Summer's Dog Days being hard upon us it's time to kick around some inside baseball ruminations. That is, at least for those who are not fans of the licensed mayhem and glorified triage that passes for NFL exhibition football.
Although it's worth noting that -- believe it or not -- it's only two weeks to the beginning of another endless hockey season as grinders and goalies report to camp at Wilmington. Time roars by these days.
Miguel the Great or Greatest?
As he ravages the game with his prolific hitting, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera is inspiring giddy talk about his place in baseball history. One national baseball columnist -- an otherwise knowing and sensible fellow -- went way out on the limb the other day proclaiming Cabrera may already be considered the greatest right-handed slugger in the game's history. That would make him -- we beg your pardon -- better than Masters Hornsby, Aaron or Mays, let alone Brothers Foxx, Greenberg, DiMaggio, etc.
No harm, one supposes. The willing suspension of hyperbole is always fun and rarely objectionable when talking baseball. For my part, however, I'd rather wait. Asserting the ultimate rank of any athletes -- let alone baseball players -- before they're long gone to pasture and the book closed is often foolhardy.
That seems especially the case in these wacky times. It was only a couple of years ago that such lavish pronouncements were being uttered on behalf of Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. You may have further noted much air has lately escaped Albert Pujols' balloon.
At the risk of seeming to contradict oneself, is it too early to think the Red Sox will end up regretting the daring Jose Iglesias-Jake Peavy caper concocted at the mid-summer trade deadline. Granted, that projecting greatness for an unassuming 23 year old who hit .118 a year ago is risky business. But so is trading young, hot, shortstop, prospects, which is why it's rarely done.
In his first month in Detroit, Iglesias raised his ex-team's cause for such worry. While his defense continues to be routinely (for him) electrifying he's also still hitting .323. Comparisons of the kid with the young Omar Vizquel, who will soon be in the Hall of Fame, or even Ozzie Smith, who's already there, loom increasingly legitimate. Omar as a rookie hit .220. Ozzie at age 24 hit .211.
A reasonably gifted journeyman, pitcher Peavy may seem worth such risk, at least short term, especially after impressively shutting down allegedly mighty LA. But if he fails to play a huge role in something very big in Boston he may become the next Larry Anderson, the prize they got in exchange for Jeff Bagwell and will never be allowed to forget.
On the subject of "hotshots," Yasiel Puig leads this year's parade. But one has an innate suspicion of brash and slugging phenoms who have a bit of "attitude." Until proven otherwise -- which takes more than a third of a season -- Puig remains the latest pretender in the great tradition of Kevin Maas, Mighty Joe Charbonneau, Dick Wakefield, and "Hurricane" Hazle.
On the other hand, it's more tempting to believe in Wil Myers, Tampa's highly precocious apparent gem. Myers disports impressive fundamentals plus seeming maturity, much like last year's hotshot of choice, Mike Trout of Anaheim.
If somehow the Rays muff their rich prospects this season -- unlikely but possible in the increasingly torrid AL East battle -- Tampa's front office will be roundly and rightly denounced for having buried the kid in the minors the first 10 weeks of the season in a cheesy move aimed at curbing his bargaining rights down the road.
You can outwit yourself, in this game and the Rays will stand accused of that if things go awry. Because when Myers was in the minors they were not contending.
Their silence is deafening
In their professed sanctity, major league poohbahs never account for their disciplinary decisions so there will be no explanation for the ludicrous handling of Ryan Dempster's blatant assault on the fallen A-Rod in that Sunday night Fenway fiasco. But you wonder if Joe Torre, who as an MLB VP has the most to say in these matters, made the call. It's no secret Torre still simmers over the rough way his otherwise legendary term in the Bronx ended. One suspects the Yankees might prefer that Torre recuse himself from calls affecting them.
Apart from such admittedly idle speculation, the decision in the Dempster deal was preposterous by any measure. For Dempster to be essentially absolved while Yankees Manager Joe Girardi ends up being fined twice as much as the loopy pitcher who was entirely responsible for the mess had to have been somebody's idea of a joke, if indeed there were not other motives in play.
That MLB's august judiciary is not obliged to offer an explanation let alone willing, is just further aggravating.
Light on the Rays
On essentially the same subject, the ever glib Tampa skipper Joe Maddon impressed many with his high-road oration deploring the "vigilante tactics" (his words) of the misguided Dempster (his indictment). Joe is one smooth article, for sure, and when he gets through with baseball he might consider politics.
But it's interesting to note that it was one of Joe's eager young fire ballers who knocked the Yankee's Curtis Granderson out half the season with a fastball off the knuckles and it was yet another of his flame-throwing kids who quieted New York's hottest hitter, Brett Gardner, at the start of their recent pivotal series with another well-placed heater that bounced off Gardner's wrist, neutralizing him.
No staff in either league works the inside of the plate better nor nicks more foes in the process than the Rays' terrific corps of prized hurlers, who are notably smart as well as skilled and have, in Maddon, the perfect boss. They would never be guilty of anything as stupid as Dempster's stunt. The boss wouldn't stand for it. Moreover, high heat in tight on the hands is actually more terrifying to big-league hitters than some foolish heave behind one's back that accomplishes nothing.
Gritty pitching is the essence of the game. No one who knows the game would dispute that. It's just that Joe Maddon's holier than thou act strikes one as a tad amusing. But it's also smart! Joe is always smart.
A first anniversary
Observances of the first anniversary of the epic Red Sox-Dodgers trade are properly characterizing it as a landmark event. Agreement seems widespread that after a year it's clear it was a rare example of a deal that equally benefited both teams. On that, I'd respectfully disagree. The Dodgers may have also helped themselves, but being able to dump all that salary in the form of malcontents no longer tolerable was much more of a coup for Boston.
That deal saved the Red Sox, sparing them a lengthy and convoluted rebuilding process. Moreover, it's a gift that will keep on giving. With the $260 million in savings from the guaranteed contracts they gleefully shed, they have re-patched themselves this year and set the stage for deeper and more lasting improvements with all the contract-room they've established for years to come. They should have a ball this off-season.
Unless they botch it with dumb deals yet to come -- always a possibility -- the ultimate impact on their fortunes might just be "historic."
Final Booth Question
Lastly you ask, "What is the difference between the Red Sox players' beards and the Bruins players' beards?" The Bruins look a helluva lot better in theirs.