Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down

Checking Up on the Cubs PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 19 July 2014 00:00

On Wednesday, in the AL or Nothing space, I noted the bevy of Boston prospects who are on the horizon, possibly making the Boston club the most exciting on the horizon in the American League.

In the National League, the Cubs are the analagous next big thing, prospect-wise, meaning the two teams have a lot more in common than Theo Epstein and the best two ballparks on earth.

It would be fun to see the North Siders break back through the postseason, and with the youngsters they have in tow, this might indeed be the scenario.

Dubious? I can appreciate why, but, let's take a look at what is coming down the road in Wrigleyville.

Kris Bryant (3B): Haven't heard of Bryant, arguably the next big hitter on the Major League horizon? Well, if you are in a keeper league, it is way too late, as he will be way too gone. For the archivists, 93 games into 2014--with 68 at Double-A, and 25 at Triple-A--Bryant is hitting .350-32-82 with 11 swipes, 27 doubles and 55 walks to 108 whiffs (.446 OBP). 48% of his hits have gone for extra bases, and the only question is where he will play. With Anthony Rizzo already at first, it won't be there.

Arismendy Alcantara (2B/OF): Already arrived at the show with a .391-1-5 flourish over his first five games, the 22-year-old has surely helped make a splash. Was hitting .307-10-41 with 11 triples at Iowa. Chances are Arismendy will own second base and partner with Starlin Castro for awhile.

Javier Baez (SS/3B): Almost made the club out of spring, and he is just 21, Baez got hurt in camp and started slow, but he too has kicked it up at Iowa, hitting .244-15-58. He does whiff (28 walks to 111 strikeouts) but again, he just turned 21 in January. Likely will move to third to keep Castro as a wiley veteran at short, at least until Addison Russell comes up.

Addison Russell (SS): Part one of the spoils of Jeff Samardzija, Russell was a first-rounder in 2012, who hit .275-17-60 at Stockton last year. Russell was slowed with hurts this year, but was hitting .333-1-8 over 13 Double-A games when swapped. He is the real shortsotp of the future for the Cubs, and with Rizzo, Alcantara and Baez joining, will be part of a seriously good infield. Meaning Bryant will have to learn to play left, and perhaps Castro center.

Billy McKinney (OF): Part two of the spoils of Jeff Samardzija, the Athletics first-rounder last year was hitting .241-10-33 at Stockton when swapped, but with 36 walks to 58 strikeouts, at age 19, he still has more than a ton of upward growth in his sights. Actually an outfielder, McKinney is likely a late arrival to the position lineup, but he is very interesting.

Jorge Soler (OF): A 22-year-old, and another outfielder, Soler is big (6'4", 215 pounds) and looks every bit the power right fielder with a .310-20-87 line over 113 pro games, that also includes 17 swipes, 32 doubles, 45 walks to 77 strikeouts and a .912 OPS.

Kyle Hendricks (P): Acquired in the 2012 swap for Ryan Dempster with the Rangers, Hendricks is 31-19, 2.69 over 452.3 innings with 386 whiffs and a 1.072 WHIP. Made his Major League debut last week, but will be at Wrigley to stay to start 2015.

Jake Arrieta (P): Drafted by and struggled with the Orioles, and then swapped for Scott Feldman, at 28, Arrieta is not a prospect let alone a youngster, but he seems to have learned his craft with a 5-1, 1.95 mark over 13 starts and 78.3 innings this year. Arrieta has 85 strikeouts and a sterling 1.009 WHIP. He will be a wiley vet when the rest of this list comes into their own, and maybe then World Series rings will grace Wrigley and Chicago can breathe again.

What's the Score? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 12 July 2014 00:00

The second week of July is always a big deal around our house.

That is because starting six years ago, our friends Mike Volk and Jody Lerner started organizing a "retreat" of sorts within our music community to a little California town called Long Barn.

Long Barn has a standing population of about 250, but they also boast The Long Barn Lodge, a lovely little compound with cabins and rooms and a huge expanse of grass. There is a swimming pool and paraphernalia to play horse shoes and volleyball.

Up the road ten miles is the larger hamlet of Pincrest which has a great kayaking lake and you can horseback ride around the area, or hike. Most of the 75 of us that converge on Long Barn talk and catch up.

It does get hot so a lot of time is indeed spent poolside, but there are also little jam sessions omnipresent, so the air is full of guitars and mandolins and banjos and fiddles as we eschew our electric gear in deference to rootsier instruments and older bluesier tunes.

There is a huge BBQ pit at the lodge and we all bring mass quantities for both our own consumption, but also to share and, well, we all regard the time as the best week of the summer.

Diane and I always drive up on the Wednesday of Long Barn week, but the official weekend does not begin until Thursday. Since we are pretty busy during the year, having an extra day to goof off together is great, and we usually go out to dinner--just the two of us--something that simply does not occur as often as we would like.

However, this year we had a bit of a problem with the Thursday start for two days ago, coinciding with folks arriving, and most are from the bay area, was the Giants/Athletics "Bay Bridge Series" final game, and since both teams are more than competitive this season, that proved to be of interest to many within the group.

