IT IS but a step, as Napoleon remarked, from the sublime to the ridiculous, so let us step boldly and present our third annual Most Ridiculous Performance (MRP) awards.
WORLD'S SMALLEST VIOLIN AWARD To White Sox designated hitter Frank Thomas, 36, who, having exercised a one-year, $6 million contract option (down from the $9.9 million he was paid in 2002), said, "After the year I had last year, it's a little disappointing come the first and 15th."
ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU AWARD To Padres outfielder Ryan Klesko, who missed six games after he stood up awkwardly for the national anthem and strained his right oblique muscle.
TIME STANDS STILL AWARD To then Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who, after chubby DH Matt Lecroy pinch-ran for him in a spring training game, said, "Watching him come out there was the longest 2 1/2 minutes of my life."
FEAR FACTOR AWARD To Lecroy, who accepted $550 from teammates to eat a beetle found in the visiting clubhouse in Kansas City.
I'M NOT ONLY THE HAIR CLUB PRESIDENT ... AWARD To Red Sox righthander Bronson Arroyo (bleach-blond cornrows), centerfielder Johnny Damon (Grizzly Adams 'do), righthander Pedro Martinez (Jheri curl) and leftfielder Manny Ramirez (horizontal Afro), owners of the majors' four most distinctive hairstyles.
... I'M ALSO A CLIENT AWARD To Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who is bald.
EARLY BIRD AWARD To A's righthander Rich Harden, who missed 10 days in spring training after he strained his left shoulder reaching to turn off his alarm clock.
WATER INTO WINE AWARD To 46-year-old Braves first baseman Julio Franco, explaining his longevity: "I am on the juice. The juice of Jesus of Nazareth."
CUBIC ZIRCONIA WEB GEM AWARD To Manny Ramirez, for an impossible diving catch--of a Johnny Damon throw he had no business cutting off, allowing Baltimore's David Newhan an inside-the-park home run.