Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Steelers did not lose in extra-innings tonight...

In fact, they were victorious. NFPost reports that they defeated everyone else in the game of "Be-The-Pittsburgh-Steelers-To-A-Boring-Fault." They squeaked out the win by re-signing Ike Taylor, Suisham and a punter to compete with an oft-injured punter and his backup. Beyond that, there are rumors via the Trib, that we're looking at extinguishing what tiny room we have left under the new cap, to bring back Willie Colon.


We're shoring up our team deficiencies by signing a lanky, veteran corner; a fat guy who has sealed off his edge, exactly once in the last 365 days; and, you know, another pair of kickers.

Football is back, baby. Here's hoping that it'll stay faithfully married and the hell out of the way of baseball. At least until late September.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yes, I am still angry about this

The Pirates files a formal complaint with the league office at 2:30 a.m. today. Joe Torre, who serves as MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations issued a statement in response to said complaint.

Unfortunately, it appears that the call was missed, as Jerry Meals acknowledged after the game.

It doesn't appear the call was missed. The call was missed. I could sit here and say that Joe Torre's right arm appears to still be in a sling following a marathon self-pleasuring session in the wake of Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, but that would be wrong for the exact same reason.

Also, Jerry Meals didn't acknowledge shit after the game. Here's what he said: "I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area. I'm guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn't see a tag."

Here are some other things Jerry Meals hasn't seen:
Tape of the call Jim Joyce admitted he blew, costing Armando Galarraga a perfect game.
Video of Jim Joyce admitting he blew the call and apologizing for it.
The Sir Thomas Gainsborough exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Dave Matthews Band live in concert
The King's Speech
The Eiffel Tower
A single episode of The Simpsons
Charlie Rose' 1997 interview with David Foster Wallace
A picture of Abraham Lincoln

Anyway, Torre:

Many swipe tags are not applied to the runner with solid contact, but the tag was applied and the game should have remained tied. I have spoken with Jerry, who is a hard-working, respected umpire, and no one feels worse than him.

WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. I feel worse about this than does Jerry Meals. Nils feels worse about this than does Jerry Meals. Franco feels worse about this than does Jerry Meals. Holy shit, there are probably Braves fans who feel worse about this than Jerry Meals. Even some hacks over at ESPN feel worse about this than Jerry Meals. Oh, and the Pirates definitely feel worse about this than Jerry Meals.

You know how I know Jerry Meals doesn't feel particularly bad about this at all? He hasn't straight up admitted that he blew the call, let alone apologize for it. And he won't, because he fucking did it on purpose.

We know that this is not a product of a lack of effort.

Having been the beneficiary of calls like this and having been on the other end in my experience as a player and as a manager, I have felt that this has always been a part of our game.

They have always been a part of the game because you cuntnuggets refuse to eliminate them. Nobody is saying umps shouldn't call balls and strikes (though Meals struggled with that last night, too). There is just so much shit that these high-and-mighty assholes get wrong that if you have the technology to improve your game -- which you do -- and you refuse to implement it, -- which you are-- then you are doing irreparable and enduring harm to your game. And if you fucking use the phrase "the human element" I will find a Yankees jersey, take a shit on it, wrap it up and FedEx it to you.

However, most in the game recognize that the human element always will be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires.

I had Chipotle for lunch. Next Day Air okay?

The whole argument for "the human element" is trite garbage, and it goes on the shelf right between George Will's view of baseball and those lame, flaky of people who think that the pieces of paper they find on the ground are poems sent to them by the universe. Why are you afraid of adding technology to the game in the name of making it better? I don't believe it's a time issue. If the pace of the game really concerned anybody in baseball, every hitter would not get infinity timeouts to step out of the batter's box and adjust every piece of equipment they're wearing. Do you really think that instituting a system to avoid disasters like last night's would start you down the slippery slope toward everyone involved, including players and fans, being replaced with robots? Football changes constantly, and has effectively added replay. And when the NFL gets something wrong, they at least have the balls to own up to it and apologize, even if that doesn't fix the game. Basketball has replay. Hockey, which might be the most traditional of any of these sports, has an official pick up a phone and talk to someone at IN TORONTO. AT THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE SPORT. YES, THEY ACTUALLY CALL ANOTHER COUNTRY WHERE VIDEO OF THE PLAY IN QUESTION APPEARS INSTANTANEOUSLY AND THE RULES OFFICIAL AT THE HOCKEYOFFICE SORTS IT ALL OUT WITH THE OFFICIAL. Holy shit. If hockey can afford to do this, are we to believe that it's out of the question for baseball to set up a similar facility?

Fuck you, Joe Torre. Fuck you, Bud Selig. And fuck your "human element."

You want a human element? The players play the game, and the players decide the game. There's your human goddamn element.

An open letter to Jerry Meals

At the risk of sounding bitter...

Jerry Meals needs to be taken out back and shot.

When two teams play NINETEEN FUCKING INNINGS, I understand that wears on you and you. Here's the thing, though: it's your job to umpire the game fairly. To the end. Not to the point when you decide you would like to go back to your hotel and sleep.

