Put an end to these tired storylines
From the McCourts' divorce to the shaving cream pie craze enough is enough
This might come as a shock to readers, but ESPN has a reputation for spending lots of time chronicling the exploits of two Major League Baseball teams in the northeast. Critics refer to this phenomenon as "East Coast bias.'' Angry critics like to call it an obsession.
The good news: The Yankees and Red Sox played their eighth game of the 2010 season Tuesday night, so they have only 10 games to go. While that's plenty of time to dissect David Ortiz's swing plane, the state of Theo Epstein's pitching-and-defense mantra, Phil Hughes' rise to stardom and Javier Vazquez's disturbing case of Ed Whitson-itis, the fervor is likely to subside once the teams go their separate ways.
In the meantime, other storylines will fill the void. For a while, baseball coverage was wall-to-wall Jason Heyward. On Wednesday, it's Hanley Ramirez's lack of effort in Florida. Soon enough, Stephen Strasburg's call-up to Washington, Bryce Harper's draft negotiations and Albert Pujols' contract situation will take center stage. And that's fine, because there will be lots of news to report.
It's the peripheral coverage that gets old in a hurry. Take, for example, Phillies fans who vomit on their seatmates and get tased while cavorting on the field. Or stories linking Nick Johnson's early slump to his use of Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA'' as his pre-at-bat "walk-up'' music. Or realignment updates -- by the carload.
This week's edition of "Starting 9'' is devoted to some personal venting, as we reflect on nine early 2010 storylines that have grown more tired than Aramis Ramirez's bat. In a perfect world, they would all be designated for assignment, never to return.
The McCourts' divorce
I was there in Glendale, Ariz., in March when Dodgers owner Frank McCourt met the media to discuss the state of the club and dance around questions about his divorce proceedings. The last time a prominent baseball figure squirmed that much before the press, Mike Piazza was telling New York reporters, "I'm not gay.''
No celebrity enjoys seeing his or her personal life played out for the world to see, and Frank and Jamie McCourt are pushing the envelope big-time. There's a Web site devoted to their split, with links to newspaper stories and court documents about "slush funds'' and money spent on hairstylists and vacation trips. Everything in Dodgerland -- from the Matt Kemp-Ned Colletti spat to Joe Torre's future -- inevitably seems to come back to Frank versus Jamie.
Dodgers fans are entitled to ask some hard questions when the team payroll drops from $100 million to $95 million and the big offseason pickups are Vicente Padilla, Jamey Carroll and Reed Johnson, but the McCourts' marital squabbling is a better fit for TMZ than ESPN. This movie has played out already, and it ended with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner hanging from a chandelier before crashing to the floor.
There are lots more sordid details to come, with a trial scheduled for Aug. 30 to determine custody of the team. On second thought, the McCourt divorce is a baseball hybrid of "War of the Roses'' and "Kramer vs. Kramer.''
Ken Griffey's nap
"He's probably the most gifted hitter I've ever played with,'' Jeff Conine said of Griffey in 2007. "The guy can roll out of bed and go out there and hit home runs like it's nothing.''
So Griffey tries to test that proposition -- off a big comfy couch, rather than a bed -- and it's suddenly a bad thing?
First Junior dozed (apparently) with a potential pinch-hit appearance looming. Then two anonymous teammates told Tacoma News Tribune beat man Larry LaRue about it. Then Griffey and manager Don Wakamatsu said he was available to hit. Then Junior got misty at a team meeting, Mike Sweeney challenged the bean-spillers to a fight, and the Mariners froze out LaRue before deciding it was OK to talk to LaRue. Finally, Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, told a radio station that LaRue's news story was published by accident and never should have happened.
Naturally, the whole incident was dubbed "Nap-gate.''
In the end, who really cares? If Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill believed in the therapeutic power of napping and John McCain and Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt free to drift off during State of the Union speeches, why begrudge a Hall of Famer a little rest?
Junior's problem isn't that he slept in the clubhouse. His problem is that he can't hit when he's awake. Judging from the Mariners' .645 team OPS, he's not the only one.
Milton Bradley's contempt for all things Chicago
Bradley likes to think of himself as "the Kanye West of baseball.'' Actually, he's more like the Jeffrey Hammonds of baseball. Check out Baseball-Reference.com, and Bradley's five closest statistical comparables are Hammonds, Ivan Calderon, Ben Grieve, Marty Cordova and Ellis Valentine.
Cordova was famous for falling asleep in a tanning bed. Valentine was never the same after taking a fastball from St. Louis pitcher Roy Thomas in the face in 1980, and Calderon was tragically murdered in his native Puerto Rico in 2003.
