Sports Outside the Beltway

Los Angeles Dodgers hire Joe Torre to be Manager

It took the former Yankee, Met, Brave and Cardinal manager two weeks to find work again.

LOS ANGELES – Joe Torre grew up in Brooklyn rooting against the Dodgers. Now, a half-century after they moved west, he’s their manager. Torre was hired by Los Angeles to succeed Grady Little on Thursday, taking the job two weeks after walking away from the New York Yankees.

The winningest manager in postseason history, Torre moved from one storied franchise to another, agreeing to a three-year, $13 million contract. He becomes the Dodgers’ eighth manager since they left his hometown, where he rooted for the rival New York Giants.

The 67-year-old Torre will be introduced at a news conference Monday at Dodger Stadium. Little resigned Tuesday after completing two seasons of a three-year deal.

Torre joins the Dodgers for their 50th anniversary season in Los Angeles, hoping to spur October success.

Favored to win the NL West this year, the Dodgers finished fourth. They have only one playoff victory since winning the 1988 World Series under Tom Lasorda.

Torre guided the Yankees to four World Series championships from 1996-2000, and they made the playoffs in all 12 years he managed them. New York lost to Cleveland last month, eliminated in the first round for the third straight year.

The Dodgers are hoping Torre can bring success to Los Angeles. Contrary to popular opinion, managers aren’t miracle workers. Some teams and managers have gotten lucky, the team I grew up a fan of did almost 40 years ago. That’s the exception not the rule.

The Dodgers don’t have the talent IMHO to be a serious contender. Torre will retire before the Dodgers win another World Series.

I also suspect the Yankees are due for a correction. Joe Girardi(Don’t get me wrong, I liked Girardi when he managed the Marlins) isn’t likely to meet the same fate as the Yankees of the mid 60′s and Johnny Keane met, but when all is said and done Don Mattingly may not regret being passed over say three years.

Update- Post updated to add the Braves to teams Torre managed in the past.


Braves Deal Shortstop Edgar Renteria to Tigers

Let the Hot Stove begin. ESPN reports the essentials.

The Detroit Tigers made the first splash in baseball’s offseason as they addressed a pressing priority.


Detroit filled its No. 1 void Monday, acquiring shortstop Edgar Renteria and cash from the Atlanta Braves for two prospects.

Shortly after reaching the World Series last season, the Tigers pulled off the first major move when they traded for Gary Sheffield.

The two prospects ended up being 21-year old righthander Jair Jurrjens and 19-year old centerfielder Gorkys Hernandez.

What a coup for Atlanta. Even without John Schuerholz in the GM chair, the Braves are still well aware of players’ expiration dates. Ever a hallmark of Schuerholz’ trades, the Braves always seemed to know just when to move a player. Renteria fit a need on a contender who was awash with young arms, just what the Braves need. Hernandez meanwhile has speed to burn, good doubles power and the potential to blossom into a very good centerfielder.

Wren noted that the Braves had other moves to make. One of course will be installing Yunel Escobar as the full-time starting shortstop. In one move, the Braves just got a lot younger. The National League East should be on notice. The Braves may have missed the post season in each of the last two years, they are on their way back to contention.

In Motown, however, the story is contending with an aging core of known veteran players – familiar ones at that, to GM Dave Dombrowski and Manager Jim Leyland. Their last two big offseason acquisitions (Sheffield and Renteria) were playing for Leyland and Dombrowski in 1997 when they, as Marlins, were World Series Champions.

Age must be a concern at some point. Of Tigers position players, only centerfielder Curtis Ganderson is under 30. Top prospect Cameron Maybin showed he was not quite ready for the majors in his debut this past fall. Meanwhile Pudge Rodriguez is 36. Magglio Ordonez is 34. Sheffield is 39 and the Tigers offense is old, in a dangerous position for decline.

Their pitching is young however, with fireballers Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller and Jeremy Bonderman heading a deep rotation and Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney at the back of the bullpen. Only Rodney is over thirty. They can contend with these pitchers in the near term and continue to patch the lineup with veteran replacements for another couple of years.

Short term, this deal benefits the Tigers more, who may be able to make it back to the World Series in 2008, but long term this is a real steal for the Braves.


Braves GM John Schuerholz Retiring

An era is ending for the Braves. John Schuerholz is stepping down. The team’s venerable general manager will announce this afternoon that he’s resigning after 17 seasons with the Braves, and handing over the reins to top assistant Frank Wren, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Manager Bobby Cox is returning for at least one more season, but his longtime boss is not.

