Siberian Baseball

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hello, Fuck Face - I've been looking for you

I've touched on this before - you can see that post here - but today when The Girl and I went back to St. Cloud to pick up a few packs of baseball cards, I saw it sitting right there in the case.

Yes, friends, I've come within inches of the wonderful mistake that is the Billy Ripken Fleer card.

"Ooooh, honey, loooook!" I said quite loudly in the shop. "It's the fuck face card!"

Tonight I'm kicking myself for not plunking down the 20 bucks to make it my own.

Instead, I pulled the Derek Jeter screwball card that has Mickey Mantle and George W. Bush in the background. It's not worth a fortune, but quite a few stupid people have payed upwards of $300 for it.

I was thinking about my dad's reaction when I was younger, collecting hockey cards and sorting them by prices I pulled from the Beckett guide. The top-end cards were maybe a few dollars with the others were 30 or 40 cents.

I saw my little collection go from the $50 bucks I'd paid for it to well over $75 when all was said and done.

"Well, you just need to find someone dumb enough to pay that much for them," he told me. Instead of a great father/son moment about the pure joy of sport and how hobbies should be judged on their intrinsic value, I got a nice wake up call to a little something called the free market.

So, without much thought, I think I'm going to take Jeter and friends, put it into the binder with the rest of the cards and leave it there, only to be seen every few months when I go through the collection or pull this baby out at parties, when someone refuses to believe that card exists.

If I get two, though? I'm totally eBay-ing that shit.

(Image from


National League Preview

The National League - they do know there's a lot of money to be had by fielding talented, competitive ballclubs, right?

We're looking at you, Chicago. And we can see through your little spending spree - Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis do not guarantee a championship, no matter how much you hope that will happen.

The NL West looks interesting on paper with the Diamondbacks poised to make a comeback from the cellar, but much of that will depend on how Randy Johnson's return to the desert pans out.

The East is also up for grabs right now with the Mets and Phillies ready to duke it out. Gone are the days of Atlanta's unending dominance and the Phillies were a lot better than most people gave them credit for, even with an impressive record last season.

The Central is a weird division again, with no clear-cut favorite aside from the Cardinals, but they weren't world-beaters last year. Take Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite away from Houston and it's a new season down there, but I can't in good conscience hand the title to the Cubs based on the off-season fiscal orgy without any solid pitching - sound familiar Twins fans?

NL East

The Sexy Pick: Phillies with their young talent and a division in flux.

The Smart Money Pick: Mets, assuming Pedro Martinez comes back sooner versus later and they get production from a lineup built to hit. Shawn Green, Carlos Beltran, Moises Alou, David Wright and Carlos Delagado are all set for Opening Night. You could do a lot worse than that, even on a fantasy team.

My Picks:

New York Mets (1st 97-65)
Philadelphia Phillies (2nd 85-77)
Florida Marlins (4th 78-84)
Atlanta Braves (3rd 79-83)
Washington Nationals (5th 71-91)

NL Central

The Sexy Pick: Chicago's lineup has the potential to bash with the best of them, but unless they're willing to settle for plenty of football scores this season, they just don't have the horses in the rotation.

If they keep Carlos Zambrano, there's a chance that some of their young arms could be the core of a contender, just not now.

The Brewers are also poised to make a strong run this year after a few false starts from their young group in the field. Keep an eye on Cory Hart, who was given a spot in the outfield and Bill Hall, who will be switching positions to make room in the infield.

The Smart Money Pick:

It's chalk, but the Cardinals are the only proven team standing anymore. The Cubs, Brewers and Reds are on the cusp, but haven't proven anything yet. Houston isn't the same team that went to the World Series against the White Sox and the Pirates are hopeless right now.

Much like the AL Central, where you have to look at the teams and try to rank them where every club could contend, the NL Central has a bushel of contenders as well. It's more of a case of, "OK, who wants it? Anyone? Anyone?" here.