To the end.

You didn't do that tonight, Jerry. Two teams battled like crazy through 19 innings to win that game legitimately. You, as a member of the union of Major League Fucking Umpires, do not decide that the game is over when you want the game to be over. You, Jerry Meals, are paid a handsome salary, with benefits, TO CALL THE GAME ACCORDING TO THE RULES OF BASEBALL.

Nobody thought Lugo was safe on that play; not even Lugo, himself. THAT IS WHY HE STOOD UP AFTER THE TAG, FOUR FULL FEET BEFORE TOUCHING HOME FUCKING PLATE.

Let's get something straight here: I'm not upset the Pirates lost the game. I'm not upset that there was a blown call in the 19th inning that cost the Pirates the game. What I'm upset about is that you decided the runner would be safe before the play even began. I'm upset that you did not honor your duty as an umpire, and watch the play before calling it.

If Lugo had been legitimately safe, or even if the play had been close and gone against the Pirates, I wouldn't be upset. That's the human element of baseball. But you, Jerry Meals, made the call before the play even happened.

Never, in my nearly 30 years of watching baseball, have I seen a call more lazy, more negligent, or more selfish.

You are a disgrace not only to the integrity of baseball, but to that of professional sports. May your name be forever cursed in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Get 33% more FTC for the same non-existent price!

It occurred to the FTC brain trust last night that this Internet thing probably isn't going away, so we'd better jump on the bandwagon while there's still room.

You can now e-mail us at, and you can follow us on Twitter @FreeTankCarter.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

FOX Sports is about to get politically correct up in your face!

A broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers was going through the lineup the other night, and remarked on how the majority the batters were Hispanic. He then went on to say that the clubhouse better be well stocked with "rice and beans." Here's Big League Stew's holier-than-thou report on it:
Detroit Tigers broadcaster Rod Allen made an unfunny and inappropriate attempt at a joke about Latinos during FOX Sports Detroit's telecast Thursday night... Would Allen, who is African-American, make a joke about a Tigers lineup that was mostly black requiring something stereotypical to eat? Would he stoop to make a watermelon joke?... hopefully his bosses heard him, will talk to him and tell him to cut it out.
I'd say it's totally fair for someone at the network to pull the guy aside and say "WHAT!" Just like they did with Keith Hernandez's 'woman in the dugout' nonsense.

But at some point, isn't it a little ridiculous for the media to pretend that these guys are somehow the last throes of political incorrectness? I mean, wouldn't it be equally appropriate for FOX Sports Detroit to pull the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo aside and say "WHAT!"

Bottom line: This latest dude made a dumb comment. He is no worse than the Tomahawk Chop, or the billion-dollar-plus industry that condones it.

Either use these finger-waggings as an opportunity to shame sports bigotry in general, or don't say anything at all, folks!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

FRANCO chimes in...

I'd like to dedicate our sole-possession of first place in the NL Central (however brief it may be) to Adam Wainwright's right elbow. None of this would be possible without that busted-ass joint.

Once more, with feeling!

Good result the baseball continues. Stellar work tonight from Tony Watson. Chase d'Arnaud made the best play I've seen all season, and the game on the whole was a picturesque example of just how much pitching, defense and defense can mean, especially to a team that doesn't score runs. There were very few hard-hit balls, and nothing that left the infield came close to being dangerous.

What was crazily impressive, though, was the crowd. About 22,000 turned out. On a Monday night. In torrential rain and miserable humidity. Through two substantial delays. And the crowd was involved the entire time. People were paying attention. There were impromptu chants of "Let's go Bucs!" every inning, on both offense and defense. You couldn't take the fans out of this. I don't remember the last time that was the case.

I want to throw one more thing out there: Joel Hanrahan is awesome, but his intro sucks. I don't understand what a montage of flashing automobile dashboard gauges has to do with anything related to a save situation. Hanrahan throws criminally insane baseball pitches at people that can not be hit. Batters should be very afraid of him. A flashing "CHECK ENGINE" light set to screaming does not inspire fear. With this in mind, Free Tank Carter would you to come up with ideas and suggestions for new Joel Hanrahan entrance music. Leave them in the comments or e-mail them to us, and once we reach a blog-wide consensus, we'll start shopping it around.

Here's my proposal:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trade Deadline Talk

The Pirates are 49-44, and currently stand 0.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. While many of us believe this level of play is unsustainable, here we are. For the first time since 1997, the Bucs are looking to boost their current major league roster for a playoff push. GM Neal Huntington has stated that he's not willing to give up any top tier prospects for short term help. Let's take a look at positions of need, and what options may be available to the Pirates:

First Base
The Pirates signed Lyle Overbay in the off-season hoping he would bring solid defense and a competent bat to the position. Neither has happened. He's hitting .241/.312/.365, giving him the worst on-base and slugging of his career. His walk rate is the 2nd lowest of his career. His defense has been uncharacteristically bad; his UZR is -6.0. Overbay's WAR is -0.5 according to Fangraphs and -0.3 according to Baseball-Reference. Simply put, first base has been a disaster. Overbay has played worse than a typical AAA call-up. Even though he has hit better lately, the Bucs need to look for upgrades. Two players I've heard mentioned most are Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee.

