Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Fixing the Game...One Trival Argument at a Time by Mike Faloon

“Future Hall of Famer Mike Mussina.” Honest to Koufax, I read that very phrase in print (Bill Mazeroski’s Baseball). It’s time to cease and desist using the term “future Hall of Famer.” I don’t even like hearing the phrase precede such worthy names as Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken, Jr. They’ve got eternity to carry the HOF tag, they can wait until they’re posing for their plaques before amending their name tags.

And while it’s a bit hasty to give Tony or Cal the future hall of famer treatment, it’s downright foolish to include Mike “11-15 in 2000” Mussina in their ranks. He has as many Cy Young Awards as I do and he’s led the league in wins only once more than I have (Mike M. -1, Mike F. - 0). He’s yet to win 20 in a season and has not had a sub-3.00 ERA since 1992. Hardly the figures of legend.

It’s bad enough that good-for-a-long-time-but-never-great figures like Don Sutton are already clogging up Cooperstown. Why further taint the hall’s reputation by speculating that its hallowed walls have more ho-hum in store? The point of the hall is to immortalize the all-time greats, those with a string of amazing years, the players who dominated at their positions for the better part of a decade, or more. Mussina has been very good for nearly that long but there has never been a point when he was considered a Pedro, Maddux or Big Unit. Those guys will be Hall of Famers. And if they’re going to bear that title for the rest of time, then they can wait until they’re inducted to add it to their resumes. Let the term “future hall of famer” go the way of the Maury Wills’ managing career—amusing but best forgotten.


“God bless the Diamondbacks!”

I never thought such words would pass my lips. But sure enough when Luis Gonzalez dropped that gloriously meager line drive over short to win Game 7, the D’backs spend a good three seconds as my favorite team in history.

“God bless the Diamondbacks.” Looks as weird as it sounds. The D’backs are an expansion team. They’re from the desert. Their stadium has a pool. War crimes, one and all. Toss in the ugly Steinbrenner-esque manner in which they assembled their team and you’ve got a club primed for loathing.

However, it’s too simple to say that the D’backs represent all that’s wrong with baseball. Not only did they thwart the vile Bronx Bombers but they did it riding the arms of the thunderous throw-back combo of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. And that awful looking stadium has that cooler-than-cool patch of dirt running from the pitcher’s mound to home. The D’backs have bunch of things to counter the (many) painfully lame aspects of their franchise. What stands to be forgotten is that the yin/yang-like balance that fuels the D’backs surfaced long before Game 7.

It was a seemingly routine May game between the D’backs and Padres. Well, routine until it became evident that Curt Schilling had perfect game stuff. He took his perfect game bid, and 2-0 lead, into the 8th inning. With one out, Padres catcher Ben Davis stunned everyone in the park by choosing to bunt. No one expected a bunt from .238 hitting catcher who moves like Rerun (seven steals lifetime—Davis, that is, not Rerun). Even more surprising, Davis broke up the perfect game and brought the tying run to the plate with five outs left in the game. It was a perfect baseball move.

The Zen of the D’backs surfaced in the post-game reactions of rookie manager Bob Brenly and victimized pitcher Curt Schilling. Big Bad Bob went ape. He called Davis’ move “chicken shit.” He pissed and moaned about unwritten baseball rules. He told the press that “Ben Davis is a young player and has a lot to learn about how this game is played.” (This from a guy then in his second month as a manager.) According to Brenly’s Book of Baseball, if there’s a no-hitter on the horizon, be polite and give up. Even if the opponent is a divisional rival. Even if the tying run is in the on-deck circle.

But, just as you’re about to (rightfully) dismiss Brenly, his uber-sour grapes, and all things Arizona, up steps Curt Schilling with a largely overlooked post-game quote of his own: “Can’t be pissed about it.”

Screw the Diamondbacks. God bless Curt Schilling.


Dante Bichette swats a double down the third baseline at Fenway. In and of itself, the hit itself was impressive because Bichette managed an extra base hit somewhere other than Coors Field. But every ounce of “Hey, good for Dante!” evaporated when he called time out, removed an enormous elbow pad, jogged to the batboy, handed over the elbow pad, and then mosied back to second base.

