Game 2: Wolf and the cats

wolfieThe Phillies just finished up with batting practice here at the Bank and the Rockies are getting ready to run through their paces before Game 2. Better yet, let’s hope they play the game at a rate comparable to Game 1 where the always efficient and quick-working Cliff Lee kept everything moving.

That was so much better than the debacle that went on in Los Angeles last night where the Dodgers and Cardinals played the longest nine-inning game in NLDS history. It damn-near went on for four hours thanks largely to 30 runners left on base between the teams.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the Dodgers and Cardinals to leave all those runners out there. In that regard, the teams were pretty evenly matched, too. The Cards left on 16 and the Dodgers stranded 14, only LA made their hits count a little more in the 5-3 victory.

Nevertheless, right smack dab in the middle of the marathon effort was ex-Phillie turned Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf. In his first ever playoff game Wolf needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning on his way to 82 in just 3 2/3 innings. Had he been able to get four more outs he would have received the win. Instead, 11 base runners against 11 outs ruined the debut.

That’s a shame, too, because based on past discussions with Wolf, I know how badly he wanted to participate in playoff baseball. Being in the playoffs was his greatest wish in his career and I know it pained him to see both the Dodgers and the Phillies in it last year while he was off playing for Houston.

“I was extremely happy for them,” Wolf said about watching his old team win the World Series, “But I was little jealous, too.”

It’s not like Wolf didn’t have a chance to be a part if the Phillies during the past three seasons. Before testing free agency and going home to California to play for the Dodgers and Padres, Wolf had an offer on the table from the Phillies. In fact, general manager Pat Gillick went to visit Wolf at his home in Los Angeles before the 2007 season to persuade the lefty to re-sign with the Phillies.

Gillick thought he had a chance to get Wolf, too… that was until he saw the cats.

You see, Wolf and his then girlfriend packed up their house in Conshohocken and had it shipped to the other coast. That included the pet cats, which was Gillick’s tip off. If a guy goes as far to move cats 3,000 miles away you can pretty much bet it’s not going to be a round trip.

It’s much easier to lug a dinette set from Pennsylvania to California than it is to wrangle up the cats, get them in a vehicle and take them across the country. Add in a girlfriend and you’re really talking about commitment.

So as soon as Gillick left the pitcher, the girl and the cats in the house in California, he scurried to the airport where he immediately phoned up the agent for Adam Eaton and offered him the deal he was going to give Wolf.

The rest is history.

Baseball Heaven

pujolsST. LOUIS – Remember back when those quotes attributed to Scott Rolen surfaced? You remember, it was shortly after the third baseman was traded to the Cardinals from Philadelphia. It was something about his new team being located in “Baseball Heaven.”

You know, “I feel like I’ve died and gone to baseball heaven.”

Of course you remember. It just added a little more to that annoying self-image problem they have in Philadelphia.

Well, guess what? Maybe you want to come in a little closer so I can whisper this to you. Certainly I don’t want to get anyone worked up into a lather or hurt anyone’s delicate little psyche. But here it goes:

Rolen was right.

There, I said it.

St. Louis is baseball heaven. Take the way they feel about football in Texas, hockey in Canada and sprinkle in some surfing in Hawaii and then, maybe, you will understand how they feel about baseball and their Cardinals in St. Louis.

They’re nuts.

Oh, and it’s not just the kids, the 18-to-35 age demographic, or the grandfathers who saw Dizzy Dean and the Gas House Gang whip the Yankees at Sportsmen’s Park in the ’26 World Series, either. Nope. It’s everyone. They all dress in Cardinals red, they all cheer loudly for their hometown players and clap politely in appreciation for good play by an opponent.

Do they boo? Um, does the Pope date?

Actually, that’s not completely true. When Ted Lilly of the Cubs was introduced before Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, the fans sounded like Philadelphians when Rolen and J.D. Drew showed up on D-Battery night at The Vet. But before it was assumed an unruly St. Louis fan was going to reach for their flare gun and fire off a shot across the diamond, the booing stopped. Sure, it was loud, but it was good natured.

Darnit, it was friendly.

