Friday, August 31, 2007

Baker deserves a 'wow'

Scott Baker's performance Friday night shouldn't come as any surprise. The Captain Shreve grad had plenty of inspiration.

Pitching in the second game of a doubleheader precipitated by the I-35W bridge collapse, Baker retired the first 24 Kansas City batters he faced Friday night, carrying a perfect game into the ninth inning.

Baker's personal life has been anything but perfect lately. He and his wife, Leann, welcomed their second child last Friday, but he was five weeks premature.

Baker had been bouncing between Shreveport and wherever the Twins were playing, balancing family and the pressure of helping keep the Twins in the playoff hunt.

For one night, Baker straightened out the professional part of his life in a big way. Baker was efficient, overpowering (striking out a career-best nine) and in complete control.

Here's hoping things at home work out the same way.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rangers shouldn't take September lightly

The Texas Rangers finished off a sweep of the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night.

Whoop-de-doo you say? For this year, yes. The White Sox are a shell of themselves. Ozzie Guillen is probably talking his way into the unemployment line and Chicago is finding new and inventive ways to lose seemingly every night.

But the Rangers shouldn't make excuses about wanting to win these kinds of games. Texas needs to figure out where it stands for next season.

So when rosters expand Saturday, the Rangers should bring up some young kids and put them in the fire. This season is lost for Texas.

Next season doesn't have to be and a strong September surge would bode well for 2008.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Joba Rules? Please

Watching the Red Sox-Yankees game Wednesday night was an exercise in patience -- when it came to pressing the mute button.

If I hear one more mention of "The Joba Rules" -- the guidelines the Yankees have established for how and when rookie Joba Chamberlain can pitch -- I'm going to throw up.

In case you're unfamiliar with the rules -- or actually the rule -- here it is: For every inning Chamberlain pitches, he gets that many days off. He pitched one inning against Boston on Tuesday making him unavailable for Wednesday's game. Yet the ESPN cameras must have cut to Chamberlain 25 times during the game.

Is Chamberlain good? Yes. He's struck out 17 batters in his first 10 major league innings. I think it's time the Yankees took the kid gloves off especially given current setup man Kyle Farnsworth's propensity to melt down.

And there would be a side benefit to anyone who watches a Yankees game, no more hearing about "The Joba Rules."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why NSU has a fighting chance

The Northwestern State Demons haven't held their first practice with anything resembling their 2008 club.

But, after running into assistant coach Bobby Barbier over the weekend, I have a feeling the Demons will bounce back just fine from their rough 2007 season.

I know all coaches are excited about the new players they bring in, but Barbier is a former Academic All-American and enjoyed a very solid four-year career at NSU. So he knows what he's talking about.

The hiring of J.P. Davis as the Demons head coach allowed Barbier and fellow assistant coach Jeff McCannon to keep their jobs and that should pay off handsomely down the road.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Astros make the tough call

Two seasons ago, Phil Garner and Tim Purpura were riding high as the Houston Astros reached their first World Series.

Garner, the Astros manager, had just overseen the second straight second-half surge while Purpura, the team's general manager, had pulled enough strings to make the roster a playoff contender.

Now, they're fired, losing their jobs earlier today. And rightly so.

Garner has allowed his team to continue to fall into massive deficits in the standings only to rally at the end. Last year, the Astros fell short and this year, well, there's been no sign of a charge.

While Garner has failed on the field, Purpura is the one who truly let Houston fans down. Yes, he signed Carlos Lee. That move has paid dividends already. He also signed ace Roy Oswalt to a lucrative contract extension.

But when Purpura's moves have failed, they've failed miserably. Look at the Woody Williams signing. Not enough? How about the Jason Jennings trade in which the Astros gave up a starting center fielder (Willy Taveras), a young starting pitcher (Jason Hirsh) and a pitcher who has been invaluable to Colorado as a swingman (Taylor Buchholz).

A lot can change in two seasons as Garner and Purpura have learned. Had the Astros won those four games in late October 2005, maybe things would be different. But they are what they are.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bagwell remains classy

During the majority of their careers, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio formed the right side of the Houston Astros infield and played the role of clubhouse cops.

The Astros retired Bagwell's No. 5 on Sunday and the former slugger took time to thank the fans, but something struck me as odd.

The shaggy-haired, bum-shouldered Bagwell made it a point to compliment the fans on their maturation and the way they helped turn Houston into a "baseball city."

Bagwell was an underappreciated talent during his time on the diamond, but remained classy. He showed more of the same in his speech Sunday.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Get 'em while you can

Summer 2007 marks the end, at least tentatively, of the free-transfer era in college baseball.