Unfortunately though we all love both the Long Barn, and getting away from the city, there is no TV in the Lodge: at least none that will show either the Giants or Athletics.

And, there is a cluster of hardcore fans among the group, all of whom know of my affiliation with the game and keeping stats.

So, when I noticed that the teams were indeed playing against one another during the day, I suggested we not only drive six miles up the road to a nice little restaurant, Mia's, in Cold Springs, but that I would be happy to help anyone who wanted to learn how to score track the game's progress.

Now, I can be pretty intense about such things, especially when I am trying to teach, so I did have to keep reminding myself that these folks were among my dearest friends, and that starting at the right time didn't really matter, nor did getting rosters ahead, and again that the basic idea was to watch the game and spend some time together.

In fact, part of me was afraid that among the six or seven folks who said they were interested, half would change their minds when push came to shove and the whole idea would be for naught.

Surprisingly, 12 people arrived, and I got to enjoy trying to explain the basics--the difference between a wild pitch and a passed ball, for example--along with the rote 63/G means a ground ball, fielded by the shortstop, then put out at first.

Some folks were interested, and some friends just wanted to watch and talk, both of which, with my more relaxed thoughts about how to approach the whole affair, were just fine.

Jody and her daughter Monica Lerner-Volk were the most adept, but the rest of their family (Mike and daughter Sarah), and friends like Les Ogilby and his wife Janet, Lisa Leal, partner Christy and their son Louie, along with Jeremy Steinkoler, his wife Michele Friedman, and their some Evan comprised the group.

Of course there were sarcastic comments by the Athletics fans as the solid Oaklanders held the Giants at bay, at least till the sixth inning, when Mia's closed so they could prepare for dinner.

But, in between bites of pizza and Mia's great chips and sandwiches, talk of watching the game, and "How can you tell a slider from a curve?" and "What is the code for a fly ball to center that is a sacrifice again?" was the real thing that pushes us to love the weekend, and spending time together.

And that is the wonderful feeling of camaraderie that accompanies such a gathering. By the time we shuffled back to the Long Barn, indeed the rest of our clan was appearing, and just as suddenly baseball slipped away in the ether of being with friends you have not seen for awhile.

I suspect not much baseball will come up between now and Sunday, which in this case is a good thing.

Tight is Tight PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 05 July 2014 00:00

About 17 years ago, Cathy and I flew up to Seattle to visit friends over a long Memorial Day Weekend.

Neither of us had ever been to that lovely town in the Northwest--one that reminds me a lot of the San Francisco Bay Area--before, and we happened to arrive on a crystal clear day.

"Look," everyone said, pointing to Mt. Rainier, clearly visible in the distance.

It was indeed a lovely sight, and it continued through the evening for I remember both the hostess and waitress at the restaurant where we ate near Pikes Market pointing out the mountain.

"What's with that?" we both wondered, thinking we have skied in the Sierra and seen more than our share of beautiful snow-capped ridges.

Well, "that" was that over the remaining four days we spent in Seattle, all foggy and dewey and overcast--as it is in the Berkeley hills where we live, we did not even get another peek at the peak.

I think of this event not infrequently because it always reminds me how important context is to just about everything we see and process as human beings, and how easy it is for each of us to miss that context within the perspective of others.

I say noting that in my Soccer Boppers article of last Saturday and that I am not captivated by soccer and the World Cup, though I have no problem with the rest of the world largely going goofy over the event.

So, on Wednesday, when 1 PM rolled around, I turned on the match between the United States and Belgium. I suppose were I Yogi Berra, I would have said I turned the game on 50% out of national pride, 50% out of curiosity and 50% to irritate Anne Coulter, who thinks the sport is facilitating a moral decay within our country.

If you watched, you know that it was a very tight match, tied 0-0 as the contest went into the 30-minute overtime period where the Belgians prevailed in a game that was still largely foreign to me in essence, but in which I certainly could discern one thing: the Belgians had a more aggressive team with the bulk of play occurring within the US side of the field of play.

timhowardSo, it did indeed seem that our boys were on their heels, and on the defensive for the bulk of the 120 minutes of play, which was enough time for goalie Tim Howard to deflect no fewer than 16 shots at the goal.

Which it turns out, is a World Cup game record.

I was keenly aware at how reactive and adept Howard was during play, and was pretty amazed by his agility, but until it was noted that Howard set the record, I took his play as much for granted as did Cathy and I dismiss Mt. Rainier.

Still, with the attack of the Belgians, I was indeed surprised the game stayed knotted and went as long as it did, not that I wanted to be a purveyor of doom, but rather as an objective casual observer, it just seemed their team was better on that day.

As I also mentioned in last week's piece, I am not a fan of basketball.

However, back in the early 90's, I truly tried to be.

Along with three friends, we bought a share of Warriors season tickets, so I got to see ten or so games a year for a couple of years, and during that time the Golden State team was poised for greatness it seemed, with Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin on the squad, along with Billy Owens and the team's #1 draft pick, Chris Webber.

As it happened, when we divvied up tickets during Webber's rookie season, I drew the game against the Orlando Magic, wanting to see their #1 selection Shaquille O'Neal in action.

Well, that game, between the Warriors and the Magic, was easily the most exciting sporting even I have ever attended.