Pena is hitting .217/.330/.441. He would be an offensive upgrade (especially in terms of power) and a slight downgrade defensively. He's signed with the Cubs with a 1 yr, $10 million contract. The Pirates could probably acquire him for a mid or low level prospect assuming they're willing to take on the rest of the contract.

Lee is hitting .235/.292/.372 with Baltimore. He's still pretty good defensively, but he's in the twilight of his career and offers no offensive upgrade. His past offensive numbers look good, but I wouldn't expect him to suddenly start hitting again. The Pirates should not even think about trading for Lee.

The Bucs may be best served by looking internally. With Jose Tabata and Steve Pearce on the mend, the Pirates should look at a Garrett Jones/Steve Pearce platoon-type situation at 1st base. Jones struggles against lefties, but has hit righties (.255/.350/.444 this season and .276/.357/.483 for his career). Pearce hits lefties at a .303/.370./531 clip in his career (though only 165 plate appearances). Pearce has been mashing the ball during his AAA rehab, and these guys, together, could give the Bucs an offensive upgrade while not hurting team defense. The problem here is health: whenever Pearce puts together a few good weeks, he gets injured. If he can stay healthy, this is the best option going forward. Another option could be adding Pena and moving Pearce to 3rd. Speaking of which....

Third Base
Third base has also been a huge hole for the Bucs this year. Pedro Alvarez started slowly then got injured. Ever since, the Pirates have mainly used guys like Brandon Wood, Josh Harrison, and Chase d'Arnaud. d'Arnaud might end up being the shortstop long term, but these guys are, at best, replacement level bats right now. Pirate 3rd basemen are hitting .228/.285/.338 this year. Ouch. The most talked about players on the market are Aramis Ramirez and Mark Reynolds.

Ramirez is the best player available for this position. He's hitting .300/.346/.504 for the year and is an adequate fielder. He's signed by the Cubs for $15 million through this year, with a $1 bonus if he's traded, and a club option for next year with a $2 million buyout. Oh yeah, he'd also have to waive a no-trade clause. If the Bucs could pick him up, they'd likely have to pay the rest of his salary this year, the bonus, and the buyout. The guess here is that 1) Ramirez won't waive the no-trade clause 2) The Cubs would demand too much in return 3) The Bucs aren't willing to pick up that much salary.

Mark Reynolds, currently with the Orioles, is basically the third base equivalent of Carlos Pena. He's hitting .223/.339/.478. Like Pena, he would provide some much needed power at a corner infield position, has a good walk rate, but strikes out a lot. Reynolds, however, is horrific in the field. His career UZR at 3rd base is -36.9. The Bucs need a hitter, but they cannot overlook defense. Their pitching staff is too defense dependent. His contract is $5 million this season, $7.5 million next, and a club option for 2013. Reynolds has a limited no-trade clause. The guess here is that some combination of the contract length, salary, and no-trade clause will foil any potential deal.

One guy I don't hear mentioned much is Casey Blake. Blake's hitting .243/.346/.386. His power numbers are down from his career norms, but he would be a significant upgrade over the current situation. Blake is signed for $5.25 million this year, with a team option for next year with a $1.25 million buyout. He's decent defensively at 3rd and can play first or outfield in a pinch. The Dodgers are in a financial mess and are looking to shed salary, so it should take nothing to get him. Plus, it's always fun to trade with Ned Colletti. Blake's not a world beater, but he could be an option at 3rd. Even if you play Pedro, he could be a good backup. Blake is currently on the 15 day DL (neck) but is expected to return this season. If his health checks out, the Bucs should at least make an inquiry. I think the Pirates should throw Pedro into the fray and let him play, but it would help to have a guy like Blake as insurance. Pearce could also see time at 3rd.

The emergence of Alex Presley makes outfield lesser of a priority. The Pirates are reportedly interested in adding Josh Willingham from the A's. I think the outfield should be set with Tabata, McCutchen, and Presley, but if the Pirates can add Willingham without giving up much, sure, it'd be nice to have another outfield option in case Tabata gets hurt again or Presley comes back down to Earth. He's signed for $6 million this year.

The bottom line here is that the Pirates can improve the team, but they're not going to land a top quality player (Carlos Beltran, etc.) without giving up the farm. The best options are picking up competent players and picking up their short-term contracts. Guys like Pena, Blake, and Willingham can help, but if the Pirates want to contend, or even finish above .500, most of the heavy lifting will be done by the guys already on the team.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Well, would you look at that!