Bradley has generated more publicity than all of them combined, which is quite a feat when you consider that he's hit 20 home runs once, never knocked in 80 runs, surpassed 140 games played once and made one All-Star team in 11 big league seasons.
Of all Bradley's rants and diatribes, none lasted longer than his serial airing of grievances against the Cubs in spring training. After Chicago general manager Jim Hendry gave him $30 million to play right field for three years, Bradley hit 12 homers and drove in 40 runs in 393 at-bats. Cubs fans responded by subjecting Bradley to some garden-variety booing, and he got more stressed than Harrison Ford trying to elude federal marshals on the Chicago streets in "The Fugitive.''
Bradley, hitting .214 in Seattle this season, recently took a leave of absence to address some personal problems. If he returns and takes a smidge of responsibility for his anger issues, everyone will wish him well. If he's still venting about Cubs fans, Wrigley Field, Lou Piniella and the evils of deep dish pizza, we'll know the counseling sessions didn't take.
Ozzie Guillen's Twitter account
The manager-general manager bromance on Chicago's South Side showed some strain in February, when Guillen annoyed Kenny Williams with his immersion in the latest social media phenomenon. Ozzie was tweeting, and Kenny didn't like it.
It remains to be seen if Guillen's fondness for Twitter will be a topic of conversation when those publicity-shy White Sox are featured in "The Club,'' an MLB Network reality series that reportedly offers "unprecedented behind-the-scenes access'' to the team's front office. The series debuts in July.
In the meantime, Ozzie has more than 57,000 followers, and he treats them to a mind-numbingly boring succession of life observations. Among other things, he claims to be a fan of bullfighting and the Blackhawks. Ozzie recently complained about sitting around waiting for the cable TV installer to show up (seriously), and never tires of poking fun at pitching coach Don Cooper's golf game.
Perhaps the tweets seem dull because Ozzie's vocal inflections and vibrant personality are nowhere to be found. Or maybe it's just impossible to squeeze all those profanities into a 140-character space.
When Ozzie the Tweeter isn't talking ball, he also gives shout-outs to his favorite restaurants and raves about his new set of golf clubs.
"It's basically Ozzie's way of getting free [stuff],'' said a baseball acquaintance of Guillen's.
Jermaine Dye's employment situation
Betty White has done a great job of reviving her career at age 88½, but Dye can't get much traction at 36.
A 14-year veteran with 325 career home runs, Dye failed to land a job last winter due to a perfect storm of misfortune: More teams are going younger and delving deeper into the defensive metrics, and he's a defensively challenged bopper who slugged .297 in 212 at-bats after the All-Star break. In this trying job market, three bad months is all it takes.
Dye also overestimated his value, and it cost him an opportunity with the Rangers, Cubs and other interested clubs. So the free-agent season came and went, and he stayed home.
Now, for some reason, he's a walking MLBTradeRumors.com sensation. Since April, Dye has been mentioned as a potential fit for the Giants, White Sox, Mariners, Nationals (after Elijah Dukes was released), Yankees (after Curtis Granderson got hurt) and Padres. He was also cited by Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson in some regrettable comments about race playing a role in team signing decisions.
Meanwhile, Kevin Millar went directly from the Cubs camp to the MLB Network studios, Eric Byrnes left Seattle's clubhouse and slid right into the cleanup spot for the Dutch Goose bar and restaurant's softball team, and Pat Burrell was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay. In addition, Chipper Jones, Todd Helton, Carlos Lee and Derrek Lee -- established hitters in Dye's age bracket -- have a combined 11 home runs in 517 at-bats.
Maybe some offensively challenged club will decide that Dye is the solution and take the plunge, but he should at least prepare himself for a future filled with carpooling, backyard barbecues and life after baseball.
Two words of advice, Jermaine: Gas grill.
Dusty Baker and his (non) Midas touch with young arms
When the Reds considered leaving spring training with Aroldis Chapman on the roster, we were reminded that Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker ruined Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in Chicago. Then the Reds decided to jump Mike Leake directly from Arizona State to the big club, and it was duly noted that Baker destroyed Wood and Prior in Chicago.
Baker's ham-handedness with pitchers was a topic of conversation when he returned to Wrigley Field as Reds manager in 2008, when Aaron Harang struggled following an extended relief appearance two years ago, and again when Edinson Volquez went down for Tommy John surgery in August.