Following this offseason, players will be subject to the same rules as transfers in other sports are, meaning players will have to sit a year instead of jumping from one Division I school to another and suiting up right away.

Once again, Rick Jones and Tulane have come out winners in the transfer derby. This time, the Green Wave added a pitcher from North Carolina and shortstop Josh Prince from Barbe High School via Texas.

Jones has had tremendous success with transfers in the past. Examples include Cory Hahn, a pitcher from Kentucky, Micah Owings, currently pitching (and hitting) for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Wes Swackhamer from Florida.

When you add in the new Division I-tested faces Jones now has, it looks like the Wave is ready to rebound in 2008.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tip of the cap

Congratulations to Greg Maddux for m,atching an underrated milestone.

Maddux's win over Philadelphia made him the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan to win at least 10 games in 20 straight seasons.

So, in an era where everyone, pitchers included, is under suspicion of steroids and other performance-enhancers, Maddux is worthy of praise.

Here's a guy who looks like a professor, not an athlete, doing something no one has done since the medical marvel himself.

So tip your cap to Maddux. We may never see another one like him.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

All-time gold glovers

Rawlings recently released its All-Time Gold Glove team.

Only one active player -- Ken Griffey Jr. -- was on the squad and that's not surprising.

Just like many other sports, baseball fundamentals have declined with each passing generation. Yes, guys like Griffey and Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds make highlight-reel grabs seem routine, but how many times do you see big leaguers bobble or boot routine balls?

Just like I thought, more than you used to.

This is not meant to put a damper on the celebration of the game's greatest glovemen, especially players like Brooks Robinson and Johnny Bench. Instead, it's another reminder of how sports in general are allowing flash to become more important than fundamentals.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

30 runs, wow

The Texas Rangers scored 30 runs in a win over Baltimore on Wednesday night.

There's only one word for that -- wow.

Seriously, I thought the biggest offensive explosion I would see all week was when I turned around Tuesday night and saw the Venezuelan Little League team had scored 20 runs in the first two innings against the Netherlands.

I was wrong.

Pity the Baltimore fans who had to watch their team get chopped to bits by the cellar-dwelling Rangers. First the O's fans had to deal with Peter Angelos. Then they had to deal with giving up 26 runs to the Rangers in 1998. Now this.

Yeesh, how tough is it to be an O's fan right about now?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bad news next door

In the summer of 2004, the Texas Collegiate League began playing summer baseball, giving the players from the fertile proving grounds in the state a chance to show off for the scouts and stay close to home at the same time.

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, seven of the nine TCL teams are talking about leaving the league and the league has threatened a legal response.

This isn't good news. The league had a chance to be one of the better summer leagues simply because of its geographical location. Now, the threat of red tape, legal processes, etc., etc. casts a shadow over the TCL, regardless of how the situation is rectified.

The rumor around here is a couple of big names in area baseball are trying to lure a summer league here for 2008. Let's hope, if it gets off the ground, it enjoys a smoother ride than the TCL is enduring right now.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Payback sweet for Redding

Tim Redding got his "take that" moment.

The Washington right-hander shut out Houston, the team who originally drafted him and brought him to the majors, over seven innings in a 7-0 Nationals' win.

Redding was part of an Astros' minor league system that was among the game's best in the early part of the decade. It turned out pitcher after pitcher from 1999-2001. Roy Oswalt. Wade Miller. Redding. Carlos Hernandez.

All four were part of the Astros' rotation at once. Only Oswalt remains today. Injuries and inconsistency hampered the other three.

Finally, on Monday, Redding was golden in Houston. The bad news for Astros fans was he wasn't wearing a brick red- and sand-colored uniform.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

This will get stuck in your head

Rag on Atlanta Braves fans all you want. Shake your head over the lack of interest in playoff games at Turner Field.

But, know this, the Braves still are the South's team. And there are Braves fans who aren't afraid to show their true colors on YouTube and other Web sites.

A couple of seasons ago, there was a Web site dedicated to Jeff Francoeur, who burst upon the scene. The site's name?

Now we have this -- a couple of college students showing their affection for the newest Brave, Mark Teixeira.

It's clearly not as funny as last season's Ed Oregeron video, but it is catchy.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Another reason to love the 2005 draft

The 1983 NFL Draft is known for producing one of the greatest lots of quarterbacks in history.

Now, it seems the 2005 MLB draft is headed that way -- though not at one specific.

With Cameron Maybin's promotion to Detroit this week, seven of the draft's top 10 picks have reached the majors in roughly two years.

Those seven guys aren't the normal September callups either. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki are battling for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Justin Upton, at age 20, is starting in right field for Arizona, which leads the NL West and Ryan Zimmerman had a 100-RBI season last year for Washington.

