Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shaq in Cleveland
Sometime in the mid 1990s, when Shaquille O'Neal was ripping up the league, I could only watch, never once thinking the big-market man would find his way to the lakefront.

LeBron James has destroyed the rules, and made it possible for a guy like Shaq to come to Cleveland.

Shaq is older, but he's still capable of greatness. He averaged about 18 points last season and played more than 70 games. The Cavs need someone who can take command of the attention, someone who can make make LeBron a large piece of the the puzzle, not the whole thing.

Shaq will be motivated. He wants one more title and a new contract. If he does what he can, he can get both.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Wanda Sykes
She does a commercial complaining about someone saying "that's so gay."

"That's insulting," she says.

Of course, in front of the President of the United States, Sykes says she hopes Rush Limbaugh's kidneys fail.

Be sensitive. Selectively.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Not the answer? Of course not.
The Indians are 14 games under .500 going into Sunday's game with the Reds. The Tribe traded one of their best players, utility-man Mark DeRosa, to the Cardinals Saturday night.

The hopes of contending, which I'd pretty much released after the season's first week, have finally been let go by the Indians front office.

I'd like to say there could be more deals coming, but really, the Indians don't have anyone else other teams would be able to trade for.

Some veterans (Carl Pavano) aren't good enough. Others (Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez) too costly.

No, at this point the only major move the Indians have left to make involves manager Eric Wedge. There was a time Thursday night that I really thought it would happen. I called Joel Hammond and predicted Wedge would get be dismissed before the Reds' series.

But you have to say one thing about this organization: It is stubborn.

Some columnists -- like myself -- have called for Wedge's firing. Others, like the ABJ's Sheldon Ocker (who knows more than me)says firing Wedge is not the answer.
Ocker is right, but there's another point to be made: Firing the coach is rarely the answer. What it represents is a chance.

In my lifetime, the only time a new manager was presented as an "answer" was Charlie Manuel. Manuel, as it turned out, was the answer -- for Philadelphia. When the Indians fired Manuel in 2002, they replaced him with Joel Skinner, knowing full-well he wasn't going to turn the team around.

Doc Edwards, John Hart and even Mike Hargrove weren't answers. No one thought they'd turn the Indians around. But they were brought in because it was obvious the team had gone as far as it could go under the current manager, and a change needed to be made.

The 2009 version of the Indians is bad. Al Lopez couldn't turn this bunch into winners, but that's not the point. There are more than three months left in the season. If Wedge is to be fired, then the move needs to be made sooner rather than later. If not, the the ownership needs to hold a press conference and say Wedge is its man for 2010.

Without that, Wedge is a lame duck manager, and the remaining months of this season will not just be hard to watch, they will be boring.

It's not about answers. It's about chances.

I think it's time for the Indians to take one.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Finally accepting (and embracing) being a nerd
In middle school, it was every student's nightmare.

The three year bridge between elementary school and high school is for most people the hardest in an educational career. Kids are mean to each other for no reason. The slightest blemish -- physical or emotional -- can make you a target of bullies.

I still remember the first time I was called a nerd. I still had the size of an elementary school student while everyone around me seemed to be getting bigger. I also wore glasses and was pushed around.

But when the bully called me a nerd, I was hurt. I had seen Saved By The Bell and its characterization of those types. I didn't want to be my class's Screech Powers or Max Nerdstrom.

I fought the label, but with little success. I was always smaller than the other kids, and was prone to speaking my mind instead of conforming to what the jocks were into.

High school was much better, as students grew out of whatever issues they had and found little groups to hang out in.

I was in choir, on the school TV station, and was still barely 5-foot-five in my sophomore year. But I got along with most kids in my class.

Still, the label was hanging out there. I remember a good friend of mine making a comment like, "You do have to admit, you do have some nerd-like qualities."

Looking back, I probably wouldn't have parted with those qualities if given an opportunity. I'd never want to give up my ability to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail word-for-word (with, I might add, good vocal impersonations tossed in). I'd never want to give up my Mystery Science Theater DVDS, or my Steve Winwood Back in the High Life CD.

What is the benefit of pretending to like hip-hop music over old-school country or the occasional Journey song?

And what was the point of using the word "like" all the time to fit in?

My best friend and I spent a half hour Friday night playing a game where we listed every Cleveland Indian we could think of. The only rule was you couldn't repeat a name.