My Picks:

St. Louis Cardinals (1st 83-78)
Milwaukee Brewers (4th 75-87)
Chicago Cubs (6th 66-96)
Houston Astros (2nd 82-80)
Cincinnati Reds (3rd 80-82)
Pittsburgh Pirates (5th 67-95)

NL West

The Sexy Pick: The Diamondbacks with Johnson's return and big production from Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Eric Byrnes, among others. Another wide open division. Another guess as to how it will shake out over the course of a long season.

The Smart Money Pick: The Padres with a strong (but not great) pitching staff in a pitchers' park and an experienced team, are the safe pick here, but the Dodgers can also make a run, depending on how healthy they stay. When all is said and done, I'll take any team whose ballpark favors pitching with Greg Maddux on the staff.

My Picks:

San Diego Padres (1st 88-74)
Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd 88-74)
Arizona Diamondbacks (4th 76-86)
San Francisco Giants(3rd 76-85)
Colorado Rockies (5th 76-86)

The Round Up

That leaves The Mets, Cardinals and Padres (hmm... that sounds familiar) with the Phillies picking up the Wild Card berth.

(Photo from


Friday, March 30, 2007

American League Preview

The American League, which was the doormat of the National League when I was a kid - hell, even the Yankees were awful - has risen to dominate in pretty much every competition between the two.

All-Star Games, the past decade of World Series play, hot dog eating contests - you name it and the AL has become the prohibitive favorite. With a Cardinals win last October, the NL got some of its pride back and the AL contenders all seem to have fatal flaws, or at least large question marks that keep things interesting before the season kicks off tomorrow.

AL East

The Sexy Pick: Red Sox in a runaway. With big bats and JD Drew coming off a hot spring, the Red Sox seem primed to outslug any team, assuming their rotation doesn't shut you down out of the gate.

The Smart Money Pick: Yankees in a dogfight. The numbers to think about here? Nine straight AL East titles and five games swept at Fenway in the dog days of summer when it really mattered.

That's why they're the Yankees and everyone else hates the Yankees.

My Picks (with last year's final standing and record):

Boston Red Sox (3rd 86-76)
New York Yankees (1st 97-65)
Toronto Blue Jays (2nd 87-75)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (5th 61-101)
Baltimore Orioles (4th 70-92)

AL Central

The Sexy Pick: Cleveland. Budding players, emerging stars and a stunning lack of concern for the problems with their closer position.

The Smart Money Pick: Detroit Tigers. It's funny, for the amount of respect given the Yankees and Braves who just keep kept winning (sorry, Atlanta), there is no love for the Twins who have rounded up a trophy case full of AL Central titles. That said, the Tigers with the addition of Gary Sheffield, a little more time spent on pitchers fielding practice drills in Spring Training and a chip on their shoulder from being bounced from the World Series in short order and this becomes a dangerous team.

No, I don't care if Kenny Rogers is hurt. I'm sticking to my guns on this.

Bonus Coverage: This is a classic case where you chase your tail around and around. The Tigers aren't unbeatable but they look stronger than anyone else. The Indians are iffy, especially after last year, but have good, young players. The Twins have no pitching to speak of behind Johan Santana and the White Sox are subject to the whims of Ozzie.

You start to fill in down the line, then stop and think, "Well, the White Sox shouldn't finish fourth right?" But then you rework all of the picks and you say, "Now the Twins are fourth!" or "The Tigers can't drop that far, can they?"

Eventually you have to make the pick and stick with it. At least we can all agree the Royals will suck, right?

My Picks:

Detroit Tigers (2nd 95-67)
Chicago White Sox (3rd 90-72)
Minnesota Twins (1st 96-66)
Cleveland Indians (4th 78-84)
Kansas City Royals (5th 62-100)

AL West

The Sexy Pick: Hmm... Uh, well... Yeah, about that - can I just take a pass on this one and say Angels? Thanks.

The Smart Money Pick: Oakland always finds a way to get to the playoffs and that's all we're looking at here, right? Right.