With something around a minute left, Golden State was down by five points, and though Shaq had dominated, he fouled out, and with timeouts and fouls and other gyrations, that final minute took about ten minutes of actual clock time to wind out, with the Warriors pulling out a victory, 117-116 if memory serves, blocking a shot that was in the air as the buzzer sounded in a play several of the more sophisticated fans around me claimed was goaltending.

I did know the game well enough to agree, and no one called the foul, but it was indeed intense as virtually everyone within the Coliseum was on their feet during those final ten minutes of play.

I could have been hooked right there, forever as a basketball fan, but unfortunately--and if you follow hoops you might remember this--the Warriors front office mismanaged their players and roster and coaches so badly after that so the team which seemed so great and promising turned into the worst kind of disappointment.

Disgusted by the waste, I told my friends the following year I was no longer interested in supporting a bunch of lamebrains who could not manage a handful of uber talented kids to success.

So, I walked away from hoops, just like I will walk away, for the most part, from soccer despite that great effort earlier in the week.

If nothing else, my perspective has been as skewed as seeing Mt. Rainier that May day back in 1997.

For, I shall be disappointed if every soccer match I watch is not a 2-1 120-minute nail biter.

That said, Ms. Coulter can rest assured that my moral fiber is no more distorted today than it was to start the week.

Just that and well played Team USA: you did us proud.

Soccer Boppers PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 28 June 2014 00:00

A few years back, I was talking politics with my friend and XFL mate Jeff Winick, when I mentioned what an idiot I thought Anne Coulter was.

Jeff paused for a second and noted that he went to law school with Ms. Coulter, and that even though her mouth and views were not necessarily rational to most of us, that she was hardly stupid: rather that she understood marketing in a manner that is just different than most of us.

Now, I confess that I am not much more of a fan of the sport of soccer than she is; that is, I don't watch it, and am not really interested in watching it. But, neither am I that interested in watching basketball for a myriad of reasons, but none of them have anything to do with any contempt for either sport.

Rather, between baseball and football, I have enough to keep my competition cravings fulfilled, and I would rather spend the rest of my free time watching old movies, cooking, playing the guitar, reading and performing a bunch of other tasks that I suspect Coulter would say also point to the moral decay of America.

For Coulter certainly suggested that the popularity of soccer is contributing to just that in the piece she authored Wednesday on her own site (presumably because no one else will publish her?) noting her contempt for the game, now enjoying huge coverage thanks to the World Cup.

Now, I will admit there are parts of Coulter's piece that are funny, and I also think Jeff is correct in that Coulter has indeed sized up her market, and knows that though what she says or writes is outrageous, well, controversy means notoriety, and there is no such thing as bad publicity.

On the other hand, who really cares what we like to read or eat or enjoy? I mean, isn't the whole idea of personal freedom and liberty mean that we get to watch or do what we want as individuals?

For, though I was not raised playing soccer, surely the last couple of generations of American kids have, just like most kids around the world who play the sport that is the most popular on the planet.

And, just because something is popular, but not indigenous to our country, doesn't mean it is bad. For, like the metric system, another communist plot Coulter despises, Americans rejecting a discipline the rest of the world embraces, doesn't make us right or superior. In fact, it more points to some hard headed immaturity.

Like noting to a little kid that he or she put their pants on backwards, and the child defiantly replying "I did that on purpose."

In addition, some of the things that Coulter hates about soccer--aside from the fact that Patrick Henry did not invent it--are that there are often not a lot of points scored, and well, there are not a lot of players carted off the field on stretchers like in hockey and football.

Maybe it is just point of view, but if I am watching a baseball game, and the score is 1-0, well, to me that is as exciting as it gets. Now, I understand if there are those who prefer a slug-fest, and I even admit sometimes a 14-12 contest is fun.

But, in a 1-0 game, it means with every pitch, victory hangs in balance, so if there are 225 pitches, or plays in a particular game, to me that is as exciting as a sporting event can get.

As for the violence, I am not sure why the inclusion of the Red Cross is important to Coulter, whom I believe is a Christian, so I wonder just what Jesus would say about high sticking. But, aside from that, apparently she has not heard of Luis Suarez.

It is no secret that I am well versed in 19th Century British Literature: in fact I have an MFA with a specialty in Dickens and Coleridge and their ilk.

A few years back, I was reading George Eliot's "Silas Marner," a book that somehow eluded my reading lists from high school through grad school.

In that book, when talking about the use of tokens and spells, Eliot presciently wrote that "Ann Coulter did not wear such a charm and had an idiot child."

Well, if what we write and publish are indeed our children of a sort, Eliot surely nailed Coulter on that one.

That means in the game of literary soccer, the score is Eliot 1, Coulter 0.

Maybe boring, and maybe like the slow low-scoring contests Coulter decries, it took forever to get a final (like 150 years), Anne, but to me, a satisfying victory nonetheless.

In fact, maybe I will even start watching the final 16.

As for you, Anne, maybe you should stick to NASCAR with the rest of the knuckle draggers.