Elbow pads, arm pads, shin pads, knee pads—hitters have padding for every part of the body potentially exposed to an oncoming pitch. And that’s fine, such devices help keep hitters in the line up. With a wide strike zone, hitters need to be able to dive over the plate, while also protecting themselves against the inside stuff. If they choose to shield themselves with bunker-like protective gear, so be it. My objections arise when needless delays are forced into the flow of a game. And not only are such actions a waste of time, they also come with the underlying arrogance of, “Come hither, piss boy, and fetch mine armor.”

Further, this equipment madness threatens to lead to further specialization in baseball, situational strategizing that could easily sink to sub-NFL levels. Imagine a player allowed to return to the dugout to fetch his less-than-two- out-runner-on-third-hoping-for-a-sac-fly spikes. Or his on-first-base-less-than-two-outs-slow-hitter-at-the-plate-hoping-to-stay-out-of-the-double-play cleats.

I propose the following rule changes:

1) Any equipment used by a batter must remain with him for the duration of his time on the basepaths. A guy can arm himself as he sees fit but has to schlep all of that armor until he returns to the dugout.

2) Any equipment used by a runner while on the basepaths must remain with said player from the time he steps into the batter’s box. A pitcher who wishes to wear a jacket while running must don that jacket while batting.


With the 2001 season having been so excellent, it’s only fitting that we close on a positive note. It’s time to unveil Zisk’s 2001 Most Entertaining Player, or M.E.P.

This honor is given to the player who most consistently entertained fans during the course of the 2001 season.

Points are awarded in three general categories: Off the field behavior, ability to make highlight-reel caliber plays and, most importantly, ability to make fans think every play, no matter how seemingly routine, might become an exciting play. Here we seek a player whose style is so unrelenting that each time he steps to the plate or fields the ball there is the potential for jaws to drop.

Our finalists are the respective MVP winners from the AL and NL, Ichiro Suzuki and Barry Bonds.

Category 1: Off the field

Ichiro is known by fans throughout the world solely by his first name. That’s star power. Likewise for his ability to have fans, at home and abroad, hanging on his every word before and after games. Bonds would love to go by “Barry” but lacks sufficient charisma to fend off challenges from other famous Barry’s, like Gibb, Goldwater, and Manilow.

Ichiro - 1, Bonds - 0

Category 2: Making the big play

Ichiro hit .350, stroked 242 hits, and scored 127 runs in his first MLB season! Bonds hit 73 home runs. I think home runs are overrated from an entertainment perspective (it’s out of the park...now he scuffles about the bases) but still, 73!

Ichiro - 1, Bonds - 1

Category 3: Potential to make the mundane exciting

Ichiro had 722 plate appearances, he ran the basepaths 631 times (that includes all non-strikeouts, walks, and home runs). 87% of the time this guy tore down the first base line; he was always a threat. Ichiro also stole 56 bases and played defense like a mad man, going hard every time and, with his cannon of an arm, never allowing opposing base runners to think they could get an easy extra base.

Bonds had 653 plate appearances, he ran the base paths 310 times. 47% of the time Bonds ran, the rest of the time he walked or strolled. Bonds’ stolen bases dipped to 13 and defensively, he divided his time in the outfield between sulking over how often Jeff Kent failed to drive him in and trying to think up new ways to remind the Giants faithful that he, Bonds, was a free agent at the end of the year.

Aside from the ability to hit the long ball, Ichiro trumps Bonds in every facet of the game. Plus, his stunning season put an end to the many race-based theories fouling baseball’s airs that Japanese players couldn’t hit MLB pitching. (An ignorant, eugenics-like chorus not far removed from the one that greeted Jackie Robinson. One of the last desperate efforts of baseball’s 1940s racists was that, well, ok, we’ll allow blacks to play in the majors but truth be told, the other reason they haven’t been playing in “our” leagues for the past 50 years is that they don’t have the talent. Right.) But that’s a whole other story.

At the plate, Bonds is going to homer or walk. In the field, and after the game he’s going to sulk. Occasionally exciting but generally predictable. Ichiro is everything but predictable.

Ichiro -2, Bonds - 1

Ichiro, Zisk’s 2001 Most Entertaining Player.

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