Wednesday, July 29, 2009

PURGE CONTINUES AS WILSON, SNELL DEALT TO SEATTLE FOR FIVE PLAYERS PLUS BAG 'O BEANS



ABOVE: "Jumpin'" Jack Wison will take his act to the home of Starbucks Coffee and football crybabies.

The most amazing purge of players in Pittsburgh Pirates history continued today unabated as Neil Huntington continues to burn down the "old" Pirates team. Jack Wilson, their longest-tenured and most popular player was traded to Seattle today along with Indianapolis Indian and former Pirate pitcher Ian Snell. Seattle's G.M., Jack Zduriencik said in a press release:"This was an opportunity for us to acquire a veteran shortstop, a former All-Star player with leadership qualities and above average defensive skills. As we move forward over the next few years it is nice to know that we have solidified the shortstop position. We also acquired Ian Snell, a talented pitcher with Major League experience who now has an opportunity to re-start his career after a very successful re-assignment in Indianapolis."

Seattle is expected to retain Wilson for next season at $8.4 million, something the Pirates were definitely not prepared to do.

In return, yer Buccos git:

JEFF CLEMENT-- Clement was rated by "Baseball America" as Seattle's top rated prospect. He is a catcher and first baseman. Clement is no ordinary catcher either. He played his college ball at USC and won the "Johnny Bench Award" as the outstanding college catcher in the country in 2005. He left school after his junior year and finished with 46 home runs in his career, second only to famous juicer, Mark McGwire. He was Seattle's number one draft choice in 2005 and the third overall choice in that draft year. Clement was playing at triple-A Tacoma this year and is batting .288 with 33 doubles, 14 homers and 68 rbi.

Said Pirates wheeler-dealer and General Manager, Neal Huntington, "Our scouts have consistently projected Clement to be an everyday major league contributor with power to hit 20 plus home runs."

Clement's first assignment will be at Indianapolis. Steve Pearce and Ryan Doumit are currently out purchasing rearview mirrors.

RONNY CEDENO--Cedeno, a shortstop, was originally drafted by the Cubs and was traded to Seattle earlier this season. He is having a bad year at the plate and is currently mired in an 0-26 slump. In 59 games this year he is batting .167 (he currently weighs 180) but his career batting average is .238 over five seasons. Cedeno will report to Pittsburgh, presumably to audition for the Jack Wilson job at about $7.5 million less than they would have paid Wilson. Think of it this way: They would have needed to sell around three million Cokes and at least a million hot dogs to accomplish what G.M. Neal Huntington did today. Owner Bob Nutting was heard exclaming to Huntington in the Pirate offices today, "Ya done good today boy."

ABOVE: Ronny Cedeno won't scare many people at the plate, but neither did Jack Wilson. The good thing though is that he can't possibly do any worse than he is right now. He's not hitting his weight, heck he's not even at the Mendoza line. Batting .167, he's a prime candidate for a change of scenery, kinda like Adam LaRoche was, only in reverse.

AARON PRIBANIC--Pribanic is a right-handed pitcher playing for Clinton, Iowa in "A" ball. He is a former Nebraska Cornhusker who stands 6'4" 200 pounds. During his minor league career so far, he is 8-8 with a 3.83 e.r.a.. Pribanic was recently named to the Midwest "A" all star team.
ABOVE: Aaron Pribanic gets an old-fashioned butt chewing on the mound from his pitching coach at Nebraska, Eric Newman. Whatever he said must have worked as Pribanic made the all star team at "A" Clinton this year.

BRETT LORIN--Another big pitcher, Lorin is 6'6" and a teammate of Aaron Pribanic. His career numbers are 6-6 and a 3.00 e.r.a. Lorin was also named an all star this season.

ABOVE: "A" all star Brett Lorin will bring his sizable frame (6' 7") to the Pirates farm system.

NATHAN ADCOCK--Adcock stands at 6'5", weighs 195 and was a fifth round choice in 2006 playing this year for High Desert, Cal.. Adcock, a righty, is 10-25 in his minor league career with a 4.46 e.r.a..

As usual, the Pirates will be castigated by their fans for trading away a fan favorite, Jack Wilson, but in fairness to Wilson, even though he was handsomely compensated to do it, you have to be happy for him that now he'll have a chance to compete for the post season in Seattle. Who knows how long that will take here. Wilson was a good soldier, always played hard, is one of the top double play producing shortstops in history and always represented the Pirates well in the community and with his charitable work. Although everyone would have liked to have seen more bat production based on his salary, no one would ever question the work ethic that he brought to the park every day.

Jack Wilson was the consummate professional and if for no other reason, he set a great example for the younger players. But he wasn't getting any younger and his option year will cost Seattle $8.4 million next season. The Pirates are better served to continue acquiring players by the bushel basket load as they are now and letting the talent determine who will be on the major league roster. There is going to be some kind of competition and a lot of positions up for grabs next spring. For the first time in ages, there will be a plethora of young talent trying to make the move to the major league roster. It should be the most interesting training camp in at least 20 years.

ABOVE: Former Pirates head case, pitcher Ian Snell. Everyone predicted that he'd be shipped out by the trading deadline. At least he helped the Pirates by pitching well in Indianapolis.

Since Ian Snell was still considered a part of the Pirates 40 man roster while in Indy, the team can now make another move. Could it be time for "(B)Lastings" Milledge to begin showing what he can do in left field? Could be.

Stay tuned Pirates fans.

Once again this is a trade that will take years to evaluate because so many parts of it won't even impact the major league roster this year or who knows, maybe even never. But again, Huntington practiced addition by subtraction. The Bucs are now unburdened by Wilson's very heavy contract and have more leverage to perhaps sign wunderkind shortstop, 16-year-old Miguel Sano. Look for Freddy Sanchez to be traded very soon...probably to San Francisco. In fact, who knows, since the Pirates are on the west coast now and Sanchez is currently idled by a sore knee, he may have already played his last game as a Pirate.

ABOVE: Freddy Sanchez, his story portrayed in the popular movie by wacky actor, Tom Green, may be the next player fingered by Neal Huntington to ,"Get out of Dodge".

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PITTSBURGH: THROUGH THE LENS OF GARY GAYDA


It's time for our weekly Tuesday pictorial featuring the photography of my fellow high school alum, Gary Gayda.

This week we have a gorgeous shot of a (sadly) soon-to-be-departed familiar landmark. Besides being "America's Most Livable City", we Pittsburghers additionally feel that it is also "America's Most Beautiful City". That's why we're running this series. If you aren't already a believer, we guarantee that this photo series will convince you. For those of you around the world who have never been to Pittsburgh, be sure to put it on your short list of places to visit. We have the greatest sports teams on earth here (well, two out of three anyway) and the people are the friendliest you'll find anywhere. Pittsburghers are so courteous that you'll hardly ever even hear a car horn beeping in the city! If those aren't reasons enough, we even put french fries on our sandwiches!