8 Rounds and then Poof PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 21 June 2014 00:00

So Tuesday afternoon, after a great lunch on the bay--with Glenn Colton, Steve Gardner, Stacie Stern, Nando DiFino, and my partner Diane at San Francisco's Pier 23--Todd and I ambled back with the group to the Marriott Union Square where we participated in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) Fantasy Football Experts Draft.

Interest in playing in the leagues over the years has burgeoned along with our national interest in fantasy sports (40 million Americans play fantasy sports, as opposed to the 3 million when I got started in the industry 21 years ago) such that the FSTA features a showcase league sponsored by SiriusXM, in which Glenn, Stacie and Steve play, and the "B" league, with 14 wanna-be's.

It is that 14-team configuration, coordinated by Charlie Wiegert and Ted Kasten, which allows the winner to move to the SiriusXM league, and sends their last place team to the B contest, hoping for redemption, in which Todd and I compete.

Last year, we did pretty well, finishing the season with a 10-3 mark, but lost in the finals to Fantistic's Anthony Perri, so this year, Todd and I are determined to finish it off with a win and move up to the top tier.

The problem is it is so hard to draft a team before training camps have even opened, in fact as I write, NFL teams are still signing their 2014 draft picks and free agents.

Which means the elusive starters and injuries and surprises of the camps and pre-season are a mystery to those of us at the table. And, that means for the most part, we were all drafting blind after the league mainstays are off the board.

What this process also suggests is that it is possible to grab a starting eight players of sorts, but then everything becomes a pile of Jack Straw players whom the group didn't know existed, or dismissed for one reason or another. This also suggests that the closer we get to the season, and then for the first few weeks, there will indeed be a free-for-all within the waiver wire.

Amazingly, I pulled the #1 pick for Todd and me, and, well, here is our post-draft squad, with whatever reasoning I can fabricate after we did establish a basic roster.

1. Jamaal Charles (RB, KC): Who else should we take? It is sort of the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera conundrum with two more. Matt Forte has to share the rock with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. LeSean McCoy may lose touches to Darren Sproles and there is some worry whether Nick Foles can do it again. Adrian Peterson is getting on and isn't a PPR force. Charles is not devoid of warts as he is running behind an O-line with three new mates. But here's the thing. Last year, we took Ray Rice as our first pick, then Maurice Jones-Drew as #2. Still, we managed to make the championships (thanks to some shrewd waivering by Todd). So we opted for the highest upside, realizing that if we miss, we can still make a run. But if we hit, that run could be all the way to the big-boy table next year.

2. Drew Brees (QB, NO): Drafting at the wheel, we agreed if a really top signal caller was there, grab him. This mollified my desire to make sure to get a solid productive player at the QB position before the pickings were reduced to Matt Schaub and Joe Flacco (neither of whom was drafted).

3. Keenan Allen (WR, SD): Todd's idea, but I am totally down with a rising star who nabbed 1074 yards, 71 passes, and scored eight TDs, as he goes into his second year of play. Plus, Allen went to UC Berkeley. What's not to like?

4. Chris Johnson (RB, NYJ): New team, new season, and well, as long as Johnson comes close to his decent 2013 (1077 yards, 42 receptions and ten total scores), we will be way happy.

5. Torrey Smith (WR, BAL): Z knows how much I like Torrey, and well, his 65 catches and 1128 yards for a guy in his prime, it's hard to argue.

6. Dennis Pitta (TE, BAL): We were hoping Vernon Davis would slip to us, but so much for that. Pitta was hurt most of last year, but he is supposedly healthy, and played every game in 2011-12, catching 101, and scoring ten times.

7. Danny Amendola (WR, NE): Of late, the Troy Tulowitzki of the NFL: when he is hurt, it is painful, but when he plays, look out. And, with the now wiley Tom Brady throwing to him, a gamble we are happy to take.

8. Carolina Panthers (DEF): Todd knows I like to grab an aggressive defense early, and Seattle, whom we took last year, went in the sixth round. The Panthers are a really good team, getting better, and I think their D is going to emerge as top flight along with their QB.

9. James Jones (WR, OAK): I know Z has a soft spot for Patriots, and he knows I have one for Raiders. And, the team may not be any good, but someone has to catch the ball, kind of like even on a crappy baseball team, a closer will still get 30 saves. 60 catches and 800 yards would be good, though.

10. Chris Ivory (RB, NYJ): Pretty durable, and a nice handcuff to Johnson, Ivory did nab 833 yards last year for the Jets. Not much of a receiver in a PPR league, but, it is getting late and you have to take what you can get.

11. Aaron Dobson (WR, NE): Cuffed to Amendola, and satisfying Todd's Patriot fix all at once, the second-year player did pretty well with 37 receptions and four scores last year. Likely to improve on that.

12. Lance Moore (WR, PIT): Since Brees saw something in Moore, so do I. I realize he has only two or three really good games a season but with a new team, as a #4 wideout, as long as we can cash in on those big games, it should be fine.

13. Andre Williams (RB, NYG): A rookie on a team that is likely in transition, but well, I like the UC Berkeley guys, and Todd loves the guys from his Boston College Alma Mater. Being a huge Matt Ryan fan, who am I to argue?

14. Knile Davis (RB, KC): A handcuff to Charles, and not a bad one. He did score four times and caught 16 pass as well for 317 yards his rookie season.