Talent-wise, these guys belong. Personality-wise, they do as well.

Zimmerman and Tulowitzki already are respected leaders in their clubhouses, but Braun takes the cake.

In a recent Sporting News article, Braun, who is from Los Angeles and played his college ball at Miami, dropped a gem of a quote. To paraphrase Braun, the Miami girls helped make his college choice a lot easier.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Great story ends too soon

The Bossier Cyclones' season is done.

But before focusing on the local American Legion team's two-and-cue performance in the regional tournament, remember what the team accomplished.

It broke a 57-year Legion state tournament drought for this area. It rolled through a district that featured another team -- the Shreveport A's -- who finished third in the state.

So while 0-2 may sting right now, hopefully the Cyclones will look back with fond memories of this summer of accomplishment.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rangers' front office to blame

Continuity in today's professional sporting landscape is nearly impossible to maintain.

That being said, the Texas Rangers can point to a lack of continuity as to why they haven't been in a pennant race in three years.

In 2004, I went to Arlington for a story on the Rangers' AL West chances as they stood in late August. When I looked around the room I saw faces like Kevin Mench, Alfonso Soriano, Kenny Rogers and Mark Teixeira.

What do those four have in common? They are no longer Rangers. And that's part of the problem. With the exception of Rogers, those players could have been long-term building blocks for the Rangers.

Instead, they're scattered throughout Major League Baseball and watching from afar as the Rangers struggle to another last-place finish.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Good call NSU

This is getting repetitive to say, but in a good way.

Greg Burke hit the nail on the head with his hiring/promotion of J.P. Davis to the head baseball coaching position at Northwestern State.

While talking with Burke on Tuesday, he related the story of when he called Davis to officially offer the job. Burke told me Davis' first words to him, after accepting the position, were "Let's get to work."

It probably isn't going out on a limb to say Davis will be successful as a head coach at NSU. He worked under the previous two -- John Cohen and Mitch Gaspard -- and we all saw what those two did with the perennial SLC power in Natchitoches.

Davis is an attention-to-detail kind of coach and, given what mid-major baseball coaches have to go through off the field, that is exactly the kind of coach who can succeed at an NSU or a Louisiana Tech or a Louisiana-Lafayette.

Mark Davis' hire down as just another in a long line of smart moves by Greg Burke.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why run on this guy?

Would someone please explain to me why third-base coaches are still running on Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur?

The young man with the All-American looks, the All-American pedigree and a full-time job with his hometown team also has another All-American tool -- his right arm.

Since his major league debut in July 2005, Francoeur has more than 40 outfield assists. He's thrown at two runners at home in the same game at least twice.

Look, part of baseball is knowing when to take a risk. Part of that is gambling the outfielder -- or his relay man -- won't come up with the perfect strike to nail the runner and swing the momentum of the game.

Here's something that wouldn't be a gamble when facing the Braves -- stopping your runner at third on a ball hit to right field.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Buon giorno, Mr. Smith

I hope Castor native Lee Smith can speak a little Italian. If not, he better learn quickly.

Smith is adding to his growing international resume this month as he joins the staff of Major League Baseball's European Academy. Smith served as the pitching coach for the South Africa team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Smith remains second in major league history in saves and previously served as a roving pitching instructor in the San Francisco Giants system.

Now he will be offering instruction to young European and African players as MLB attempts to build a pipeline into those continents the same way it did into South America and the Caribbean.

Under Smith, young pitchers will learn proper mechanics, improve their pitching and make their vocabulary a little more colorful.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eric Gagne, my least favorite player

This is more for my own well-being, getting this out.

The Boston Red Sox didn't need Eric Gagne. They HAD, a good bullpen situation. They needed a bat at the trade deadline and somehow ended up with Eric Gagne.

I watched some of his first appearances with the team last weekend in Seattle and was not impressed. But at least I wasn't horrified.

That happened this weekend as Gagne single-handedly turned a Red Sox sweep into a lost series at Baltimore.

In Gagne's defense, sometimes closers have a mentality where they pitch better with the game on the line and not in a set-up situation.

Still, Terry Francona better figure out to do with this guy fast before he blows the Red Sox out of the water.

Now, I got that off my chest.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Feel bad for Young

I'm not advocating feeling bad personally for someone making an eight-figure salary, but from a professional angle I do feel bad for Michael Young.

Young, the Texas Rangers All-Star shortstop, media pointman and all-around good guy, is stuck in the baseball version of Hades. It wasn't like this when Young signed his four-year contract extension in March. Heck, it wasn't like this a month ago.