These photos that we've been publishing have even been responsible for convincing President Barack Obama to bring the G-20 Summit here in September! We're told that the President, an avid reader of "P.B. & G." was so impressed by the Gary Gayda photos one Tuesday evening at the White House that he had his staff set up Pittsburgh for the important meetings. Only one problem, the G-20 is the world's lightning rod for protesters. But I'm betting that they'll be so focused on the Steelers, Penguins and beautiful scenery that they'll forget all about why they came here! Of course if by chance they all go to a Pirates game...well who knows what hell might break out?

If you really like the photo below and would like a print, you can contact Gary Gayda directly at GMGayda@ yahoo.com. Just give Gary the photo number and the size print that you're interested in and he will get back to you.

So sit back now and enjoy another installment of PITTSBURGH: THROUGH THE LENS OF GARY GAYDA.




#7 "RED AT NIGHT A PENGUIN'S DELIGHT"

photo copyright 2009 Gary M. Gayda

ABOVE: A line of storm clouds moves above Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, the oldest building in the NHL. While the exciting new Consol Energy Arena is going up right down the street, there isn't a Pittsburgher who won't miss the "Igloo" once next season is over. By the way, those black clouds overhead had a silver lining...The Stanley Cup!

Monday, July 27, 2009

METHINKS STEELERS HIT ANOTHER GUSHER IN EVANDER "ZIGGY" HOOD


ABOVE: Evander "Ziggy" Hood holds a recovered fumble aloft in front of his excited Missouri Tiger teammates. Hood plays a very intense style of football...sounds just right for the local team!

_______________________________________

"The one thing that stood out about him is he's willing to and capable of running to the football. He covers a lot of ground for a big man. It's unique for his position."-- Mike Tomlin

_______________________________________

While doing the research for this piece about recently-signed first round draft choice Ziggy Hood, I began getting this feeling that the Steelers may have struck oil once again with this pick. Not only is Hood a man-child at 6'2" and 300 pounds, even more importantly, he is one very intense football player, the kind that have "PROPERTY OF PITTSBURGH STEELERS" stamped all over them. He should feel right at home.

For example, his coach at Missouri, Gary Pinkel, called Hood, "The most tenacious player on the team". As credence to this is the fact that Hood was recognized as a leader and voted team captain. Hood is so engrossed in football, that according to one Missouri paper, he was on the sideline for every spring practice this spring before the NFL draft. According to Hood, he couldn't stand not being on a team, so until he was drafted, he had to continue being a part of the Tigers. Now that's intense.

Another interesting nugget that I dug up in the pre-draft news was that there were five teams that were interested enough in Hood to send in scouts for personal workouts: The Lions, Vikings, Chargers Patriots and Rams. Notice that the Steelers were not on that list...by design. They didn't get to become SuperBowl champs by unnecessarily tipping their hand. Several draft analysts said that Hood did extremely well in the Senior Bowl and that his stock was definitely on the rise. He was expected to become a late first round, early second round pick.

In looking over the Steelers preseason roster, I found that they will have eight first round draft choices on their roster this year. Evander "Ziggy" Hood (nicknamed by his grandfather) has all of the appearance of another long term successful pick. While terms of his deal were not immediately disclosed, the contract reportedly is for five years with $6 million guaranteed.

Hood will one day become the heir apparent to Casey Hampton and if Hampton comes to camp in the kind of shape he did last year, that matriculation date could be accelerated. While no one is expecting Casey Hampton to not be the starter, Hood having an opportunity to learn from their veteran line will only serve to make him better prepared (a la Lawrence Timmons) when his moment does arrive. Casey Hampton is in the final year of his contract by the way.

If there is any single thing that the Steelers stability does for them, it always allows their new players to learn their position first before being thrust into the fray. This is a tremendous advantage to have and helps to eliminate players learning lessons during games.

Of course that doesn't mean that we all won't be anxious to see Hood in action...in the preseason, but here's an interesting idea: Is there a possibility that he could play on special teams? Now that's a scary thought, a 300 pound man running full speed downfield on a kickoff. It might happen. With this guy you're soon going to learn not to be surprised by anything that he does. I'd love to see him busting up a wedge, wouldn't you?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BIG BEN: WHATEVER HAPPENS IN LAKE TAHOE DOES NOT STAY IN LAKE TAHOE

Big Ben Roethlisberger has always enjoyed playing on the celebrity golf circuit. He also has enjoyed the casino night life. So when the opportunity came to play in another event at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Resort, Ben was quick to sign up.

Celebrity golf events present an opportunity to be be worshipped by adoring fans while playing golf with other name celebrities. With all expenses paid for at a lavish resort, what isn't to like? The best things in life, after all, are free, right?


A CASE OF HE SAID...

ABOVE: Well the season isn't even one minute old and Ben already has a gigantic problem.

This is where Ben’s thinking may have actually gone askew. Andrea McNulty, an employee at Harrah’s had gotten to know the “Big Lug” at prior golf events there. Apparently one thing led to another and Ben, thinking that Ms. McNulty was another part of the Harrah’s welcome wagon, decided to have a “freebie”.

Whether Andrea McNulty is a first class tease, a classic “gold digger” or a basic, run-of-the mill rape victim, we’ll never know for sure. But she says she ended up in Ben's room and then was sexually assaulted. Right now it’s a he said-she said case and she’s going to have a hard time proving anything in court. There were never criminal charges filed and the police were never able to do their routine investigation to determine if a rape had even been committed.

This case however has already taken some bizarre turns. McNulty, for her part has decided to sue John Koster, the President of Harrah’s Tahoe North (and a good friend of Big Ben) as well Greg Hyder, the Chief of Security at Harrah’s.

According to McNulty’s attorney, Hyder told Ms. McNulty at the time of her initial complaint that, “Most girls would feel lucky to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger”. He added that “Koster (Harrah’s president) would love you even more if he knew about this.” Hyder continued by saying that, “Koster would suck his d__k if Roethlisberger let him.”
So according to those comments, the inference is that Harrah’s president is such

...SHE SAID
ABOVE: Andrea McNulty: Is she a tease, a gold-digger or a rape victim?

an enamored fan of Big Ben’s that he would even provide him with oral sex if Ben so desired. While this is an obvious exaggeration, the meaning is crystal clear. Koster is a huge fan and would never allow anything to damage that friendship/ hero worship… apparently even if an employee was raped, according to Hyder.

The story then goes that McNulty was hospitalized, off an on, for depression and that she lost about 30 pounds during the next three months. Was she in a depression, or was this just a part of the charade to fleece a millionaire quarterback out of some of his hard-earned cash?

But wait, there’s even more!

It seems that McNulty was having an affair with a married man and the married man’s wife, suspecting the relationship, cooked-up a fake email address and claimed that “She” was actually a “he”. In fact, she said that she was an American soldier stationed in Iraq and began corresponding regularly.

