saw the Orioles fall to last place for the first time in franchise history and their first losing season since 1967.)

Roch Kubato has second thoughts.

Baseball Musings writes about Texas Tees Off. (via BallBug)

A quick hit from Inside Charm City.

Some thoughts from Oriole Post.

Sigh, in the nightcap the Orioles are losing by a rather pedestrian 6 – 4.

UPDATE: Baseball Tonight notes the many crazy things that have happened this week in baseball.

Texas sets a double header record, scoring 39 combined runs.

Texas kept right on hitting in the second game, too, although at a decidedly tamer pace. Travis Metcalf drove in four runs and the Rangers used a three-run eighth for a 9-7 victory and a sweep.

Texas set an AL record for runs in a doubleheader, surpassing the 36 scored by Detroit in 1937.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack
  • Soccer Dad linked with What would it have been like if teixeira was still in texas?...

How it got done

On Wednesday, I was very down on the Orioles. It looked as if the Orioles were going to end the day without signing their #1 draft pick, catcher Matt Weiters. If that had happened, the Orioles would have forfeited their rights to Weiters.

But then word got out at the last minute that the Orioles had reached an agreement with Weither’s at a price less than what his “advisor” Scott Boras said he was insisting on. So not only did the Orioles enjoy a thrilling victory on Wednesday, they possibly landed the future of their franchise.

One element of the signing that I found interesting was a comment by the Orioles’ director of scouting, Joe Jordan.

“They got the deal done,” said an elated Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan. “You can tell the city of Baltimore that the old evil owner stepped up and took care of things tonight. We had to fight to the end.”

I read the comment that Jordan was speaking with his tongue in cheek. It was, I thought, a healthy acknowledgment that Orioles management understood how poorly it was perceived by the fan base and that it was now going to work to repair that relationship.

Some of my fellow bloggers were not so pleased with the statement.
Oriole Post:

I’m proud that the Baltimore Orioles signed Matt Wieters, beat Boras, and scored a major coup, and I commend the team on doing so, but it is to be expected — isn’t it?

We all want to beat our chests and cry out to the sky when we do something good, but in the manner that Mr. Jordan did it in?

Absolutely not. He sounds so ornery and cock full of himself, it’s not funny and very insulting to the people left who come out and support the team.

Inside Charm City :

Jordan is obviously taking a dig at Angelos detractors and it comes across as petty and vindictive on a night when you’d think mature members of the front office staff would have the sense to talk up the good news that occurred instead of taking pot-shots at people who pay their salaries through ticket sales.

According to this account in the Sun it appears that Boras’s original contract demands were higher than he expected to get for Weiters.

MacPhail, in Toronto, and owner Peter Angelos spoke by phone with Boras. Meanwhile, Jordan and his administrative assistant, Marcy Zerhusen, worked and worried from the third floor of the B&O warehouse, maintaining dialogue with one of Boras’ representatives while staying in contact with MacPhail.

“There were a lot of things going on, just trying to gather information and see where we were,” Jordan said. “In the end, it came together quickly. Marcy and I high-fived each other.

“From about 7 o’clock on, it seemed like every 15 or 20 minutes we were getting updates from Major League Baseball, as far as signings. As close as it was getting to the deadline, you could just see there was a pecking order. And as much as we’re trying to push this thing along, it’s not going to happen.”

Not until other first-rounders reached agreements, including Kansas City’s Mike Moustakis at No. 2 and the Chicago Cubs’ Josh Vitters at No. 3 – leaving Wieters as the last domino to fall.

“I don’t think, in these kinds of situations, that you really know if it’s going to happen,” Boras said. “The way these contracts work, it’s a fair deal for everyone. Skill-wise, this is an important signing for the Baltimore Orioles.”

Boras said he told the Orioles that Wieters would consider signing if they agreed to pay him the net present value of the contract for high school pitcher Rick Porcello, another Boras client who received a four-year major league deal from the Detroit Tigers, as the 27th pick, worth $7 million, including a $3.58 million bonus.

Baseball musings links
to Sports Agent Blog arguing (I think) that the earlier deadline keeps salaries in line, but that those who sign the latest still end up maximizing the salary and bonuses they’ll earn.

Different Rules same outcome Rany Jazayerli explains why the new rules don’t change the likelihood that a “tough sign” will still drop to one of the better teams later in the draft.