My Picks:
Oakland A's (1st 93-69)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2nd 89-73)
Seattle Mariners (4th 78-84)
Texas Rangers (3rd 80-82)

The Round Up:

That leaves the Red Sox, Tigers, A's and I'll take the White Sox as my Wild Card team if someone were to hold me to these picks.

(Photo from:


Long toss - getting warmed up for the previews

With the near-zero temperatures fading up here in the frozen north it means a few things - it was time to shave off my winter beard, the stink coming from motorists frozen in ditches is settling across the highways and baseball is ready to start anew.

With a gentle reminder from Frank the Tank doing his season preview, it's time to hunker down and start thinking about the season ahead. Who will take off like a rocket in April and who will almost immediately be dropped from playoff contention?

All of it is a total crapshoot at this point, with Spring Training giving glimpses of what's to come, but not a clear road map, but it's always fun to try and show off how smart you are by picking the divisions before play begins.

As I learned last year, team capsules are pretty time consuming, and are best written by the unemployed and those who write for a paycheck. This year, I'll work up American and National League overviews and maybe try and pick the postseason, hopefully over the course of this weekend.

Here's the rub.

Leading up to the now infamous Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio trade, there wasn't a soul in baseball who would step up and bet a kidney that the whole thing would end up so lopsided - Check out October 1964 by David Halberstam for more on this.

Brock was a struggling outfielder for the Cubs, while Broglio was supposed to be the last veteran arm to help shore up their rotation. The Cardinals weren't supposed to see much of anything from the trade and didn't expect Brock to explode the way he did, eventually giving them a potent outfield combo with Curt Flood.

As Halberstam tells it, the secret to Brock's turnaround came down to one simple adjustment - sunglasses.

Playing in the Wrigley Field outfield, no one bothered to tell Brock he might want to bring a pair of shades out with him, which turned him from a shaky outfielder at best to a more complete player and one who wouldn't be a total liability if his bat went quiet for a week or more in August.

The point is that trying to pick the breakout stars might be easier today with every stat not only recorded in a box score, but also taped, replayed and available to every team and most fans who want to dig deep enough.

Even now, Kei Igawa is having the same types of problems, coming over from Japan and domed stadiums to the sunny infields of Florida, where he's trying to make the adjustment by pitching with sunglasses on. It seems like such a stupid, small thing, but it could honestly be the difference for Igawa this year and how the Yankees hold up with pitching at a premium in the Bronx.

Injuries, minor wear and tear and other physical problems make it hard enough to figure out who will be standing in October, much less players who wear the wrong sized shoes for years on end - ahem, Kevin Mench, ahem...

We all know by now that the best team doesn't always win the World Series and as Frankie pointed out, the Cardinals were a prime example last year of a team that got hot in October and rode that to a championship.

All of that said, I'll still be trying to cobble together a prediction or two this weekend, while tearing my hair out over fantasy baseball ups and downs all season.

The cure for walking into the office after a long night of AJ Pierzinski-fueled nightmares? The old Lou Brock special.

(Photo from


Thursday, March 29, 2007

At least someone is doing something right

Waiting for the final word to come down from MLB regarding the Extra Innings package - I know, I know, it's a dead horse - is like waiting for an ailing grandparent to die.

You can look at it rationally, as you lay awake in bed and say to yourself, "It would just be better if they slipped away - this is far too difficult on everyone," but you know that deep in your heart you're not really ready for that final word to come down.

Sometimes hope is more valuable than anything in these trying times.

As I continue my candlelight vigil in the hopes that a last-second settlement can be reached and that baseball will return to my cable box more than the ESPN games of the week, I got an odd letter in the mail from Comcast (which, as everyone knows, directly contributes half of all profits to Satan himself).

It seems that in an effort to make things up to me, a loyal baseball fan who has subscribed to the Extra Innings package through several years and two moves, Comcast would like to chip in 50 bucks to help ease me through this awful, awful injustice that MLB hath wrought.