Apparently this little ruse went on for some time as an attempt to get information on McNulty's relationship with the woman's husband.. For whatever reason, one day the wife called off the experiment and stopped writing. McNulty then became despondent, telling people that her fiance, a soldier in Iraq, had apparently been killed.

So obviously we’re not exactly dealing with someone who is emotionally stable here, but this doesn’t give anyone a free pass to rape her either. So where exactly is that “line in the sand” with Andrea McNulty where “no” means “no”, especially when she's in your room?

That will be up to the courts to decide, however there is one other interesting tidbit to note. According to the suit, McNulty additionally claims that Harrah’s Chief of Security also entered her home unlawfully and accessed her laptop computer, presumably either to erase incriminating information or to find out more about McNulty’s case.

Already the internet stories are flying and Big Ben is being called “Ben Rapistberger” by Steeler-haters. This is not a good thing for Steelers football and Commissioner Roger Goodell is said to be looking into the charges since there was never a criminal complaint filed.

If nothing else, Big Ben has already learned that the famous Las Vegas saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” apparently does not apply to nearby Lake Tahoe.

Ben’s a big boy and prostitution is legal in Nevada. If he needed to have sex that badly, I’m sure that it could have been arranged with none of the problems he’s encountering today. As the old saying goes, he was “letting his ___ do his thinking for him.” That’s dangerous enough for any man, but when you’re a wealthy man? Big Ben should get ready to pay big--REAL BIG--for his 15 minutes of lust or however long it took. I hope it was worth it, because like so many other athletes, his reputation is taking a serious hit over this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ANOTHER LITTLEFIELD MISTAKE UNDONE AS ADAM LAROCHE IS FINALLY UNLOADED



ABOVE: There were no cream pies for Adam LaRoche today, just a plane ticket to Boston as he was traded to the Red Sox. LaRoche, currently mired in another long batting slump, is batting .247 with 12 homers and 40 rbi.

"I'm not opposed to playing here for the rest of my career, if it can be worked out," LaRoche said. "If they were to approach me, I would take it very seriously. I would take a long look at it to stay here. ... Especially with my brother [Andy] being here. I want to play with him as long as I can. And I love the group of guys. I like the staff that we have. My family likes Pittsburgh, and I don't want to leave that"---- Adam LaRoche

Neal Huntington pulled off another trade today that someday may be considered one of his best ever. Not for what he got, for what he got rid of. Sent packing was first baseman, Adam LaRoche and his $7.05 million salary. He was an enormous disappointment who was obtained from the Atlanta braves for reliever Mike Gonzalez.

In return, the Pirates get talented AA shortstop Argenis Diaz and single A pitcher, Hunter Strickland from the Boston Red Sox organization. Diaz, 22, is being promoted to Indianapolis where he will become their everyday shortstop. Strickland, 20, will report to Double A. The word on the two prospects is that Diaz is a potential gold glove fielder who needs big-time work on his hitting in Indy (batting .256 in AA) while the 6'5" Strickland is described as being "very athletic" with an 89- 91 mph fastball. Huntington referred to him as, "The type of player we would draft." He has a 3.67 era in class A Greenville with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks in 83 1/2 innings.

If this isn't good enough news for the Bucs already, how's this for the "cake-taker"? The Red Sox will also reportedly assume all of LaRoche's remaining $2.95 million in remaining 2009 salary. WOW! Now, if he so desires to spend it, Huntington has roughly the $3 million that he needs to acquire that Dominican wunderkind shortstop prospect Sano that he's been thinking about... without breaking the bank.

Garrett Jones played first base today for the Pirates in their 8-7 win over Milwaukee, but it appears that Steve Pearce is going to get the opportunity to play there on an everyday basis. Pearce was called-up from Indy, but surprisingly, "(B)Lastings" Milledge was not.

As is the case with all prospects, they are nothing but an "educated roll of the dice", but in the case of LaRoche, it was clear that he had no future in Pittsburgh. His prolonged batting slumps have been maddening, to both management and the fans. LaRoche was unquestionably one of the finest first basemen the Pirates have ever had...defensively. But when he was acquired from the Braves, all that was said was how he would exploit the short right field wall at PNC Park. That never happened as more often or not, LaRoche was mired in a horrible batting slump.

How Neal Huntington managed this latest trade is any one's guess although it's been suggested that he may have some compromising photos of Boston GM Theo Epstein. Either that, or maybe Epstein feels guilty about how well the Jason bay trade worked out...for him. One thing is for certain, it has been amazing watching Huntington extricate himself, one by one, from the horrible personnel decisions of David Littlefield, a general manager who could go down in Pirates history as possibly their worst ever, and that's saying something.

Even if Diaz and Strickland never play an inning for the Pirates,today they at least managed to unload an anchor in LaRoche while saving nearly $3 million in the process. I'd say the GM earned his salary today.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PITTSBURGH: THROUGH THE LENS OF GARY GAYDA


It's Tuesday, so that means it's time to get an opportunity to see Pittsburgh through the lens of Pittsburgh photographer, Gary Gayda. Before we get to this week's shot, a brief reminder that Gary will be displaying his work this weekend at the arts and crafts show on Shiloh Street on Mt.Washington, so if you like what you see here at "P.B. & G.", well you'll be able to multiply it by about a hundred at Gary's showing there!

This week we're going to delve into the world of classic, black and white photography with two images for you (since we heard that you've been good).


ABOVE: Photographer Gary Gayda can be reached for prints of your favorite photos by contacting him directly at GMGayda@yahoo.com. Simply specify the photo number and size that you're interested in and he will respond to your request.

So sit back now and soak in another riveting episode of:


"Pittsburgh, Through The Lens of Gary Gayda.


#5 PNC PARK CIRCA 2009 (prime exposure)


ABOVE: Exterior shot of PNC Park during a Pirate game.

#6 PNC PARK CIRCA 1899 (over exposure)

ABOVE: So many old time photographs have this flatter, over-exposed appearance to them because lenses weren't often up to the task or dark room skills were lacking. By changing exposure settings in the lab, Gary Gayda is able to completely change the mood and tone on this print from the same negative printed above. If it wasn't for the jumbotron scoreboard, you'd swear this was taken in 1899.

Monday, July 20, 2009

GET READY TO SAY "ADIOS AMIGOS" TO FREDDY SANCHEZ, JACK WILSON, ADAM LAROCHE

ABOVE: The Pirates apparently feel that Ian Snell would look good in any uniform other than their's. Therein may lie a key in solving their current shortstop dilemma.

Well the Pirates had their lowball "offers" to Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez predictably rejected over the weekend and they were then promptly removed from the table. Now, as the conventional line of thinking goes, Pirate fans can't say that they weren't even offered a contract. While this is more than a little disingenuous, GM Neal Huntington made a valid point over the weekend saying that the free agent marketplace is going to be very weak this off season with attendance waning and because of the economic woes that the country is currently enduring. Huntington went on to predict that the ultimate contracts that the two players would sign would be very close to what he offered them this summer.