A few quick notes on this before sunrise:
  • I still don't think we've seen the real Jeff Karstens yet, but I don't care.
  • Dejan agrees. Just take it in, and savor it. Shout it at the top of your lungs.
  • The Pirates are the top headline several websites right now, including the Trib and The Post-Gazette currently deems a house covered in solar panels more newsworthy.
  • Josh Harrison might have the quickest release of any third baseman in the game right now. I'd love to see comparative numbers on this.
  • Alex Presley's OBP since his recall is .422. Small sample size, but man, that guy looks like a leadoff hitter.
  • Andrew McCutchen's OBP is a legit .390. And with the Joses Bautista and Reyes injured, he currently has the highest WAR of any active position player in the game. Whether you're of the opinion that the league MVP should be the player most valuable to his team, or the best player overall, there is no logic by which this man is not the National League's most valuable player right now.
  • Chase d'Arnaud started a 6-4-3 double play last night by flipping the ball backhanded to Neil Walker at second, and for a split second, I thought I saw Jack Wilson.
  • Yes, the Astros are terrible, and the Pirates have some very tough games coming up after this series. But seriously ask yourself: Is Milwaukee really that much better than the Bucs? Is St. Louis?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Warning To All History-Making Professional Athletes

In light of the ball used for Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit being returned to him by a Yankees fan, let my thoughts be absolutely clear to all athletes on the cusp of a record-setting performance.

I am not returning any of your valuable shit for tickets, handshakes, autographs, etc. I am selling it to the highest bidder.

Many sports fans will gladly return historic home run balls, some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, presumably out of some combination of adoration and generosity, or possibly because they feel pressured to do so.

Once again, let me be clear to all history-making athletes. I will not give you a quarter-of-a-million dollar ball in exchange for a handshake, some luxury box seats, and a signed bat. I'm taking that ball you hit into my section down to Sotherby's, selling it to the highest bidder, and buying a house.

You, the record-setting athlete, can go fuck yourself.

Take for your consideration of the above-linked article about a 23 year-old moron returning the Jeter ball.

"It didn't cross my mind until they asked me what I wanted," he said. "The only thing I could think of was a few signed balls would be nice, and to meet him. It wasn't about the money. It was about a milestone and I wasn't going to take that away from him. Money's cool and all, but I'm only 23 years old. I have a lot of time to make that."

"Mr. Jeter deserved it," Lopez said. "It's all his."

Lopez, who sells cell phones for a living, already was receiving calls from friends and co-workers


Essentially, a grown man who sells cell phones for a living gives away what amounts to a very nice house to another grown man who makes $15,000,000.00 this year. Because he thought it would be "nice" to get a few signed balls and meet him.

Sure, generosity in any form is rare, and should always be welcomed by society. Except when it involves a workingman giving away property that may equal six or seven years of salary to a professional athlete, for whom the property amounts to a trinket to be displayed in his second winter home, worth about three days of salary. Just because the workingman presumably had a poster of said athlete in his bedroom as a teenager.

In that rarest of cases, what appears as generosity to the naked eye is actually deep, thorough, stupidity. You would need to be a very dumb human being to give the ball away.

What a stupid, fucking idiot.

So, you are forewarned, Andrew McCutcheon. If you hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth of the World Series, after you called your shot for a boy dying of cancer, and you want the ball back to present it to that boy, and I catch it... well, fuck you both. Make the highest offer.

Sidney Crosby cures that same pediatric cancer at center ice of Pens-Flyers game, and then triumphantly whips his gloves into the crowd? Keep an eye out on eBay for that one, I'm paying off my car.

Derek Jeter smacks his 4,000th hit into the bleachers of PNC Park? Guess what? I don't give a shit about meeting you, or having a signed ball. Let's start the bidding at $2,000,000.00.

Now that you have been warned, athletes, you may proceed.

Post-Script: What a stupid, stupid, fucking idiot. Seriously, how many cell phones do you need to sell to earn $250,000.00??? 250,000? Yeah, you have plenty of time to make that money, assuming you plan to live to be 240 years old. Idiot.

Follow up to my predictions about tackiness / more tragedy

Eh... let's split the difference between the two and go to a Yahoo sourced AP report:

Again highlighting the dangers of trying to catch a ball at a big league ballpark, a fan standing on a table above the pool deck, Keith Carmickle of suburban Kingman, fell over trying to catch a Prince Fielder homer. The fan was grabbed by his brother before going all the way over, where he could have fallen about 20 feet. Carmickle was dangling when he was pulled back up.

“I stepped up on the table, I missed the ball by 2 or 3 feet and went over,” he said. “We caught three balls and I told the guys I was going to go for the cycle. Dude, they were really holding onto me.”

Last week, a 39-year-old fan, Shannon Stone, died while trying to catch a ball thrown into the stands at a Rangers game in Arlington, Texas.

Carmickle’s brother grabbed his arms and Aaron Nelson of Chandler held his legs.

“He wasn’t going down, I was holding on,” Nelson said.

Carmickle said he wasn’t worried while he was dangling.

“I bench-press 500 pounds, and I wasn’t going down,” he said.

Gonzalez hit a ball that wound up in the swimming pool in right field— along with Mike Moon, a 26-year-old fan who caught the ball before falling into the water, where he was surrounded by bikini-clad women.