Is there some validity to the complaints? Sure. Does that mean Baker can't learn from his mistakes and has to be permanently branded as the Dr. Jack Kevorkian of young pitchers? Who knows? The Reds have a terrific pitching coach in Bryan Price, Leake has a low-stress delivery, and indications are that Cincinnati is being careful with his workload. Leake has gone at least six innings in each of his first seven starts, and he's averaging 98.7 pitches per start.
These days, every manager is under the gun when it comes to handling young pitchers. Giants fans were euphoric when Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young Awards. But if he shows up one day with stiffness in his elbow, think someone won't point out that Bruce Bochy "abused'' him by keeping him out there for 120-plus pitches three times in a four-start span in August?
The first time Leake says he's arm-weary or gets cuffed around a little bit, rest assured that Wood and Prior will come up in conversation. They're as much a part of Baker's persona as toothpicks, wristbands and a fondness for Boney James music.
The Dallas Braden-Alex Rodriguez feud
It recently came to light in the New York tabloids that actresses Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz are feuding over the affections of A-Rod. In the meantime, Dallas Braden and A-Rod have a simmering dislike that began with the sanctity of a patch of dirt in Oakland. From the moment Rodriguez violated the baseball code by ascending that mound on Braden's watch, things would never be the same.
These feuds are always entertaining, and this one is elevated by the personalities of the principles. Braden is the feisty, tattooed Everyman standing up for the little guy. He even refers to his hometown of Stockton, Calif., as "the 209.'' In the other corner there's A-Rod, the accomplished yet tainted star who comes to play every day, but seems vaguely ill-at-ease in the clinches.
Then again, the payoff for these "feuds'' rarely matches the hype. Remember when Shawn Estes was supposed to bring closure to the Mike Piazza-Roger Clemens spat by drilling Clemens, and threw an 87 mph fastball a foot behind the Rocket? How weak was that?
If Braden plants a fastball in A-Rod's ribs and the benches clear during the next A's-Yankees series in July, this story will have legs. History says it's more likely the tension will dissipate and the two combatants will hash things out while invoking the phrase "mutual respect.'' It could be the mother of all letdowns.
Umpire Joe West's one-man crusade against slow play
In July 2002, Andy Pettitte threw 103 pitches to beat Cleveland and diplomatically observed that the strike zone was tight. New York Post Yankees beat reporter George King not-so-diplomatically referred to it as "postage stamp'' sized.
The offending party was umpire Joe West, who has earned a reputation through the years for being rather finicky about balls and strikes. That's why it struck so many people as odd when West recently lambasted the Red Sox and Yankees for playing such lengthy games. He referred to their style of play as "pathetic'' and "embarrassing.''
Judging from the strident tone of West's rant, you half-expected him to weigh in on the Greek debt crisis and Haiti earthquake relief efforts.
West, an accomplished country singer who goes by the nickname "Cowboy Joe,'' is a congenial guy. But he's put himself in a bind by speaking out so forcefully. The next time he umps a Boston-New York game and rings up Kevin Youkilis or Robinson Cano on a borderline pitch, someone in the broadcast booth or press box will glibly observe that he must have been "late for his dinner reservations.'' That's a safer bet than the Sox and Yanks going 3:45.
The shaving cream pie craze
A.J. Burnett threw a no-hitter for Florida in 2001, signed an $82.5 million deal with the Yankees in 2008 and has a career average of 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings -- more than Carlos Zambrano, CC Sabathia and Roy Oswalt. But he'll ultimately be remembered as the Soupy Sales of his generation.
Pie-throwing has been a baseball staple for years, but Burnett helped make it fashionable in 2009, and now the ritual has passed amusing and made a beeline for intolerable. It's a bigger cliché than offensive linemen lurking behind the unsuspecting coach with a Gatorade bucket.
In the past month alone, Johnny Damon, Chris Carter, Luke Scott, Elvis Andrus, Ike Davis, Mitch Talbot, Marcus Thames and numerous other big leaguers have been pied. Sometimes it feels as if everyone but Felix Pie has been pied.
The shtick is always the same: The victim, in mid-interview, is asked whether it's whipped cream or shaving cream. Then he grabs a towel and observes that his eyes really burn.
It happened to Atlanta rookie Jason Heyward after he homered and drove in four runs in a 16-5 win over the Cubs on Opening Day. Heyward was standing at his locker and calmly reflecting upon his day when relief pitcher Peter Moylan emerged out of nowhere and smashed a pie in his face.
If the Braves really wanted to make it a day for the kid to remember, couldn't they have just chipped in and bought him a Rolex?
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