While that remains to be seen and yes, technically, it was a contract offer, in both cases; The players would have been making considerably less than their current contracts and when was the last time you heard of any professional player jumping for that?. In the case of both, they have always brought an admirable attitude to the field, had stellar defensive abilities (the pair are currently leading the majors in double plays) and in the case of Sanchez, he even won a very rare batting title for the Bucs two years ago. When either player has been missing due to injury, their absence has been notable, especially in the case of Wilson's long absence last year. So what's not to like for the Pirates?

In the case of Wilson, he had one strong year at the plate in 2004 when he hit .308 (steroid influenced, who knows?) but has a career average of just .269. This year he is currently at .267. The Pirates paid top dollar for him on this current contract and from a plate production standpoint, he mostly hasn't delivered. While Sanchez earns less than Wilson, he has been more prone to injury throughout his career, plus he has this wacky plate appearance clause that the Pirates somehow agreed to that could cost them a ton of money next year if he hits 600 plate appearances this season. Moving Sanchez has become a top necessity and perhaps that is why Sanchez' representatives wanted that "poison pill" language in the contract in the first place.

While I would not be adverse to the team finding a way to retaining the pair...they are both good guys and solid teammates... I really like the approach that Neal Huntington has taken in these negotiations. He likes to say that the next contract is not about what the player has done, but what he believes they are capable of doing during that new contract. This is savvy point that is often lost on many fans and players alike. It's not even a, "What have you done for me lately?" attitude. It's more of a "What can you do for me tomorrow?" belief.

In the case of both Wilson and Sanchez, you have to believe that both players are beyond their prime seasons at 32. While they can still be quality major leaguers, this general manager knows that there are other, less-expensive options that he can pursue to fill these spots. In the case of Sanchez, his eventual replacement, Delwyn Young, is already on the roster. Young may not be as slick of a fielder as Sanchez, but he is more than capable and looks to be more durably-built. Plus, he has much more power than Sanchez could ever dream of (Sanchez has hit only 37 homers in 8 seasons) and also looks to have the capability to hit for average too. He could turn out to be a fine replacement.

Indeed, extrapolating Young's stats over just 137 at bats, he would figure to accumulate 13 homers and 83 rbi's over the course of a season at his present pace while batting .307. Sanchez has averaged just four home runs during his eight seasons. He is a career .302 hitter and is currently batting .313 this season.

The shortstop position will be much more difficult. While I am not going to pretend to know of a solution to this problem, I feel that the key to solving it may very well be found in Indianapolis. No, I'm not advocating a drive to promote Brian Bixler who has been a disappointment both times he's been on the club. Rather, I think that Ian Snell could be a major factor in this situation.

While Snell has been pitching well in Indy, the Pirates and Snell have both indicated that they would like to see a change of venue for Snell not involving Pittsburgh. If Snell continues to do well at triple-A, his trade value will only continue to be enhanced. If the Pirates were willing to absorb some of Snell's contract, they may be able to pry a top level shortstop prospect from a trading partner. As everyone knows, pitching is the key to winning baseball, but if you don't have a good shortstop, your chances are severely limited too. Look at teams that have stellar shortstops at the major league level who may be blocking another top prospect. Whoever this player is, it would be a surprise to find that their team might not be interested in a major league experienced pitcher, even if it is one who has struggled as Snell has the last couple seasons.

Of course it goes without saying that Adam Laroche's days in Pittsburgh are also greatly numbered. Laroche is currently mired in another of his vintage, mind-numbing slumps that he has become infamous for. His act has also worn thin on Pirates fans as well as the team itself.

Look for the Buccos to deal both Wilson and Sanchez as two more parts of the now thankfully-departed Littlefield regime. While both players have been a credit to the Pirates uniform they now wear, in this writer's opinion, it once again looks as though Neal Huntington is pushing the right buttons in this situation.

BUCCO BLATHER ...Lastings Milledge, obtained as part of the Nyjer Morgan deal, is making very quick progress in Indianapolis. Huntington told Milledge that he would be the determining factor in how soon he was called up to the big club. Milledge apparently was listening, because he has been tearing it up at Indianapolis. So while the Pirates infield for next year remains very cloudy with only third baseman Andy Laroche a certainty to be back, the Pirates outfield is shaping up as being very interesting indeed with more than likely Milledge in left, McCutchen in center and Garrett Jones in right. These three players could give the Pirates their most productive outfield combination in years and if all three players continued at their present pace of development, they could ultimately brcome one of the best outfields in baseball.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL'S CODDLED MILLIONAIRES


Before I get accused of piling on Major League Baseball, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Every sport has athletes who are diva multimillionaires. Baseball's athletes simply take it to the next level.

Over the years, this sport has gradually morphed its' pitching staffs into a series of "specialists". You have your starters, your long relievers, your seventh and eighth inning set-up men and then finally, that most sacred of all cows, your closer. There are even pitchers who only get used when the game is way out of hand, one way or another. But for some odd reason, the people who manage baseball teams have long espoused the idea that it is better to have only one man get all of the saves than to have two or three players who can compete for them.

When you have a strong closer, most of the time this works out. However, on a night when the closer just doesn't have his usual stuff, this is where the egos and ultra-sensibilities of baseball players must be coddled and massaged even more by their ever-mindful managers.

John Russell fell into this time-honored tradition the other night when he allowed his closer, Matt Capps, a normally reliable ninth inning pitcher, to stay in on a night where he looked more like the batting practice pitcher. With the Pirates up by four runs and having played a real nice ballgame to that point against the World Champion Phillies, Russell trotted out Capps. STOP THE TAPE. ("P.B.& G. Telestrator")

Let's start off with this move. This game wasn't even a save opportunity because of the size of the Pirates' lead, but Capps came in anyway, because, presumably, he is the only man on the Pirates' pitching staff capable of getting the last out in a ballgame, regardless of the score.

John Grabow had just pitched the eight and done a good enough job, especially when he was aided by a spectacular over the shoulder catch in shallow left-center by Jack Wilson that was turned into a double play. A pumped-up Grabow was seen vividly gesturing to Wilson over the quality of the play and for getting him two outs. Grabow was dialed in and into winning this game and he was also already loosened up. But out of the game he came after the eighth. It was ego-stroking time.


ABOVE: There have been a couple occasions this year where Matt Capps stuff was very predictable... almost batting-practice-machine-like.

Now please understand that Matt Capps didn't pick up the bullpen phone and demand to be inserted. He didn't have to. He knew that the ninth inning, for whatever reason, belonged only to him when the Pirates have a lead. From the first pitch of this inning, a ball that was jacked to the wall in right center and tracked-down beautifully by Andrew McCutchen, it would soon prove very apparent that it was not Capps' night.

