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Friday, April 15, 2011

Manny Retires From Baseball His Own Way

(Originally published 4/15/11 in "The Montclarion")
Manny Ramirez, who struggled through one week with the Tampa Bay Rays before retiring after a second failed drug test, will likely see his reputation of being one of the best hitters of the last 20 years tarnished by controversy. 

Manny Ramirez always wanted to do his own thing in his own way. Whether it was climbing the left field wall and high-fiving a fan in the crowd after making the last out in an inning, or his sudden need to use the bathroom through a door in the Green Monster, Manny Ramirez was just being himself. “Manny being Manny,” as the popular saying goes. He may have topped all his other antics with the sudden news that he is going to retire from Major League Baseball at age 38.

The thought that maybe he left the game because he couldn’t keep up any more, his bat speed had slowed down or because he wasn’t the same player without steroids are all reasonable, but the real reason for his retirement was due to a likely 100-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. This is the second time Ramirez has been caught illegally using them and the third time he’s been caught since the steroids issue became public in 2002. Rather than face the inevitable 100-game suspension and lose out on most of his $2 million contract with the Rays, Ramirez decided to call it a career.

Manny Ramirez, who struggled through one week with the Tampa Bay Rays before retiring after a second failed drug test, will likely see his reputation of being one of the best hitters of the last 20 years tarnished by controversy.

Assuming he hasn’t blown all of his money, Ramirez has enough to live a happy retirement doing whatever he chooses. His decision to use steroids again may be arrogant, ignorant, conceited, stupid, or a little of each, but he had nothing to lose. His career was virtually over. He could have tried and padded some of his stats to appease the Hall of Fame voters, but the numbers aren’t going to be the reason he gets in or out. His numbers are amazing, but they’re tainted.

If Ramirez wants to get into the Hall of Fame he, along with all the other cheaters, have to hope that Barry Bonds gets elected. Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez have no chance of getting in if the homerun leader doesn’t get the nod. The League wouldn’t be able to leave Ramirez out while letting the others in, but at the rate the voters are leaning, none of these players are going to make it.

It’s comical that Ramirez thought he could get away with using steroids again. After his last failed drug test and 50-game suspension in 2009, he was bound to get tested more frequently and be under a more watchful eye. Everyone saw the effects and how poorly he played when he was off steroids, but suddenly he was able to find his stroke?

The “Mannywood” that once lived in Los Angeles faded into the desolate stadium that the Rays currently play in known as Tropicana Field. You never know what to expect from Ramirez. I picked him in the last round of my fantasy baseball draft just to see if he could do anything this year and surprise everyone like he routinely does. Instead, he did something we all really shouldn’t have been too surprised about.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bad Economy Equals Empty Seats For Mets & Yankees

(Originally published 4/8/11 in "The Montclarion")

The Yankees have been plagued by their lowest attendance marks in the new Yankee Stadium the first week of the season. Attendance at the Mets’ opening home series this weekend is expected to be low as well. 

A new reality is setting in for our New York baseball teams – primarily the New York Mets. The team is looking to pay off the new stadium they just built as well as the Bernie Madoff scandal. Now they are struggling to sell tickets. Their 2011 home opener, which is normally packed, is nowhere near being sold out. Thousands of tickets were being sold on third-party websites such as StubHub and eBay.

The Yankees may be fine financially, but their ticket sales aren’t going as well as in years past. Their opening day game at Yankee stadium netted them a sold-out crowd, according to ticket sales, but there were plenty of empty seats on the field level behind home plate. Games against the Red Sox, the Subway Series and other important games will bring a full house to the stadium, but the other three-quarters of the season are going to have the Yankees losing out with their best available seats.

Their full-house opening day may be overreacting, but the reality is ticket prices aren’t worth the money the teams are asking for.

Fans of the game will always enjoy the atmosphere and experience of being at the game, but the better value for their money is watching the game in crystal clear picture with first-rate sound close to the detailed action. For no additional fee they’re able to see the left fielder catch the ball against the wall or the homerun as it just makes it past the foul pole. The only seats that seem reasonably affordable obstruct views that they can see from the comfort of their living rooms. They can get 12 times more beer for the same price you pay for two at the game. They can make a quick three-course meal in your kitchen for the same price of a hotdog and a soda, and they’re also allowed to keep the cap for their water bottle at their own house.

The Mets’ cheapest seat available from the Mets themselves is $36 for a premium game. The Yankees, have their bleacher seats priced at $15 and their grandstand tickets for $20. That doesn’t include a parking fee and the money spent on gas.

The Mets are going to see themselves affected to the point where they close down the upper level of seats, concession stands and vendors, especially when they play meaningless games against second-rate teams. The Yankees will draw enough fans to get by since they’ll be playing exciting baseball for the whole season. It doesn’t seem worth it to attend a baseball game anymore; the stadiums are beautiful and the atmosphere is amazing, but in a time where gas prices are rising and jobs are becoming scarce, the cost of attending one three-hour night of entertainment just doesn’t seem worth it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Final Four Ready to Dominate Houston

(Originally published 4/1/11 in "The Montclarion")


Without including Butler, UConn (University of Connecticut) or Kentucky, if you picked VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) to be in your Final Four you are either a genius or have some close connection to that school. The 11th-seeded Rams defeated number-one ranked Kansas to advance to their first Final Four in school history. Cinderella once again crashed the “Big Dance” and ruined the hearts of schools, fans and bracketologists everywhere.