I threw out names like Scott Bailes, Oscar Gamble and Ray Chapman. My friend countered with Bob Feller, Steve Craft and Candy Maldanado.

Pretty sweet game if you ask me.

When describing the game to my family, my brother implied that I was a nerd.

My mother jumped to my defense. I cut her off.

"Trust me," I told her, "I'm a nerd."

After 17 years, I finally have realized that being a nerd isn't all that bad. Movies like Superbad, Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin and the TV show Chuck even celebrate it.

Perhaps, as said by a character on Chuck, the 21st Century does belong to the geek.

My time has come.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Wedge's future
It's probably time to address this one straight on, since it's the first time I can recall Eric Wedge's job security being brought up so frequently in published reports.

Wedge was hired as Indians manager about a month after the end of the 2002 season. There has been success (2005, 2007), but more failures in his tenure (those are his only winning seasons in seven.

The first two losing seasons aren't really Wedge's fault. The Indians were in serious rebuilding mode in 2003-2004, and truthfully, his team overachieved in 2005 by a long shot.

The main problem with Wedge's teams is that when faced with the burden of expectations, the team struggles to answer. In 2006, 2008 and 2009, the Tribe was expected to contend, but has not. One of the culprits has been the slow start, something of a trademark of the Wedge era.

Before this season, Wedge seemed to be an "every other year" manager. The team was strong in 2005 and 2007, inconsistent at best in '06 and '09.

After the bullpen's monumental collapse Friday (actually, you could pretty much write in any day of the past week from Monday on and it'd still be accurate), Wedge's team is 11 games under .500 with about 100 left to play.

Members of the organization have pointed to how weak the American League Central is, as if it's reason for hope. Here's how I look at it. It's June, and the number of games back isn't important. How you're playing is. Do people really believe the Indians can win the division with a record of .500 or worse?

I doubt even the Indians believe this. They know what they have. The problem is a white flag in June could hurt attendance (I'm not sure. The fans know the team is sub-par, so it's not like they'll show up in large numbers).

But getting back to the starting point: Wedge's future.

In my mind, no good can come from firing the manager in season. With a few exceptions (the Yankees of 1978 and the Astros of 2004 come to mind) changing managers usually doesn't dramatically alter results. Besides, it's not like the Indians have a ready-manager in the wings.

Beyond this season, I think the argument for keeping Wedge gets weaker. Yes, there have been injuries. Yes, he's not the one responsible for throwing guys like Rod Nichols and Derek Lilliquist -- err, wrong decade, hold on .... OK-- Louis Vizcaino and Matt Herges out there. It's all he has.

But it should always be about results. Most coaches or managers won't survive just two winning seasons over seven. Even the years of success are somewhat tainted. In 2005, the Indians choked away a playoff spot in the last week of the season. In 2007, the Tribe was up 3 games to 1 on the Red Sox in the ALCS, and lost three games in a row -- none close.

The only way I think Wedge can (or should) keep his job beyond this year is if he can get the team above .500 by the end of the season. That will be hard, especially if the team unloads veterans like Mark DeRosa for prospects.

Still, Wedge probably has a sympathetic ear in general manager Mark Shapiro. The problem is that Shapiro will have his own answering to do, and not just about his manager's performance.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mel Hall sentenced to 45 years
I have a pair of memories of Mel Hall from my youth. When I started following the Indians in the mid-to-late 1980s, Hall was one of the Tribe's regulars.

He was a solid hitter, but not too much else. When I was young, I read that Hall was a target of the Yankees in a trade. Problem was, the Yanks weren't sure who they'd give up to get him.

I wrote a letter which I intended to send to Hall (I don't think I ever sent it).

"Dear Mel Hall-

Please tell the Indians not to trade you unless they will get something back-


You could tell with insight like that I'd be a sports writer.

Anyway, the other memory of Hall came when my family was in south Florida. It was the spring of 1989, and the Yankees were playing the Orioles at the (then new) Joe Robbie Stadium in an exhibition game. My family went, and I was pulling (naturally) for the Orioles.

But Hall (just traded to the Yankees the previous winter) hit a 3-run homer, almost to spite the wishes of his former fans.

Usually when I write like this, there's a tag at the end. These were the main memories I had of Hall, honestly, they were positive ones.

But any mention of Hall now will be incomplete without mention of his 45-year prison sentence for raping a 12-year old girl.

It's a sad end for what may be a very sick man.