The Phillies rained down shot after shot and John Russell stubbornly sat...like the Great Sphinx in Egypt, while two, three, four and finally five runs crossed the plate. I'm sure there are people who will say that Russell was showing Matt Capps how much faith he had in him to get that last out, but what was he telling the rest of the bullpen, that they're a collection of stiffs and that Matt Capps is the only guy he can depend on?


ABOVE: The Sphinx, a distant cousin of John Russell.

When a manager puts himself into a position with his players that they feel "entitled" to have the ball in certain situations, there can only be a potential problems when those expectations are not met. But once again, because these professional athletes are so spoiled, so used to being coddled, a manager can unwittingly find himself in the situation that John Russel had last week: A pitcher having a lousy night who was in there for the duration, regardless if it cost the team a great win against the World Champs..

I've never been able to relate to these management types who sit on the bench with the same blank stare whether they're winning by ten or losing by ten. Does acting android-like mean that you're under control of your emotions or that you just don't have any? I've also never gone for management types who are so locked into doing things only one way that they would prefer to lose a game...I'll say that again...Lose a game, rather than make an obvious pitching change when it's necessary.

Matt Capps isn't necessarily a bad guy, he's just another example of a coddled Major League baseball player. At this point of the story, I've become more frustrated with John Russell going along with this ridiculous, convoluted line of thinking than I am with baseball players being what they are: The most spoiled group of people on the planet Earth.

For my money, a great guy to manage this team would be Bob Walk. Even though he's a former player, he seems to have more "old school" baseball sensibilities than most potential candidates out there today. At least he could be a little more animated.

Monday, July 13, 2009

PITTSBURGH: THROUGH THE LENS OF GARY GAYDA




Well it's time for another weekly installment of our pictorial series, "Pittsburgh: Through the Lens of Gary Gayda". In this week's gorgeous photo, Gary takes a shot up the Mon River and catches the Fort Pitt Bridge. It's dusk and the city is preparing for another evening. Any minute now the street lights will begin going on in neighborhoods all over the city...time for the kids to get home!


As usual, if you are interested in ordering prints, contact Gary Gayda directly at GMGayda@yahoo.com. Specify the picture number and size that you are interested in and Gary will contact you.



ABOVE: Photographer Gary Gayda

Number 4 "The Most Beautiful City"... at Dusk.

ABOVE: With a red sky in the background foretelling a "sailor's delight", Pittsburghers all over the city get ready to flip on their light switches.

EVER-EVOLVING PIRATES LIMP INTO ALL-STAR BREAK SORELY NEEDING ONE

To say that the Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup is in a state of flux right now would be like saying that World War II was just some petty cat fight between a couple women.

A brief glance at the opening 40 man roster shows that there are three of the five opening-day outfielders no longer on the club and four pitchers. As you are reading this, the infielders are bracing themselves for an inevitable onslaught. Expect Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche to be gone by the trading deadline.

Incredibly, this will mean that the Pirates will have turned-over 25% of their opening day roster during the course of this season!

Okay, so we know that this is doing wonders for program sales, but looking ahead, way ahead, to next opening day, what will that starting lineup look like and will it be an improvement over this year's team?

PITCHING: The Pirates continue to improve under their new pitching coach, the highly respected Joe Kerrigan. Evidence of this comes in the wake of Zach Duke being added to the All-Star team. The addition of Charlie Morton in the Nate McLouth trade should figure to be a huge upgrade over Ian Snell. Snell, who is now trying to get it together in Indy should be an accompanying piece in a trade involving Wilson, Sanchez or LaRoche. I would hardly expect to see him in a Pirates uniform again. Meanwhile, continued improvement by people such as Ohlendorf, Karstens, Veal, Meek and Hanrahan could have the Buccos positioned among the better staffs in the league. Expect a very strong shortstop candidate to come in these deals because the Pirates don't have one ready in the minors.


ABOVE: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf among others had better watch out. Choo-Choo Charlie Morton has the stuff to rapidly become the ace of this staff.

CATCHERS: Look for Ryan Doumit to begin splitting duties at first base with possibly Steve Pearce. Jason Jaramillo will never be confused with Bill Dickey, but he is a more than competent backup who can hit an occasional homer. Luis Cruz was Jaramillo's backup while Doumit was out, but he will more than likely not be on next year's opening day roster.

INFIELDERS: Here's where it starts to get dicey. Andy LaRoche will start for a final season at third before the arrival in late 2010 early 2011 of Pedro Alvarez. Shortstop should be an unqualified disaster depending upon whom the Pirates get in return for Wilson, Sanchez, Adam LaRoche and Snell. Second base will be occupied by Delwyn Young, a man who will hit with close to the average of Sanchez, but with significantly more power. He will, however, be a distinct downgrade defensively. He has more of an outfielder or first baseman's build and I'd be surprised to see him cover the ground that Sanchez does. First base will more than likely be occupied by a player already on the roster such as Pearce, Moss possibly, or Doumit on occasion. Losing Adam LaRoche will be a big loss defensively at first base, but who isn't tired of his act at the plate?

OUTFIELDERS: Here is where the Pirates could be significantly stronger than this past year. Lastings Milledge may be ready for a breakout opportunity with the Pirates. If he gets it together, he would be a tremendous upgrade in power over Nyjer Morgan. He will cover at least as much ground defensively as Morgan too. In center, Andrew McCutchen is the real deal. We've waited a long time for him and now he's here. His skill set is tremendous and will only get better. This guy will be an All-Star for years to come and a permanent fixture (well, as permanent as permanent can be on the Pirates). In right, the surprising play from minor league free-agent



ABOVE: Now that he's no longer a Hickory Crawdad, expect pirate fans to be watching Andrew McCutchen for a loooong time.

acquisition Garrett Jones looks like a perfect fit. For a big man, Jones has deceptive speed and has already hit five home runs in his first 11 games. He should have no trouble covering the smaller right field at PNC Park.


ABOVE: Pirates GM Neal Huntingdon hopes that Lastings Milledge remembers to bring a big bat with him when he arrives in Pittsburgh after the All Star break.

I truly believe that after this year's trade deadline deals that GM Neal Huntingdon will settle down with the trades and let his minor league system go to work. Having added a number of high profile acquisitions such as Jose Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez etc., while drafting a Pedro Alvarez last year, Huntington will have allowed enough time for the system to begin working as it was originally designed to do. Huntingdon should begin to have fewer and fewer reasons to need to acquire players, thus allowing for the roster to stabilize itself and gain continuity. That continuity will begin paying real dividends in the 2011 season when the Pirates become a serious division contender for the first time in 19 years. It will have been a long wait, but the good news is that the wait will have been worth it. The Pirates under Huntingdon will once again become a perennial contender and have a minor league system once again throwing off capable major league players.

