All eyes are on Bud Selig with a possible strike looming in an already tarnished season. AP
By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com
Lifting weights was once thought to be counterproductive for ballplayers. Now you can't drag major leaguers out of the gym.
Baseball in Florida was supposed to be a mortal lock to succeed, but you can't drag fans to see the Marlins and Devil Rays play.
Much like records, myths are made to be broken.
Already this season, many of the things we "knew," or at least thought we knew, have been proven spectacularly wrong.
Here are a few of the prominent myths that have been dispelled this season:
Baseball needs "competitive balance" or else the sport will plummet into the ocean depths.
"Competitive balance" has become the mantra for Bud Selig. The achievement of this balance is not easy. It requires extensive revenue sharing, some form of a salary cap and a brand new, publicly funded stadium for every team. This stadium must come fully equipped with corporate-owned skyboxes, retractable roofs, ferris wheels and $8 hot dogs.
Oh, is that all? Nirvana isn't this hard to reach.
Of the eight teams with the lowest payrolls, five -- Cincinnati, Florida, Minnesota, Oakland and Montreal -- have winning records and are within 6 1/2 games of a playoff spot or closer.
When owners refer to "competitive balance," they are speaking in financial terms. They want all of the teams to make money more equally; how they perform on the field is a secondary concern. After all, the Pirates, Brewers and Tigers have new stadiums that have helped in the ledger books but not the standings. That is little consolation for their fans, but it's enough to give their owners a Joker-like grin that couldn't be wiped off with paint thinner.
Baseball can organize its umpires under the same umbrella in hopes of telling them what their strike zones should be.
MLB's attempt to get the "high strike" called consistently lasted as long as a typical Jose Lima outing. They tried at first, but eventually resorted to their own comfort zones. Umpires always have been a stubborn bunch. Good luck getting them to change anything.
(Fill in the blank) will make a run at Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755 home runs
In the late 1990s, it was Mark McGwire who was the heir apparent to Hammerin' Hank. Cranky knees forced him to stop a little bit short of the mark ... by 172.
Then it was Ken Griffey Jr. who would no doubt be the next home run king.
But Griffey has compiled all of 438 at-bats since the start of 2001, so it's time to pass the would-be crown to ...
Barry Bonds. He's 163 away from Aaron, and at the ripe age of 37 is Babe Ruth reincarnated. But staying healthy is easier said than done, and Aaron put the record so far out there that it's silly to say it inevitably will be broken one day.
Johnny Damon doesn't hit in the first half of the season.
Come again? Damon put this one to rest early, hitting .360 in April and .307 overall. In 2000, he hit .267 in the first half and .386 in the second, and last season he was 49 points better in the second half. If Damon had stumbled out of the gate again, his slow starts would have become a legitimate trend.
A catcher should be valued for his all-around ability.
Judging by the All-Star vote totals, fans don't care how a catcher performs in the field as long as he can hit.
The three worst catchers at throwing out baserunners in the NL are Mike Piazza (8.8 percent), Paul Lo Duca (24.2) and Michael Barrett (25.5). They ranked first, third and fourth, respectively, in NL All-Star voting for catchers. In the AL, Jorge Posada won the voting despite gunning down baserunners at a 15.5 percent clip, second worst in the league.
To be fair, these low percentages are not completely the fault of the catchers. As long as the home run is nearly every team's main offensive weapon, managers will care less and less about stopping the running game. Many pitchers, like Mets lefty Al Leiter, refuse to use the slide step, and many managers don't like to call pitchouts. They would rather concentrate on the hitter at the plate, and probably rightfully so.
Inherited runners Dodgers closer Eric Gagne has allowed to score this season. Before Wednesday, he had stranded his first 11.
"At least it's finally over with. If they're going to jerk me and [John] Vander Wal around, say how bad we are, they might as well go and get somebody else." -- Yankees OF Shane Spencer on the Raul Mondesi trade.
Things not to say to a muscle-bound big leaguer
Been to Tijuana lately?
Elbow or butt cheeks?