But c’mon… there is nothing more odious and ridiculous that comparing the fans of St. Louis to the fans of Philadelphia. It’s just a dumb exercise. Different folks, different strokes.

stan-musialHowever, the friendliest people on earth just might live in St. Louis. Make that obscene friendly. It’s like cartoonish friendliness, the kind that makes Will Rogers look like surly ol’ Dick Cheney. So mix that with the Budweiser Beer that flows deeper than the mighty Mississippi just spitting distance away from the ballpark and the surprisingly majestic Gateway Arch, and it’s no wonder everyone is so tickled and happy.

And it’s no wonder they love those Cardinals.

I saw the strangest thing yesterday while walking from the hotel (which just so happened to be located on the spot where President Harry S Truman was photographed in one of history’s greatest moments of taunting when he held up the Chicago newspaper that read, “Dewey Defeats Truman) to the ballpark for an evening of All-Star baseball, rooftop sniper sightings and Pedro-mania! What I saw was an old lady, with an uncanny resemblance to Estelle Getty, strolling around town with a Willie McGee t-shirt.

Seriously, Willie McGee! I mean, who didn’t love Willie McGee – he was a terrific ballplayer. But who would ever put Willie McGee’s visage on a t-shirt and then sell it to people. It was the weirdest thing ever.

Maybe not as weird as the veritable throng of people that lined the downtown streets like it was V-E Day and tossed back some Budweiser and some Mardi Gras beads as the All-Stars paraded from their digs at the Hyatt to Busch Stadium. The players weren’t doing anything other than riding in a car. Some waved. Others scowled. Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ catcher, tossed baseball cards to the throng. Reports are his throws repeatedly fell short.

Oh, and get this: during the All-Star Game I crossed paths with the great Stan Musial. They called Stan, “The Man,” and for good reason. One look at his career statistics and it’s tough not to wonder why he was given the nickname of a mere mortal. Man? No, that guy could hit like 20 Men, but “Stan The Men,” doesn’t have the same ring.

Nevertheless, approaching his 90th birthday, Stan gets around in a wheelchair these days. He also doesn’t carry around a harmonica and inexplicably break into song the way he used to on those corny baseball reels. He also is depicted in his classic batting stance in 15-feet of bronze statue in front of the entrance of the new Busch Stadium located on a stretch of road named, Stan Musial Drive.

So yes, Stan Musial is kind of a big deal in these parts. People lose their minds when they see him up close even though he retired as a player at age 42 in 1963.

But get this, Stan gave me his autograph last night. It was a pre-emptive autographing. He just rolled over and handed me a postcard with his picture and signature on it. I didn’t ask – hadn’t even occurred to me that one should ask Stan Musial for his autograph – and I’m not sure it’s even something I need. However, Stan just assumed that people want his autograph so he travels with a pile of signed cards and hands them out like gum drops.

Unsolicited autographing? Really? Cool.

Maybe that just goes to show how crazy they are for baseball in St. Louis. After all, Stan Musial rolls with piles of autographs to drop onto the populace like confetti. In fact, he’s how goofy St. Louis is for baseball – old ladies who look like Estelle Getty wear Willie McGee shirts and young kids with iPhones in front of a PlayStation game at the massive baseball mall the constructed on the downtown streets, wear replica shirts with Musial’s No. 6 on the back.

St. Louis, thy name is Baseballtopia.

estelleBut for every Willie McGee and Stan Musial shirt worn, there are 9,173 people wearing something celebrating Albert Pujols. Stan is The Man, Albert is The King or, El Hombre. The truth is Albert Pujols is so popular and beloved in St. Louis that he could strangle a man to death in cold blood in front of thousands of people beneath the Gateway Arch and the town would be cool with it.

They would probably say the guy had it coming and hope that by strangling a guy Pujols didn’t mess up his swing in any way.

Yep, they love baseball in St. Louis. When describing Philadelphia fans as “frontrunners” last year on the now-defunct “Best Damn Sports Show,” Jimmy Rollins cited St. Louis and the love the citizens have for the Cardinals as an example of how ballplayers like the fans to behave.

Guess what? Rollins isn’t the only one with that sentiment. It is Baseball Heaven, after all.