It's a painful process to watch right now, but there's no question that the players pulling on Pirates jerseys these days are bigger, faster, stronger and throw harder than their predecessors. After a difficult 2009 second half, we'll begin to see the benefits of these changes in spring training next year...and maybe we'll become more familiar with the faces on the field! No question, one day we'll look back on these early days of Neal Huntingdon's career in Pittsburgh and say, "Remember when Neal Huntingdon turned the Pirates upside down and shook them?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

WHAT IN GOD'S NAME ARE THEY THINKING OVER THERE AT LIBERTY SPORTS GROUP (FSN)?



CLEARING MY DESK


Editorial Commentary
By Angelo Spagnolo, Publisher

The most personable and knowledgable sports commentator this city has ever known...and that takes in a lot of great people...just found his popular show cancelled after a record 18 seasons here in Pittsburgh. Anyone who has half an ounce of sports knowledge immediately knows to whom I'm referring: The great gentleman of Pittsburgh sports, Stan Savran.
ABOVE: I had the wonderful opportunity recently to cross paths with two of my favorites in Pittsburgh sportscasting, Stan Savran (right) and Guy Junker (left). They're as affable in person as they always appear on television...something that a lot of personalities have a way of "forgetting". At least these two guys are still on the air with ESPN. But the way things are going on the local sports scene, don't hold your breath on how long that will last.

"Savran on Sports Beat" is the longest-running locally-produced show in Pittsburgh history and it is inconceivable that a man of Savran's stature in the sports community and the show's popularity in general would have him lose his job, but that indeed is what is happening. Once again, it's all about money.

Savran, I'm sure, is already getting paid a fair penny for the quality work that he churns out on an everyday basis, but this decision is probably more about utilizing a network program instead of running local programming. The cost difference is not only significant from the standpoint of production cost, but the local station will also benefit from the national advertising revenues without the production expense. From the aspect of what show costs more and what show will generate more profit for the station, it's probably safe to say that replacing Stan Savran was the thing to do. But what about viewers? Doesn't FSN want them?

FSN is going to lose a TON of viewers over this. Stan Savran allowed FSN to grab the reins of the local sports viewer whether it was football, baseball, hockey, college football or basketball. If it was local, Stan was on top of it. He's a big part of why Pittsburgh is such a strong sports market. The fact that Pittsburgh sports lovers can tune in to "Sports Beat" five nights per week and get truly caught up on the goings-on in Pittsburgh sports is a luxury we'll have to learn to live without. FSN has always been a Pittsburgh-first sports station. Apparently they've decided to go the way of ESPN if they've determined that the biggest name in Pittsburgh sports is expendable.

In all likelihood, the bean counters at Liberty Sports Group are probably figuring that they'll be able to have their cake and eat it too: They won't have the expense of Savran they reason, or the production of the show and they'll collect the revenue from the network programming. WRONG. Their ratings are going to take a massive tumble. Who cares what the LA Lakers are doing or the Chicago Cubs? Pittsburgh fans want programming that focuses on the local teams. Besides, that's already readily-available on four different ESPN channels. Who needs it on a fifth one?


ABOVE: STAN! LOVE THE SHOW!!! We won't get to hear that melodious phrase after Monday night's last show. Incidentally, Stan is the only good thing ever to come out of Cleveland ever!

In retrospect, this move should come as no surprise at all. This same local management has already A) Sacked a Hall of Fame hockey broadcaster, Mike Lange and B) Failed to renew Stan's broadcasting partner, Guy Junker, in another cost-cutting move a few years back.

Good people always land on their feet, so here's hoping that there's some TV executive with half a brain who gets "Sports Beat" back on the air after the final show airs Monday at 6:30 p.m. on FSN.

So just how popular was Stan Savran? A "Mondesi's House.com" poll of their readers last year showed him with an 85% approval rating...and the guy still lost his job!

If you agree with me that this was an extreme injustice that was done to Stan, you can email FSN to thank them for cancelling his show, clearly a Pittsburgh institution at: feedback@libertysportsgroup.com. Let's fill up that mailbox repeatedly!!!

AND WHILE WE"RE PASSING OUT BLAME...

Of course ESPN radio is no better. They recently moved one hour of Stan and Guy from the radio to their computer podcast so that we could get one more hour of Colin Cowherd (whose constant NBA blathering is totally annoying) and grab some national ad bucks there too. They also canned the popular Jim Colony recently, another long-tenured personality in another cost-cutting move.

While we're on the subject of firing people, anyone who ever listened to Mark Madden figured that he'd get his come-uppance one day and sure enough, he did after making his infamous "Ted Kennedy remark". However, Madden has resurfaced on 105.9 the "X" in a "bizarro-world" format where he plays a grunge rock song and then airs a couple pre-recorded phone calls. While Madden can still amuse me with his abuse of callers, I can't get past the "music" that must be tolerated in order to listen to him. Why would this station turn Madden into a part-time disc jockey instead of letting him do his thing which, right or wrong, attracted a ton of listeners at ESPN?

It seems that the people running these stations really are clueless as to what the people in this city want. As long as it will save them a dollar, they'll do it. The public be damned.

Apparently the brass at these stations feel that the public will continue to listen to whatever cheaper pre-packaged, non-Pittsburgh, programming they put out there. I for one could care less and won't watch or listen to any of these shows. I guess I'm too provincial for that. Give me the Stan and Guys, the Myrons, the Bob Princes, the Mike Langes even the Mark Maddens. But don't force-feed me shows like Colin Cowherd, Mike & Mike or whatever national show FSN has planned for Stan's present time slot. These stations are making a huge mistake and the best thing you can do is voice your outrage to them and even better, take your viewing or listening to another place. When the next ratings book comes out only then will they realize the magnitude of their mistakes.

As a further example of this, ESPN Radio has reportedly been chopping payroll like the popular Jim Colony because they lost so much audience and ad revenue when they fired Madden. So FSN, you'll soon be finding out that you can't fire a revered man like Stan Savran and expect to hold your audience too. There will be a huge backlash over this.

Pittsburgh didn't become the greatest sports market in the country on its' own. Its' always had men like Stan Savran around to keep things interesting by stirring the pot and keeping the fans focused on the local players and teams. We all need to remember that, especially the people posing as executives who keep letting people like Stan Savran, Mike Lange or Bob Prince go. THEY'RE THE ONES WHO SHOULD BE GETTING THE AX!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

PITTSBURGH: THROUGH THE LENS OF GARY GAYDA

Well it didn't take me long...exactly one week...for me to get off-schedule with the series, "Pittsburgh: Through the lens of Gary Gayda." But I shouldn't be attending any world premieres of any sports videos next week, so hopefully everything will get back to normal (whatever that is).



This week we're going to be visiting a familiar theme. Pittsburgh is quite often referred to as the "City of Bridges", so our next photo will give you another unique perspective into what makes Pittsburgh...Pittsburgh.