Schuerholz, 67, has been a baseball GM for 26 seasons with Kansas City and Atlanta, and had the longest tenure among major league GMs. He presided over the Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, an unprecedented run in North American major professional sports. The only disappointment of the era was that the Braves won just a single World Series title (1995) in those 14 postseason trips. He also won a World Series ring with Kansas City in 1985. The Braves missed the playoffs in 2006 and again this year, finishing in third place in the National League East division standings both of those seasons.

Cox, 66, has said he intends to return at least for the 2008 season, which would his 27th as a major league manager and 23rd with the Braves. He indicated this month that he might also manage beyond next season.

Wren, 49, has been a Braves assistant GM for seven seasons, after serving as Baltimore Orioles GM in 1999 and as Florida Marlins assistant GM for eight seasons through 1998.

Jeff Quinton notes (via IM) that Scheurholz is from Baltimore and that there’s an opening there. But I can’t imagine he’d want to start over with a much less promising team at this stage of his career.


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.

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No Loyalty in Baseball

A classic movie line informs us there’s no crying in baseball. As Tim Tucker reminds us, there’s no loyalty, either.

Only two players in Atlanta Braves history have played more games for the team than Andruw Jones. Only two have more hits, more home runs or more RBIs. And none, of course, have made more game-saving defensive plays. Yet, when the Braves said an abrupt goodbye to Jones this past week, their fan base hardly revolted.


“In the 1970s and ’80s, even through the ’90s, it was upsetting to people when a player left,” said Dale Murphy, the Braves’ two-time National League MVP of the ’80s. “Now it’s part of the game. It’s more acceptable, more understandable, and fans move on a lot easier.”


Baseball players began moving on with the advent of free agency 30 years ago, and the pace has accelerated with the soaring salaries of the past decade. Most teams annually juggle their rosters to balance their budgets. Players move around so much that it has become a laughing matter. A current television commercial for delivery company DHL has fun with the career of vagabond outfielder Kenny Lofton, who has been with 11 teams in 17 years, including the Braves.

In the past five years, Braves fans have said goodbye to a parade of entrenched stars — Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez, Rafael Furcal. Now, Andruw Jones.


Only seven other active players have been with their original big-league team longer than the 11-plus years Jones had been with the Braves. And with the retirement last weekend of Houston’s Craig Biggio, the major leaguer with the longest tenure with his team is Braves pitcher John Smoltz (19-plus years).

To stay with a team for an entire career often requires concessions by the player, said Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who played all of his 20 big-league seasons with San Diego. “I made a point of never getting to free agency, because if you get to free agency you’re not sure how your team is going to handle it,” Gwynn said. “I always tried to get an extension two years before. You’re usually not going to max out on the dollars that way, but in San Diego, if you made it appealing for them to keep you, they jumped at it.” He wonders if a similar approach might have worked for Jones here. “With the agent he’s got, I don’t know if that was an option,” said Gwynn, referring to the hard-driving Scott Boras.

It’s a shame to see Andruw go. The bottom line, though, is that there are only so many people teams not named the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, or Cubs can afford to hand $20 million a year to.

Fans expect “loyalty” from their teams and players but it’s simply not realistic. The Braves can’t justify paying Jones the money he’s demanding and Jones can’t be expected to sacrifice $10 million a year or more to stay with the team if someone else out there is willing to give it to him.

Certainly, none of us would stay with our current employer if a similar firm was offering to double our salaries; it’s not fair to ask athletes to do that either.


Andruw Jones’ Braves Career About Over

It’s sure looking like Andruw Jones, who came up through the Atlanta Braves’ farm system and has been playing in the Big Leagues for the team since he was 19, is about to hit the road. The AJC’s David O’Brien reports,

In a conversation with the Journal-Constitution, agent Scott Boras was more clear than he has been to date on the subject of Jones and chances of the soon-to-be-free-agent center fielder accepting a discount to stay with the Braves.” Andruw Jones took a discount to stay in Atlanta last time,” Boras said, referring to the six-year, $75 million contract Jones negotiated with the Braves before the 2002 season, when he and his father worked out the deal with general manager John Schuerholz without Boras at the table. Jones has assured Boras he will let the agent handle negotiations this time, and Boras told him about 15 teams will have interest. “He probably took 30 or 40 million less to stay, because he likes Atlanta and enjoys playing in Atlanta,” Boras said. “But as he said earlier in the year, he wants his fair market value [this time].”

Despite Jones’ career-worst season — .222 average, 26 homers, 94 RBIs — Boras seems certain he’ll command a contract befitting a nine-time Gold Glove winner with 368 homers, including 92 homers and 257 RBIs in 2005-06. “It’s a very different marketplace than when he signed his previous contract,” Boras said. “Revenues in baseball have doubled. We all know the Atlanta Braves are making millions of dollars in profits.”

