Kris Liakos: September 2009 Archives

Oktoberfest Party Boy #4: The Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim

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The original Oktoberfest in 1810 celebrated the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and featured a big horse race. This year, baseball's Oktoberfest celebrates the eight teams that were skilled enough to keep playing deep into October and, if they're lucky, finish the year with a trophy, a platter of sausages, and an imperial pint of Hofbräu. Next up, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as penned by Kris Liakos.

You mighta read Ol' Robbie lamenting the fact that we don't know any Angels fans. It's true. I've been to about a dozen games at the Big A, and have always found the company of Angels fans to be pleasant. They're a knowledgeable sort, not easily risible and proud of their team through most ups and downs. They seem to be developing a bit of a complex regarding the Red Sox, my favored squad, but when I was out there last summer for a Sox/Angels series, everyone was gracious and still had a good sense of humor. More than I can say for myself or John Lackey, last fall.

But to know enough about the team to provide you with a useful playoff preview I decided I needed to go one of the aforementioned knowledgeable Angels followers. Unfortunately I found this Bill Dwyre column from the LA Times instead. But what the hell, it's late and no one else is gonna write this thing. We'll use Bill's bullet points about "what the Red Sox will come to town and face." To wit:

    A smiling, articulate leader in center fielder Torii Hunter, whose glass is always half full and whose bat can hit for average and power.

It's true, Torii is one of the nicer players I've had the pleasure of meeting and everyone in America loves him. Sure he's having a nice season, but I never though opposing teams would have to account for his smiley optimism come crunch time. I have so much to learn.

    An at-bat artist in right fielder Bobby Abreu, who also hits for average and power, but does neither until he has worn out the opposing pitcher while awaiting the exact pitch he wants. Abreu at the plate is like your wife, picking out carpet color for your living room.

Speaking of carpets it's pretty clear that Dwyre wrote this column after huffing some Scotch Guard. I have no idea what that last sentence means. It's true that Abreu is having a solid season, especially for his bargain basement one year deal. He's posting a higher OBP than he did in either of two full seasons with the Yankees, but Dwyre's "making the pitcher work" theory is kind of stale. His MLB rank in pitches per plate appearance is slipping. Assuming he gets plenty of time off now that the Angels have clinched, he'll also tally the fewest Total Bases of his career.

    A first baseman in Kendry Morales, who has hit so well, and with such power, that he has Angels fans struggling to remember that Teixeira guy.

Psst... Bill. Mark Teixeira is the guy that's going to finish 2nd in the MVP voting. Still, Dwyre is correct if he's trying to say that the falloff in production at 1B after the loss of Teixeira is much much smaller than anyone was expecting during the offseason.

    A legendary power hitter in Vlad Guerrero, who is not listening to those who say he is in the twilight of a long and distinguished career.

He can ignore it all he wants but that doesn't make any less true. I tried that with the restraining order my ex filed against me. I DON'T RECOMMEND IT, VLAD.

    A reserve outfielder in Gary Matthews Jr., who has a big contract and a desire to be a regular again, to the point where he will most likely depart the Angels after the season, but who has gone out of his way to not poison a clubhouse with his personal unhappiness in the midst of a successful season.

Well that's gotta be the weirdest compliment I've ever read. The displeasure he expressed all the way back in spring never really reared its head in the clubhouse, and both times I was around the team this season he was quiet, but didn't seem particularly angry or distant from his teammates. So chin up Gary, someone is real proud of you for acting like an adult!

It will be interesting to say how much, if any, playing time Matthews gets in the playoffs. For the money they're paying him it would be nice if he could contribute some pop in even just a pinch hit situation, but with only 4 HRs this season in 302 ABs, his name won't exactly be jumping off the lineup card at Mike Scioscia.

    And a starting pitching rotation of John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana that gives (Mike) Scioscia all the choices a manager could ask for when creating bullpen tactics for a playoff series.

Bullpen tactics, eh? With the 11th ranked bullpen ERA in the AL, the 11th ranked LOB% in the AL, and what is likely going to be the worst relief crew in the playoffs, his best bullpen tactic might be to have those 5 starters throw as many pitches as humanly possible.