Don't forget, if you're interested in having a print of this photo for your home or office, contact Gary Gayda directly at GMGayda@yahoo.com. Simply give him the photo name and number (seen below) and mention what size print you are interested in.


So without further adieu, here now is this week's late installment of :


PITTSBURGH: THROUGH THE LENS OF GARY GAYDA





NUMBER 3 "PITTSBURGH, CITY OF BRIDGES"



photograph copyright 2009 Gary Gayda


ABOVE: If you're a photographer and you like taking pictures of bridges, then Pittsburgh is your place! This unique view, taken from the Duquesne Heights side of Mt. Washington, offers a view of the double-decker Fort Pitt Bridge foreground and the former "Bridge to Nowhere" (now-connected) Fort Duquesne Bridge.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"PHILLY" FAN SHOWS OFF PITTSBURGH'S "SPOILS OF WAR"

Governor Ed Rendell has never made any secret of the fact that he is a big Philadelphia rooter...as in Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and 76ers. Recently it was announced by the NHL that the Guv would get to have one day with the Stanley Cup even though his beloved Flyers ironically bit the dust (again) against the Pens.

So never being one to miss out on a marketing opportunity, either self or otherwise, Rendell used his day with Lord Stanley to promote the fact that Pennsylvania has won the most recent championships of three of the four major sports. To prove it, the Guv used his considerable influence to "insure" that the Steelers, Penguins and Phillies would all have their trophies in his office at the same to...sort of to remind the rest of the nation of the sports superiority that lies within Pennsylvania. But let's get one thing straight Guv, your Philadelphia teams haven't done a whole lot over the years to impress anyone. I'll do some research on it, but if I'm not mistaken, that baseball championship that the Phillies won is about it since the days of the Broad Street Bullies!

But, yeah, I guess when you have a rare situation like the State has right now, you might as well blow your own horn, because no one else is going to blow it for you! So congrats to the Steelers, Penguins (and to a lesser degree) Phillies.
.

ABOVE: No, the Stanley Cup is NOT on fire in the picture above, it's just the white hot glare of the bright lights in Harrisburg. You can practically imagine seeing the gears turning around in Rendell's head...."Gee, I wonder what kind of favors I'd have to call in to be able to keep these for myself???"

Monday, July 6, 2009

BLOGGER SEES OLD BUDDY ALBY, LORD STANLEY, THE "OLD TWO-NINER", "ICEBURGH" AND NEW PENS HIGHLIGHT VIDEO IN ONE NIGHT!!!



When I received
an invitation from a New York ad agency last week inviting me to attend the premiere of the Penguins new highlight DVD, my initial reaction was, "This could be a lot of fun, I've never been to any kind of a premier before." Little did I know the surprises that awaited me.

"P.B.& G." photography by Darlene Spagnolo

ABOVE: Part of the crowd that gathered to glimpse a few Penguins, see if there were any "Lords" hanging around and if they were lucky, view the new Penguins highlight video. The video was a real killer and a must have for any pierogi-loving Pittsburgher.



Upon arriving at the Loews Waterfront Theater in Homestead I immediately saw all of the satellite trucks from the various media. This was really going to be a media circus! Even the bloggers are invited! Once inside, it was obvious that the word had "leaked out" somehow that this VIP screening was being held because there was a large crowd of Penguin fans gathered.


ABOVE AND BELOW: The Prince of Wales Trophy. What a beauty!



After I had registered, I gained admission "behind the ropes" and I immediately noticed that there was a special visitor present for the event...Lord Stanley himself! Also there was the Prince of Wales and his buddy, Conn Smythe. In short, all of the hardware that the Pens had captured was on full display tonight.


ABOVE: Tyler Kennedy (left) and Kris LeTang (right) pose with their new "best friend". Both players had some great moments on the highlight reel.

The tv guys were conducting live interviews with Penguins Kris LeTang and Tyler Kennedy in front of the Stanley Cup. It was here that I saw my old golfing buddy, Alby Oxenreiter of WPXI. Alby was really happy to see me and he even seized the opportunity to kiss my wife for whom I had also secured a pass and who was acting as official photographer for "P.B.& G." (an unpaid position, by the way). It was here where Alby made this night one of my most memorable ever. "C'mon over, let's get a picture in front of the Cup!" He didn't have to ask me twice, believe me. As my wife was taking pictures (she was too shy to stand with Lord Stanley) I told Alby that his work after game seven was the finest of his career. The interviews he obtained were terrific, both on the ice and in the locker room. "I also liked the "F-bomb" that got past you," I kidded.

ABOVE: Alby Oxenreiter poses with Lord Stanley of Prescott and yours truly. I won't be forgetting this moment anytime soon!

He shook his head, a wry grin on his face. "I had to keep telling everybody, 'Hey we're on live tv." He continued, "You know Ang, do you realize what I've just had an opportunity to do? The SuperBowl and then the Stanley Cup just a few months later. It's a sportscasters dream."



ABOVE: It was like coming face to face with the "Ark of the Covenant". When I touched it I half expected to be electrocuted or something. Even if you look closely you still won't find my name on there.

I must say that touching the Cup was a magical moment for me. Seeing the names inscribed up close makes you understand why these guys kill themselves to win it. Who wouldn't want to have their name etched on the greatest trophy in sports? What happened next was fun too. Alby took the camera from my wife and took the picture appearing below of the inside of the Cup. "Can you imagine, the last time the Pens won I had a newborn baby. I got to put my baby inside of this Cup! He fit in there!"

It's really not that large of a bowl.

Photo by Alby Oxenreiter

ABOVE: Yeah Alby takes a mean picture of the inside of the Cup if I do say so myself!


What is it about the Stanley Cup that makes grown men do crazy things like that? It's simply one of the most beloved artifacts in the entire world and to think I got a chance to touch it today! If I had had a small baby on me, I probably would have stuck him in there too!

After spending some time talking golf, Alby was off onto his next story, but I did get to spend a couple minutes with the "Old two-niner", Phil Bourque. Nattily dressed, Bourquey is one of the better looking hockey players you'll ever see. His face came through his career with very few nicks although up-close, his nose looks like it took the butt end of a few sticks. But he still looks great though and in real good shape. After posing for a picture with Phil I told him that his work this year was absolutely awesome. He genuinely seemed appreciative and came across as not only a pro, but a real gentleman too. Not always what you expect coming out of the violent world of hockey.

But in Pittsburgh, we've been spoiled by the likes of Mario, Ron Francis and Sidney for years. For the most part almost every Penguin I've ever met has acted the same way. They're all classy guys.

ABOVE: "The Old 66er" gets his picture taken with "The Old 2-9er". This guy belongs in films! I mean me, not Phil.

Prior to heading for the theater, I was also fortunate to grab a photo with "Iceburgh". Iceburgh made this chirping type of whistling sound and got particularly animated when my wife and I were speculating on whether he was a he or a she!