Schuerholz again declined to discuss the Braves’ intentions for Jones, or say if they’ll make an offer. Team officials have indicated privately that Boras’ asking price will far exceed what they’re willing to pay.


[Boras also] represents Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira, who’s expected to command at least $12 million in his final year of arbitration before becoming a free agent after next season. The Braves want to re-sign the former Georgia Tech star, who has 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 53 games since being traded to Atlanta.

Teixeira is a much younger player and has greater upside. It’d be a shame to lose Jones but the Braves are playing with a much more limited payroll than several other clubs and Schuerholz has shown a propensity to let aging home-grown stars leave rather than overpay.


Skip Caray Snubbed by TBS Playoff Coverage

Skip Caray has been broadcasting baseball games for TBS for over thirty years but he didn’t make the cut for their playoff coverage.

TBS named its broadcast lineup for the baseball playoffs this week, and Skip Caray was none too happy about being excluded. “It hurt my feelings, and I’m mad at myself for thinking there was any loyalty left in this business,” Caray, the longtime Atlanta Braves broadcaster, said in an interview Wednesday. “I should have known better. They can do whatever they want to do,” Caray said, “but I’ve done a lot of good work for these people, and it’s hurtful that they apparently don’t think I can do good work anymore.”

Atlanta-based TBS, in its first year of televising postseason baseball games after decades of airing Braves regular-season games, this week named three play-by-play voices to work first-round series: Dick Stockton, a former baseball broadcaster who has worked mostly football and basketball in recent years; Ted Robinson, a former longtime baseball broadcaster who is the voice of NBC’s tennis coverage; and Boston Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo. They join Chip Caray, Skip Caray’s son, who was named earlier to call play-by-play on TBS’ No. 1 postseason team.

“I feel like I can do a better job than a tennis announcer or a football-basketball announcer,” Skip Caray said. “I’m not knocking Ted Robinson and Dick Stockton, but point of fact is they don’t do baseball anymore and I’m there every day.”

TBS responded to Caray’s comments with a prepared statement by spokesman Jeff Pomeroy: “TBS has put together four telecast teams that we feel will best serve our national baseball audience. … We appreciate Skip’s abilities as a play-by-play announcer and look forward to his [Braves] calls for us next year on Peachtree TV, but we decided to go in another direction as we look to brand our new MLB-on-TBS playoff package.”

TBS will televise all four division series, plus the National League Championship Series. Game analysts will be Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, former manager Bob Brenly, former Cubs analyst Steve Stone and current Braves analyst Joe Simpson.

Skip Caray said “no one has given me a reason why” he didn’t make the postseason lineup.

A Braves television announcer since 1976, Caray has had his TV role reduced recently. This season he has worked mostly on radio, calling just 10 Braves games on TBS. He will work Sunday’s game on TBS, the network’s last national Braves telecast.

Caray said he’d like to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame along with longtime broadcasting partner Pete Van Wieren someday. “But when your employer says you’re not good enough to do the playoffs, I don’t think that helps your chances.”


Caray is a controversial figure, either loved or hated by Braves fans. I’m definitely in the former camp but his opinionated style irritates a lot of folks. That he’s a Braves homer works against him, too, as TBS is looking to brand themselves as a sports network rather than a Braves network. And of course there’s the age issue: If you’re looking to rebrand yourself, you don’t do it with a guy who’s likely to retire soon.

Still, Caray is their best baseball announcer. It’s a shame not to include him.


Who is your NL MVP?

We still have just under 3 weeks of regular season baseball left to play, it’s not quite football season yet! The National League is totally up for grabs. The Central can be won by any of three teams. The East by the Mets or Phillies. The West by any of four teams. What a race! With all the competition, who is the National League’s MVP? I will list the top candidates and give you my pick for the NL MVP.

David Wright (3B Mets) – Here is the pick that you will most commonly see. Wright is a great option for the NL MVP. He is hitting .316/.411/.544 with a career high 28 homers, 35 doubles, 96 RBI, 98 runs, 31 stolen bases, and a 86/108 BB/K rate. Wright could, and should, win the gold glove at 3B. Wright kept the offense going while Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup due to injury and he has tore it up in the 2nd half (.355/.470/.609 and a 45/35 BB/K rate) with Jose Reyes struggling and hitting .258 since the break. Wright has carried the team on his shoulders but I tend to remember the team carrying him when he struggled at the beginning of the season.