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Letterman apology
Good for him. Hopefully this closes the matter.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The year was 2003. Baseball began a ridiculously weak steroid testing policy. The tests were not random; the results were supposed to be anonymous.

The tests were essentially useless. If more than five percent of the players tested positive, an equally weak policy would kick in the next year.

It was pathetic. But now the sport is paying the price.

Alex Rodriguez tested positive. So, apparently, did Sammy Sosa.

No need to re-hash Sosa's career. He was the smiling Cubs' outfielder who hit homers like crazy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Of course, once baseball was called out for its ridiculous steroid problem, Sosa ended up before Congress and said he didn't speak english well.

So no one should act shocked -- or even that disappointed -- that Sosa cheated. Almost everyone did, apparently. Of the most prolific sluggers from that era, only a pair -- Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas -- have remained unscathed.

Yet even with the news today, baseball still is covering itself. Cubs' manager Lou Piniella said he didn't want to talk about the past -- have we heard that before? Reds' manager Dusty Baker didn't sound all that surprised, though he seemed frustrated he had to answer questions about the issue again. Commissioner Bud Selig said he'd have no comment, then rambled on about the topic with the same old stuff he's been saying on the issue for more than a decade.

Sosa is no surprise. There are no surprises anymore.

But the leaders of MLB still don't seem to get it. They think a strong testing policy now (which still is somewhat in question) answers for the sins of the past. It's a step in the right direction. But more than a decade of betrayal isn't undone by testing. It's undone by new leadership.

When a scandal breaks, the best way to deal with it is to clean up the those the industry. You can't do that with the same people who were there when the problem existed.

Selig still is in power. So is Players Union head Don Fehr.

Until the power is changed, the sport cannot be trusted to police itself.


Friday, June 12, 2009

The five best moves of the Wedge-Shapiro era
Fair and balanced, right?

As a side note, I started writing about the Bartolo Colon trade, then remembered it happened in 2002, when Charlie Manuel was still managing.

1. Eduardo Perez to Seattle for Asdrubal Cabrera.
This is an outright steal. Perez was hitting really well for the Indians, but he was only a few months from the broadcast booth. Cabrera is turning into a star. He already helped the Indians reach the postseason in 2007, and after a disappointing 2008 was on a tear this season.

He's strong defensively at second and short. Here's hoping he stays at short, and in the leadoff spot, once he returns from the DL.

2. Trading Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese to the Rangers for Travis Hafner.
Hafner was probably the biggest reason the Indians improved every year from 2003-2005. He was as dangerous a hitter as their was in the league from 2004-2006. And the Tribe gave up nothing to get him.

3. Signing Casey Blake in 2003.
He wasn't great (or even good) all of the time. The Indians and the media overrated him and pushed him as a star when he was not. I ripped on him with a joy I usually save for politicians or Steelers.

But here's the truth: Blake was nothing when the Indians signed him, and he occupied a spot in the lineup for six years. By 2006, Blake had turned himself into a very good player who did everything asked of him. By 2007, he was a leader on a championship team, who even came up with some big clutch hits down the stretch.

Yeah, he hit into a double play and had a key error in the seventh game of the 2007 ALCS. But no one could have imagined the Indians would have gotten that much out of him when he arrived in 2003. Beyond that, he even netted the Indians some prospects in a deal last July.

4. Signing Kevin Millwood in 2005.
He went only 9-11. But he started 30 games and had a league-best 2.86 earned run average. All from a a one-year incentive-laden deal. He was a big reason the Indians won 93 games that year.

5. Ben Broussard for Shin Soo Choo in 2006.
You'd think the Mariners would just stop trading with Shapiro by now. Amazingly, they did again this winter. The deal involved the Mets. All I remember about it is that it involved Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena and the Indians gave up Franklin Gutierrez.

Of course, Broussard was just decent for the Indians, but Choo has been much better than that. Despite injuries and possible military service in the future, Choo has become a very solid hitter. Right now he has eight homers and 39 RBIs in 61 games. A very good deal.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Letterman's insult
David Letterman's tasteless jokes about Sarah Palin actually have been going on since she became this country's most prominent conservative woman.

The insults to her were so mean that the place I work at agreed to stop watching him and shift to Jay Leno at 11:30 p.m.

"Why did we wait so long?" my co-worker asked.

This time, though, Letterman went so far that even responsible liberals are taking him to task. He made a joke that involved Palin's daughter getting "knocked up" by Alex Rodriguez.

