Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

I told myself a long time ago that this blog wasn't going to fall into the trap of running cliched bits like, say, annual things-to-give-thanks-for or New Year's resolutions columns. They're easy. They're lazy. They don't often bring much to the table. But then I realized something: they're easy and I'm lazy, and if I think about it a little, maybe I can (almost) make this autopilot exercise worth the ten minutes it will take you to read it. And hey, you've gotten this far, so why not read the rest?

So, without further ado, I give you ShysterBall's official list of the things which teams -- or their fans -- can be thankful for as we head into the deep dark winter of the 2007-08 offseason:

Red Sox
The Yankees. Why? Because if the team down south hadn't started an arms race the likes of which hasn't been seen since the HMS Dreadnought put to sea in 1906, Boston never would have gotten off its complacent duff and built itself into the organization it is today. It's easy to be the hard luck losers when no one else in your division is all that much better than you on a year to year basis. It's downright pathetic to simply get completely lapped, and that's what could have happened if the Sox hadn't rose to the challenge and hired some smart folks like Epstein and James to get things moving in the right direction.

Brian Cashman. Signing free agents is easy. Developing talent on the farm is hard. Given the bucks the Yankees have at their disposal, nothing would have been easier for the Yankees than to simply try to buy the talent to win every year. And of course, to some extent they have done just that. Cashman, however, seems to be cognizant of the diminishing returns such an approach can bring, and has made a point to try to build from within. There's no way to know if Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy will end up more like Glavine, Smoltz, and Avery or Wilson, Pulsipher, and Isringhausen, but at least they have them, and whether they use them as trade bait or as the foundation going forward, they provide an excellent resource upon which the Yankees can draw in that win-or-else town.

Blue Jays
Toronto should be thankful for injuries, of all things. Had so many Jays not been banged up, guys like Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch wouldn't have gotten the opportunities they did. With what in this day and age passes for an abundance of starting pitching, the Jays seem poised to finally challenge the big two in the AL East next year.

Mr. Bill's? Natty Boh? These are pretty bleak times to be an Orioles fan. I suppose they can be thankful for a great stadium, which is more than I can say for the . . .

OK, that's not fair, because the stadium is the only really bad thing I can say about the Rays right now. Sure, they finished in last place again, but there is a core of nice young talent. Shields and Kazmir may be the best young 1-2 punch in the game, and there are several young bats -- Crawford, Upton, Young, and Pena (who's the old fart at age 29) that give reason for hope in St. Pete. For this, the Rays faithful should thank Andrew Friedman and Gary Hunsicker for coming up with a plan and sticking to it.

Cleveland should be thankful for Cliff Lee's abdominal strain in spring training, which gave Fausto Carmona a shot. Given how poorly Lee and Jeremy Sowers pitched the rest of the year, if there's no Fausto, there would not have been any playoffs. They can also be thankful for the Red Sox winning the World Series, because if they hadn't, far more people in these parts would be focusing on letting a 3-1 ALCS lead go than they currently are. At least in this part of Ohio, the storyline has ended up as "well, we got beat by the best team in the game. Whaddaya gonna do?"

That Justin Verlander wasn't hanging out at Joel Zumaya's house for the weekend when the fires hit.

That Scott Baker, Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey showed they can pitch in the big leagues so that the front office won't be tempted to go after the Ramon Ortizes and Sidney Ponsons of the world again this offseason. That Johan Santana was so public so early about not wanting to come back to Minnesota, which should allow the Twins to maximize the return they can get in a trade. They should also be thankful for global warming, which will eventually make the decision to build a new stadium in the great white north without a retractable roof look much better than it does today.

White Sox
South Siders should be thankful for Ozzie Guillen, because when the Sox are mired in fourth place next summer, he will at least be providing funny and colorful quotes, which should help ease the pain.

The decision -- forced or not -- to renovate Kaufman Stadium as opposed to building something new. Kansas City, in both football and baseball, is the only city which got things right during the 1960s-70s stadium building boom, and both Kaufman and Arrowhead remain really damn nice places to watch games. I'm no architect, but from what I've seen of the renovation plans, the Royals are preserving the nice stuff in their stadium while making the necessary upgrades to compete for Kansas Citians' entertainment dollars going forward. That's great news for fans of a team whose product on the field hasn't represented a consistently strong draw for many years now.