Ken Rosenthal argues that drafting well (and even overpaying for a high draft pick) can change around a team’s fortunes and is, surprisingly, a cost effective way of improving. Jayson Stark, though, argued that more often than not high draft picks are busts.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

The Rebirth of Rick Ankiel

No doubt you remember Rick Ankiel, the once highly touted pitching prospect of the St. Louis Cardinals. He rose quickly through minors, succeeding at every single stop. But when he reached the majors, his control left him. In the playoffs no less.

But that isn’t the only misfortune he suffered.

Rick Ankiel did not grow up in a ticky tacky little box out of Agrestic, California. Instead, he scraped by along with his mother, who dealt with an abusive spouse that was serving a prison sentence. His dad was serving time for drug smuggling while Rick was being scouted heavily by every Major League team. His half-brother was also in jail, and was arrested 28 times in a 6-year span. If you think the past few years were rough, you have no idea.

Which is why I am not surprised that Rick Ankiel has persevered and is once again successful on a team that is struggling to be a playoff contender. Ankiel took his agent’s advice (none other than Scott Boras), and put baseball in the back of his mind for a while. He headed out to SoCal to get away from it all. Boras was there for Ankiel when he needed him most (unlike IMG for Jennifer Capriati). He hung out with Ankiel in Southern California, set him up with other players, and also linked him with a sports psychologist.

(For more on Scott Boras’s operation, see here.)

Today Charles Krauthammer cheers Ankiel’s return in the Natural returns to St. Louis. (or here.)

The kid is never the same. He never recovers his control. Five miserable years in the minors trying to come back. Injuries. Operations. In 2005, he gives up pitching forever.

Then, last week, on Aug. 9, he is called up from Triple-A. Same team. Same manager. Rick Ankiel is introduced to a roaring Busch Stadium crowd as the Cardinals’ starting right fielder.

In the seventh inning, with two outs, he hits a three-run home run to seal the game for the Cardinals. Two days later, he hits two home runs and makes one of the great catches of the year — over the shoulder, back to the plate, full speed.

Krauthammer correctly writes that this catch was so spectacular because Ankiel misjudged the ball. Despite the recent heroics, Krauthammer expect normalcy to return.

He made the catch. The crowd, already delirious over the two home runs, came to its feet. If this had been a fable, Ankiel would have picked himself up and walked out of the stadium into the waiting arms of the lady in white — Glenn Close in a halo of light — never to return.

But this is real life. Ankiel is only 28 and will continue to play. The magic cannot continue. If he is lucky, he’ll have the career of an average right fielder. But it doesn’t matter. His return after seven years — if only three days long — is the stuff of legend. Made even more perfect by the timing: Just two days after Barry Bonds sets a synthetic home run record in San Francisco, the Natural returns to St. Louis.

By learning a new position and to hit while already in his twenties Ankiel has accomplished something really rare. Is it the start of a very good second career? It’s too early to tell. But you must want him to succeed.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack

Ambassador Cal Ripken

The State Department announced yesterday that Cal Ripken would become an unofficial ambassador for the United States.

Baseball Hall of Fame player Cal Ripken Jr. is taking his talents teaching kids the fundamentals of the sport to a higher level as a new U.S. State Department public diplomacy sports envoy.

Ripken’s first assignment will be visiting China October 28-November 6 to train Chinese youngsters in the Asian country’s budding baseball program.

Ripken, a shortstop and third baseman in his 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, said August 13 at the State Department that he plans to use his new position to bridge the gap between people of different languages and cultures.

Ripken will be the second “sports envoy” the first was figure skater, Michelle Kwan.

The first State Department public diplomacy sports envoy, figure skating star Michelle Kwan, recently returned from Russia on behalf of the United States, where her “message of working hard and dreaming big resonated with young people” in that country, said Hughes.

The Baltimore Sun has a little more on the program.

Cal Ripken Jr., who usually avoids the political arena, was named a State Department sports envoy yesterday. He plans to remain politically neutral even as he joins forces with the Bush administration to try to bolster America’s image overseas.

The former Orioles superstar said yesterday that he didn’t accept the unpaid post to make a political statement but rather to work with children from other nations on baseball.

He’s part of an effort, largely orchestrated by longtime Bush confidant Karen Hughes, to expand the role of athletes in diplomacy. The effort has included sending American wrestlers to Iran and naming figure skater Michelle Kwan as an envoy in 2006 and dispatching her to Russia and China.