Chase Utley (2B Phillies) – Utley has missed some time due to injury and if not for that missed time I think we would be looking at the NL MVP. He is hitting .338/.417/.565 with 18 homers, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, 86 runs, 9 stolen bases, and a 46/75 BB/K rate. He leads the league in AVG and is second in OBP. He plays a physically demanding postion up the middle and holds his own. The knocks on Utley are that he has a lineup around him and that he his home stats carry his total stats (.384/.458/.643 with 12 of his 18 homers). But imagine where teh Phillies would be if he never got hurt.

Matt Holliday (LF Rockies) – If the Rockies squeek their way into the playoffs this guy could easily win the award. Holliday is hitting .335/.396/.586 with 29 homers, 46 doubles, 5 triples, a league leading 191 hits, a league leading 116 RBI, 100 runs, 11 stolen bases, but a not-to-great BB/K rate of 52/111. Holliday also has improved his defense in left. The knock on Holliday will always be that he plays in Coors but he has hit .306 with 51 RBI on the road this season. If the Rockies miss the playoffs expect Holliday to finish in the 5-8 range in the MVP voting.

Prince Fielder (1B Brewers) – You want power numbers for your MVP? Fielder is your man. He has hit to the tune of .290/.387/.616 with a league leading 44 bombs. He has also driven in 105, scored 96, hit 33 doubles, and has a good BB/K rate for a power hitter at 72/105. The Brew Crew have had a hard time keeping the lead in the Central and Fielder could lose votes for that. He could also lose votes due to the surrounding cast he has in rookie Ryan Braun (tied for 5th in homer with 30 in only 388 at-bats), Corey Hart (hitting .297/.355/.536 and is a 20/20 guy), and J.J. Hardy having a career year at SS with 24 homers. But let’s not forget that Bill Hall is having a down year with only 13 homers and a .258 AVG. And Rickie Weeks has been injured and been sent down to AAA. Fielder is a good option for MVP.

Jimmy Rollins (SS Phillies) – If I had a vote it would go to Rollins. He has been the one constant in the Phillies lineup. While Ryan Howard was out he hit. While Utley was out he hit. While Pat Burrell sucked he hit. While the bullpen was blowing saves. While the bullpen and rotation were injured. While… wait, I think you get my point by now. Overall Rollins is hitting .295/.346/.532 while leading the league in runs scored at 125, triples at 17, at-bats with 633, tied for the lead in extra-base hits at 80, and third in hits with 187. He is second amongst shortstops in homers with 27, tied for the lead in RBI with 82, third in doubles with 35, and third in stolen bases with 30. Like Wright, Rollins should also win a gold-glove if there is any justice in this world. In my opinion defense is way overlooked when it comes to MVP voting and it should factor in. Now, imagine where the Phillies would be without Rollins.

Other notable options:

Albert Pujols (1B Cardinals) – .321/.424/.562 with 30 homers, 31 doubles, 89 RBI, 88 runs, and a ridiculous 90/56 BB/K rate.

Russ Martin (C Dodgers) – .297/.378/.475 with 17 homers, 30 doubles, 21 stolen bases, 81 RBI, 80 runs, and 60/79 BB/K rate.

Chipper Jones (3B Braves) – .330/.416/.598 with 25 homers, 39 doubles, 87 RBI, 93 runs, and a 70/70 BB/K rate.

Eric Byrnes (OF Diamondbacks) – .297/.367/.487 with 21 homers, 28 doubles, 8 triples, 81 RBI, 94 runs, 45 stolen bases, and a 56/89 BB/K rate.


Umpires vs. technology

As I’ve said before, umpires need help. And I refer you to a piece I wrote over a year ago on this very same subject. Baseball (and sports in general) is far behind the times in utilizing modern technology where it can, specifically to improve officiating.

I’ve thought about this topic for a long time. I think Questec is a good thing. (For those who dont know, it’s a computerized system that measures ball & strikes, and compares it to what the umpire actually called.)

One of the biggest and most frustrating problems in pro sports are bad calls by umps/refs. What I’d like to see is the steady removal of the so-called ‘human error’ from sports; I’ll talk specifically about baseball:

When umps are unsure when a ball is fair or foul down the line, why can’t a system be installed like they use in tennis? They could use technology to determine whether balls are just that, fair or foul.

Also, on disputed HRs, they must use instant replay. There’s no other fair way. An ump should be stationed in the park somewhere near a TV, like in the NHL. He should have the final word, since he’ll have access to the replay.

