Thursday, January 7, 2010

BCS Championship Game

So this should be my final college football post until the fall; but no promises on that. The BCS Championship Game is tonight, with Alabama taking on Texas from the Rose Bowl.

So which running back son of a former Super Bowl winner / convict will hoist the crystal football tonight? Alabama's Heisman Trophy winning Mark Ingram, son of former Giant receiver and current money laundering guest of the state of New York Mark Ingram Sr? Or Texas' Tre Newton, son of the former Cowboy lineman Nate, who was arrested twice in a five week span in 2001 while transporting a grand total of 388 pounds - or 53 pounds more than his playing weight - of marijuana?

Tune into to ABC at 8 to find out. I think the Crimson Tide is going to take it, and I don't think it's going to be particularly close.

Jonathan Papelbon & His "Brain"

The man of a million mixed metaphors has spoken, which means we have listened. This time, he chatted with ESPN's Gordon Edes (at times in Pig Latin) to discuss his future son, his unawareness of the Red Sox offseason moves, his contract situation and more:
Papelbon's wife, Ashley, is pregnant with the couple's second child, a brother for toddler daughter Parker. The child is due in April.

"Got a name picked out,'' Papelbon says. "Gunner Roberts. The significance? Nothing, man. Just a badass name, so we went with it.''
Gunner Roberts Papelbon. Other "badass" names that just missed the cut:
  • Bear Grylls Papelbon
  • Shooter Blaze Papelbon
  • Rambo Rocky Papelbon
  • Cannonball Titcomb Papelbon
  • Jason Bourne Papelbon
  • Maximus Damien Papelbon
  • Thunder Zeus Papelbon
  • Axl Rodstock Papelbon
  • Hulk Hogan Papelbon
  • Rowdy Rocco Papelbon
  • Magnús VerMagnússon Papelbon
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex Papelbon
If we missed any, leave them in the comments.
"I had no idea we got [John] Lackey until [trainer Mike] Reinold came down to see me, just a few days ago,'' he said. "I swear to you. I don't know anything about the ballclub, but I know the words to the 'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse' song.''

Adrian Beltre deal? He hadn't heard. Casey Kotchman about to be traded to the Mariners? Nope. Mike Cameron? "Cameron, Mike Cameron?'' he said. "We got him? I swear to you, I didn't know.''

The skeptic might recall how Papelbon insisted that his dog ate the ball with which the Red Sox clinched the 2007 World Series -- a story that smacked of urban legend -- but Papelbon pleads that his ignorance is real.
Only a true intellectual pleads for others to acknowledge his true ignorance.
It was not for a lack of trying. The Red Sox last winter offered their closer a two-year deal for about $14.75 million, within a couple hundred thousand dollars of what Papelbon was seeking, according to a source close to the negotiations. "I ixnayed their offer,'' Papelbon said.
If his defense, Pig Latin is a Romance Language to people from Mississippi.
"Heck yeah, as far as what me and my brain are thinking,'' Papelbon said, "but I haven't even sat down with my agents [Seth and Sam Levinson] yet. We don't even have a number in place. There haven't been any discussions between me and the Red Sox and my agents at all.''
Jonathan Papelbon and his brain. Quite the image, isn't it?

It's Official: Cone Leaves YES

Last night, Richard Sandomir of The Times confirmed what had been rumored for some weeks: David Cone won't be returning to YES in 2010. As Jay detailed earlier this week, this is a loss for Yankee fans. Cone had grown into a great analyst and wasn't shy about citing some of the more advanced metrics while calling a game.

Sandomir's piece paints a rosier picture than what's been rumored over the past several weeks. The quotes from both Cone and YES don't indicate any acrimony, a far cry from Bob Kaplisch's earlier report that a heated disagreement took place. Cone states "If I do return to broadcasting, YES would be my first choice.” While Cone states he's leaving to spend more time with his family, the initial report from Phil Mushnick's initial report last month speculated that Cone, who was very active in the Players Association throughout his career, could be headed for a union job.

For their part, YES said that Cone won't necessarily be replaced. Tino Martinez, who was painfully wooden in his year on Baseball Tonight, was rumored as a potential replacement. YES still has Ken Singleton, Al Leiter, John Flaherty, and Paul O'Neill under contract. O'Neill and Singleton intentionally work limited schedules and Leiter juggles his time between YES and MLBN. Lamentably, Jim Kaat, who expressed interested in returning to YES last year only to be rebuffed, cut his last remaining ties to the network last month.

