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HOUSTON -- Friday's USA Today had an op-ed column by the founder, Al Neuharth, that blamed Joe Torre and Brian Cashman for denying the Yankees' divine right to the World Series. Surprise, surprise, as Mick Jagger would say. Neuharth sits in George Steinbrenner's box at The Stadium.
In New York and Boston, there is a sense that the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is baseball's first division, and everyone else is Emporia State. But the reality is that the White Sox wiped out the Red Sox -- with ease -- and the Angels outed the Yankees, and the game's two richest teams looked like Karl Rove.
"They both looked very tired," said one advance scout who covered both teams. "They have a lot of stars, but they have a lot of old stars, they didn't have much defense and they didn't have much pitching."
And close to $270M in combined payroll commitments for 2006.
Today, no one knows if Steve Swindal -- who has been handling the new Yankee Stadium deal -- will immediately ascend to power and retain sanity, contrary to the USA Today editorial's smoke. Swindal is bright, extremely decent and stable, which might keep Cashman and Torre in place and avoid the let-them-eat-cake post-revolution chaos that would rule if the Tampa Connection pulled its coup d'etat.
No one knows if Theo Epstein will be the Red Sox general manager on Nov. 1 and, if he is not re-signed, whether the reconstruction of the talent line and the organizational mission statement will be diverted onto the Lowell Connector.
That said, can either team look at the White Sox, Angels, Cardinals and Astros and realize what it needs to do is concentrate on players who are on the way up, not on the way down?
Can they refigure by focusing on defense and role players, not barnstorming All-Star shows?
Can the ownership people and non-baseball people go to rehab for their addictions to talk shows and newspapers and accept real decisions, like the long-term view that maybe the retooling may make for a better team in 2007-2008-2009 than the instant gratification of basking in PR glory for what might be in 2006?
Can the Red Sox stop trying to be the Yankees and go back to thinking about building a team that will win 88 to 100 games each of the next six years?
And can the Yankees realize that Robinson Cano, Aaron Small and Chien-Ming Wang got them into the playoffs and that if they had presented them at last February's New York Baseball Writers Dinner, Cashman would have gotten a back page saying, "Brian Cashless: Penny-Wise and Pound Foolish?"
OK, there almost certainly will be a Jose Contreras bidding war between these two teams for reliever B.J. Ryan. The Yankees will offer more cash; the Red Sox plan to offer him the opportunity to close, which for the second time in three years might give Boston the advantage of having Keith Foulke instead of Mariano Rivera.
Will they both go after A.J. Burnett? Maybe. But each team has a lot of answers that 30-something players may not solve.
The Yankees have to redo their bullpen, find a center fielder and get another starter while essentially paying Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina $38M ($3 million of which goes to Javier Vazquez). But because Cashman and Torre had the guts to put Cano and Wang in vital positions, getting back to $195 million is a lot easier.
The Red Sox looked at the Bernie Williams Effect on the Yankees and are seriously concerned how long a contract to offer Johnny Damon. Their center fielder is tough and plays hard ... but what will he be in Year 3 of a four-year deal? Had the Yankees solved their center field problem last winter instead of having a final Williams year, they might have made the World Series.
Boston will have Dustin Pedroia in the second base mix with Alex Cora; Jonathan Papelbon in the rotation or bullpen; Kevin Youkilis at third; and, by the end of the season, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Jon Lester and perhaps Edgar Martinez pitching. But will they trade Manny Ramirez to the Mets -- for Carlos Beltran or a package involving Lastings Milledge, Mike Cameron and pitching -- and try to get a Troy Glaus or Paul Konerko for first base? Will they remake some form of the the trade deadline deal ownership killed that involved Kelly Shoppach, Abe Alvarez and Adam Stern to Colorado for Ryan Shealy and Larry Bigbie, as the Rockies have suggested?
Can ownership step back and accept that the White Sox series was the end of the trilogy and trust the baseball operations to reconstruct the personnel, philsosophy, culture and future of the club? Hey, even if they trade Ramirez -- whose OPS has declined annually from 1.097 to 1.014 to 1.010 to .982 (despite his incredible talent) -- do they have a chance to make the playoffs with Cameron's defense, Konerko or Glaus behind David Ortiz, Ryan, a healthy Curt Schilling and Milledge, Brandon Moss and Hanley Ramirez arriving in September?