15. Dan Bailey (PK, DAL): We needed a kicker, and well, there you have it. Easy to swap out for another as necessary.

16. Michael Hoomanawanui (TE, NE): Mr. Irrelevant. He is a Patriot, and Gronk does get hurt. Plus, fun to have the longest surname in the NFL.

There you have it. We both decided one kicker, one defense, and one QB, and when the bye weeks come, adjust accordingly. At least going into the season, we will live or die by our Patriot influenced sword.

Am I Ready for the Football? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 14 June 2014 00:00

I think the answer to the query posted in the title is "no."

However, the world marches on whether I like it or not, and come Tuesday, Todd and I will again represent Mastersball at the Fantasy Sports Trade Assocation (FSTA) Experts League, with an asterisk.

The asterisk is that the FSTA has two football leagues, A and B, and since Todd and I joined the football party late, we are in the B league, not that I want to paint the newcomer setup as inferior; but, the catch is the winning B team each year moves up to A, while the last place A squad drops to B.

Last year, despite a slow start, Z and I made it to the championship game, losing in the end to Anthony Perri of Fantistics in what was really a pretty good trouncing.

So, back we go this year, with the draft in my back yard, San Francisco.

While it does make a fun twist to draft a chunk of time before--and between the FSTA and XFL, it is also problematic for a few reasons.

The first is that even thoough we can speculate to a degree, camps have not even opened, so roles are, to say the least, uncertain.

The second is the subset of the above: Injuries.

Z and I have already swapped e-mails and chatted about what to do, and we do share a difference of opinion as to who our first pick might be.

Mind you, as of now we don't know what our draft spot is, so that adds to the speculation, but, I think drafting a quarterback first is not a bad row to hoe.

Now, I know Z feels differently, but in looking at last year's top point producers, eight of the top ten (Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte being the exceptions) were signal callers. And, I think points are points.

However, 15 of the top 24 point producers were also quarterbacks, meaning in a 12-team format, there are enough top guys for each team to safely grab one, meaning as long as we don't wait too long--and remember, a strong back-up is a good thing for bye weeks if nothing else--a strong player should fall our way.

For example, last year, under the same aegis, we drafted Matt Ryan in the sixth round and you might think that things worked out well selecting our passer that far into the draft.

However, our first two selections were Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, and well, how well did that work out for us?

What did work was selecting Jordy Nelson, Vernon Davis and the Seahawks defense, picks that I favored (note we were both down with Jones-Drew, Rice, not to mention Stevan Ridley, along with taking Ryan when we did).

But, it was Todd's shrewd waiver moves--particularly grabbing Charles Clay, Rashad Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson -- that fleshed out our team and pushed us to the brink.

However, that brink is where we finished, with another chance this year.

Somehow, even in writing this, I am thinking Todd is right: that we can wait a couple of rounds before grabbing a QB. Although I really think taking a Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson--a player who can throw and be just as dangerous running--is a solid idea.

I'm inclined to look for Calvin Johnson as a first pick and maybe even looking for Demaryius Thomas or Jimmy Graham second (though I do still love the Niners' Davis).

And, I think being aggressive with selecting a solid defense is a smart move, because, as I noted about QB, points are points.

As to what we will actually do, however, I haven't a clue.

However, if you tune in next week, we will all surely find out.


What Makes Iconic? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 07 June 2014 00:00

"Who's Don Zimmer?" Diane asked the other day, when the news flashed at the bottom of the TV screen that the baseball icon had drifted from this planet.

"A lifetime baseball guy," I said, finishing with "I think he was in baseball for something like 66 years (it was actually 65). Only job ever, playing or coaching or scouting baseball."

That was about as much as she needed or wanted to know, and then it was back to whatever else we were watching or doing.

Since then, though I have not really read any articles about Zim, whose career, and as a result life I have witnessed. But, I have thought back most of those 65 years, since Zim was three years into his career when I was born.

I remembered my first baseball cards: a bunch of '56 and '57 Topps that my parents' friend Richie Israel had outgrown, so Passover of 1960, he gave his shoe box to me.

What is funny is how old those two and three-year-old cards seemed to me at that time, and how old fashioned they seemed compared to the 1959 set (which remains my favorite). The players looked old to me in the same manner our grandparents seem ancient to us when we are little.

But even then, Zim looked like kind of a throwback, in the Rocky Bridges "I have huge forearms and an equally large hunk of chaw in my mouth" way.

Zim may not have been old enough to have seen Ruth or Gehrig play, but certainly he saw the next generation of stars--the generation of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio--and he played with Jackie Robinson.

And, he played at Fenway and Wrigley, where Ruth and Gehrig and Williams and DiMaggio all played for at least a game.

As for me, I got to see Willie Mays and Willie McCovey in their prime, and Sandy Koufax and Cal Ripken, Jr. Along with Greg Maddux and Albert Pujols, and now Mike Trout and Jose Fernandez.

For Trout, and Fernandez, and these days Josh Donaldson and Sonny Gray in Oakland, are the cool now players, not old guys like Derek Jeter.

