Just realized that we're hitting the All-Star Break without me writing a single column about the 2005 baseball season. Inexcusable. Since I watch every Red Sox game and follow the American League intently, let's hand out some midseason awards for one of the weirdest AL seasons in recent memory:
The Brock Landers/Chest Rockwell Award for "Most Entertaining Subplot"
Seriously, what's been more fun than trying to figure out which guys were forced to stop juicing in the post-BalcoGate Era? When certain hitters started off slow this season (Steve Finley, Sammy Sosa, Hideki Matsui, Travis Hafner, Adrian Beltre, Aubrey Huff, even Manny Ramirez) everyone was thinking the same thing: Steroid user! Steroid user! Steroid user! There was something strangely enjoyable about pointing the finger, the same way it's fun to argue about Lindsay Lohan's breasts. If a certain slugger lost a noticeable amount of weight (like Sammy), even better. At this point, I don't even care if I'm right. I just assume everyone's guilty until proven innocent.
(On the flip side, during his unexpected power surge this season, Brian Roberts normally would have been compared to Brady Anderson, Bret Boone and every East German swimmer from the 70's but since we have steroids testing now, he's having the first question-free breakout season since Michael Jackson was considered "cool.")
The Doctor J Award for "Guy who should always be in the All-Star Game no matter what kind of season he's having."
Look, you know I hate the Yankees. It's well-documented. But you can't have an All-Star Game without Jeter. You just can't. The NBA mentality should come into play here -- make sure your most visible stars are there on All-Star Weekend no matter how well they're playing. I always love when people get all holier-than-thou about picking an All-Star team, like anyone's going to remember in five years that Jose Guillen got shafted. Who cares?
The following guys should make the team every year unless they're trapped under something: Tejada, Guerrero, Manny, Jeter, A-Rod, Big Papi, Rivera, Clemens, Pedro, Ichiro, Schilling, Big Unit and Pujols. Those are the 13 biggest stars in baseball. You can't have the All-Star Game without any of them. Every December, we could even form a committee to determine if anyone from the Top 13 should lose their spot because they went Piazza on us, leaving us no choice but to take them off the list. And maybe next December, we could add a couple of guys who made The Leap -- like Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.
Of course, we have a better chance of dividing the Gaza Strip than coming up with a fool-proof All-Star selection method. Every time it seems like they're headed in the right direction, something happens like "Shea Hillenbrand over Derek Jeter" and it completely undermines the whole process. So why not protect the stars who absolutely have to be in the game? Do you really think the NBA would ever knock KG out of the 2006 All-Star Game, or the NFL would ever stand in Peyton Manning's way when he was gunning for yet another Pro Bowl MVP? Come on.
The Shawn Bradley Award for "Most Damning Sign That Your Roto Team is Probably In Trouble This Season"
Call this one the Kansas City Corollary: If you have no Royals, you're probably in first or second place. One Royal, third place. Two Royals, fourth place. Three Royals, fifth or sixth. Four Royals, seventh or eighth. More than four, you're in dead last and already preparing for your football draft. And here's why I'm telling you this: My buddy Hench and I have a team with Mike Sweeney, Angel Berroa, Ken Harvey and Andy Sisco. Let's just say we have a stronghold on seventh. I will now use a scalpel to give myself Tommy John surgery.
The Tony Saunders Memorial Award for "Best Homage to Rodney Dangerfield"
To the Yankees for calling up a guy named "Wang." Probably the most underrated moment of the season so far. Tell 'em, Wang, we just bought property behind the Great Wall on the good side!
The James Baldwin Memorial Award for "Best Candidate For a Second-Half Collapse"
To Chicago's Jon Garland, currently on pace for 25 wins and 110 strikeouts in the same season. Couldn't Rob Neyer figure out some "Strikeout to Win" stat where we see the K-win ratio for every 20-game winner in history? I actually did some digging on this one -- since 1960, only five 20-game winners compare to Garland this season: Bob Welch in 1990 (27 wins, 127 K's); Warren Spahn in 1963 (23 wins, 102 K's); Tommy John in 1980 (22 wins, 78 K's); Randy Jones in 1976 (22 wins, 93 K's); and Dave McNally in 1971 (21 wins, 91 K's). And all of those guys were left-handers with impeccable control except for Welch (and that remains one of the goofy Cy Young seasons of all-time).
If you had to wager on this one, would you say Garland (only 20 walks this season, by the way) is another James Baldwin or another Tommy John? I'm leaning toward another Baldwin. But what do I know?
The Robert Blake Award for "Manager Most Likely to Become the Next Robert Blake."
Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Lou Piniella! First of all, how has ESPN not given him a reality TV show this year? Kevin Federline can get a show, Bobby Brown can get a show why not Sweet Lou? Here we have an irrational, overcompetitive hothead stuck in a no-win situation in an apathetic baseball city, basically crying out for help at this point -- as witnessed by the whole, "I'm going to use relievers to start games and starters to finish them" announcement -- and we don't have cameras following this man? What happens if he kills a beat reporter with his bare hands? What happens if Joey Gathright blows a bunt sign and Lou beats him down with a baseball bat in the runway like DeNiro in "The Untouchables"? If anyone needs a 24-hour camera crew, it's Lou.
Second, his platooning, random call-ups, and designations for assignment have wreaked more havoc on fantasy leagues across the country than Fred Taylor, Vin Baker and Kordell Stewart combined -- things have gotten so bad in my league, we're considering instituting the NBA's new Allan Houston Rule for Tampa Bay pickups (where you can waive one horrendous Devil Ray off your team without having him count against your luxury tax). Did you pay $11 bucks to pick Damon Hollins off the waiver wire? (Whoops, sorry about that.) What about that seventh round pick of Alex Sanchez? (Again, my apologies.) Were you excited about Josh Phelps and Jonny Gomes? (Maybe you should reconsider.) Things have gotten so crazy, there's a guy playing for the Rays right now named "Munson." Can we really have a third Munson in professional sports after Thurman and Roy? Apparently so. Quite simply, all hell has broken loose in Tampa.
And third, not since Billy Martin have we seen a manager openly trying to get fired, to the point that he's going to start drinking on the bench like Buttermaker in "Bad News Bears" (1976 version, not the 2005 version which is about three weeks away from hitting "never happened" status), and the Devil Rays won't cut the cord. It's like they're hoping he has a heart attack in the dugout so they don't have to pay him. Just a riveting story. Let's move on because this could have been it's own column.
The Ralph Macchio in Entourage Award for "Most Jarring Cameo"
We're heading over to the NL for this one: It's a two-way tie between Carlos Baerga and Jose Offerman, both of whom kept bench jobs even though they were washed up on the Red Sox four years ago. In both cases, I was watching "SportsCenter," saw these guys pop into a highlight and did a quadruple-take. Since I never watch the NL, who else is out there? Is Mark Lemke still playing? What about Buddy Biancalana?
The Freak Dance Award for "Goofiest Trend"
What about this new trend where closers get shelled for a few weeks, then decide they need surgery? First Octavio Dotel gives up a few homers and decides to get the most drastic elbow surgery possible -- against the wishes of the A's, no less. Then Keith Foulke spends three months getting the crap kicked out of him -- suddenly he needs arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Does this mean Heathcliff Slocumb should schedule Tommy John surgery retroactive to 1996? What about Mitch Williams -- I think he blew out an ankle right before the 1993 World Series, we may need to get that fixed.
The Brady Anderson Award for "Best Freddie Lynn Impersonation"
To Cleveland's Grady Sizemore -- when the Red Sox played them a few weeks ago, he reminded me of Lynn more than any young player I can remember, and then Peter Gammons mentioned the same thing so I knew I wasn't crazy. There's just something about the way he carries himself. Freddie Lynn always looked like the coolest guy on the field. So does Sizemore.
(And while we're here, I like Toronto's Aaron Hill as well. The Red Sox played them right after Corey Koskie went down in May; Hill hit about 10 ropes that weekend and reached official "all right, who the hell is this guy? I'm picking him up on my roto team!" status by Saturday. And he hasn't slowed up since -- he's hitting in the .350s and looks like a young Paul Molitor. Everything's a frozen rope from him.)
The Mariah Carey Award for "Most Unexpected Career Resurgence"
This goes to the Giambino! He's been a borderline house of fire over the past few weeks, prompting a round of "Uh-oh, check his credit card bill for a Whizzinator purchase" and "Jason, this is awkward, but when you pee in the cup this time, I'm going to actually need to see you do it" jokes. But doesn't this have all the makings of one of those inspiring/mediocre TV movies? Couldn't you see ESPN taking the plunge with "25" -- starring Sean Astin as Jason Giambi, A. Martinez as Alex Rodriguez and 50 Cent as Gary Sheffield?
(And speaking of Mariah, is anyone else excited about seeing her back in the limelight? For more than 10 years, she's been my kryptonite -- the one crazy female celebrity that just plain did it for me. Can't explain it. And nothing drives a woman crazier than hearing a guy say, "I think Mariah Carey is hot" -- you might as well just say that women shouldn't have the right to vote. She's the best. I will defend her lunatic sexiness to the death. By the way, do you think she looks at Whitney Houston now the same way Tom Hanks looks at Michael Keaton, like Whitney may have won the first few battles, but Mariah won the war? Me, too.)
