Monday, July 12, 2004

posted by James - 6:59 PM

I'm ready for tonight's conundrum of all conundrums. On one channel is Just Another Monday Night, following a Eugene-laden PPV, no less. And on another channel will be the MLB Home Run Derby, probably my favorite sporting exhibitions. Thankfully, I have TiVo, so I don't really have to make much of a choice, but it will be hard to rip away from the Derby, especially if Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa is in the middle of a home-run tear.

"Who do I think will win the Derby tonight?" you ask. It's easy to just throw out a name, but I'll give you my top-four prospective winners... and, not so coincidentally, they're all from the same league (though David Ortiz is hot and Miguel Tejada could have an advantage being right-handed).

4. Lance Berkman: He's my "dark horse" candidate. Yes, he's the hometown guy, so he's got a lot of experience hitting at Minute Maid Park, but for me it depends a lot on his approach. After replacing Ken Griffey, Jr., he's the only switch-hitter in the field, but his splits say he's got a choice to make. His ratios of home runs to at bats are similar. If he chooses to bat right-handed and go after the very short left-field porch, he could win. Of course, he would know better than anyone which approach to take, but he's also the only one who could make such a major adjustment, if he happened to creep into the second round.

3. Jim Thome: Just watching the guys warm up, some of them are coming dangerously close to hitting the rafters down the first base line. From watching him while with Cleveland, I've always been amazed at his ability to hit laser-beam line drives over the wall that look like it would lodge into someone's chest before stopping and also hit the moonshots that never seem to come down.

2. Barry Bonds: The only reason I have to have him this "high" is the 70th home run he hit at Minute Maid Park. The U.S.S. Mariner has some great comments on Barry on their site right now. I can't say enough about what Barry means to future discussions on the history of baseball. But it's even harder to figure out what his present accomplishments mean. This year's numbers are making it hard to justify a game plan for pitching to him, or not pitching to him.

This year, pitchers have already walked Barry almost as much as they did last year in 53 less games. At this pace, he'll break his own record for walks by over 60. And all these walks have done nothing but make a Giants team full of mediocre offensive players into an offensive force. They are third in the N.L. in runs (you know, what wins you ball games), trailing only Colorado and St. Louis (by one!).

Yet when they pitch to him, he's brutalizing pitchers with a league-leading .365 BA and .794 SLG%. Thome's second place in the latter category, and he's only 140 POINTS BEHIND!!!

With the Giants only .5 games behind San Diego for first place in the N.L. West, MLB managers clearly need to go back to the drawing board when it comes to facing Barry Bonds. He's scoring 35.5 % of the time he gets on base - 71 R in 200 xOB (rudimentary, I know) - and he's on base over 3.1 times every five PAs. HE'S ON BASE MORE THAN HE'S NOT! That is flat-out amazing and not even steroids can account for this level of greatness (Oh, I had to go bring that up, didn't I?).

1. Sammy Sosa: Who the heck did you expect? I'll admit it. It's an entirely homeriffic ranking on my part. It has nothing to do with the fact he loves to abuse Minute Maid Park's spitting-distance left-field wall. He's hit 14 homers there in 126 ABs. The only parks he's hit more in are since-defunct Cinergy Field (16), Dodger Stadium (16), Busch Stadium (19), mercifully-defunct Qualcomm Stadium (20), Coors Field, and, of course, Wrigley (283), and all but Coors came in at least 74 more at-bats.

It also has nothing to do with him having something to prove since he "admitted" using a corked bat for his "pre-game exhibitions".

(Now starteth the un-intended rant...)

It has everything to do with the fact I'm everything Cubbies.

No matter what ball yard, suburb or street corner, I'm cheering (NEVER BOOING) for the Cubbies.

When the All-Star ballots get passed around, I'm punching out the Cubbies.

When I'm on my internet All-Star ballot, I'm clicking on the Cubbies... five or six e-mail addresses worth.

When the 32nd-Man ballot goes online, I'm voting for the Cub! And when they put out a press release the day the vote ends begging for people to put in their votes for a Cub who's in a dead-heat with a guy who's going to get on the team at the first sign of injury anyway, I'M CLICKING TILL MY FINGER GOES RAW!

I have no idea whether they counted, but I was here almost all day trying to get Cubs first-half MVP Aramis Ramirez on the All-Star team, where he belongs... erasing the abject favoritism (if not just outright stupidity) shown towards Barry Larkin by Florida Manager Jack McKeon.

This is not a comment on how undeserving Bobby Abreu is (like I said, he would have replaced Junior on the team instead of Carlos Beltran), and maybe it says something about the increasing intelligence of the fans (Abreu has racked up at least a .409 OBP in six of the last seven years, and at least a .497 SLG% over the same time period), but this is a guy who has never made an All-Star Game before and has toiled in relative obscurity, playing second-banana to Jim Thome and Scott Rolen, while putting up amazing numbers.

I've seen enough in my short time living here in Wrigleyville to be embarrassed to be a Cubs fan, with people throwing trash on Wrigley Field twice in a three-game series (Heck, I can't even spit in the Friendly Confines' general direction) and the petty booing of our own players, and this is just playing pile on at this point.

There is supposed to be more of us than this, and we're supposed to be better than this.

More than ever, our boys need the full support of a loyal, intelligent and plentiful fan base, and it's time we started proving we're all of those things.

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