I know this because a couple of weeks ago, I had my yearly weekend of watching my friend's kids play ball. That included a playoff game that pitted brothers Zach and Ben Anderson against one another, in what proved to be an excellent 6-5 game that went to the last pitch, and featured just a couple of walks: pretty good for ten-year olds.

But, I know Zach and Ben and their teammates like Gray and Donaldson and Brandon Moss because they told me so.

And that is much of what makes baseball so magical and mystical to me.

For the game that Zach and Ben played is essentially the same game that is played down the road at the, and across the bridge at ATT. They are playing the same game that was played at Ebbets Field, where Zimmer began his Major League career, and at both Fenway and Wrigley, where baseball has witnessed 100 years of play.

I remember how jazzed I was when I attended my first games at both those storied yards.

I hope that someday Zach and Ben--hopefully together--get to both those ball parks.

Where Don Zimmer played and coached for a chunk of those 65 seasons.

That is how baseball binds us, person-to-person, generation-to-generation.

Stephen, Kendrys, and Ragged Bones PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 31 May 2014 00:00

Over the years, I have noted my love for the transactions page.

In fact, I have occasionally posted about the trannies on the Mastersblog--usually during the off-season--in a sort of running "series" entitled "Life and Death in the Transactions" (I think I am up to 34 of them over the years).

As a romantic, at least when it comes to philosophy and literature, I do see baseball as a metaphor for life. The business of games and statistics and box scores: the sort of organized chaos or chaotic organization of pitches and plays that constitute the stats and box scores indeed mirror the crazy hustle bustle everyday life can bring.

Within this world, most pitches never actually result in an out or a run, much like the zillion things we slog through on a daily basis--kids, pets, work, bills, the gym, lunch breaks, meetings, and such--are just threads within the larger whole of existence.

And, of course within the ordinary we can indeed see the extraordinary.

So, somehow within this microcosm, transactions are the obituaries and life and birth and marriage announcements, all cleverly crammed into reduced type in the paper I read as a kid, essentially telling us the real back-story of a player's maybe ten-year run as a professional.

I know that most everything that is in the transactions we can, and often do know before they are neatly clustered in one space for scrutiny the next day. In fact, I like Twitter and what I get from it, but somehow, seeing that somewhat ordered list of promotions and demotions and injuries and trades and retirements gives context to the crazy ethos of all the strikes and balls and hits and double plays.

Let's take Steve Pearce, for example, who was released by his Orioles team and then re-signed within a day, finding himself right back on the field the next day as the starting first sacker when Chris Davis went down earlier this year.

Previously, a top prospect, just the sequence so aptly describes the promise-then-despair-then-hope that reflects Pearce's career, that it is kind of eerie.

For it is to the transactions I go first each morning before I actually look at the box scores: to see that Jose Fernandez is going to undergo Tommy John surgery (lucky I own him nowhere) or that Erick Aybar is out for seven days due to a concussion, or the same Chris Davis is now out for a series on Paternity Leave.

We learned that George Springer, arguably the "must have" hitting prospect of this year not named Oscar Taveras or Gregory Polanco, was available, so far without the glitches usually associated with making the big jump to the Show under a microscope with the expectations of the world on your shoulders.

The transactions are where it was finally confirmed, after more gyrations and speculation that Stephen Drew will spell out the rest of the season with the Red Sox, which is four months worth or so, only a few fewer than the entirety of said negotiations.

Now it will be the Kendrys Morales show, and the slugger will sign somewhere over the next week and there will be FAAB bids galore within the leagues where Kendrys' services have not as yet been accounted for.

All the while, Kyle Farnsworth and Heath Bell, and probably now Jose Valverde will be out there peddling his services so he can squeeze out a few more days at the ball park before he has to consider life outside of baseball.

The question is where else can we witness the strum and drang of our existence in such a tidy and at the same time unpredictable fashion.

For, as surely as Valverde can sign on, and out of nowhere save a handful of games, so in a month could he be an ex-ballplayer.

Relegated to perhaps baseball card signings or SABR conventions where he can relive his best moments with us, and in all likelihood, which we will be happy to hear.

Trading My Shovel for a Scalpel PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Sunday, 25 May 2014 00:00

Life is indeed a funny and fortuitous thing.

As I drove up towards our Lake Tahoe house for both the Memorial Day Weekend, plus another week just to stay up and enjoy being away, I was concocting this very column in my head.

The trouble was I got a bit of a late start and the normally three-hour drive turned into more of a five-hour marathon, so not only was I beat when I finally hit Soda Springs, where the house lives, but as I sat down to write, the ever schizy high elevation Internet connection died.

I was able to text my mate Todd, who said not to worry, that our fellow partner had us covered with his Saturday piece "Being Jeff Luhnow Is Not Easy."

In his article, Brian notes that he has seriously undertaken the "rebuild" word in the Experts Fantasy League (XFL), which I believe is really the toughest fantasy league of all.

Unlike Brian, who challenged for an XFL title for several years, my teams over the span of the league have been nowhere close to good. In fact, they have been beyond bad in a Mixed format that used to be my strongest environ.

The deal with the XFL, however, is that if you can stumble into the Hanley Ramirez-types in the Minors, and bring them up as part of your franchise system that allows 15 keepers over the off-season, you can hit paydirt.