As for Cone, this marks his third less-than-perfect departure from Yankeedom. Following his perfect game in 1999, Cone was never the same. He went 2-5 with a 4.82 ERA down the stretch before rebounding with a solid post-season. His contract expired and after making his desire for a two year deal well-known, he eventually settled for a one year pact. He had an absolutely abysmal 2000, eventually being removed from the starting rotation late in the season. He pitched just 1.1 innings in the post-season.

With the Yankees not interested in guaranteeing him a job in 2001, Cone departed for the Red Sox. He had a decent season for them, going to toe-to-toe with Mike Mussina during the Moose's near perfect game on 9/2/01. Cone was a shadow of his former self, but that night he allowed just nine baserunners and fanned eight in 8.1 IP, allowing just an unearned run.

Cone retired following the season, and joined YES for their inaugural season. Though retired, Cone clearly still had the desire to play. In interviews he routinely dropped hints that he would be willing to return in an attempt to help the Yankees injury riddled pitching staff. When the call from the Yankees never came, Cone crossed the Triboro Bridge and returned to the Mets for one more disastrous go-round.

While his 2003 departure was surprising, it was clear then that Cone wasn't fully ready to hang up his spikes. This time, I'm far more surprised. Though this had been rumored for some time, Cone had deeply ingrained himself into the Yankees organization over the past two years. In addition to his work with YES and his appearances at Old Timers' Day, Cone did a lot of public relations work for the club. Cone was instrumental in moving tickets, calling season ticket holders in an effort to sell high priced seats, and glad handing with the suite dwellers at the new Stadium.

Whatever the reason for his departure, we hope David Cone makes another return to the Bronx sometime in the future. In the meantime we wish him all the best in whatever comes next - so long as it doesn't involve joining the Red Sox or Mets again.

Hall Of Fame Triangular Table

If you aren't Hall of Famed out just yet, SportsCenter anchor and former Max Kellerman Show co-host Brain Kenny had Rob Neyer and Joe Sheehan (of Baseball Prospectus) on his radio show to discuss the results of the voting yesterday. They call it a roundtable, but there's only three of them.

It's just a quick 10 minute segment and although all of them are generally grounded in sabermetrics, there isn't any groupthink going on. Although I don't wade too deeply into the HoF discussions, I like the fact that everyone has a slightly different idea of who should be in.

News And Notes

Some news and notes regarding the Yankees:
  • Eric Hinske has signed with the Braves. Hinske was a nice mid-season pick up for the Yankees last year and a useful bench piece. While some have expressed concern over the state of the Yankee bench at present, let's not forget that two of last year's most useful bench pieces - Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr - were mid-season pick ups. With the talent level in the Yankees everyday line up, it's hard to attract good veteran bench players. The Yankees also have a need to keep some roster flexibility with their bench and they can't easily do that with an optionless player like Hinske. Juan Miranda may offer similar offensive value and the team has to be willing to allocate a spot to Rule 5 pick up Jamie Hoffman or risk losing him back to the Dodgers.
  • The Braves have a need for pop in the outfield corners, a need for insurance behind Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus at the infield corners, and a need for a good pinch hitter as an NL club. Hinske makes a lot of sense for them and he stands to get 350 AB or so. Plus, he gets a Major League deal from them where the Yankees likely would have pushed for a minor league one.
  • Meanwhile, with Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, and Mike Cameron signed, and the Braves likely at their budget, Johnny Damon is virtually painted into a corner. Lucky for him, his agent is just now "in the process of turning his attention" to Damon. I'm sure Johnny's happy about that. If you take Brian Cashman's recent comments to Pete Caldera and Chad Jennings at face value, there's virtually no chance returns to the Yankees. But I don't see a better match out there. Just last night perpetual Boras mouthpiece Jon Heyman suggested Damon could return to the Yankees on their terms. While I wouldn't rule it out, I'm not sure whether the latest report is Heyman leaking Boras speak or Heyman just throwing shit at the wall. You never can tell.
  • One thing to keep in mind about the Damon situation is that a $6M salary would represent a more than 50% paycut for him. On multiple occasions this year Brian Cashman has speculated that players who take a paycut are less inclined to do so for their former employer. It worked with Andy Pettitte last year, but Pettitte's a unique case, had an incentive laden deal, and was still semi-vocal about his displeasure. Given some of the accusations hurled at Damon in The Yankee Years, I wonder if the Yankees have particular concerns about Damon's demeanor should return to the Yankees at a greatly reduced pay rate.
  • Sergio Mitre and the Yankees agreed on a deal yesterday, avoiding arbitration. Jerry Crasnick reports it's an $850K base salary with incentives.
  • The Yankees announced yesterday that entire coaching staff will return in 2010. No real surprise there, but outside of Joe Girardi and Kevin Long, everyone's contract expired at the conclusion of last year.

