More Cowbell Than You Will Ever Need IV -- All-Star Edition ... Continued! (Now with MORE Mailbag!!)
Following up from last week's column , here are my 2005 All-Star candidates from the National League:
C: Ramon Hernandez, San Diego. Mike Piazza is now a 36-year old gimpy catcher which means he's no longer an automatic selection, so I'm going with the sentimental choice and picking Hernandez. He was responsible for the single most shocking play I've witnessed in the past five years, namely, his bunt to win Game 1 of the 2003 ALDS against the Red Sox. Nobody saw that coming. A catcher? Bunting for a game-winning single? In the 12th inning? In the playoffs? A catcher for the bunt-shy Oakland A's bunting for a game-winning single in the 12th inning of a playoff game? I was so stunned, I sat motionless on my couch, staring blankly at the TV screen for 25 minutes. Then I called my dad, and you know what? He'd been staring blankly at his TV screen for 25 minutes also. This was the baseball equivalent of Kim beating Lex and Ethan on the final immunity challenge on "Survivor:Africa". Who would have expected a 55-year old grandmother to stand motionless on a narrow pedestal in the blistering heat and outlast two guys half her age that had dominated the game for weeks? You would have bet your house against her without giving it a second thought. That's what watching Hernandez's bunt was like.
Of course, I can be sentimental about this only because the Sox came back from 2-0 down to win the series, going on to face the Yankees and ... well, let's stop the trip down memory lane right there.
1B: Derrek Lee, Chicago. Who else? Pujols and Delgado are having great seasons, while Bagwell has finally succombed to the karma of being traded from Boston for Larry Andersen. The trade was horrendous, but you don't see a World Series banner flying in Houston, do you? And can it possibly be a coincidence that Bagwell's career has been snuffed out by a bizarre shoulder injury almost immediately following a Red Sox championship win?
Derrek Lee's impact on the Cubs has been incalculable. When Heather Locklear started on "Melrose Place", it was a struggling show that would have been cancelled in a year or two. She transformed it into a huge hit and a staple of 90's TV culture. One new cast member completely overehauled an entire TV show. That's what Derrek Lee has done with the Cubs the last couple of years. It's the same impact that Curt Schilling had when he joined the Red Sox, in that he turned a team of frustrating losers into a club of loveable winners. Of course, the comparison isn't fully deserved unless Lee can get the Cubs to the World Series, securing his place in the baseball pantheon in the process. But right now, Lee is the most dangerous hitter in baseball. Every time he comes to the plate in a late-inning pressure situation, he does something remarkable. Even if Bonds was playing this season and was duplicating his 2001-4 numbers, Lee would still be my MVP. He's that good.
2B: Jeff Kent, Los Angeles; SS: Felipe Lopez, Cincinatti. Kent has been mashing the ball and is displaying the form that won him the MVP in 2000, so he's an obvious choice. Lopez is having notable season for a shortstop, but I'm sure you've noticed that all the voting results in both leagues are slanted toward players from big-market teams such as Boston, New York, LA and St. Louis. Voting for Lopez is my way of distributing the vote to teams that generally go unrecognized. Regardless, this particular vote isn't worth agonizing over because the only thing that matters is the AL winning this game so that the Sox can open the World Series at home, and who starts at shortstop for the NL isn't going to figure into who wins or loses the All-Star Game. It's like the first person out of eighteen to get voted off of "Survivor" -- they have to show up to the reunion show for completeness' sake, even though they didn't figure into the outcome of the series. Not to mention that nobody watching at home (besides their families) knows enough about their personalities to care about them.
Unfortunately, it's looking like soft-hitting Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis will win the vote, which means on July 12, during the pre-game introductions, we'll be watching the debut of the Cesar Izturis "I'm Only Here Because One Guy Ripped His Groin Apart and Another Guy Fell Down Carrying Deer Meat" Face.
3B: David Wright, New York. Sometimes it's nice to vote for a guy on New York's non-devil worshipping team. Wright is a breakout star and he deserves a chance to get some All-Star attention.
OF: Ken Griffey Jr, Cincinnati; Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia; Miguel Cabrera, Florida
Several Marlins players are having great individual seasons so I felt that I needed a Florida player on my ballot. Nonetheless, you have to wonder how a team with Lowell, Cabrera, Delgado, D-Train, and Beckett can be playing .500 baseball in June. In particular, Delgado is an interesting case: we keep hearing about how good he is, how well he's made the adjustment to a new league, and that he's a future Hall of Famer. However, in eleven prior seasons, he's never been to the playoffs. On top of that, this year he joined a club that won the World Series two years ago and their record has gotten worse with him there. Does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you? Did Larry Bird ever miss the playoffs in his prime? Despite his yearly chokejob in the playoffs, did Karl Malone's teams ever play .500 ball? Say what you will about Alex Rodriguez, but even he took the Mariners to the playoffs a couple of times. So you really have to wonder what's going on in South Florida.