“I saw the ball, I didn’t want to spill my beer and I didn’t spill my beer,” he said. “I don’t really remember what happened. I think I leaned forward, caught the ball, then fell like that (leaning backward). It was pretty cool.”

Yeah, bro. It's pretty cool trying to not spill some beer while catching a home run ball while free falling and maybe being grabbed by your gym-rat brother as you're dangling over either a swimming pool of bikini babes or a precipice that just five nights ago killed a man, bro.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Buying and selling are not mutually exclusive

So here we are at The Break, and the Bucs are 47-43. The season is more than half over. The baseball team in my town has won more games than it has lost. This is the first time the Pirates have been over .500 at The Break in 19 years. During this last series against the Cubs, I actually found myself scoreboard watching. There were two days on which if the Pirates won, and Milwaukee and St. Louis both lost, there would have been a three-way tie for first place in the NL Central. I found myself scoreboard watching. Like, instinctively. It took fifteen minutes of intense thought to remember that I hadn't paid serious attention to other teams' regular season games since I was nine years old.

And it felt amazing. It felt absolutely incredible. I know they could tank in the second half. I know Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia could all experience serious regression. Other players can and will probably get hurt. The bunting will catch up with the overall lack of offense, and the team will go a stretch of ten straight games in which it scores one run. This can all happen. In fact, the number suggest it's more likely to happen with this team than it is not to.

Franco contends that because of this -- because of Paul Maholm's contract status, the outrageous difference in Jeff Karstens' 2.55 ERA to 4.66 FIP, Kevin Correia's actual talent ceiling, Pedro Alvarez's complete disappearance -- that Neal Huntington should sell while the selling is good.

I don't disagree. But at the same time, I don't think this team should be afraid to add pieces, either.

Suppose the Pirates decide Paul Maholm isn't worth the $9.75 million club option for next year, and would like to try and spin him off to a contender looking for pitching in what looks to be a very shallow pool of available talent come the end of July. That's fine. If they can convince someone that Jeff Karstens is Greg Maddux, even better. Maholm, Karstens and Correia are all below-average, eminently replaceable arms, and they have all benefited from pretty stellar team defense (the Pirates rank seventh in the Majors in UZR).

If Huntington can get appropriate value in return for any piece he has, including Joel Hanrahan, he should make a deal. The organization has pitching good enough to get by, and defense good enough to make it more effective. What they need to do is hit. With a farm system full of mid-level prospects and some overvalued pitching at the big league level, the Pirates probably have enough in the bank that they could part with a minor-league player or two, and maybe even spend some money to add a first or third baseman to the club.

Pedro Alvarez is in Triple-A. He's going to be there probably until September, maybe even longer. Huntington would do well to pursue trade options like Baltimore's Mark Reynolds -- a slugging corner infielder with a knack for not making outs (.227/.346/493, 20 freaking home runs). Aramis Ramirez (.298/.346/.497, 15 freaking homers) is another viable option, and a far superior defender. If the Pirates are willing to add to their payroll, they could be a serious mover come the deadline.

Huntington can both sell high on big league players and add a bat, but only if ownership allows him to add to the payroll via trade.

I don't really want to see this team broken up. It's been incredible fun watching them the past three months, and I really want to see them hold this together down the stretch. It's been so long since I've seen anything resembling meaningful baseball this late in the season that I'm sure my love for Neil Walker, Josh Harrison and Alex Presley is totally overblown and irrational. But their run differential is still +8, and they're only one game better than their Pythagorean W/L. I'm jaded to the point that I can't rationally expect this to continue, but I'm simultaneously struggling for reasons to justify why it can't.

What's even crazier than my optimism is that there exists a very real chance for Neal Huntington to sell high on one or two of his big league players and still improve the team. On one hand, it's preposterous to think that the Pirates are going to pay Paul Maholm close to $10 million in 2012 to throw 83 mile-per-hour fastballs, and they really should trade him while his stock is so high. On the other hand, how can anyone justify trading away pitching -- which has been the team's most surprising and impressive strength so far -- when it's clear the club is in the midst of making a powerful statement with its play?

Huntington, who has always said he won't allow popularity or lack thereof to influence his personnel moves, is damned if he trades any of these guys away. The fans will stop flocking to the park, and talk radio will fill up with chants of "same old Pirates." Columnists will call for his head. But he's also damned if he doesn't. As great as it seems now, the Pirates face a back-loaded schedule in the second half, including multiple series against St. Louis and Milwaukee, and there isn't much in the way of empirical evidence suggesting the chances of this team winning more games than it loses is likely.

Huntington has but one road to salvation:


*The "whole fucking thing," in this case, refers to 36 more games.1

1That's a footnote! I learned it from Grantland. Isn't that cool?!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How is this not a bigger PR issue for MLB?

In what is probably the dumbest thing since Spiderbases, MLB is stocking baseballs to be used in Home Run Derby... with actual gold.

Here's that story.

