16 October 2005

Steven Wright, Baltimore Falls Apart, Umpires Go Wild...

Went this past Friday night to go see Steven Wright with my Dad at Sacred Heart University near my hometown of Fairfield, CT. Fantastic, fantastic show.

I'd never seen Steven live, so in this type of setting, I wasn't really sure what to expect- set length wise, or material wise. It was an odd place for him to play, to me- stand ups doing colleges is nothing new, but Sacred Heart isn't a "college" type college. It's older people getting their Bachelor's, night school folks, people going for their Masters, etc. That was pretty evident in the crowd- more than a fair share of blueheads, which surprised me. I mean, this wasn't a 4 PM show or anything. Started at 8. Seemed odd to me. But, whatever.

So yeah, he came out and did 2 solid hours, didn't let up, and was killing the entire time. He was unbelievable- I can't imagine sustaining material of that nature for two hours. He really was slaying through the whole show. Everybody loved the show.

It was a cool venue to see him in, too- one of those small college theatres that's comfortable and has a nice, "close" feeling to the stage. I'd highly recommend seeing him, but I can't imagine anyone who's a fan that would even need that nod.

Remember back in May when I pronounced my belief that the Orioles hot start may not be an aberration, and that they could contend the rest of the year? Well, that and the 4th place finish I predicted for Houston should tell you I don't know jack shit. Well- maybe it's not TOTALLY my fault- most of the problems were behind-the-scenes, clubhouse backstab type stuff.

Truly fascinating article in the Baltimore Sun about the Orioles demise this year- turns out Sosa hates Tejada, everyone hated Palmeiro, Ponson and Mazilli, the rookies did whatever they wanted, co-GM Mike Flanagan is obsessed with personality tests, Daniel Cabrera likes throwing at people and hates taking instruction, and the front office couldn't get together on anything. The article is registration-required, but if you're not interested in trying out bugmenot.com, here are some interesting passages...

Given all the conflict, it was amazing how well the team played early... But the front office suspected all along that it was a mirage.

"We did very well at the beginning of the season, but we took advantage of the schedule. We were home, and we were playing the easier part of our schedule," said executive vice president Jim Beattie.


The front office made suspect moves all season. When center fielder Luis Matos was out with a hand injury, 22-year-old Jeff Fiorentino was called up from Single-A and used instead of veteran David Newhan, who had batted .311 the previous year. Newhan bristled. Hayden Penn, another low minor leaguer, replaced the injured Bedard.

"We brought up other guys from the minor leagues, which was good for them to experience the big leagues, but I don't think that gives us a good chance to win a division championship," Lopez said.

The Band-Aid moves suggested the organization had its mind elsewhere - and part of it did. While Beattie and Flanagan were focused on the on-field product, their superiors were distracted by the return of major league baseball to nearby Washington, in the form of the relocated Montreal Expos, now the Nationals.

Angelos negotiated intensely with baseball commissioner Bud Selig on a deal that protected the Orioles' bottom line, and then dealt with lawsuits regarding the formation of a regional cable network for both teams, which the Orioles would control.

The front office feared the effect of the Nationals' arrival on attendance and spent all year closely monitoring the situation. Pressed privately, some members of the front office acknowledged that they feared the Nationals' arrival would make it harder in the long run for the Orioles to consistently contend.


Consider what Tejada saw when he looked around the clubhouse that night in Oakland.

Standing nearby was Sosa, who, according to one player, had grown tired of Tejada's constant dugout chatter and told the shortstop as much. Both players later denied the rift, but Hendricks and several other players confirmed it. Tejada was much quieter after Sosa rebuked him, the players said.

Palmeiro and Ponson were also in the clubhouse that night in Oakland.

Palmeiro had recently returned from his 10-day suspension to a clubhouse reception more dubious than publicly alleged. Several players did not even get off their cell phones to speak to him when he tried to shake hands upon returning. A clubhouse loner to begin with, he was now an island.