Young probably thought he'd have Mark Teixeira scooping his throws at first base and hitting behind him in the lineup through 2008. He probably thought Eric Gagne would be anchoring a solid, rebuilt bullpen through the end of this season.

Instead, the trade deadline came around.

Now Young is stuck on a team that is a couple of years away -- at least -- from contending. And, chances are, when the young kids grow up, Young will likely be winding down his stellar career.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Welcome back, Rick Ankiel

Seven years ago, yes it's been that long, Rick Ankiel lost his mojo -- and any command of the strike zone.

The uber-talented left-hander was 21 and positioned to become one of the best pitchers in the game until he melted down under the glare of the postseason spotlight.

Now Ankiel is back in the big leagues with one caveat. He is a pitcher no more; now he is a hitter. And a power hitter at that.

Ankiel hit 32 home runs in Triple-A before earning a callup to St. Louis on Thursday. He promptly homered in his first game with the Cardinals and gave another insight into the prodigious talent he owns.

In a year where we have celebrated the return of Josh Hamilton from the verge of despair and the depths of drug use, we now have a bookend return to get misty-eyed over.

And that, much like this story, is good for baseball.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Too early for the wild-card watch

I saw the baseball wild-card standings somewhere earlier today.

I apologize for not remembering exactly where but that isn't the point. The point is Aug. 9 is way too early to be focused on the wild card for any team.

There is no hard and fast rule about when to start watching. Jay Buhner went ballistic in August 1995 when the people at Seattle's Kingdome rearranged the pennants used for the AL West standings according to the wild-card standings.

Following Buhner's eruption, the Mariners went on a roll that not only landed them the AL West crown, but saved baseball in Seattle.

As for when it's permissible to watch the wild-card standings, my vote would be for the day after Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Rox rock

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I went on vacation to Denver and went to a game at Coors Field. The events of that night should have told me something, but it took until the last couple of days to sink in.

The Colorado Rockies are (gulp) in the thick of a playoff race in August.

The night I was at Coors, the Rockies lost 5-4 to the L.A. Dodgers and Brad Penny, who has owned the Rockies in his career. Penny cruised through the first five innings of that game having allowed one hit and no runs. L.A. took a 4-0 lead into the sixth when, all of a sudden, a hit here and a walk there and a less-than-full Coors Field sounded like LSU's Tiger Stadium in the fourth quarter of a game against Alabama.

The point is the Rockies have made believers out of a market that, most years, is worried about which Bronco is going to get nicked up in camp. Colorado has, once again, turned Coors Field into a place no one wants to visit, having won nine straight home series after a sweep of Milwaukee.

If this young team can find a way to win on the road down the stretch, we may see Mile High baseball in October for the first time since 1995.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mesmerized by Barry

UPDATE: About five minutes after I posted this blog, Bonds hit career home run No. 756. I guess I should have posted this blog a few days earlier.

For someone so reviled in parts of this country, it is amazing the hold Barry Bonds can cast on an audience.

Bonds' pursuit of the record 756th career home run has been meticulously covered by every ESPN network from the original to the Ocho. They cut into shows to show his at-bats. They have picked up every Giants telecast since Bonds walloped home run No. 754 off something named Rick VandenHurk on July 27.

And, yes, I have watched. Bonds, to me, is one of those athletes who falls into the "I don't like him, but I respect him" category. So while I may not agree with the alleged methods he may have used to get to where he is, I still am impressed he has lasted 20-plus years as an everyday player in the big leagues.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Talk about fan UN-friendly ... meet the AStros

If you are a fan of a team beside the Houston Astros, I suggest loading up on your team's garb before you take a trip to Minute Maid Park, home of one of the unfriendliest teams in Major League Baseball.
Minute Maid Park is one of FOUR parks in the league not to sell anything with the opposing teams' logos on it.
This has to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. What case can be made for not carrying at least a hat or a pen? Give me a break. It's not like people are coming to watch the Astros these days. At least help the fans who are paying the price to sit in the seats.
Joke, joke joke. The Astros are a joke.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Great end to historic week

Could there have been a better capper to a week of history than seeing Tom Glavine notch win No. 300 at one of the game's most historic venues?

The classy left-hander put the exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career with a solid 6 1-3 innings in a win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday night.

With the accusations dogging Barry Bonds and now Jose Canseco's veiled threats about Alex Rodriguez, it's nice to see someone like Glavine reach baseball immortality. When the worst thing you can say about a guy is he was a player rep for the union in 1994, that's pretty good.

For the record, I never liked Glavine in Atlanta. Respected him, yes. Liked him, no. He was as painful to watch as possible. I'd rather watch paint dry than watch Glavine and Greg Maddux circa the Atlanta years toe the rubber.