The whole tone of the letter comes off as a little snarky with a fair amount of finger pointing, but the bottom line is that if I pony up for the package, Comcast will kick me back 50 bones for my troubles as well as keeping my Comcast cable and Internet services... hmm...

OK, I get it now.

The high points from the letter:

Dear Minneapolis Red Sox,

We regret to inform you that, due to a recent decision by Major League Baseball, it has become impossible for any cable company to distribute MLB Extra Innings beginning with the 2007 baseball season.

It goes on to say:

We love baseball as much as you do. And we're committed to delivering the in-market and out-of-market games you enjoy.

Blah, blah, please feel free to use our wonderful Internet service to stream in an inferior product that may or may not lock up entirely during critical moments in play. Also, we heard dishes drop the value of your home by up to 50 percent.

So, anyways, this now surpasses the free hot dog and a soda coupon the Twins gave me last year on the night they signed the paperwork for their new ballpark as the weirdest thing I've received from Major League Baseball.

Still, despite the obvious venomous under current coming from Comcast as they frantically point fingers back at Bud Selig, it's a nice thought. A $50 bite out of the $80 or $120 it will cost me to reward the league for screwing its fans is a pretty nice peace offering.

I think if I've learned anything here, it's that MLB is not my friend, but I should ask Comcast over the next time I fire up the grill for a few beers and a hot dog or two. They're my real friends.

(Image from


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why 755 is more than 61,361

Tim Kurkjian had another impressive piece today where as part of the "Will Barry do it?" hype machine, he takes a look at baseball records and why those numbers seem to be more important than those in other sports.

Well-written and not too full of itself, the column is pretty interesting.

Baseball milestones and numbers play a big part in where we place a player in history, including whether he's a Hall of Famer. It's not the same in football where Art Monk retired as the leading receiver in history, and still isn't in the Hall of Fame. There can be -- and we're not suggesting this is fair -- a big difference between 500 home runs and 493, as Fred McGriff might find out in a few years. Bert Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame, but you wonder if he already would be in Cooperstown had he finished with 300 wins instead of 287. Others want Maris in the Hall on the strength of one number: 61.

One of the things that I love about baseball is that - depending on your perspective - there are plenty of things to catch your interest. You don't necessarily have to be a hard core sports fan to be a baseball fan.

You can be a history buff, or a math nerd or any combination of different personality types and still be a baseball fan.

There's something that makes me like Kurkjian a little more thinking that he understands this. It doesn't quite put him on the Peter Gammons level, but it's enough for Opening Day.

(Image from


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Johan being Johan

Oh, how I missed this.

It was Day 1 of Spring Training for me in Fort Myers and while the sunshine and salty air is nice and all, it's time to get down to business. Between this and our league draft tonight, it's a big day for baseball in my little corner of the world.

For those who have never seen Johan Santana pitch, do so as quickly as you can. He gets lost in the shuffle a bit with the smaller market team, but seeing him live - and in the spring, no less - and then uploading 160 pictures from the day, it's given me a renewed appreciation on the man and his delivery.

Sure, they're not all winners, but scrolling through several series of shots from his outing to make it look like an old news reel, he hits more than he missed and looks so effortless while he does it.

Here are four picked at random and without an eye to shot composition, just to give you a little bit of the flavor.


(Photos taken for Siberian Baseball)

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 12, 2007

Enough already...

Let's get one thing straight - Spring Training games are not accurate predictors of success in the regular season.

Sure, a guy who gets off to a hot start can take that momentum and barrel through April and slumps or nagging injuries that begin in March can mean a slow start, hell, I'll even say that a team that plays poorly in Arizona or Florida will probably stumble out of the gate, but when we have entire fan bases that live and die by the results of split-squad scores it's time to slow down a little bit.

Case in point are the up and down reports regarding Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carlos Zambrano, not to mention Barry Bonds and others when players fail to come out of the gate like a bolt of lightning.