And Ponson, who would soon face his second drunken-driving charge in seven months, had already turned off teammates. On the day after his final arrest weeks later, as word of it filtered through the clubhouse, many players frowned and shook their heads, no longer surprised at any news involving Ponson.

Running the team that night in Oakland was an interim manager, Sam Perlozzo, who had replaced Mazzilli in early August and had no idea if he would be retained for next year. (He was given a three-year contract last week.)

Mazzilli's firing on Aug. 4 delighted many players. They had long before become disenchanted with the second-year manager.

"Pretty much everybody was unhappy with him," one player later said.


Tejada was the unquestioned leader, respected by all. But several players said the shortstop wasn't himself for much of the season, and his palpable drop in energy affected the entire team.

"It's more than you or I know. Something's not right with him," one member of the front office said.

Tejada acknowledged he was dealing with distractions but never identified them. Some teammates felt all the losing just brought him down. Hendricks said it was the rift with Sosa. Some teammates felt it bothered him knowing his name would eventually surface in the Palmeiro controversy, as it did in September when Palmeiro told investigators Tejada had given him a dose of B12 that could have been tainted.

Even though Tejada was cleared, he admitted he often gave himself B12 injections. Some fans were troubled by the image of the team's best player walking around with a syringe, and several players said it was curious to see Tejada carefully guarding a briefcase he always carried.


One player who faithfully stood at his locker and faced the heat was Gibbons, but he was reprimanded by the organization for admitting in September that he couldn't wait for the depressing season to end.

Another player later confirmed everyone on the team felt the same way.

So really, per that last part, I wasn't really wrong at all!

But in all seriousness, this should truly stress how pathetic a franchise is, and, like Georgie in New York, how much an owner can be an impediment to a team with a loyal fanbase, overflowing coffers and a steady income stream. Just awful. I keep thinking back to that series towards the end of the year at Camden Yards, when the place was literall 80/20 in favor of Red Sox fans, and they played the Bucky Dent HR on the Jumbotron. Just a pathetic, pathetic franchise. Too bad- they're going to be passed by Toronto and Tampa Bay next year, and it's going to be a long time before they get their act together (ie, when Angelos kicks the bucket or decides he wants to ruin something else and sells).

So, without a doubt, this has been the worst season of umpiring in my memory- stuff like David Wells getting thrown out by a 2nd base umpire for muttering under his breath after a disagreement with the home plate umpire, and a ball hit by Gabe Kapler called a 2B after it hit off the TOP of the wall and bounced UP.

But that being said, nothing has been as awful as the umpiring in the two LCS contests. The most obvious was mentioned in my last post- the infamous Josh Paul rolls the ball play- but since then, the Angels have been on the crap end of THREE more terrible calls (the no-call on Steve Finley's catcher interference, the no-call on Scott Podsednik being picked off 1st, and the safe call on Scott Podsednik stealing 2nd). This isn't to say Los Angeles would have won otherwise- they probably wouldn't. That's not really the point though- and more egregiously, was the NLCS game 4.

This is, to me, the worst part of what's happened to major league umpiring- this need to inject themselves into the outcome of the game. The way they seek altercation instead of actively avoid it, which should be there job. Short of being bumped, there is- in my mind- no way you can ring up Jim Edmonds in the 8th inning of a one run in the middle of an at bat. I don't care if he calls you a cocksucker, if he talks about your Mom, if he questions your sexuality- in those situations, with that pressure, you gotta absorb it and let him have his at bat. I'm certainly not suggesting Edmonds is without blame- it's understandable to get really upset in a big spot like that with such an awful strike zone, but after you have a little bark, you have to back off. That being said- throwing him out is really over the line. Especially in that spot.

Mike Port- who left his spot with the Sox to take over MLB's umpiring office- has a ton of work to do with this. He needs to reign a lot of these guys in, fire a few. All over baseball, it seemed the umpires made themselves part of the game far too often in 2005. Thank God we had a great crew last year in the ALCS- losing is one thing, but having calls go against you this ritually takes the fun out of baseball.

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