The position is unpaid though the State Department will pay for Ripken’s travel.

The Sun brings up an additional quesiton, that isn’t particularly fair.

The Hall of Famer’s appearance with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others from the Bush administration raised the question: Can a sports celebrity enter a political world and still be apolitical?

To Ripken and spokesman John Maroon, the answer is yes. But not everyone is so sure. In Washington, it is hard to pose for pictures with Rice and Hughes – as a smiling Ripken did after delivering brief remarks yesterday – without political meaning being attached to the gesture.

“If I’m someone who is looking at those pictures, I am going to think Cal Ripken supports President Bush,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “Ripken is obviously an incredibly popular baseball player and President Bush is unpopular, and you could ask the question: ‘Is he trying to boost his popularity?’”

It isn’t really a question now. If a Democrat is elected next year and Ripken immediately steps down, that would be a political statement. But nothing Ripken’s done or said suggests that there’s any political agenda here.

I’m not convinced that this program will work, however I have little doubt that if the State Department of President Kerry had initiated a similar program, that Ripken would have accepted a similar role. It’s all hypothetical now, of course, but the question is a little too cynical.

More at USA Today and ESPN.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

| | Permalink | Send TrackBack
  • Soccer Dad linked with Ambassador cal ripken...

No more waiting on Wieters

Considering Andy MacPhail’s tenure with the Twins, Ken Rosenthal wonders if history is about to repeat with Matt Wieters now that MacPhail is with the Orioles.

MacPhail, the Orioles’ new chief operating officer, could be headed toward a negotiating stalemate with the team’s first-round pick, Matt Wieters, according to major-league sources.

Like Varitek, Wieters is a switch-hitting catcher out of Georgia Tech. Like Varitek, Wieters is represented by Scott Boras.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos had a long history of avoiding Boras clients before the team selected Wieters fifth overall in June.

MacPhail, former colleagues say, also would not be afraid to adopt a firm position with Boras.

“We’re still talking back and forth,” MacPhail told on Monday. “I really don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Andy MacPhail’s Jason Varitek debacle may be repeating itself with Matt Wieters. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

The Orioles are not alone in their uncertainty; 11 other clubs have yet to reach agreement with their first rounders. The first-ever deadline for signing picks is 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Boras represents three other unsigned first rounders — high-school infielder Mike Moustakas, the Royals’ pick at No. 2; high-school right-hander Rick Porcello, the Tigers’ pick at No. 27, and North Carolina State right-hander Andrew Brackman, the Yankees’ pick at No. 30.

The Orioles are not along in their quandary, still it’s hardly encouraging if the new regime fails to sign one of the most highly regarded picks in this year’s draft.

True, there’s always a risk and the premium paid to a Boras client makes failure even more expensive. (Think Brien Taylor.)

Rosenthal suggests that MacPhail may not be as rigid as feared.

The Sun’s Roch Kubato isn’t appeased.

The hiring of MacPhail altered the dynamics of the negotiations, according to one source. Another, however, disagreed, saying, “I don’t really think that’s it.”

MacPhail, who served as a management negotiator during last year’s labor talks, would seem likely to follow MLB’s slot recommendations for draft-pick bonuses.

However, during MacPhail’s tenure as CEO, the Cubs exceeded slot when they signed pitcher Mark Prior to a record $10.5 million contract in 2001.

I don’t know what would be worse. Would the failure to sign Wieters be a good sign because it would mean that MacPhail was really in charge? I’d guess that to say that is to engage in wishful thinking.

No knock on Andy MacPhail, but I’d feel better about the Orioles securing the Georgia Tech catcher if someone else was handling the negotiations.

MacPhail, for better or worse, is not going to be overly generous when it comes to signing bonuses. The commissioner’s office wants to keep them down, and MacPhail’s not going to fight it. Not with his background.

He’ll be fair, but I’m not sure fair gets it done. Stay tuned.

More Roch here

I’m told it will be a few more years before the MASN money starts rolling in, so that’s not a factor as tomorrow’s deadline approaches. In the meantime, and again, it’s not my money, but letting Matt Wieters re-enter the draft sends a bad message to fans, the players and the rest of the league.

The Orioles will have egg on their faces if they don’t sign him. Or for drafting him without realizing how much it would cost to sign him.


The latest from the Baltimore Sun.