It’s not me, it’s you

Scott & TonySo the Phillies went to the Opryland Resort in Nashville for the Winter Meetings and came back empty handed (though I bet one of the guys in the travelling party swiped a towel or two and all of the sample bottles of shampoo and soap… they know who they are), which really isn’t much of a surprise. After all, just a few weeks ago general manager Pat Gillick told the local scribes to stay home to save them from the boredom.

Then he said he wanted to leave Nashville with a pitcher. In between all of that he called Randy Wolf a jerk for choosing his family and sunny California over dreary Philadelphia and its bandbox of a ballpark.

Nevertheless, the Phillies and… well, the nothing they left with was hardly the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings. Instead, the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings was Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa’s verbal thrashing of ex-Phillie (and soon to be ex-Cardinal) Scott Rolen in which he ripped the gold glove third baseman a new one before adding, “But of course we’d like to have him back… I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to come back.”

Then he looked to the side, flashed his lashes coquettishly with his hands jammed into his pockets as he shyly twisted his foot into the ground. Seconds later, a balloon cloud appeared adjacent to the halo above La Russa’s head with, “I’m a li’l stinker,” written in it.

Tony La Russa is, indeed, a little stinker. He’s also a hypocrite and a jackass, but we’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s backtrack to the stuff he said about Rolen for a second.

Here’s the Greatest Hits version from La Russa’s diatribe at Opryland on Wednesday:

“It was unanimous that everyone was for me except him. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a major league productive star.”

“Scott’s got a lot of goodness to him. … I think he has been a team man. He plays a team sport. I don’t think he’s going to want to be the one guy and the 24 guys on the other side of the room.”

“There’s absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott. I mean, that’s not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team, our responsibility to our players and to the competition. So, no, I don’t want to accommodate Scott. But somebody doesn’t want to be part of the situation, you investigate it.”

“Nobody has more often said that I don’t think Scott should be traded than me. I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don’t care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive.”

“It’s very clear that he’s unhappy. And I’m making it clear that I don’t know why he’s unhappy. I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It’s time for him to give back.”

“He’s got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he’s going to be treated very honestly.”

“If he plays hard and he plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn’t, he can sit. If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.”

“I think he’s strong-minded enough that I don’t see his opinion changing on a personal basis. And it’s gotten to the point that I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a Major League productive star. And that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make to him.

“We’ve had issues where guys are saying, ‘What’s going on with Scott?’ And he needs to understand that he’s slipped, not in his play, but just in the way he’s perceived as being the Scott we’ve known for a few years. And I think that means a lot to him. He can play mad every day if he wants to. It’s OK.”

“He asked to be traded, so under normal circumstances if a guy doesn’t want to be part of your situation, then you consider that. So inquiries have been made. There hasn’t been anything happening so far that would make the guys in charge pull the trigger . . . I’m just saying from a manager’s point of view, I consistently say don’t trade him. And I say that because one of our important needs is to have somebody who can hit behind Albert [ Pujols].

“I think he has put some things together in his mind and I think he needs to understand that the Cardinals have given him a lot since he’s gotten here. He’s been given a contract, a world championship, and he’s given back some. And so, we need him.”

So yeah, La Russa told Rolen he’s a bad teammate and that everyone else likes the manager but him so he should just shut up and play for a guy he does not like. I don’t know otherwise, but I’m also guessing there isn’t much respect for La Russa either. Sure, he’s a good manager and all of that and Rolen had problems with his last manager before the Phillies sent him to St. Louis.

But I don’t think Rolen ever had to go to court to plead guilty for being drunk and asleep behind the wheel of his car in the middle of an intersection. I also dug around and can’t find any YouTube videos of Rolen flunking a field sobriety test.

I found one of Tony La Russa, though. Here it is:

Two months after this event occurred in Florida, one of La Russa’s pitchers (Josh Hancock) was killed when he was driving drunk. Actually, it was reported that in the days prior to Hancock’s death La Russa had a meeting with the pitcher about drinking.

But really, that isn’t La Russa’s problem. Nor does he set the agenda that Major League Baseball is in business with companies that push the last legal drug. Instead, La Russa’s job is simply to win baseball games and if it takes tearing down Scott Rolen in order to do so, that’s part of it.

Tony La RussaYes, his job is to win baseball games and it’s something he does very well. Better yet, La Russa seems to have a laser focus on winning games to the point that nothing else matters. It’s all about La Russa and winning ballgames.