Besides all of this I'm curious to see, and Dwyre doesn't mention this, is whether or not memories of last year's epic failed squeeze play will be fresh in Scioscia's mind and affect any of the decisions he makes this year. If you were to ask him that in a press conference you'd probably get socked in the nose before a litany of "that was last year" lines came from the Coach, but still it's something I wonder about.

But by all means, go forth to the playoffs intrepid Angels fans. If you weren't playing the Red Sox I'd probably be pulling for you a little. If you pull off what will be an upset regardless of regular season records, I'll go out of my way to not poison the atmosphere in my apartment. It's the least I can do.

Omar Vizquel Is An Excellent Storyteller - 1995

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This week Classic TV Friday brings us back to 1995. Cleveland was apparently throwing a parade for the Indians losing the World Series. Any excuse to build a float, I guess. This gem of a story comes from excellent painter and maybe future HOFer Omar Vizquel. It chronicles one of his shopping adventures in Atlanta, and judging by the shirt he has on in the video, dude had a flair for flair back in the mid nineties.

Omar is a WoW favorite and this one is an instant classic. Please to enjoy.

How In The Hell Does Eric Wedge Still Have A Job?

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Much much earlier in this season (back when I was still writing about baseball) I made my second annual predictions about which managers would be fired during the season. I missed Clint Hurdle, like I think many of us did, but with Cecil Cooper getting the axe this week, 3 out of my 4 tomato cans have gone down. Which begs the question: Why haven't the 61-90 Cleveland Indians made Eric Wedge one of our nation's myriad unemployed?

Mired in a ten game losing streak, Cleveland management can't argue it's too late in the season. Cooper got his walking papers two days ago. And the current issue losing streak isn't even the issue. They haven't been closer than ten games out in the division since June. And they were lousy last year! But Wedge is seemingly immune to any of it. In this Cleveland Plain Dealer blog post by Starting Blocks (that can't be his real name) we hear that wins and losses should actually have nothing to do with whether Wedge keeps his job.

The few wins in the last several weeks have been inconsequential, and the many recent losses mostly impact what the record books will show for the 2009 Cleveland Indians.

A decision, for instance, on the managerial future of Eric Wedge shouldn't hinge on whether the Indians lose 20 or lose 25 of their last 30 games. It's been all about the young guys learning how to play in the big leagues.

I'm not totally sure what Mr. Blocks means by this, but I think it's that since Wedge and the Indians are so far out of contention they play lots of youngsters, so wins and losses aren't Wedge's fault. That's the kind of logic that keeps you living in Cleveland.

What a lot of this boils down to is that, like in any "FIRE THAT BUM" story in baseball, is that only a share of the blame rests on the manager but someone has to be held accountable. In this case, with all the optimism and the decent amount of money spent by The Indians this winter once Wedge is gone, people are going to have to take a cold hard look at Mark Shapiro. Just like I've been since we started this site. And you know what happens then. He gets fired too. So if there's been any pressure from ownership to fire Wedge before this point, one would have to think that Shapiro has been standing in measured opposition trying to make his last couple house payments. And I think that may be the answer to this post title.

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The National Portrait gallery added a huge (60''x50'') painting of Tommy Lasorda yesterday, honoring the man the LA Times referred to as "perhaps baseball's most beloved goodwill ambassador." Now I like the guy, even if my partner may not, but as always happens when our lovable baseball curmudgeons transcent the sport and land on a national stage, there are some giggle inducing details and quotes.

The Lasorda painting, measuring 60 inches by 50 inches, was put on display next to Andy Warhol's portrait of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and across from Los Angeles artist Shepard Fairey's iconic image of President Obama.

"The intent of the collection is to be representative of people who uniquely shaped the American experience," said Mallory Walker, chairman of the National Portrait Gallery Commission.

Brandon Fortune, curator of painting and sculpture, added that the gallery looked to "collect figures that have resonance with today's audience . . . someone who is popular with millions of Americans."

This is where I was going to make a joke about his Slim Fast commercials' resonance with millions of fat Americans, but the shrill, dunderheaded Dodgers exec did it for me. Except she was serious!

"Tommy is larger than life," McCourt said. "Now, we're going to be reminded of it."

Noting that Lasorda's fame extended beyond baseball, McCourt recalled when she first met him, her reaction was: "It's the Slim-Fast guy."