Of course, Palin's daughter, the one that was traveling with her to New York, is 14. Letterman later said he meant to insult Palin's 18-year old daughter. Wow. That makes it so much better.

Conservative women have always frightened members of the left. Margaret Thatcher was ridiculed for years because some thought she wasn't feminine enough. Palin is attractive, so she must be a bimbo.

Playboy took the issues past all barriers of taste, creating a "hate-f***" list of women who were conservative.

In a different way, Hillary Clinton has dealt with the same kind of sexism. There are plenty of reasons not to like her, and I don't. But some of the criticism she has dealt with in the past (many times from the right) is simply because she's a strong, independent woman.

Clinton took heat from the left, too, especially when she went up against President Obama in the Democratic primaries.

But people like Letterman seem to think that everything's a joke. He even had the nerve to invite Palin on his show.

There's no real sense of remorse here. Palin means ratings to him, and that's it.

Letterman is facing a backlash. Thank goodness.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Five worst moves of the Wedge/Shapiro era
Starting in 2003, Indians GM Mark Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge have often been hailed for some brilliant trades.

Certainly, there have been plenty of those. The Bartolo Colon deal ranks as one of the best in team history. Eduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera and Ben Broussard for Shin Soo Choo also stand out.

But as with any tandem,there have been some major misfires, on the field and off. Here are the top five worst moves from Wedge and Shapiro.

1. Trading Brandon Phillips to the Reds for Jeff Stevens.
Wedge and Phillips never clicked, and the surefire star turned into a 4-A player with the Indians. Still, it's hard to excuse Wedge's decision to take lifelong journeyman Ramon Vasquez over Phillips to fill out the team's roster.

Phillips was sent to Cincinnati for Stevens, who was a low minor leaguer at the time. Phillips responded to the trade by becoming perhaps the best all-around second baseman in the National League. In 2007, Phillips slammed 30 homers, drove in 94 runs and stole 32 bases.

In 2008 he missed more than 20 games, but still hit 21 homers and stole 23 bases.

Imagining him in an Indians uniform, even just in 2007, is enough to make one drool.

Stevens did OK in the Indians system, but was dealt to the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa deal.

The Phillips situation also stains the Colon deal a bit. The Indians got three stars in the deal (Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee being the others who came from the Expos in 2002), but gave one away.

2. Signing Travis Hafner to 4-year, $57 million contract
From 2004-2006, Hafner was as good a hitter as there was in baseball.

He was also injury prone, missing significant parts of each season, even though his numbers at the time hardly reflect that.

In 2006, Hafner hit 42 homers and drove in 117 runs for the Indians. But he played only 129 games, and in 2007, something seemed off. The MLB.com article that announced his signing (on July 12, 2007) even made mention of it:

After becoming just the second Indians player in history (Jim Thome being the other) to hit 40 homers, draw 100 walks, score 100 runs and drive in 100 runs in a single season in 2006, Hafner hasn't been the same hitter this season. He entered the break batting .262 with 11 doubles and 14 homers, though he does rank 11th in the American League with 57 RBIs and first in walks with 65.

Most blamed the stress of the deal as the reason for Hafner's somewhat average play. Problem was, once the ink was dry, he failed to regain his past form.

The numbers in 2007 weren't bad. Hafner hit 24 homers and knocked in 100 runs. Hafner actually managed to play 152 games that season, but it goes down as the first sign something was wrong with Pronk.

In 2008, Hafner looked like a shell of himself. Because of injuries, he played just 57 games, and when he did play, well, it wasn't pretty. Five homers, a .197 batting average.

Hafner's shoulder has been the culprit for most of his problems, and it acted up again this season. As of today, the returning Hafner has played just 19 games.

So now, the Indians are stuck with a 32-year old power hitter who gets injured and can't play the field. Because of his contract, and the fact that he's almost always hurt, the Indians have practically nowhere to move him. Even if he were playing well, the Indians still wouldn't be able to trade him to more than half the teams in the league. National League clubs don't have much need for a DH.

3. Signing David Dellucci, and then sticking with him.
On Dec. 6, 2006, the Indians gave David Dellucci a contract that promised him more than $11 million over three years. One hundred years from now, historians will still be trying to figure out why.

In 2005, Dellucci hit 29 homers for the Rangers. But that was in Texas, where home runs are like summer afternoon thunderstorms.