For instance, La Russa has been an ardent defender of Mark McGwire and the allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during the former player’s assault on the single-season home run records. In 2006, after McGwire’s infamous showing before the Congressional House Government Reform Committee, La Russa continued to maintain that his former player was “legal,” which is a bit semantically. McGwire admitted to using then-legal steroid, androstenedione.

“I have long felt, and still do, there are certain players who need to publicize the legal way to get strong,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March of 2006. “That’s my biggest complaint. When those players have been asked, they’ve been very defensive or they’ve come out and said ‘Whatever.’ Somebody should explain that you can get big and strong in a legal way. If you’re willing to work hard and be smart about what you ingest, it can be done in a legal way.”

Nothing has dissuaded La Russa from believing McGwire was clean.

“That’s the basis of why I felt so strongly about Mark. I saw him do that for years and years and years. That’s why I believe it. I don’t have anything else to add. Nothing has happened since he made that statement to change my mind.”

La Russa managed the Oakland A’s when McGwire and Jose Canseco were the most-feared slugging duo in the game. Canseco, of course, detailed his (and McGwire’s) steroid use in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. But when he played for La Russa, Canseco was something of a “steroid evangelist,” as Howard Bryant wrote in his book, Juicing the Game:

He talked about steroids all of the time, about what they could do and how they helped him. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco put the A’s in a difficult position. The question of his steroid use and the possible use by another teammate, budding superstar named Mark McGwire, grew to be an open suspicion.

Deeply compromised was Tony La Russa. Canseco often spoke unapologetically about steroids, yet La Russa did nothing about it. … La Russa knew about Canseco’s steroid use because Canseco had told him so. Under the spirit of baseball’s rules, La Russa could have contacted his boss, Sandy Alderson, who in turn could have told the Commissioner’s office. That’s how the chain of command was supposed to work, but Canseco was a superstar player, an MVP, and the cornerstone of the Oakland revival. Turning him in would have produced a high-profile disaster. La Russa, knowing that his best player was a steroid user, did nothing.

In fact, La Russa did more than nothing. He not only did not talk to Alderson, but actively came to Canseco’s defense. …

But perhaps the best example of La Russa’s unwavering focus on winning baseball games at the sacrifice of everything else came when he was just beginning as Major League manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1983. Just as the White Sox had broken camp and were to begin the ’83 season that ended with the White Sox winning the AL West, La Russa’s wife, Elaine, called from Florida to tell her husband that she and their 4-year old and 1-year old daughters would not be joining him in Chicago because she had, as detailed in Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August, been diagnosed with pneumonia and required hospitalization.

According to Bissinger:

La Russa responded to the news with a fateful decision, one that would cement his status as a baseball man but would define him in another way.

Based on a strong finish in 1982, the expectations were high for the White Sox in 1983. But the season got off to a wretched start, mired at 16 and 24. Floyd Bannister was having trouble winning anything. La Marr Hoyt had a record of 2 and 6 and Carlton Fisk was a mess at the plate. In the middle of May, the team had lost eight of nine games. Toronto swept them; then Baltimore swept them. La Russa found himself fighting for his life, or what he mistook for his life. He had a team that was supposed to win, that had spent money on free agents and had good pitching and still wasn’t winning. The only reason he was still around was because of the vision of White Sox owner Reinsdorf, who continued to stand by him. So he did what he thought he had to do: He called his sister in Tampa and asked whether she could take care of the kids so he could take care of baseball.

Bissinger writes that La Russa regretted the decision and has never forgiven himself, but a pattern of behavior that put baseball before anything and everything else was in motion.

So yeah, maybe Rolen does have a problem with La Russa, though the manager just can’t seem to figure it out.

“I keep saying it, I don’t understand. I told him this. He’s never given me an explanation,” La Russa said. “I don’t understand why he can be down on the Cardinals, and I don’t understand why he can be down on me.”

Maybe people just don’t get along? Maybe there is no explanation? Or, perhaps, maybe some people don’t want to be judged by the company they keep. Either way, it doesn’t seem as if Rolen is going to change his position and it appears very certain that La Russa hasn’t done anything different than he had done in the past.