Drugs are bad, mmmkay
Fill the cup
Consider the source
Selig lifted his gag order -- and threat of a $1 million fine -- on his fellow owners Tuesday, allowing them to discuss the labor war.
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and owner John Henry took the opportunity to defend Selig, their embattled leader. They say the commissioner is the messenger for what the owners want to say, and vilifying him is unfair.
"There is a misperception that Bud Selig is a one-man band marching to his own drummer. He really is carrying the water for a unified set of clubs and pushing issues that are being thrust upon him by one of his constituencies, the owners," Lucchino told The Associated Press.
This would all be very touching, if not for one simple fact: Selig is the main reason these guys are even running the storied Boston franchise.
Selig helped engineer Henry's Marlins-for-Red Sox swap this offseason, and then Lucchino was brought in to run the club.
These guys owe the commish quite a bit, so it's not surprising they would support him publicly. Wouldn't you do the same for somebody who handed you the deal of the century?
We know Selig is speaking for the owners. What the owners have to understand is that by verbally abusing the commissioner, we are expressing our displeasure with them as well.
So until somebody else comes up with a legitimate reason to give the commish a break, let the Selig bashing continue!
The Mets need to stop buying into the theory that first base is not a critical defensive position.
Ever since John Olerud left for Seattle as a free agent, the club has tried plugging in subpar defensive players at first base with disastrous results.
In 1999, with Olerud as the first baseman, the Mets set a record for fewest errors with 68. Todd Zeile took over at first the next two years, which saw New York commit a total of 219 errors.
Now Mo Vaughn, a born DH, is killing the club at first base. He leads NL first basemen in errors with seven. More important, his failure to reel in errant throws from infielders has been a major factor in the Mets' major league-leading 73 errors.
Vaughn's failure to stretch out for an Edgardo Alfonzo throw opened the door for a six-run second inning in a 9-7 loss to the Marlins on Thursday. Alfonzo was charged with the error, but a decent first baseman would have stopped the ball from going into the outfield.
What a catch
Mike Piazza's two home runs against the Phillies on Wednesday gave him 28 multi-homer games as a catcher, breaking the record he shared with Gary Carter.
It didn't take long for Jim Thome to show he should have been an All-Star this season. The Indians' first baseman hit a home run in seven consecutive games this week, falling one game short of the record held by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Long.
It seems that when one long hitting streak ends this season, another takes over center stage right away. Luis Castillo's 35-game streak was followed by Vladimir Guerrero's 20-game tear. Now Arizona's Junior Spivey has an 18-game hitting streak in which he's batting .371 (26-for-70).
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the 11th player in NL history to make the All-Star team in each of his first two seasons. The others are Piazza (1993-94), Dwight Gooden ('84-85), Steve Sax ('82-83), Tim Raines ('81-82), Fernando Valenzuela ('81-82), Johnny Bench ('68-69), Tom Seaver ('67-68), Frank Robinson ('56-57), Don Newcombe ('49-50) and Ewell Blackwell ('46-47).
Jeff Clement of Marshalltown High School in Iowa broke Drew Henson's national prep record with his 71st career home run on Wednesday. The 18-year-old catcher is 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. No word yet on whether he has been asked the steroid question. ... Mariners starting pitchers are 5-0 with a 1.89 ERA in their past 10 games, leading Seattle to eight victories. ... Three of Derek Lowe's four losses this season have been by one run. The Boston righty ended a two-game losing streak by beating the Blue Jays on Thursday. ... Jack McDowell, who won 127 games before retiring in 1999, will sing the national anthem at Comiskey Park on Friday. McDowell is trying to make it as a rock star with his band, Stickfigure. ... Here's one from the "That's hard to do" department: The Marlins lead the NL in both drawing walks (388) and striking out (609). They might want to try putting the ball in play more often. ... The Astros had the most players in minor league All-Star games with 24. Pittsburgh and Arizona are the runners-up with 19 each. Oakland and Baltimore were last with nine each. ... The players will have a union meeting Monday, possibly to decide on a strike date. Let's hope somebody with sanity attends the meeting.