A guy who cheats in a friendly game of cards is a cheater. A pro who throws a spitball to support his family is a competitor.
-- George Bamberger
I know, I know. Jaret Wright returns to the Yankees rotation. How could I not want to talk about that...
There are six weeks left in the 2005 season, and it's time to start anticipating this year's hardware. So that's how I propose to occupy myself this week. Not that I have a vote...
Today, it's Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Over the next couple of days, the Cy Young winners, and I'll wrap it up with the MVPs.
Somehow, I expect a few arguments...
NL Manager of the Year (Select the top 3)
1. Bobby Cox - "He can take his'n and beat your'n, or he can take your'n and beat his'n." I believe that was Bum Phillips talking about Don Shula, but whatever. John Schuerholz went and got Cox two lame corner outfielders (Jordan and Mondesi), and a closer of questionable qualifications (Kolb). Two 15 game winners from the 2004 rotation (Wright and Ortiz) didn't come back, although the trade for Tim Hudson made up for a lot of that.
What happened once the games started? Jordan, Mondesi, and Kolb all crapped out. Chipper Jones got hurt. Johnny Estrada got hurt. Three rotation starters - Hudson, Hampton, and Thomson - all went out at the same time.
It just doesn't matter. He can take his guys and beat yours, or he can take your guys and beat his. I think if he was managing the Royals, the White Sox would be in a pennant race.
2. Phil Garner - I've never been a Garner fan, and prior to this year, he'd managed just two winning seasons as a manager. But it would have been very easy for the Astros to fold the tent sometime around the end of May, especially with the prospect of Jeff Bagwell being done for the year. It didn't happen, and as we speak the Astros look to be headed for the post-season again. Well done, Phil.
3. Tony LaRussa - Sure, he's got an awfully good team. Not screwing it up is worthy of all kinds of respect on its own, and the Cardinals have actually had a number of issues, mostly injury-related, to deal with. I don't think LaRussa wanted to play Abraham Nunez and So Taguchi more than Scott Rolen and Larry Walker. He's had to, but the Cards kept humming right along anyway.
Apologies to Frank Robinson and Charlie Manuel. And this year's Jeer and Hoot goes out to...well, it's tempting to pile on Dusty Baker or Jim Tracy. But both the Cubs and Dodgers have had a cope with a lot of injuries to key people, so I'll cut them a little slack. The Marlins and Padres have both disappointed me, as well.
AL Manager of the Year
1. Ozzie Guillen - I absolutely guarantee that Ozzie is going to win this award. While Guillen irritates me in so many ways, you really can't argue with what he's done or how his team has played. They haven't won with "small-ball" or "Ozzie-ball" - they've won with pitching and defense. It's worked out much better for them than trying to club the other guys into submission, which had been the prevailing strategy before this year. He's obviously done a very fine job handling his pitchers - the starters have stayed healthy, and he's used his relievers quite effectively.
2. Ken Macha - Their season has been exactly like Houston's, except their turnaround has been even more impressive. The A's fell back in the early going on after a few key injuries - Bobby Crosby, in particular - but they didn't throw in the towel, and here they are.
3. Joe Torre - Yeah, he's got a $210 million dollar team. Yeah, his bullpen management is, frankly, insane and self-destructive. But so many things have gone wrong for the Yankees this year. The entire starting rotation, all five guys, have been let him down. On the scale of disappointment, they range from "kind of" disappointing (Mussina) to "quite" disappointing (Johnson) to "oh-my-God-NO" disappointing (Pavano, Wright, Brown). He doesn't have anything on his roster remotely resembling a major league centre fielder. And he works for George Steinbrenner. He's been able to cope.
Honourable mention - Eric Wedge, John Gibbons, Mike Scioscia. Hoots and Jeers for Lou Piniella, who doesn't even seem to be trying anymore, and Buck Showalter. I think the Texas heat, or maybe just the Texas ballaprk, has gotten to Buck's brain. Either that, or he can no longer distinguish a useful major league pitcher from a guy on the street.
NL Rookie of the Year
The three most impressive NL rookies this year - by a mile - all have serious playing time issues. One because of injury (Clint Barmes), the other two because they arrived a little more than a month ago (Jeff Francouer and Zach Duke.) So, these are a little provisional, I suppose...
