Sunday, December 18, 2011

Didn't See That One Coming

I really, really thought that Albert Pujols would remain a St. Louis Cardinal.  It's been a little over a week since Albert signed with the Los Angeles Angels and I think I've read everything possible about this deal and how it unfolded.  Financially, I knew it would be hard for the Cardinals to keep Albert but I thought they would find a way to make it work.  The team, the city, they all wanted Albert to be a Cardinal forever.  As for the Angels, I didn't see that one coming but in hindsight it all makes sense. 

It happens like this so often.  We keep hearing about one team (in this case the Marlins) and all reports make it seem like a done deal.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, another team swoops in and grabs the prize.  It took less than 48 hours for new Angel GM Jerry Dipoto to quietly make it work.  $254 million over ten years.  It was agreed to in the wee hours of the morning.  Just to make his all-nighter worthwhile, Dipoto also inked pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five year $77.5 million deal.  That total, $331.5 million, is more than owner Arte Morena paid for the team.  I guess the Angels were tired of being second to the Rangers in the AL West.

Albert got what he wanted in both money and years.  It's the second richest baseball contract in the history of the game.  Cardinals GM Bill DeWitt was very honest when he told fans that the organization had a 50-50 chance of re-signing the face of their franchise.  With the Angels recent influx of cash, the Cards didn't stand a chance.  They offered a good contract, $210 million over 10 years, but not great.  They offered what they could afford to pay.  They weren't willing to sacrifice so much of the teams future on one player.   A player who has, ever so slightly, begun his decline. 

What Albert gained financially in Los Angeles, he gave up historically in St. Louis.  He will not go into the baseball history books as the greatest Cardinal of all time.  I'm certain there are those in St. Louis who feel betrayed.  Those who are angry and bitter will, in time, remember that baseball is a business.  I know it was a tough decision emotionally for Albert to leave St. Louis.  I wonder if it was somehow made easier by the departure of Tony LaRussa?  Walking away in the glow of their second World Series title together.

I'm glad that I always made it to the Ted when the Cards were in town.  Over the past 11 seasons I've been fortunate to see Albert quite a few times.  One of my favorite at-bats came during the 2010 season.  In Albert's last plate appearance in Atlanta for the year he faced Billy Wagner.  Great versus Great.  Wags got Albert out with two pitches and the entire ball park went nuts!  I'll miss seeing Albert but it's better for Braves fans to see Albert wearing an Angels uni than that of the Marlins!

One thing is for certain.  St. Louis fans can still rest assured that Albert Pujols will go into the Hall of Fame as a St. Louis Cardinal.  And years from now, Cardinals fans will see Albert in his red sports coat at Busch Stadium on Opening Day.  That they can count on.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Divas & Drama Kings

Let's all just sit back and watch the drama unfold now that Jose Reyes is officially a Miami Marlin.

When rumors began swirling that the Marlins were courting the soon-to-be-former Mets shortstop, I saw an interview with current Marlins shortstop and resident drama king Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez described Reyes as "a pretty good player" and said that he would be ok with Reyes joining the Marlins.  Ramirez also emphasized the fact that he was the team's shortstop.   Hanley's demeanor and body language didn't seem to be too ok with Reyes joining the team and I found it interesting that he described  Reyes' playing as only "pretty good".  Reyes is waaay more than pretty good. 

It was made clear that if the Marlins signed Reyes, Ramirez would be moved to 3rd base.  Ramirez was well aware of this.  Ozzy Guillen spoke to him about it.  Now that Reyes is officially the Marlins new shortstop, Ramirez says he's not moving to 3rd.  In fact, he's told the Marlins that he's not moving to any other position. 

Grab some popcorn and sit back folks.  This is going to be good!

In other Marlins/Winter Meetings news, it appears that four teams are now involved in the Albert Pujols derby.  The Cardinals, Marlins, Cubs and Angels.  The Marlins want a quick resolution, preferably today.  They've signed closer Heath Bell, Reyes, and they're hoping for Pujols.  Yes, I definitely smell the distinct aroma of the attempt to purchase another World Series title.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Win One For The Skipper

MLB's Winter Meetings begin on Sunday and I'm very curious about what will transpire.  When Frank Wren returns to Atlanta will Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens still be Braves?  I'm doubtful, especially with all the interest swirling around Martin.  If Martin is gone, we sure as heck better get someone really, really, really good in return.  That's all I'm saying.

On Tuesday the 6th, the Hall of Fame will announce the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award which is presented annually to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball."  Frick Award voters look at a number of criteria, including longevity, continuity with a club, honors, national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games and popularity with fans.  To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service with a ballclub, network or a combination of the two.  This year, the Brave's Skip Caray is one of the finalists. 

I would LOVE for Skip to receive this award.  Sadly, I don't think he will.  Skip has always been under-appreciated and very often overlooked as a baseball announcer.  In order to not be disappointed on Tuesday, I've set my expectations low.

Skip's calls are the soundtrack to the Braves successes in the 90's.  I still get chills when I hear those classic calls.  My heart still races with anticipation when I hear this:
"A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!...Braves win!"
 What about this one?
"There's a drive, deep right center field. Nixon goes as far as he can go....He caught the ball! He caught the ball! I can't believe it. What a catch by Otis Nixon! He took the home run away."
And every Braves fan's favorite:
 "Swung...flyball...deep left center...Grissom on the run..."Yes! Yes!   Yes!  The Atlanta Braves have given you a Championship!"
Seriously, I get chills when I read these.  And I know when you read them, you hear them in Skip's voice.  That was the power and passion of Skip Caray.  He loved the Atlanta Braves as much as we did and he let us know it every game.  He was a homer.  He was one of us.  But the big difference is that Skip was at the games in the '70s and '80s too, when many fans weren't.   Skip was masterful at keeping us entertained and interested in Braves games when the team couldn't.   I don't mean to insult the teams of those eras but let's face it.  They were bad.  Remember these classics?
"The bases are loaded and I sorta wish I was too."

“And like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field.”

 “The stadium is filled tonight, but many fans have come disguised as empty seats.”
It's easy to be an announcer when your team is winning.  Try doing it when your team is losing year after year after year.  Skip did it with style and ease.  Dare I say it, Skip had panache!  Yes, he could be a bit of a curmudgeon.  He was sometimes grumpy, maybe snarky, but always honest.  Skip was real.  I use to love listening to Skip's pre-game show.  Skip shared his knowledge and insight before every game.  But God forbid someone ask a stupid question.  If you did, Skip let you know it.  I never understood why people would forever ask for an explanation of the infield fly rule. You knew Skip was tired of answering that one and he let the caller know it.   I seriously think that people intentionally asked that question just to get a rise out of him.

I hope the voters remember that in the early days of cable tv, Skip, along with Ernie Johnson Sr., Pete Van Wieren and a few others, brought the Atlanta Braves into homes all over the United States.  A team that truly became America's team.  Skip Caray was heard by more listeners than any other baseball announcer of his time.  He was the first local announcer with a national audience.  He brought the Atlanta Braves into homes all over the country and helped create a nationwide fanbase.  The Frick voters should recognize this achievement. 

Tim McCarver is on the ballot for this award too.  If he wins, well, that's just salt in the wound for every Atlanta Braves fan.