The crowd rapidly filled to capacity and there was electricity in the air. "Iceburgh" was doing flips on stage and the crowd started chanting "Let's Go Pens" and then later, "We want the Cup!" Eventually, Tyler Kennedy made a triumphant entrance into the theater holding the Stanley Cup aloft for the wildly-cheering crowd.

ABOVE: I got to meet all of the important Penguins...even Iceburgh!!!

The video itself is a first-rate production that combines outstanding footage while telling the story of the Pens turbulent regular season, the replacement of Michael Therrien as coach and the subsequent rebirth of the team. The Philadelphia and Washington series were reprised in great detail as they were among the most scintillating you'll ever see. Appropriately, the Carolina series, which was won in four games by the Pens, didn't get as much play as the other series, however, the magnificent play of Evgeni Malkin in that series was the entire story.

Of course the epic struggle between Pittsburgh and Detroit was shown from the locker rooms out to the ice with many behind-the-scenes shots including light moments in practice. Combined with a stirring musical score and plenty of Mike Lange, Mike Emerick and snippets from people such as Dan Potash of FSN, it was a thoroughly engrossing video and one that will be considered "must viewing" for any diehard Penguins fan. The appearance in the video of arch-villain-traitor Marian Hossa brought a predictable reaction from the audience. Fortunately no one had any tomatoes.

Upon leaving the theater with the ebullient crowd, there were several stations set up to conduct "exit interviews" gauging the reaction of the crowd. While I was not exactly looking to be interviewed, I can tell you that this was certainly one of the best highlight videos I've ever seen. It also brought clearly into focus just how amazing it was that the Pens were able to win the Cup despite the adversity they faced during the regular season and then surviving against the rugged Flyers, the Ovechkin-led Capitals, the veteran Hurricanes and ultimately having the conquest over the Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings on their home ice. This was no easy feat and you are reminded of it constantly throughout as you witness the amazing action.

When you see Marc-Andre make that sliding save at the end of game seven, you realize just how close this series was and how evenly-matched these two teams were. It made for a compelling video and a night I won't be forgetting for a long, long, time. After all, how often does any blogger get to touch the most famous trophy in the world, get your picture taken with it, see your golfing buddy "OxonFox", meet the "Old two-niner" and even "Iceburgh" on the same night? And after all that, you then get to see one of the greatest sports highlight films ever made. Pinch me in case I'm dreaming.

Yes, blogging does have its' rewards...once every blue moon!!!

FREDDY SANCHEZ: PORTRAIT OF LATEST "DEAD MAN WALKING"?




ABOVE: Freddy Sanchez acknowledges the cheers of the crowd.

I've never been one of those guys who study player contracts, but I heard an interesting nugget yesterday about the contract of Pirate second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, that certainly bears repeating.

Sanchez was just named by Major League Baseball as the Pirates lone representative to the All Star Game as a reserve. This will be his third trip to the midsummer exhibition. Hitting .316 for the year, Sanchez is currently tenth in the league in batting average and is having a much better season defensively with a stellar .997 fielding percentage, now that he has been healthy for the most part this year. While committing only one error so far all season, Sanchez has combined with Jack Wilson in turning 59 double plays. Here's where the interesting part comes in: Sanchez apparently has a clause in his contract that stipulates that he will receive an $8 million dollar bonus if he manages 630 at bats for the season. Over the course of the year, Sanchez would need to average 3.5 plate appearances per game. However, and it's a very large however, if he was named to the All Star Team, he need make only 600 plate appearances. Since Sanchez was just named over the weekend, his required plate appearances just dropped by 30 or approximately by 8.5 games.


LEFT: The "STAT RAT" weighs in on Freddy Sanchez.

This is what's wrong with this type of an incentive: Sanchez has just missed the past three games with back spasms and is still questionable versus the Astros. Obviously, with an incentive this big in front of him, he must be worried about meeting his performance clause. Will Sanchez come back too soon to stop the lost at-bats and potentially causing himself greater harm?

Even worse, let's say that he has 595 at-bats going into the last game. Do the Pirates start Sanchez and risk costing themselves $8 million or an additional 26% over their established payroll which is among the lowest in the league? Or, if they don't play him, do they risk causing an irreparable rift and lose all credibility with their players and fans?

This is the danger in signing these types of deals with players. Of course, in the case of the Pirates, this clause should merely be viewed as further reason why Freddy Sanchez should surely find himself as the next Pirate on the trading block. The Pirates won't want to have to face this scenario. Reports are circulating that the San Francisco Giants have already been scouting Sanchez. With Neal Huntington showing a penchant for turning over the roster that he inherited, don't be surprised to see Sanchez Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche and possibly even John Grabow dealt before the trading deadline. This will also open up several more spots in the lineup for new acquisitions and promoted players to try and make an impact during the remainder of the season.. With the Pirates starting pitching looking better than its' been in quite awhile, don't expect the team to go into a freefall. They won't crack .500 again this year, but they definitely will in 2010. The following season (2011) could see the Pirates vying as a serious contender in the NL Central for the first time in 19 years as the Huntington acquisitions mature and congeal as a team.

Now for the delicious part of this story: Sanchez currently has 304 at bats during 82 games the team has played this year. He has averaged 600 at bats in his prior seasons as a pro and amazingly, at his current pace, he would finish with exactly 600 at bats in the last game of the season! Stay tuned Pirate fans!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"...HOUSTON WE HAVE LIFT OFF!"


ABOVE: Looking a little more comfortable about being Pirates are our two Indian prospects.

Okay, so it wasn't as dramatic as a space launch, but finally the "dynamic Indian duo" of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel got to take the mound for an inning each in the Gulf Coast Instructional League on Saturday for the Pirates Bradenton team. The two were signed by the Pirates for $10,000 each after they participated in the "Million Dollar Arm" reality television show in India. Singh won $100,000 in the contest while Patel was the runner-up. The two are the first two Indians to ever be signed by a major league team.

Singh allowed one run on two hits and struck out one in the seventh inning. He threw 13 of his 20 pitches for strikes. Patel threw a scoreless eighth, needing only nine pitches to do it (seven were strikes) and striking out one.


ABOVE: Dinesh Patel warms up in Florida.

Both pitchers were relieved to have finally gotten an opportunity to see live action and get their careers launched. "I was very excited to pitch in my first professional game," said Singh. "It was difficult to learn to pitch, now it's difficult how to pitch inside then outside...But now everything is going good."

Patel has no doubt about his career plans: "Single-A, Double-A. Triple-A then the majors," he explained. "P.B.& G." will continue to follow this unique story.

Meanwhile, Ryan Doumit, on a rehab assignment, didn't have a very auspicious debut as he went 0-5 with a strikeout. Doumit was to play for Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday. Newly acquired Lastings Millidge, also on a rehab assignment because of a broken finger, went 1-3 with a double and played six innings in left field. Millidge is expected to be called-up after the all star break.