Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday 5 + 5: Batter Up!

I've been trying to catch up with baseball. I paid precious little attention to baseball during the Hot Stove League period. So here's my quickie recap of everything that happened during the off-season that I should have paid more attention to.

1. Ichiro is unhappy. (Or, like every lazy reporter in America, you can use your favorite play on "Sleepless in Seattle" here.) In an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Ichiro Suzuki expressed his discontent with the Mariners, who he sees as apathetic and lacking in spirit. He cites the last game of the season as a case in point. If you believe the translation (and the Seattle Times didn't), he said:

I had always felt that the value of a player really depends on his spirit in the last game of the season, just as the player would approach the first game of the season. On that last day I couldn't find anybody warming up on the field, and nobody said anything about it. We lost that game without spirit. What's worse, 35,000 fans came to see it, spending their money.

2. Mariners look east once again, signing catcher Kenji Johjima. Kenji is touted as the best Japanese catcher of his generation, and has made pitchers and players happy with his enthusiastic and intelligent play during the pre-season. Good deal.

3. Mariners pick up Jarrod Washburn. Washburn's a mediocre pitcher, late of the Angels, for whom the Mariners have high hopes. He's been signed to a four-year contract worth $37.5 million, which Fox Sports used as an example of one of the worst off-season moves of the year.

4. M's pick up Carl Everett. He's been signed to a one-year contract from the World Series champion (sorry, I just laughed and swallowed my popcorn) White Sox. Everett's a decent hitter, a switch-hitter, but a serious attitude problem. A loudmouth, an arrogant man who goes toe-to-toe with coaches, umpires, and apparently his own children when needed, he can't possibly be good for the Mariners. I'm disappointed.

5. Felix Hernandez. No, he's not new. But he's still with the team, and he's still tough to hit, and he's so big that the ESPN magazine put him on their front cover. Hernandez is an astonishing pitcher, and hopefully the Mariners have a good enough rotation so that they can win more than once every five games.

Five Major League Stories from the Off-Season

1. Sammy Sosa retires? According to the Onion, he made the tough choice to retire just 12 runs shy of a steroid investigation. It didn't happen, but teams sure don't seem eager to sign him after his depressing time stretching out Orioles jerseys. Maybe the Onion's on to something.

2. Barry Bonds used steroids. According to the authors of "Game of Shadows," he started using them in 1998 out of resentment that the balloonified Mark McGwire was getting all of his headlines, and has kept using them to score his tapeshot home runs. Bonds has argued innocence before, but with the extensive documentation in this book, it's going to be hard for him to continue to make that argument.

3. Bonds sues. Today Bonds filed suit against the authors of "Game of Shadows" - for libel? Nope, apparently he's just trying to freeze the profits, and maybe get the authors up on a contempt of court charge. He's apparently using a California law that prohibits profiting off unfair business practices, by which he means using grand jury testimony. Conveniently, he hasn't sued for either slander or libel, which would require him to prove his lack of steroidness in a court. Keith Olbermann airs out the issues here with one of the book's authors, so read him to get the skinny.

4. Oh, yeah, Garry Sheffield uses steroids, too. And Jason Giambi. And probably Marion Jones. And lots of other people. Sorry for the folks who are actually following baseball, but this is the biggest story of the off-season. As a new father of a boy I hope grows to love baseball, this fills me with sadness.

5. The World Baseball Classic. Yes, I loved the idea. It's one of the few things that Bonehead Bud has gotten right during his tenure. And hooray for the Yanks getting booted in the early rounds. The world has been building baseball talent for generations, and it's about time they got to shine on a major stage. Kudos to the Ichiro-led Japanese team for winning the tournament, and bragging rights until the next one comes around. (It's also a relief that Ichiro has found something to be excited about.)

What stories did I miss?

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