That is because Hanley, as an example, is owned by Alex Patton and Peter Kreutzer, who pay $25 for his rights. They acquired him from Lord Zola as a farm player, and his salary has simply gone up $3 a year since.

That means there is a premium in grabbing Yordano Ventura, who will be $4 next year for Steve Moyer since I just swapped the Royals flamethrower to Steve for a $25 Matt Kemp, who came up through the system just like Hanley.

What this also means, however, is that with 15 smart and well versed owners, there are no secrets. As an example, Yu Darvish, who is presently at $7 on his $3 path the Kemp/Ramirezdom, in his fourth year in the Majors, was actually drafted six years ago by Trace Wood.

Indeed the pickings are thin. So, in trying to figure a way to stock with these guys, I went the route of rebuild during the 2012 November auction (another fun twist to the league) in overspending on some stars, leaving $40 on the table to hopefully destroy some of the dollar values for the rest of the league, as well as grab potentially cheap youngsters like Leonys Martin ($11 this year).

And, then I dumped all the big names, like Roy Halladay and Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols for youngsters with the $3 promise.

That has meant sacrificing a couple of years in the absolute cellar, as in Brian finished 14th in the XFL last year because I was 15th.

Truth is, as this season began, my team, peppered at the time with Mike Zunino, Yoenis Cespedes, Yonder Alonso, Matt Moore, Nick Castellanos and Jedd Gyorko all on the $3 path, was again floundering at the bottom, making me wonder why I was sticking with the path I had taken.

And then, out of nowhere, the boys got hot. Mike Morse ($1 reserve pick) and Zack Greinke were delivering, and Jose Reyes returned to add some fuel and suddenly we moved up to eighth place, about 23 points behind the leaders.

I admit that 23 points seems like a lot to make me optimistic, but the reality is that my team was at the bottom of steals and saves, however even as I write, ten steals are worth almost half of those points, while 15 saves are worth another seven.

Since I traded Moore for Kenley Jansen, while I have both Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour, the saves are indeed doable, and since Reyes is not stealing like he used to, his swipes, and those of Kemp have similarly increased, so the reality is if each of the guys can simply add five steals to the base I already had, 17 of those 23 points are mine.

Couple those moves with the addition of Mark Teixeira (part of the trade with Brian, wherein he got Miguel Sano as well) and Kemp, the pair--if they can stay healthy--should surely help my offense. And, again, if each player can simply boost my offense by three points aside from the steals, I am there.

Now, I am not sure if the above logic is realistic, or I just got tired of sitting at the bottom of the pile, and impatient for my guys to kick it up a notch, but the reality is I am going for it now.

The best part is the real impact in my future is not really impacted, as I kept the bulk of those $3 a year increase players, and still even have a handful of prospects, as well as some well priced stars, on my current roster.

Meaning 2015 suggests that I will not be a last place team any more than I will this season.

At least I hope it means I am reading those tea leaves correctly.

Taking a Hard Look PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 17 May 2014 00:00

It is getting to be crunch time #1 for fantasy owners--at least those playing the full-season format--as we approach Memorial Day.

Over the next week or so, you should be able to clearly see whether your team can compete or not.

I am actually in this position in a couple of leagues, and as you can guess if you are in a similar situation, you probably spend more time thinking about just what to do?

In keeper leagues, should you be in this quandary, there are really three things you can do. But, for fun, let's say you are in the middle of the pack, maybe 25 points behind the leader, and you are low on saves and steals, but mostly keeping pace.

In such a situation, there are basically three paths you can follow:

  • 1. Trade your younger cheap bargains, or prospects for starters, focusing on saves and swipes, throwing basic caution to the wind, going for it.
  • 2. Trade you more costly stars for a few more cheap players, setting yourself up for a killer 2015.
  • 3. Do nothing.
  • It is tough to figure which of these three paths you should follow, but if there are 20 points you can realistically pick up between now and the middle of August, go for it.

    My reasoning for this breaks down into this:

  • 20 points, especially in attainable counting stats, is a reasonable achievement, and if that means swapping off Gregory Polanco, or Yordano Ventura for Alex Rios or Jonathan Papelbon in some combination, do it. Yeah, you might fall short, but pennants in any fashion are tough to come by, so go ahead and swap and strengthen. And, I do say August for a reason. By September, remember that playing time gets squishy with roster expansion, so if you are going to make a trade, swap for players on contenders. If you don't think you are quite there with the points, turn the tables and trade your expensive non-freezes and pick up the players you think will turn a profit next year relative to what they cost this season and stash them. Meaning if you can get Michael Brantley or Sonny Gray on the cheap for Adrian Gonzalez, again, go ahead. Just do be careful not to overload with too many up-and-comers, for that can make as mediocre a roster as having a team full of Darwin Barneys.
  • Do nothing? Seriously, it is a path, and sometimes doing nothing is the best move you can make. (It does take patience though.)
  • If you are in a throw back league--meaning every year fosters a clean scratch draft--again, take a look at the same standings. Since there is no next year, that says either you make the moves you can to improve as much as possible, or you pack it in.

    And, let's face it, packing it in is not only no fun, it is chicken shit, so I would never recommend that.