Less than 24 hours before the deadline to sign draft picks, the Orioles remain about $5 million apart from reaching a deal with their top selection, Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters. And while team officials maintain they haven’t given up hope of signing the fifth overall pick, it will take a dramatic change to reach an agreement before tonight’s midnight cutoff.

According to club sources, Wieters’ adviser, Scott Boras, is asking for a deal that slightly exceeds the approximately $10.6 million deal that Mount St. Joseph graduate Mark Teixeira signed after he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2001. Meanwhile, the Orioles have sweetened their offer in recent days to just less than $6 million.

Even if the team gets the deal done, being this far apart so late in the game doesn’t reflect well on the franchise. Sigh.

UPDATE: A commenter on my blog was correct in pointing to the signing of Jered Weaver. The Orioles signed Wieters at the last minute.

Like the Angels and Weaver, the Orioles signed Wieters at the last minute. Principal owner Peter Angelos and new president Andy MacPhail worked on the deal while in Toronto for the quarterly owners’ meetings last night and, with 10 minutes left before the midnight amateur signing deadline, reached a pact during a phone call with Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras.

“They got the deal done,” said an elated Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan. “You can tell the city of Baltimore that the old evil owner stepped up and took care of things tonight. We had to fight to the end.”

“Evil owner?” Good, it shows that the front office has some perception how popular Angelos is with the fan base. Maybe he’ll start listening to his baseball people. And maybe we’ll then start appreciating him.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.


Re-thinking Barrry Bonds

For the most complete Barry Bonds smackdown read Right Wing Nuthouse’s Not about Barry Bonds.

I am not going to write about his tax problems, brought on by his unreported cash income from signing balls, bats, and anything that isn’t nailed down in a ballpark.

I am not going to write about his personal trainer Greg Anderson, languishing in jail on a contempt charge because he refuses to testify against Bonds and confirm that he and Victor Conte of BALCO helped Bonds bulk up.

I am not going to write about Barry Bonds because Barry Bonds is a cheat, a scoundrel, a woman abuser, and a tax dodge.

In the end though, he lets some ambivalence show through.

No, I won’t write about Barry Bonds. Tomorrow. Today, I, like anyone else who loves baseball, can’t think about anything else.

For a diametrically opposed view of Bonds read John Sickels.

I don’t understand why everyone picks on Bonds. Did he use stuff he should not have used? Probably. So did the pitchers he was hitting against. It probably made him stronger, yes, but it did not improve his strike zone judgment, or his hand-eye coordination, and those were the things that have made him such an exceptional hitter. And it helped the guys he was hitting against just as much as it helped him. And he was hitting in San Francisco…you think that the steroids helped him more than the park hurt him the last few years?

This is really ridiculous I think. If Bonds were more personable, this wouldn’t be a controversy. The press has hated Barry Bonds way before the steroid thing, just like they hated Ted Williams. Because he doesn’t put up with their crap.

This is important. Gaylord Perry was known for scuffing balls, something that had an immediate impact on the game, for it caused a pitched ball to move in unpredictable motions. No matter how long Barry Bonds took steroids he still had to work out to build up his muscles. And it likely had no impact on his coordination.

But even Sickels accepts the premise that Barry is a bad guy personally. Still it’s hard to get past some of the evidence otherwise. Consider for a moment what Bonds has done for some of pitchers he’s victimized. He’s given them autographed bats. And not just Hensley, he also did this for Kip Wells who gave up 600.

And then there’s Cal Ripken

It was a joint effort by Barry and me. I like Barry a lot. I think he’s got a heart the size of a lion, and a lot of people might not recognize that or might not see it. I just thought that commercial had some potential to go beyond what had been written into it. Not that we’re writers or anything. We actually didn’t write it. Someone else did. But we talked it through, and I guess I gave them my permission to make a fool out of myself.

(The context of Ripken’s remarks were about a commercial he and Barry Bonds had made for Franklin batting gloves. The two player were compared. Then finally the announcer says “Barry Bonds has an earring.” As I recall the final scene has Cal sporting an amazingly garish earring with Bonds observing with a bemused look. Cal asks – something like – “You think my Dad will like this?” It’s a classic.)

There’s no getting many of the negative things Right Wing Nut House wrote about Barry Bonds. However I think his biggest problem wasn’t his surliness, but rather that he was surly towards the press corps. Thus he’s never gotten the benefit of the doubt in the media, assuring that he’s never going to get the benefit of the doubt.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.


Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.