Fans can mosh and scuffle over balls with a frenzy never seen before, and all less than a week after one man lost his life chasing a not-so-gold ball.

Maybe I'm looking too hard into this one, but it seems to me like a dumb promotion considering the recent tragedy.

Oh surprise, surprise!

Is this really that shocking to anyone? Disappointing, yes. But surprising?

It's been a fairly well circulated rumor that for years now, Hines Ward has lived the life of a playboy who just happened to keep it out of the papers. Of course, I have no evidence to back that up, I'm just a rumor-mongering blogger. But dig this bold prediction: more revelations will follow, probably closer to the Wilt Chamberlain variety than the Big Ben type.

Friday, July 8, 2011

FRANCO is the Grinch, part three-million-and-one

So let's get this out of the way, let's cut to the quick, Pittsburgh.

Baseball success in 2011 is an illusion.

You are a fanbase so thoroughly molested by front office false-promises, that it's painful to be told that you need to sell. But goddamnit, Pittsburgh, it's time to sell, sell, sell!

With the smallest budget possible at his disposal, Neal Huntington had no ability to to bid on pure hitters, swing-and-miss pitchers, or elite ballplayers in general. Instead, he pieced together a team of undervalued weaklings. The position players make the pitchers look good by playing great defense, and the pitchers return the favor by not issuing countless walks and homeruns... thus allowing weaklings with no offensive ability to almost keep pace with the competition in low scoring games.

That is an excellent model if you want to contend in a weak division and get swept in the first round (see: The Twins 2000-2010). It is also a great business ploy. Basically, Neal Huntington has made a lot of mediocre pitchers look awesome because of purely-defensive players behind them.

But... if Neal wants to win championships, he's going to be better off with elite pitchers who don't need amazing defense to succeed, along with excellent position players who are paid purely for their ability to create offense. In the last two years, he's secured four franchise arms in Taillon, Heredia, Cole and Allie. He also has their backstop for life, in Tony Sanchez. These five guys are the foundation for a swing-and-miss core that is defense independent.

As for pure hitters... we're totally lacking.

We happen to have the center fielder of the gods playing for us right now, as well as tabs on some very interesting tweeners on the corners. But as far as a true impact bat outside of Cutch: nothing.

This is why we sell.

Huntington has stocked the current roster with low-ceiling defenders who make Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia look like Spahn, Drysdale and Gibson. I assure you, Pittsburgh: these men will be pretty mediocre in 2012, when they're pitching for the Rangers, Rays and Tigers, respectively (point of fact: the only thing bold about that prediction is that they'll be mediocre; I totally nailed the destinations).

Let's just dig a bit deeper:
Maholm: career BAbip .312, 2011 BAbip .256; ERA 3.08, FIP 3.81
Karstens: career BAbip .283, 2011 BAbip .242; ERA 2.55, FIP 4.66
Correia: career BAbip .299, 2011 BAbip .272; ERA 3.74, FIP 4.16

Those numbers tell the tale of small sample size luck, and guys who are benefiting to an unreasonable degree from their fielders.

We have (at least) three guys who are performing way better than they should who are about to crash back to mediocrity, we have (about) four guys to take their place in two years time, and we have no quality batters in the system. It is time to sell high, Pittsburgh!

For as fun as it would be to not win a championship this year, wouldn't it be so awesome to enjoy this winning-record feeling and not worry that it's a house of cards?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vignettes From The Life Of Jaromir Jagr

Recycled stuff from my blog, myinternetdiary-secretdonotread. Ya know, because recycling is good for the environment. It's just too wasteful to only use a post once!

Jaromir Jagr, age 7:

JAGR: Mother, I have always dreamed of having a sandwich for lunch with peanut butter on it. I would not ask for any others sandwich if you also put raspberry jelly on it. I will soon inform you what type of sandwich I want for lunch.
(MOTHER JAGR hands Jaromir PB&J sandwich she was making while he was speaking)
JAGR: No, I have decided I would like salami and mustard.

Jaromir Jagr, age 14
JAGR: Tereza, ever since primary school, I have wanted nothing more than to take you to junior promenade. You are the most beautiful girl in all of Czechoslovakia. I would labor for an entire year, without income, if you will take my offer.
TEREZA: Yes, Jaromir, I would love to join...
JAGR: I have decided to take Martin Straka to the junior promenade.
JAGR: If I hurt you, I apologize. I didn't mean it, but this is my life and I want to make the choice.

Jaromir Jagr, age 19
JAGR: Since I was little boy in Kladno, it has been my dream to own a Chevrolet Camaro. I would always say, "I do not care what Chevrolet Camaro costs in American dollars, I will pay that price gladly!" Chevrolet Camaro has always been in my heart.
CHEVY SALESMAN: OK, you've been going on like this for 5 days, and frankly, you are starting to scare away other paying customers. Could you please leave now?
JAGR: I have purchased Ford Mustang yesterday.
CHEVY SALESMAN: (exasperated)
JAGR: I hope you are not mad.