White Sox' GM Kenny Williams, for getting the whole buy-low, sell-high thing ass backwards and sending the Angels a strong starting pitcher in the form of Jon Garland in exchange for Orlando "peak oil" Cabrera.

I could go on about Ichiro or King Felix or something, but the thing Mariners fans should be most thankful for is U.S.S. Mariner, which in my view (and the view of many others) is the single best team-specific blog going. I read it almost every day and I don't even like the Mariners.

That it's only 87.27 miles between Raley Field in West Sacramento and the Oakland Coliseum, because the A's used 54 players in 2007, many of whom were booking it back and forth I-80 while changing from their River Cats to their A's jerseys on numerous occasions.

Texas can be thankful for the hubris of Scott Boras, which ended up saving them $21 million when A-Rod opted out instead of negotiating an extension with New York. Pure gift. Such a gift that I sit here late at night sometimes wondering if Boras pre-arranged the whole damn thing in an effort to get one of his other clients a big contract from the Rangers with that freed up money.

For the Mets' gagging down the stretch. Or, if you prefer, for their "lack of killer instinct."

Bugs in Cleveland, the Joe Torre drama, the A-Rod drama, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera's protracted contract negotiations, Derek Jeter's tax issues, the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, and anything else that might keep Gotham's mind off of just how ugly the season ended for the Mets. Oh, they were crucified, and will be again as we get closer to spring training, but there has been a bit of a lull in the "Mets suck" meme since the season ended, and you have to figure they like that just fine.

That the farm system seems to come up with two or three quality players every year. That John Smoltz and Chipper Jones seemed to have found the fountain of youth. That there always seems to be some team willing to trade them quality players for their dreck (Horatio Ramirez) or their surplusage (Edgar Renteria). That Mike Hampton's contract is almost over.

Manny Acta, for turning what looked like chicken shit before the season started into something that passed for chicken salad. Boston, for giving up on Willy Mo Pena. Da Meat Hook, for keeping things light. New digs, of course, courtesy of sucker D.C. politicians (note: Nats fans who pay D.C. taxes may not be so thankful for them).

If the rumors are true, Marlins fans will soon be really thankful for Dodgers' GM Ned Colletti's largess (Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, and Clayton Kershaw?!). Otherwise, its Hanley Ramirez and not a whole hell of a lot else.

For playing in the NL Central, which is the only place where a team could fart around, fight change course, get hurt, and generally confound everyone's expectations as much as the Cubs did in 2007, yet still win the division. The Cubs should also be thankful for the inexorable march of time, which seems to be the only thing that will bring closure to their uncertain ownership situation. Query: if Mark Cuban owned the Cubs today, do you have any doubt that A-Rod would be looking for houses in Lake Forest right now?

Two fearsome 23 year-olds. For having the opportunity to be legitimately disappointed about just missing the playoffs, which is the sort of thing Milwaukee fans hadn't had a chance to complain about for many years.

For having the brains and/or luck to sign Albert Pujols to a long term deal just before salaries started to get crazy again. The NL's best hitter, you may or may not know, is locked in until 2011, and scheduled to make less every single year between now and then than Jason Giambi cost the Yankees two years ago.

Houston should be thankful that the Pirates are around to keep them from having to admit that, for all intents and purposes, they are a last place team. They can also be thankful for the many twelve-step programs out there which counsel how, sometimes, hitting rock bottom is the only way to find the road to recovery.

A pretty strong second half, attributable to a reshuffled pen, Jeff Keppinger , Brandon Phillips, and the damn nigh unprecedented failure of Adam Dunn to wilt come August. Some youngsters, in the form of Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, and Jay Bruce, who are just about ripe enough to pluck off the vine. Finally -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- Dusty frickin' Baker. He's not my brand of vodka, but he's interesting, and interestingness is something to be thankful for in the Midwest.

A general manager who may know what the hell he's doing.

The smoke and mirrors which allowed them to outperform their Pythagorean record by 11 games.

There are a lot of nuts and boltsy things I could point to for Rockies fans to be thankful for, but simply having a season like the Rockies did last year -- one of those years in which there's a new hero every day and just about everyone on the team is a likable gamer of a guy -- is the kind of thing that ensconces a team in the local consciousness. No matter what happens for the next thirty years or so, there now exists the platonic ideal of what a Rockies season should look like for Rockies fans. When things go bad some year, the moaning won't be "man, I wish this team was more like the Yankees." It will be "man, I wish this team was like those old Holliday/Tulowitzki teams." That may not seem like much, but it's the sort of thing that transforms a young franchise like the Rockies from one of many local entertainment options into an institution.