The Tom Cruise Needs to Be Taken Down With A Taser Award for "Most Startling Ongoing Story"
What happened to everyone's bullpens? Seriously, what happened? Has there ever been anything like this? The Red Sox are 14 games over .500 and they have one -- repeat, one -- semi-reliable reliever (Mike Timlin). The Yankees' bullpen has been so up-and-down, they actually fired two of the guys last week like they were a TGI Fridays in Westchester getting rid of a busboy and a dishwasher. Baltimore has B.J. Ryan and a cast of nobodies (although I'm still rooting for Jorge Julio to be nicknamed "The Bear"). Texas has John Wasdin as their main setup guy -- the same guy I once nicknamed "The Blair Wasdin Project" on my old Web site. Only Anaheim, Minnesota, Cleveland and Chicago have more than two arms that you would trust in a close game.
Here's how bad things have gotten: On Monday night, I was at a birthday party for my friend Sal. The Red Sox game was on in the background -- they were leading 5-3 in the eighth after yet another Manny homer. Someone said to me, "Looks like your boys have this one in the bag," followed by me saying calmly, "Oh, God no -- we're either blowing this game or it's going extra innings." Sure enough, we lost in the ninth. And I didn't even really blink. That same day, I watched the Yankees make up a two-run lead on Baltimore with a seven-run eighth inning, capped off by Lee Mazzilli being so stunned by Ryan's collapse that he left his star closer in for 45 pitches in all. And this stuff seems to happen multiple times a week throughout the league. No lead is safe -- I can't remember another year where your team could be down by four heading into the ninth and you still felt like they could pull it out.
The Road House: The Musical Award for "Most Underreported Ongoing Story"
This goes to Hideki Matsui's consecutive games streak, which headed into the 1,650's last week (including the Japan league games) -- somehow, I just found out about this in mid-June. Just think, if Matsui's streak could keep going for five more seasons, Matsui could seriously threaten Ripken's record and freak out everyone in the Baltimore area, leading to a barrage of "those Japan League games shouldn't count!" stories and Skip Bayless and Woody Paige potentially fighting to the death on "First and Ten." Plus, Ripken will be haunted by those "I should have kept playing, I never checked the [expletive] Japan leagues to make sure nobody was over 1,000" thoughts -- it could affect his work as head of security on the "Jerry Springer Show."
The Pat Sajak Award for "Least Ambitious Athlete"
To the immortal Julio Mateo, one of the stars of my seventh-place roto team. Back in May, Julio was pitching lights-out in long relief for the Mariners, looking good enough that they decided to give him his first-ever start against the Yankees. Was Mateo excited about it? Before the game, he told reporters: "Nothing has changed if it works, good. If not, fine."
Well, he ended up getting shelled. After the game, when reporters asked if he thought he would get another start, Mateo said, "If I go back to the bullpen, that's all right. If I start, that's OK too. I just want to try and do my best. I think I'll be going back to my old job."
I can't wait for his arbitration hearing this winter. ...
Judge: "Julio, what do you think you're worth?"
Julio: "Oh, you know, I don't care -- whatever."
Judge: "Two million? Three million? Four million?"
Julio: "It doesn't matter -- anything works for me."
The JD Drew Award for "Most Tantalizing Potential That Makes Roto Owners Somehow Think He's 10 times Better Than He Actually Is"
A dead heat between Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer on Minnesota. If Jay Bilas had a baseball column, he'd be raving about their wingspans and how long they were. Translation: They're hitting in the .290's and .260's respectively.
The Sofia Coppola in Godfather 3 Award for "Most Desperate Casting Move"
You didn't think I was making it through the column without mentioning this Schilling/bullpen move, did you? I'm with Johnny Damon on this one -- how can someone who goes through an extended routine in the bullpen before every start suddenly pitch 3-4 times a week on a moment's notice? This can only work if they figure ahead of time which days they need him, then have him go through his routine in the middle innings of those games before he gets the call. For instance, it's a borderline miracle if Wade Miller makes it into the seventh inning of any start. So on those days Miller pitches, you have Schilling for the 7-8-9 innings and about 50 pitches. Same for any David Wells start where the temperature is higher than 75 degrees and he's heaving like Ralphie May in a comedy club without air conditioning. So yes, I think this could work.
(Is it my ideal pitching situation heading into the dog days of summer? Of course not.)
(Am I starting to think there are eerie parallels between Kurt Warner's pact-with-Satan 1999 season and Schilling's 2004 season? Absolutely.)
(Do I have to remind myself five times a day that we won the World Series last year? You betcha.)