I can't believe that woman has a major role with a first place team. Here's one more picture of the picture, showing the painting's place next to Warhol's famous Kennedy portrait.

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Lasorda revealed himself as a bit of a fatalist after the proceedings. When asked what was next for him, he said, "Heaven." Is Tommy planning something? Can we get a 24/7 watch on him in case he wants to do something drastic. TOMMY DONT GO YET YOU'RE TOO YOUNG!

My My Mike Scioscia Face My Mike Scioscia Face

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Hey now. Anyone see the fantastic back and forth contest in Boston last eve? Neither side could hold a lead and the tit (snicker) for tat was as exciting a game as I've seen this season.

The Sox engineered a come back in the bottom of the 9th. Exciting for this here fan... even though it NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

Brian Fuentes caught the terribly overmatched (by a 91 MPH fastball) Nick Green looking at a 3rd strike dead over the middle for the last strike... and the ump called it a ball.

Look at Mike Scioscia's face!

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Look at the Amica pitch zone! That giant white dot over the heart of the plate is the last pitch!

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Look at Mike Scioscia making the same face 10 seconds later!

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They wuz robbed. But I'll take it.

Jason Bay: The Walkoff Walk Interview

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I had the chance to speak with Jason Bay in the Red Sox clubhouse last night while reporting on something else, and after getting the quotes I needed I just had to ask him about the world famous Jason Bay Song (unfortunately no longer viewable) that we posted here last year. Talking to reporters that cover the Sox on a daily basis you often hear what a great interview Bay is. He'll engage with a reporter and give you more than boilerplate and cliche. Even so, I expected him to say that he hadn't heard the song and for that to be the end of it. But it wasn't! So of course, I sat down for more questions

Yes, I interviewed one of the best hitters in the league and all I asked him about was this stupid video. Please to enjoy!

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Kris Liakos: So I run a website called Walkoff Walk and last year we ran a video in which a young female fan had written and recorded a tribute to you set to the melody of "Yesterday." It's a total earworm and I hear it in my head every time an announcer says your name.

Jason Bay: Oh wow. I actually saw that.

KL: No way! That's when you were with the Pirates. It was a slow news day so I was just kicking around YouTube looking for baseball stuff and I found that and put it up on Walkoff Walk.

JB: Yeah, that's the site my wife found it on. She showed it to me. It was really... something.

KL: I know! She had another one about Brian Roberts and I saw that she got on TV with him and he was telling her how much he liked it. No one ever contacted you to do that?

JB: Nope. I was reading the comments on YouTube under the video and you could tell she was really really serious about it, though.

KL: Yeah, man. We tried to get her to write us a song about Corey Patterson because we're always talking about how we don't think he should be a leadoff hitter. She said she wasn't sure if she could do it or not but thanked us for listening.

JB: You can't just pull that stuff out of the air. She needed to be inspired. That stuff comes from inspiration.

KL: So true.

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Since 1996, the Angels are 78-63 against the Yankees. The opposite of a small sample size, this stat courtesy of the LA Times' Mike DiGiovanna is a way too large sample size. A stat that has no bearing on the teams currently. Sensing this in his article about a possible psychological advantage LA may hold over the Bombers, he gives us a more useful 32-17 in their last 49.

DiGiovanna posits that after being ousted by LA in 2002 and 2005, they'd rather face almost anyone else in the playoffs. So of course, the Angels players agree with this, right? No? Gasp!

Do the Angels have some kind of mental hold on the Yankees?

"No," third baseman Chone Figgins said. "They've slugged it out and beat us. It's always a battle against them, and we've had our share of success, but I don't think it's because we're in their heads.

"We run the bases aggressively and we put pressure on you, but because it's New York . . . that stuff doesn't show up in Kansas City and Seattle. It shows up more because it's New York, and you're not expected to have a good record against the Yankees."

Said Manager Mike Scioscia: "By no means have we dominated those guys. We've competed well against them, but they're tough."

I totally expected Torii Hunter to say "Of course we own those fools. They're all flakier than an almond croissant and are incapable of beating us." Baseball being a game of matchups™ and all, there is something to be said for a team having sustained success against another team... but not that much when it comes to the playoffs. The playoff format is a mandatory small sample size that throws head to head records out the window. Consider the Yankees starting this season 0-8 versus Boston before almost reversing course to go 7-1 over the next 8. What do those numbers tell you for the playoffs? Nothing.