Against all conventional logic, Ken Griffey Jr. has returned to form and is putting up his best numbers in years to go along with his usual highlight-reel play in center field. What's more, he's doing all this for one of the worst teams in baseball. Can you imagine how good he'd be right now if he was motivated? Junior needs a change of scenery, and fast. He needs to get out of Cincinnati like Vince Carter needed to get out of Toronto.
In March, Vegas was posting a 1.5 over/under on the number of trips Junior would make to the DL in 2005. That wasn't good enough for my buddy Hench, so he got 3-1 odds in Vegas that Griffey would make more than 3.5 trips to the DL this season. Between that and betting on "Yard Work" not lasting three months, it's not looking like a good summer for Hench.
But Junior is only fifth in voting right now, which perhaps serves him right because he used to lead in voting every year, almost by default. It's quite likely that he was overappreciated for many of these years. However, on the other end of the spectrum is Bobby Abreu. He puts up eye-popping numbers every season. He's been one of the top five outfielders in the NL for years, but nobody knows who he is outside of Philadelphia. Is there a more underappreciated superstar right now in any sport? What does this guy need to do in order to get noticed? Earlier this season, he dumped his fiancee when he discovered she had been starring in adult films, went on a hitting tear, and still nobody noticed outside of statheads and Phillies fans. If Abreu played in LA, he'd be as famous as Kobe Bryant. He'd be dating Lindsay Lohan, I'm sure of it.
The Sports Gal is still angry with me over the whole ARod thing from last week, so she has limited me to only seven hours of TiVo per day, not including the NBA Finals. This leaves me with a bit more free time on my hands, so I'm going to use it to answer some of the emails that have been piling up in the Yard Work inbox.
Q: Would you rather have a sports career like Alex Rodriguez or Craig Counsell? That is, would you rather have all the money in the world, the most impressive statline, and be a whiny glove-slapping bitch who's never won anything in his life; or a light-hitting pipsqueak who scored the winning run in Game 7 of one World Series, and contributed to the winning rally in Game 7 of another (beating the Yankees, no less)?
-- Harold G., Birmingham, AL
SG: Counsell, no question. ARod might be the more talented of the two, but would you want to play on the same team as him? However, who wouldn't want to play with Craig Counsell? Does anybody dislike Craig Counsell? Is such a thing possible?
Also, you've hit the nail on the head -- Counsell was involved in two of the most exciting World Series finishes ever. ARod's career numbers are impressive, no question, but can anyone name even one famous MOMENT that he was involved in, ALCS Game 6 excepted? A big play, a game-winning hit in a meaningful game, anything? Just one single moment that the casual baseball fan can remember? Anybody? Sports isn't just about players, it's also about moments, and ARod doesn't have any great moments associated with his name. Not to mention that I'd give my left pinky finger to have been standing on first base and watching Gonzalez's bloop hit fall in to win the World Series over those damn Yankees. So yes, I pick Counsell, and it's not even close.
(You see? Happy now? Can I please have the TiVo remote back?)
Q: In all of recorded history, has a man ever gone out on a first date with a woman, talked about fantasy baseball (no matter how briefly) during any part of that night's conversation, and earned a second date with that woman? Has this ever happened to the best of your knowledge?
-- Norman B., Montreal, QC
SG: No, that has never happened. To review, the following topics of conversation are off-limits on all first dates, no exceptions: fantasy baseball, Golden Tee golf, manure, weight/dieting, ex-girlfriends/boyfriends, and the book "Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance" by Johnny Rogan. The reasoning behind the first five should be self evident. As for the last one, you'll just have to trust me.
Q: Is there a "Yard Work" intern? Do you need one? I'm available.
-- Leroy R., Vancouver, BC
SG: No, we don't have an intern here. But we don't need one because we don't bother checking facts. We make everything up. Hey, it worked for Jose Canseco. And speaking of Canseco ...
Q: Jose Canseco is starring on the fifth season of "The Surreal Life". Which current player would you most want to see on that show?
-- Gerry T., Chicago, IL
SG: Can I pick a current manager instead of a player? If so, then the answer is easy - Lou Piniella. If he'll tell off the Devil Rays ownership while sober, can you imagine what sorts of things he'd say to Mini-Me and Da Brat while raging drunk?
Q: Baseball would be a far more interesting game if managers wore clown suits. Big bulky clown suits with oversized red shoes. People would look forward to seeing pitching changes, and the managers would enjoy them more too. Furthermore, the manager would come out and wave his floopy clown suited arm toward the bullpen and the new pitcher wouldn't run out, instead, he'd ride out on a mule. The entertainment value of the game would increase immensely. Do you like my ideas?
-- Charles O., Kansas City, MO
SG: Yup, these are my readers.