    But, if you have a surplus in said steals, or power, or starting pitching on your reserve list (I am thinking Matt Wisler or Dylan Bundy, for example), swap existing, or even potential surplus for what you need to finish as high in the standings as you can.

    For, I believe it is always important to play as hard as you can irrespective of anything else.

    Yes, I know there is a wait till football season, but don't forget, now there are daily games like FanDuel, and monthly games like Shandler Park.

    Believe it or not, they are just as much fun, just as challenging, just as frustrating to lose, and just as exhilarating to win.

    I'm Just Sitting Here (Watching the Wheels Fall Off) PDF Print E-mail
    Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
    Written by Lawr Michaels   
    Saturday, 10 May 2014 00:00

    Earlier in the week, my mate Lord Zola concocted a piece, How Important are April Standings?, at our KFFL sister site.

    The premise, per Ron Shandler and his fanalytics, is that if you are not among the top five in your league standings at the end of April, you have a 20% chance of finishing among the league elite.

    Todd asked us-who would be the knights of the fantasy round table--among other things, what we should do if we find ourselves scrambling in that lower 80% at this juncture.

    First, I have no reason to doubt Ron's stat, but my gut reaction is a Hans Soloesque "never tell me the odds."

    But, my NL LABR team, which a couple of weeks ago was among the top three, has had a two-week run that dropped the squad to a low of 11th place a couple of days ago (we have rebounded to tenth over the past few days).

    What makes the drop tough is my pitching had been strong, with a max of 52 points two cycles ago when I swapped Jordan Zimmermann for Aaron Hill. Since I needed at-bats, and had Cole Hamels coming off the DL, it seemed a logical move to grab those plate appearances and trust that Hamels could fill the slot vacated by the steady Washington pitcher.

    And, though my at-bats have picked up relative to the league, in the process I lost my power source of Mark Trumbo for up to a couple of months.

    But, we hit a collective .187-5-15 and lodged a 3.45 ERA with a couple of wins during Fantasy Week 4. A week later, we raised the hitting to a more respectable .265-6-25, but the pitching went way south with zero wins, a 6.864 ERA and a 1.657 WHIP. This week, the bats are back to a more anemic .242-2-17, and on the pitching side still no wins (means none over the past 11 days), a 4.80 ERA and a 1.433 WHIP.

    So, at this point of the season what can I do, and what can I expect?

    Since I cannot really afford to trade anything at this point--and, to a degree, because most of my team is slumping--making a trade is not really in the cards. Although a post-All Star possibility would be to swap one of my closers--Sergio Romo or Jonathan Papelbon-- for some more at-bats.

    I am hoping the second step--if trading for Hill was the first--will be this week, when I can move Emilio Bonifacio to the hot corner after he played his sixth game there, meaning I can move Hill from Utility to second, and slot Scott Van Slyke in the Utility spot.

    But, aside from that, I simply need to be patient and trust that my pitchers will indeed pick it back up, and that Will Venable, Ryan Doumit, Jordy Mercer and Matt Kemp can prove to be better than their numbers over the first six weeks reflects.

    Since all but Mercer have indeed proved to be just that previously over their careers, I have to trust that they will indeed get into form.

    So, we mostly have to mark time, wait for the inevitable streaks, enjoying the good, and hoping there are only a couple of more flat spots, and ideally sync that with the return of a Trumbo, who was as hot as his first week.

    If you should find yourself in such a position as that LABR team, and you are feeling frustrated and desperate, try to resist the desire to dump or rebuild your team on the fly.

    For that is not only diffficult to do, but remember that should Kemp raise his season average to .280 (from his present .240) and hit 25 homers (he has four now), should you trade him, you are swapping the plus .300 average and 21 homers we are projecting to someone else.

    As I have noted many times, a fantasy team can endure several mistakes over the course of the season, and having weeks where your team hits .187, or posts a 6.84 ERA certainly qualify as mistakes, natural or mental.

    So, what will tell me if my team can indeed make it back to the top is simply if they level back out to quiet consistency as the warm weather arrives.

    Because there are some advantages coming, and patience is the only way to take advantage of those potential breaks.

    One is indeed the return to a full complement, and that means Trumbo, and maybe even Marco Scutaro.

    Second, I have amongst the most FAAB with $107, so I need to wait until an inter-league trade might afford a migration to the Senior Circuit.

    Third, even though I have fallen to the bottom rung of the standings, there are 35 fairly tight points that separate the top from the bottom. For example, ten homers separate last place and third place, while 13 swipes stand between 11th place and first in that category.

    On the pitching side, two teams have more than 20 wins while the rest have between 11 and 18, so the points are indeed there.

    And, let's face it, statistics or not, winning is largely a by-product of being hot at the right time, and through the course of the season, everyone has a hot spell.

    Once again, to Ron's 80% rule, I do know the leagues where my teams have generally done the best were when they started slow, and picked it up as May warmed into June and the summer months, while my teams that start out hot always seem to be the ones victimized by that ambitious 20% team out of the top five when May comes.

    But, the bottom line is at this point, I am wedded to a plan and a course. I have to stay it to see if that plan will work.

    For now, anyway.


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