Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Minnie PearlIn doing some research last night I learned that the television program “Hee Haw” was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research – I was really looking for pictures of the famous “Hee Haw girls.”

I didn’t find those pictures, but then again I didn’t look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called “stuff” in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.

But Hee-Haw… come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.

On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol’ podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn’t just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.

These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don’t have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol’ “blessing in disguise” guff afterwards.

That’s mostly because the “I know you are but what am I,” schtick didn’t apply. Hey, that’s about all they have to work with.

In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.

Gillick said:

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for,” in turn calls the girl, “ugly.”

So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).

It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That’s five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he’s saved at least 37 games in every complete season he’s pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.

Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we’re going to anyway. In San Diego it’s a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin’ day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.

San Diego…

Forget the fact that the Phillies’ ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego’s park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.

So there’s that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, “No way… not in that ballpark.”

Or are they?

Tadahito IguchiApparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi’s agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.

If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we’ll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?

Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I’m siding with the American way.

Get down tonight

The chatter around the ballpark today has been for closer Brett Myers to settle on appropriate enterance music before the ninth inning. Apparently, Myers was upset that KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” was played as he came into last night’s game. Frankly, as I have written in earlier posts, this is pure silliness. Firstly, if Myers had an inch of ironic humor in his ever-expanding body he’s leave the KC & the Sunshine song.

Better yet, instead of some pretend phony toughness delivered through the majesty of song, maybe it would be more of a mind scramble if Myers entered the game to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine and Lollipops?”

In the same vein, I have always believed that if a player was going to take the time to select a song in which to choreograph his appearance in a baseball game, that player should also perform an interpretive dance or performance art piece using the song on their way to the batters’ box or mound.

If the song is “Shake Your Booty,” by all means, shake your booty.

Regardless of any of this, Myers should just worry about getting outs. If he continues to do that people will be writing songs about him.

***
The Phillies announced that they had traded for veteran slugger Russell Branyan this afternoon.

Nope, I didn’t get it either.

Either way, skipper Charlie Manuel said that the team has long had an interest in Branyan, a power-hitting lefty with a bad batting average and a lot of strikeouts. Nevertheless, Manuel wanted an extra slugger for the bench and that’s exactly what Branyan is.

“We just felt that at the moment we have 13 pitchers and only 12 position players so we’d like to have another bat,” general manager Pat Gillick said. “Consequently, Russell is a guy with tremendous power and gives Charlie another alternative is we have a pinch hitting situation.”

The Phillies had hoped that Branyan would be in the park for tonight’s game against the Marlins, but (surprise!) he flight was delayed heading to Philadelphia. When Branyan makes it to Philly, the team will have to adjust its 25-man and 40-man rosters and the early speculation is on option-ready reliever Geoff Geary heading to Triple-A Ottawa.

***
Rugby and triathlon legend Bill Boben was seen in the crowd for tonight’s game.

***
Thirty-three years ago today (“…effective at noon…”) Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States.

***
Tadahito Iguchi has a hit in 11 of the 12 games he’s played in since joining the Phillies. In fact, Iguchi has filled in quite nicely for All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. But when Utley is healthy and returns to action, don’t expect Iguchi to move over to third base in order to remain in the lineup.

According to Gillick, the budding Iguchi situation is something for Manuel to figure out.

“Right now, Iguchi is either going to play second base primarily or his secondary position is shortstop so we’ll see how that goes,” Gillick explained. “When Chase comes back, that’s a problem Charlie is going to have to work out. Right now, when Chase gets backs he’ll be in the lineup.”

Yeah, but what about third base?

“I would say it’s a very remote, remote possibility. It’s a different position third base in that you have longer to read the ball at shortstop and second base as opposed to third base which is a reaction position,” Gillick said. “A lot of times people that can play the middle of the diamond have a tough time moving to the corners.”

So before it could even begin, the Iguchi to third base experiment has been scrapped.

Filling in

When Tadahito Iguchi arrived in Philadelphia in time for Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies’ new second baseman brought with him a lot more than just a suitcase full of clothes and personal items and an equipment bag with his baseball gear.

Better yet, Iguchi brought with him an entire entourage.

Fresh from being traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Phillies on Friday afternoon, Iguchi pulled on his new red-and-white pinstriped uniform, exchanged greetings with Ryan Howard, a friend from last winter’s MLB All-Star tour of Japan, as well as Aaron Rowand, his teammate from the World Champion White Sox team during the 2005 season before taking in his new surroundings.

He even chatted with his manager Charlie Manuel, who like Iguchi was a star in Japan’s Pacific League. Manuel still speaks some Japanese, an ancillary benefit from his six years playing ball as a gai-jin in the Far East, which should help the Phillies’ first Japanese player make an easier transition to his new surroundings.

“He’s got me,” Manuel smiled. “I’ll be his interpreter. I can talk to him.”