The Padres legal department should be thankful that Milton Bradley tore his ACL during that argument with umpire Mike Winters, because I am convinced that he would have killed that sumbitch if he had been able to walk. Getting to play and live in San Diego -- fish tacos, baby! -- is something to be thankful for too.

Fired GM Paul DePodesta, who drafted a lot of the kids who look poised to be a part of many good Dodgers teams going forward. Oh yeah, and he also acquired their current ace. Hank Steinbrenner's passive-aggressiveness deserves a hearty thanks too, as it freed up Joe Torre to don the Dodger Blue.

Barry Bonds. He may be an unemployed, indicted, steroids-using sociopath, but if it wasn't for him there probably wouldn't be that jewel of a park at China Basin, and even if there was, it would have been half empty for the past few years. And if the Giants think 2007 was as bad as it gets, they're crazy. After all, after Bonds, Randy Winn was the team's best hitter. Randy. Winn. They may be so thankful (or desperate) for Bonds (and he them) that they even resign him just before Spring Training.

And now, if you've made it this far, I'd like to give you my corny-ass but 100% sincere thanks for taking a few minutes of your time to read ShysterBall each day. When I started this bad boy back on April 21st, there were eleven page views, and all of them were me. It ain't exactly grand central station now, but it's a nice-sized party.

More importantly, it's a party that, based on the comments, links, and emails I get, is populated almost exclusively by really, really smart folks. I would have pissed into the wind for a month or two, but eventually I would have quit if either (a) no one had taken any notice; or (b) the only people who took notice were morons looking to drag their sports radio mentality into my little corner of the blogosphere in an effort to further their never ending "X is overrated, no Y is overrated" campaigns. That obviously hasn't happened, and for that I am not just thankful, I am thrilled.

I wake up each morning rarin' to go, and it's all because of you folks. So again, thanks.


Jason said...

The garlic fries will be the biggest draw at AT&T Park next year.

Happy 7-month anniversary.

Diesel said...

J'accuse, Shyster!

South Siders should be thankful for Ozzie Guillen, because when the Sox are mired in fourth place next summer, he will at least be providing funny and colorful quotes, which should help ease the pain.

Should you really be thankful to the guy who's probably the main reason he's the only thing to be thankful for?

Parse that sentence, I dare ya.

Shyster said...

It took three times through for that sentence to make sense to me, but I blame the wine and pumpkin pie, not the syntax.

I don't think the blame is all Ozzie's, though. I think the fall over the past couple of seasons is due mostly to Ken Williams, combined with the Indians and Tigers just getting really good really fast.

Pete Toms said...

C, a big, digital, 2.0 hug from the north of the border!

You're right, we're all fortunate that Evil Empire I pushed Evil Empire II owner Henry to the limit ( I don't think Henry gets enough credit for being the competitive, shrewd, smart owner that he is - maybe cause he's so geeky lookin ). The Yankees / Red Sox rivalry is the most compelling in pro sports ( in North America, which is all I care about ). A long term rivalry between great teams can only exist now in MLB. I don't follow the NBA but I do watch the NFL and by osmosis I follow the NHL and I think these leagues have been engineered to a point where parity reigns and great teams cannot be held together over any significant span of time. ( I think the Pats are an anomaly, maybe Belicheck is that much better than any of his competitors. ) I give thanks for that, although it isn't Thanksgiving in Canada.

The Astros should be thankful that their fans don't care that they are shit ( the baseball team, not the fans ). The Astros drew 3 million plus in 07.

Rockies ownership ( I'm too lazy to look up who(m) it is ) should be thankful that their cheap ( some will say pragmatic ) ways didn't cost them a trip to the World Series. The Rockies ranked 26th in payroll this past season. How's that for ROI?

Pete Toms said...

My comment about how thankful the Rockies should be for their 07 season is incomplete.

The point I really want to make is:

"Teams on average spend 49 percent of their revenue on payroll, yet the Rockies spent only 28.4 percent of their revenue on players – ranking next to last in baseball."

Quote courtesy of Vince Gennaro.