But still I salute Mike DiGiovanna for trying to coax a possibly inflammatory comment out of Torii Hunter. That is, after all, part of his job. Just hope he wasn't expecting to unearth too much.

Michael Jordan's Minor League Bus - 1995

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Not only is today the eighth anniversary of Bob Dylan's "Love & Theft" it's also the day that Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of my lifetime, gets inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame here in Massachusetts.

In honor of that honor, today's Classic TV Friday brings us an old ESPN feature about the luxury bus that MJ bought for the team to travel in when he was playing for the Birmingham Barons in 1994. The video is a real hoot and I'm not sure what dates it more: the players swooning over the mini TVs now featured prominently on every Fung Wah Bus, or Barons manager Terry Francona with hair.

Please to enjoy, and congrats Michael.

Jim Riggleman Thinks Baseball Is For Pampered Fatties

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Good news, Lunchbox. Do you mind if I call you Lunchbox? Okay, good. You don't have to be a stud to be on a major league club. Namely, the Washington Nationals. As long as you don't whine about things like "fatigue" or "injuries" or "my fat hurts." See, INTERIM manager Jim Riggleman thinks baseball is wicked easy and if guys are tired it's because they're whiners. Anyone can play this game as long as they suck it up like so much fettucine alfredo.

The entirety of his comments is definitely worth reading, but I'll just pull out the highlights. Because we all know if you were willing to put any work into anything you wouldn't look like that. To wit, Slim Whitman:

"I never like to use that word 'fatigued' or 'tired,'' he said. "I think it gets way over used in baseball. We're not running up and down the court, we're not playing football with equipment on in 100 degree temperature. It's a baseball game; it's not a physically taxing sport.

You just go hard and some mental struggles take place because you're having some bad days or whatever; I use those to give a bench player some at bats, not because I think you're physically fatigued. That's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

My feeling is you ought to be ashamed of yourself if you get physically tired of playing baseball because it shouldn't be that physically taxing. I could point to Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, Jr. and I think they would be on my side in that argument, but I don't expect everybody to be like that. I think guys need off days so that the other players can also stay sharp, so I won't concede to the fatigue factor."

Obviously, I'm poking a little fun but Riggleman's comments sound like they have merit to me. With a starter on the field for a little over half a game and with no contact, baseball is relatively speaking, not very physically taxing. That is not to discount the strain of a 162 game season, but I'm apt to believe Riggleman when he says most of that is mental. No problem if it is... but it probably is.

Now, these also sound like the comments of a guy that will keeping that interim title. Players don't take too kindly to being told they have mental problems, and in an age where dealing with clubhouse personalities has become a manager's primary role, Riggleman isn't likey to have that many suitors. And his 543-682 record won't help either. COME ON DUDE MANAGING ISN'T THAT HARD.

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Oh yeah. It's 9/9/09, a good day for people like me who like to cross their eyes when they look at stuff. There are other people like that, right? Anyway, last year on 8/8/08 I paid tribute to Yogi, Yaz and Bo. It was one of my favorite pieces and it came out well because I had genuine affection for all three players.

This year we'll be paying tribute to one guy I love (Williams) one semi-tragic hero I find endlessly interesting, and one guy whose shining moment eclipses the rest of his Hall Of Fame career. So here are those 3 guys, back to front.

Bill Mazeroski: Last year was Yaz, this year it's Maz. One of the most impressive defensive infielders of his era, the 2001 Hall Of Fame inductee made 7 All-Star Teams and won 6 Gold Gloves. In 2163 GP he collected 2016 hits and was always a tough strikeout.

But it was the 1960 postseason in which he made his name. He slugged .640 in 7 playoff games that year including his Walkoff Ding Dong in game 7 against the Yankees, the first and only until Joe Carter did it again in 1992. It was one of two championships for Maz, who also played on the 1971 championship team with Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.

Roger Maris: Maris is another guy, who for better or worse is known primarily for one thing, his 61 Home Runs in 1961. It was a monumental achievement forever tainted by the fact that we have to listen to Billy Crystal talk about it. Most people know the story. Maris and Mantle are neck and neck in the home race all through the summer. Everyone is rooting for Mantle until he gets hurt and the stress of the spotlight causes Maris' hair to turn into a flattop.