First things first, though. Iguchi’s first order of business was to find the lineup card where he located his name in the No. 7 hole at second base, and then greeted the media horde that follows him wherever he goes. Though Iguchi isn’t a well known player to the casual American baseball fan, he was quite popular on the Southside of Chicago and remains one of dozen or so Japanese ballplayers to make the jump to the Major Leagues.

Because of that, Iguchi travels with a translator (David Yamamoto, who also wears a uniform because he sits in the dugout during the game) and does pre and post-game interviews with the Japanese media after every single game. It doesn’t matter if Iguchi goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, goes 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs, or simply sits on the bench without seeing a lick of action on the diamond. The 32-year old infielder discusses his day with the roughly half dozen or so media members that chronicle his every move.

“They even have the cameras rolling on him when he walks through the parking lot to his car,” a media member and witness to the Japanese media’s insatiable thirst to cover their stars in the minutest detail.

In nearly three seasons in the Major Leagues, following eight seasons with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, Iguchi has a .273 batting average, 39 homers and 169 RBIs in 363 games for the ChiSox. This season, he is hitting .251 with 17 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 31 RBIs in 90 games, and hit .281 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 138 games last season. During the White Sox championship run Iguchi had a .278 average with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In the 2005 ALDS, he hit a go-ahead three-run home run in Game 2 against David Wells to turn the tables against the Boston Red Sox.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Iguchi was the team’s most valuable player during the World Series run.

“He had a lot to do with the rings that we have right now,” Guillen told Chicago’s Daily Southtown. “He was great for us every day.”

Someone who can attest to that is Rowand, who remembered bantering back and forth with Iguchi through an interpreter during the ’05 season. Rowand said Iguchi’s English improved as the year went on, but he was able to communicate and have fun with his teammates. Interestingly, Rowand pointed out that the team enjoyed talking about baseball with Iguchi.

“We’ve had some good times with the language barrier, but he’s one heck of a player,” Rowand pointed out. “He’s really smooth in the field. He’ll add to the team and make it a lot easier with Chase being out.”

Ah yes, the real reason why Iguchi has landed in Philadelphia. With Chase Utley likely out for the next month with a broken hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch in Thursday afternoon’s loss to the Washington Nationals. Though he had surgery to insert a pin into the damaged area on Friday and the team revealed that they did not think the injury was as bad as it could have been, Utley will likely miss a minimum of 20 games. With 60 games remaining in the season and the Phillies doing all they can to remain in the playoff chase despite a plethora of injuries, it appears as if Utley will miss a third of the remaining games.

Enter Iguchi.

“I was able to play with Mr. Utley in the Japan series after the season and I’m very, very aware of how great a player he is,” Iguchi said. “I have tremendous respect for Mr. Utley and I just hope that I can fill in and [and contribute to the team] anywhere near Mr. Utley.”

The Phillies put the deal together with the White Sox rather quickly, announcing it just as they reported on Utley’s surgery.

“We wanted to do something and we wanted to move quickly,” assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. “Obviously, you don’t replace Chase Utley, but we wanted the guys in the clubhouse to understand that we wanted to step up and come up with a suitable replacement to help us stay competitive.”

For the short term Iguchi seems to be a good answer to a very difficult problem. The second baseman is signed for $3.25 million this season, and turned down a contract extension to stay with the White Sox during the winter despite saying he wanted to continue his career in Chicago.

“I’m very surprised by the trade,” Yamamoto said for Iguchi. “I was notified about it yesterday and I really didn’t have any notification, so yes, I was really surprised. But I’m really excited to join the Phillies and I’m starting to like my new, red uniform.”

However, Iguchi has a clause in his contract that will allow him to become a free agent at the end of the season if the ChiSox – now Phillies – don’t sign him to an extension by the end of the season.

With Utley expected to make a full recovery, it doesn’t seem as if Iguchi will figure into the Phillies’ plans beyond this season.

Unless he can play third base?

***
For a brief moment at the Tour de France, all of the events of last week were forgotten. The scandals, the doping and all of the bluster were replaced by an actual competition where there was a lot on the line.

Montanan Levi Leipheimer had the time trial of his life, squeezing to within 31 seconds of the leader and his Discovery Channel teammate, Alberto Contador. He did it with his teams’ part-owner Lance Armstrong trailing in the team car, shouting instruction and encouragement as he all but assured himself a spot on the podium in Paris.

With one more stage to go into Paris tomorrow, Leipheimer is eight seconds behind second place Cadel Evans in one of the closest finishes in Tour de France history.

And yet it still hard to think about what might have been…

Certainly it doesn’t seem as if ousted leader Michael Rasmussen would have been able to hang in Saturday’s time trial. Nor did it seem like Alexandre Vinokourov wold have been able to chip away enough to be a threat had he not been bounced from the race. Could Andreas Klöden been right there had his team not been thrown out?

How much fun would it have been to see all of those guys competing all the way through the Tour, especially in such a dramatic time trial?

