Publishing firm Simon and Schuster has emerged with a lemon in Jose Canseco’s second book, Vindicated, as you’d know if you read The York Report in Metro or at www.metronews.ca last Tuesday, or even if you read Rosie DiManno’s column in The Star Thursday.
But Simon and Schuster hasn’t done too badly with another baseball book hitting the shelves at about the same time as Vindicated.
It’s called Big Book of Baseball Legends, written by ESPN analyst Rob Neyer. It’s a 300-page-plus stroll down memory lane and it’s aimed at debunking or verifying baseball fables that have been handed down through generations.
Like, did Babe Ruth really call his home run into the centre-field stands in 1932? Or, were fans in Boston really showered with baked beans after a foul ball hit the city’s biggest cannery?
For $16, you can find out whether these and dozens of other stories – including ones concerning Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays and many others – are accurate or whether they were purely the work of an overimaginative sportswriter or player.
A warning, though: You must be a major baseball fan with a lot of knowledge about the game’s history, or you simply won’t be able to follow Neyer’s efforts.
• Pat Tabler does a decent job as one of the Blue Jays’ analysts on Canadian television. Not so much for Rance Mulliniks, who’s blatantly biased and, I’m afraid, boring.
But if you’re really interested in hearing astute analysis during Toronto baseball games, tune in on radio and listen to Alan Ashby.
The former catcher is refreshing because he isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. There’s no question that, like all his brethren on the airwaves in Toronto, he’d prefer to see the Jays win. Still, he isn’t reluctant to point out shortcomings or flaws in them.
For instance, during the Jays’ victory against the New York Yankees Wednesday night, Ashby was honest enough to mention that Toronto’s rookie third-base coach, Marty Pevey, erred in sending David Eckstein home. Ashby said it was “dangerous” because, had catcher Jose Molina hung on to a throw, Eckstein would have been a dead duck at home plate.
He also wondered aloud whether Vernon Wells is trying too hard to re-establish himself as a star this season.
All of which should be what listeners want – honest insight. You don’t hear it from Ashby’s peers often enough.
And kudos also to Mike Wilner, who works on the Jays’ radio broadcasts. He’s been brave enough to suggest that the Jays ought to go against what seems to be a blackballing of Barry Bonds and sign the home-run king.
Wilner has repeated on the air that he thinks Bonds would be perfect for the Jays as a left fielder.
He thinks Bonds’ alleged wrongdoings concerning steroids should be forgiven and forgotten.
“There are people still playing in the game,” Wilner said, “who’ve done a lot worse than Bonds.”
• By the way, while oddsmakers officially have posted a prop that Bonds will not return to the major leagues (you’d have to lay $1.25 if you’d like to win a dollar on a bet that he would return), veteran baseball writer Gerry Fraley has written a Sporting News column suggesting he will be back.
“Despite Bonds' baggage and surly personality, he appeals to baseball-first decision makers,” wrote Fraley, who, I should point out, has made plenty of mistakes in his baseball reporting over the years.
“For the second consecutive offseason, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa pushed his general manager and owner to consider Bonds,” Fraley continued. “The Tampa Bay Rays had serious internal conversations about the possibility.
“It makes sense. Even at the advanced age of 43, Bonds remains an offensive force.
“With the San Francisco Giants last season, Bonds led National Leaguers with at least 300 at-bats in on-base percentage at .480 and on-base plus slugging percentage at 1.045, and he placed eighth in slugging percentage. Only four other NL players had an OPS of 1.000-plus: the Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones, the Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder, the Colorado Rockies' Matt Holliday and the Brewers' Ryan Braun.”
Bonds, you should know, is keeping in shape, working out with pitching machines and is determined to return to baseball – even if means going to Japan.
• Another veteran who is possibly being blackballed by MLB but is trying to return is former Blue Jays lefty David Wells.
Fat chance (no pun intended).
• Speaking of former Toronto lefties, it looks like the scouting report on Mark Hendrickson may have been a bit off.
The word in spring training was that the 6-foot-10 pitcher rearranged his repertoire to the point where he could overpower batters. He was chosen to be the Florida Marlins’ opening-day pitcher.
But he was rocked. And, after the start, he’s 0-1, with a 10.80 earned-run average.
• Speaking of the Marlins, their former manager, Joe Girardi, clearly has won over his new team with one of his clubhouse policies.
Under ex-Yanks manager Joe Torre, music in the clubhouse was forbidden. The only exception was for the aforementioned David Wells, who was permitted to play hard rock at a low volume before games in which he pitched.
Girardi is drastically different, to the delight of the New York players. Johnny Damon is so delighted, in fact, he purchased a portable iPod sound system that is roughly the size of a rolling, carry-on suitcase, and it sits on the clubhouse floor next to a pillar near the lockers of Mike Mussina and Brian Bruney.
The system, which played hard rock from Bruney's iPod Tuesday afternoon, is equipped with a microphone, just in case the players want to stage karaoke competitions
• Former major-league manager Larry Bowa, now the Dodgers’ third-base coach, was fined and suspended for three games this week for screaming in the face of an umpire. He also hit the ump with the tip of his helmet and shoved Torre into him.
Bowa, as hot-headed as they come, was fuming about the suspension, but he didn’t make a bad point when he said:
“You got guys that tested positive for steroids and they admitted they took them. No suspensions. I get kicked out of a game and get three games plus fined? There's no justice."
• Baseball’s steroids scandals, by the way, haven’t seemed to turn off fans.
Attendance figures for opening week are high and television ratings are setting records.
ESPN, for instance, drew the largest viewing audience (3.6-million viewers) in its history for the Atlanta Braves-Washington Nationals game last Sunday.
• Paying the lowest average ticket price in MLB this season, by the way, are Arizona Diamondbacks customers.
The D-Backs’ average ticket price is $15.96 -- almost $10 below the league average.
• The D-Backs’ Doug Davis, by the way, will be pitching this season despite recently being diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Club bosses told him he was free to go on the disabled list, but Davis has insisted that it’s his preference to pitch.
• The Boston Herald wondered if spring-training records bear any correlation to how teams perform in the regular season and, courtesy of statistician John Dewan, the paper reported this:
Sixty-nine per cent had winning records in the past 12 seasons after recording winning records in spring training.
Thirty teams were below .500 and still made the playoffs.
• This from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“The higher the pitcher's mound in baseball, the more effective the pitcher -- and the more likely he is to hurt his arm. The higher the pitcher's mound, the more leverage a pitcher has, and the greater the angle at which the ball crosses the batter's box. This makes it more difficult to hit the ball squarely.
“After the 1968 season, which was dominated by pitchers (Boston's Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting championship that year with the remarkably low batting average of .301), MLB ordered the pitching mound be lowered from 15 inches to 10 in order to generate more offense. (Fans would rather watch home runs than strikeouts.)
“High school and college baseball teams also use a 10-inch mound. Baseball should have lowered the mound to reduce injuries, says Dr. William Raasch. Dr. Raasch is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the head team physician for the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Dr. Raasch and his associates recently completed a study, financed by MLB, of the stress throwing from the mound places on a pitcher's arm.”
• And this from Detroit closer Todd Jones, about the Tigers:
“This is possibly the greatest lineup this town has seen in the last 25 years. This is a lineup in which even (Hall of Famer) Al Kaline might hit sixth or seventh. Of course, he’s 73 years old now.”