VCU will face 8th-seeded Butler for a chance to head to the finals. Butler was last year’s Cinderella story – an 8th-seed reaching the finals, only to lose a close game 61-59 to Duke on a miraculous final shot. Even if Butler was playing a good team, like Kansas, you couldn’t consider them a fairytale story; everyone is already aware of what they’re capable of. Butler has a very good chance of reaching the finals again. The spark, urgency and passion the VCU Rams play with aren’t going to be enough to get them into the final game. Their playing style revolves around a pressure up-the-middle, kick-out and take a three-point shot mentality. It can only get them so far. The Butler Bulldogs are more physical and play better in the paint than the Rams do. Experience can’t be discounted either; VCU may be caught off-guard being in such a spotlight while the Bulldogs experienced this aura just last year.

Fourth-seeded Kentucky is matched up against the third-seeded UConn Huskies. This game is sure to excite college basketball and sports fans alike. Two well-coached programs to go along with good basketball pasts make this the premiere game in the Final Four. Neither team is jaw-dropping with talent, but each team plays solid, fundamental basketball. Both of these teams have hall of fame-caliber coaches on board as well. This game will turn into a chess match more than a battle on the court and really could go either way.
The biggest variable that will decide either team’s fate is UConn point guard Kemba Walker. He is a monster on the court, and if there is any doubt just take a look at his film. He is a very smart and gifted player, and he is most likely headed to the pros after one year in Connecticut.

If the Kentucky Wildcats can get Walker into foul trouble early, or to foul out of the game, their chances to win will skyrocket. If Walker is having a bad game, the Wildcats will win. If Kentucky Coach John Calipari conjures up a defensive scheme to stop Walker, the Wildcats will win. The focus of this entire game will be on Walker and his play; he will be the reason UConn wins or loses. Apart from Walker, Kentucky has the better basketball team.

Kentucky versus UConn would make a much better final match than a Final Four game. VCU and Butler are very good stories; if either of these teams win the tournament it would be amazing and would prove that any team can win once they’re in the playoffs (hint hint, college football), but that’s going to be a big “if.” Sure, they’ve gotten this far and whichever team advances only needs one more victory to win, but it’s still unlikely. I’d much rather see a close, nail biting, intense final match than risk a blowout. Butler, again, scored only two points less than the number one-seeded Duke Blue Devils did a year ago in the tournament final. I just hope they can make it interesting again this year.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

If Only We Could Yell At Them

The Chicago Cubs are paying Carlos Silva $11.5 million dollars to stay away from the team this year. Silva was released by the Cubs early Sunday morning with one year remaining on his contract. He left the Cubs kicking and screaming, starting fights with Aramis Ramirez during the team's first Spring Training game, and ending his tenure with a loud tirade against Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins when he learned that he was going to get demoted to Triple-A.

Carlos Silva's contract was more disastrous than the contract ex-Mets general manager Omar Minaya gave lefty Oliver Perez. Silva signed a 4 year $48 million dollar contract with the Mariners in 2008; Perez signed a 3 year $36 million dollar contract with the Mets in 2009. Each earned $12 million dollars annually, but which $12 million was more poorly spent?

Since signing his contract (between 2009-2010), the always erratic Oliver Perez had a combined 6.81 ERA and had more walks (100) than strikeouts (99) and refused a demotion early in 2010 because he felt he was better than the minors. During those two years Perez posted a total of 3 wins to go alongside 9 losses while averaging a 1.995 WHIP (2 base-runners an inning is horrific!).

Silva didn't fare much better than Perez. His two years with Seattle netted him a total of 5 wins, two more than Perez, but also tagged him with 18 losses, twice as much as Perez. Silva's ERA matched Perez at 6.81, but he posted less strikeouts (79) to go along with almost half as many walks (43). His WHIP was more efficient (1.62), but an efficient 1.62 WHIP is like jumbo shrimp, an obvious oxymoron.

Between the two, who was worse?

Oliver Perez and Carlos Silva were absolutely atrocious for the Mets & Mariners/Cubs respectively, earning $12 million dollars annually to produce Single-A numbers.

If I had my choice I would take Perez on my team. Now, certainly I wouldn't want either of them, but for arguments sake I would choose Perez. He at least struck fear in the opposing batters; they never knew when they would be hit by a pitch. His different arm angles were laughable, and his pitch location could have been more pathetic than a drunk guy trying to walk a straight line. But when all is said and done Perez showed up when it mattered most (sometimes). Without having the stats in front of me, Perez pitched very well when he played against great teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees. He was able to hold them down at times, but at other times he could barely record an out against the Washington Nationals. He amazingly pitched 7 stellar innings against the Cardinals in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, the same game that Carlos Beltran left the bat on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright threw a full-count curve ball for a strike to end the game and to send the Cardinals to the World Series. If Perez would have gotten that win he may have been New York's newest hero.

Carlos Silva was a disaster from the start. He is a perfect example why you shouldn't base a contract off of one season (especially when it's a contract year). Just look at Gary Matthews Jr., or Milton Bradly, who's hot tenure with the Cubs got him traded to the Mariners in exchange for Silva before the 2010 season. Silva was awful, yet posted decent stats for the Cubs (10-6, 4.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP). But with one more year than Perez (and thus another $12 million), Silva loses this debate. Never did he show promise or poise past the first 4 games he pitched with the Mariners (he went 3-0 with a sub 2.75 ERA). Perez left with class, I guess. He didn't bad mouth anyone, and never complained that he didn't receive a fair shot (the Luis Castillo treatment). Silva did the opposite. He was a terrible player to have on your team, a terrible fantasy pickup for anyone stupid enough to draft him, and a cancer to your rotation.

Both of these players are going to go down as two of the WORST contract signings in the history of the game. Neither of them deserve the contracts they received, and if this were like the NFL, where contracts aren't guaranteed, neither player would have lasted longer than their first season. In the end, Perez was the lesser of two evils. But when you look at it from a broader perspective, they were both laughable players from hell.