The Indians gave Dellucci the deal after a year in which he hit 13 homers. But the Tribe already had plenty of younger, faster players ready to assume the spot. They even signed another slow left-handed hitter -- Trot Nixon.

Already 33, it was difficult to see what role Dellucci would play on the Indians.

The answer was simple enough: None.

Dellucci was only hitting .230 with four homers when an injury effectively ended his 2007 season. By the time he came back in 2008, he still failed to wow anyone, hitting .238 with 11 homers. He did, however, play 113 games, taking away at-bats from Ben Francisco, Choo and others.

Everyone figured the Tribe would be smart enough to cut Dellucci in Spring Training. They weren't, and Indians fans had to watch Dellucci play in 14 more games, never hitting a home run. He was injured before the season even started, but did go on a rehab assignment. One wonders what Josh Barfield might do with these unlimited opportunities.

We know what Dellucci did, and the Indians cut him in late May.

4. Firing bullpen coach Louis Isaac after 44 years with the organization
Maybe there's more to this story than has been told. Maybe Eric Wedge and Mark Shapiro had a very good reason to fire him. We don't, we can't, know everything that goes on behind closed doors.

But on the surface, Wedge and Shapiro look awfully cold for this move, and it makes me cringe every time I hear one of them blather about "playing the game the right way."

The PD's Bill Livingston summed it up well here.

5. Mike Rouse.
What exactly did Mike Rouse have on Eric Wedge that allowed him to be the utility infielder for the Indians for much of 2007?

Rouse played eight games for the Athletics in 2006, and the Indians picked him up. He made the team, then produced one of the most awful offensive seasons in big-league history.

Rouse, who admittedly, didn't play much, did see action in 41 games and got 76 at-bats. He had eight hits, all but one a single. That's a .119 average. It might have made sense had he been the second coming of Dave Concepcion, but he wasn't.

He made one error, but it was a big one, almost costing the Indians a game in Texas, He was finally designated for assignment on August 6, 2007.

The Indians picked up the much better Chris Gomez and won the AL Central.

But Rouse's presence for much of that season remains one of the great mysteries in Indians' history.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Rush to judgement
I don't like Rush Limbaugh. Never have. Even as I've drifted more and more to the right in this country's political spectrum, I always avoided his show.

This had little to do with anything more than the fact that I hate loud talkers. I found Limbaugh's voice to be annoying -- it often obscured whatever point he was trying to make.

When Limbaugh was put on ESPN in 2003, I didn't think it would work. Like most people put on TV to be controversial, Limbaugh said something perceived as racist and was gone from the show.

Since then, I have probably heard less than 10 minutes of his show.

But I make no bones about my conservatism, and because of that, Limbaugh always comes up, and I'm expected to defend him.

I agreed with Republican chairman Michael Steele: Limbaugh is an entertainer. His primary interest is his ratings. He's great at what he's trying to do. But Rush is smart enough not to run for office.

I make this point because twice in the last two days, when I've been critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who, for the record, I believe is a clown who should never have advanced past county government), I've gotten the "well, look at Rush Limbaugh" response.

Limbaugh has become more important to liberals than he has to conservatives. For the past eight years, liberals had the most powerful person in the world to unite around in distaste.

But George W. Bush's term ended. Someone had to fill the void.

Sarah Palin has to govern in Alaska, which few people on the mainland care about. Senator John McCain is nearing the end of a remarkable career, but his ability to rile up opponents ended in November.

So they go to what works.

Limbaugh is popular with his base. He's loud. He's controversial. And unlike most politicians, he will not back down from an argument, no matter how unpopular it is.

He's perfect for liberals who need someone to be mad at.

If Limbaugh didn't exist, liberals would have to create him.

But here's my point: Limbaugh, like John Stewart, entertains first. He doesn't hold an office.

Pelosi holds one of the most important positions in this country. It's not a fair comparison.

People say Limbaugh's crucial because people take positions based on his opinions. Well, what about Stewart? Lord knows how many college students get news from The Daily Show,with its comedy umbrella ready to pop up against any storm.

Most people who tell me how much they hate Limbaugh have never listened to him. Hey, I think Keith Olbermann is annoying (I see him on NBC football broadcasts), but I can't say too much -- I never watch his show.

I don't want to do the "I'm not a crazy conservative -- look, I hate Limbaugh!" bit that I've seen so many do. I'm just saying that the man does not represent anything but himself.

Those who try to make him more may very well be pushing agendas that are anything but conservative.

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