Folks in St. Louis, Houston, Chicago and Anaheim scream about East Coast bias, the national media's obsession with the Yankees and Red Sox. Legitimate complaints. If you live in either city, you realize both franchises are self-absorbed, believe the only reason they're not in the World Series is that some managerial failure tucked them beneath the bar they deem to be the mediocrity of the Middle American 28 others. Aaron Rowand, Chone Figgins, David Eckstein, Adam Everett and three guys named Molina are left standing. Their teams realize that four-year contracts are four-year contracts, not one-year reactions to the need for immediate gratification.
Every one of the 30 teams is flawed, but the Yankees and Red Sox were more flawed than their fans realized, in some cases caused by their reactions to the public's gottagottagottagottagottagetthisguy mentality.
In a sense, they are like the final days of the Soviet Union, prisoners of their own doctrine. David Halberstam recounted a night near the end of that government when he went into a hotel restaurant, asked for a table for two and was told he couldn't be seated because the tables for two were taken, although there were dozens of tables for four that were empty.
The Cold War notion is passť. There are 28 other teams, four of whom are still playing.
The little things
Every week or so, there is one of these lines in the transactions: Kansas City claimed RHP Joel Peralta on waivers from the Los Angeles Angels; Cleveland claimed RHP Sean Douglass from Detroit; Colorado claimed LHP Jaime Cerda from Kansas City. Seemingly meaningless fodder for trivia.
But they're not always so meaningless. Ask the other teams who put in claims for Peralta, only to lose out because the Royals were first on the claiming board. Is he a lock to help Kansas City?
Of course not. But neither were playoff participants Eckstein, Bobby Jenks, Bronson Arroyo and Scott Podsednik -- all of whom were claimed on waivers, the first three by their current teams and Podsednik by the Brewers, who spun him into Carlos Lee.
Or Derrick Turnbow, who had 36 saves for Milwaukee. Or Jaret Wright, who turned into a 17-game winner for the Braves and earned a $21 million deal with the Yankees. Or Justin Speier. Or Brandon Lyon, who was spun into Schilling and a World Series. Or Scott Eyre. Or Scott Linebrink.
The Angels let both Jenks and Turnbow go on waivers.
"It will be a long time before another power arm goes through," said Epstein, who lost out on claims on Turnbow and Peralta and admits to scouring the waiver lists in search of like arms.
Astros GM Tim Purpura expresses a similar sentiment: "I'll be honest and admit we certainly wish we still had Linebrink in our bullpen, because he's one of the best in the National League."
The Eckstein waiver was at the time a shock to Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, who strongly believed in Eckstein, as did the Rockies, who also claimed him. Eckstein and double-play partner Everett led Trenton to the best winning percentage in Eastern League history, but as a second baseman. No one beleieved that he'd be a world championship-caliber shortstop.
In fact, the Angels chose Orlando Cabrera over Eckstein, which is how he ended up in St. Louis and now is better than ever before.
"David has become the engine, the personality and in many ways the identity of our team," said Tony La Russa. "I had no idea until he got here that he not only is such a special, energetic person and player but he's also one helluva shortstop."
This is the year that Eckstein has developed as a defensive shortstop.
"Give the credit to [Cards third base coach] Jose Oquendo," says Eckstein. "He's worked with me every day from the first day or spring training. It's amazing what he's done."
Before this season, Eckstein tried to get in front of every ball, as he had been coached throughout his baseball career. It is a style taught at many of those baseball schools. (Cards coaches say when Stephen Drew worked out in St Louis, he had the same bad habit because his college coaches told him not to use his backhand). In spring training, Oquendo convinced Eckstein to try to field balls towards the hole on his backhand and get more on his throws.
"It made a tremendous difference," said Eckstein. "All of a sudden I realized that all these years I was throwing flat-footed."
"His throwing is so improved there is no comparison," said Oquendo, who does the backhand drills with all the Cardinals infielders daily. "He's made himself a terrific player."
"I'm not surprised," said his NLCS rival Everett, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. "That year we spent together was as much fun as one could have."
Ask any Trenton fan. That combination was The Show.
If Jimy Williams had had his way, Everett and Eckstein would have been the Red Sox double-play combination of the future and Nomar Garciaparra would have played center field. Years later ...
For every team looking for a manager, there are five names without major-league managerial experience that should be on every list:
1. Cecil Cooper, Houston bench coach. He's been a farm director, amateur and professional scout, minor-league manager, assistant GM and now bench coach. He is smart, carries himself with dignity and isn't afraid to get in players' grills (as 'Stros people know).
2. Joe Maddon, Angels. Smart, organized, great people person and evaluator, and he understands development.
3. Manny Acta, Mets. Can't-miss guy.
4. Terry Pendleton, Braves. That MVP personality will make him a very good manager, and playing and working with the best -- Bobby Cox -- is a baseball PhD.
