February 08, 2004
Are you ready for some baseball?

Now that we've gotten all this Super Bowl silliness out of the way, we can start getting ourselves in the right frame of mind for baseball. We'll begin with your 2003 national champion Rice Owls, who make their initial defense of that title on Tuesday. The Chron gives an overview of their outstanding pitching staff and assesses the rest of their lineup in its college baseball preview.

On the pro side, there were two double-take moments in the columns this weekend. First, John Lopez says the following in writing about Astros' manager Jimy Williams and his suddenly-excellent pitching staff.

He hasn't even put on his baseball shoes and already Williams knows where this season is headed.

Win, and it's them. Lose, and it's all on him.

It's unfair, but true.

Win, and it's because of the best top-of-the-rotation foursome in baseball, three-fourths of which surrounded Williams onstage at Friday's Houston Baseball Dinner.

There were Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, looking sharp, strong and in shape.

Win, and it's because Big Rog brought the attitude, Cy Young stuff and work ethic, with Pettitte adding prime-time stuff and October mettle.

Win, and it's because -- good gosh -- Wade Miller and Oswalt are your Nos. 3 and 4 starters.

You ask Williams, kiddingly: That staff is practically unfair, isn't it? They should just give you guys the trophy.

He smiles, tilts his head and utters his famous mantra for all things baseball, "They've got major-league players on the other side, too."

Win, and it's all about the pitching staff.

It's about the powerful lineup and gifted bullpen, which only was made stronger with the arrival of Pettitte and Clemens. It's about the bold offseason moves, brokered by Drayton McLane, Tal Smith and Gerry Hunsicker, as if Williams' presence in the dugout had nothing to do with the signings of Pettitte and Clemens.

You don't think the two aces ever asked a current Astro, "What's Jimy like?"

Of course they did. And it helped seal the deals.

Win, and it's because Williams made like a reception and blended into the background. He stayed well out of the way.

But if the Astros lose?

It's about ol' Capt. Hook unable to turn the right knobs or flick the right switches. Not handling the talent.

I don't quite know what to make of this. I can see that Lopez is giving Williams some of the credit for landing Andy Pettite and Roger Clemons, which is perfectly appropriate, but after reading and rereading this thing several times, it feels like he's trying to inoculate Williams from blame if the Astros don't win in 2004. What else is managing besides maximizing the value of the talent at hand? If the Astros fall short, and if there's no clearcut beyond-his-control reason for it, it's fair and rational to ask if Williams got the most out of everyone.

Are managers often judged unfairly? Sure. Are they often hampered by unrealistic expectations? Of course. Guess wat? Life isn't fair. Williams has been dealt a pretty good hand, and he should be expected to succeed. In the end, he'll be judged by his results. I don't know what else John Lopez could ask for.

That was small potatoes compared to this bit from Richard Justice.

So there was Major League Baseball on Super Bowl Sunday pitching its product right there alongside the potato chips and little blue pills. Could you hear Gussie Busch and Phil Wrigley rolling over in their graves?

Their generation of owners did not believe in such stuff, certainly not if it meant stooping to associate with pro football.

That was then.

"That's why we were considered dinosaurs," commissioner Bud Selig said bluntly. "We were unwilling to change. Those days are over."


Selig continues to be the target of cheap shots from columnists and commentators who haven't done their homework or choose not to let the facts get in the way of a strong opinion.

The truth is this man is the best commissioner baseball has had. Period.

Thanks to his leadership, baseball has labor peace, interleague play, wild-card races and enough revenue sharing to give small-market teams a chance to win.

The best commissioner baseball has ever had? Hold on a second, I'm still breathing into a paper bag here.

We are still talking about a guy who presided over the only cancelled World Series, right? The guy whose team has long violated the league's rules about debt equity, who has shamelessly misrepresented the league's financial picture, who destroyed all of the good feelings emanating from the 2001 postseason by embarking on a ludicrous and dishonest attempt to eliminate four franchises, who has consistently insulted many teams' fans by insisting they cannot compete. That's the guy we're talking about, right?

As for the "accomplishments" Justice lists, there are a lot of true fans who consider interleague play (and the resulting unbalanced schedule) and the wild card to be abhorrences on the order of the designated hitter. Revenue sharing has always been a joke, a way to let the Carl Pohlads of the world line their pockets with other teams' money without having to put any of that cash into the product on the field.

I could go on and on, but thanks to Doug Pappas, the gold standard of Bud-bashing, I don't have to. Just click around for a few minutes there, or do a search on "Bud Selig" and get your fill of the case against. Selig may not be the worst Commissioner ever, but that's as far as I personally would go.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 08, 2004 to Baseball | TrackBack

Spell check on aisle two....

I'm not sure I buy into "the best top-of-the-rotation foursome", partly because I didn't even realize that the Academy had an award for that. But are they really ahead of ALL of BOS, NYY, OAK, CHI?

Posted by: Danil on February 8, 2004 1:14 PM

Is Justice on the payroll? He sounds like a Fox commentator c. 2001-2003 rhapsodizing about GWB.

I watched the ads last Sunday, but I don't recall an MLB promo; to the contrary, I recall Ditka pushing Viagra or Levitra or Cialis as the ED drugs of choice for football, implying that baseball was too wimpy and even those drugs wouldn't do it for its players/fans. What did I miss?

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 8, 2004 1:53 PM

The MLB spot was played on Survivor after the game.

Posted by: lawrence on February 8, 2004 3:47 PM

Ah, thank you, Lawrence. I was driving across town at that point.

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 8, 2004 7:58 PM