1. Jeff Francouer, Atlanta - I know, he's only had 102 at bats in 28 games, since arriving in the Show in early July. But his performance has been just so insanely, ridiculously good... Yesterday he hit a 3-run homer and gunned down two baserunners at home plate. He has 8 BaseRunner Kills already, and is just 2 back of the league leaders. The kid has been unbelievable. The Braves have 44 games remaining, and Francouer doesn't have to keep hitting .382, with an RBI every day, and a homer every three games. If he can hit.. oh, .270 with 1 HR and 3 or 4 RBI every week... he'll be a no-brainer. Because .300 with 15 HR and 50 RBI in less than half a season is pretty good, too.
2. Jeff Francis, Colorado - If you're a rookie pitcher, and you play for the Rockies, a 5.77 ERA is worthy of respect. Francis has actually been getting killed on the road this year - he's 8-3, 4.44 pitching at altitude, but just 3-5, 7.24 on the road. I'm inclined to think the home stats give us a better idea of how good he is.
3. Ryan Church, Washington - Actually, he looked like he might be the best candidate of all for the first half of the season. But since returning from his rib injury about a month ago, he's stopped hitting. He can still put himself back into contention.
Honourable mention - Lance Niekro of the Giants can hit, and he seems to be making J.T. Snow redundant. Brad Hawpe and Garret Hawkins are two more Colorado rookies - I'm much more impressed with Hawpe, but like Barmes, an injury has cost him a lot of playing time. Wilson Betemit of Atlanta stepped in and did a nice job when Chipper Jones went down, and fills in at short and second as well.
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Gustavo Chacin, Toronto - A rookie starter who's currently 6th in his league in ERA, with an 11-6 record, who hasn't missed a start? At the moment, this is a pretty easy choice. Jays fans seem worried that he's doing it with mirrors, and that he doesn't miss enough bats - he's striking out 5.37 per 9 IP, which is enough to get by (and will probably go up over the next few years), and he keeps the ball in the park.
2. Nick Swisher, Oakland - Doesn't hit for a big average, but he leads all major league rookies in homers and RBI. His teammate Dan Johnson has been even more impressive with the stick, but over quite a few less at bats.
3. Russ Adams, Toronto - I'm torn between Adams and Johnson - but I'll take the shortstop. He's settled in defensively after a lot of erratic throws early on, and since being installed as the leadoff hitter, he's scoring almost a run a game.
Honourable mention - Johnny Gomes of Tampa Bay (this guy can hit, people); Huston Street and Dan Johnson of Oakland have both been super but in somewhat limited playing time; Tadahito Iguchi has been just fine in Chicago; and Robinson Cano stood up to all the heat that New York has to offer. Aaron Hill's looked pretty good, too. Pretty decent rookie crop.
Who did I completely, unaccountably, just forget? Must be someone...
Tomorrow: the NL Cy Young Award.
The Monday schedule:
Boston (Arroyo 10-7, 4.28) at Detroit (Douglass 4-2, 4.08) 7:05
New York (Wright 2-2, 9.15) at Tampa Bay (Fossum 6-9, 4.47 ERA) 7:15
Minnesota (Lohse 7-11, 4.21) at Chicago (Contreras 7-6, 4.18) 8:05
Toronto (Chacin 11-6, 3.39) at Los Angeles (Santana 6-5, 4.63) 10:05
Baltimore (Lopez 11-6, 4.77) at Oakland (Zito 11-8, 3.62) 10:05
Kansas City (Hernandez 8-10, 4.93) at Seattle (Hernandez 1-1, 0.69) 10:05
Washington (Hernandez 13-5, 3.51) at Philadelphia (Myers 10-5, 3.46) 7:05
San Francisco (Correia 1-3, 4.84) at Cincinnati (Harang 8-10, 3.90) 7:10
Chicago (Rusch 5-4, 3.98) at Houston (Rodriguez 7-5, 6.18) 8:05
Milwaukee (Sheets 8-8, 3.02) at Colorado (Cook 0-1, 5.94) 9:05