Jaromir Jagr, age NA (ruminating on his death bed)
JAGR: Our great Czech writer Milan Kundera once wrote, "We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come."
TEARFUL FAMILY MEMBER: Yes, life confounds us to the end...
JAGR: I know exactly what I want, as I have always known what I wanted. I will be buried in Philadelphia. Unless you can find a cheaper plot elsewhere.


Sunday, July 3, 2011


That title may be read as a proper sentence, or you can say it really loudly and fast. Your call.

In the American League:
C- Alex Avila
1B- Adrian Gonzalez
2B- Dustin Pedroia
3B- Alex Rodriguez
SS- Asdrubal Cabrera
OF- Jose Bautista
OF- Jacoby Ellsbury
OF- Curtis Granderson

In the National League:
C- Brian McCann
1B- Joey Votto
2B- Rickie Weeks
3B- Chase Headley
SS- Jose Reyes
OF- Matt Kemp
OF- Andrew McCutchen
OF- Ryan Braun

(Italics for guys who are not elected starters to this year's midsummer classic.)

More on this to come later. Too upset to be coherently angry.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The FTC Jagrbacle Round Table

Welcome to the first of what we hope are many FTC Round Tables, where your favorite and least-favorite third-tier Pittsburgh sports bloggers discuss the issues of the day. Without further ado, let's hand things over to our moderator, John McLaughlin.


Brennan: Jaromir Jagr happened. Everyone is whiny and mercurial when they are 22 years-old. Jagr has proven to be that delightful breed of person who remains insufferable through his 30's and into his 40's. He'll be 85 years-old in a retirement home someday, complaining "I'm dying alive in this bocce game." I honestly can't understand how anyone is surprised he ended up in Philly. After following the guy for 20 years, it's completely in character.

Franco: He tickled the interest of some fans in Pittsburgh, and then took a ton more money from the guy who was offering it. Same thing Jagr always does.

Matt: I don’t know if his “heart” was in Pittsburgh or not. What I would like to believe is that he had every intention on signing with the Pens, until he realized that other teams might be interested, and then his vanity got in the way. I’m probably giving Jagr too much credit there. I don’t think he was using the Pens to drum up interest from other teams, but I also don’t think that he, in any way, considered the ramifications of his actions. The Penguins played this perfectly. Not only did they give him an extra 48 hours beyond the initial deadline, the statement they issued demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were looking to deal with this guy in good faith, and that Jagr couldn’t have been more of a dick to them. Ray Shero made Jagr a fair contract offer, and Jagr turned off his phone and went to Wimbledon.

Nils: Jaromir Jagr is a crazy person, plain and simple. He stated a desire to come back to the NHL and play for the Pens. The Pens reached out to him, Mario called him, Ray Shero offered him a totally reasonable one year deal on Tuesday. Many within the Pens organization thought they had a gentlemen's agreement. Then he Jagr'd out. I have a hard time believing it was solely about the money. But it was probably partially about the money, partially because he wanted attention, and partially because he's an idiot. He had a chance to finish his career in Pittsburgh, play for a Cup contender, seal his Penguin legacy, and one day have his number retired. All of that is play for the Flyers for 1.3 million more dollars.

Eleanor Clift: I think it's important that we not forget how well Ray Shero handled this. Not only was he more than fair with Jagr, he pulled, issued a strong statement, and then went on to sign Tyler Kennedy to a two-year contract. This man deserves major credit, both for not playing games and taking care of business.


Brennan: It's not fair for me to answer this question because I hated Jagr as early as '94 or '95, really during the best of times. At best, I grudgingly endued him. So for me, yes. I was annoyed by him when he was winning scoring titles. Things certainly didn't improve when he begged himself out of town, or pulling this latest half-assed hockey version of "The Decision". Who is the competition? Derek Bell for saying he was going to quit, after it was clear he already quit? Rashard Mendenall for some whacky tweets (and killing all momonetum in a Super Bowl comeback with a fumble)? Honus Wagner for his irrational prejudice against tobacco companies?

Franco: More hated than Ray Lewis, Terrelle Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger? That's hard to do. But yeah, Jaromir will certainly hear the boos every time he touches the puck.

Matt: I was thinking about this as soon as the Pens withdrew their contract offer. How many hated athletes do we have in this town? Nobody really hates Barry Bonds. He left because the Pirates told him in advance they didn’t have the money to make him a competitive offer and weren’t even going to try to resign him. All Neil O’Donnell ever did was throw two bad interceptions. Hossa was a rent-a-player, and we knew from day one that there was never better than a 50-50 shot he would be back. Nobody cared enough about Derek Bell or Matt Morris to hate them. We don’t turn on our own.

The circumstances under which Jagr left Pittsburgh were tenuous at best. He’d been playing here since he was 18 years old. The franchise was coming apart at the seams because of Howard Baldwin’s financial mismanagement, and Jagr faced the near-impossible task of picking up where Lemieux had left off as the team leader. He wasn’t cut out for it. He had to move on, and intelligent fans recognized and respected that. Intelligent fans also didn’t boo him when he came back through town. This guy is still the second-best player in franchise history, and helped the team win two Stanley Cups.