Take a look at comments from the veterans - especially pitchers - who use this time to work on technique and find their rhythm and try to avoid injury - and just realize that a slow start might not be such a big deal.

I can't blame the beat reporters who are trying to scrounge for copy in the Florida sun - wait, yes I can - where a lack of creativity or journalistic chops leave two options for game stories: a.) Player X is playing waaaaay over his head or b.) Player X is in a tailspin and had an awful outing... uh-oh...

I just have to shake my head and try to avoid the column work when a player goes from the second coming of Koufax to a noodle-armed bum in less than a week.

* As a side note, fans outside of the Twin Cities should keep an ear open as the Twins rotation is set in stone. With Francisco Liriano out for the year, the returning starters are Johan Santana and Carlos Silva with younger arms Boof Bonser and Matt Garza all but guaranteed slots in the starting rotation.

Newcomer Ramon Ortiz is the big name among Twins fans here right now and he should round out the Top 5, but Glen Perkins and Sidney Ponson are outside chances to crack the Opening Day roster.

In a blind item from the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week, Ponson will more than likely wash out before the end of Spring Training. I can see him being penciled in until Garza or Bonser finds his legs and then being cut loose in June or July.

Don't forget Jason Bartlett was sent to AAA Rochester for a few months last season before he was given the starting spot, don't be surprised to see it again.

(Photo from:

Labels: ,

Friday, March 09, 2007

Go get 'em, Tiger

Bud Selig drove the final stake through the heart of every red-blooded American's heart today, announcing his unholy pact with DirecTV was official and that I was officially hosed.

Thanks for nothing, you jackass used car selling, SuperCut spokesman. I really needed that. Ass.

For those prone to stupid acts that mean nothing, but make you feel better, you can contact the two heavy-hitters in the Senate who will be addressing the deal - Sen. John Kerry can be e-mailed here and Sen. Arlen Specter has a page here.

Specter's office issued this statement yesterday:

Washington, D.C. - Senator Arlen Specter, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made the following comment today concerning the “Extra Innings” deal between DirecTV and Major League Baseball (MLB):

“I welcome MLB’s announcement that MLB and DirecTV have agreed to allow MLB extra innings to be offered to, as they put it, “other incumbents.”

I believe that other satellite and cable companies should have access to MLB extra innings, and I will be analyzing the commitment to see if the term “other incumbents” goes far enough and if the conditions for other carriers are satisfactory.

“This arrangement should motivate the NFL to reconsider broader coverage on its Sunday ticket and Thursday/Saturday programming to make such games available to other carriers beyond DirecTV.

“It may be necessary for the Senate Judiciary Committee to have further hearings on the antitrust implications of the NFL and MLB tv programming and whether it is in the public interest to allow the anti-trust exemptions of the NFL and MLB to continue.”

I'm sure that'll go a long way.

(Image from


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lester is back

In what is a quickie post for the evening, I thought it was worth pointing out that Jon Lester made his return to the mound today after being diagnosed with lymphoma last season.

According to the Boston Globe article from the link:

If the 18-20 scouts who were on hand to watch Jon Lester and the Twins' Sidney Ponson in a "B" game at Hammond Stadium yesterday morning had just climbed out of a cave, they never would have known that Lester is coming off a winter when he was treated for anaplastic large cell lymphoma. They saw a big, strong kid throwing the ball pretty well -- hitting 90 miles per hour with one fastball, 89 on two others -- in an eight-pitch outing in which he got three ground balls before hitting the shower.

You could sense Lester's frustration about wanting to stay out there for another inning. After all, eight pitches? But the Red Sox are taking a long-term view. As pitching coach John Farrell put it, "We're trying to look at 10, 12, 15 years down the road. I think Jon has finally accepted that. It's hard for him because he wants to go out there and be on the same schedule as everyone else, and in the drills we performed, he was. But we're just trying to be smart."

Welcome back.