The "Napoleon Dynamite" Award for "Most Inexplicable Success Story"
I know, I know -- we always underestimate the old pitching/defense/speed recipe. But how are the White Sox headed for 112 wins right now? Really, 112 wins? Does that seems reasonable for a team with nobody hitting above .280 and Dustin Hermanson as their closer? We're all fine with this?
The Bobby Simmons Award for "Best Player That Nobody Realizes is Good Yet"
Have you seen Danny Haren pitch for Oakland? First of all, he's a big dude with long hair and a crazy look in his eye -- one of those guys who stares down his manager because he doesn't want to come out of the game. Second, he's the reliever who shut the Sox down in long relief of Game 1 of the World Series -- in a must-win situation, on the road -- so clearly, he has the requisite testicular fortitude. Third, he's 6-0 in his last nine starts. Fourth, he's only 24. And fifth, he's on my AL-only roto team and one of the few bright spots of my season, so I thought I would give him his own paragraph. Thank you, Danny Haren. I enjoy your work. Keep it up and you'll get your own fluff column in ESPN The Magazine some day.
The Sean Penn Award for "Best Meltdown"
You know me by now -- I'm the same guy who gave the Artest Melee "Save Until I Delete" TiVo status. So I didn't want to weigh in after the meltdown happened, mainly because I think athletes and celebrities should be able to assault cameraman and paparazzi whenever they want. But there were a number of things I loved about the Kenny Rogers incident, including
1. The way Rogers's demeanor never changed -- he was like one of those 80's movie serial killers in the way he icily went about his business (you could almost imagine him grimly dispatching camp counselors with an ax on Crystal Lake).
2. The aggrieved cameraman appearing on roughly 732 radio and TV shows the following day with that glazed, "I'm getting paid for this, right?" look on his face. You could tell he was thinking, "Damn, if he had just opened a 50-stitch cut on my head, I could have gotten on 'Regis and Kelly!'"
3. ESPN showing the clip at least 500,000 times over the next 48 hours. In fact, I think they replaced the overnight "SportsCenter" with a continuous clip of Rogers assaulting the cameraman. I also enjoyed how so many columnists, TV hosts and radio hosts needed to take positions like there was something to argue here. Lemme tell you something, you cannot attack a cameraman on the field. Really, doctor?
4. Kenny's fantastic apology this week, which somehow made matters worse as the media lambasted him all over again. What were they expecting from Kenny, a tearjerking speech along the lines of Billy Dee Williams in "Brian's Song"? The guy's a baseball player! These are the dumbest athletes of any professional sport! You think baseball players sit around on the team plane discussing Raymond Carver stories and the AIDS problem in Africa? This is the only sport where a star player could release a book titled "Idiot" and nobody would bat an eyelash. And you're surprised that Kenny's speech sucked? Gimme a break.
The Being Bobby Brown Award for "Best Show That Nobody Is Really Talking About For Whatever Reason"
In my humble opinion, the best AL team right now is the Californiaanaheimlosangeles Angels. Just look at what they endured this season: Three weeks without Vladdy Daddy; pretty much nothing from Cabrera and Finley; not nearly as much from their bench (especially Quinlan and DaVanon); and disappointing starts from their young guys (Figgins, McPherson and Santana). And they're still 19 games over .500. What happens if they trade for another starter? Couldn't Vlad carry them for weeks at a time down the stretch? Doesn't it seem entirely conceivable that Finley and Cabrera will be there when it matters? Who has a better 1-2 bullpen combo than Shields and K-Rod, with the possible exception of the Minnesota guys? And other than Boston's 3-4 combo of Manny and Ortiz, who would you want coming up in a close game more than Vlad and the rejuvenated Garrett Anderson?
Still, you can't award them "team to beat in October" status because the trading deadline hasn't happened. For instance, what if the Red Sox land Everyday Eddie Guardado, or the Yankees trade for a center fielder, second baseman, two starters, two relievers and a new manager? That would change everything, right?
The Mr. Holland, This Is Your Opus Award for "Most Overdue Honor"
To the one and only Peter Gammons, who finally enters the Baseball Hall of Fame this month. The best praise I can give him is this: Back in the late-70's, 80's and early-90's, when he was writing his groundbreaking column for The Boston Globe every Sunday, he would take an occasional week off only there was no way of knowing until you opened the paper, looked for his column and realized somebody else had written it. And every time it happened, I would groan out loud.
Anyway, I wrote about this phenomenon on my old Web site and received a slew of e-mails from readers who admitted doing the exact same thing. And that's just about the highest praise you can give a writer -- when people are groaning out loud because you decided to take a week off. It doesn't get much better than that. So congrats to one of the few remaining writers who passes my "Does he make sports more fun to follow?" test. In Gammon's case, for 30 years and counting, the answer was always, "Absolutely."
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.