Wow, I was just in the shower going over what I had to write about this morning, and this post could wind up being gargantuan. There's a lot to address, from within the baseball world and without, and for some reason today seems like the day to address a bunch of things that I've sort of been allowing to pass without comment for a little while. It's probably the fact that today is the first day without soccer since the World Cup started on June 9th. But more on that later.
First, I have to mention Peter Gammons. I can't believe that Peter Gammons could possibly be mortal. Gammons is not a man, he's a rock star. Given recent events though, the title of his forthcoming debut CD, Never Slow Down, Never Grow Old is bitterly ironic. I make fun of Gammons from time to time because he's way up there and I'm way down here, but he's probably the first baseball writer outside of the Chicago papers whose name I learned to remember back in eighties. I can't say he's an influence, exactly, because Gammons is the ultimate insider and I would be perfectly happy if I never had to talk to a single player, manager, or front office guy ever, but he's still The Man. Get better, Peter.
Now as to the relatively minor topic of the Rockies' season. Colorado pasted the Angels last night, 12-4, the day after a heartbreaking eighth-inning wipeout masterminded by Jose Mesa. I watched the whole of that game on Monday, where the Rockies squandered a lovely Jason Jennings performance, and I was too angry to write about it yesterday. Now I feel a little better. The Rockies rebounded in a big way, and that's nice to see. If Colorado had only managed to hang on in that game, however, they'd now be tied with the Dodgers only a game and a half behind San Diego for first place in the NL West. The Rockies have seemed to suffer from a certain rubber band effect around the .500 mark all year. They never manage to get very far above, but on the plus side, they haven't fallen very far below either. As I'm writing this right now, I'm watching Buster Olney on ESPN2 explaining how the National League is basically the AL's whipping boy in interleague this year. The Rockies are 8-3 against the American League. Given the difference in scheduling from team to team, I'm not sure how meaningful this is. There's exactly one other team in the NL that's above .500 in interleague play, which is Florida at 8-6. How weird is that? They've played Toronto, Oakland, and Texas, three pretty good teams. They finish off with the weaker Angels and Mariners. If only the Rockies had gotten to play one more interleague series instead of that road trip to St. Louis where they got swept. They'd be in first place!
I've been avoiding making fun of the Cubs to as large an extent as possible this year, because...well, they're like an ex-wife. Sometimes you just have to walk away and make a clean break. But I've started watching their games lately because I'm excited about Dusty Baker being fired. Dusty Baker has always been a lousy manager, but he's taken it to an entirely new level this year. Nothing is his fault. Everything is out of his hands. Two stupid errors to allow a four-run ninth to the Brewers in a come-from-ahead loss yesterday? What can Dusty do? Is it all possible that his confrontational media stance, self-pitying public posture, and complete refusal to accept accountability for any of Chicago's struggles have negatively affected his players? Naw, that's all Jim Hendry's fault, or possibly Jay Mariotti's. I was talking to my dad the other day (happy birthday, Dad, if you're reading this) and we realized that by not firing Baker now the Tribune Company is essentially covering their backs for as many as three more years of intense suck at Wrigley Field. In 2007, it'll be Hendry who takes the fall as whatever poor fool (Bob Brenly?) becomes the new manager will be stuck with Dusty's players. In 2008 the new GM will have a grace year as he struggles to get "his" guys into place. Then in 2009 it'll be right around time to fire Brenly, or whomever. And Cubs fans continue to fill the new expanded bleachers at Wrigley in ever-increasing numbers. They deserve this team.
Equally sad, but far less funny, is the state of affairs in Pittsburgh. The Pirates lost their 12th straight yesterday, and their next eight games are against the three best teams in the game, the White Sox, Tigers, and Mets. I can't say that I didn't see this coming. NL Central previews before this season began gave the Pirates way too much credit due to what I call the Shiny Object Theory. The Pirates added some guys whose names fans might recognize. Sadly, none of these guys -- Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey -- were any good. The only thing they managed to accomplish by adding all of this leaden veteran weight was taking a place to play away from their second-best young hitter, Craig Wilson. The Pirates have very close to the same payroll as the Rockies, $50 million, give or take. The Marlins' payroll is essentially the major league minimum times twenty-five, but they're chugging along at a very respectable 34-40. Of course, Florida had talent to work with when they held their fire sale, and the Rockies have had several very productive drafts in a row now. What does Pittsburgh have? Well, now they have license to blow it up. And a nice new stadium which will host the All-Star Game.
The World Cup is down to the final eight, and they'll take two days off before the quarterfinals. I picked winners for all eight of the Round of 16 games and each day I was wrong once and right once. The matchups for the next round are as follows: Germany vs. Argentina and Italy vs. Ukraine on Friday, and England vs. Portugal and Brazil vs. France on Saturday. For the most part, the first knockout stage was a letdown, but the games yesterday went a long way towards changing my feelings on that. The France-Spain game was wide open, well-officiated, and had a genuinely suprising finish as the much-criticized, star-laden French team finally got its act together. Brazil-Ghana was far less one-sided than the 3-0 final indicates. If the Ghanians had been able to get a single open shot on target, it would have been a real thriller. As it was, it was interesting to watch Ghana play the aggressor for nearly the whole game, with Brazil playing back and then suddenly launching beautiful counterattacks from seemingly out of nowhere. The next round appears to have some real barn-burners, and certainly FIFA has figured out who its best four refs are by now. I hope they get the guy who worked France-Spain to call Germany-Argentina, because on paper that game looks crazy good. I felt the same way about Portugal-Netherlands, but look what happened there. I hope I didn't just jinx it.
The NBA draft is tonight. Normally I'm a little bored by the whole draft process in every pro sports league. I mean, watching a draft on TV is like taking an NFL game and eliminating the last remaining ten minutes of action. It's hours upon hours of slow-motion highlights and hot air. But this draft is so bizarre that I'm afraid I'm going to be sucked into watching. Does it seem to anyone besides me that common sense has just gone completely out the window when it comes to selecting basketball players? I've read this guy Andrea Bargnani's name listed among the top prospects so many times that I'm starting to accept it. But who the hell is Andra Bargnani? Have you seen him play? Has anybody? Has a single international seven-footer picked high in the draft since Dirk Nowitzki been anything but a colossal bust? I guess I missed all of Dalibor Bagaric's All-Star appearances. Look, Adam Morrison already has a TV commercial where he attributes superhuman powers to his moustache. You want that guy. Not just because of the moustache, but also because of his tendency to, you know, score 30 pretty much whenever he wants playing on a team where he's the first, second, and fourth option. I can't believe how much NBA GMs overthink these drafts. What on earth is so terrible about picking a guy who already knows how to play? Since when is that against the rules? Even if Bargnani turns out to be All That, he's not going to do anything for Toronto (or whomever) on his rookie contract. He's either going to waste roster space for three years then go be good somewhere else (like DeSagana Diop for Cleveland/Dallas) or you're going to have to sign him to an absurd lucrative contract to keep him from leaving before you have any idea whether he can actually play or not (like the Bulls and Tyson Chandler). It's like Spike said one time: Is everyone here very stoned? Take the guy who can play, Toronto!