If he actually meant what he said about being willing to play for Lemieux at the league minimum, or when he said through his agent that his “heart is in Pittsburgh,” he could have sealed all of this up on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or Friday morning. This was, for all intents and purposes, a done deal. Everyone thought that, including the people calling the shots in the Pens’ front office. Jagr had an opportunity to close out his career on a positive note, mend all the fences and restore his reputation and legacy as a fan favorite in the town that adopted him when he was just a shy 18-year-old who didn’t speak the language. Instead, he scoffed at that opportunity — that offer of redemption. Then, he slapped Lemieux, his would-be redeemer, in the face by signing with the enemy. I never felt any ill will toward Jagr. Not when he requested a trade from Pittsburgh, not when he came back through town wearing other colors, and not as recently as yesterday. But now? After this? As far as I’m concerned, he’s on a list by himself. Jaromir, you are no longer welcome here.

Nils: Yes, partially because the pool of candidates is small, and partially because this just happened. Who do Pittsburghers like to hate? Barry Bonds, Kordell Stewart, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Derek Bell, Marian Hossa? No one comes close to Jagr right now. He may have topped the list before this whole fiasco. The only way he could be dethroned is if Rashard Mendenhall signs with the Flyers.


Matt: I'll never have anything bad to say about Max Talbot. Max is the most lovable sonofabitch this team has had in my lifetime. He's been the consummate professional, a valued role player, and a joy to have in and around town. Sometimes the business of sports necessitates partings like this. The Penguins knew they weren't going to be able to retain Talbot at his market value, and Talbot wasn't going to take an unreasonable salary to stay here. I wish him all the best, I'll continue to proudly wear his jersey, and I look forward to seeing him suit up in black and gold during future Winter Classic alumni games. As much as any other player of the Crosby era, Max represents the best of times. He's always welcome here.

Nils: I don't feel much differently about Max than I did before. Sure, it's going to be tough to see him put on a Flyers uniform, but if they're the team dumb enough to offer him a 5 year, $9 million contract, fine. This is Max's time to get his big contract, and the Pens just feel that he's not worth that much. It's just business. We knew he would be gone when he declined Shero's three year offer. Max has cemented his place in Penguins history with this goal, this fight, this commercial, and these two goals.

Franco: I know that I certainly make less than Max Talbot. Seriously though, good for him for taking five years and a ton of cash from anyone. He's a wonderful role player, but a five year contract is craziness, and he made the right call to snatch it while he could. As far as his playing style? I've never really considered him to be at the same level of dirtiness as a Philadelphia swingman, but that doesn't mean he can't be a help.

Brennan: Talbot went for the paycheck. He's not in the salary bracket where a couple million is irrelevant. Is getting that extra couple million in Philly bad form? Probably, it's at least unfortunate. But, John LeClair was a Penguin. Bill Guerin spent years with the Devils. So did Paul Martin. It happens in modern sports. Guys leave for the rival, both ways. Talbot should be remembered as a good soldier who had maybe the most clutch performance in Penguin's history, 2 goals in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final (a 2-1 win, no less). But, in the end, it's business, and paying a 4th line, energy-guy-type about $2 mil a year is bad business.


Friday, July 1, 2011

A Bandwagon Fan's Guide to the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome, fan!

It's been a long time since the Pirates had a winning record this late in the season, and we're glad you've decided to start following the Bucs again! But before you start calling yourself a real Pirates fan again, here are a few things you probably need to know.
  1. It’s not a big deal if you have never heard of today’s starting catcher.
  2. Lanny Frattare retired three years ago.
  3. No, there are two McCutchens, and yes they are brothers.
  4. No, neither LaRoche is playing major league baseball right now.
  5. Xavier Paul is not the same guy who you were pissed we traded to the Yankees.
  6. Milwaukee is in our division now.
  7. It is now customary to stand during the ninth inning instead of during the pierogi race.
  8. Potato Pete is no longer racing in the PNC Park Pierogi Circuit.
  9. Remember those trades you hated? Yeah, that’s why the Pirates have Joel Hanrahan, Jose Tabata, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen.
  10. Kevin McClatchy doesn’t live here anymore.
  11. The Pirate Parrot and Jalapeno Hannah are no longer an item.
  12. Kris Benson didn’t pan out, but that’s okay.
  13. Yes, that is the same reel of “Baseball Bloopers” they played when you were here in 1998.
  14. I’m sorry, Dock Ellis won’t be at this alumni autograph session.
  15. Despite what you think right now, a Ryan Doumit jersey would not be a wise investment.
  16. The people responsible for bringing in Derek Bell are gone now.
  17. A pre-game beer at Hi-Topps isn’t really feasible.
  18. Yeah, that is the same guy who sells beer at Consol.
  19. We’re unlikely to see one of those Indian pitchers in the big leagues this year.
  20. If you’re serious about this, you probably need to stop rooting for the Red Sox.