But he is proof that enough nibbles will get you a big bite out of a Cooperstown plaque.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Help Lester strike out cancer

We'll stay on the baseball-related Web site bandwagon today.

A couple of weeks ago, Boston left-hander Jon Lester completed his remarkable comeback from lymphoma by taking the mound at Cleveland's Jacobs Field and defeating the Indians.

Now, the story of five New England college students -- all self-described Red Sox fanatics -- is making its way through the national media. The five students set up after hearing of Lester's diagnosis at age 22.

Gordon Edes mentioned the site -- which sells silicone bracelets emblazoned with "62 strike out cancer" for $6 -- in his Red Sox notebook in the Boston Globe. In Sunday's editions of The Seattle Times, Larry Stone talks about the site and the fund the students have set up.

The bracelets are similar to the Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong model, which were ubiquitous a couple of years ago and, yes, the proceeds go toward cancer research. In less than a year, The Lester Project has raised more than $140,000 for the Jimmy Fund, the Boston-based cancer research charity.

Like its mission, the site is simple, but its message is clear.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Best ... site ... ever

OK, maybe that's a stretch, but if you're into baseball boxes -- and I mean really into baseball boxes -- check out

The site has boxes dating back more than 30 years from the big leagues. It truly is one of the more addictive sites out there.

And it even helped us here in The Times' sports department answer this nugget of a trivia question. Which pitcher did Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run off on the night he played in his record-breaking 2,131st straight game?

The answer can be found on through a series of clicks.

Or, if you're going to be lazy, the answer is Shawn Boskie.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Big win for Lawrence

Welcome back to the big leagues, Brian Lawrence.

The former Northwestern State Demon turned in a solid 2007 MLB debut Thursday as his New York Mets thumped Milwaukee 12-4.

Lawrence got by on guts and guile, as he has for most of his big league career. The sinker specialist allowed three runs in five innings, but got plenty of support from the Mets' potent bats in the win.

The win was the first in almost two calendar years for Lawrence, who missed all of 2006 after tearing his labrum in a bullpen session prior to spring training.

Lawrence wasn't sure if Thursday was a one-and-done kind of performance and if he would be heading back to Triple-A. After the game, the man of few words said, "I'll plan on pitching my next turn until someone tells me something else."

Given the dearth of starting pitching depth in Queens, it wouldn't hurt for the Mets to give Lawrence one or two more shots in their rotation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

AL power rankings

As the calendar flips from July to August, let's take a look at how the AL power rankings shape up.

1. Boston -- Biggest division lead in baseball counts for something.
2. Los Angeles -- Offense comes alive as pitching slips. Nice problem to have.
3. Detroit -- On the other hand, suddenly can't pitch to save themselves.
4. Cleveland -- Yet the Indians can't take advantage of Tigers' misfortune.
5. Seattle -- Quietly in both the West and wild-card races.
6. N.Y. Yankees -- Don't look now but they're 3 out in the wild-card race.
7. Minnesota -- Turns out they were sellers -- kind of.
8. Toronto -- Doing good to hang around .500.
9. Baltimore -- Playing much better under Dave Trembley.
10. Oakland -- No second-half surge this year.
11. Texas -- The next few years should be interesting.
12. Kansas City -- Dayton Moore has this team pointed in the right direction.
13. Chicago -- Is Ozzie on his way out?
14. Tampa Bay -- Dan Wheeler as a bullpen savior? Hahahahaha.

NL rankings

Now it's time to check out how the NL stands at the end of July.

1. Chicago -- The Cubs are the hottest thing since chipotle peppers.
2. Los Angeles -- The Dodgers better hope youngsters Kemp and Loney are the real deals.
3. N.Y. Mets -- Needing vintage Pedro in a hurry. Probably not gonna happen.
4. Arizona -- The kids need to keep hitting.
5. Atlanta -- John Schuerholz worked his traditional magic at the trade deadline.
6. Philadelphia -- No Utley, no problem. Well not yet.
7. Colorado -- Rockies are relevant in August. No that's not a misprint.
8. Milwaukee -- Brewers really can't handle prosperity.
9. San Diego -- Neither can Padres.
10. St. Louis -- Oh, if only Carpenter was healthy.
11. Florida -- Olsen's next stop the UFC?
12. San Francisco -- Hurry up and hit 755 and 756 Barry.
13. Pittsburgh -- The NL Central welcomes back Matt Morris.
14. Cincinnati -- Interesting moves at the deadline.
15. Houston -- Almost at rock bottom.
16. Washington -- Back home in the cellar.