On balls and strikes, why not use Questec or ESPN’s ‘K-Zone’ (for example) to actually call the strikes? The only problem is that strike zone height is different for every hitter, but width is exactly the same, 17 inches (the width of homeplate). Rickey Henderson had a smaller up/down zone because he was short and crouched, and Richie Sexson’s up/down zone is bigger because he’s 6’8″. But their side-to-side zone is exactly the same. Therefore, computers/technology should be used to tell an umpire when a ball hits the plate or just misses. For the time being, umps will still need to call the up/down pitches (because every hitter is different), but will know for sure when a pitch crosses the corner or not. Or an ump could be assigned to determine the upper limit of each hitter’s strike zone dependent on his stance.

It also sucks when a pitcher throws a strike, but it’s not where he meant to throw it, the catcher has to reach for it, so the ump automatically calls it a ball. It doesn’t matter where the pitcher MEANT to throw the ball, it only matters whether it’s a strike or a ball.

For out/safe calls, when the closest ump feels the play is too close to call, he could send it to the ‘booth ump.’ TV technology is such today that it could be done in 30-60 seconds. Or (ala the NFL) managers should have two replays to use per game.

These steps would help legitimize the officiating and would make for fewer arguments from players and managers. You can’t argue with Questec strikes – it’s 100% consistent and 0% prejudiced (for veterans, or against rookies). Instant replay would also ensure the right call, and isn’t that worth waiting (at most) 60 seconds for – especially in close and/or playoff games?


Smoltz Flirts With No-Hitter as Braves Rout Nats

John Smoltz took a no-hitter into the 8th inning as the Atlanta Braves blew out the Washington Nationals as they try to keep their slim playoff chances alive.

John Smoltz Flirts With No-Hitter Photo MIKKI K. HARRIS/AJC The 40-year-old John Smoltz didn

For one glorious night, John Smoltz put aside frustrations and disappointments of this Braves season and nearly accomplished something he’d never done before. The 40-year-old Braves ace shook off a head cold and came within six outs of his first no-hitter, the bid thwarted when Ronnie Belliard singled to start the eighth inning of a 7-1 win against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field.

“It had a chance to be a magical night,” said Smoltz, who left to a standing ovation immediately after the clean hit to right field. “It really felt like it. Unfortunately, I just ran out of gas.”

John Smoltz Flirts With No-Hitter Photo 2 MIKKI K. HARRIS / AJC</p>
<p>John Smoltz didn He finished with 10 strikeouts and two walks, threw 70 strikes in 109 pitches, and left with a 7-0 lead. Smoltz (13-7) was charged with a run when Belliard came around to score on Ryan Church’s double against reliever Peter Moylan.

“There’s nothing left to say about John,” said Nationals manager Manny Acta, whose team had a five-game winning streak snapped. “He’s John Smoltz. That’s who he is. He just toyed with us. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

The only pitcher in major league history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves, Smoltz knows he’s probably running out of chances to join the no-hit club, but one would never know from the way he dominated on Friday. “Doesn’t surprise anyone in here, does it?” Braves manager Bobby Cox said of the performance by Smoltz, who has recovered from a sore shoulder to post 11 quality starts (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer) in 12 games.

Chipper Jones went 3-for-4 with a double and a three-run homer for the Braves, who’ve won three of four games to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. They remained in third place in the National League East, 7-1/2 games behind New York and 1-1/2 behind Philadelphia. But the Braves leap-frogged two teams (Chicago and Milwaukee) into fifth place in the wild-card standings, 4-1/2 games behind wild-card leader San Diego after the Padres lost Friday at Colorado.

“He pitched awesome,” said Jones, whose 15-season tenure with the Braves is second only to Smoltz’s 20. “I don’t think he’s finished [with no-hit bids].”

Smoltz had his third 10-strikeout game of the season and 43rd of his career, including five strikeouts in the first two innings. It caused his pitch count to climb faster than in most other starts this season.

“I told Bobby, ‘Soon as I give up a hit, I’m [coming out],’ ” Smoltz said. “I don’t say that very often … I was gassed. Not from anything other than not feeling good. But it was a big game. I’m not disappointed at all.”

Smoltz has one complete-game one-hitter, against Cincinnati on April 30, 1999. It’s been 17 years since he came within two outs of a no-hitter at Philadelphia.

There have been 14 no-hitters in franchise history, but only three since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966. The only no-hitter at Turner Field was Randy Johnson’s perfect game for Arizona against the Braves on May 18. 2004. The last Braves no-hitter was Kent Mercker’s in 1994 at Los Angeles. It’s been 24 years since the only solo no-hitter by a Braves pitcher in Atlanta — Phil Niekro’s 1973 masterpiece against San Diego.

Smoltz is definitely a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But, as sweet as a no-hitter would have been, the important thing at this point is just to keep winning games.



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