But despite the good day of competition the newspapers and magazines are littered with stories about controversy, doping and lawyers.

* Is the 24-year old wunderkind Contador doping and is he really linked to Operacion Puerto?

* Vinokourov has hooked up with Floyd Landis’ legal team to fight his doping charges.

* The delusional and notorious windbag Greg LeMond is opening his big fat mouth… again. Does that guy ever shut up and why does he always come off like a bitter old fighter still hanging around the gym?

Here’s something I found interesting about today’s time trial: In praising Leipheimer’s speedy ride, announcer Phil Liggett compared the American to LeMond, noting that his ride to capture the victory in the stage was “almost as fast as Greg LeMond…”

Hmmmm… almost as fast as LeMond, huh? [Insert sarcasm font] Gee, I wonder what he was taking?

Here’s the thing that bothers me the most about Greg LeMond aside from his ego, his arrogance, his bitterness and his personality. LeMond (correct me if I’m wrong) is just like those old-time baseball players who missed out on the big paydays that today’s players get so they try to ciphen all they can from the sport by selling out anything they can. LeMond, it seems, still makes his money from cycling, but what does he really give back?

That’s why his bitterness toward Lance Armstrong seemed like nothing more than a small man with a big case of douchebaggery. LeMond won the Tour three times, had a horrible accident and then got old, yet seems to believe that something was taken from him. Conversely, Armstrong missed a couple of years from his career because he nearly died from cancer, yet rebounded to win the Tour de France seven years in a row.

That would be enough for most folks, but as Lance always noted, “It’s not about the bike.” With that he became the leading advocate for cancer research in the world. That was the primary goal and that’s what LeMond and the David Walsh types in the world don’t seem to understand.

So Le Mond can keep running his mouth, telling everyone how great he was and take, take taking from his sport… and he can continue to come off as a little bitch.

Again, if I’m wrong, correct me. I’m easy to find.

* Here’s what I do not like about the Tour (aside from the sideshow crap, of course): the race is practically over. Even though Evans trails Contador by 23 seconds and Leipheimer is in third at 31 seconds off, the American says Evans doesn’t have to worry about an attack in the final stage on Sunday. There is a gentleman’s agreement regarding such things, they say.

Lame.

There’s one day left and three riders are separated by 31 seconds — GO RACE!

The true sportsman that is Greg LeMond won the 1990 Tour de France on the final stage. It was a time trial, and his closest competitor had saddle sores so bad that he could barely ride his bike, but ol’ Greggy went after it. Usually the last day is largely a ceremonial ride, but 31 seconds is nothing. It should be every man for himself into the Champs-Élysées.

Anyway, sorry for coming out so strong on Le Mond, but I just don’t understand why he had to put himself in the middle of everything.

The Philadelphia MASH Unit

Aaron Rowand is out of the lineup for Friday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates because he hurt his shoulder playing tag with the kids from his neighborhood last night after the loss to the Nationals at the Bank.

There are a lot ways to go with this one, such as was the kid wearing a suit of armor? Good thing he wasn’t playing kick the can or else he could have ended up like Jon Lieber…

You see, the possibilities are endless.

Either way it’s good to know that when Aaron Rowand plays tag with the kids from the neighborhood, he leaves it all out there. Frankly the Phillies are lucky he didn’t run into a fence when chasing down some kid.

“I guess it’s be careful when you play with your kids,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

Nevertheless, when it rains it pours with the Phillies. Earlier today Chase Utley had surgery to repair the broken fourth metacarpal in his right hand in which a pin was inserted to the damaged area. The entire procedure took 20 minutes at Methodist Hospital by Dr. Randall Culp and the MVP candidate is expected recovery time is four weeks.

Joe Thurston’s contract has been purchased to replace Utley on the roster, though it appears as if the Phillies will have to make another move soon since the team announced that they had acquired Tadahito Iguchi from the Chicago White Sox this afternoon.

Along with a full cadre of Japanese media, Iguchi brings a .251 batting average, six homers and 31 RBIs in 90 games with him from Chicago. He also brings along a World Series ring from the 2005 season where he and Rowand helped the ChiSox to their first title in a long, long time.

Interestingly, Iguchi and Manuel are both veterans of Japan’s Pacific League. Manuel played for Kinetsu while Iguchi played for Fukuoka and Daiei.

To get Iguchi, the Phillies sent Single-A right-hander Michael Dubee – pitching coach Rich Dubee’s son – to the White Sox.

Iguchi is expected to arrive in Philadelphia tomorrow.

Anyway, with Rowand out, Michael Bourn will lead off and play center against the Pirates tonight. Abraham Nunez is at second for Utley, Pat Burrell was bumped up a spot from sixth to fifth, while Jimmy Rollins moved from leadoff to third. When Rowand returns – he’s day-to-day – Manuel says Shane Victorino will leadoff, Greg Dobbs will hit second and Rollins will remain in the No. 3 hole.