A Look At The HoF Voting Results

Good morning Fackers. Yesterday we took a cursory look at the Hall of Fame voting results, noting Andre Dawson's election and the tantalizing near misses of Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar. The entire ballot spanned twenty six players who met the eligibility criteria. Here are some thoughts on those who weren't as lucky as The Hawk.

Byleven (74.2%) - He's a vitrual lock for next year after coming so close this year and seeing an 11.5% jump over last year. He has two more years of eligibility left and the next two classes aren't particularly strong.

Alomar (73.7%) - I'm not a big believer in drawing distinctions between a Hall of Famer and First Ballot Hall of Famer. Even so, I think Alomar's standing relative to the other men who have played his position make him worthy of first ballot induction. Obviously it will have to wait until next year. If waiting a year is Alomar's penance for the Hirschbeck spitting incident then so be it. I realize there are players in the Hall who have done worse, but waiting a year is a small price to pay for what's one of baseball's more despicable moments.

Jack Morris (52.3%) - Morris vs. Blyleven seems to be the next frontier of the old school vs. new school debate. Morris saw an 8.3% jump over last year, the second biggest gainer outside of Blyleven. He still ranks behind where Blyleven was in his 11th year of eligibility. It'll be interesting to see where this one goes in the year's to come. Does anyone remember when Morris nearly joined the '96 Yankees?

Barry Larkin (51.6%) - Larkin deserves enshrinement, but he clearly has a ways to go in the eyes of the voters. Still, it's encouraging to see him start out at 51.6%. For comparisons sake, Alan Trammell, a similar if inferior comparison, garnered just 15.7% of the vote in his first year of eligibility.

Lee Smith (47.3%) - Smith is the highest ranking former Yankee on the ballot. His continued languishing in the sub fifty percent range makes me wonder if the BBWAA is smarter than we give them credit for being. At the time of his retirement, Smith was the all-time leader in saves. He hasn't thrown a pitch in a dozen years, yet he's been passed only by Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. Normally, that's the sort of thing the writers would eat up: "This guy's the all-time saves leader, he's got to be a Hall of Famer!". Instead, Smith remains far from enshrinement, as he should. I'm just not sure it's because the writers realize the save is a relatively meaningless statistic. More likely, I think Smith serves as an example that the writer's aren't quite sure how to evaluate "closers". The relievers in the Hall - Wilhelm, Fingers, Sutter, Gossage - were "firemen", routinely accumulating 100+ IP per season. Smith accumulated 100 relief IP just twice, in his first two full seasons as a reliever. Smith was at the leading edge of the game-wide transition from firemen to closers. Dennis Eckersley is the only closer in the Hall, and Smith lacks both Eckersley's utter dominance as a closer as well as his years as a successful starter. Smith has seven more ballots for the writers to figure it out.

Edgar Martinez (36.2%) - If the voters don't know what to make of closers, then they have absolutely no idea what to do with designated hitters. The DH has been in existence for 37 seasons now, and it has evolved significantly in that time. What started as place to play the best bench player evolved as a spot to hide defensive liabilities, or to prolong the career of aging veterans, or to protect the health of those too fragile to handle the wear and tear of daily defense. While HoFers like Eddie Murray, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, and Dawson all spent significant time at DH, Martinez is an interesting case in that he's the first worthy candidate to have spent nearly his entire career as a DH. Offensively he has HoF numbers, and I think he's worthy of induction. I'll be interested to see how his candidacy is evaluated over the next several years.

Tim Raines (30.4%) - Far and away the gravest injustice in my opinion. Raines is worthy of his own post, and I hope to have that before the week is out.