5. Bud Black, Angels. Forget the pitching coach stereotype. He has the Torre touch.
As the years roll on, these men will be added to the list: Joey and Alex Cora, Tory Lovullo, Bill Haselman, Dan Wilson, Mike Matheny, Josh Paul, Sandy Alomar, Jr.
When anyone compares what happened in Chicago on Wednesday to the 1985 Cardinals-Royals play, dismiss him. The Don Denkinger call would have closed out the World Series; Doug Eddings' call simply gave the White Sox a chance, as if an infielder made an error, and Kelvim Escobar didn't do the job. It was nowhere near as bad as the misinterpretation of the obstruction rules that cost the Athletics the 2003 ALCS in Game 3.
Crew chief Jerry Crawford -- a marvelous umpire -- was the person most at fault, because he should have pulled his five cohorts together and asked, "Did anyone definitively see the ball hit the dirt?" and get it right, which he did not do. And they got it wrong.
As for instant replay -- maybe in the postseason for home run, foul pole and fan interference calls. They could have the monitors in the supervisors' box next to one of the dugouts, and the supervisor and crew chief could take a look.
But the games don't need to be delayed. The tempos should be decided by pitchers. In fact, each team should be held to the Japanese rule that they are allowed two trips to the mound per game. How great would that be? Now, there are pitching coaches who are out to the mound so often it seems as if they're paid by the appearance.
Around the majors
• Ken Macha called Billy Beane this week and said he made a mistake turning down the three year, $2.6 million offer.
"I wanted Ken enough to offer the deal," Beane said. "I'd be silly to refuse his offer. He's a good manager; I like working with him and appreciate how much a very young team progressed."
One interesting decision for Beane? Whether to trade Barry Zito if the Mets offer a package including Milledge. Problem is, while the A's have positional players coming, they do not have any more pitching.
• The Arizona Fall League average was .315 going into Friday's games.
"Stephen Drew is the real deal," said one scout, although another believes he will have to move off shortstop.
The talk of the league is 20-year-old Angels shortstop Brandon Wood, who led the minors in homers and extra-base hits (an incredible 101). Wood hit four homers in one game and had nine through Thursday, and a couple Angels coaches think he could be in their third base mix come spring training. Wood isn't alone -- first baseman Kendry Morales and second baseman Howie Kendrick are also tearing up the AFL.
• There are indications that Arizona wants to deal Glaus, and Toronto and Boston will be very interested in him as a first baseman. And the Kevin Towers rumors in Arizona are legit.
• When Charlie Hough helped Ranger right-hander R.A. Dickey on his knuckeball, Buck Showalter sat down with Hough for his own coaching session.
"I wanted to pick his brain on how to manage a knuckleballer," said Showalter. "It isn't easy. There's nothing like it. Terry Francona does a great job with Tim Wakefield."
• Morgan Ensberg, the greatest Norwegian player in history, has grown a red beard.
"You've heard of Eric the Red," Ensberg joked. "I'm Ensberg the Red."
Speaking of players who made themselves -- Ensberg and Jason Lane were each undrafted juniors at USC, went back, had good senior seasons and here they are in the NLCS.
• What's so ridiculous about the regional network deal Peter Angelos got from MLB -- 90 percent of the revenue from the network carrying the O's and Nationals -- is that if his market rival in Washington has success, he benefits. That's outrageous -- and reason for one member of the executive council to want that group to undo Bud Selig's deal. But the owners will be happy in the end because the $450 million price tag will drive up all values; the Red Sox were sold for $700 million and may be $1 billion to $1.2 billion after the Washington sale.
• That Bobby Valentine has taken the Chibe Lotte Marines to the Japanese World Series speaks volumes about his bi-continental genius.
• There has been speculation that the Mets will go after Japanese catcher Kenji Jojima, a very good catch-and-throw guy who can hit.
"He is very good," said one Mets official. "But it's not going to happen."
Why? Not because of a hairline fracture in his leg. Jojima speaks no English, and one thing catchers have to do is communicate.
• Toronto may use Orlando Hudson as bait to get a bat or a starting pitcher and put Aaron Hill at second. But they realize Hudson is a premier defender.
"There's no way anyone else should win the Gold Glove," said coach Brian Butterfield, although Mike Scioscia argues his DP combination of Cabrera and Adam Kennedy should each get Gold Gloves.
• Archive Friday's New York Times and read Lee Jenkins' story on Josh Paul. It doesn't get any better, and there aren't many better people than Paul, one of my favorite all-time Cape League players.