The years have made it seem like nobody appreciated what Maris that year since the whole country was full of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle worshipers. Whatever the prevailing sentiment was at the time, Maris was still awarded the MVP, his second straight. It's hard to ignore 366 TB, no matter how you feel about a guy.

While he would never again reach those lofty heights, the rest of Maris' career, both in New York and St. Louis, was respectable. Although to me his subsequent home run dropoff screams STEROIDS. Look at those numbers! His head grew! Maris retired to Gainesville (bad) where he ran a beer distributorship (good) until he passed away in 1985.

Ted WIlliams: There is absolutely nothing I can say about Ted Williams that could contribute to the conversation about him in any meaningful way. Aside from Ruth, there has never been a more discussed and dissected ballplayer. Partly because, aside from Ruth, there was never a better hitter. But Williams' life and career, both in baseball and in the Service, has come to serve as a symbol of Wartime, Post-War, and then War-again America in the middle of last century. His status as "the real life John Wayne" is now repeated to the point of cliche but serves to help illustrate his legacy. When you investigated that era's phony heroes like Wayne you found out there wasn't much there. Frauds mostly. In a life of tough, and sometimes incorrect decisions Williams was never a fraud. But for me, more that anything, it's the numbers.

The numbers are insane. A career OPS of 1.116 fleshes out his 521 HRs, all while playing a total of 495 games from 1950 through 1955. Williams was only 32 in 1950, and had arguably his best season in 1949. To celebrate 9/9/09 today, do me a favor and just look at these stats. Compare them against Gehrig, DiMaggio, Felix Jose or whomever. Numbers transcending sentimentalism and sensationalism show us the real reason for a player's legacy, and it's no wonder that WIlliams' is still so large.

Tonight's Quiz Questions

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Hey kids, Let's Freak.

Instead of a normal Tonight's Questions, I decided to make you all a quiz involving tonight's starting pitchers. Good luck!



See you tomorrow, Geniuses. Same WoW Channel.
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Editor's Note: I forgot we were supposed to be closed today. Bonus post! Fight unfair labor practices here and abroad (start with your food)! Have a good day off.

Ichiro Suzuki, man of 1,000 tagged WoW articles is now a man of 2,000 MLB hits. Ichiro smacked a double off of A's pitcher Gio Gonzalez, making him the second fastest player to reach the milestone. Former Philly A, Al Simmons was the fastest. In true Geoff Baker style we're reminded that Simmons died alone and destitute in the ">lede of the game story.

C'mon! This is a joyous occasion! We need levity. What was going on in the dugout after the hit?

In the dugout later, after Jose Lopez drove him home with a single, his teammates mobbed him with congratulations. Ken Griffey Jr. took the historic ball, which will be shipped to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and according to Ichiro, wrote "some ridiculous things" on it.

Griffey told reporters his scribbling was a play on words with the first name of A's pitcher Gonzalez and a Geo Metro car.

"So, I signed it, 'Got a hit off a Geo Metro 09/06/09' " Griffey quipped.

You may see that as cheap and dated wordplay, but I see it as Griffey getting nostalgic for his past since he and the Metro* both had their heydays in the early 90s. But I digress.

As Baker notes, Ichiro's health has been tested this season but it seems to us that 3,000 hits and the Hall are likely and assured, repsectively. Unlike some of the other "lock" numbers associated with induction, 3,000 will probably escape the subjective steroidal invalidation by sportswriters. Not that I care anyway, but anyone that believes people who say steroids helps players heal from injury faster along with making them stronger (ie: doctors) could cast a suspicious eye on a longevity based number like hit total. But again, I don't really care. I am undoubtedly going to Ichiro's induction. That's gonna be one good speech.

Lost in all of the day's pageantry is one of my favorite quotes of the entire season. It's courtesy of a certain Seatlle rookie who's name we've all been enjoying. Join me everyone, and make sure you're not drinking anything.

"There was a little thing on my finger, but that didn't affect me,'' said Fister, downplaying the problem.
JESUS, MAN! QUIT DOWNPLAYING IT AND WASH THAT OFF.