Mark McGwire (23.7%) - After taking a slight dip in his percentage last year, McGwire's number returns to where it was in both of his first two years of eligibility - a long, long, long way from induction. Like Smith and Martinez, McGwire is an interesting test case. McGwire is probably the best pure power hitter in baseball history not named Babe Ruth (1st all time in AB/HR, 2nd all time in IsoP), but the problem is that he wasn't all that pure after all. I'm not sure yet how PED users should be judged, but McGwire's four years on the ballot don't bode well for Rafael Palmeiro next year or for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in 2013.

Alan Trammell (22.4%) - This was Trammell's ninth year on the ballot and his best showing yet. He's still so far off that it's unlikely he'll ever be elected. As a shortstop, Trammell is Hall of Famer. He's comparable, if slightly inferior, to contemporaries and Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr, Robin Yount, and Ozzie Smith. I think the problem for Trammell is that he was overshadowed by those three for most of his career, and in the years since the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, and Hanley Ramirez have completely changed the concept of what a shortstop could do. Had Trammell begun his career 20 or 30 years earlier he'd likely already be in Cooperstown. At this point the Veterans' Committee looks like his best bet.

Fred McGriff (21.5%) - One of the worst trades the Yankees ever made. McGriff was a great player for a long time. But as a first baseman, his numbers don't really separate him from his contemporaries. It doesn't appear that another 7 HR to get to 500 would have made the difference for him either.

Don Mattingly (16.1%) - This is the best showing for our beloved Donnie Baseball since his second year on the ballot back in 2002. But it's still well off from his career best of 28.2%. As much as we'd all like to see it, Mattingly's not going to the Hall nor should he - his career nose dived way too soon. But I hope he continues to get the requisite 5% to stay on the ballot until his 15 years run out.

Dave Parker (15.2%) - The induction of borderline guys Jim Rice and Andre Dawson in back-to-back years lends itself to slippery-slope style arguments. I don't think The Cobra was as good as either one of those guys, but he wasn't off by too much.

Dale Murphy (11.7%) - Much like Mattingly, Murphy went from amongst the best in baseball to done seemingly overnight. Murphy was a contemporary of Dawson, and like Dawson is considered and all-around class act and good guy. The two make for an interesting comparison. Dawson had a longer and better career, and voters seem to favor players who decline gradually, like Dawson, to players who fall off a cliff, like Murphy. But if you look at their primes, Murphy was arguably the better player. And if you look at their peaks, Murphy was clearly the better player.

Harold Baines (6.1%) - The last player that will still be on next year's ballot. With the arrival of Edgar Martinez, Baines is no longer the best DH eligible for enshrinement.

Andres Galarraga (4.1%) - I'm surprised he didn't get the 5% necessary to stay on the ballot. Certainly not a HoFer, but a pretty good player during a rather lengthy career. I wonder if Galarraga dropping off after one year gives any insight as to how the voters will view the Coors Field effect. It'll be interesting to keep in mind as Larry Walker becomes eligibile next year and Todd Helton no fewer than six years from now. At 43 years old and stuck on 398 career HRs, Galarraga signed a minor league deal with the Angels in 2004. He spent a month in AAA and was given a token September call up. In the 160th game of the season, Galarraga pinch hit in the ninth inning of a game the Angels led 9-0. He homered to get to 399, and celebrated waaaaay too much for a player of his stature, particularly considering he was just hanging on to pad his numbers and had just hit a meaningless home run in garbage time of a late season game. I remember seeing the highlight and thinking it was a little below him. The again, Galarraga lost a season to lymphoma during the most productive stretch of his career and had suffered a relapse earlier that same year that may have cost him additional service time, so maybe I'm just a jerk for begrudging him a little celebration.

Robin Ventura (1.3%) - The second lowest ranking former Yankee on the ballot (Todd Zeile didn't get a single vote). In 1999, Nolan Ryan received 98.79% of the vote, the second highest percentage of all time. He was six votes short of being the only unanimous selection in history. Perhaps he'll beat Ventura up again, steal his seven votes, and add them to his own total to give him 100.2% of the vote.

Michael "Mike" Jackson (0.0%) - Listed only to give me an excuse to link to this. It probably wasn't particularly funny then; now it's neither funny nor timely.